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Every denomination needs one of these...

NY Times reignites Obama / Wright rift... and changes headlines

Monday, April 30, 2007

When acclaimed New York Times writer Jodi Kantor first wrote about the rift between Presidential candidate Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the response from the Trinity UCC minister was fury: Wright ripped Kantor for "engaging in one of the biggest misrepresentations of the truth I have ever seen in sixty-five years". Kantor reignites the rift with another story today about Obama and Wright. From the New York Times:
“Reverend Wright is a child of the 60s, and he often expresses himself in that language of concern with institutional racism and the struggles the African-American community has gone through,” Mr. Obama said. “He analyzes public events in the context of race. I tend to look at them through the context of social justice and inequality.”

Despite the canceled invocation, Mr. Wright prayed with the Obama family just before his presidential announcement. Asked later about the incident, the Obama campaign said in a statement, “Senator Obama is proud of his pastor and his church.”

In March, Mr. Wright said in an interview that his family and some close associates were angry about the canceled address, for which they blamed Obama campaign advisers but that the situation was “not irreparable.” adding, “Several things need to happen to fix it.”
Unlike his pastor, Obama took the high road when asked about his relationship to Wright: “Those are conversations between me and my pastor.”

On a side note, the New York Times online edition changed the headline for the story 42 minutes after it was originally posted. This is the screenshot from Google News:

The second headline is much less inflammatory than the original but it does suggest that the Times has an obsession with Obama and his relationship to his minister.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, April 30, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

Getting it from both sides: Gay newspapers slam Obama and Wright

Friday, April 27, 2007

In the same week that the United Church of Christ announced that Barack Obama is going to speak at the UCC's General Synod in June, a number of gay newspapers including The Advocate and The Washington Blade, are running a syndicated column that is highly critical of the Presidential candidate and his UCC minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. From the column by the Rev. Irene Monroe:
IF OBAMA IS indeed using religion to win votes, he unfortunately placed himself in a difficult quagmire — not only with LGBTQ voters, but also with religious liberals. He worships in a conservative black church within a liberal denomination.

In July 2005, the UCC General Synod overwhelmingly passed a Resolution of Marriage Equality. But in August 2005, Obama’s pastor and inspiration for the title of his recent memoir “The Audacity of Hope,” Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, spoke against the Synod’s position.

“While our denomination grappled with how to address that human problem, the denomination also, at that Synod, voted to ordain a homosexual. Guess which item made the newspapers? Maybe I missed something!”

And in his closing tirades on gay issues, Wright stated: “Are 44 million Americans with no health care insurance less important than ‘gay marriage’? Why aren’t black Christians in an uproar about that? Maybe I am missing something!”

It was disheartening for many of us to learn that Pastor Wright broke ranks with his liberal denomination to stand in solidarity with a more conservative black church position.
Obama and Wright have also been heavily criticized by conservative pundits because of Wright's "theology that is racially exclusive".

Monroe's criticism of Obama and Wright, however, will likely not disenfranchise the "religious liberal" vote. In the same way that "religious conservatives" will pragmatically vote for Rudy Giuliani, "religious liberals" will still turn out for Obama.
posted by UCCtruths, Friday, April 27, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

Barack Obama to speak at General Synod

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

UC News is reporting that Barack Obama has agreed to speak at the UCC's General Synod in June. UCCtruths reported back in February that negotiations had begun to bring Presidential Candidate and UCC member Barack Obama to General Synod. From UC News:
U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.), an active UCC member since 1988, has accepted an invitation to speak at UCC General Synod 26, June 22-26, in Hartford, Conn.

Obama — a member of the 10,000-member Trinity UCC in Chicago — will speak to delegates and visitors during a special day-long "Synod in the City" event on Saturday, June 23, at the Hartford Civic Center.
Obama's appearance adds to a General Synod already clouded in church/state conflict. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is currently investigating a deal between the Governor of Connecticut, the UCC and the Hartford Civic Center to keep the UCC General Synod in Connecticut. According to a report in the Hartford Courant last year, the state is "taking care of the $100,000 fee for the Civic Center" for the UCC's General Synod. Rev. Barry Lynn, Executive Director of American United and an ordained UCC minister, made it clear in October he was "concerned" about the arrangement. Lynn contrasted the deal with a similar arrangement that the State of Maryland made to host a Baptist convention in June of last year. In that deal, a $150,000 state grant was used to help defray the costs of transportation for the group's convention in Baltimore. Lynn called the grant "totally inappropriate and clearly unconstitutional. Religious groups should pass the collection plate to their own members, not the taxpayers.”

In the UCC case, Lynn said "There are a number of questions that need to be answered. Is there a precedence in Connecticut of other religious groups receiving similar grants or is the UCC an exception?"

While secular groups regularly receive grants from states to attract convention business, Lynn made it clear that there is a distinction between secular and religious groups being the beneficiary of these types of grants.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, April 24, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

Justice and Witness Ministries exploits Imus controversy for political gain

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The United Church of Christ's Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) is trying to capitalize on the Don Imus controversy to generate support to restrict the FCC's media ownership regulations. From the JWM email:
Indeed the public airwaves should be used to enhance the common good, by accurately and fairly reporting the news, including diverse voices in public dialogue about important issues facing our country and the world, and promoting a respectful, thoughtful and constructive exchange of opinions and ideas. If the media were more justly owned and run, there would be people of color involved in producing Don Imus’ show, people who would not have let his remarks slip by unchallenged.
While there is plenty of good reasons to support modification of the FCC media ownership regulations, this is not one of them. Not only is the connection absurd, the reality is that the Imus controversy could serve as an example for the defense of the current media ownership regulations.

Contrary to JWM claims, Imus' comments did not go unchallenged and within a week, Imus was fired by two of the largest media conglomerates - NBC/Universal and CBS - which completely invalidates JWM's arguments against the conglomerates.

The racial demographics of radio employees are also not a guarantee that radio personalities will not continue to say stupid and racist things. Although I don't know the racial makeup of Imus' show, Howard Stern's long time black co-host, Robin Quivers, certainly hasn't curbed the shock jocks comments. JWM's email falsely presumes that only white radio personalities are capable of stupid and racist comments.
posted by UCCtruths, Sunday, April 22, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

FWC mailing to churches criticized

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Some local churches are raising concerns about how a recent mailing from Faithful and Welcoming Churches (FWC) was addressed. Some of the letters, which promoted the goals of FWC and promoted their regional workshops, were addressed to "The President of the Church" instead of the minister. Last month, John Dorhauer, Associate Conference Minister of the Missouri-Mid South Conference in an article for Talk2Action.org, criticized Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF) for addressing letters that were "neither addressed to the pastors of the church, nor was its coming announced to the pastors of the churches to which it was sent". Although it's not a rule, it is customary for ministers in the UCC to be included in communications to their church.

Rev. Deb Kunkel of United Church of Christ of Pittsville, commented on the UCCtruths.com message board that "This mailing could appear- and I mean appear not that it was in any way shape or form intended as this- as an attempt to go around pastors." Kunkel continues:
I have just returned from picking up the congregation's mail at the post office, and in it was a letter addressed to "The President of the Church". Now I'm the preacher, pastor, chief bottle washer and secretary for this congregation, so one of the things I do with full knowledge and approval of the Council is to open the mail to determine if it is something I have to let that person know right away, or if it can wait until they come to church next (unless it's marked personal or confidential).

...it was from Rev. Robert Thompson of FWC inviting the recipient to share their enclosed brochure with the congregation, and to attend the "Healthy Church Workshop" coming into the area. Let me repeat this was sent 1) to the church mailing address, and 2) to the generic title of President of the Congregation", so it wasn't something the moderator requested.
I hope that this was just an innocent happening, a lapse in judgment. But this is the type of thing that fuels the conspiracy theory of people trying to "steal" churches and going around the pastor to do so. Perception can become "reality" for people.
Through a member of the UCCtruths.com message board, Rev. Bob Thompson, President of Faithful and Welcoming Churches, responded:
Here's the scoop. We were given a MS Excel database with every UCC church on it. The database went directly to our office staff person who printed the almost 6,000 labels and affixed them by hand to the envelopes we had specially ordered and printed. It was toward the end of this process that I opened the database for a different reason and noticed that the the first column was "President of the Consistory."

Our staff member told me that many of the labels misprinted, and that the "President of the Consistory" line did not show up. However, she painstakingly took a white out strip and covered that line in as many labels as she could. She apparently missed some.

The reason I asked her to make the effort is that we want to avoid any appearance of a "conspiracy theory." To whatever degree we failed, I apologize. It was unintentional on my part, and the individual we have hired to do this work has very little experience in UCC political issues or perspectives.
We at FWC are making every effort to work above board and listen to our critics. We want the conversation to be about the faithfulness of the UCC to the historic Christian faith and to its own heritage, not about our methods and motives. If we were involved in a conspiracy to hurt the UCC or its churches, we could certainly do a lot better job than sending out respectful letters, persistently encouraging churches to stay in the UCC, and sponsoring workshops on "Healthy Churches."
Innocent or not, the mistake was a bad one. The climate in the UCC is red hot with fear of a "church stealing conspiracy" by conservative groups. Although the FWC letter encourages churches to remain in the UCC and to participate in the "Healthy Churches" seminar, the perception of a letter being addressed to a local church member other than the minister implies that the minister of the local church is being cut out of the communication.
posted by UCCtruths, Saturday, April 21, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

Don Imus and the Two Faces of John Thomas

Friday, April 13, 2007

Although not asked for an opinion, United Church of Christ President, John Thomas, has offered his wisdom about Don Imus's racist comments:
Don Imus is the latest media star to be caught up in the ugly excess of his own self-importance. His racist remarks, like the anti-semitism of Mel Gibson, have no place in public or private discourse and cannot be expunged with a simple apology and a brief leave of absence or stay at a rehabilitation center.

Imus should express his profound regret to the Rutgers team, resign, and use the next months to determine how he might use his talents to contribute to a culture no longer awash in the racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic rhetoric of radio and cable talk show hosts.
It's amusing that John Thomas would reflect on Imus's "ugly excess of his own self-importance" with his own brand of self-importance. Why should anyone really care what John Thomas thinks about Don Imus?

It's also amusing how Thomas doles out his judgment.

While Imus' apology wasn't good enough for Thomas, he had no problem showering praise on Alejandrina Torres - a convicted terrorist who was video taped building bombs. Torres, as far I can tell after searching the internet, has never apologized to the victims who were maimed and killed by her group.

Thomas's judgment of Imus is not only hypocritical, it demonstrates again that his clouded discernment ultimately makes him irrelevant to any discussion about justice. Rightly, the media has ignored Thomas's comments.

This doesn't justify what Imus did at all. In effect, his firing demonstrates that the free market is working pretty well: people were offended and responded to the stations that broadcast his show (as well as their advertisers) and ultimately CBS and MSNBC fired him.

Thomas's response also highlights the hypocrisy of the UCC's "extravagant welcome". While Thomas was busy drafting his unsolicited response to the controversy, an African American Baptist Minister, Rev. DeForest Soaries, was living out the slogan. As minister to Rutgers basketball coach coach Vivian Stringer, Soaries helped facilitate a meeting between the team and Imus. Soaries, an early critic of Imus and one of the first to call for his firing, found himself ministering to Imus just minutes after he was fired. From the New York Daily News:
"I became more of a pastor to him than the facilitator of the meeting," [Soaries] said.

"We didn't even talk about what I was supposed to be there for. I needed to be with him spiritually. This was a man who'd just got big, bad news and he needed me to listen to him."
The lesson of this "extravagant welcome" will undoubtedly be lost on Thomas.
posted by UCCtruths, Friday, April 13, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

Dorhauer reveals shocking evidence: The Religious Right doesn't agree with the Religious Left

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In a stunning post on Talk2Action.org, UCC Associate Conference Minister of the Missouri-Mid South Conference, John Dorhauer, has revealed evidence that the "Religious Right" doesn't like the "Religious Left". From Dorhauer's post:
I have come across a most interesting and compelling piece of, dare I say it, evidence.

It is an internal document of the IRD entitled "2001-2004 Executive Summary." It does not make clear to whom it is addressed. I came across it on the website http://www.theocracywatch.org/internal_document_ird.html.
The evidence:
SYNOPSIS: Liberal Theology failed America's mainline churches in the Twentieth Century. Striving to become "relevant," they instead lost millions of church members. These diminished but still influential denominations are now starting to acknowledge their mistakes. Even their leaders are open to new directions. The IRD believes that the next four years offer a rare opportunity to redirect these churches away from their reflexive alliance with the political left and back towards classical Christianity. Conservatives have won surprising victories on key theological and sexuality issues at recent church conventions. Now is the time to translate those victories into real influence for conservatives within the permanent governing structures of these churches, so they can help renew the wider culture of our nation. We will emphasize the importance of ecumenical alliances with social conservative Roman Catholics and Evangelicals.
While Dorhauer successfully provides evidence that the IRD does indeed want to organize conservatives in mainline churches, he still does not provide any evidence of a church stealing conspiracy in UCC churches. Apparently, Dorhauer doesn't think he needs to provide evidence:
Everywhere I go and talk about the issues confronting our churches in the wake of a decades long attack on Mainline denominations, someone invariably asks for proof. It is one of the latest strategies developed by the countless allies in this ongoing attack, and clearly a stated talking point (though, of course, there is no proof of that - just the evidence of its consistent and repetitious occurrence every where I go).
Asking for honesty and for evidence is a strategy?

Strange, I thought honesty was a common ethic for all of us.

In spite Dorhauer's lack of candor, he was awarded 2007 Shalom Award yesterday at Eden Theological Seminary:
Dorhauer was nominated by Eden students Rick Oberle, Leah Atkinson and Jeff Mignerone. In making the nomination, the students said, “We feel that Reverend Dorhauer has exhibited this courage and leadership in exceptional ways in his ministry with the local UCC churches in the Missouri Mid-South Conference. Over the past year, as local churches reacted to the resolutions approved at General Synod XXV during the summer of 2005, Rev. Dorhauer’s efforts have redoubled in an attempt to open lines of communication, heal perceived wounds caused by distrust and misinformation, and be a pastoral presence to congregations, clergy and laity who are seeking to discern God’s will in their lives and their congregations.
No, that not an April Fools joke, it's real. In spite of being one of the most divisive figures in the UCC, Dorhauer was recognized with the obscure award.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, April 11, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

New York Times picks up pedophile story

Monday, April 09, 2007

From The New York Times:
CARLSBAD, Calif. — On a marquee outside and on a banner inside, Pilgrim United Church of Christ proclaims, “All are welcome.” Sustained by the belief that embracing all comers is a living example of Christ’s love, Pilgrim now faces a profound test of faith.

In late January, Mark Pliska, 53, told the congregation here that he had been in prison for molesting children but that he sought a place to worship and liked the atmosphere at Pilgrim.

Mr. Pliska’s request has plunged the close-knit congregation into a painful discussion about applying faith in a difficult real-world situation. Congregants now wonder, are all truly welcome? If they are, how do you ensure the safety of children and the healing of adult survivors of sexual abuse? Can an offender who accepts Christ truly change?

“I think what we have been through is a loss of innocence,” said the Rev. Madison Shockley, Pilgrim’s minister. “People think of church as an idyllic paradise, and I think that is a great part of that loss.”

Pilgrim’s struggle mirrors those of other congregations, of various faiths, across the country.
The Times article is pretty shallow and doesn't really add anything new to this ongoing story... except for publicity. In the end, there is little doubt that Pilgrim UCC will make the necessary accommodation for Pliska to attend. Clearly, boundaries and rules will be established that will protect the children of the church while allowing Pliska to attend.

But there are still reasonable questions the mediadoesn't want to ask - at least publicly. For instance, why would a pedophile further complicate his life with all of the publicity and negative attention just to attend church?

Granted, it's an odd question. After all, we don't normally ask people why they want to attend church because it doesn't really matter.

Pliska, however, isn't just another parishioner. After coming forward in the church, Pliska lost his job and residence. Since talking with the church, Pliska hasn't tried to hide - he's been interviewed numerous times in the media and has been pretty candid about who he is. From the San Diego Union-Tribune:
He also wanted the congregation at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad to “know that I'm not this monster that the press keeps portraying sex offenders as. There are those of us who are trying to change and put our lives together and be acceptable members of society.”

He believes the Lord has forgiven him. He wants the church to forgive him, too.
This troubled me because it looks like Pliska wants more than just a place to worship - he wants forgiveness and he wants to rehabilitate his image. I was reminded on our message board that this could simply be a matter of semantics since the church can't literally forgive anyone but "the church can manifest God's forgiveness; that's what we do".

Yes, we do... but should the church be the means for pedophiles to shake the image that society has of them?

There are no easy answers here except that the church should make every accommodation possible for Pliska to worship.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, April 09, 2007 | link | 0 comments |