Monthly Archives: June 2009

A word from the Conventions: UCC, Mennonite, NOW, ELCA

The United Church of Christ General Synod convened in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Friday, June 26, and will adjourn on Tuesday, June 30th. The 27th synod is graced with 3,500 attendees. Here are a few highlights, so far.

Trinity UCC in Chicago made headlines last year as the home church of Barack Obama and fiery Pastor Jerome Wright. Pastor Wright has retired, but the church was represented by Pastor Otis Moss III who delivered an impassioned sermon to the gathered on Friday night.

God says I am the Alpha and the Omega, COMMA, who is, COMMA, and who was, COMMA, and who is to come, COMMA.

In a mind-jolting, three-minute recitation of the history of Christianity, Moss shouted a COMMA between each event, all the way through to the 1957 creation of the United Church of Christ and the presence of John Thomas as General Minister, who introduced him Friday night.

Don’t get angry with the haters, the Rush Limbaughs. Next time you hear them, just say, ‘COMMA!’ When you see Dick Cheney, just say, ‘COMMA!’ Remember, there used to be a period on Pennsylvania Avenue. At Calvary, death wanted to place a period, but Jesus got up on Sunday morning. ‘COMMA!’

Official actions of the synod will include the election of a General Minister and President of the UCC, Conversations on Race (a theme introduced by outgoing General Minister John Thomas within the last year) consisting of various workshops and discussion centers, seventy new UCC congregations were highlighted and celebrated, journalists Eugene Robinson and Ray Suarez addressed the assembled, all punctuated with commas, shouts, singing, and dancing.

Daily digests of synod happenings are available at the UCC website.

As the UCC General Assembly closes on the 30th, the Mennonite Convention 2009 convenes in Columbus, Ohio and will run through July 5th. The theme is “Breathe and be Filled,” and a Youtube video provides the anticipation.

Daily happenings can be followed at the Mennonite USA website.

Meanwhile, at the National Organization for Women (NOW) convention that adjourned a week ago, a new leadership slate was chosen. Terri O’Neill’s team, which takes office July 21, includes Bonnie Grabenhofer of Illinois as Executive Vice President, Erin Matson of Minnesota as Action Vice President, and Allendra Letsome of Maryland as Membership Vice President.

Finally, many ELCA congregations nationwide are answering the Presiding Bishop’s call for 50 days of prayer in anticipation of the Churchwide Assembly that will convene in Mpls on August 17th. The much anticipated assembly will deal with major resolutions regarding LGBT issues including gay clergy and same-gender marriage.

I plan to be present at the assembly to provide live-blogging updates.

UPDATED: June 28, 1969: Where were you? Stonewall remembered.

Many of you probably weren’t born, so I guess this is a question for the baby boomers, like me. But, I encourage the young’uns to read along, anyway, to get a better understanding of who and where we are this Sunday, the fortieth anniversary of Stonewall.

Here’s my answer. I had just turned 21 and had just finished my army infantry training in the heat and amongst the snakes and spiders of Fort Polk, Lousiana, “Fort Puke, the arm pit of America,” we called it. Pilfered from“If’n one of them coral snakes bites ya, here’s the proper military procedure,” droned the drill sergeant. “Spread yer legs to a comfortable military stance, put yer hands on yer knees, bend down at the waist as far as you kin, and kiss yer sweet ass goodbye.”

A few weeks earlier, over Memorial Day weekend, our battalion received back to back three day passes, a rare treat toward the end of our training. We were all headed to Viet Nam to become “grunts”, anyway, might as well allow us a good time. My new girlfriend of less than six months drove down from Minnesota — along with my parents, brother Mike, and his girlfriend — and we all camped out at Aunt Carol’s place in nearby Lake Charles. In front of a sultry red sun of dusk, under the bearded Spanish moss that hung from the live oaks that leaned over a dusty country lane, I had proposed, but the girlfriend had turned me down.

But now, three weeks later, I was back in Minnesota on a 30 day leave before departing for my one year tour of duty as an infantryman in Viet Nam, and the girlfriend had finally consented under my relentless urgings, and she allowed me to purchase an engagement ring. I needed that lifeline, that sense of committment and belonging, that sense that there was a future beyond the jungles of Southeast Asia, and her assent to one day becoming my bride gave me that grounding. Lynn still wears that ring, today. I didn’t know then what a privilege it was to ask the one I loved to be for me; to hold my hand and keep my heart close; to send and receive trite, and silly, and melancholy missives; and to wait and to be there when I returned.

Bobby Dylan was singing and saying that the times were a’changing, but it wasn’t clear in what direction. Tricky Dick was in the White House. Dion was lamenting the losses of Abraham, Martin, and John: “but it seems the good, they die young,” and in my narcissism I knew the song was about me. I wasn’t much concerned about what was going on in Greenwich Village, NYC.

If there were any gay people in my life then, I didn’t know it. Oh, there was elderly Emil, a hapless figure who would buy the small town boys cigarettes, but we all knew not to go behind any buildings with him. Maybe some did, I don’t know. I suppose somebody had to be the source of the giggling about the comic old man. In hindsight, I know that an older cousin later died in alcoholic squalor, never fully able to come to grips with who he was, and I have a younger cousin who thrives in a long term relationship with Robert. Perhaps there is symbolism in the differences between the older and the younger. In a reunion with my younger cousin a few years ago, he laughingly recounted how he loved to come and spend time with us in Minnesota and with dear old Grandma Olga because she allowed him to dress up in girl’s clothes.

Queers were deviates, so said the medical and psychological establishment. Fags were outlaws and security risks, so said the FBI, State Department, US Postal Service, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies. Homosexuals were sinners who had chosen the wrong path and needed repentence, so said the word from Christian pulpits. And these others, whoever they were, were mostly invisible:

a secret legion of people, known of but discounted, ignored, laughed at or despised. And like the holders of a secret, they had an advantage which was a disadvantage, too, and which was true of no other minority group in the United States. They were invisible. Unlike African Americans, women, Native Americans, Jews, the Irish, Italians, Asians, Hispanics, or any other cultural group which struggled for respect and equal rights, homosexuals had no physical or cultural markings, no language or dialect which could identify them to each other, or to anyone else.

Dudley Clendinen and Adam Nagourney, as quoted in the Wikipedia article on Stonewall. Whatever you may think of Wikepidia generally, I urge to read the lengthy article about the Stonewall riots.

Stonewall Inn When the eight police officers knocked on the Stonewall door at 1:20 a.m., June 28, 1969, and announced “Police! We’re taking the place!”, they didn’t know they were about to make history, any more than the bus driver who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat on the Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white passenger 14 years earlier. Spurred by the successes of the civil rights movement, the bra burning feminists, and the college students protesting the war, the response of the gay community of Greenwich Village to the routine police raid on the Stonewell Bar of Christopher Street, said Dylan was right, the times were a’changin’.

We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place, and it was not an organized demonstration…. Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us…. All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren’t going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it’s like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that’s what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.

Michael Fader quoted in the same Wikipedia article.

Will the occasion be noted from any pulpits this Sunday? Some, I hope, but only a few, I fear. Probably not in my own church, even though I know my pastor is willing, but the congregation isn’t ready. Not yet. But, someday, and sooner than you think. It’s blowin’ in the wind.


Here is a list of links to other blogs or websites discussing the 40th anniversary of Stonewall.

Twin Cities Pride (including info about 2009 Pride Events)
Kate Clinton: Stonewall 40
The Gifts of Stonewall – 40 Years Later
Pride in the South Central Region
Stonewall, 40 Years Later, What Has Been Achieved?
Weekend Video Roundup: Why We Fight (Idaho Edition)
Stonewall Remembered

Quick check of denominational news

This blog contains a page (see the sidebar) called From Headquarters that contains RSS feeds downloaded from the official websites of progressive denominations or religious organizations. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of an RSS feed, it is a subscription to real-time updates of the latest entries from a website or blog. The feed is typically a headline that a reader can click on for the whole story.

Here’s a sampling of the headlines that appear as this post is being written.

From the Alliance of Baptists website, we see the headline “Being Ecumenical” which is a clickable link to the full story that starts with the following paragraph:

During my initial involvement as a representative of the Alliance of Baptists at the National Council of Churches, I grew to realize that all I need to know about ecumenism, I learned in Hurdle Mills, N.C. — not from my home church, but from the farming community in which I was nurtured.

Here’s another. From the official website of the ELCA, we see the headline, “Lutherans Open their Church Doors to Immigrant Families”, which clicks to the following opening paragraph from the ELCA news service article,

CHICAGO (ELCA) — For Howard Lamont being welcoming to the immigrant population is “simply part of the Christian message.”

And another. From the Mennonite Church USA comes the headline, ” Mennonite Church USA Convention 2.0″, and the clickable link takes the reader to a news release of instructions for following their general convention online.

NEWTON, Kan. — Mennonite Church USA Convention 2009 will take place in Columbus, Ohio, June 30 to July 5, but people who don’t make the trip physically can still experience convention on the Internet like never before.

And finally, one more. From the Action Center for Reform Judaism comes the headline, “At Interfaith Service, Saperstein Stresses Urgent Need for Health Care Reform”, and the link will take the reader to the full article about the comments of Rabbi Saperstein.

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 18, 2009 – At today’s Interfaith Service of Witness and Prayer for health care reform, sponsored by more than 40 national faith organizations and religious denominations, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, spoke of the pressing need for health care for all and encouraged our nation’s leaders to pass health care reform legislation this year.

So, the point is that this page of headlines From Headquarters is a quick and easy way to see what’s up as reported by various religious organizations. I hope you find this tool to be handy and helpful.

Schism is in our genes

Those of us in the Judao – Christian family tree have a long history of internecine struggle and splits. I suppose we could go back even earlier and talk about Isaac and Ishmael if we want to include the Muslims in this family history. The Pharisees disagreed with the Sadducees over Torah and the Temple, and the Essenes had enough of each and ran away to the desert. Paul split with Peter and started his own Gentile mission apart from the Jewish Jesus movement in Jerusalem. Later, the Christians and the rabbis disagreed over who could worship in the synagogues. First, the Coptics retreated to Egypt; then, the Greeks packed up for Constantinople leaving the Catholics in Rome; and a millenium later, Luther spewed nourishment to new nestlings.

So why should I be surprised when several blogposts come through my RSS reader today about schismatics in today’s christendom?

Several hundred former Episcopalians, meeting in a school gym near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, ratified a constitution Monday for the fledgling Anglican Church in North America as a direct challenge to the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada.

So says the Washington Times online.

Frederick Clarkson in Talk to Action blog points out that noted evangelical Rick Warren spoke at this meeting, inciting the schismatic sentiment.

The Presbyterians apparently have the same schismatic genes. According to Pastor John Shuck on his Shuck and Jive blog:

When the two main branches of the Presbyterian Church finally decided the Civil War had ended in 1983, they reunited. Ten years prior to reunion, some congregations of the then “southern branch” broke away and formed their own denomination. The larger church had become too liberal for their tastes.

Each of these two latter day stories relate to LGBT issues, and whispers of schism within my own ELCA waft on the breeze emanating from the direction of the WordAlone Network if the ELCA does what the Network fears this summer and allows a local option for gay clergy and gay marriage. Fear of defections from the ELCA causes some to wring their hands and advocate for the status quo.

Schism is part of our history and undoubtedly part of our future. When defections occur, we should grieve the losses and then move on, but we should not retreat from principle. We should not fear history, nor should we ignore it, nor can we stop it.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Heschel and King
Rabbi Heschel is one my favorite authors. The picture above shows the white haired Heschel at Selma with Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, Ralph Abernathy, and Ralph Bunche (reprinted from Susannah Heschel’s collection on the Dartmouth College website). One of the dozen or so quotes on my favorite quotations page is from the rabbi who was an activist a generation ago although the quote relates to religious ritual, symbol and myth rather than activism … “all conception is symbolization,” sayeth the rabbi.

I mention him here because of a blogpost regarding the Missouri legislature naming a highway after the rabbi in response to a hate group adopting the highway. See the National Democratic Jewish Council’s blog for details.


Book Review: The First Paul by Borg and Crossan (Part 3)

In part 1, I introduced co-authors Borg and Crossan, and in part 2, I discussed their majority view treatment of authentic Pauline letters vs pseudo-Pauline writings that came later as “correctives” to the radical Paul, in the authors’ view. Today, in part 3, I will discuss their less orthodox view that the Roman Emperor and the Empire were Paul’s veiled enemies in his writings, and this discussion will include links to a number of discussions of this issue.

Borg and Crossan are first and foremost Jesus scholars who offer a low christology that is less divine and more human, less other-worldly than here and now, more about a social reformer than an end-times avenger. Whether one agrees or disagrees is not relevant to this book, but what is important to note is their attempt to have Paul fit the same mold. This is where they part company with their scholarly peers.

Read more …

An ELCA sexuality statement and assembly primer: #CWA09

ELCA assemblyOn August 17, “1,045 voting members from 65 synods and 10,448 congregations serving on behalf of the 4,709,203 baptized members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” will convene in Minneapolis for the 2009 biennial assembly. I will be there, too, and I plan to liveblog during the six day event.

There will be worship services, workshops, and plenty more to keep delegates busy, but all eyes will be on the plenary sessions in which the ELCA sexuality statement and LGBT issues will be debated and voted upon. The following is an overview of players and constituencies likely to play major roles or have significant interest in the proceedings.

Bishop Hanson

Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. In the ecclesiology of the ELCA, this is an elected position for a limited term. The presiding Bishop is largely an administrative position without significant legislative functions. The body of delegates at this and other biennial conventions have ultimate legislative authority.

Church Council (Council of Bishops). Each of the 65 synods has a presiding bishop. As a collective body, the bishops serve as the Church Council, which acts as board of directors and legislative body between biennial assemblies. When the Church Council met late in March, it voted to submit the ELCA sexuality statement to the churchwide assembly for consideration. Significantly, it also set guidelines in which voting decisions on the statement would proceed according to majority vote (opponents of the various measures prefer a 2/3 or supra-majority standard). Of course, since the assembly itself has final legislative authority, these standards could be changed, and early skirmishes over procedures are likely to be telling during the assembly.

Sexuality Study Task Force. At the 2001 biennial assembly, a resolution was passed to create a task force to study and report on a proposed social statement on human sexuality.
Although the composition of the task force has changed over time, it has consisted of 27 appointed persons, most recently under the leadership of Pastor Peter Strommen (formerly the bishop of the NE synod of Mn and a personal friend of mine). The proposed Sexuality Statement is the work product of this task force. Three general comments can be made about the Statement: first, it is generally favorable toward LGBT persons; second, it allows LGBT persons in a committed relationship to become rostered clergy based upon local, congregational option; and, third, it is silent regarding “gay marriage”, but that may also be subject to local congregational decision.

Of course, there are advocacy/interest groups on both sides.

Since 1974, a group called Lutherans Concerned has advocated on behalf of LGBT Lutherans. This group’s official posture regarding the proposed statement is mostly positive since gay clergy will be allowed according to local congregational option but also concerned that the local option rule will also allow pockets of dissent within the ELCA that will fester over time. But the biggest criticism pertains to the absence of “a means of public recognition of same-gender relationships, no rite of blessing or marriage. Unacceptable, but correctable inconsistency.” Press release Feb 19, 2009.

Another organization supportive of LGBT issues is The Lutheran Network for Inclusive Vision, and their website may be found at The Network.

Perhaps the most proactive, pro-LGBT group is Goodsoil, and they solicit assembly delegates and other volunteers to offer a full range of advocacy activities during the assembly. I have joined this group and will volunteer my services during the assembly.

On the right is the well-known conservative movement within the ELCA known as the WordAlone Network. Originally founded in 1996 to resist the ecumenical agreement with the Episcopalian Church, the group has continued over the years to offer a conservative point of view within the ELCA. They now claim a membership of over 6,000 ELCA Lutherans and 1,000 clergy. Their website includes the following statement:

WordAlone’s primary concern is that the ELCA is losing its Christ-centered focus. ELCA churches and members are turning to authorities other than the authority of God’s Word, revealed in his risen Son, Jesus Christ, and in his inspired Word in the Holy Scriptures. The other authorities – human experience, wisdom and tradition – are used to turn aside the authority of God’s Word.

As to the Sexuality Statement specifically, the WordAlone Network claims that the ELCA usurps divine authority.

The usurped authority resolution criticizes the ELCA for voting on matters governed by Divine Law when it has no legitimate authority to do so and for sending proposals that “explicitly reject Scripture’s clear, consistent witness concerning marriage and sexuality” to the churchwide assembly.

It will be an interesting summer in the ELCA, and I will keep you posted from my vantage point on the left side of Northfield, Mn.

Feminist News

Here are a couple of week-ending notes.

First, highly regarded author, theologian, and elder in the African Methodist Church, the Rev. Dr. Renita Weems has an interesting blog post about Rabbi Alysa Stanton. Rabbi Stanton is apparently the first black woman to become a Rabbi. Congratulations to Rabbi Stanton and thanks to Dr. Weems for an excellent post.

Second, the popular GLBT website, notes that After coming out as a lesbian in 2006, Batwoman finally gets her own comic book series — and this time, she’s out, proud, and here to stay.

Third, Desert’s Child Blog reports on a speech by award winning actress Patricia Clarkson to the New Orleans gathering of the Human Rights Coalition. “The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks,” she said, quoting playwright Tennessee Williams. The theme of her talk was the groundswell of support for gay rights and gay marriage breaking through the hard, the cold, the oppressive … by a force that is beautiful, natural, colorful, alive.

Finally, happy Father’s Day (to mothers, too). You are my child, my beloved; I am well pleased with you. This paraphrase of the gospels is my view on the most important attitude a parent can manifest to a child. Let us celebrate our parents, and our children, this weekend.

Catholics Right and Left

I offer a couple of tidbits of Minnesota news, one from the Catholic right and one from the Catholic left.

The ultraconservative Catholic Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) made local news in Minnesota today. This is the breakaway group whose four bishops were excommunicated two decades ago then recently reinstated by Pope Benedict XVI despite controversy over holocaust denials by one of the four, Richard Williamson. Williamson was recently booted out of Argentina where he had been serving.

In Minnesota, the group has reappeared in the news due to the announcement that thirteen seminarians will be ordained by one of the four reinstated bishops, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais. Although the excommunications of the four bishops have been lifted, the Vatican states that the four have no official standing; thus, the ordinations will not be recognized by the church. In an article in the Mpls Star Tribune, Rose Hammes, spokesperson for the Winona Diocese, states:

the men being ordained by the society on Friday would not be eligible to serve as priests in any Roman Catholic diocese.

The St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary of Winona, which is affiliated with SSPX, will host the ordinations.

Meanwhile, in local Minnesota news from the Catholic left, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) has announced that Democratic candidate for governor, Sen John Marty, will speak at The Committee’s annual community meeting on June 22. Marty is sponsor of a pending bill in the Mn Senate that would provide for gender-neutral marriage laws, and he will speak on why as a person of faith he supports marriage equality for LGBT people. Marty’s father is Martin Marty, a well known Lutheran theologian, who has strong ties to St Olaf college of Northfield. The event will take place at St. Martin’s Table.