The Obama speech was a campaign speech
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Joshua DuBois, the Obama campaign's director of religious affairs, said the senator's Synod speech on Saturday will be his first major address on faith and politics as a presidential candidate.There is no doubt about it: the speech was clearly part of Obama's campaign.
The address, DuBois said, will combine personal details about Obama's religious experiences with prescriptions for how religious Americans might put their faith into action.
It will also focus on "the growing movement of people of faith" from a variety of traditions, "coming together around our connections as a people and using those connections to address our common challenges," DuBois said.
Shaun Casey, an adviser to the Obama campaign and a professor of ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., said he expects the address to be "as detailed an account of how a person's faith shapes his policies as I have seen from any presidential candidate."
Fallout from the IRS investigation
IRS complaint now available online
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Note: This is the exact form I received it - the redaction of contact information was already there.... and no, I don't know who it came from.
UCC turns IRS investigation into fundraiser
As you no doubt have heard through media reports, the Internal Revenue Service has launched an investigation of the United Church of Christ, based on our invitation to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama - a longtime member of the UCC - to speak at our 50th Anniversary General Synod in Hartford, Connecticut this past June.If you donate to this, you are a fool. The church leadership knew the risk they were taking and the complaint lays out logically how each of the guidelines were violated with most of the content for the complaint coming directly from the UCC website! The national leadership made their bed and it's there's to sleep in.
The UCC took great care to ensure that Senator Obama's appearance met appropriate legal and moral standards. We are confident that, in the end, the IRS investigation will confirm that no laws were violated.
However, in order to adequately defend ourselves as well as protect the broader principle of the freedom of religious communities to entertain questions of faith and public life, we will need to secure expert legal counsel, and the cost of this defense, we are told, could approach or exceed six figures. This is troubling news. That's why we are turning to you - our members and supporters - to ask for your financial support to help offset these unforeseen legal expenses.
United Church of Christ being investigated by the IRS
I blogged numerous times about the political activity that surrounded Obama's speech and received a copy of the complaint to the IRS last August. The letter, dated August 2nd, does not ask for any specific remedy, but does ask for an investigation alleging that the UCC violated "federal tax law banning political campaign intervention". Many of the citations in the letter include links to the UCC.org web site but there is a reference to one post from UCCtruths.com. From the complaint:
The United Church of Christ violated every single point outlined in the IRS guidelines. Specifically:The copy of the letter that was sent to UCCtruths was sent anonymously and the author's name and contact information were redacted. Photos of campaign booths outside the Hartford Civic Center from before, during and after Obama's were included with the letter, some of which came from UCCtruths.com.
According to the IRS guidelines, church or religious organization must ensure that:
• The individual speaks only in a non-candidate capacity
o While much of Sen. Obama’s speech was a reflection of his personal faith and the relationship of his beliefs to public life, it was clearly a campaign speech with direct references to campaign pledges (Sen. Obama: "I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by up to $2500 a year.” Transcript available on the UnitedChurch of Christ’s own web site: http://www.ucc.org/news/significantspeeches/a-politics-of-conscience.html).
o Numerous local and national news outlets characterized the event in terms of a political campaign:
“At times it certainly had the feel of a political convention”
“With fiery speeches on faith and politics, the United Church of Christ's biennial General Synod seemed at times as much a revival or political rally as a mainline church meeting.”
The Christian Century Magazine, http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=3518
• Neither the individual nor any representative of the church makes any mention of his or her candidacy or the election
o Sen. Obama made a direct reference to his candidacy in the fourth sentence of his speech (Sen. Obama: “It's been several months now since I announced I was running for president.” Transcript available on the United Church of Christ’s own web site: http://www.ucc.org/news/significant-speeches/a-politics-ofconscience.html).
o A June 21, 2007 Religion News Service article in advance of the speech was prominently posted on the United Church of Christ web site with the headline “Obama's Synod speech will be 'first major address on faith and politics as presidential candidate'” http://www.ucc.org/news/aide-obamas-synodspeech.html
• No campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate’s attendance. In addition, the church or religious organization should clearly indicate the capacity in which the candidate is appearing and should not mention the individual’s political candidacy or the
upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate’s attendance at the event.
o An April 24, 2007 News Release announcing Sen. Obama’s speech on the UCC web site states “Obama, a Democratic candidate for President, has spoken often about his profession of faith, his membership in the socially progressive UCC and the need for Democrats to take seriously the concerns of religious Americans”.
o Campaign volunteers for Sen. Obama set up tables and greeted visitors at the entrances of the Hartford Civic Center. According to the official “Connecticut for Obama ’08” blog, approximately 40 volunteers staffed the campaign tables in three-hour shifts from 8AM to 6PM on the day of Sen. Obama’s speech. The blog further stated “As volunteers staffing tables, our goal was to gather as many new supporters as possible.”Although this particular blog entry was removed after another web site drew attention to the violation, a copy of the text is located at
http://ucctruths.blogspot.com/2007/06/connecticut-volunteers-blog-about-obama.html and pictures of the tables are included with this letter.
As I pointed out in June (and as thoroughly enumerated in the complaint to the IRS), the United Church of Christ violated each of the three provisions in the IRS guidelines on "Speaking as a Non-Candidate":
- The individual speaks only in a non-candidate capacity,
- Neither the individual nor any representative of the organization makes any mention of his or her candidacy or the election, and
- No campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate’s attendance.
The greatest Obama video ever
UPDATE: An idiot on the UCCtruths message board thought this video "amounts to no more than a jab at Obama's Muslim heritage and the same sort of hate-filled fearmongering perpetrated by the radical right.". Just to be clear (because I suspect there are more idiots out there)... those aren't Muslim's in the video - they are likely Hindu. The video was done in the same spirit as the "Obama Girl" video and it's part of this cult of personality thing that's been following Obama. It's just a funny video, relax!
Sudan: Nothing is different
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Local communities across the United States have joined a yearlong campaign called the "Tents of Hope," which launched last summer. A project of the United Church of Christ, Christian Church and Dear Sudan, "Tents of Hope" brings communities together to create canvas tents where they hand-paint messages to educate the public and build advocacy.
Hollywood actor George Clooney, who helped found the Darfur organization Not on Our Watch, wonders if using his celebrity status to bring attention to the crisis has been in vain or has worsened the situation.
"I've been very depressed since I got back," Clooney told Time magazine, referring to his recent trip to Chad. "I'm terrified that it isn't in any way helping. That bringing attention can cause more damage. You dig a well or build a health-care facility and they're a target for somebody."
"A lot more people know about Darfur, but absolutely nothing is different. Absolutely nothing," he said.
More on the role of religion in politics
Monday, February 18, 2008
To start, Scott says...
Now, I'm not particularly interested in defending the particulars of the UCC's public stance either, not because I don't think it's defensible (fairly few things are truly "not defensible," if you care enough to try to defend them), but because I don't think we can begin to look at the particulars of how denominational offices take on political positions until we have a better sense of what principles ought to govern the positions they take.This is accurate but it is also ambiguous to the point that for all practical purposes, there are no real covenantal responsibilities among the various church bodies. It also presumes that each body carries equal weight. I would argue that the covenanted bodies of the UCC outside of the local church (associations, conferences or national agencies) are NOT equal to the local church for both practical and legal reasons. For practical reasons, without the local church, there can be no association, conference or national office. According to our own constitution, the local church is afforded greater powers than the other bodies: principally they are the only body that is clearly autonomous*.
In theory, of course, the UCC's national offices are given direction by the General Synod, though in actuality particular policy stands are often taken independently of Synod resolutions (this has to do with a, well, unique, understanding of what "local church autonomy" means when applied to some denominational agencies).
Part of the larger problem has to do with the "non-creedal" nature of the UCC. As a denomination, we don't have a set of overarching "principles" that govern our discourse. Rather, since each individual, church, association, conference, and agency can develop very different theological and social understandings of Christian responsibility, no one viewpoint can be said to be normative for the whole denomination.
While this seems legalistic, it is a very important point in how our denomination is governed and the decisions that are made with regard to political activism. Let's be clear: The national office and agencies of the UCC (including the Conferences and Association) are independently governed but they are not autonomous and in fact carry a greater responsibility for acting in covenant with the other church bodies and particularly with local churches. Given the diverse political population of local churches, these church bodies have an inherent responsibility to act prudently in their political activism.
Scott makes an excellent point:
So we should always proceed with a large dose of humility when we venture into the the political complexities of the world as a denomination. Rather than speak self-righteously from within our own finite sphere of certainty, we should be clear on the limits of our own understanding, and seek to become a forum for the discussion of general principles of social action, choosing those of most pressing concern, and that fit most clearly without our self-understanding as a denomination.Scott mentioned the comments I made regarding the Puerto Rican Terrorists. For the sake of argument, let's assume that the points made about the terrorists (and specifically Alejandrina Torres) by the national office are accurate and faithful: They are oppressed and they seek independence and justice. Is that all that is required for action? There is no disagreement that Alejandrina Torres was a member of a group (FALN) that injured, maimed and killed many, many people. She was videotaped building a bomb and was ultimately convicted of numerous related charges. Contrary to what the national office says, there is no record that she ever apologized or even admitted to her crime. If there was ever a need for humility to be attached to a justice issue, this is the one. What about the victims of FALN?
In the broader UCC body, we cannot simply dismiss our odd support of Torres as the product of the "flawed and fallible creatures" in the national office - and then do nothing about it. By ignoring this issue which seems wrong on so many levels, we diminish our credibility on justice issues that seem so right.
One last point on Niebuhr: While a number of people hold Niebuhr in high regard for his criticism of the Soviet Union during the cold war, Niebuhr's greatest criticism was reserved for his own faith and for his own people in the ultimate display of humility. If we look around the leadership of the UCC today, is there a single leader with this kind of courage?
*There is a blurb that states "The General Synod has the following powers, provided, however, that no power vested in the General Synod shall invade the autonomy of Conferences, Associations, and Local Churches..." but there is no autonomy defined for the Conferences or Association in the constitution).
UPDATE: Steve Swope reminds me on the message board that "there is clear legal basis for stating thatAssociations, Conferences, and the Synod are equally autonomous with the local congregation." Steve is right that there is a legal precedent and long held practice that gives equal weight among the covenanted bodies. That doesn't mean that it is right or faithful to the letter of the constitution. How well has this interpretation served the denomination since it's founding?
The Role of Religion in Politics: Final
Friday, February 15, 2008
The point (for me) all along was not to see who could trump the other but to open up a wider discussion about what role the church (and specifically the UCC) should play in regards to politics.
I didn't expect to find agreement but I was hopeful that we all would gain a little more understanding of how we view the church's participation in the political process. I also don't profess to know all the right answers which is why I leaned heavily on Niebuhr and his own words to articulate my own concerns about the idealism we see in our denomination's political engagement. I don't think Niebuhr is the final word on this and I think the topic is still worthy of debate.
I've been in discussion with a few other people about another blog debate so.... after my travel schedule settles down I should be able to set something up.
UPDATE: Just heard from PD... he's been busy and not feeling well... so I'll give him a pass. In any event he's not interested in a discussion about the political effectiveness of the UCC national office... and if I were sitting on his side of the debate, I wouldn't either - it's not defensible.
ETS President calls for balance on Palestinian - Israeli conflict
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
A Web site affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently declared that “The Jewish community in the Diaspora must get a life.” It was wrong, and it was insulting, but I am more concerned about what lies behind the statement. There is a mindset even more wrong, and it is sadly growing among my fellow liberalThis is a courageous commentary from Greenshaw who is president of Eden Theological Seminary and a United Church of Christ ordained minister. More from Greenshaw:
But passions can run dangerously hot, and I fear this is going on with many liberal Christians. Eager to come to life about the plight of Palestinians, which is a good thing, some among us have let our passion and compassion shift away from the plight of Israelis. We have let our long delayed solidarity with Jews start to slide away. And this is wrong.The current leadership of the UCC would do well to act on Greenshaw's call for balance.
Six decades ago some liberal Christians — way, way too few — directed their passion against the Nazi genocide and tried to stop the evil. In recent generations more and more liberal Christians have tried to come clean about the way our own religious life and practices have allowed abhorrent anti-Jewish beliefs and practices to persist. Liberal Christians have been coming to life about more just, more repentant, more life-affirming ways to be in community with Jews.
The Role of Religion in Politics: Day 3
Let's look at this from a real world example by reviewing our political response to the crisis in Sudan. I pick the crisis in Sudan because it is an issue that we should universally agree deserves a response from the church (not just ours, but all).
What has been the response from the United Church of Christ?
2) Donate to CWS which will be used to provide relief to refugees
3) Build a tent to raise awareness
4) Numerous email campaigns targeting the White House to "take leadership" of the situation in Sudan
In April, 2004, it was the U.S. that raised global awareness of the crisis in Sudan before the U.N.'s Human Rights Commission in Geneva. It was nearly 6 months before the UCC had any formal reaction. In October of 2006, the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries exploited the crisis with an email campaign suggesting that the White House wasn't taking a leadership role on the crisis... two weeks before the mid-term elections. It's worth noting that during this period, the U.S. was the only country submitting resolutions to the U.N. security council.
It can be said without doubt that the UCC's efforts (and all mainline churches) have not done a single thing to help end the crisis and if anything, used the crisis as a political football. This does not, however, suggest that the church has all the right answers all the time to every crisis in the world. This crisis, which the UCC called the worst humanitarian crisis in decades, deserved a better response from the church than was given.
So why didn't we?
Bringing this back full circle to Niebuhr, we were (and still are) handicapped by our own idealism which has rendered us ineffective and ultimately irrelevant. While Human Rights Watch called on the U.N. to "ensure that any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a U.N. force for Darfur calls for U.N. forces to use all necessary means to protect civilians", the UCC couldn't bring itself to back it. I believe this is because of our theological identity as a "Just Peace" church. We choose instead to build tents and pretend in our self-righteousness that we are making a difference.
I believe this is the kind of idealism that makes us irrelevant.
FALN back in the news
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
First, some background: The Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (Armed Forces of National Liberation, FALN) was a Puerto Rican terrorist group that advocated complete independence for Puerto Rico. FALN was responsible for more than 120 bomb attacks on U.S. targets between 1974 and 1983. The group gainied national attention in 1974 with the bombing of the Fraunces Tavern in New York City which left 4 people dead and 54 wounded. As Burlingame notes, "the prisoners were convicted on a variety of charges that included conspiracy, sedition, violation of the Hobbes Act (extortion by force, violence or fear), armed robbery and illegal possession of weapons and explosives -- including large quantities of C-4 plastic explosive, dynamite and huge caches of ammunition."
Throughout the 1990's, United Church of Christ leaders including President Paul Sherry, Rev. Thomas Dipko, then Executive Vice President of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries and Rev. Nozomi Ikuta of the United Church Board of Homeland Ministries actively lobbied and consulted with President Clinton, the Department of Justice and Congress on releasing the FALN terrorists from prison. On August 11, 1999 President Clinton offered clemency to the FALN terrorists and on September 7, 1999, 12 of the terrorists accepted the terms of the clemency which included renouncing violence.
During his testimony to Congress following the negative public reaction to Clinton's clemency, Dipko was specifically questioned about one of the terrorists, Alejandrina Torres (the wife of a UCC minister), and seemed to justify the UCC's defense of Torres because "she had convictions about the self-determination of the peoples of Puerto Rico". Dipko was then shown a surveilence video of Torres building a bomb. After viewing it, Dipko claimed "If that is an accurate record of the happening and that is in fact what she was doing, the church would wish to, of course, disassociate from it."
Our church didn't "disassociate from it" and in fact has further embraced the terrorists.
Unfazed by the video and public backlash, leaders in the United Church of Christ have continued to promote the FALN terrorists as freedom fighters. In November of 2006, the national office of the United Church of Christ hosted an art exhibit of work done by the two terrorists who refused the clemency offer (Carlos Alberto Torres and Oscar Lopez Rivera) because they would not renounce violence. At the opening reception for the exhibit, Alejandrina Torres was the honored speaker and was praised by UCC President John Thomas and Linda Jaramillo, the UCC's executive minister of the Justice and Witness Ministries. Jaramillo went so far as to call Alejandrina Torres a "role-model". Here's the video of Jarmillo's introduction of Torres and the speech she gave at the reception:
Keep in mind that Torres has never cooperated in the investigation of the bombings, has never apologized for her crimes and has never apologized to the victims of her crimes. Adding insult to injury, Thomas and Jarmillo continue to falsely claim that Torres "has been fully exonerated by law enforcement agencies, the courts and the federal government". Torres has never been exonerated by any agency, court or the federal government.
Click here for more background on the FALN and Alejandrina Torres including Dipko's testimony to Congress.
Dorhauer is back
This week he laughably posts a letter that "include the words of the pastor in their entirety, unedited" but then posts an edited letter that omits names and the church involved. To add to the comedy, the letter Dorhauer posts makes no reference to the IRD which is what his Steeplejacking book is based on. Assuming the letter is authentic, it looks like a classic case of clergy abuse with local church politics mixed in. While it is no doubt terrible for the church involved, it's not uncommon and it's hardly evidence that the IRD is stealing UCC churches.
The Role of Religion in Politics: Day 2
1) "The one wrong answer is to equate religious and political commitments and to regard every political decision as simply derived from our faith."
2) "The other wrong answer stands at the opposite extreme. It is to find no relevance at all between our faith and our political actions."
My comment was that "the issues are defined in idealistic religious terms where there is no room for pragmatism and ultimately resolution." This wasn't to suggest that our political/religious convictions should be reduced to a comfortable middle-ground, it's a reflection of Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer. As Scott Paeth reminds me, this is in part the meaning of the serenity prayer — having the courage to change the things that SHOULD be changed (not, as in the popular version "can" be changed), the GRACE to accept with serenity the things that can't be changed (not "serenity" but grace!), and the wisdom to know the one from the other. We need to throw ourselves forward into political life with all the ferver that our commitment to justice implies, but we shouldn't mistake our commitment to justice with infallibility with regard to truth.
Whether we want to admit it or not, this is the trap that I believe our denomination has fallen into and the consequence is clearly our own irrelevance in the political spectrum. Instead of strategically identifying where we fit and where we can have the most impact, the United Church of Christ national offices would rather whine about our lack of representation on "Meet the Press" as if we've even earned that kind of recognition.
Today, we are politically irrelevant.
The Role of Religion in Politics: Day 1
Monday, February 11, 2008
A presidential election year once again brings into focus the problem of how Christians should relate their religious commitments to their political opinions and decisions. This is a problem of conscience for every individual Christian. It is also a practical problem for Christian congregations and communities. It arises as a problem for the church because the church is a community of faith which is not organized on the basis of common political convictions and sometimes very contradictory ones. The more passionately they are held, the more they rise to the religious level and the more they tend to affront fellow Christians who hold different convictions. Sometimes the problem emerges, particularly with reference to different convictions between pastors and congregations. For, generally speaking, the congregations of American Protestantism are more conservative politically than their clerical leaders.When I asked PastorDan if he would be interested in an online debate (or 'blogologue') on a topic relevent to the United Church of Christ, the role of religion in politics seeemed to me to be an easy topic for both of us. So much of what each of our blogs cover involves politics. And I believe Niebuhr is a good starting point for this discussion. Niebuhr's quote is as relevent today as it was in 1952... but he doesn't stop there. From the same chapter in Love and Justice:
-Reinhold Niebuhr, Christianity and Crisis, July 21, 1952, in Love and Justice
Politics always aims at some kind of a harmony or balance of interest, and such a harmony cannot be regarded as directly related to the final harmony of love of the Kingdom of God. All men are naturally inclined to obscure the morally ambiguous element in their political cause by investing it with religious sanctity. This is why religion is more frequently a source of confusion than of light in the political realm. The tendency to equate our political with our Christian convictions causes politics to generate idolatry.Niebuhr doesn't argue against the mix of religion and politics (in fact, he was quite political) but he does dismiss the extremes - on one extreme equating political conviction with religious conviction ("All political positions are morally ambiguous because, in the realm of politics and economics, self-interest and power must be harnessed and beguiled rather than eliminated") and the other extreme that claims that there is no relevance between politics and religion.
Today, Protestant and Evangelical churches in the U.S. sit in the extreme where political convictions are equated to religious convictions. Whether the issue is abortion, the war or global warming, the issues are defined in idealistic religious terms where there is no room for pragmatism and ultimately resolution. Again from Niebuhr: "This is why Christian convictions that deal only with ultimate principle and exclude strategic issues tend to become wholly irrelevant."
And this is the challenge for our denominational leaders (and clergy) who are so invested in their idealism that they do not realize just how irrelevant they have become. There is a role for religion in politics, it just isn't in the extreme of idealism.
Update: PastorDan responds....
More Faith and Science... Expelled
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Street Prophets vs. UCCtruths
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
For a little background on PastorDan from Street Prophets:
I am a third-generation minister in the United Church of Christ, and have served congregations in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.PastorDan was also featured in the New York Times last August:
I grew up in my dad's church across the street from Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wisconsin. I later graduated from the UW with majors in English, History, and the History of Culture. After a few years in Minneapolis, I moved to Atlanta, where I received an M.Div. from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
For three years, Mr. Schultz has supplied the voice of religion for Daily Kos, an epicenter of left-liberal activity with an otherwise fiercely secular bent. In 2004, Mr. Schultz began fielding prayer requests every Sunday night as part of a Daily Kos feature called "Brothers and Sisters." A year later, Daily Kos's founder, Markos Moulitsas, let Mr. Schultz spin off a formally connected online community, Street Prophets.While he and I don't agree on much, his voice is an important one for our denomination. I read his blog regularly and feel challenged by many of his posts even when I disagree with them.
In 4.3 million page views since then, Mr. Schultz's readers have found comparatively little balm in Gilead. True to the take-no-prisoners style of blogosphere discourse, Street Prophets traffics more in calumny and condemnation, though with an extremely learned theological intelligence behind it.
UCCIB doing well
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
New business volume has increased "dramatically over levels seen in the past two years," according to information provided in January to the boards of the UCC Insurance Board and United Church Insurance Company, the provider of property and liability insurance to UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations.I've stated it before but it needs to be said again - Cathy Green has done an amazing job turning UCCIB around.
Cathy Green, UCCIB president, reported that she hopes to meet a goal of adding 300 new church participants this year. "The increasing new business trend we are experiencing makes me optimistic that the annual goal will be achieved," she said.
Audited financial statements showed unrestricted net equity of $11.7 million, an increase of $700,000 during the fiscal year. Quarterly financial reports showed first quarter Insurance Board operating funds ahead of budget, and cash flow also compared favorably to plan, Green said.