Shuck and Jive

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Safe Places for All People

On Saturdays I check out the Johnson City Press Faith section. Jim Dahlman of Milligan College wrote a column today about security issues in churches. He writes about a couple of local congregations as they wrestle with security questions in light of the recent incident in Colorado. It is a thoughtful piece.

Personally, I think it only makes sense for congregations to take measures for security. I think it is important for congregations to have this conversation and to set up measures for protection. We protect ourselves in many ways from many things. Congregations have policies and procedures in place to protect our children from sexual predators, for instance. It is crucial for congregations to be sanctuaries--safe places--and this includes security from those who would wish to harm those who come to these places for prayer. You can do a lot without resorting to armed guards. That depends upon the context. In all cases, vigilance and common sense, without paranoia and hysteria, are the keys. Congregations do need to have these conversations.

In the same section today, an article highlights clergy who will not sign marriage licenses to protest what they feel is discrimination against same-sex couples. I am not sure how many PCUSA clergy have taken that stand, although I do know of one:

David Ensign, pastor of Clarendon Presbyterian Church in Arlington, VA, and his congregation have taken that step:

In our time, gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual individuals face painful discrimination in the culture and within the church. Civil laws governing the rights to marriage and to other forms of life partnership are overwhelmingly discriminatory against gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual couples. Whatever the symbolic meaning of marriage, the real legal aspects are crucially important and same-sex couples face daily discrimination related to taxes, wills, property ownership, rights of next-of-kin, Social Security and others. This is particularly, painfully true in the Commonwealth of Virginia today.

Therefore, responding to God’s call to do justice, to the command of Jesus the Christ that we love one another as he loves us, and to the Presbyterian Book of Order statement that “The Biblical vision of doing justice calls for: ... supporting people who seek the dignity, freedom, and respect that they have been denied; ... redressing wrongs against individuals, groups and peoples in the Church, in this nation, and in the whole world” (W-7.4002), the pastor of Clarendon Presbyterian Church will not participate as an agent of the state authorized to pronounce legal marriages.

David blogs at Faithful Agitation.

I have not made that decision, yet. At First Pres., we have taken a progressive stand for our area. I do sign marriage licenses. And we offer Holy Union Ceremonies on site for gay and straight couples who either cannot have or do not wish to have a civil marriage. Here is our policy.

Both articles relate to congregations being safe places, sanctuaries, where people can feel safe to embrace the sacred and to be embraced.


  1. Our PCUSA pastor also refuses to sign marriage licenses, a stand I'm not entirely sure I agree with, but I respect. And, while I respect the stand of solidarity some have taken to not sign marriage licenses, I think it may send the wrong message.

  2. "He writes about a couple of local congregations as they wrestle with security questions in light of the recent incident in Colorado. It is a thoughtful piece."

    Yes, it is thoughtful. And the correlation to Colorado is more profound than most would realize...

    Security never hurt anyone as long it's done in the name vigilance and not paranoia, fear, or exclusionism.

    Now, I'm honestly not going out of my way to sound insensitive, but if whacked-out Fundi sects like those in Colorado Springs are going to poison people's minds with their unnatural, confusing doctrine they can probably expect more people to snap.

    Lies and hypocrisy breed confusion.

    Before he was caught with a male prostitute and a bag of meth, Ted Haggard wrote:

    I want a church I can stay in for years. I don't want surprises, scandals, or secrets from my church leaders.[3]

    I am a firm believer in living as if there were no such thing as a secret. If we hide our sins and live in darkness, we will never get the healing we so desperately need; in fact, if it is hidden so well that we don't even recognize it, we may never even find forgiveness.

    So, yes. Be aware and vigilant while congregating. The Hypocrite Right has stirred up so much hatred and disdain toward Christians in general there is genuine cause for all Christians to beware of attack.

    What happened in Colorado is tragic, but in more ways than one. Tragic that people lost their lives, and equally tragic that hypocrisy and exclusionism are practiced in the highest reaches of that "church" and many others.

  3. Hey Alan! I know your pastor! Yeah, it is not easy figuring out the right way to go about it.

  4. Speaking as an agenda-carrying member of The Gay whose straight sister was married this past September, I too have mixed feelings on this. While I like the feeling of solidarity, I don't want to deprive others of the services and ministry of a pastor. I tend toward First Amendment Absolutism, but I do like that on my sister's marriage certificate is a nod from the State of Georgia to my pastor, that while it has no legal opinion whatsoever regarding the Presbyterian Church (at least until the New Whiners get a-suin'), it acknowledges that we hold her in a position of high regard and trust and are satisfied with her signature attesting to the legal union between my sister and (new) brother-in-law.

    While it would be a powerful statement for her to give up one of her rights as an ordained minister to show solidarity with the (many) GLBT members of her congregation, I'm glad that my pastor's name is on my sister's certificate.

    I also find myself in a bizarre situation where if my Significant Other and I did decide to get married, we could legally do so in his home country (Canuckistan) in his church (United Church of Canada, a mostly-Presbyterian union church of Canadian Presbyterians, Methodists and Congregationalists). I'm looking through the Book of Order to see if my pastor could participate if she left the US, stood on one foot, turned her stole backwards and spoke in French.

  5. Thanks, Fly! That would be fun to watch and worth a scolding on her part!