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Every denomination needs one of these...

Craigville Theological Colloquy explores suffering and God

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The most recent Craigville Theological Colloquy just wrapped up and there's a great story about it today in the Christian Science Monitor. The theme was “In the midst of a world of violence and suffering, how can we believe in an almighty and all-loving God?”. From the Christian Science Monitor:
The occasion was the annual Craigville Colloquy, a theological conference of Christians. Attendance this year was unusually high, organizers said, because the collective effect of tragic events – from 9/11 to hurricane Katrina to April's massacre at Virginia Tech – has made the issue more urgent in the faith community.

"It's getting harder to give answers that do in fact satisfy," says Richard Coleman, a United Church of Christ minister from Pembroke, Mass. Events are producing "a whole rash of dying, killing, and suffering that for us just doesn't add up. That makes the old question more intense because we want someone's life, when it ends in death, to have some meaning" and not simply succumb to the inexplicable.

Hat tip to Gabe Fackre in the UCCtruths message board!
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, July 25, 2007 | link | 1 comments |

Craigville Theological Colloquy speaker charged with immigration fraud

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The U.S. Attorney's office issued a press release today announcing that Imam Muhammad Masood of Sharon, MA has been charged with immigration fraud. Masood was a featured speaker on Islam at the Craigville Theological Colloquy a couple of years ago. The Craigville Theological Colloquy is arguably the premier forum on theology within a number of mainline churches, but particularly in the United Church of Christ.

From The Boston Globe today:
The criminal charges follow administrative charges brought by immigration officials last year. That case also drew wide protest from local Muslim leaders, who have accused authorities of ignoring efforts to smooth relations with members of various cultures.

A detailed affidavit filed in federal court alleges that Masood told authorities that after attending a master's degree program in economics at Boston University in the early 1990s, he returned to his native Pakistan for two years, as required by law, before returning to the United States in 1993 and later applying for residency.

But, the affidavit says, Masood never left Boston, and records show that he continued to live in Boston University housing with his wife and children, even though he was no longer a student. He was cited for a couple of traffic violations and was present when his fifth child was born in Boston in 1992, the affidavit indicates.
The press release further mentions that Masood "had been arrested for shoplifting in Norwood, Massachusetts in 2000".

The Boston chapter of the Muslim American Society (MAS) has been appealing to the public for financial support for Masood since his initial immigration charges. Interestingly enough, the MAS press conference today didn't actually refute the charges against Masood, only that MAS believes it is part of a "witch hunt" on the Boston Muslim community. From the Boston Chapter of MAS:
We maintain that the transferring this matter from immigration proceedings to criminal charges is punitive and vindictive on the part of the government and is apparently a tactic to intimidate Imam Masood into yield incriminating information about the Boston Muslim communities' leaders even though such information does not exist. This is a tremendous waste of taxpayer money and resources and takes attention away from pursuing real threats to security.
During Masood's initial immigration charges, Rev. Dr. Llewellyn P. Smith, a United Church of Christ minister and an adjunct faculty member at Andover Newton Theological School, provided a letter of support to MAS for Imam Muhammad Masood:
To whom it may concern:

This past July, Imam Hafiz Masood was invited to speak at the Craigville Theological Colloquy on Cape Cod. The conference was composed of Mainline religious leaders from a number of Christian denominations, including the United Church of Christ. We who made the plans were very impressed by Imam Masood and very grateful for his participation. He is a highly educated, sensitive, intelligent and kind person. His words were thoughtful and highlighted the importance of interfaith dialogue. The world will be a better place if we can have communication and honest dialogue such as we had last summer with Imam Masood. The evaluations of our conference were most enthusiastic about his valuable dialogue with us. May God bless him and you who are looking into his situation.

Peace, Rev Dr Llewellyn P. Smith, United Church of Christ Pastor.

There's no way to fault the Craigville Theological Colloquy for having Masood as a speaker - clearly he was a capable speaker on Islam. However, you have to question Smith's credibility with her apparently blind support for Masood without really knowing the full story. Although Smith's letter is rather benign and factual, her letter is being used to generate support for Masood.

Hat tip to Solomonia!
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, July 24, 2007 | link | 4 comments |

United Church of Christ and Ice Cream

Sunday, July 22, 2007

From Hartford Business:
The main-line Protestant denominations are suffering from a variety of market pressures, from consumers who have lost interest in the product; from aggressive competitors that have stolen customers away; from a decline in the competitive advantage of being “Protestant.”

A University of Chicago study suggests that Protestants will soon be a minority religion in America, for the first time in its history.

A Harris Interactive poll in 2004 found that most Americans “believe in God,” but aren’t necessarily inclined to “participate in organized worship.”

While the mainline Protestant faiths battle to create some new marketing sizzle, the “conservative” evangelical Protestant groups have successfully targeted the main-line faithful who want a bit more transcendence and a bit less left-wing political posturing from the denominational leadership.

The battle for souls is much like the battle for consumers of ice cream or variable annuities.
Ice cream? Is it really that simple?
posted by UCCtruths, Sunday, July 22, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

Local UCC church wins court battle over assets after leaving denomination

Saturday, July 21, 2007

From the Herald-Press:
A judge has upheld a vote by a Huntington congregation to leave the United Church of Christ over the church's recognition of gay marriage.

In a ruling issued Thursday, Special Judge David L. Hanselman Sr. dissolved a temporary restraining order that had prevented St. Peter's First United Church of Christ - now known as St. Peter's First Church - from leaving the UCC. He also denied the United Church of Christ's claim on assets of the church, located at 206 Etna Ave.

The restraining order had been in place since Oct. 14, 2005. It was received by church members Paul Krieg and William Kruzan following a vote by church members on Sept. 18, 2005, to leave the UCC denomination over the issue of permitting gay marriage.

In his ruling, Hanselman determined that the congregational vote was proper and binding, that there was no “division” of the church as defined by its bylaws that would trigger a transfer of its assets to the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the United Church of Christ. The ruling upheld the actions of the Church Council, headed by Brian Royer, who was the lone named defendant in the suit.

“I'm very pleased with the ruling,” Royer said Friday. “The lawsuit was primarily over the church building and assets, though. The church is really the congregation, and I have personally found the congregation much stronger and the church more focused since this began.”

Kruzan said he was “just happy it has been settled,” adding, “I have no ill feelings toward anybody over this. I'm willing to live with the judge's decision and I wish (the church membership) good luck.”

Krieg also said he was relieved that a ruling has been made but reserved further comment until he talks “with the others involved.”
It's interesting that the United Church of Christ had a claim "on assets of the church". I'm guessing this means the Indiana-Kentucky Conference, not the national office. Indiana-Kentucky Conference Minister Rev. Stephen Gray should probably take some polity courses before allowing his conference to make more claims like this.
posted by UCCtruths, Saturday, July 21, 2007 | link | 4 comments |

National Council of Churches and Israel

Friday, July 20, 2007

From reading the latest news release from the National Council of Churches, you would get the impression that the National Council of Churches (and member denominations) were impartial arbiters of peace for the Middle East. They are not.

From the article:
As Pastor John Hagee prepares for his annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) gathering this week in Washington, D.C., two leaders of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC) are reminding observers that most Christians do not share CUFI's stated goals.

"John Hagee's message differs greatly with what theologians have taught for centuries," said Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC's Associated General Secretary for International Affairs and Peace.

"The Christian Gospel is clear that salvation came through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ," said Dr. Kireopoulos. "To supplement this message is to pervert the Gospel Hagee claims to preach."

Pastor Hagee's efforts are the latest in a century old apocalyptic movement that began in earnest in the 19th century. Sometimes called Christian Zionism because of its uncritical support for the State of Israel, it is based on a literal reading of Biblical apocalyptic texts.
By focusing on an extremist like Hagee, the National Council of Churches tries to position itself as supporting "a secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state".

The truth is that the National Council of Churches, like the United Church of Christ, has spent a great deal of time propping up extremists and anti-Semites from Sabeel who are determined to destroy Israel. From the Anti-Defamation League:
While Sabeel claims to promote "a non-violent vision for addressing the conflict between Palestinians and the state of Israel," and to support a two-state solution to the conflict, Sabeel's head also refers to it as an interim solution, "a first step that hopefully will lead to the formation of the one state" -- a position that any parties genuinely interested in a long-lasting peace in the Middle East recognize as irrational and impossible.
Contrary to their claims, the National Council of Churches position of supporting groups committed to the elimination of Israel is not supported universally by the Christian community.
posted by UCCtruths, Friday, July 20, 2007 | link | 1 comments |

Christian Century on UCC General Synod

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Christian Century has a pretty interesting angle on the United Church of Christ's last General Synod. The article goes deeper than most other articles that covered General Synod which essentially recapped the keynote speeches by Bill Moyers and Barack Obama. From Christian Century:
But after the crowds disperse and UCC members return to their heartland churches, how will they use the Synod's momentum to revive the denomination, which has seen deep drops in membership and donations in recent years?

As one Synod attendee muttered, "Yeah, this is inspiring. But now we go home to an empty church."

There's more:
Not everyone was happy with the gathering's political tone. Koloman Ludwig, pastor of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Whiting, Indiana, said he "doesn't do politics in church" because it would divide liberals and conservatives in his congregation.

"To me the problem is, with so many political overtones to the church, you begin to lose people who don't have the same political orientation," Ludwig said, "and to me that's a great sadness."

But Ann Plumley, an interim pastor in Keene, New Hampshire, said the UCC's advocacy for progressive causes is essential. "We need the mix of politics and religion to live in the freedom God intends for us," she said.
Plumley's view of what "God intends" for us is as narrow as Jerry Falwell's. There is no freedom in being a slave to political ideology.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, July 18, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

New online discussion group formed to strengthen ministry in local churches

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rev. David Loar has formed a new discussion group to help strengthen ministry in local churches. From Loar's description of the group:
An online discussion to help local congregations in the United Church of Christ to focus on the transformation of their vision and mission in Jesus Christ. This site is not for debate about the UCC, but to help one another to strengthen our local churches ministry at a time it feels like our churches are having a struggle to keep their head above water. No focus on what other parts of the UCC are doing or not doing. Focus is on what we need to do to own our piece of the covenant of ministry.
David Loar is currently the minister at Fairlawn West United Church of Christ and is a former Associate Conference Minister in the Southeast Conference. Loar has also served in a variety of roles on a national and international level from being the UCC representative on the Commission in Religion in Appalachia, a member of the former OCIS human rights delegation to East Germany and Hungary in 1986 and was a member of Witness for Peace to Nicaragua in 1987.

In addition to sharing the transformation of Fairlawn West United Church of Christ online, Loar can be found serving up fellowship at The Nervous Dog coffee bar in Akron, OH. I had the great pleasure of spending time recently with David at The Nervous Dog and I have not fully recovered from the deeply spiritual experience. The Frozen Jamocha Latte was pretty good too. You can also check out David's blog at Disciple David.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, July 17, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

UCC's Wider Church Ministries involved in overseas dispute

There is a very rich and interesting history between our predecessor denomination and the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI) and the American Ceylon Mission (ACM) dating back to the Haystack Prayer Meeting. However, a nasty rift is brewing between the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India and United Church of Christ's Wider Church Ministries (WCM).

The UCC's Wider Church Ministries is weighing in on a fight between different factions in the JDCSI. On one side there is the newly elected leadership who have taken control after a series of court disputes and rulings in India and Sri Lanka which appear to have gone in their favor. On the other side of the schism is a group of dissidents who appear to have lost the internal fight, but have appealed to the WCM for help, prompting Rev. Cally Rogers Witte to intervene on their behalf. Rogers-Witte appears intent on blocking, or at least delaying, the installation of the newly elected leaders. The conflict raises questions about who actually has final authority over the inner workings of the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India -- the local adherents or the Wider Church Ministries out of Cleveland, Ohio.

Earlier this month, the JDCSI held its annual Diocesan Council sessions presided by the new bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Daniel Thiagarajah and a new Executive Committee was elected along with other officers of the council including that of the American Ceylon Mission.

According to Victor Karunairajan, spokesman for JDCSI, the UCC's Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, Executive Minister of Wider Church Ministries is asserting authority she doesn't legally have over the appointment of officers to the American Ceylon Mission. According to Karunairajan, "only the Diocesan Council of the JDCSI can elect or appoint officers to the American Ceylon Mission, an institution within the JDCSI".

In an email dated July 3, 2007 to Bishop Thiagarajah (Bishop in Jaffna, Church of South India) Rogers-Witte asserts:
"In as much as we have been informed of the unusual and disturbing circumstances prevailing within JDCSI leading to a schism consequent upon your assuming office as Bishop and in as much as the Wider Church Ministries (formerly UCBWM and before that called the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission) has not thus far appointed the new Body Corporate of the American Ceylon Mission since the retirement of the previous Bishop to manage the affairs of ACM institutions and movable assets held in the name of and on behalf of ACM in Sri Lanka, by virtue of powers vested in me as the present Executive Authority of the UCBWM (now called WCM) in my capacity as the Executive Minister of the Wider Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ, I hereby direct that no changes be made in the management structures of the said institutions and in the status of any immovable assets until such time WCM (UCBWM) makes the arrangement for an alternative Body Corporate of the American Ceylon Mission."
According to Karunairajan, in 1908 the American Ceylon Mission was incorporated under the laws of Sri Lanka and was already a part of the South Indian United Church (SIUC) in 1907. The American Ceylon Mission worked under the leadership of the SIUC and had its own officers elected by the Council of the SIUC.

In 1947 when the Church of South India (CSI) came into being with its several dioceses in India and the one in Sri Lanka, the Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India (JDCSI), the American Ceylon Mission became an intrinsic part of the JDCSI. In August 1947, the relationship was formalized with the President of the American Ceylon Mission (the Rev. Dr. Sydney Bunker) signing the deed of transfer to the JDCSI.

Karunairajan further explained that ever since, the American Ceylon Mission has remained within the JDCSI as a symbolic gesture of appreciation of the work of the American Foreign Missions, which later became the United Church Board of World Missions and now Wider Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ.

The consequences for the image of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries are enormous. While Rogers-Witte has expressed concern for the schism within the JDCSI, she doesn't directly reference what "relevant legal and constitutional documents" take precedence over laws in India and Sri Lanka in a July 12 letter to Bishop Thiagarajah.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, July 17, 2007 | link | 4 comments |

He's talking about the Catholic Church, not the UCC


"They act as if they were a political party"

-Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Venezuela's Roman Catholic leaders
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, July 17, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

The United Church of Christ: Old, Rich and White

Monday, July 16, 2007

It's satire, but it sure comes close to the mindset of some in the United Church of Christ. From "TomInTheBox News Network":
U.C.C. Congregation Frustrated to Simply Be "Old, Rich and White"

San Francisco, CA - The United Church of Christ has for many years now touted itself as being an "opening" and "accepting" church. The theologically liberal denomination whose motto is "God is still speaking" openly accepts into full church membership gays, lesbians and transgendered persons. The church is also one of only a few to officially sanction and perform same-sex unions, and prides itself in being a "church for everyone," including the poor, minorities, social outcasts, etc. But one U.C.C. congregation in the San Francisco area has been struggling to find its place among the denomination, and recently they have set about on a campaign for diversity.

"The problem is simple" said Rev. Dale Pendergrast, pastor of Bayside United Church of Christ. "We're just a bunch of old, rich, white people. We have no minorities in our congregation. We have no gays or lesbians. We have no poor people. The youngest person in our congregation is 55, and there isn't a person here who drives a car that costs less that $25,000. We are pure vanilla ice cream here."
You can read the rest of the questionably edgy piece here.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, July 16, 2007 | link | 2 comments |

John Dorhauer clarifies: He's not insane

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Just in case there was any confusion, UCC Missouri Mid-South Associate Conference Minister John Dorhauer is not insane. He clarifies this in his most recent post on Talk2Action:
Really, I'm not. I've graduated with honors from two different seminaries. I've been married to the same woman for 23 years. I'm in my office every day with very smart people who affirm my gifts for ministry.
I'm glad that cleared it up.

Whatever gifts Dorhauer claims to have, he is still not credible and his work is destructive to the United Church of Christ. Specifically:
If Dorhauer chooses to attack the Institute on Religion and Demorcacy, by all means he should express his opinions. However, it is an entirely different thing for Dorhauer and Sheldon Culver to use their leadership positions in the UCC to draw suspicions on visitors to our churches and to falsely accuse other UCC members and churches with flimsy information and "circumstantial evidence".

He may not be insane, but Dorhauer has recklessly used his position in the UCC to fuel paranoia that threatens the hope of unity within our denomination.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, July 10, 2007 | link | 7 comments |

"Answer Guy" dead, web site improvements continue

Monday, July 09, 2007

The UCC "Answer Guy" is dead.

No, not Hans Holznagel, United Church of Christ Minister for Community Life... the paternalistic character he portrayed in guiding visitors through the UCC's new web site. According to the UCC web team, the Answer Guy's demise was due to natural causes as the plan all along was to keep the flash demo of the site on the UCC's front page only through the new web site launch.

Although the new site has been up for nearly a month, it is still experiencing some problems. Dan Hazard of the UCC's web team explained that some components of UCC.org reside on the UCCforums.com site which has been hampered by hosting problems and is causing UCC.org to load longer than it should. Hazard noted that recent changes to the web site's template should alleviate the problem from interfering with UCC.org, but problems with the the forums remain. The UCC web team is working with the host to fix the problems so the archive of discussion threads can be retained.

In the meantime, if you miss the UCC "Answer Guy", you can still find the demo here. Who knows... maybe a rap video on church will be next.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, July 09, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

Exploiting the least of these

A United Church of Christ Church in Simi Valley California is poised to join four other churches in Southern California in sheltering illegal immigrants as part of the "New Sanctuary Movement". According to the organization's web site, the movement is "a coalition of interfaith religious leaders and participating congregations, called by our faith to respond actively and publicly to the suffering of our immigrant brothers and sisters residing in the United States."

At the recent UCC General Synod, a resolution was passed that "called for all UCC settings to join others in advocating for justice and providing services for those in the undocumented community most in need".

According to the Ventura County Star, the shelter won't be available to just any illegal immigrant in need, only those "on the verge of deportation, have a strong work history and have children who are U.S. citizens". In other words, only those illegal immigrants who would make a good headline will be afforded shelter.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, July 09, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

Willis Elliot and Pagans

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I like Rev. Willis Elliot. His independent thinking is something to admire in a denomination with so many monolithically self-righteous clergy who comfortably play "follow the leader". That admiration, however, doesn't necessarily mean that I agree with everything he says.

This week, Newsweek's "On Politics" asked, "This July 4, Pagans are rallying outside the White House. They want the military to add a Pagan chaplain. Should they get one? Would you vote for a Pagan for public office?"

Elliot's response gave me that rare "cringe moment". From Elliot's article:
1. I vote on issues and for whichever candidate I think has the highest integrity, competence, and commitment to the public welfare. I hope for candidates who, in addition to those virtues, share my commitment to locating the sacred in Biblical religion: “Our fathers’ God, to thee, Author of liberty, to thee we sing. / Long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light….” I could vote for an atheist, who locates the sacred in reason. I could more easily vote for a Pagan, who re-enchants the world in correction of the Enlightenment’s disenchantment of the world.

2. No, I do not think the military should “add a Pagan chaplain.” A military’s function is to support a nation’s spirit, not only its body. And America’s originating and continuing spirit locates the sacred in Biblical religion coordinate with reason. In that it locates the sacred elsewhere, Paganism is un-American. But un-Biblical religions, at their own rather than at public expense, should have access, for spiritual support, to their adherents in the U.S. military.

The "Paganism is un-American" keeps ringing in my ear.

The question of whether or not Pagans represent a significant percentage in the military to warrant dedicated clergy is a reasonable question to consider. The criteria, however, shouldn't rest on determining which faiths are "American" and which ones are not.

Elliot's foundational argument against a Pagan chaplain is also dishonest. By explaining that "...'Paganism' is not one religion but an umbrella-term for many tiny recent movements with contemporary agendas," supposes that it would be impossible to identify a Pagen cleric to satisfy the spiritual needs of Pagans in the military. Although many different Christian faiths are represented in the military, the spiritual needs of Christian soldiers are often met by clergy from different denominations.

Elliot goes on to explain we are a country of "heritage" but mistakenly limits that heritage to the phrase "one nation, under God" - a phrase only added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

The debate on whether Pagans should have clerics in the military should by a logistical question based on the needs of those serving our country and not one determined by arbitrary worthiness. We are, in deed, a country of heritage - but that heritage isn't limited to just Christians in the last five decades.
posted by UCCtruths, Thursday, July 05, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

PROOF! Steeplejacked church discovered

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

We have uncovered what Missouri Mid-South Associate Conference Minister John Dorhauer could not - evidence of a UCC church being Steeplejacked.

From the Somerset County Daily American:
In a profession where hard work is done at high altitudes, steeple jacks have to be ingenious climbers as well as skilled laborers and definitely can't be afraid of heights. Pedestrians who looked up while walking down Union Street in Somerset Monday may have seen Brian Phizacklea replacing slate on the highest parts of St. Paul's United Church of Christ. He was part of a crew from Shaw's Steeple Jacks of Johnstown.
Have a good Fourth of July!

(Photo Credit: Roger Vogel)

posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, July 03, 2007 | link | 0 comments |

Wiesenthal Center confident that UCC "process to correct the imbalance will continue unabated"

From the Simon Wiesenthal Center:

Wiesenthal officials who view UCC policy as “one-sided” say Thomas remarks shows “a disconnect between Church leadership and the people in the pews”

The Reverend John Thomas, head of the United Church of Christ (UCC), expressed outrage at watchdog groups who he says are misleading the public about a change in the Church’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is seen as focusing criticism solely on Israel. At the UCC General Synod held this week, a resolution seeking to change that policy by calling for “balanced study, commentary and critique related to the conflict” was voted to the Church’s Executive Council for implementation, a move publicly praised by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other groups. But according to the Reverend Thomas, that move does not signal a rejection of the current policy and statements from these outside groups only distort the truth. “General Synod policy related to Israel and Palestine remains today what it was before our Synod convened,” he said in a statement.

“Reverend Thomas’ remarks only shows that there’s a disconnect between the Church’s leadership and the people in the pews,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Wiesenthal Center. “There’s a significant number of UCC members who agree that the Church’s policy is one-sided and the fact that their resolution was passed is evidence of that,” he continued.

Adlerstein noted that the laity have now spoken and that this issue can only move forward. “We’re confident that the process to correct the imbalance will continue unabated,” he concluded.

When the UCC proposed the two measures against Israel in advance of its 2005 National Synod, the Wiesenthal Center launched an online petition campaign that called on the Church’s leader, Reverend John Thomas, to defeat the measures. The campaigned generated over 20,000 signatures. At the 2005 Synod, a number of UCC members stood side by side with Wiesenthal Center officials and other interfaith leaders as they protested the adoption of the resolutions.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, July 03, 2007 | link | 0 comments |