Thanks.

Just got an email letting me know that this blog has been featured at onlinechristiancolleges.net, in a compilation of the “top 55 pastor bloggers”. I appreciate the inclusion among some great company. Check it out as a good annotated resource of some of what else is out there.

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It's about diplomacy.

Here (and on Facebook) I last posted about how we need to be careful in response to the tenuous passage of Prop. 8 not to scapegoat the Mormons.  I was thinking about how Mormon temples have selectively been protested, there are websites that identify Mormon donors, and other websites with names like “Mormons Stole Our Rights.”  Some have pointed out to me that such efforts are, technically, factual, and not only that, warranted, given the exorbitant amount of resources poured into marriage discrimination by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  I agree with both points.  But as valid as it is to express our anger, we need to make sure our response is not more harmful than helpful in the process.

Our ultimate goal is to change enough hearts and minds on the issue of same-sex marriage such that equal civil rights may forever be secured for LGBT people.  While there are some genuine ‘haters’ on the other side, I am convinced that there are also many good people just across the line who will, if persuaded, help us permanently settle this question next time it goes up (in California, at least).  I am also convinced that if our response is instead perceived by most people across that line as a disproportionate attack, then our progress will actually be impeded by further division.

Let’s look to the historical example of emerging gay rights within the United Church of Christ.  In 1985, the General Synod, somewhat of a ‘governing body’ for the UCC, became Open and Affirming, which was a suggestion from the top that churches open their employment, volunteer and membership ranks to welcome LGBT people into full, equal participation.  Today, there are approximately 5,518 UCC congregations, of which, approximately 657 are Open and Affirming.  So even though the official standing from our top body of governence asked 20 years ago that all churches become Open and Affirming, approximately 88% are not.  This is because the General Synod’s resolutions are not binding.  There are two ways to look at this.

My impatient, inner-tyrant notes that even among our liberal UCC, many churches are not LGBT inclusive, and that is inexcusable.  From my theological standpoint, those churches should all become Open and Affirming, and they should do it today – because it’s the good, Godly, and right thing to do.  HOWEVER – if at any point this became a binding resolution, back then or even today, we would have lost countless congregations.  And here’s the really important point: there are churches that are Open and Affirming today that would have left the denomination had they been forced to adopt LGBT inclusivity back in 1985.  So though it’s taking a while, the non-binding nature of the UCC’s resolutions has actually created the space for changed hearts and minds on the issue – without fostering unnecessary division in the process.

Let me hasten to acknowledge that this is radically different from what we are looking at in California today.  However, the underlying principle is the same: it is through open (though often forceful) dialogue, rather than divisive tactics that shut down communication, that we are able to bring about change.

That is why I think we need to be careful not to primarily scapegoat just one group of people (Mormons) in our response to Prop. 8.  Even though I believe that all of the outrage directed towards the Mormon church is morally justified, I worry that a too-narrow attack on the Mormon church will cost us the support of many moderate Mormons (and others) who could be our allies next time around.

Check out this undeniably moving account on the aftermath of Prop. 8’s passage, as experienced by Vanessa, a Mormon woman who voted “Yes” while acknowledging the troubling reality of the human cost of denying marriage.  She is precisely the sort of person who I believe will ultimately change her position once she fully assumes her moral obligation to this human reality.  At the least, her post helps illustrate that Mormons who supported Prop. 8 are not a monolithic voting bloc that should categorically be cut off or dismissed.

We who oppose marraige discrimination must ask ourselves: what sort of diplomacy is needed in order to change the hearts and minds of people like Vanessa?  And are our present efforts helping or hindering this cause?

Enough Mormon-bashing.

In the wake of the passage of Proposition 8 in California, I join the many who lament the prospect that equal marriage rights for LGBT people will be delayed once again.  I am appalled by the narrow and shallow theological assumptions about marriage and family that the anti-marriage religious folks espouse.  Mostly, I am outraged that God has been co-opted as a means of denying equal, civil rights to my queer friends and family in California and elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the anti-Mormon backlash is unwarranted.  I understand that people are angry – I’m angry – and I am particularly angry at the Catholic, Mormon, and other church leaders who have mounted this vigorous and discriminatory campaign.  However, efforts like this, to single-out and scapegoat Mormons in particular, based on their support of Prop. 8, are unfair – and, I believe, rooted in the oppression that Mormons have historically faced.

More on this soon.  In the meantime, let’s not cede the high road, nor the opportunity to build bridges and coalitions, for the sake of our cause.

God and Election 2008, cont.

In this video, Mike Blejer offers another look at the role that God may have had in this election.  (My take can be found here.) Mike’s a friend of mine from college, and is an emerging comedian in the DC area.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright – in context

For two weeks now, the vast majority of media coverage surrounding Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Wright, has been a straw man of epic proportions. After combing through countless sermons in order to isolate individual phrases that might be “shocking”, the media has successfully constructed a false caricature of Rev. Wright – and we’ve been beaten over the head with it for the better part of two weeks.

Rev. Wright’s comments seemed crazy. (“God damn America!”) They seemed indefensible. (Following 9/11: “America’s chickens have come home to roost.”)

Then, only after the storm started to die down, Rev. Wright’s comments actually appeared in context:

In Isaiah and elsewhere (how about Rome??), God does indeed curse the nation who puts herself ahead of God. The injection of context to this issue makes it immediately apparent that Rev. Wright has been unfairly demonized throughout this entire process. His words are not only justifiable in context, but dead-on. It’s serious, well-founded theology – and it’s a far cry from the ugly caricature of that we’ve been spoon-fed by the media for the last two weeks.

Now, let’s turn to Rev. Wright’s comments following 9/11. He was roundly criticized for saying that “America’s chickens have come home to roost,” which was the extent of the sound byte. Here’s the full context (it’s long, but it’s glorious):

So let’s get this straight: for two weeks now, the media has been claiming that Rev. Wright has “blamed America for 9/11,” when in fact, Rev. Wright was quoting – in context – a white ambassador? And Rev. Wright gets two weeks of bad press for this???

Say it loud: the talking heads are not your friend!

The willingness of so many to accept the character assassination of Rev. Wright just underscores the need for all of us to think for ourselves during this election season, and not blindly accept ideas constructed from 30 second sound bytes.

For additional reading on how much the “30 seconds per sermon” approach sucks, go here. For more videos of Rev. Wright, go here.

Jeremiah Wright is still damn right

( This is a follow-up to this post, inspired by this comment.)

[UPDATE: If you haven’t seen Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments in their original context, follow this link.]

Each church has a unique context, with members who have particular needs and points of view. Trinity UCC has, since its inception, been one of the most honest churches I can think of in living the gospel and meeting the needs of the greater community on the south side of Chicago (read: low-income black folks, a community that has historically borne the brunt of America’s oppression). Depending on the circumstances that have brought folks to their point of need, “God damn America” can represent a liberating theological notion for those who have been harmed by America – or by the conflation of God/America like we’ve seen following September 11.

The powerful subtext behind “God damn America” is first and foremost that God is NOT America, and does not necessarily bless us just for being Americans. Depending on where you’ve come from, these can be liberating words that can lead people from despair, to God. As a pastor, Rev. Wright’s job at the pulpit isn’t to be politically correct, or to be safe, or comforting, or to not make waves or step on toes, but it is to declare the salvation of God – as effectively as possible, – for the folks who need to hear it. And if you listen to the tiny decontextualized video snippets of any of these “controversial” sermons, you will hear that Rev. Wright’s words deeply resonated with those who were there to hear them.

All I’m saying is, we – and by “we” I’m talking to outraged middle class folks who are so offended by Rev. Wright’s comments that they’re considering not voting for Obama as a result – we must realize that our self righteousness is not necessarily universal. It may well be crazy and indefensible for the pastor of our churches to preach “God damn America,” but then again, context is everything, isn’t it? (Yes, it is.)

Many are now asking, what does this say about Obama, and the emphasis that he has put on our national unity?

To me, it says that he has spent 20 years working in a church that has been a vibrant, saving institution for many low-income black folks in Chicago.

It says that Obama views the gospel message as one that requires adherence to God AND neighbor, just as Jesus commands.

Finally, it says that Obama, who has been through his own share of difficult times, has also spent his life meeting people at their point of need, without losing his optimism for the future of America.

And that is a candidate – and a faith perspective – that I can get behind.

Jeremiah Wright is damn right

[UPDATE: If you haven’t seen Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s comments in their original context, follow this link.]

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, former senior pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, has taken a lot of flak for a handful of statements he has made in a few sermons. The reason we’re supposed to care is because Rev. Wright is the pastor of Barack Obama’s home church. I suppose the thinking goes that if Barack Obama can’t be beaten on issues, perhaps he’ll go down by association if enough dirt can be heaped upon his pastor. Time will tell.

Most famously, he has uttered the words you’re not supposed to say after 9/11: “God damn America.” Here is the “full” quote (and by “full” I mean “a pathetic, 10 second snippet of what was probably a 45 minute sermon”):

27479198.jpg“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

Troubling words. But Rev. Jeremiah Wright is prophetic – and right.

It is an utter perversion of Christianity to think that God sanctions everything that America is or does – yet how many Christian leaders behave as if America is God’s Special Favorite? I’m sorry to say it, but we aren’t God’s favorites, just because we fly the Stars and Stripes. America is simply our nation, both great and flawed, with both a proud history of dissent and protecting minority voices, and a shameful history of abuse and oppression from the majority.

To whatever extent God damns anything, you can be damn sure that the God of Jesus Christ would damn slavery.

You can be damn sure that God would damn the government for selling crack in inner cities in order to finance the Contras.

You can be damn sure that God damns the American slaughter of innocent people, whether in Hiroshima or Baghdad.

If our God is a God of justice and mercy at all, it is clear that there are damnable aspects about America throughout her history. It is shocking to hear “God damn America!” But that’s nowhere near as shocking as the notion that God categorically blesses everything America does.

(For more on this, please see Devilstower’s excellent diary on DailyKos.)