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    • Meeting Truth October 14, 2020
      Writes author Colin Fleming:We fight for so much control in our lives, and we feel frightfully unmoored without it. We have voices in our cars directing us when to bang that right turn, devices on our wrists telling us how many steps we’ve taken. We deal in constant analytics, sometimes evaluating the quality of our own thoughts and words by how many likes t […]
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    • A saint for the millenials: Carlo Acutis beatified today in Assisi. October 10, 2020
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The Author of Loathing Lincoln Explains Why Some on the Christian Right Loathe Lincoln

Originally posted at Talk to Action.

 photo loathinglincoln.jpgOne under-reported result of the 2014 elections was the rise of Neo-Confederate politics in the U.S. This included the election of unabashed apologist for the Confederacy Michael Peroutka, who was elected to Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Council; and Joni Ernst, a proponent of nullification and secession, who was elected to the United States Senate from Iowa. It has also resulted in divisions on the Christian Right as well as in the wider Republican Party.

Thus is seems like a good time to ask John McKee Barr, the author of one of this year’s most informative books, Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present for some insight into what is going on. As Barr told me before our interview, it is within the Neo-Confederate movement where the hatred of Abraham Lincoln and all he stood for meets the Religious Right.  

John Barr is currently a professor of history at Lone Star College-Kingwood [Texas], having joined their faculty in 2008. There he teaches a variety of courses including the survey of U.S. History, “Political Novels”, “The Emancipators: Charles Darwin, Abraham Lincoln, and the Making of the Modern World,” and “Revolution and Counterrevolution.” His website can be found right here.

Loathing Lincoln is his first book and an important first effort. The tome not only provides the reader with excellent insight into the to peculiar tradition of Lincoln hatred, but by extension, a more complete understanding of many of the beliefs that underlie the current nullification and secession movements.

I began our conversation by asking Barr to explain Lincoln’s religious philosophy. Was it unchanging or did it evolve over time?

Barr: Lincoln’s religion has been a topic of unending fascination, both for his admirers and his critics. For me, the best book on this subject is Allen Guelzo’s Abraham Lincoln:Redeemer President. In broad terms, I think we can say that Lincoln grew up in a deeply religious world of Protestant Christianity. As Guelzo puts it, “Intellectually, he was stamped from his earliest days by the Calvinism of his parents.”  In addition, Lincoln certainly had what many have called a melancholic streak in his personality (Lincoln’s “melancholy dripped from him as he walked” his law partner William Herndon said), and that too, at least in my view, shaped his religious beliefs. One of his favorite poems was by William Knox, one entitled “Mortality.” A close look at that poem I think verifies the future president’s dark outlook. Still, Lincoln did go through a phase of being what Guelzo calls a “religious skeptic.” He never joined a church, and one political opponent, Peter Cartwright, accused Lincoln of what was called then “infidelity” in a congressional campaign. You can see Lincoln’s response to that charge here. Personally, it seems to me that Lincoln would just rather avoid the whole subject and he does not really answer the charge, thus lending some credence to the idea that Cartwright’s allegations were true.

Now, when Lincoln is campaigning against the extension of slavery into the territories in the 1850s he frequently attacks, or mocks, the idea that slavery is a divine institution and good for the slave (e.g. pro-slavery theology). I especially like the sentence in the preceding link where he says that “Certainly there is no contending against the Will of God; but still there is some difficulty in ascertaining, and applying it, to particular cases.” Thus, he condemns slavery’s defenders for using God to mask their own self-interest.

During the Civil War, I think Lincoln’s language becomes much more suffused, if you will, with religious imagery. In a sense, how could it be otherwise? Hundreds of thousands of Americans are dying (this would be millions, proportionally speaking, today) and he had to make sense of all this suffering and communicate it to the American public in religious language. The culmination of this is his Second Inaugural Address, which some historians believe is truly his greatest speech. Notice Lincoln’s sense that the war is God’s just punishment for the sin of American rather than southern slavery. It is a remarkable address, yet one without rancor and closing with perhaps the finest peroration in the English language.

Once the war concluded and Lincoln had been assassinated, then the issue of his religious beliefs became of profound importance for Americans. This is something that I explore in great detail in the second and fourth chapters of my book, Loathing Lincoln: An American Tradition from the Civil War to the Present. Lincoln’s opponents accused him of being an “infidel,” or unbeliever (this was true not only in the South, I might add), while some of his defenders claimed him as the quintessential Christian. Lincoln’s law partner, William Herndon, tried to set the record straight in the aftermath of his friend’s death, but in claiming Lincoln was not a Christian he made many people quite angry. Nowadays Lincoln’s religious beliefs are interesting to Americans, of course, but I’m not sure they are as important to people (we are a much more religiously pluralistic country today, including those Americans who like Lincoln affiliate themselves with no church at all) as they were in the latter part of the nineteenth-century, or the early twentieth century. Still, I would agree with Christopher Hitchens that Lincoln cannot be enlisted in the atheist cause. He is instead a political figure who challenged those who claimed religious certitude, those who used religion to justify what was in their own self-interest, yet drew on religious tradition/language in attempt to ascertain the meaning of the Civil War for all Americans.

Cocozzelli: Why would conservative Christian libertarians despise Lincoln?

Barr: I think that it is because Lincoln and the Republicans used public power to intervene into a private arrangement – slavery. And, it seems to me anyway, that today many Christians are deeply suspicious of any government that might do something similar. Think gay marriage, for example. Also, I don’t know that all, or even most, Christian libertarians despise Lincoln. To be sure, some do and they are influential, but I don’t know if they are a majority.

Cocozzelli: What about Lincoln’s legacy teaches us how to effectively answer the Christian libertarian right?

Barr: Consider these words from Lincoln: “Our government rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much. Public opinion, or [on] any subject, always has a “central idea,” from which all its minor thoughts radiate.”

Roman Catholic & Lutheran interaction: “grass roots ecumenism”

LWF President Younan Invites Pope Benedict XVI to Help Plan 500th Anniversary Commemoration

LWF President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan, assisted by General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge, presents Pope Benedict XVI with a gift from Bethlehem depicting the Last Supper. Second from left is Vatican employee Francesco Cavaliere.

Leaders of the Lutheran World Federation recently met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.  Before considering the report of this latest meeting, here’s the background:

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF now has 145 member churches in 79 countries all over the world representing over 70 million Christians.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a prominent member of the Federation, and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson recently completed a term as President of the LWF.  No other Lutheran denomination in the US belongs to LWF.  Since the ELCA is often criticized by other Lutherans for its social activism, it is hardly surprising that the ELCA is the only U.S. Lutheran denomination participatory in the LWF.  Perusing the LWF website suggests advocacy roles regarding:

  • HIV/AIDS
  • Climate change
  • Illegitimate debt
  • Refugee support
  • Clean water and sanitation in Asian third world countries
    In a November 15th address, current LWF President Dr Munib A. Younan (Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the successor to ELCA Bishop Mark Hanson) stated:

We are called to work to eradicate poverty, to be prophetic against injustice, to be bridge builders between South and North and East and West, to strengthen our sisters and brothers who suffer or find discrimination because of their faith, and to be responsible for the integrity of creation.

In response to the impulse toward ecumenism following Vatican II, Roman Catholics and Lutherans representing the LWF engaged in years of theological discussions that culminated in a joint statement on the doctrine of justification in 1999.  According to Wikipedia,

The Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification is a document created by and agreed to by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation in 1999, as a result of extensive ecumenical dialogue, ostensibly resolving the conflict over the nature of justification which was at the root of the Protestant Reformation.

The Churches acknowledged that the excommunications relating to the doctrine of justification set forth by the Council of Trent do not apply to the teachings of the Lutheran churches set forth in the text; likewise, the churches acknowledged that the condemnations set forth in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the Catholic teachings on justification set forth in the document. Confessional Lutherans, such as the International Lutheran Council and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference, reject the Declaration.

On July 18, 2006, members of the World Methodist Council, meeting in Seoul, South Korea, voted unanimously to adopt this document as well.

Bishop Hanson at LWFLast summer after his term as LWF President had ended, ELCA Presiding Bishop was asked about the status of ecumenical relations with the Vatican:

The president had been asked if he could envisage a day when a Roman Catholic and Lutheran married couple could commune together with the blessing of both churches. It is the lay people of the churches who are driving and sustaining these conversations, he responded, acknowledging the “grassroots ecumenism” that is alive among lay people. While leaders wrestle with difficult theological issues, “lay people of different churches pray together, study together and work together to build just societies. “If Roman Catholics and Lutherans [for example] can feed the hungry together, wouldn’t it be good if they could be fed at the Lord’s Table together?”

Hanson acknowledged that he is unlikely to see all Christian churches communing together in his lifetime, but “if I can contribute to that vision being realized I’ll be very grateful.”

Here is personal, anecdotal evidence of the grass roots ecumenism of which Hanson speaks.

I hail from Upsala, Minnesota, originally a Swedish community that actually had a Ku Klux Klan chapter in the anti-German days of WWI, but the purpose of the chapter was not to repress blacks (there were none) but to keep Catholics out of Upsala.  The local Swedes covenanted with each other that they would not sell real estate to Catholic purchasers.  Didn’t work.

St Mary's in UpsalaSkip ahead to 1954, and the Roman Catholic church building from nearby St. Francis in largely German-Catholic Stearns County was moved slowly on rollers five miles north to a prominent place on main street in Upsala.  A very real and symbolic movement of the German Catholics from the south that corresponded with an influx of Polish Catholics from the east (Bowlus, Sobieski, Little Falls).  Grandma Hilma was sure the end times were near.

But, by the 70’s, the Lutheran pastor, the Roman Catholic priest, and the pastor from the Covenant church joined together in a singing group that appeared at nursing homes and elsewhere and also jointly organized a senior center in Upsala.   Local clergy continue to work together in an active ministerial association (the only non-participant is the pastor from the small Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregation in town).

Most recently, in just the last few months, the Roman Catholics replaced that wooden building that had been relocated to Upsala fifty-six years ago, but the new building would be on the same site as the old one.  Where to gather for mass during construction?  My old congregation, perhaps including the descendants of those who once covenanted to keep the Catholics out of town, offered the use of their facilities and insisted that no rent or remuneration would be accepted.

Construction was completed early in December, and the Catholics at St Mary’s are proudly worshiping in their own building once again.  And, the Lutherans from Gethsemane will soon be their guests for a day when the regular Gethsemane Sunday worship service will move to the new Sanctuary of St. Mary’s, to be followed by a brunch hosted by their Catholic friends.  Just as the Catholics celebrated their Eucharist in the Lutheran church building, the Lutherans will now celebrate their Eucharist in the Catholic church building.  I suspect the folks at both St Mary’s and Gethsemane would be just fine taking the final step and actually celebrating the Eucharist together but for official Roman Catholic policy, but the symbolism of the current events is a striking example of grass roots ecumenism.

This brings us back to the beginning, and the recent meeting between LWF leadership and Pope Benedict XVI.  Here’s the report from the LWF website:

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan has invited Pope Benedict XVI to work together with the Lutheran communion in realizing an ecumenically accountable commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

“For us there is joy in the liberating power of the gospel proclaimed afresh by the reformers, and we will celebrate that,” said Younan in a message today, when he led a seven-member delegation in a private audience with the Pope. He underlined the need to recognize both the damaging aspects of the Reformation and ecumenical progress.

“But we cannot achieve this ecumenical accountability on our own, without your help. Thus we invite you to work together with us in preparing this anniversary, so that in 2017 we are closer to sharing in the Bread of Life than we are today.”

Secondly, Bishop Younan expressed similar sentiments to those of Bishop Hanson about the continuing inability of Catholics and Lutherans to celebrate the Eucharist together.

In his statement, Younan reiterated the LWF’s commitment to “moving closer toward one another around this Table of the Lord, which Luther saw as the summa evangelii.” The LWF president pointed out that while it was important to “rejoice in each small step which brings us closer together, we do not want to be content with these steps. We remain strong in hope – both for the full visible unity of Christ’s Church and for the Eucharistic communion which is so crucial a manifestation of that unity.”

I studied with the School of Theology at St John’s Abbey and University in the early ‘90’s.  Once a week, the resident students hosted a meal for the non-residents followed by a mass.  But, a couple of seminarians protested that this was contrary to Catholic doctrine because many of the non-residents were non-Catholics , and the joint mass was discontinued–to the common pain of most of us, Catholic and Protestant alike.  In defense of this exclusive policy, one seminarian suggested that when the rest of us accepted the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, then we would be welcomed.  By that standard, I shouldn’t be celebrating communion with most Lutherans, since I’m sure we don’t all share the same understanding; nor is the understanding of the communing children in our congregation likely to be anywhere close to the understanding of the adults.

At the joint meeting, the Pontiff expressed continuing support for ecumenical dialogue without addressing Catholic exclusivity around the communion rail.

Cross posted at Spirit of a Liberal blog.

Of human bondage

What motivates us as human beings?  Why do we do what we do?

I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 

Of human bondageThese words of Paul the apostle from the 7th chapter of his letter to the Romans serve as the epigraph to my novel and the source of the title, A Wretched Man, a novel of Paul the apostle.  As these verses from Paul suggest, we have long wrestled with the problem of the human will.  The wonderings of philosophers such as Schopenhauer & Nietzsche; psychoanalysts such as Freud & Jung; and literary figures such as Somerset Maugham & Thomas Mann suggest it’s complicated and self-awareness is difficult.

What about homophobia?  What is the source of this phenomenon?  Let’s start with a definition–this one is Merriam-Webster’s online version:

irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals

and Wikipedia’s description:

Homophobia is a range of negative attitudes and feelings towards homosexuality and people identified or perceived as being homosexual. Definitions refer variably to antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, and irrational fear. Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of a perceived non-heterosexual orientation. In a 1998 address, author, activist, and civil rights leader Coretta Scott King stated that “Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.”

Let’s take it a step further; what is “internalized homophobia”?  Here’s the opening paragraph from a UC-Davis Psychology Department study:

Among lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, internalized sexual stigma (also called internalized homophobia) refers to the personal acceptance and endorsement of sexual stigma as part of the individual’s value system and self-concept. It is the counterpart to sexual prejudice among heterosexuals.

In other words, it is gay folks accepting negative societal, cultural, or religious stigma and applying such negative values toward oneself.  Self-condemnation.  Self-doubt and low self esteem en extremis.  It doesn’t take deep psychological insight to recognize that internalized homophobia is not healthy.  High incidence of suicide.  Drug and alcohol abuse.  Inability to have meaningful relationships. 

And sometimes, the internalized homophobia results in outrageous behavior toward other gays.  An extreme example is Andrew Cunanan, the murderer of Gianni Versace; political examples include US Senator Larry Craig & California State Senator Ray Ashburn; and religious examples include Ted Haggard and now Minnesota pastor and outspoken opponent of the ELCA gay friendly policies, Pastor Tom Brock of Hope Lutheran Church of Minneapolis (Hope Church is not ELCA but AFLC—Association of Free Lutheran Churches–a small and conservative Lutheran denomination). 

The “outing” of Pastor Brock was a journalistic abomination for which there is no excuse, and the offending magazine has received appropriate condemnation.  Yet, the exposure of Pastor Brock raises the question of other outspoken anti-gay religious leaders.  Let me be perfectly clear, I make no suggestion that this is the sole or even the primary motivation for those religious leaders in various denominations that oppose gay inclusive policies.  Yet, one wonders whether Pastor Brock is merely an isolated and atypical example or merely the tip of the iceberg.  What is it about human sexuality that makes some squirm?  How often does sexual angst undergird homophobia?

Whatever the motivation, religious leaders who bash gay folks over the head with their Bibles need to seriously question themselves—are they really offering a solution to gay suicide, gay drug and alcohol abuse, and gay casual relationships or are they part of the problem?  Are they advancing the kingdom of God or stalling it?  Are they truly seeking God’s will or merely proof texting the Bible to justify their own biases, prejudices and even their own homophobia? 

Don’t, please don’t, respond with the horrific notion that you hate the sin but love the sinner, a self-justifying excuse for murky motivations behind hurtful behavior.

Cross posted at Spirit of a Liberal.

Now it’s the Presbyterian’s turn

The Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) is commonly labeled “mainline Protestant”.  According to Wikipedia, the attribution “mainline Protestant” suggests the following:

Mainline or mainline Protestant (also sometimes called mainstream) denominations are those that comprised the vast majority of American Christianity from the colonial era until the early 1900s. Most were brought to America by their respective historic immigrant groups. Today, most are rooted in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States.

As a group they have maintained theologies that stress social justice concerns together with personal salvation and evangelism. They have been credited with leading the fight for social causes such as racial justice and civil rights, equality for women, rights for the disabled and other key issues. Many of the issues that such groups have advocated for have been embraced by American law and society, but at the same time mainline denominations have been somewhat marginalized. In addition, mainline churches and laity founded most of the leading educational institutes in the US.

In typical usage, the term mainline is contrasted with evangelical. Mainline churches tend to be more liberal in terms of theology and political issues. This places them to the ideological left of the evangelical and fundamentalist churches.

With approximately 2.4 million members, the PCUSA is the third largest of the mainline Protestant denominations behind the United Methodists (UMC–8 million) and the ELCA (4.4 million) and just ahead of the Episcopal Church (2.1 million).  Many of these denominations hold formal agreements with each other that mutually recognize clergy and sacramental practice.  For instance, the ELCA has full communion agreements with six other denominations, including the UMC, PCUSA and Episcopal Churches.

After wrestling with the issue of women’s ordination a generation or two ago, that issue is now settled and females comprise a significant percentage of the clergy within these mainline Protestant denominations.  Presently, LGBT issues roil these denominations.  The United Church of Christ (UCC) has the longest record of allowing gay clergy, and LGBT issues seem less contentious for that 1.1 million member denomination.  The Episcopal Church now has two LGBT bishops and adopted policies a year ago that succinctly offer “all the sacraments for all the baptized”.  But, the Episcopalians’ relationship with the worldwide Anglican communion has been strained and a conservative, dissident group of American Episcopalians has splintered away.  Also last summer, the ELCA changed its policy and now recognizes and affirms committed gay relationships and allows partnered gay clergy, but not without defecting individual and congregational membership.

PCUSA assembly logo All of this is background to the PCUSA weeklong 219th Annual Assembly that convenes in Minneapolis on July 3rd.  Coincidentally, the venue is the same Convention Center that was the location of last year’s momentous ELCA church wide assembly (CWA09).  I was present last summer as a volunteer for Goodsoil, a coalition of LGBT advocacy groups, and regular followers of this blog know that I have posted extensively about that experience.  The parallel LGBT advocacy organization within the PCUSA is “More Light Presbyterians (MLP)”, and they will advocate for repeal of provision G-6.0106b within the PCUSA Book of Order.

Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.

At the 2006 assembly, the delegates voted by a 57% majority that this provision was “non-essential” but without repealing it, which would have required ratification by the various presbyteries (regional bodies) of the PCUSA.  Detractors decried this “end run” around the PCUSA constitution.  Indeed, at the next assembly in 2008, the provision was amended by the delegates, but the amendment was subsequently derailed by the Presbyteries that failed to ratify the assembly action.

In addition to regular business of the assembly, including the election of a new moderator, the issue will certainly arise next month in Minneapolis.  I intend to blog extensively on this issue in the coming weeks so stay tuned.  As a non-Presbyterian, I also confess to partial knowledge of the details, and I welcome any Presbyterian comment or correction.

Cross posted at Spirit of a Liberal blog.

Today is the day: ELCA rosters gay clergy

From the moment they called the question and the resolution passed by a 55-45% majority at last August’s ELCA churchwide assembly, Lutherans knew that partnered gay clergy would soon become rostered on the list of ELCA ordained clergy.

Today is the day.

A visible sign of the wondrous changes in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the reinstatement of Pastor Bradley Schmeling and Pastor Darin Easler to the roster of ministers of the ELCA. Both had been removed from that roster for being in a committed, same-gender relationship.

The leading Minnesota newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, reported on the local angle, noting that Darin Easler had earlier served in the SE Mn synod (now my home) and also mentioned Anita Hill whose own celebrated case in St Paul was an important waypoint on the journey toward full inclusion.

Because they both had been rostered before, the process was different than for them than, say, the Rev. Anita Hill, who has been pastoring St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul since 2001 without being on the ELCA roster. She said that she’s going to apply for rostering but is waiting so that the distinction of being first goes to a California minister who was the first lesbian to challenge the old ELCA policy.

And, speaking of the 20 year old California extraordinary ordinations of gay and lesbian pastors, here is a video that retells and celebrates the story of Jeff Johnson, Phyllis Zillhart, and Ruth Frost.  The video was released on the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) blog.  Susan Hogan at Pretty Good Lutheran’s blog has more background information, and I also cite my own past post.

Cross posted at Spirit of a Liberal blog.

LIBERATED WITH JOY FROM A FAILING INSTITUTION


(Photo is actually of the Spiritus Christi community of Rochester, New York, another inclusive Catholic community beyond the control of the institutional church. Thanks to Contemplative Catholic for photo and links.)

(I found this very moving statement from the website of “St. Mary’s: Community in Exile in Brisbane, South Australia. Here in very eloquent language is the future of the Church. “When the winds of change blow/some build walls/some build windmills. It is time for many new windmills.”)

Terry Fitzpatrick4 July 2009 (Published in The Green Left Weekly July 4 2009)

On April 19, a huge mob of St Mary’s people made a pilgrimage out of a church and into the Trades and Labor Council (TLC) building, home of the Queensland Council of Unions.

They walked out of the church to the TLC, 200 metres down the road in silent vigil with candles and lanterns, banners and balloons – not unlike the Jews of the Old Testament escaping from the slavery of the Egyptians to the liberation of the Promised Land (minus the balloons).

We too feel liberated from the shackles of a failing institution caught up in dogmas and creeds that belong to another age. We felt it was time to take a stand from the constant bullying we have experienced for many years.

We have been bullied for standing up for the rights of women and giving them a voice. For challenging and changing the sexist language and images of God in the liturgies and celebrations we have as a community. For ensuring women are given equal roles in the decision-making processes of the community.

We have been bullied to make us stop blessing the unions of gay and lesbian couples, baptising their children and allowing them to celebrate and use the church like any other group.

We have been kicked out of our church for giving people with a sexual orientation that departs from the mainstream a voice and a place within the church.

We have been ostracised for taking a stand with those who have suffered abuse at the hands of state and church-run institutions. For setting up the Esther centre in Lotus Place, a place of advocacy and support for people who have experienced abuse in human service or faith communities.

We have been marginalised for signing a treaty with the Indigenous people of the land we are on, for recognising their prior ownership and sovereignty. We believe as many Australians do that this recognition lies at the heart of addressing the injustices carried out against the Aboriginal people of this land.

For these and many other reasons we have been liberated from the constant bullying and shackles of a failing institution unable to change.

As a people we feel optimistic about our future. We have had enormous support nationally and internationally. We have tapped into a nerve, a frustration, a boiling-over anger at an institution that continues to deny the rights of so many.

This huge Roman Catholic corporation continues to win the sympathy and ear of governments afraid to challenge its bullying, standover tactics.

The days of its unchallenged reign are numbered. The tide is turning and new ways of expressing and celebrating spirituality are being forged. We are delighted to be a part of this new movement. As one wise sage said:

“When the winds of change blow/Some build walls/Others build windmills.”

It is time for many new windmills.

[Father Terry Fitzpatrick is a member of the St Mary’s congregation in Brisbane.]

Cross posted at Gay Mystic

The UCC and gay ordination: thirty-eight years and counting

I have been and will continue to be a cheerleader for my beloved ELCA, and I will defend with pride her courageous decision last summer to include our LGBT brothers and sisters in ordained ministry and to offer blessing of their relationships.  I have also blogged extensively about the parallel Episcopal efforts to include “all the baptized in all the sacraments.”  But, there is one denomination that we sometimes overlook and take for granted; the United Church of Christ (UCC) was the original pioneer in recognizing gay clergy over a generation ago.  I have friends in my local UCC congregation, and their attitude towards the new ELCA policy is “what took you so long.”

With a hat tip to the blog Straight not Narrow—Presenting Jesus beyond the Walls, I offer the following YouTube video that remembers the ordination of William (Bill) R. Johnson, the first openly gay person to be ordained to the Christian ministry … on June 25, 1972. The whole movie takes about twenty minutes and is broken into two parts for YouTube.  They’re worth the time.

Cross posted at Spirit of a Liberal.

ELCA Social Statements: Consensus Teaching Documents: Part I

The teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church, referred to as the magisterium, resides in the episcopacy and especially the papacy.  The parallel teaching authority of the ELCA is the process of study, debate, and adoption of various social statements.

Social statements are social policy documents, adopted by an ELCA Churchwide Assembly, addressing significant social issues.  They provide an analysis and interpretation of an issue, set forth basic theological and ethical perspectives related to it, and offer guidance for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, its individual members, and its affiliated agencies and institutions. They are the product of extensive and inclusive deliberation within this church.

At the 2009 Church wide assembly in Minneapolis, the ELCA adopted revised ministry policies encouraging “recognition and support” for persons in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous” same gender relationships and also allowed such persons in such relationships to be ordained.

Separately and coincidentally, the ELCA adopted its tenth social statement entitled, Human Sexuality:Gift and Trust.  Of course, it was the two pages (out of thirty two) devoted to homosexuality that garnered the most interest and resistance.  The significant aspect of the document vis a vis homosexuality is that gay sexual ethics are treated exactly the same as straight sexual ethics.  Human sexuality, both gay and straight, is treated as gift of God entrusted to humans for good but also with the potential for abuse.

Sexuality especially involves the powers or capacities to form deep and lasting bonds, to give and receive pleasure, and to conceive and bear children. Sexuality can be integral to the desire to commit oneself to life with another, to touch and be touched, and to love and be loved. Such powers are complex and ambiguous. They can be used well or badly. They can bring astonishing joy and delight. Such powers can serve God and serve the neighbor. They also can hurt self or hurt the neighbor. Sexuality finds expression at the extreme ends of human experience: in love, care, and security, or lust, cold indifference, and exploitation.

The process of adopting a social statement begins with an enabling resolution from the church wide assembly of voting members.  Typically, the enabling resolution calls for the formation of a task force, a blue ribbon panel, that will consider issues theologically and with appropriate input from secular, social science.  The process typically takes years of study, debate, dissemination of preliminary documents for feedback from all ELCA constituencies, and finally the preparation of a lengthy document that will be considered and voted upon by the biennial church wide assembly of voting members, the ultimate legislative authority of the church.  For instance, the enabling resolution for the recently adopted human sexuality statement dates back to the 2001 church wide assembly, so the process from beginning to end spanned 8 years.  According to the ELCA constitution, social statements require a 2/3 supra majority for passage, and the 2009 assembly adopted the human sexuality statement by precisely that 2/3 majority without a single vote to spare.

The human sexuality statement was the tenth social statement adopted by the ELCA.  Here is the list; each statement may be reviewed and downloaded from the ELCA website:

  • Abortion
  • Church in Society
  • Death Penalty
  • Economic Life
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Health and Healthcare
  • Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust
  • Peace
  • Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

The 2009 Convention also called for the study process to begin on another possible social statement entitled “Justice for Women”.  The process of study and creation of a social statement takes years and resources (about a million dollars).  The recommendation that was adopted calls for Churchwide assembly action in 2015.  Two other study processes are already underway based upon earlier Churchwide authorizations—Genetics and Criminal Justice.

Here, in Part I, I will offer brief snippets from the first few policy statements passed in 1991.  Each quote comes from the statement itself, and is offered as insight into the gist of each statement.

Abortion (passed in 1991).

Marriage is the appropriate context for sexual intercourse. This continues to be the position of this church. We affirm that the goodness of sexual intercourse goes beyond its procreative purpose.  Whenever sexual intercourse occurs apart from the intent to conceive, the use of contraceptives is the responsibility of the man and of the woman.

Prevention of unintended pregnancies is crucial in lessening the number of abortions. In addition to efforts within church and home, this church supports appropriate forms of sex education in schools, community pregnancy prevention programs, and parenting preparation classes. We recognize the need for contraceptives to be available, for voluntary sterilization to be considered, and for research and development of new forms of contraception.

This church recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion.

Church in Society (passed in 1991).

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is called to be a part of the ecumenical church of Jesus Christ in the context in which God has placed it — a diverse, divided, and threatened global society on a beautiful, fragile planet.  In faithfulness to its calling, this church is committed to defend human dignity, to stand with poor and powerless people, to advocate justice, to work for peace, and to care for the earth in the processes and structures of contemporary society.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is part of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” church. Its witness in society is informed by the history and the various theological traditions of the one church of Jesus Christ. The suffering and hope of churches in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas strengthen its life and calling.

The gospel does not allow the church to accommodate to the ways of the world. The presence and promise of God’s reign makes the church restless and discontented with the world’s brokenness and violence. Acting for the sake of God’s world requires resisting and struggling against the evils of the world.

Death Penalty (passed in 1991).

The human community is saddened by violence, and angered by the injustice involved. We want to hold accountable those who violate life, who violate society. Our sadness and anger, however, make us vulnerable to feelings of revenge. Our frustration with the complex problems contributing to violence may make us long for simple solutions.

The state is responsible under God for the protection of its citizens and the maintenance of justice and public order. God entrusts the state with power to take human life when failure to do so constitutes a clear danger to society.  However, this does not mean that governments have an unlimited right to take life. Nor does it mean that governments must punish crime by death. We increasingly question whether the death penalty has been and can be administered justly.

Yet, capital punishment makes no provable impact on the breeding grounds of violent crime.   Executions harm society by mirroring and reinforcing existing injustice. The death penalty distracts us from our work toward a just society. It deforms our response to violence at the individual, familial, institutional, and systemic levels. It perpetuates cycles of violence.

In Part II to come later, I will address the other six ELCA social statements.