Friday, January 27, 2006
Hamas is all the buzz here, but the election should not affect us in any significant way, except we may have to kiss goodbye a trip to the Temple Mount next week. We'll see.
In ABC news, the PSW has posted more detailed info on the 4/29 vote. See www.abcpsw.com.
Art Jaggard's book is now available. Search for it via his name at Amazon. I'm looking forward to reading it.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Durable Data is taking a break...I'm off to Israel tomorrow and won't be back until February 3. I plan to blog on some Israel observations and catch up on ABC madness when I get back. Keep me bookmarked.
One of the things I hope to share are some observations on modern Israel--the security fence, the status of tensions in the Temple Mount area (I'm told things are much touchier there than when I was there in 1999) and so forth.
Blessings and Shalom,
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Tucked away in a mountainous corner of Los Angeles county, one small school district is the most recent target of the War on God that the "tolerant" left has waged with distressing success. Even here, when a class that doesn't claim to be a science class, is given a summary-judgment execution. No deviation from evolutionary orthodoxy is to be permitted!
California school district agrees to settle intelligent-design suit
By Robert Marus
Published January 17, 2006
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Just days after they were sued over it, a California school district has agreed to stop teaching a course critics said promoted creationism and intelligent design.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State announced Jan. 17 that the El Tejon Unified School District, located in the mountains about 65 miles north of Los Angeles, has agreed to stop teaching a course called "Philosophy of Design" at its only high school, Frazier Mountain High in the town of Lebec.
As part of the agreement, according to Americans United, the school board issued a statement declaring, "No school over which the school district has authority, including the high school, shall offer, presently or in the future, the course entitled 'Philosophy of Design' or 'Philosophy of Intelligent Design' or any other course that promotes or endorses creationism, creation science, or intelligent design."
Americans United filed suit Jan. 11 in federal court on behalf of 11 parents in the district, saying the course is not simply teaching intelligent design but teaching it from a specifically religious viewpoint.
A course description, which was given to district parents in December, said the class would "take a close look at evolution as a theory and will discuss the scientific, biological, and biblical aspects that suggest why Darwin's philosophy is not rock solid…. Physical and chemical evidence will be presented suggesting the earth is thousands of years old, not billions."
Intelligent design theory has been offered by a handful of respected biologists -- and endorsed by many conservative religious leaders -- as an alternative to naturalistic theories of evolution. It posits that some biological structures are too complex to have evolved merely by the process of natural selection; instead, they are evidence of a super-intelligent designer.
But many biologists and moderate religious leaders have condemned intelligent design as inextricably linked to creation science, which they say is more about theology than science. In December, a federal judge agreed with them, ruling that a Pennsylvania school district's practice of endorsing ID in high-school biology classes violates the Constitution's prohibition on government establishment of religion.
However, several of the practice's critics said, at the time, they had no objection to ID theory being taught in philosophy or humanities classes.
But Americans United leaders said the California case is different because the course is weighted toward a fundamentalist Christian view of the origins of life.
[Does anyone really believe that AUSCS could ever find a class they could pass on? Get real.]
The group's legal director, Ayesha Khan, issued a statement congratulating the school board. "This course was far from intelligently designed," she said. "It was an infomercial for creationism and its offshoot, intelligent design. The class would never have survived a court challenge, and the board of trustees made the right call by pulling the plug on it."
The course was conceived and taught by Sharon Lemburg, a special-education teacher who is also married to an Assembly of God minister.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Lemburg felt a divine calling to teach the course. "Did God guide me to do this?" she said in an interview with a reporter from the newspaper. "I would hope so." She began teaching the course Jan. 3.
Notice the parting shot? Anyone who (1) thinks God guides them is inherently dangerous and (2) the spouse of a Pentcostal pastor is especially to be suspect.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
It's easy to spot the main sources for the writer of this article: they weren't the Biblical conservatives--either in the SBC or the majority dissenters in the ABCUSA. They--we--are Neanderthal dummies, don't you know? Meanwhile, the ABC, incarnated here in the form of the rotting hulk of the great First Baptist Church in Amercia, totters on, the True Standard-Bearer. Give me a break...
In birthplace of Baptist church, strains show among followers
By Ray Henry, Associated Press Writer January 21, 2006
PROVIDENCE, R.I. --Grace Harbor Community Church's young congregants meet in a crowded hotel conference room, learn scripture via PowerPoint and listen to a "praise team" play bongo drums. The Web site of the 4-year-old Southern Baptist church includes a cartoon proclaiming "God said it, that settles it!"
Less than a mile away, the graying worshippers at First Baptist Church in America prefer Bach to bongos, listen to a black-robed minister who quotes Winston Churchill and meet in a white-steepled National Historic Landmark.
First Baptist's historic congregation planted the faith in America, where 30 million people now call themselves Baptist. But in the movement's birthplace of Rhode Island, just over two percent of people are Baptist and some of its earliest churches have struggled to maintain their memberships. Meanwhile, Southern Baptist churches like Grace Harbor are the dominant face of the faith -- which has evolved to become far more conservative than the church's roots in liberal Rhode Island would suggest.
Most Baptist factions trace their roots to Roger Williams, the 17th-century minister who founded Rhode Island and organized the nation's first Baptist congregation in 1638. The uncompromising provocateur was banished from Massachusetts for attacking state-sponsored Puritan congregations, demanding the separation of church and state and arguing that American Indians had property rights.
Williams was fiercely committed to what he called "soul freedom" -- or freedom of religion. Just months after organizing the first Baptist congregation, he left it and rejected the institutional church altogether.
Williams said he had a "restless unsatisfiedness" in his soul, and one of his contemporary critics called him "constant only in his inconstancy." Scholars say those attributes continue to mark the faith today.
"Wherever two or three Baptists are gathered together, there's a schism," said J. Stanley Lemons, the First Baptist church historian.
Over the centuries, Baptists have split into three major branches: the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., the Southern Baptist Convention and the National Baptists, mostly black congregations with diverse beliefs. Dozen of smaller groups populate the Baptist family tree, according to Pam Durso, the associate director of The Baptist History and Heritage Society in Brentwood, Tenn.
The largest denomination by far is the Southern Baptists, which split from the American Baptists in 1845 after delegates meeting in Providence banned slaveholders from serving as missionaries. Once confined to the south, the denomination spread north during the 20th century and claims 16.4 million members, making it the nation's single largest Protestant church.
Williams' old congregation remains American Baptist, which has just 1.8 million followers and is concentrated in the north, according to the American Religion Data Archive.
The different groups subscribe to many of the same beliefs. They only baptize adults who are "born again" in their faith, and hold that the Bible is their sole source of authority. They recognize the autonomy of local churches from religious hierarchies.
But they differ widely on a host of social and political views. Southern Baptists ban women from serving as pastors. Their official "Baptist Faith and Message" calls on a wife to "submit" to her husband's leadership, although it calls both sexes equal before God.
While some American Baptist pastors say gays can be good Christians, Southern Baptists denounce gay marriage and have pulled out of an alliance that included gay friendly churches. Former Southern Baptist President Paige Patterson said he and most of the denomination's top leadership is Republican.
Those stances can be a turn-off for churchgoers in Providence, a Blue State capitol run by an openly gay mayor, said Evan Howard, pastor of Community Church of Providence, formerly Central Baptist Church.
The 200-year-old American Baptist congregation changed its name two years ago -- in part because Howard realized his neighborhood could no longer support a traditional Baptist church, and in part because church members feared the term "Baptist" would deter newcomers who associate it with Southern Baptists who hold views they dislike.
"We're not comfortable with that sort of black and white feeling. We're more comfortable saying all welcome," he said.
But he recognizes that other Baptists would spurn his teachings, such as that parts of the Bible should be read metaphorically, rather than literally.
"The Southerners would say 'This guy's not Christian, how could he even be a minister?'" he said.
Some Baptists complain that conservatives are the face of the faith. Among the critics is Walter Shurden, the executive director of the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University in Macon, Ga., who left the Southern Baptist church because he felt it strayed too far from Williams' teachings.
"Do we follow the vision of Roger Williams that affirms this role of freedom, or do we become Baptists who try to conform everyone into our image?" he asked.
Andy Haynes, pastor of Grace Harbor, says it's not his goal to create division. He says he's had a friendly reception from Rhode Islanders, though his church, aimed at a college-aged crowd, doesn't always see eye-to-eye with its founding congregation.
"We have our differences," Haynes said.
Lemons, the First Baptist historian, is more blunt about the split. He says it upsets him to hear famous Baptist pundits like Pat Robertson, an independent Baptist minister, say God will forsake those who oppose teaching "intelligent design" in public schools.
Lemons wonders whether Roger Williams -- the first backer of church-state separation -- would embrace Baptists like Robertson.
"For these guys to talk about a Christian nation," he said, "Williams would go up in smoke."
Friday, January 20, 2006
Ah, the village atheist again, trying to assure himself of his non-faith by attacking the faith of others. Mr. Newdow? Paging Mr. Newdow? A call from a Mr. Cascioli from Italy...
Italian Lawyers Asked to Prove Jesus Existed
Friday, January 20, 2006
ROME — Lawyers for a small-town parish priest have been ordered to appear in court next week after the Roman Catholic cleric was accused of unlawfully asserting what many people take for granted: that Jesus Christ existed.
The Rev. Enrico Righi was named in a 2002 complaint filed by Luigi Cascioli after Righi wrote in a parish bulletin that Jesus did indeed exist, and that he was born of a couple named Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and lived in Nazareth.
Cascioli, a lifelong atheist, claims that Righi violated two Italian laws by making the assertion: so-called "abuse of popular belief" in which someone fraudulently deceives people; and "impersonation" in which someone gains by attributing a false name to someone.
Cascioli says that for 2,000 years the Roman Catholic Church has been deceiving people by furthering the fable that Christ existed, and says the church has been gaining financially by impersonating as Christ someone by the name of John of Gamala, the son of Judas from Gamala.
He also asserts that the Gospels — the most frequently cited testimony of Jesus' existence — are inconsistent, full of errors and biased, and that other written evidence from the time is scant and doesn't hold up to scholarly analysis.
Prosecutors, who in Italy are obliged to investigate such complaints, initially tried to have the case dismissed, saying no crime could be verified.
But Cascioli challenged them, and Judge Gaetano Mautone set a hearing for next Friday in Viterbo, north of Rome, to discuss preliminary motions in Cascioli's bid to have the court appoint technical experts to review the historical data and determine if Jesus really did exist.
Cascioli, 72, said in a recent interview that he decided to pursue the case against Righi, a priest in the village of Bagnoregio, near Viterbo, because the cleric had written in the parish bulletin that Jesus existed.
Asked why he went after Righi — a schoolmate when he and Cascioli were boys — and not any number of bishops, cardinals or even the pope who have asserted the very same thing, Cascioli said it didn't really matter who he named in his complaint.
"When one demonstrates that Christ didn't exist, attacking a simple priest is the same thing as attacking a bishop or cardinal," Cascioli said.
Cascioli is quick to stress that he has no problem with Christians freely professing their faith. Rather, he says in his complaint, he wants to "denounce the abuse that the Catholic Church commits by availing itself of its prestige in order to inculcate — as if being real and historical — facts that are really just inventions."
Righi, who has been a priest for 50 years, declined to be interviewed on the advice of his lawyers before the pending court date. But he set out his rebuke of Cascioli in a recent issue of his parish bulletin "Risveglio," or "Awaken," and said by telephone that the article encapsulated his position.
Righi argues that the existence of Christ is "unmistakable" because of the substantial historical evidence — both pagan and religious — testifying that he indeed lived.
"Cascioli maintains that Christ never existed. If he doesn't see the sun at midday, he can't denounce me just because I do. He should denounce all believers!" Righi wrote.
He cited many known observers, including non-Christian ones, who have written about the existence of Jesus, including the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, considered by scholars to be the most important non-Christian source on Christ's existence.
A passage of Josephus' "Jewish Antiquities," completed in A.D. 93, cites the execution in A.D. 62 of "the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, James by name."
Righi also cited Pliny the Younger, who in the early second century described a policy of executing Christians who refused to curse Christ, and Tacitus, another writer of the same time who wrote that Jesus was executed by the sentence of Pontius Pilate.
"You would have to give lie to each, one by one, to cancel the Christ man that they speak of," Righi wrote.
R. Scott Appleby, a professor of church history at the University of Notre Dame, concurs. There's "no real doubt" that Jesus existed, he said.
"But what Jesus of Nazareth did and what he means is a different question," Appleby said. "But on the question of the existence, there is more evidence of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth than there would be for many other historical people who actually existed. Not only did Jesus actually exist, but he actually had some kind of prominence to be mentioned in two or three chronicles."
Cascioli says he fully recognizes that his case has a slim chance of succeeding in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy, but not because his argument is lacking.
"We aren't optimistic — unless the Madonna makes a miracle, but I don't think that will happen," he joked.
Cascioli says he is merely going through the necessary legal steps in Italy so he can ultimately take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights, where he intends to pursue the case against the church for "religious racism."
"I was born against Christ and God," he said. "I'm doing it (the complaint) now because I should do it before I die."
Now, Durable Data won't take this lying down! No sirree bob! Look for future posts with evidence for the historical Jesus--the Jesus of the Four Gospels!
Thursday, January 19, 2006
VISION ARCHITECTS CONTINUE DRAFTING NEW ORGANIZATION
Santa Ana, Calif. – Jan. 19, 2006 – As a culmination of meeting together for two full days at Northern Seminary, Lombard, Ill., Vision Architects announced the name of the new movement replacing American Baptist Evangelicals: Cornerstone Network Group. Its mission is to equip churches for global impact. Its vision, Leaders energized, congregations mobilized, the world evangelized.
Effective Monday, January 23, 2006, the current ABE web site will be closed, and a new web site opened at www.cornerstoneng.org. Anyone who wishes to retrieve information from the current site at www.abeonline.org must do so before Monday, January 23. After that time, anyone attempting to log on to the current site will be automatically directed to the new site.Cornerstone Network Group continues to be a work in progress; likewise, the web site will not be completed for some time.
The Vision Architects will meet again February 8 and 9 to continue drafting this new movement.
Comment: already I have heard two lines of criticism of the name, Cornerstone Network Group. One is that is redundant: you don't need both "network" and "group." The other is--and this is from very methodoloically progressive pastors--is that you need the word Baptist in the name as a clarifier. I was at a meeting of my association's pastors today and none of them cared for the name. ("Sounds like an insurance company," quipped one.) Your comments on the name (see below) will be passed on the Bill Nicoson of ABE/CNG.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
This is the raw data of the WV Baptist Convention as they look to their future. Readers will recall that the WVBC turned down a resolution to leave the ABC right away and then, minutes later passed a defeated a resolution maintaining the status quo. I believe that WVBC will depart ABCUSA and hope that the "Lombard Movement" will be part of their continuing fellowship with the evangelical majority of the current ABC.
Report of the Working Group
December 2, 2005
A Working Group on Denominational Relationships was formed at the 2005 Annual Meeting of the West Virginia Baptist Convention with the mission of “finding the facts” regarding relationships between the region and the denomination.
An initial orientation meeting took place in Parkersburg on November 10. The purpose of this meeting was to:
A) Grasp a recent history of ABC life and denominational relationships through an interview of Dr. Doug Hill and Dr. Lloyd Hamblin.
B) Divide among Working Group members responsibilities for research and reporting.
C) Establish a Mission Statement for the Working Group.
D) Set time and location of future meetings of the Working Group.
Both Doug Hill and Lloyd Hamblin were helpful in providing an understanding
of the development of our current denominational structure. An outline of SCODS and SCOR, key issues and significant leaders were reviewed.
Members of the Working Group volunteered or were appointed to research the facts on the following relationships and to report to the Working Group their findings at each meeting.
· Legal procedures – James Johnson
· Continuing relationships with like-minded regions – Holley Faulkner
· Relational status of institutions and groups within the WVBC – Paul Ritchie
· Legal status of endowments and funds –Audy Perry
· Constitutional factors – Jean Cunningham
· Channels of continuing relationships – Ed Rogers
The mission statement adopted by the Working Group is:
"The working Group exists to pursue and report the facts and options concerning the WVBC’s future relationship with the ABC/USA for the purpose of making informed decisions."
Three future meeting dates have been set. They are January 6, February 10, and March 10.
All three of these first three meetings will be held in Charleston at Emmanuel Baptist Church.
Regular reports will be made available. The Working Group will discuss how best to make that happen at its January meeting. The desire is to inform the larger body of the group’s progress.
Richard McClure, Chair
Dear Brother Ray,
On certain occasions, I am allowed to write a letter from here, and I think that this is such a time. I've been told about some things you said yesterday, a special day for me, I must admit. Let me quote:
"Surely God is mad at America. He sent us hurricane after hurricane after hurricane, and it's destroyed and put stress on this country...
"It's time for us to come together. It's time for us to rebuild New Orleans -- the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans. This city will be a majority African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."
Brother Ray, may I suggest a greater reluctance for speaking for God? Brother Pat's been doing that a bit much lately, and it's no wiser for you.
But I am certain that you were speaking out of love for our people, and for that you are to be commended. And I am certain that now you are full of mixed feelings. Part of those feelings involve self-blame as you realize how unwise your choice of words were. And you are probably also feeling some anger over those who have seized on your words to intentionally make you look foolish. I understand. I have been in that position myself.
But more to the point, let's discuss racism. One of the great mistakes our people have made is to believe that only white people can be racists. The conventional wisdom is that racism can only exist when the racist has power to oppress. Our people, through much of our history in America, have been powerless. Therefore, we were incapable of being racists.
Now, that may be the common opinion, but it is one that is not consistent with the words of the Lord Jesus. I urge you to read the Sermon on the Mount. Observe how we are directed to the heart, and the attitudes that cannot be seen. All people can be racists: white or black or red or brown or yellow. The Lord sees our hearts.
That, my friend, is the issue you stirred up when you spoke of a "chocolate New Orleans." Now again, I know, you are very concerned for the future of your city. We are concerned up here too. But you err, my friend, if you think that these words are wise. They are not. What if the mayor of Pascagoula said that his city was destined by the Almighty to be a vanilla city?
If I can be indulged to quote myself, I would urge you to consider these words, and see if they are in accords with what will no doubt be called your Chocolate City speech:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal." I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.
May God bless you, Ray, and grant you wisdom in all things.
Sunday, January 15, 2006
My wife Lynann and I are Lostiacs--fans of the ABC series "Lost" (9 PM Wednesdays). This last week, we were treated to the back story on Eko, the mysterious Nigerian, and got one of the most amazing stories of Christian redemption I have ever seen on network TV.
In an early scene, we see a teenaged Eko playing soccer in the dirt-covered streets of his Nigerian town. The townspeople are poor, but there's a vibrancy to the area.
A pickup truck speeds into town carrying heavily armed men. They pour from the truck and round up the children for a recruiting session: the boys are being drafted into a local warlord's makeshift army. An old priest runs from the church to protest, but a mercenary silences him with a swift blow to the head. Yemi, Eko's younger brother--a boy who is considerably smaller then his huge teenaged sibling--clutches Eko's side.
The group's leader sees Yemi's fear and decides it's time for a lesson. He unholsters his pistol and drags Yemi forward. The boy trembles as the warlord wraps Yemi's small hands around the gun's handle and forces him to aim the barrel at an old man kneeling nearby. "Kill him," the man orders. Yemi quivers. The gun shakes. The warlord's displeasure starts to show. Eko, sensing that his brother's life is hanging in the balance, marches forward, grabs the gun and pulls the trigger.
The warlord is shocked ... and duly impressed. He grabs the gun from Eko, then wraps his arm around the boy's shoulders and declares him "a natural born killer." Eko lower his head, inadvertently causing a cross hanging from his neck to dangle into view. The warlord grabs the cross and rips it free. "You won't need this anymore," he says as he chucks the cross to the ground. The warlord rounds up his platoon and guides Eko to the truck. The townspeople--including Eko's brother and the other boys--watch as Eko and the bandits ride out of town. Yemi picks the cross from the dirt and cradles it in his hands.
Later we see Eko as a man. Now he's in charge, an involved in drug-smuggling--and is known as "the man who has no soul." The only way to dispose of a massive quantity of heroin is to fly it out of the country, and the only private planes allowed to hit the skies are owned by either the UN or Catholic missionaries.
Eko goes back to his home village where Yemi is now the priest. Eko's visit isn't a social call. The heroin he "bought" needs to be exported and, as we learned before, there's only two organizations that have access to private planes. Eko decides to use his brother's connections to move his merchandise.
Yemi isn't keen on the idea of compromising his faith. So Eko ups the ante. He returns a few days laster with his two henchmen in tow. Eko has a plan: His brother doesn't need to run the drugs at all. Rather, he just needs to sign three "ordination" documents to make Eko and his boys full-blown priests. Once they're ordained, Eko can take to the skies.
Again, Yemi protests, but Eko drives a hard bargain. If Father Brother doesn't sign the papers, Eko's boys will burn the church to the ground. Moreover, Eko is willing to dump a pile of cash into his brother's lap--and that cash could buy a lot of medicine. And so Yemi acquiesces.
Next we see Eko and his henchmen are loading drug-filled Virgin Mary statues into an old Beechcraft airplane. Eko and his boys are dressed like priests.
Yemi drives up and pleads with Eko to not get on the plane. His protestations are cut short by the arrival of a military truck overflowing with armed soldiers. Eko's men open fire. The soldiers return fire, cutting down one of Eko's henchmen. Yemi runs forward and screams for the soldiers to stop shooting.
A bullet buries itself deep in Yemi's chest. Eko catches his brother as the Beechcraft sputters to life behind him (the other henchman -- the one who wasn't shot--fired up the plane). Eko drags Yemi to the plane's door and the henchman helps him load his brother's near-dead body into the plane. Eko curls his fingers inside the doorway and prepares to thrust himself into the plane, but the henchman has other ideas. He sneers then kicks Eko in the chest and shuts the door. Eko, sprawled on the tarmac, watches as the plane, his brother, his henchman and 300 Virgin Mary statues loaded with heroin, arc into the deep blue sky.
"Are you okay, Father?" a soldier asks.
And in this one revelatory moment, pieces of the Eko puzzle snap into place: the faith we've seen him exhibit on the island likely stems from his conversion.
Without going into much more detail, let me add that Eko, with Charlie (the fallen Irish Catholic altarboy turned drug-addicted rock drummer) finds the very plane on the island. He finds his dead brother and weeps for him.
Eko decides to burn the wreckage so his brother can be properly honored. As the flames consume the fuselage and Yemi's remains, Charlie asks: "So, are you a priest, or aren't you?"
Eko carefully lifts his brother's cross over his head and hangs it around his neck.
Looking straight into the flames he says, "Yes. I am."
And with that, Eko recites the 23rd Psalm. Charlie joins him a few sentences in:
"The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. He leadeth me in the path of righteousness for his namesake. Yea, though I walk through the shadow of valley of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Amen."
Martin Luther King, Jr.: A History
No Christian played a more prominent role in the century's most significant social justice movement than Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Russel Moldovan for Christian History magazine
"We must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all our actions." So spoke the newly elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which had just been organized to lead a bus boycott to protest segregated seating in the city buses. The president, and new pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist, went on to say that blacks must not hate their white opponents. "Love is one of the pinnacle parts of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice, and justice is really love in calculation."
And so began his public role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The movement produced scores of men and women who risked their lives to secure a more just and inclusive society, but the name Martin Luther King, Jr., stands out among them all. As historian Mark Noll put it, "He was beyond question the most important Christian voice in the most important social protest movement after World War II."
He was born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929 as Michael King, but in 1935 his father changed both of their names to Martin Luther to honor the German Protestant Reformer. The precocious Martin skipped two grades, and by age 15, had passed the entrance exam to the predominantly black Morehouse College. There King felt drawn into pastoral ministry: "My call to the ministry was not a miraculous or supernatural something," he said. "On the contrary it was an inner urge calling me to serve humanity."
From Morehouse he moved on to Crozer Theological Seminary (Chester, Pennsylvania) and Boston University, both predominantly white and liberal, where he studied Euro-American philosophers and theologians. King was especially taken with social gospel champion Walter Rauschenbusch, whom King said "had done a great service for the Christian church by insisting that the gospel deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body."
King also admired the nonviolent civil disobedience of Mahatma Gandhi: "Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale." King also believed "Christ furnished the spirit and motivation, and Gandhi furnished the method."
King left Boston in 1953 with his new wife Coretta to pastor at Dexter Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. When he took the position, he said, he had not "the slightest idea that I would later become involved in a crisis in which nonviolent resistance would be applicable."
In December 1955, a young Montgomery woman named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to relinquish her bus seat to a white man. Local pastors rallied the black community for a citywide bus boycott, named themselves the Montgomery Improvement Association, and unanimously elected King as president.
King immediately implemented his ideas, insisting throughout the boycott on a policy of nonviolence despite the threat of white violence. Even after his home was bombed, King forbade those guarding his home from carrying guns; instead, he told his followers, "Keep moving … with the faith that what we are doing is right, and with the even greater faith that God is with us in the struggle."
Throughout the Montgomery campaign, critics complained about the ordained clergy's involvement in "earthly, temporal matters." King, however, believed "this view of religion … was too confined." He saw his civil rights activity as an extension of his ministry: "The Christian gospel is a two-way road. On the one hand, it seeks to change the souls of men, and thereby unite them with God; on the other hand, it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so the soul will have a chance after it is changed."
When a year later the boycott succeeded in ending bus discrimination, King was propelled into the national limelight. In 1957 he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), an umbrella for civil rights organizations. The next year, he published his first of seven books, Stride Toward Freedom.
Along with increasing national attention came increasing hostility: while autographing his book in a department store, an assailant stabbed King in the chest with a letter opener. It took some time to get him proper care, and his surgeon later told him, "If you had sneezed during all those hours of waiting, your aorta would have been punctured and you would have drowned in your own blood."
In 1959 King moved to Atlanta to become co-pastor with his father at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The next years saw him organizing peaceful demonstrations in Atlanta (1960), Albany (Georgia, 1961), Birmingham (1963), St. Augustine (Florida, 1964), and Selma (1965). King received death threats, was once stoned, was arrested several times and held in solitary confinement.
In addition, after King criticized the FBI in 1964 for cooperating with segregation authorities, the FBI stepped up its surveillance of King. A mixture of politics and personal animosity prompted FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover to try to discredit King as a womanizer and communist. There was, unfortunately, substance to the first charge but not the second (the most that can be said is that King's early advisers had formerly been members of the Communist Party). Hoover called King "the most notorious liar in the country," and the FBI went so far as to send a letter to King suggesting he commit suicide.
King became increasingly troubled with the dichotomy between his private and public selves, and the burden of leading the SCLC often seemed overwhelming. But his preaching continued to inspire his followers. His greatest oratorical moment came on August 28, 1963, when 250,000 demonstrators gathered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. All speakers had their speeches pre-approved, but in King's original, the now-famous phrase, "I have a dream," never appeared. King was the last speaker of the long, hot day. He noted the fatigued state of his audience, and he remembered a phrase he'd heard spoken by a young woman who had some months earlier led a service at the remains of a torched church.
"I have a dream," he began, "that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
"I have a dream my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
In 1964, at the height of his influence, King became Time magazine's first black "Man of the Year," then the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He donated the prize money ($54,600) to civil rights organizations.
Beginning in 1965, King's popularity waned as his "dream" grew to include peace in Vietnam. With this, most of white America, as well as many African Americans, distanced themselves from King. But he refused to soften his language about the war: "On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question—is it politic? Vanity asks the question—is it popular? Conscience asks the question—is it right?"
In spring of 1968, King was in Memphis to help with a sanitation strike. On April 3, he told his audience, "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land." The following day, James Earl Ray shot and killed King as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
The nation mourned King's death, and the civil rights movement fragmented irreversibly. King's influence may have waned in the last two years of his life, but 20 years after his death, his legacy was deemed so crucial to the nation's history that a national holiday was named after him.
Russel Moldovan is pastor of Blanchard (Pennsylvania) Church of Christ , and author of Martin Luther King, Jr.: A History of His Religious Witness and His Life (American Universities Press).
Friday, January 13, 2006
This comes from www.beaconchurches.net. Art Jaggard is a staunch evangelical who seems to have crossed the wrong people in ABC of the Central Region. He writes with the dignity and honor of a man with a heart for God.
The text to follow was received at the Beacon Churches email from a friend in the Southeast Area. It is a letter of resignation from Art Jaggard, current Southeast Area Minister. The letter was on Art’s Region letterhead and reads as follows:
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ.
For the last twelve years I have been blessed to minister in the Central Region as an Area Minister. These years have been fulfilling and I cherish the time that we have spent together. After much prayer and thought I will resign my position on or before May 31, 2006. My responsibilities as Area Minister end February 15, 2006. I feel led to be open to serving as a pastor of a local congregation. Deborra and I are looking forward to continuing our adventure in ministry in that context. We are confident that this is God’s will for us.
The next several months will be a time of transition. It is my prayer that everything will be done to contribute to the health and well being of the Region and the Area through out this experience. You have excellent Regional staff who will be able to help you do that. Please call Dr. Steve Van Ostran (785-272-7622 or firstname.lastname@example.org ) with any questions you may have as we proceed through this transition time.
You all are in my prayers,
In Jesus Name,
From World Magazine's online edition:
Religion: Mainline mess
This year could see many Protestant denominations fracture
by Edward E. Plowman
Three embattled mainline denominations face critical decisions in 2006 that could lead to dramatic upheavals:
Episcopal Church (ECUSA)
The 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church (ECUSA) is scheduled to vote on whether it will apologize and repent for consecrating an openly gay bishop in 2003, as many top archbishops from the rest of the international Anglican Communion have demanded. ECUSA leaders, already banned from Anglicanism's chief policy-making body and disfellowshipped by many of the Communion's archbishops, have served notice they will not agree that what they did was wrong.
Enshrining that position in a vote at the 2006 General Convention this summer would most certainly lead to a breakup of the Communion into affluent minority liberal and underfunded majority conservative alliances within two years (at the next worldwide Anglican Lambeth Conference in 2008). In that scenario, many conservative ECUSA dioceses and churches would be named by the majority to replace ECUSA as the authentic Anglican presence in America. The legal haggling could go on for years.
ECUSA leaders, with help from their allies in the Archbishop of Canterbury's bureaucracy in London, are expected to try to win the day with double-speak: Apologize for all the controversy (but not for causing it), and express regret for not consulting with other Communion leaders before proceeding (not that it would have meant any difference). "Not good enough," key global south archbishops have warned in advance.
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will vote on a measure in June that would, in effect, negate the church constitution's fidelity/chastity standard for PCUSA clergy. It would allow certain exceptions to the standard for conscience reasons. A PCUSA commission drew up the proposal. Many PCUSA leaders have voiced support. If the assembly adopts it, and a majority of presbyteries (regional units) ratify it, the 2.3-million-member denomination will see a major exodus.
American Baptist Churches (U.S.A.)
American Baptist Churches (U.S.A.) will fracture. The 1.5-million-member denomination, based in Valley Forge, Pa., has a strong position on homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture. But its liberal-dominated governing board has blocked all efforts to enforce the policy on member churches on grounds Baptist churches are autonomous, don't have creeds, and have the right to interpret the Bible as they wish. The board also has allowed gay-approving churches to transfer from predominantly conservative regional units to gay-friendly ones in a different geographic area.
The ABC's Southern California--based Pacific Southwest region, with 300 mostly conservative churches in three states, is scheduled to vote in April on whether to proceed with plans to pull out of the denomination. Several other regions are poised to do likewise if the board continues to balk at discipline of congregations. The financially strapped ABC would be hard-pressed to survive. It already has cut staff to bare bones, and it rents out most of its headquarters to private firms. A large chunk of its membership is dually aligned with black denominations or the pro-gay United Church of Christ, and this shows in financial loyalties.
The Northern California--based American Baptist Churches of the West, which has kicked out several pro-gay churches from membership, changed its name as of Jan. 1. The region's new name is Growing Healthy Churches—"a move to reflect more accurately who we are as well as losing any negative baggage that may be detrimental to the accomplishment of a mission," said executive minister Paul Borden.
Leaders of American Baptist Evangelicals, organized as a renewal group in 1982, recently declared the ABC is beyond renewal. They voted to become a support group for whatever new entity emerges from the ruins of Valley Forge this year.
Copyright © 2006 WORLD MagazineJanuary 14, 2006, Vol. 21, No. 2
This is a portion of my column for the February-March edition of The Tower, the print and online newsletter of my church, the First Baptist Church of Temple City, California.
As I have reported to you over the last year, the American Baptist Churches USA, our denomination, is in the greatest crisis since the late 1940s. Last fall the Board of our region, the ABC of the Pacific Southwest, voted to begin the process of withdrawing from the ABCUSA.
The issue is a dramatically different understanding of the role of “soul liberty” verses Biblical authority. While the General Board of the ABC, to the surprise of many voted to strengthen its statement about marriage and homosexuality, the reality is that there remains no enforcement mechanism, and even more important, there is no will to even use the “bully pulpit” in defense of clear Biblical teaching.
In December, the Region Board affirmed its earlier decision, despite the appeals of two Executive Ministers from other regions—including an old friend of mine, Al Fletcher from Maine.
We have received detailed information on the vote that will be held on April 29 at FBC Pomona (satellite locations are being set up in Hawaii, Las Vegas, Phoenix and San Luis Obispo). There is a formula for determining the number of delegates we are entitled to, and our church office has sent the Region the data needed to determine the number. Then we must submit not just the number, but also the names of the delegates well before the meeting in Pomona.
You should know that the Region’s Board, strictly speaking, has the authority on its own to withdraw from ABCUSA, but has chosen to go above and beyond by asking for this advisory vote from the churches, and that is to be highly commended.
What will happen? I expect an excess of 80% in favor of withdrawing from ABCUSA. Our churches have a high degree of trust in the leadership of region, and we have come to recognize that the vision of the Valley Forge (ABCUSA) leadership and that of our own churches is exceedingly hard to keep in the same tent.
Following the Pomona meeting, the Region Board will take a final vote, again, almost certainly to sever ties with ABCUSA. Already the “American Baptist Churches of the Pacific Southwest” is reinventing itself. As a matter of fact, the whole denomination seems to be in slow freefall. The ABC of the West (Northern CA and NV) has renamed itself “Growing Healthy Churches”! I expect that the ABC PSW will also adopt a name that has neither a geographic or even denominational word in it—something like Transformation Churches. (I joked with someone on region staff that we ought to compete with our brothers to the north and adopt the name, “Growing Even Healthier Churches.”)
Other regions are very, very unhappy with the ABCUSA and may join us. I am aware of six regions where there are active efforts to follow our lead, and there may be others. As I stated last fall, I believe that when this is all over, up to 70% of the current ABC may leave the existing organization.
At the same time, the movement to form a new organization, coming out of the meeting I attended in Chicago last September, continues to move ahead. I expect that our region and church will affiliate with that movement later in 2006.
Sometime after that, we as a church will need to take a separate action to either remain a church within the ABCUSA or to join with what our region is doing. ABCUSA, the Region, and our church are all separate corporations and even when the Region separates, that is not “automatic” for us.
I am a supporter of following the lead of our region. I am not now nor have I even been a separatist, but instead a reformer. I have always been one to stand and stay and change things from within. But the commitment of the national leadership to principles that are incompatible with our vision of the Christian life and Biblical authority seems irreversible. For frequent updates, see my blog, http://www.durabledata.blogspot.com/.
Thursday, January 12, 2006
From "Dr. Ehud":
It was finally anouced today that Art Jaggard "resigned" as the area minister of the south east area of the central region. This really comes as no supprise to us in the ABCCR (Central Region). Art has over the last few years implimented local mission minded precepts in the area with great success, these precepts are in his new book to be released in February. This had the effect of making some in the region office jealous. Also in 1994 Art made the statement "that anyone who beleived that that the Bible did not call homosexual acts sin was being itlelectually and scripturally dishonist."
When, after a letter was released from Regional Executive Minister Fred Ansel last year which stated the he "Fred" did not beleive that homosexuality was sin, Art's refusal to recant his 1994 statement made him more enemy's at the regional office. I believe that this is just the first of the purges in the ABCCR of conservative pastors. Keep us in prayer as we hold fast to the inerrancy of Scripture.
Didn't Pope Herzog the Great say that it was the evangelicals wanted a purge? Seems a little fishy to me. Looks like the Empire is Striking Back, Again.
What use is theology? Doesn't a religously based organization--a church, a school, a publishing house--have the right to make lifestyle demands on its employees? Does your church have the right to deny employment to an unmarried man living with his girlfriend (as our church did several years ago)? Comments on this one are encouraged, and may be the basis for a future blog entry.
Theology Prof Balks at 'Enforcing Sexual Morality' on Faculty
By Jim Brown
January 12, 2006
(AgapePress) - A theology professor at a Roman Catholic university in St. Paul, Minnesota, is condemning the school's stance against a lesbian couple that teaches at the school.
Last year -- after a few students complained -- the University of St. Thomas told a lesbian conductor that she could not take her partner along on a student choir tour to France. Now two lesbian professors at the school who live together as an unmarried couple have dropped out of a trip with students to Australia because the university said they would have to book separate rooms. Neither of the women is Catholic.
St. Thomas theology professor Dr. David Penchansky says he has no problem with the lesbian professors rooming together -- and the university shouldn't either, he says. "I thought it was absolutely the wrong issue to press,"
Penchansky states. "I thought it was absolutely the wrong way for our university to be expressing its Catholic identity."
The educator contends the university might as well penalize a faculty member for not showing enough compassion to the poor. "I was so very upset and disappointed [by the school's action against the two professors]," he continues. "It's just simply not our business as a university to enforce these kinds of things."
While Penchansky acknowledges the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful, he says the school must also "maintain its credibility as an academic institution."
"And there's always a balancing act between those two," the professor says. "But the idea that we're going to express ourselves as a Christian institution by enforcing sexual morality on our faculty -- it's just the wrong way to go. It's the wrong strategy. It's, frankly, none of our business."
Penchansky is the author of two books: What Rough Beast? Images of God in the Hebrew Bible and The Betrayal of God: Ideological Conflict in Job.
Jim Brown, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is a reporter for American Family Radio News, which can be heard online.
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Right pew, wrong church. Woes in the ABC are reflected amongst our congregational cousins. A report from Virginia. The photo is Rev. Michael Halley, mentioned in the article.
The Rev. Michael Halley of Suffolk Christian Church said his congregants concluded their values diverged from those of the UCC
DELORES JOHNSON/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT
By STEVEN G. VEGH , The Virginian-Pilot © January 5, 2006
The United Church of Christ’s endorsement of same-sex marriage this summer may have been a first for American mainline Protestantism. It was also the last straw for Suffolk Christian Church.
Responding to the July vote by the UCC’s General Synod, the 145-year-old church agreed by more than a two-thirds majority this fall to leave the 1.3 million-member denomination.
The gay-marriage issue was not the only disagreement members had with the UCC, said Suffolk Christian’s minister, the Rev. Michael D. Halley , “although for a lot of people, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
As many as 25 congregations within the UCC’s Southern Conference, which encompasses eastern Virginia and all of North Carolina, have left since the synod’s vote, said the Rev. Stephen Camp , the conference’s administrator. Six new congregations have formed in the same period, leaving the conference with about 230 altogether.
BACKGROUND The United Church of Christ synod, a biennial meeting of delegates from member churches, affirmed “equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender” in an overwhelming vote.
Congregations also were asked to oppose campaigns that advocate constitutional amendments to limit marriage according to gender. Virginia is among the states with such a campaign. If the General Assembly votes again this year, as it did last year, to ban same-sex civil unions, the measure could go before the state’s voters as a constitutional amendment this fall.
Despite the UCC delegates’ position, the synod does not dictate policy to member churches and ministers are not required to provide marriage rites for gay couples. Each UCC congregation has autonomy, including the freedom to quit the denomination.
Gay marriage and ordination of noncelibate homosexuals are among the most hotly debated issues in several Protestant denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Episcopal Church USA and the Presbyterian Church USA.
The UCC synod’s July action made the church the first major Christian denomination to endorse gay marriage. The United Church of Christ was already the only major Protestant denomination to allow ordination for gays and lesbians. The Unitarian Universalist Association also allows gay ordination and same-sex unions, but it is not a Christian denomination.
Among many Protestants, the core of the debate lies in whether the Bible considers same-sex sexual activity acceptable. For the Rev. James Anderson of New Hope Congregational Church in the Berkley section of Norfolk, the answer is no.
“I think that it’s a sin – Scripture says a man should not lay with a man,” said Anderson, whose congregation voted to withdraw from the UCC after the synod’s action. “Personally, I cannot go along in support of something I don’t believe is sanctioned by the Bible.”
At Suffolk Christian, Halley said the synod’s decision led some congregants to conclude that their values diverged from the UCC. Some members questioned whether it was proper for the UCC’s national leadership to take politically themed stands, such as its opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
“Whatever they do, we have to wear,” Halley said. “If we carry the name out front, people are going to associate us with whatever actions our national church body had taken.”
Not every church unhappy with the synod’s gay-marriage action has quit the denomination. At Windsor Congregational Christian Church UCC in Isle of Wight County, the board of deacons opted instead to send a letter of protest to the denomination’s president.
The church also cut out financial contributions to the national church that might be used to promote the UCC’s stand on gay marriage.
“We won’t turn our back on the UCC,” said the Rev. Basil Ballard , the church’s minister. “We still feel we’re part of it, even though this is one little portion we can’t abide.”
At least 16 churches outside the Southern Conference have quit the UCC, but the total nationwide won’t be known until the denomination gets year-end reports from its regional offices, said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess , the UCC’s national spokesman.
Guess said the losses are not catastrophic and stressed that the same theme of inclusiveness that repels some UCC congregations also has attracted newcomers.
“We’ve received overtures from existing congregations and groups of people who are interested in forming UCC congregations across the country,” Guess said.
In October, the UCC took six churches into the denomination, the biggest monthly gain since the UCC was formed in 1957 , he said.
The South, where the UCC is most thinly spread, “probably has the largest hunger for new church development of the UCC kind: inclusive congregations, congregations that are multiracial, congregations that are open to all persons,” said Camp, the conference administrator .
In the Southern Conference, five UCC congregations have been created since the synod met and several more are planned for 2006, Camp said.
He said the synod’s action cleared the air of a topic that had overshadowed other UCC priorities such as evangelization, poverty and disaster relief.
“We’re seeing the results in a new spirit and vitality in the Southern Conference,” Camp said.
“Those churches that have left, we wish them well, not ill.”
Reach Steven G. Vegh at (757)446-2417 or email@example.com.
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
This is a portion of a posting on the ABE message board by "Dr. Ehud":
It's true that leadership in the ABC has so deluded themselves that they don't see the need to change. Added to that the threat of taking the property of any church which trys to leave the ABC, the leadership is in fact confident of their position. However, I was informed that some churches in ABCCR [ABC of the Central Region] are considering dual alignment with the Conservative Baptists and one church in fact is meeting with a representative from Longmont, Colo. this week. Others are waiting to see the results of that meeting. I was told that the plan is to give the ABC $10 a month as "rent" on the property and give the rest of support to CB [Conservative Baptists]. I devulge this to encourage the ABE leaders to speed up the process of either getting VF to clean up its act or to form the ABE into something more than it now is.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
A lenghty conversation I had with an unnamed ABFMS (American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, the legal name of the Board of International Ministries) missionary this week, along with some chats with members of my church got me thinking: is it still possible to save the ABCUSA?
Readers of Durable Data will realize that I have predicted and at times called for the end of the ABCUSA as we know it. Yet I still believe that it is possible to save the ABC. It would require a level of vision and self-sacrifice on the part of the Valley Forge elite which I doubt they are capable of, but it can be done.
How? In two words, radical decentralization. This is much as the ABC of Michigan proposed: go to a pre-1907 configuration of regions, societies (such as ABFMS) and churches. Recall that in the 19th century, most Baptist churches in the north worked through loosely associated societies for missions, church planting and benevolence until the formation of the Northern Baptist Convention in 1907. Prior to 1907, Baptists in the north related to one another via fellowship and mission, with the association being the key unit of contact.
1907 was the beginning of a gradual process of centralization of program. The societies were gradually "tamed" under the Office of the General Secretary. The ABCUSA was established as a respectible mainline denomination--a terrible thing for the rowdy spirit of the people called Baptists.
What could be done now? I have some specific suggestions:
1. Abolish the Office of General Secretary. A good first step would be the resignation of the current occupant of that office and the appointment of a trusted figure to undersee the dismantlement of the Valley Forge apparatus. I suggest John Sundquist.
2. Liberate the program boards. The ABFMS, MMBB, and what we now call National Ministries (the American Baptist Home Mission Society) would become free-standing parachurch missions organizations.
3. Abolish the General Board. It is entirely unnecessary.
4. Abandon the body of useless and foolish policy statements that have been filling up the filing cabinets at the Valley Forge HQ for the last generation.
5. Sell the Valley Forge HQ and use the money for world missions and church planting. Encourage the program board offices to relocate in less expensive areas of the country. For example, we could put ABFMS in suburban Chicago and ABHMS in Colorado Springs. MMBB is already in New York. Maybe a revived educational board could find a home in the west--say, Phoenix or Las Vegas.
Will these things happen? Well, in my dreams. I don't know of anyone in Valley Forge who has the courage to make this happen. But this, I think, is the only way to save the ABC.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Don't worry; be happy! That's the thrust of this pro-homosexual article on the Metro Community Church and its coming irrelevance--irrevelance as Protestant denominations slowly become more "welcoming and affirming."
UFMCC cuts budget, moves offices
UFMCC moderator the Reverend Nancy Wilson and MCC-SF senior pastor Penny Nixon at the San Francisco church's 35th anniversary celebration in November. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Budget cuts at an LGBT-focused religious denomination might correlate with greater collaboration with its more financially healthy cousin.
The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches' move to cut almost $400,000 from its overall expenses over 2005, and its new moderator's recent goodwill visit with the progressive United Church of Christ's leadership, foreshadows greater ecumenical alliances and parallels wider melding among progressive branches of all mainstream U.S. faiths.
Clergy are weighing in on various interpretations of UFMCC Moderator Nancy Wilson's communication to pastors, detailing her discussion with the UCC heads about dual clergy credentialing, congregational affiliation, and affiliation transfers.
UFMCC churches have inquired about UCC affiliation following the denomination's adopting into official policy its support for same-sex marriage rights last August, while some UCC congregations have threatened to disaffiliate.
"Some have explicitly said they are leaving because of the general synod action," said Michael Schuenemeyer, head of UCC's homeless, AIDS, and LGBT ministries. Though "not on a large scale," he added.
UFMCC began restructuring its top posts in 1999, anticipating founder Reverend Troy Perry's retirement and the transition to a new moderator. Wilson was installed during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. in October.
The newly approved 2006 budget of about $3.3 million, based on projected tithing from churches (frozen at 14 percent), was achieved through flattening the hierarchy and moving from a global headquarters to decentralized operations points.
Palm Springs' 110-member Coachella Valley MCC is one of about a fourth of the churches that volunteer to tithe at 15 percent with the extra 1 percent earmarked for church planting.
After September 11, 2001, ensuring missionaries' security and fighting severe homophobic oppression in nations not as hospitable to U.S.-born – especially LGBT – clergy made church planting overseas slower, so tithing income from overseas expansion fell.
Dallas' Cathedral of Hope, once UFMCC's largest congregation, began discussing aligning with UCC 12 years ago. It disaffiliated from UFMCC in 2003, and voted to join UCC last October, a "painful, long, protracted" ordeal and ultimate relief, said Wilson. The move meant that UFMCC no longer received money from that church.
Without a development director since 2001, UFMCC will delay hiring another until it takes steps to develop an audit, has a more detailed strategic plan, and forms a separate 501(c)3 foundation – a new function – before raising outside funds.
The denomination "did not have any of that kind of structure in its history," said UFMCC Executive Director Cindi Love.
The West Coast regional office will move to MCC Los Angeles' second floor, next door to the former world headquarters on Santa Monica Boulevard. The headquarters space has been leased to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. NGLTF agreed to lease the office space for three years. This brings $90,000 in income for 2006, according to UFMCC budget documents.
UFMCC clergy salaries average $34,000 annually, according to the last church survey.
Wilson called those "movement wages," and noted that first-year clergy and those at smaller churches face underemployment, and sometimes need to work two jobs.
UCC compensation is 30 percent to 40 percent higher, believes the Reverend Dr. Jim Mitulski, formerly of MCC-San Francisco, now a regional elder for the fellowship.
Years of real estate investment and endowment assets support mainline churches, unlike UFMCC where the worship service offering mostly funds clergy salaries.
"Investments make American Protestantism viable," said Mitulski.
UCC lent the multi-ethnic, Pentecostal-flavored City of Refuge an initial 1998 loan to purchase its South of Market property, the kind of boost that could help individual UFMCC ministries.
Nondenominational at its inception in 1991, City of Refuge later chose the UCC umbrella for its impressive infrastructure, access to worship and liturgy support, autonomous congregations, and commitment to social justice.
UFMCC's recent increased medical, disability, and life insurance benefits for pastors correspond with greater education expectations, customarily, a master's degree in divinity, said MCC Sacramento's the Reverend Roland Stringfellow.
"Requiring more education, clergy can turn around and say I want to be compensated to the degree I've earned this pay," said Stringfellow. "The benefits show the denomination has heard that, and is moving in a competitive direction."
UFMCC is creating a more proactive, grassroots, cheaper, and faster system of receiving and accepting the boom in out theology students.
"A whole generation is more candid and truthful," said Mitulski, who graduated from the UCC-affiliated Pacific School of Religion, where MCC employs two trustees, offers two MCC-specific courses, an annual weeklong summer orientation, and scholarships. PSR is the alma mater of 40 UFMCC pastors.
At least one dozen students are currently seeking dual credentialing, which is "a trend for the future," said Mitulski.
More LGBT seminary graduates want to work with UCC than there are gay-friendly vacant pulpits, hospital chaplainries, and campus ministries to hire them. The UCC affiliation is made more challenging because UCC defines ordination as a church "calling" the formed priest.
"Basically, you must have a paid position to be ordained," said MCC-San Jose senior pastor the Reverend Michael Ellard.
"Certainly it's not the case where the majority of congregations are ready to call an openly gay pastor," said UCC's Schuenemeyer.
UCC's open and affirming wing has not eclipsed UFMCC founder Perry's still relevant 1968 vision of his church (now in 17 countries) as an influential catalyst in convincing mainstream religion that denying gay people spirituality is unjust. Large denominations like Southern Baptist, evangelical, and Catholic have no open and affirming sanctuaries.
"[Perry's] dream was that that would happen in his lifetime," said Love. "It may take a little longer. We hear that some churches are opening up. Great, but it is a very tiny percentage in the U.S. and the world who even accept us as members, much less as clergy."
Ready optimism about welcoming churches does not bare out in numbers, especially outside urban areas – "the California bubble where everyone is ready to take everybody," Mitulski called it. All mainstream gay-inclusive worship sites combined plus Episcopalians, Unitarians, UCC's 580 churches and UFMCC's 200 churches still equal a small number.
"So few it's statistically insignificant," said Mitulski. "I don't see MCC going out of business."
Across denominational lines gay inclusion is a small part of American Protestantism's reordering as churches recognize, collaborate, and form strategic alliances together.
"Twenty years from now the whole landscape will look very different," said Mitulski.
"Folks are less and less concerned with what denomination to go to," said Karen Foster, senior pastor of Berkeley's triple-affiliated New Spirit Church. The church was created in 2000 as an intentional bridge-building enterprise between like-minded theologies of UFMCC, UCC, and the Disciples of Christ.
Foster, the first UFMCC-ordained minister to achieve UCC clergy standing, said the connection allows her a voice within the larger Christian church as a partner, erasing distinctions.
"Ecumenical interface," serves to "break down religious oppression," agreed Love.
Wilson rejected the suggestion that her letter about her visit with UCC officials attempted to provoke acceptance of a denominational merger, noting UFMCC's global movement versus UCC's mainly domestic mission.
Merging would require a general conference vote, due diligence, and bringing polity and by-laws into conformity. For example, UFMCC models its inclusiveness with universally open Communion, whereas such rituals are open to congregational discernment in UCC.
UCC and UFMCC are mutually beneficial, prodding each other on social justice issues and commitment to gay liberation, respectively, said Mitulski.
UCC still "retains knowledge of its history," said San Jose's Ellard, thus an absorbed UFMCC could preserve its queer identity intact, he believes.
The 1.4 million-member UCC is a 1957 union of Congregational Churches founded by Mayflower Pilgrims and Puritans, frontier Christian churches, Reformed Church Pennsylvanians and German Evangelical Missourians, all strongly committed to autonomous self-government and freedom of religious expression.
"There are ongoing healthy discussions about any places where we can partner, that are a fit for us," said Love. But those contacted, including MCC-San
Francisco senior pastor Penny Nixon, have heard no rumblings about a merger so far.
"I'm just making sure MCC is the best spiritual home for the well being of our community," said Nixon. "We're up to our ears in what we're doing right here."
Wilson called UCC "our most faithful and treasured colleagues," and added, "we want to have a long, good relationship, sharing resources, clergy, and congregations."
Last night, USC lost to Texas in the Rose Bowl. Well, I think I might know why (I am being facetious). A few years ago, I would up on a panel at USC discussing same-sex marriage. Opposite me was the lesbian chaplain at USC and the gay mayor of North Hollywood. Their eyes all rolled when I said that if and when same-sex marriage becomes legal, "Ten minutes later, lawyers in Salt Lake City will be preparing briefs in favor of polygamy, and ten minutes after that lawyers will be doing the same in favor of group marriage--right here in L.A."
Well, read all about it. In an article far too long to reproduce here, Stanley Kurtz writes in the 12-26-2005 issue of The Weekly Standard a fascinating article on the legal status of polyamory (i.e., group marriage). And coming to a art house near you is a documentary about "a post modern family" entitled "Three of Hearts" (see www.threeofheartsfilm.com).
What is truly fascinating about the article by Kurtz is the role being played by the Unitarian-Universalist church. Follow this link and read the whole article:
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
An email was sent out this afternoon to the PSW church list giving the basics of the vote to be conducted April 29. Here's the scoop:
Special Meeting of the Region - April 29, 2006
Information Your Church Needs to Know Beforehand
Information Meetings - Prior to the April 29, 2006 Meeting
The Executive Minister will hold a series of Informational Meetings for pastors, church leaders and interested members in various locations around the Region in February. Information will be shared regarding the recommendation of the ABCPSW Board of Directors including reasons for the action, the process by which the decision will be made, and the future of the ABCPSW as a Region not in Covenant with the ABCUSA.
What Should Churches Consider Doing Before April 29, 2006?
Churches should review the documents that may define their relationship with the ABCUSA and/or the ABCPSW. These include:
Articles of Incorporation.
Church Bylaws or Constitutions.
Other documents that deal with the operation and governance of the church.
There are numerous situations in which a church's relationship with the ABCUSA and/or the ABCPSW is pivotal to a property or financial transaction. Often legal documents state that a loan or actual ownership of a property is conditioned on the church continuing in affiliation with the ABCUSA. For this reason, we recommend that churches review documents for reference to the ABCUSA including:
Loan Agreements and Promissory notes, including loans from ABCPSW, the ABCUSA, another ABC congregation or the American Baptist Extension Corporation.
Deeds and related title documents
Property Trust Agreements
Property use agreements
Church or pastor support agreements
Property purchase agreements or option to purchase agreements
Personal property trust agreements (for example, gifts of cash or property in a special fund or trust for the support of a church program)
In addition, churches may have entered into gift annuities, charitable remainder or charitable lead trusts, or similar arrangements with church members providing for payments. These should be reviewed to ascertain whether there are terms or conditions requiring affiliation with the ABCUSA.
This is not an exhaustive list, but one intended to encourage you to review potentially important documents before taking actions. All documents that refer to the relationship between a church and the ABCUSA and/or the ABCPSW should be reviewed for their effect on both parties, and to determine steps that should be taken to avoid problems.
If your review brings to light a situation that may be impacted by your church's decision, we urge you to consult with legal counsel for guidance on steps you should take to resolve the situation.
In addition to a church's own records and archives, copies or originals of many church legal documents are on file at the ABCPSW Church Resource Center.
The Special Meeting of the Region - April 29, 2006
The bylaws of the ABCPSW do not provide for meetings of the Region other than at the Annual Conference. However, under the California law that deals with non-profit corporations, such a meeting is permitted. The meeting will be run according to the following rules:
Churches will hold meetings in accordance with their own bylaws to determine how their delegates to the Regional meeting will vote on the issue.
Nature and Purpose of the Meeting of the Region.
Both the Covenant of Relationships of the ABCUSA and the Bylaws of the ABCPSW authorize the Region Board of Directors to make decisions regarding the adoption, amendment or termination of any covenant to which the Region is party (Article 6, Section 2, E). In final analysis, the Region Board of Directors must make the final decision regarding whether to withdraw from the Covenant of Relationships with the ABCUSA. The purpose of the Meeting of Delegates from the Churches is for the Board to receive an expression of the will of the Delegates to provide the Board with the input it needs to make a responsible and informed decision. Following vote, the Board of Directors must meet to take appropriate action based on the vote by church delegates.
The recommendation approved by the Region Board must clearly state this purpose of the meeting.
The meeting will be held simultaneously at five sites: First Baptist Church of Pomona and sites to be selected in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Hawaii, and on the Hopi Reservation. In order for this to happen:
a) Everyone at every site must be able to hear both what is being said at the podium at the main site (Pomona) and questions or comments made by delegates at all sites;
b) There must be opportunity for questions for clarification of the issue before the body. Because informational meetings will be held in various locations throughout the Region prior to the Meeting of the Region, the Board may rule that there will be no discussion or debate at this meeting,
c) A member of the Board of Directors should preside at each location,
d) The President of the Region will lead the meeting from Pomona. The role of Board members presiding at distant locations will be to expedite arrangements so each location follows directions from the President,
e) Ballots will be counted at all sites. The President will call for results from all sites, which will be announced and tallied. The President will then announce the total vote.
Each church will be assigned a number of delegates in accordance with the bylaws of the ABCPSW, Article 4. Each Cooperating and Affiliated Church may elect from its membership: (1) five (5) Delegates;(2) one (1) additional Delegate for every one-hundred (100) members of such Church in excess of the first fifty-one (51) members;(3) one (1) additional Delegate if such Church's per capita giving to the American Baptist United Mission Basics (or any successor thereto) in the calendar year preceding the Regional Annual Conference equaled $30, plus one (1) additional Delegate for each whole number multiple of $10 of such per capita giving in excess of $30 in such year; (4) one (1) additional Delegate for each whole number multiple of $3,000 of such Church's total giving to the American Baptist United Mission Basics ** (or any successor thereto) in the calendar yearpreceding the Conference; and (5) In addition to the foregoing, the Senior Pastor of any Cooperating or Affiliated Church may serve as a Delegate. (Note: When the ABCPSW is meeting in regard to issues related ABCUSA, Affiliated Churches will not be able to participate in any discussion or decision relative to these issues.)** The equivalent to United Missions Basics in the Flexible Stewardship Plan is the sum of Lines A1 (ABCPSW Ministries); A2 (International Ministries); A3 (National Ministries); and B (United Mission Option).
The ABCPSW Bylaws indicate that persons named by churches as delegates to a meeting of the Region must be registered in advance with the Executive Minister. For the purpose of this meeting, Delegate Registration must take place not later than one week before the scheduled meeting and should indicate the site that will be attended by church delegates. Lists of Delegates will be available at each site on the day of the meeting. As delegates arrive, they will register and receive printed ballots for use in the meeting.
6) Because the purpose of this vote is to provide the Board of Directors with a clear expression of the will of the Delegates from churches, there will be no delegates representing Associations. Furthermore, members of the Regional Board of Directors will not be delegates, unless they are so registered as delegates from churches.
What is a Cooperating Church?
All Cooperating Churches in the ABCPSW are eligible to vote. A cooperating church holds membership in both ABCPSW and the ABCUSA.
Who is not eligible to vote? Churches that have already withdrawn from the ABCUSA are Affiliated Members with the ABCPSW and therefore cannot vote on issues relating to the Region's participation in the ABCUSA. New church plants that have not applied and been accepted into full membership in the Region (new church plants are not eligible to apply for full membership in the region until at least three years from date of launch, reach sustainability, are incorporated, and are recommended by their association).
Sunday, January 01, 2006
My dear brothers and sisters:
As 2006 dawns, it is clear that this will be a year bringing massive changes to the existing American Baptist Churches USA. In late April, the ABC of the Pacific Southwest will almost certainly vote to sever ties from the ABCUSA. At the same time, the renewal group American Baptist Evangelicals is in the process of reformulating itself into an viable umbrella organization for American Baptists who are dissaffected by conviction from the Valley Forge leadership--or, to say it more pointedly, from the lack of Biblically grounded leadership from Valley Forge.
The American Baptist Churches, USA, as a organization is in slow collaspe. They do not recognize it. They believe that they can muddle on without major reformation. That is an illusion.
Regions are becoming more independant of and less subservient to the national organization. The ABC of Michigan, very much a centralist region (in terms of theological temper) actually proposed that the Office of the General Secretary be abolished, which would basically put the ABC back into the organizational shape it had over 100 years ago. This proposal has been rebuffed. In terms of organization, the Valley Forge establishment is very, very conservative.
The ABC of the West is so dissaffected from ABCUSA that as of today it is known by the parachurch-sounding name Growing Healthy Churches. Other signs of distance and regional assertion can be seen across the country.
We are on the edge. Looking back, we see a denomination in slow free-fall. But looking ahead we see a new opportunity.
This year, as the PSW departs the ABC, other regions may well be emboldened to act. Messages I have receieved from all across the nation bear witness that several other regions may well follow PSWs lead.
In other areas, in regions who walk in loyalty to Valley Forge, there are many churches who will no longer be able to remain apart of the region or of ABCUSA with a good conscience. They are leaving now, not with unfurled flags, but in sorrow and with a detemination to continue on in mission.
A new movement is being formed. It will be stoutly evangelical. It will be Christ-centered, not denomination-centered. It will be missional, not a bureaucratic.
2006 is your year. Join us mission, in faith, in fellowship and in making a new day. Join us in reaching millions of lost Americans who need to hear the good news of Jesus. Join us in reaching millions more across the globe. Join us in a clear conscious, the end of compromise, the end of having to apologize for the shameful equivocations that are the common parlance of Valley Forge.
Be much in prayer. A new day dawns. Be done with the night.
This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
I speak in no official capacity; I speak for no one except myself.