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What follows is a lengthy report, which, honestly, I would have made shorter if I could have figured out how.

Assembly and Synod – background

Both the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ (which are commonly abbreviated as DOC and UCC respectively) are covenantally based; each congregation has autonomy to govern their own affairs and all the congregations live in covenant with the other congregations and expressions of the denominations. In the DOC, congregations are grouped geographically into Regions (we’re part of the Christian Church in Northern California-Nevada). In the UCC, congregations are grouped geographically into Associations (we’re part of the Bay Association) and the Associations are grouped geographically into Conferences (we’re part of the Northern California-Nevada Conference).

Both denominations have denomination-wide ministries. In the DOC there are the National Benevolent Association (that’s right, the NBA), Disciples Home Mission, the Council for Christian Unity, and the Division of Oversea Ministries/Global Ministries (to name just four of the at least fifteen General Ministries of the denomination. In the UCC there are Local Church Ministries, Justice and Witness Ministries, and Wider Church Ministries/Global Ministries (to name just three of the six National Settings of the denomination).

We are a part of the regional and general ministries of our denominations both because of our congregation’s covenant to be part of the denominations and because of our financial support of these ministries through our annual budget.

I spent the first two weeks of July attending the national/international gatherings of our two denominations. For the UCC, it is a national gathering because our churches are all within the USA. For the DOC, it’s an international gathering because we have congregations in both Canada and the USA. There aren’t very many DOC congregations in Canada so, sadly, much of the language used at the meeting tended to forget about them.

These meetings happen every two years on the odd numbered years. The UCC’s gathering is called General Synod and the DOC’s gathering is called General Assembly. Delegates to the UCC’s General Synod are selected by Conferences; I attended General Synod as a “visitor” and got to participate in banquets, worship, and workshops, but I didn’t get a voice or a vote on the resolutions that came before the Synod. Delegates to the DOC’s General Assembly are potentially all the pastors in the DOC plus delegates selected by congregations (typically two per congregation). We could have sent four delegates (me, Pastor Brenda, and two church members), but I was the only person representing the congregation at General Assembly.

Synod and Assembly – themes

General Synod was held in Baltimore and happened first. The theme for General Synod was “Make Glad,” based on a verse from Psalm 46. Psalm 46 is a scripture that is very meaningful to me and I will be preaching on it on August 20 when we mark the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination.

It seems to me that General Synod focuses primarily on the resolutions they consider. The whole resolution process is very involved. The resolutions typically come from Conferences or ministries in the national settings of the church. Then they are assigned to committees randomly made up of delegates from across the UCC. The committee can modify the resolution, wordsmithing it, hopefully improving it, and (in some cases) combining it with other similar resolutions that come to Synod. Once the committee has modified the resolution, it is presented to the whole Synod, where it is debated, potentially further amended, and voted on. It’s quite an involved process and it means that the schedule is different every day.

William Barber

There are some workshops that are offered. I attended one where the Disciple of Christ minister the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, spoke. Actually, I’m not sure Dr. Barber knows how to give a speech; he knows how to preach. He also spoke (I mean preached) at a Gala that night. It was one of two amazing sermons I heard at Synod. Dr. Barber is helping to organize a new, nationwide Poor People’s Campaign here on the fiftieth anniversary of the original Poor People’s Campaign organized by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I will be preaching about this new Poor People’s Campaign in September.

Another highlight of Synod was a keynote conversation with Glennon Doyle, an author and the founder of Momastery, an online community where millions of readers meet each week to experience her shameless and laugh-out-loud funny essays about faith, freedom, addiction, recovery, motherhood and serving the marginalized. To be honest, I had low expectations, but Glennon was engaging, witty, and insightful. She has a YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/glennonmelton) that you might want to check out.

General Assembly was held in Indianapolis. The theme for this General Assembly was “One” and the focus scripture was John 17:20-21, a line from the lengthy prayer Jesus prays in the Gospel of John before his arrest and crucifixion. “I ask not only on behalf of these [the disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Some of you may recognize that the official motto of the UCC comes from these two verses: “That they may all be one.” I was amused that it was the DOC that was focusing on this verse.

The really big thing that happened at General Assembly was the election of a new General Minister and President. Sharon Watkins completed two six-year terms so it was time for someone new. We elected Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens as the new GMP. Terri is the first African American woman to take a leadership role like this in an historically mainline church in the USA. She may even be the first African American woman to take leadership of any denomination in the USA. I think her election points to the strides the DOC has made in addressing racism within the denomination and how the General Assembly’s theme, ‘One,’ is being lived out in the church.

Assembly has a higher emphasis on education and worship than does Synod (at least that’s my experience) and maybe that’s why there seem to be more visitors at Assembly. Instead of spending so much time on wordsmithing resolutions, the Assembly either says, “Yes, this is the sense of the Assembly” or “No, this isn’t the sense of the Assembly” or “This needs more work before we will vote on it.” This allows the Assembly to talk about the issues rather than the wording, but I still noticed a lack of voices of opposition to issues being discussed. One of the issues we discussed was how to include more voices in the discussions about the issues, both before Assembly within local churches and during Assembly. No decisions were made, but it is something that the DOC is seeking to do. And it is a reminder to me that we need to find creative ways to make sure all voices are heard when the church (in all its settings) seeks to understand God’s will and call.

Synod and Assembly – Resolutions

I guess it’s not surprising that similar issues came before both the Synod and the Assembly. Both gatherings adopted resolutions calling both the church and the nation to grow in our welcome of immigrants. Both bodies adopted resolutions condemning Israel for its treatment of Palestinian juveniles arrested in the occupied territories. Both bodies made amendments to their organizing documents (the Constitution and Bylaws in the case of the UCC and the Design in the case of the DOC); the amendments to the UCC’s Constitution still need to be ratified by the Conferences.

Both the Synod and the Assembly adopted resolutions on climate change, though their foci were different. The Synod resolution focused on the prophetic role of the church in addressing climate change. In addition to calling on the church to continue learning about and advocating for policies that address climate change, the Assembly resolution calls for members, congregations, and ministries of the denomination to become carbon neutral by 2030 and carbon positive by 2035. This is a bold invitation and I hope we will take it seriously. I think our biggest challenge as a congregation will be figuring out how to make up for the carbon we release by burning natural gas to heat the church.

The Assembly adopted the resolution endorsed by our congregation, repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery. I spoke in favor of this resolution, telling the Assembly of your endorsement of it. The UCC had adopted a repudiation a few Synods ago. The Synod adopted a resolution on the economy that calls for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

The Synod adopted a resolution that will change the way some of our denominational ministries do fundraising. I am not yet clear on the implications of this resolution for our congregation. It will be interesting to see how it is lived out. Meanwhile, the Assembly received and commended to the congregations a study document on “Stewardship as a Spiritual Discipline,” a document I hope we will engage with in the coming biennium.

Synod and Assembly – the non-meeting (the really good) stuff

While I’m always fascinated by the process of writing, (in the case of the UCC) amending, discussing, and voting on resolutions, they are not the only important thing that happens at these events for me. The most important thing for me is the sense of connection attending brings me. I am reminded how we, our congregation and each of us, are part of something bigger. I get to hear stories about what’s happening at other churches, what’s going well and what they’re struggling with. I am reminded that we are not alone.

I also treasure the opportunity to hear great preaching. Sometimes this happens at the formal worship services. Sometimes this happens at banquets and rallies. Banquets may be too strong a word. Eating cafeteria scrambled eggs off of plastic plates (yeah, I’ll be complaining about the plastic plates) at 7:00 in the morning is hard to think of as a banquet. Still, it is worth going because you never know what you’ll learn. Two of the best sermons I heard were at breakfast banquets. And even when there isn’t a great preacher, the banquets are interesting. They are sponsored by one or two of the ministries or special interest groups of the denominations and they are one of the best ways to network with people in the denominations who are passionate about those issues and ministries.

Traci Blackmon

I got to hear the Rev. Traci Blackmon (who was elected one of the executive ministers of the UCC at Synod) preach at both gatherings. Her sermon at General Synod was built around an image that I may well use sometime in the future. Her sermon at General Assembly (at a breakfast meeting, really) is making me rethink protesting and nonviolent tactics. And as I mentioned earlier, I got to hear the Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, a few times at the meetings. Every time he spoke about a resolution being considered by the General Assembly (and I think he did three times), the whole assembly knew they had heard the word of God.

If you would like to see photos from General Synod, check out bit.ly/2uH94NR. I’m not aware of a central gathering of photos from General Assembly, but if you do a photo search on Facebook for #docweareone or search for that hashtag on Twitter, you’ll find some.

SaveSave

SaveSave

A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, March 12, 2017, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scriptures: Galatians 3:23-39 and Daniel 1:1-21
Copyright © 2017 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

Protestors in Washington this past Friday

“Despite bitter cold, wind, rain and hail,” the PBS Newshour reports, “hundreds of members of Native American tribes and supporters from around the country turned out Friday to march on the White House, in an effort to turn the momentum of the Standing Rock protests [against the building of a oil pipeline through and near reservation land] into a more sustained movement for native rights.

“The march and a rally in Lafayette Square across from the White House came after four days of protest, prayer and lobbying on Capitol Hill, where Native communities called for the protection of natural resources and demanded the new administration honor treaties with indigenous peoples.”[1]

Five and a quarter centuries after the Doctrine of Discovery emboldened Europeans to come to the Americas and claim them, five and a quarter centuries after the people living on America’s soil were first enslaved or killed with the blessing of the church, the descendants of those first nations are still fighting for their rights and their sovereignty.

If you’re wondering how it is possible that the Doctrine of Discovery is still active in our society, the answer is easy: It’s in our cultural DNA. Let me explain what I mean.

Last week, I talked about how the church is responsible for creating the Doctrine of Discovery and blessing the colonial expansion of Christian nations, which of course meant European countries. Thanks to the Doctrine, by the 1600s, Spain had established colonies in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and what is now Florida. Likewise, the Portuguese had established a foothold in South American.

England had gained military power and started establishing colonies in North America. The Doctrine of Discovery gave the justification for the English to do this. Back in 1497, just a few years after Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas, a English-financed explorer planted the English flag in what is now Newfoundland, so they felt they could claim they had “discovered” the land. In 1607, they founded Jamestown, and in 1621 the Plymouth colony was established by English Pilgrims.

In 1619, a year before the Pilgrims set out to establish their utopia, a Dutch ship arrived in Jamestown that would have repercussions for the next four hundred years. The ship carried Africans, but they were not passengers. They were the cargo. While they may have been the first slaves brought to an English colony as cargo, they were hardly the first slave brought from Africa to the Americas. “By 1619, a million blacks had already been brought from Africa to South America and the Caribbean, to the Portuguese and Spanish colonies, to work as slaves.”[2]

Dum Diversas

The African slave trade was justified the same way the conquest of the Americas and the enslavement or murder of the native peoples living there was justified: the Doctrine of Discovery. Successive Popes had said that European kings should “invade, capture, vanquish, and subdue … all Saracens and Pagans and all enemies of Christ … to reduce their persons in perpetual slavery … and to take away all of their possessions and property” (to quote the 1452 Papal Bull Dum Diversas). Historian Howard Zinn notes, “By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transported as slaves to the Americas, representing perhaps one-third of those originally seized in Africa. It is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation owners in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.”[3]

A century and a half after the English started establishing colonies in North America and importing Africans to work as slaves, the colonists decided it was time to break ties with the king. And so they fought a war and managed to win, declaring their independence with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Of course, when they said “all men,” they didn’t mean all people. They meant all property-owning, white, males.

Although this new nation was founded on freedom from tyranny, the idea that white people and Christians had certain divine rights was nevertheless ingrained in our nation’s cultural DNA and quite literally into our policies. As someone raised in New England and whose family goes back to the Mayflower, I like to think of myself as coming from a people who opposed the evils of slavery. But New Englanders profited directly and indirectly from the slave trade and the three-fifths compromise in our constitution was pushed by the Yankees. They didn’t want Blacks counted as people when it came to deciding how many Representatives southern states received. And nobody wanted the Indians counted. Thus, it was compromised that the population of the states would be set by “adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years [that is, indentured servants], and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”[4] Well, the only other people who were left were slaves of African ancestry.

Chief Justice John Marshall, author of the M’Intosh decision

Another way this supremacy of the white people because part of our policies and cultural DNA was through the court. The 1823 Supreme Court decision in Johnson v. M’Intosh is a key example. While the decision is often framed as “private citizens could not purchase lands from Native Americans,”[5] what it really said is that Indians really didn’t own the property in the first place. The decision “begins with a lengthy discussion of history of the European discovery of the Americas and the legal foundations of the American Colonies. In particular, [the decision] focuses on the manner in which each European power acquired land from the indigenous occupants. Synthesizing the law of nations, [it] traces the outlines of the ‘discovery doctrine’ – namely, that a European power gains radical title (also known as sovereignty) to the land it discovers. As a corollary, the discovering power gains the exclusive right to extinguish the ‘right of occupancy’ of the indigenous occupants, which otherwise survived the assumption of sovereignty.”[6]

Then the decision says that when the United States “declared independence from Great Britain, the United States government inherited the British right of preemption over Native American lands. The legal result is that the only Native American conveyances of land which can create valid title are sales of land to the federal government.”[7] The decision literally calls the Native peoples “heathens” in justifying this decision.

For Native Americans, this decision foreshadowed the Trail of Tears and almost two hundred years of forced removals, violence, and broken treaties. The very things the Standing Rock Sioux were protesting this weekend are a direct legacy of these attitudes and this decision.

John O’Sullivan

In 1845, the political leader and prominent editor named John L. O’Sullivan gave the Doctrine of Discovery a uniquely American flavor when he coined the term “Manifest Destiny” to defend U.S. expansion and claims of new territory to the west. It furthered the sense among U.S. citizens of an inevitable or natural right to expand the nation and to spread “freedom and democracy” (though only to those deemed capable of self-government, which certainly did not include Blacks or Native Americans). Of course, Johnson v. M’Intosh gave the legal cover for simply taking the land from the inhabitants as our nation pushed west.

Our denominations are not immune from the racism of the Doctrine of Discovery and the United States’ spin on it, Manifest Destiny. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was complicit in white American exceptionalism. The denomination’s founders, Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell, were 19th century men. As white, free, land-owning, educated, males, they acquired great privilege. There is little wonder they adopted, most likely without any conscious thought, the American power construct.

Campbell was an immigrant from Scotland. Immigrants choose to live in a land different from their birth, and Campbell had a deep desire for his chosen nation to be the best. Fully adopting the social concept of manifest destiny, adding a touch of Protestant superiority, mixing in some white superiority, and Campbell developed a social construct for Disciples. Writing “The Destiny of Our Country” in the August 1852 edition of the Millennial Harbinger, Campbell pronounced, “In our countries [sic] destiny is involved the destiny of Protestantism, and in its destiny the destiny of all the nations of the world. God has given, in awful charge, to Protestant England and Protestant America – the Anglo-Saxon race – the fortunes, not of Christendom only, but of all the world.”[8]

Alexander Campbell

As the issue of slavery took on a greater and greater importance in the United States, Campbell wrote, “Much as I may sympathize with a black man, I love the white man more,” thus endorsing a church system that places white folk first and theologically supported Aquinas’ argument of soul layering (which I talked about last week), placing the white soul a notch higher than the soul of a person of color.[9]

After the Civil War, during the initial months of his administration, President Ulysses S. Grant decided he needed to address the so-called “Indian Problem.” Disciples pastor David Bell points out, “five years earlier the United States had ended a war to ensure only one nation would occupy the land from sea to shining sea. However, once the Civil War was over, the reality that years of treaty making between the U.S. and American Tribes had created multiple independent Indian nations across the American landscape confronted the Grant administration. The question before the Grant administration was how to eliminate the Indian nations – thus the Grant Peace policy.

“To eliminate Tribal sovereignty and nationhood the U.S. had to first ‘abrogate’ existing treaties. A rider on the March 3, 1871 Indian appropriation bill made it a reality that, ‘no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty’ [U.S. Statutes at Large, 16:566]. This radical congressional action of dismantling Tribal identity and structure changed the U.S. government’s opinion of American Tribes from that of sovereign nations to that of designated ‘wards.’”[10]

Now that Native Americans were considered wards, the United States initiated a program to do away with Indian identity. In 1870, Congress passed an appropriation for Indian education. This allowed the government to recruit a wide variety of Christian denominations to establish Indian mission school with the goal of converting and civilizing the Indians. Attendance at these mission schools was made mandatory on many reservations for all native children aged six through sixteen.[11] I’m not sure if the Disciples of Christ actually ran such a school on the Yakama Reservation in Washington, but I do know that the DOC has had a mission on the reservation since about this time, a mission that still functions today.

The good news is that how the mission functions has changed in many ways since it was founded. Just this year, they have supported the call for Native rights at the Standing Rock demonstrations and at Oak Flats, and they will be working with the Inter-Tribal coalition of the Diné, Ute Mountain, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute to bring awareness and support for the Bears Ears National Monument. The Yakama Christian Mission has gone from a tool of white supremacy to a vehicle of protection of “the North American Landscape and her Indigenous People.”[12]

The United Church of Christ is also complicit in white supremacy. The Congregationalists (one of the predecessor denominations of the UCC) sent missionaries out into the world – that is, out to the heathens who just happened to be non-whites – to bring them Christianity and civilization. One of the places they went was Hawaii. The Congregationalist missionaries and perhaps moreso their children were complicit in the overthrow of Queen Liliʻuokalani.

As the UCC said in their 1993 apology to the Hawaiian people, “Some of these [missionary] men and women … sometimes confused the ways of the West with the ways of the Christ. Assumptions of cultural and racial superiority and alien economic understanding led some of them and those who followed them to discount or undervalue the strengths of the mature society they encountered. Therefore, the rich indigenous values of na Kanaka Maoli, their language, their spirituality, and their regard for the land, were denigrated. The resulting social, political, and economic implications of these harmful attitudes contributed to the suffering of na Kanaka Maoli in that time and into the present.” The United Church of Christ’s apology came with some money for restitution, too.[13]

Apologies and restitution are a start. Changing behavior to demonstrate a new attitude is a start. But what else can we as a church do to overcome how deeply ingrained racism is not just in our society, but in the churches as well?

If we really believe what Paul wrote to the Galatians, that distinctions of ethnicity and distinctions of economic and societal status and even distinctions of gender do not matter, for we are all one in Christ, then we need to do our best to remove racism from our cultural DNA.

The culture that Daniel and his friends were forced into wanted them to violate their consciences. The Babylonians wanted them to do things that went against their values, but they held fast and made a way of conscience when one might of thought there could be no way. My hope is that we can do the same – that we will hold fast to our values of equality and community even when the culture around us continues to allow white supremacy to function.

Last year, the General Board of the Disciples of Christ received a report from the “Racist Language Audit Task Force.” The report goes through the official documents of the denomination – the bylaws (called the “Design”), the standing rules for meetings, denominational policies, and other such documents – and makes specific recommendations of how these documents can be changed to be less racist. In essence, they made recommendations for how the General Ministries of the DOC can work to remove some of the racism from the denomination’s DNA.

As you know, during this sermon series, I am making a suggestion of a possible action we as a congregation or we as individuals can take to respond to some aspect of racism. My suggestion for this week is that we create our own Racist Language Audit Task Force to recommend how our bylaws, policies, and meeting rules (and even our Strategic Plan, if it’s needed) could be less racist.

That’s one concrete example of something we can do to be less racist. I want to offer one more concrete example of something some other people did. I’m not sure how we can apply it to our congregation, but it is a story that gives me hope.

About five weeks ago, a Native American man told Diana Butler Bass a story about something that had happened at the Standing Rock protests in the preceding months. She wrote about this story: “At the height of the prayer protest, there was also great violence. At one point, a white man stood up and called out, ‘Everyone here who is white, come to the front! We will form a shield that the security forces must shoot us first!’ And they did so. All the white folks who had gathered at Standing Rock surrounded all the native people, all holding hands, and stood between the water protectors and the guns.

“The native man told me this story with tears in his eyes. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘terrible things are happening. But never in my life – never in the history of my tribe – did white people stand between us and the bullets. Terrible things are happening. And beautiful, brave things as well.’”[14]

May we all find beautiful, brave things to do. Amen.

[1] Elizabeth Flock and Iman Smith, “Strengthened by Standing Rock, Native Americans march on D.C. What’s next for the movement?” PBS Newshour, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/strengthened-standing-rock-native-americans-march-d-c-whats-next-movement/ (posted and accessed 10 March 2017).

[2] Howard Zinn, “Drawing the Color Line,” History Is a Weapon, http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncolorline.html (accessed 10 March 2017).

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Constitution of the United States of America, Article 1, Section 2.

[5] “Johnson v. M’Intosh,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_v._M’Intosh (accessed 10 March 2017).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Alexander Campbell, quoted by David B. Bell, “Disciples Unified Destiny,” Landscape Mending, https://landscapemending.wordpress.com/bent-grass-a-breif-history-of-cdod-and-doc/ (posted 20 July 2011; accessed 10 March 2017).

[9] Ibid.

[10] David B. Bell, “An 1870 Faith Based Initiative,” Landscape Mending, https://landscapemending.wordpress.com/bent-grass-a-breif-history-of-cdod-and-doc/ (posted 20 July 2011; accessed 10 March 2017). Verb tenses changed to fit the past tense voice of the sermon.

[11] Ibid.

[12] The Yakama Christian Mission’s mission statement is “To advocate and educate in favor of the North American Landscape and her Indigenous People.” Learn more at https://yakamamission.org/.

[13] The Rev. Mr. Paul Sherry, as part of his formal apology to the Hawaiian people on behalf of the United Church of Christ, recorded at https://uccapology.wordpress.com (accessed 10 March 2017).

[14] Diana Butler Bass, in a Facebook post https://www.facebook.com/Diana.Butler.Bass/posts/10154589452273500 on 11 February 2017 (accessed most recently on 10 March 2017).

If you follow this blog, you know that I hoped Secretary Clinton would be elected President. More than that, I really didn’t want Mr. Trump to be elected President. That hope and wish were not fulfilled. Instead, a man who I have seen as misogynist, racist, and dangerous (his denial of climate change, his openness to using nuclear weapons) has won enough states that, assuming the electoral college votes as they are pledged, he will be the next President of the United States.

I’ve been told that in 1960, after John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon, staunch Hollywood conservative John Wayne declared, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president and I hope he does a good job.”

I’m having a hard time following John Wayne’s lead. Yes, I hope Mr. Trump does a good job, but based on his campaign and the signals coming from his transition team, I don’t think he will. I’ve read his plan for this first 100 days in office. If he follows through on his plan, he will wreak havoc on the economy, the environment, the Supreme Court’s protection of freedom, our public schools, the incomplete health insurance net that’s being stitched together through Obama Care, families that include at least one undocumented worker, and the national debt.

While the plan does not say anything overt about removing right of religious, ethnic, or sexual minorities, the rhetoric surrounding the Trump campaign and the people he has named to his transition team is frightening. Since election day, many people – especially women, minorities, immigrants, and members of the lgbt community – have felt vulnerable. Not surprising, since the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted as significant spike in acts of “hateful harassment and intimidation” since the election. And now, with the naming of white nationalist Steve Bannon to be “Chief Strategist to the President,” the pit in my stomach that had been slowly dissolving has re-solidified. White male privilege is, I fear, solidifying in our culture, right along side the pit in my stomach.

Bishop Dwayne Royster’s words in this blog post posted late on election day resonate with me – particularly when he rights about his anger that people who say they follow Christ voted for a person whose words during this campaign paint him as sexist, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, and not someone to be trusted with nuclear weapons. And I like that he calls us to be “Prophets that will speak truth to power unequivocally and will speak truth to the people as well.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (the presidential candidate I supported in the primaries) issued this statement the day after the election. In four sentences he says where I want to be politically.

Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.  People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.

And while I want to be ready to work with Mr. Trump where I can (and vigorously against him where his proposals and policies are harmful), I am worried about how we respond to people who are vulnerable now, as attacks continue. I turn to my Twitter feed as I write this, knowing that there are other people who have posted things that have inspired me or at least given me hope, but what I’m reading about are instances of people of color being threatened by whites, of people of Muslim faith afraid to express it. Trump has turned a populist anger into hatred for “the other” by turning economic resentment into racial, religious, and gender resentment.

As a pastor, I wonder what my congregation can do. My greatest personal fear about the Trump presidency is that the little progress we’ve made as a nation to combat climate change will be reversed and the struggle to address this (the most important moral issue of our day) may be too late. Others have different primary fears as they try to imagine the coming Trump presidency – and with good reason; check out “Day 1 in Trump’s America.” The Rev. Michael Denton, Conference Minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, identified how the Trump presidency will make the lives of so many less safe and more traumatic – and some ideas for churches on his Facebook page:

For millions of people in our country and beyond, this world is suddenly and significantly less safe. Hate crimes had already increased in recent months and will even more, now. Many hard fought for laws that had protected the rights and lives of the queer community are in danger of being rolled back. Survivors of sexual assault will have to look into the eyes of someone who bragged about assaulting others every time they turn on the news. Those with disabilities will have to look into the eyes of someone who has mocked them. Migrants and refugees who found a home here are wondering if they’ll have to be migrants and refugees, again. People of color who already knew the life threatening daily reality of systemic racism are faced with one more blatant systemic expression of it. Those whose religious expression does not fall into a relatively narrow expression of Christianity can expect to be treated as suspect. Someone who has talked about his intention to use military force preemptively and often now has the ability to do so.

The idea of providing sanctuary is not a new one. It is the idea of opening up our churches and making them a safe space for people who are feeling threatened by the world. Over the coming hours, days, weeks, months and years more and more people are going to be asking for us to provide some sort of sanctuary; everything from providing a space for prayer and a listening ear to a place where they can find physical safety from a world that endangers them. We need to start that conversation of how to do that within and between our churches, now.

When it was becoming clear that Mr. Trump was going to win the electoral college, I honestly wondered if it was time to consider emigrating. I have a friend in New Zealand who said she will take me in while I look for a job if it’s ever needed. But then I read a tweet (I don’t remember who posted it) that called those of us who have privilege and care about justice not to abandon those who do not have privilege. Privilege comes in many forms in the USA. I have gender (I’m a cisgender male), race (I’m European-America of British descent), and economic (within the USA I’m probably upper-middle class) privilege, privileged enough to be able to seriously consider emigration. But I will stay and look for ways to justly use my privilege to protect those who are vulnerable and to dismantle the system that makes this privilege possible.

Those of us with privilege must not abandon those who do not have privilege. Those of us who follow Christ must serve, lift up, empower, and follow the vulnerable who are all the more vulnerable now.

Today, members of my congregation and several other United Church of Christ congregations in Fremont, California, gathered in Fremont’s Central Park to pick up trash.  This is part of the UCC’s “Mission 4/1 Earth” project.  Being the pastor of one of the participating churches, I couldn’t get away right after worship, get changed, and get to the marshalling point – so I arrived late and missed the orientation.  But I figured that picking up trash wouldn’t be too hard to figure out on my own.

Because I was not with the group, I ended up doing most of my hour of picking up trash by myself.  I had a plastic bag from a loaf of bread as my trash bag, which caused a bit of a commotion with I got to an area by Lake Elizabeth that was inhabited by a bunch of some fowl I can’t identify (maybe you can?).  Amazingly, they saw the bag and assumed that it was filled with stale bread, because I turned around to see a bunch of them following me.  It was not the greeting I expected.

photo d

I noticed two other things.  One was that about two-thirds to three-quarters of the items I picked up were cigarette butts.  It amazes me that people still think it’s okay to just toss their cigarette butts onto the grass.  The other thing I noticed was that after just an hour of bending over to pick up trash, my back and hips were aching.  It made me very appreciative of the people who do stoop labor to harvest food for me to eat.

A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church
A new church for a new day, forming from the merger of
Niles Congregational Church, UCC, and First Christian Church, DOC,
in Fremont, on Sunday, September 9, 2012, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scripture:  Deuteronomy 34:1-6 and Mark 7:24-30
Copyright © 2012 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

            I can’t help but wonder how Moses felt there on Mount Nebo, looking over the Promised Land.  I wonder how he felt knowing that he had led his people through a desert, through the wilderness, right to the door of the land that they believed was supposed to be theirs, knowing that they were about to enter it, but he would not be.

I imagine him, there on the mountaintop, looking over the Promised Land, chatting with God, learning that he was going to die.  Had discussions with God become old hat for Moses?  I suppose I’d be filled with awe to have God saying to me, “Look over there and over there.  Look all the way to the sea.  Yep, that’s the land I’ve set aside for you.  Pretty cool, huh?  Oh, by the way, you know that part about you not being able to enter that land?  I meant it.”  Well, I’d be filled with awe right up to that last part, then I’d probably be pretty ticked with God.

Moses had one heck of a roller coaster of a life:  Born into slavery at a time when Pharaoh had decreed that all Hebrew male infants were to be killed when they were born; hidden in the bull rushes, only to be “found” by Pharaoh’s daughter and brought into Pharaoh’s house to be raised as her son; committed homicide when he killed an Egyptian overseer and fled the country to escape prosecution; got married and while tending sheep, had an encounter with a burning bush; called into a special mission and returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and demand the release of the Hebrew slaves; led the people through the wilderness for 40 years, transforming the people from a collection of freed slaves into a community of faith, a people of covenant; led the people right up to the border of what was going to become their new land.  And then God tells him, “Sorry, but you’re not going in.  You’re going to die instead.”

Jewish Midrash is filled with stories about Moses and God having a discussion about all this.  One goes like this.[1]
God:  “Did I tell you to slay the Egyptian?”
Moses:  “But you killed all the first born in Egypt!”
God:  “Do you resemble me?  I cause people to die and I also revive them.”
I love the image of Moses arguing with God.

But I can’t read this passage without thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr.  One of his speeches, perhaps the second most famous of his speeches has been called his “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech.  King delivered it on April 3, 1968, at the Mason Temple (the Church of God in Christ headquarter) in Memphis, Tennessee.

Most of his speech was about the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike.  King talked about the workers and their strike.  He talked about racial justice and civil right.  He talked about the power of boycotts and nonviolent protest.  And he finished his speech by talking about himself.

“And then I got to Memphis.  And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out.  What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?  Well, I don’t know what will happen now.  We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn’t really matter with me now.  Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  I don’t mind.

“Like anybody, I would like to live  a long life; longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over.  And I’ve seen the Promised Land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.  So I’m happy, tonight.  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  ‘Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.’”[2]

The next day, King was assassinated.

Here we are, on the edge of something new.  This is not as momentous as the Hebrews entering the Promised Land.  This is not as earth-shaking as the assassination of one of American’s prophets.  But we are here, just on this side of finalizing a merger we’ve been exploring and considering for seven years.

There have been times when these seven years have seemed like a long time to me.  I’ve felt, at times, like we’ve been going in circles, not making progress.  There have even been times when I’ve wondered if it was worth the effort.  But most often, I’ve watched relationships grow and trust build and vision take hold and hope blossom.

Pardon me for being redundant, but there is something very special about the work we’ve done and this promised land we are about to enter.  All the literature I’ve been able to find about congregational mergers has been about mergers undertaken as a matter of congregational survival.  Neither Niles Congregational Church nor First Christian Church needed to merge into a new church.  But each congregation discerned that we could do more for the realm of God together then we could do separately, so we decided to merge and form Niles Discovery Church.

We decided to create a church that would be known for its extravagant welcome.  We decided to create a church that is united in God’s love for everyone’s journey … no exceptions.  And so we’re creating a church[3] where we follow the path and teachings of Jesus to draw us closer to God, even as we acknowledge that other paths work for other people; where inclusivity means welcoming conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, believers and agnostics, people of all gender identities and sexual orientations, and those of all classes and abilities; where we know that the way we behave towards one another is the fullest expression of what we believe, and where we find grace in the search for understanding and believe there is more value in questioning than in absolutes; where we strive for peace and justice among all people; where we strive to protect and restore the integrity of our earth; and where we commit to each other and to God that we will continue on a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

I believe that this vision we have for our church is a biblical image.  One of the things that’s striking about our Gospel lesson today is the exchange between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman.  We squirm a bit when Jesus, our loving and tender Savior, tells a desperate mother that she and her little girl are like “dogs.”  “Our discomfort – with Jesus’ humanity and his perspective as a faithful Jew – trips us up on this exchange, even though things turn out well in the end.”[4]  But Kate Huey suggests that this story might be an expression of one of the challenges the early church faced:  do we allow pagans (non-Jews) to be part of the church?

She points out, “Just before Jesus leaves on this little break from the crowds, he has shocked the religious authorities by declaring all foods clean and by focusing instead on what lives in our hearts.  Now, whether he wants to or not, he encounters a tenacious, determined mother in search of healing for her little girl, a woman who will not be turned away from the table of God’s grace, even if all she gets is the crumbs that fell to the floor.  She uses her wits in a culture that values riddles for figuring things out, and she wins both the argument and the healing she has requested of this teacher from another religion and another land.  Borders are crossed, hearts are opened, and so is the Christian mission, as Gentiles (and women) embrace the good news of the gospel.  Just as Jesus declared all foods clean, then, he declares all people ‘clean,’ acceptable, included at the table.”[5]

Take in this moment.  Be aware of this day.  Right now, we are on this side of the border, and in a few moments we will take the votes that are necessary to cross the “T”s and dot the “I”s so we will become a fully merged church, a new church for a new day, Niles Discovery Church, united in God’s love for everyone’s journey … no exception.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.


[1] W. Gunther Plaut, ed., The Torah: A Modern Commentary (New York: The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981), p. 1585.

[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” American Rhetoric, http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm (8 September 2012).

[3] Based on the 8 Affirmations of ProgressiveChristianity.org, http://progressivechristianity.org/resources/8-points-flyer-2011-version/ (8 September 2012).

[4] Kate Huey, “Weekly Seeds” email from the United Church of Christ, commenting on this Gospel lesson, emailed 31 August 2012.

[5] Ibid.

Here are my three favorite posts from my Facebook wall during the preceding week (I try to get this done each Friday).

1.  Once again, Global Warming and Climate Change topped the content of my posts on Facebook last week. 

I began the week wishing I could be in DC to participate in the Keystone XL Pipeline protest that surrounded the White House, with a link to photos of the event.  Then on Thursday, I started celebrating the Obama Administration’s decision to delay the decision on the pipeline by at least a year.  I encouraged people to write to the Whitehouse to say “thank you” and to sign this petition calling on the administration to simply say “no” or to really start over in examining the pros and cons of the pipeline.  The petition reads:

Delaying or rerouting the Keystone XL does not solve the problem. Reject this project now. If you will not, then direct the State Department to start over clean with an evaluation conducted by a truly independent contractor, that takes into account the global warming impacts of this pipeline, and that is free from the influence of lobbyists.

I also posted a link to this article on the impact, degree by degree, of global warming on our climates and living situation.  It’s pretty scary!
And there was the link to this article on how we know that human beings are causing global warming.

2.  There were bunches of posts about “Mission: 1,” a nation-wide effort by the United Church of Christ to address hunger and hunger justice.

3.  And then there’s my favorite picture of the week:

This Sunday, my church (Niles Discovery Church) will be presenting our fourth graders with new Bibles.  It’s a long tradition of giving kids a Bible of their own, one that they can read and, as we say in the bookplate we put in it, “when you wear it out, return it for a new one.”

As a pastor and a progressive Christian, I want to give the kids a Bible that is both a translation that the kids can read (that’s written at a level they can comprehend) and that is accurate.  This poses a particular challenge when it comes to two letters in the Bible that have been used to condemn lgbt people (especially gay men).

I know it’s a problem because when I was an adolescent, trying to come to terms with my own sexuality, I went to my Bible to see what it said about being gay, and I found 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  Right there, in the Bible my church had given me, I read, “Surely you know that the wicked will not possess God’s Kingdom. Do not fool yourselves; people who are immoral or who worship idols or are adulterers or homosexual perverts or who steal or are greedy or are drunkards or who slander others or are thieves – none of these will possess God’s Kingdom.” (Good News Translation)

Sure, there are other passages that are used to clobber lgbt people.  There’s the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, in Genesis 19:1-11, but the issue here isn’t so much one of translation as it is of interpretation.  The rape the men of Sodom wanted to commit has been confused with the consensual sex between adult men.  I’m glad God condemned rape.

Leviticus 18:22 & Leviticus 20:13 (those “abomination” passages from the Holiness Code) are pretty clear, but there’s so much else in the Holiness Code that we reject that even my teenaged mind was able to reject these passages, too.  Though, this does raise interesting questions about how we should treat the holiness code (do we ignore it, pick and choose from it, accept all of it, try to find an ethic underneath it rather than the specifics of it?).

There’s Romans 1:26-27, where “unnatural” sex – defined as same-gender relations – is condemned.  But I knew that behaving heterosexually is unnatural for me, so even this passage didn’t clobber me like the others.

No, it was 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that clobbered me.

So as we’ve prepared to present Bibles to our fourth graders, I’ve been looking at various translations to see how they deal with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (and a similar passage, 1 Timothy 1:9-10).

With the understanding that the New Revised Standard Version is one of the more accurate English translations available, I started there, looking at how it dealt with the Greek.  The NRSV translates 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “… fornicators (pornos), idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes (malakos), sodomites (arsenokoites), thieves, …”

Malakos literally means soft or fancy (see Matthew 11:8).  For Paul, probably meant “effeminate,” which would have been a problem because it would be breaking gender roles that were such a part of the social hierarchy; or “vanity,” obsessed with his looks, which has nothing to do with sexual orientation or behavior.

Arsenokoites is a Greek word play: male + bed + [make it a verb] = malebedder.  What’s the best way to understand this word?  A common translation understanding is the adult male in a man/adolescent relationship that could happen in Greek and Roman cultures.  Others think “men who use sex as a means of violence; men who commit rape” is a better understanding of this term.

The NRSV translation is pretty accurate, but it leaves open the question of how to interpret the English word “sodomite.”  Besides, the English used is at least high school level, so it’s not a good translation to give to fourth graders.

The English Standard Version doesn’t do a good job:  “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  Their footnote says, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase [men who practice homosexuality] refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.”  The NIV, which translates the Greek word in question as “men who have sex with men,” has a similarly bad footnote.

Turning to translations that are supposed to be accessible for elementary schoolers, the Contemporary English Version is a bad translation:  “No one who … behaves like a homosexual.”  The new Common English Bible is even worse:  “both participants in same-sex intercourse” as the translation and “submissive and dominant male sexual partners” as a footnote, which is just a stereotyped understanding of gay sexuality.

Of the English translations that are supposed to be accessible to kids, only The Message translates these verses in a way that I find acceptable (though is does border on being a paraphrase):  “Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.”

I mentioned earlier that 1 Timothy 1:9-10 is similar to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  The Timothy passage also has the word arsenokoites in it – with similar translation problems.  For instance, the NRSV translates these verses, “This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching …”  However, the Message translates them, “It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, sex, truth, whatever!”

So, tomorrow, we give our fourth graders Bibles.  We’re giving them Contemporary English Version Bibles because it’s the version we have copies of in a closet at the church.  I hope we spring for The Message next year!

By the way, I’ll be teaching a Confirmation Class this year – junior and senior high youth.  They’ll be getting the NRSV New Interpreters Study Bible.  And we’ll spend some time going over these difficult passages as a way to learn about the challenges of biblical interpretation and to address head-on these clobber passages from a progressive Christian point of view.

Three posts on the web were all brought to my attention yesterday, all relating to attitudes toward sexual minority people.

First, the Southern Poverty Law Center, probably the most important organization monitoring hate and hate groups in the United States, released their winter Intelligence Report in late 2010.  In the article, “Gays Remain Minority Most Targeted by Hate Crimes,” reminds us that the Christian Right actually blamed the victims of anti-gay bullying and the organizations that seek to protect them for the bullying gay kids receive and for the suicides that much to frequently follow:

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said gay rights activists “pressure these students to declare a disordered sexual preference when they’re too young to know better, [so] they share some culpability.” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a key critic of anti-bullying programs, said gay activists were “exploiting these tragedies to push their agenda.” He said that gay kids may know “intuitively” that their desires are “abnormal” and that the claim, pushed by gay activists, that they can’t change “may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.” Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel said those activists want “to use the tragedies to increase pressure on the real victims: Christians.”

However, the Report concludes that, in fact, lgbt people and people perceived to be lgbt “are by far the group most targeted in American for violent hate crimes.”

The bottom line: Gay people are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks; more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos.

The second posting is an essay by Mark D. Jordan on Religion Dispatches (posted on March 22), “Who Wins When Bible is Blamed for Gay Bashing?”  The thrust of Jordan’s essay is not what concerns me today (you can read it if you’re curious).  Instead, I was shocked to learn about the news story that sparked his writing.  Quoting from the essay:

[A] young man is accused of killing an older man for making sexual advances. The weapon was a sock filled with stones; the young man told police that he had been instructed in prayer to apply the Old Testament punishment of stoning.

Combined with the article from the Southern Poverty Law Center, this news is depressing – both for lgbt people and for progressive Christians.

And then, I came upon a third posting on The Christian Science Monitor website.  The opinion piece by Jonathan Merritt posted on March 24, “Evangelical shift on gays: Why ‘clobber scriptures’ are losing ground” brings some good news.

Merritt notes, “The truth is that the vast majority of evangelicals – approximately 7 in 10 – still say they believe homosexual behavior is ‘morally wrong.’”  Nonetheless, he (and I) see a shift coming.  The shift is coming from the younger generation.  Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, yes that Jim and Tammy Faye) is calling for a re-evaluation of the Christian right’s stand on lgbt people.  Merritt writes:

Brian McLaren, bestselling author and founder of the emerging church movement, moved toward affirmation of gays and lesbians in his 2010 book “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith.” He condemns Christians’ obsession with sexuality and urges them to construct “a more honest and robust Christian anthropology.” Christian music icons Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz came out of the closet this past year and asked their fans to reconsider their views.

Apparently the sociological data support this conclusion:

Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), says the data he’s collected bears this shift out. For example, PRRI’s research found that a majority of young evangelicals (ages 18 to 34) now support recognition for some sort of same-sex union. While PRRI’s president Robert Jones is hesitant to predict the future, he notes that the trends among evangelicals on same-sex issues all point in one direction and the group can expect “sea change within a generation.”

The news for lgbt people (and for progressive Christians) isn’t always good.  Lgbt folk are still the primary targets of hate crimes.  People still use the Bible to justify murder.  But things are changing.  Even conservative Christianity may be catching up with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Just before I left on a three-week trip to Europe, by one of my goddaughter’s high school friends killed himself.  I don’t know the details about what happened.  I don’t know that anyone knows why this handsome, athletic, friendly boy decided that killing himself was his only option.  What I do know is that he tried, was found, was rushed to the hospital and put on life support, and that only days later his parents had to make the hard decision to end life support and let their son die.  And I know that there are many grieving people, including my goddaughter.

I returned from my trip yesterday and started going through the emails and Facebook messages that accumulated while I was gone (it’s good to be disconnected from the cyber world and the news for a while, but that’s the content for another blog posting).  I was shocked to find out that while I was away, some people had started to notice that in the days leading up to my trip, there had been a rash of suicides and that many of them have been the result of anti-gay bullying.  In particular, people noticed that there had been at least four suicides within a three-week period in September:

  • Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old from Greensburg, Ind., hung himself Sept. 9 from a barn rafter on his grandmother’s farm.
  • Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, Calif., was removed from life support 10 days after hanging himself from a tree. He died Sept. 27.
  • Asher Brown, a 13-year-old from Cypress, Texas, used his stepfather’s gun to shoot himself to death Sept. 17.
  • Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge spanning the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey on Sept. 22.

I am not suggesting that my goddaughter’s friend’s suicide had anything to do with anti-gay bullying or internal conflicts about his sexuality.  As I said, I know nothing about the details.  What I am suggesting is that we need to do something to prevent teen suicides.

One concrete step we can take is to address anti-gay bullying in our schools and through out society.  This is how the officers in the national settings of my denomination, the United Church of Christ, expressed this sentiment on October 5:

The culture of anti-gay bullying that persists in academic and other institutions is an aspect of the broader issues of violence and harassment LGBT people face in the United States and around the world. It is experienced in a variety of ways from the invasion of privacy and taunts in school hallways to being beaten and tied to a fence; from the enactment of laws that criminalize sexual orientation and extra-judicial killing of people believed to be gay to the failure of elected officials to pass legislation that ensures the full equality of every citizen.

The reality of anti-gay harassment and bullying creates environments of fear and intimidation that not only have tragic consequences for those who are targeted, but also for the communities in which they occur. Even when anti-bullying policies are in place, without effective implementation peers, teachers and other adults can still be intimidated into silence and inaction. Studies continue to tell us that this is more often than not the reality in the vast majority of our schools. Nine out of 10 LGBT youth report being verbally harassed at school; 44 percent say they have been physically harassed; 22 percent report having been assaulted; and 60 percent say that when they report abuse, no one does anything to help or protect them.

All people of faith must recognize the God-given worth and dignity of every person that human judgment cannot set aside. Together we must work in solidarity to stop the bullying and violence against LGBT people and ensure the safety and protection of all our children. This is a baseline call to action grounded in the commonly held values of the Golden Rule, which every household of faith should be able to embrace.

Beyond this, we need to create the safe spaces – in our families, our schools, our faith communities (churches, etc.), and beyond – so children who are harassed can talk about it and have the harassment addressed.  We need to create safe spaces – in our families, our schools, our faith communities, and beyond – so children who are considering suicide can talk about it and find the support they need so this permanent solution to temporary problems (that’s what suicide is) will not be chosen.

We need to get messages like this to all youth.

We need to offer, as Ellen DeGeneres puts it, a wake-up call to everyone that teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic in our country and the death rate is climbing.

Being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in and of itself is not a risk factor for suicide.  Rather, the negative treatment that many GLBT teens endure can lead to suicidal feelings.  We have a responsibility to take action.

As bizarre as it may seem, this will not be a simple task.  Getting school systems to take the problem of bullying, and especially anti-gay bullying, seriously, is difficult.  In fact, some “Christian” groups (i.e., the Family Research Council) are claiming that the gay community is the bully because the anti-bullying cause is really a front for the “gay agenda” (click here to see a news story).

Let us not allow lies like these deter us from the sacred duty.  Let us lift up and celebrate “the God-given worth and dignity of every person that human judgment cannot set aside.”

When I was in college, President Jimmy Carter reinstituted draft registration as a response to the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan.  Many of us were concerned that it wouldn’t be long before a draft was started and we would be sent to war.  The English department of my college offered a January session writing class for those of us who considered ourselves to be conscientious objectors.  We would have discussions and writing assignments to get us to explore our beliefs more deeply and to help us craft a paper that we could use to explain our conscientious objections to draft boards.

The first assignment was to write a paper about whether or not we thought it was moral to start the draft back up.  I argued that it was not.  The second assignment was to write a paper answering the question, “If a draft is reinstated, should it include women as well as men.”  My paper was very short.  My paper was very short:

In my previous paper, I explained why we should not have a draft.  We should not have a draft of men.  We should not have a draft of women.  We should not have a draft of men and women.

These days, the debate is about gay and lesbian people in the military.

The Rev. John F. Gundlach, a United Church of Christ minister who retired after 23 years as an active-duty naval chaplain, recently wrote in Stars and Stripes about ending the military’s “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy that bars gays and lesbians from openly serving.  His focus was more on the role of chaplains should DADT end then on the policy decision itself, though he supports ending DADT.

His concluding paragraph says:

This current struggle will, indeed, test the mettle of the services and their Chaplain Corps. The real question here is whether justice will be done, and whether chaplains will be part of the solution or continue to be part of the problem.

Facebook friends have posted the link to this article and one even emailed me the link.  They are universally proud that a military chaplain (even retired) is standing up against DADT and against the chaplains who are falsely claiming that ending DADT will violate the religious freedom of chaplains who are homophobic.

The truth is, almost all of my friends – LGBT and heterosexual – oppose DADT.  They think LGBT people should be allowed to serve openly and honorably in the military services of our country.  I respect them and I appreciate their standing up for LGBT equality.  And I disagree with them.

Imagine with me that DADT was expanded, instead of abolished.  Imagine what would happen if DADT included heterosexuals.  What if no one was allowed to serve in the military … imagine what would happen then.

No military at all.

Back in college, I was right.  It is wrong to draft men, women, or men & women.  It is wrong because war is not an answer to our fears and vulnerabilities and the purpose of the military is to fight wars.  The only thing that can protect us from our fears is the perfect love of God.

So, I question the existence of our military as it is presently constituted.  There may be a need for an international police force that can intervene when necessary as police (rather than as an invading army), for instance when genocides are taking place (like in Darfur), but we cannot simultaneously prepare for war and create peace.

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