Shuck and Jive

Monday, June 30, 2008

General Assembly Approves A Social Creed for the 21st Century

One of the action items at the General Assembly that has been overshadowed by the ordination question is the adoption of A Social Creed for the Twenty-First Century. This was a big deal. It was approved by a five to one margin.

This comes on the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Social Creed. You can read a history of the 1908 Social Creed on Witherspoon. Many of the same principles of the 1908 Social Creed are present in the current one.

Yet, many things have changed in one hundred years. Technology, overpopulation, the climate crisis, the extinction of species, nuclear weaponry, and the list continues.

The General Assembly asked congregations and members to study this creed and to hopefully, make decisions in our personal and collective lives that reflect these principles.

Here is the text:

A Social Creed for the Twenty-First Century

We churches of the United States have a message of hope for a fearful time. Just as the churches responded to the harshness of early twentieth century industrialization with a prophetic “Social Creed” in 1908, so in our era of globalization we offer a vision of a society that shares more and consumes less, seeks compassion over suspicion and equality over domination, and finds security in joined hands rather than massed arms. Inspired by Isaiah’s vision of a “peaceable kingdom,” we honor the dignity of every person and the intrinsic value of every creature, and pray and work for the day when none “labor in vain, or bear children for calamity” (Isa. 65:23). We do so as disciples of the One who came “that [all] may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), and stand in solidarity with Christians and with all who strive for justice around the globe.

In faith, responding to our Creator, we celebrate the full humanity of each woman, man, and child, all created in the divine image as individuals of infinite worth, by working for:

  • Full civil, political, and economic rights for women and men of all races.
  • Abolition of forced labor, human trafficking, and the exploitation of children.
  • Employment for all, at a family-sustaining living wage, with equal pay for comparable work.
  • The rights of workers to organize, and to share in workplace decisions and productivity growth.
  • Protection from dangerous working conditions, with time and benefits to enable full family life.
  • A system of criminal rehabilitation, based on restorative justice and an end to the death penalty.

In the love incarnate in Jesus, despite the world’s sufferings and evils, we honor the deep connections within our human family and seek to awaken a new spirit of community, by working for:

  • Abatement of hunger and poverty, and enactment of policies benefiting the most vulnerable.
  • High quality public education for all and universal, affordable, and accessible healthcare.
  • An effective program of social security during sickness, disability, and old age.
  • Tax and budget policies that reduce disparities between rich and poor, strengthen democracy, and provide greater opportunity for everyone within the common good.
  • Just immigration policies that protect family unity, safeguard workers’ rights, require employer accountability, and foster international cooperation.
  • Sustainable communities marked by affordable housing, access to good jobs, and public safety.
  • Public service as a high vocation, with real limits on the power of private interests in politics.

In hope sustained by the Holy Spirit, we pledge to be peacemakers in the world and stewards of God’s good creation, by working for:

  • Adoption of simpler lifestyles for those who have enough; grace over greed in economic life.
  • Access for all to clean air and water and healthy food, through wise care of land and technology.
  • Sustainable use of earth’s resources, promoting alternative energy sources and public transportation with binding covenants to reduce global warming and protect populations most affected.
  • Equitable global trade and aid that protects local economies, cultures, and livelihoods.
  • Peacemaking through multilateral diplomacy rather than unilateral force, the abolition of torture, and a strengthening of the United Nations and the rule of international law.
  • Nuclear disarmament and redirection of military spending to more peaceful and productive uses.
  • Cooperation and dialogue for peace and environmental justice among the world’s religions.

We—individual Christians and churches--commit ourselves to a culture of peace and freedom that embraces non-violence, nurtures character, treasures the environment, and builds community, rooted in a spirituality of inner growth with outward action. We make this commitment together—as members of Christ’s body, led by the one Spirit—trusting in the God who makes all things new.

Perhaps this social creed, if we do study it and take it to heart, can mobilize Presbyterians beyond our divisions for a more just and sustainable Earth.

PFLAG Tri-Cities Welcomes Crys Matthews

Crys Matthews will return to Johnson City, TN for a second performance on July 6th 2008 at the Acoustic Coffee House at 8 p.m.

Here is a press release:
Crys Matthews describes herself and her music as: "Imagine Jill Scott and Otis Redding had a daughter and Tracy Chapman was her god-mother... now imagine she spent summers teaching herself piano in Chicago and guitar in the mountains of North Carolina... that would probably sound something like the music I am fortunate enough to call my own." The music is an infusion of Americana/Blues/Bluegrass/Folk/Funk/Jazz, which, as eclectic as it sounds, is reaching people all around the country and causing them to stop and take notice.

Having just returned from the Out/Loud Queer Women's Music Festival in Eugene, OR (along with Chris Pureka and Andrea Gibson) and with summer bookings taking her all across the Southeast, Crys is looking to continue making a name for herself.

For audio/video/press blurbs please visit: as well as (for fan testimonials).
Good stuff! Check it out at the lgbtq friendly Acoustic Coffeehouse!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

No Further Force or Effect!

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) finished its business today. Boy did it do some business. It made important statements on peacemaking and social justice and I will make some posts regarding those issues.

But the big news first...

...the Assembly issued a new authoritative interpretation of the Book of Order declaring that interpretive statements related to sexual standards for ordination that predate the adoption of G-6.0106b in 1996 “have no further force or effect.”

I love the sound of that. "No further force or effect." Say it with me, "No further force or effect."

For 30 years the PC(U.S.A.) has been covered by a cloud of injustice and prejudice against sexual and gender minorities in the church. That cloud is gone. It has been replaced by a rainbow. This action
does NOT need approval by the presbyteries. It is in effect NOW.

Those harmful, anti-biblical, anti-love, anti-justice, anti-Jesus statements are history. They are gone with the wind. The wicked witch is dead. She has melted away and along with her go 30 years of official homophobic policy.

Two years ago, I encouraged the commissioners of the 2006 General Assembly to do what this one did. In an essay entitled, Not Justice, Not Progress: Just the Same Second-Class Status, I created a litany made up of statements from the (
now NON-Authoritative) Authoritative Interpretation.

I am thrilled to create a new litany today:

The Presbyterian Church used to say...

“…that homosexuality is not God’s wish for humanity. This we affirm, despite the fact that some of its forms may be deeply rooted in an individual’s personality structure.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.

The Presbyterian Church used to say...

“In many cases homosexuality is more a sign of the brokenness of God’s world than of willful rebellion. In other cases homosexual behavior is freely chosen or learned in environments where normal development is thwarted.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.

The Presbyterian Church used to say...

“Even where the homosexual orientation has not been consciously sought or chosen, it is neither a gift from God nor a state nor a condition like race; it is a result of our living in a fallen world.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.

The Presbyterian Church used to say...

“As we examine the whole framework of teaching bearing upon our sexuality from Genesis onward, we find that homosexuality is a contradiction of God’s wise and beautiful pattern for human sexual relationships revealed in Scripture and affirmed in God’s ongoing will for our life in the Spirit of Christ.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.

The Presbyterian Church used to say...

“Homosexual persons who will strive toward God’s revealed will in this area of their lives, and make use of all the resources of grace, can receive God’s power to transform their desires or arrest their active expression.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.

The Presbyterian Church used to say...

“…the New Testament declares that all homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian faith and life.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.

The Presbyterian Church used to say...

“On the basis of our understanding that the practice of homosexuality is sin, we are concerned that homosexual believers and the observing world should not be left in doubt about the church’s mind on this issue during any further period of study.”

But now by the power of the Holy Spirit we say: That untruth has no further force or effect.
Amen and Amen!

This has not yet sunk in for most folks. After living with 30 years of oppression, we may wonder what to do now. We might stand there in shock: "Really? The witch is dead? Now what?"

Now we need to live into this new reality. We need to own this new gift of freedom. Candidates for ordained office of elder, deacon, or minister need to
expect that they will be ordained, NOW, not wonder if they might be someday.

You may ask, "What about G-6.0106b?"

The General Assembly also sent an amendment to the 173 presbyteries to replace the text. The current text says:

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

The proposed new text says:

“Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”

This amendment must be passed by a majority of the presbyteries. There is work to do that begins now. But, it is important to know that because of the removal of the old Authoritative Interpretation, G-6.0106b has lost its oppressive foundation.

Not only that, but the General Assembly offered us another gift. It provided a reinterpretation of G-6.0108 which allows for scrupling and does not allow G-6.0106b to be a "super-standard."

G-6.0106b is like a mean, ugly junkyard dog that has suddenly lost its teeth and claws. All it can do now is slobber on you. But it will be used to scare people and to provide misinformation. So it needs to go.

However, we don't need to wait for it to go. LGBT candidates are ordainable
NOW. Own it. Live into it.

The word "homosexual" appears once in the
Book of Confessions, Part 1 of our constitution. It doesn't mean much, but it is used as a weapon. The General Assembly authorized a committee to change this faulty language and restore the confession. Because it is a confessional document, it will require two general assemblies and 2/3 of the presbyteries. Practically, it is of no account. It is kind of like a bad blue law. It needs to go.

However, we don't need to wait for it to go. LGBT candidates are ordainable
NOW. Own it. Live into it.

In other news regarding justice for LGBTQ folks, the General Assembly for the first time addressed an overture to change the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to two people. This did not pass.

However, it did approve advocating for civil rights for same-gender couples. This is the text that was approved:

That the 218th General Assembly (2008) to do the following:

1. Renew and strengthen the long-standing Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) commitment to equal protection under the law for lesbian and gay persons and the 216th General Assembly (2004)’s affirmation of the right of same-gender persons to civil union and, thereby, to all the benefits, privileges, and responsibilities of civil union.

a. Recognize that married couples enjoy more than 1,000 protections, benefits, and responsibilities that are denied to committed couples in same-gender partnerships and their children.

b. Recognize that equality under the law does not discriminate against some committed couples but sees that same-gender partners also have access to all protections, benefits, and responsibilities of civil union.

c. Request the Stated Clerk, the General Assembly Council, and other representatives of the PC(USA) to urge state legislatures and the federal government to apply the principle of equal protection to same-gender couples and their children.

2. Direct the Moderator of the General Assembly to appoint a special committee, representing the broad diversity [and theological balance] of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to study the following, and report to the 219th General Assembly (2010), including any policy recommendations growing out of the study:

a. The history of the laws governing marriage and civil union, including current policy debates.

b. How the theology and practice of marriage have developed in the Reformed and broader Christian tradition.

c. The relationship between civil union and Christian marriage.

d. The effects of current laws on same-gender partners and their children.

e. The place of covenanted same-gender partnerships in the Christian community.

3. Support congregations, sessions, and ministers of Word and Sacrament who are seeking to extend pastoral care as well as outreach and evangelism to same-gender couples and their nontraditional families who are more and more our neighbors on our streets and our fellow members in our pews.

[4. This overture seeks to renew and strengthen the commitment of the PCUSA to equal protection under the law, encourage steps to reinforce this commitment and to affirm the importance of pastoral care and outreach to non-traditional families, including those same-gender commitment partners. This overtures advocates for equal rights and does not seek to redefine the nature of Christian marriage.]

This action will move us forward. We have work to do. The first work is to embrace what has been done and to own it. In addition:

  1. Be vigilant and work so that the witch never resurrects. No more hurtful and wrong statements about God's children.
  2. Work within your presbytery to pass the General Assembly recommendation regarding G-6.0106b
  3. While your thinking about it, join and/or make a contribution to More Light Presbyterians, The Covenant Network of Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve, and the Witherspoon Society as an offering of thanks. These organizations worked hard and deserve our support.
Thanks to the commissioners of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). You didn't give in to the voices of fear and panic. You lived in to the scriptural verse that was the guideline for this assembly:

Thank you.

Woodpecker Terrorism

The First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton has been terrorized by woodpeckers.

Searching for whatever it is woodpeckers search for,

the godless peckers put three holes in our steeple.

Not to fear, Homeland Security led by Duane Lowry and Paul Gabinet used modern technology to send Woody and his pals back to where they came from.

The Elizabethton Star has the complete news story.

In other news the Johnson City Press announced that Dr. Robert Hamblin will be telling the story of Clarence Jordan tomorrow at 11 a.m. in the character of this legendary Baptist preacher who founded Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia.

Admission is free and we will take an offering for Habitat for Humanity.

Friday, June 27, 2008

General Assembly Opens Door for Ordination

Hard to believe after 30 years under the shadow of the 1978 statement that said homosexuality is incompatible with the the Christian faith, the 218th GA overturned that statement just minutes ago and sent a delete g-6.0106b to the presbyteries.

This is historic.

More to come.

Parsons Elected Stated Clerk

Gradye Parsons, former executive presbyter and stated clerk of my presbytery, Holston, was elected stated clerk of the General Assembly on the first ballot. In my opinion, good for the church.

The Church Orders Committee will be on next. This is the committee to deal with among other things, removing barriers for ordination of lgbtq candidates.

Watch on live stream.

Big Doins Today in Presbyland

At some point today the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church will address the issue everyone is watching, whether or not to approve the Committee on Church Orders recommendation to have this General Assembly declare that statements regarding homosexuality in 1978 and 1993 have no further effect and to send an alternative text for G-6.0106b to the presbyteries for ratification. The committee had approved this recommendation by a vote of 41-11.

Here is G-6.0106b as it stands:

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

Here is the proposed new text:

“Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”

The Peacemaking Committee will also present its recommendations which include a statement against
  • the option of pre-emptive war against Iran
  • and the impunity of military contractors operating outside the bounds of military law.
The Committee made statements for:
  • Conscientious objectors and
  • Human rights in Colombia, Philippines, and Zimbabwe.

Debate will ensue about whether the Presbyterians will advocate for removal of military presence in Iraq. Recommendations are also on the table for pursuing a just peace between Israel and Palestine.

The GA will also deal with issues regarding reproductive choice, pay equity for women and men, immigration issues, opposition to torture, energy issues, and a new social creed for the 21st century.

Oh, and to top off the day, Presbyterians will discuss whether or not to expand the definition of marriage to two people rather than one man and one woman.

Presbys are not afraid to get into the nitty gritty.

That should be an exciting show. Check in to the live stream video feed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

When They Revile You, Respond With Cookies

On Wednesday anti-gay protesters hassled the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

Signs read:

"Homosex is a Threat to National Security"

"Homosex is Sin! We don't Hate Homos--God Hates Sin"


"Warning Fornicators, Liars, God Haters, Drunks, Thieves, Adulterers, Homosexuals, Judgement"

Members of New Church (R)evolution kneeled and prayed peacefully.

They offered cookies to the anti-gay protesters as a gesture of hospitality and peacemaking.

See more pictures here.

Read more about this, find out more about the New Church (R)evolution and see more great pics of their witness for an inclusive church throughout this General Assembly.

Heather and Hagar

Heather Reichgott of Holy Vignettes preached at the More Light celebration. Read this powerful sermon! Thanks Heather!

It is very easy to forget that we are children of God. It is very easy to get wrapped up in other kinds of belonging, other kinds of security and all that. We might be Sarah, feeling threatened at every turn. We might be Abraham, wishing the conflict would just go away. We might be Hagar, getting kicked out and exiled. Surely if anyone here can go around claiming that they're the righteous victim it's Hagar.

It's very easy, when we get hurt, to just go around being the hurt person or the lost person instead of being the child of God. It's like we're going around with a giant flashing neon arrow over our heads that points at whoever hurt us or pushed us away. "Hi, I'm Heather Reichgott, the candidate for ministry who might never be ordained because of those people over there who won't allow it."

And that becomes my explanation for who I am and what I'm doing with my life. How different it is when the arrow points up at God instead: "I'm
Heather Reichgott, child of God." How different our stories become then. How much more free we are.

You got it God-Child.

Removing the Heidelberg Hammer

We have a runner on first. The General Assembly by a 60% vote, said yes to restore the Heidelberg Catechism which would remove the phrase "homosexual perversion" from the text. This is the only reference to "homosexuality" in the Confessions.

This phrase was added in the 1960s to this 16th century text! Why is this important? Well those who oppose ordination and other rights for lgbtq persons use this Confession as a hammer.

Good work, commissioners. Keep the justice rollin'.

How Presbyterians Can Improve Your Odds of Winning

If you want to brush up on your Roberts Rules of Order you will want to watch live stream video of the Presbyterian Church General Assembly tonight and tomorrow.

After a few hours of watching this you will be able to outsmart anyone at your local club.

What would you pay for this kind of super power? Don't pay anything. Don't bother with a book! Get that special Robert's power for free! We Presbys know our Robert's Rules.

We will give it to the worthy.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cotton Patch Comes to Elizabethton

This Sunday First Pres. welcomes Dr. Robert Hamblin to lead worship. Dr. Hamblin portrays Clarence Jordan of "Cotton Patch" fame. Here is the press release:

Dr. Robert Hamblin, a professor of English at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, will present “Preacher in Overalls: The Story of Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm” at 11 a.m., Sunday, June 29, at the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, 119 West F Street.

Jordan (pronounced Jurden), the legendary Baptist preacher who died in 1969, and his wife Florence founded Koinonia Farm, a communal, biracial fellowship, near Americus, Georgia, in 1942. The group was subjected to years of violence and threats from the Ku Klux Klan, but the farm survives today as both a working farm and a religious center promoting peace, inclusiveness, and non-violence.

is also well known as the author of the Cotton Patch Gospels, a translation of the New Testament into the Southern vernacular that Jordan, a native Georgian, spoke and heard.

Jordan and Koinonia Farm heavily influenced Millard and Linda Fuller, the founders of Habitat for Humanity, as well as President Jimmy Carter.

Hamblin’s Chautauqua-type impersonation of Jordan includes both the history of Koinonia Farm and excerpts from Jordan’s sermons and books.

Hamblin credits his attendance at a Missouri Chautauqua program for stirring his interest in developing the Jordan program.
“My entire family enjoyed Chautauqua immensely, and I thought it would be fun to portray a historical character in that fashion,” he said. “And I’ve been a huge admirer of Clarence Jordan for a long time.”

Hamblin adds:
“Because of my teaching style, my students sometimes ask if I have ever been a preacher. This way I get to be a preacher and don’t have to write my own sermons.”

Admission to the program is free, and the public is invited. We will take an offering for Habitat for Humanity in place of an honorarium.

Oh, and we'll sing some good old timey gospel tunes

accompanied by our own Liturgical String Band.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Holy Cow! I think he's going to make it!

Church Orders Committee just voted 41-11 to delete G-6.0106b and remove 1993 AI!

He spits; eyes the runner on first...

I used the metaphor of the ballgame for lgbtq issues at GA. Here is where we are in the bottom of the second:

Heidelberg Catechism--The start of the revision process is headed to plenary possibly tomorrow (Wednesday). A letter in support of revising it has been signed by 32 seminary faculty.

What is the revision about? In a nutshell, the catechism contains the phrase "homosexual perversion" that was never in the 16th century original. It was added in the 1960s! It is the only reference to "homosexuality" in the confessions and is used as a weapon against lgbt folks. The committee approved beginning the process of restoring this confession. We may headed to our first base on balls.

John Knox Overture--The Church Orders Committee approved 43-15 the John Knox overture which would allow scrupling for candidates for ordination, which was the intention of the Theological Task Force and the last General Assembly. The ball looks good off the bat. Could be a single!

Baltimore Presbytery swung for the bleachers and missed. The proposal to make the definition of marriage more equal was defeated 38-20. This is the first time this overture has come to GA. 33% is not a bad start. Read Jack Cover's analysis.

The committee is facing the pitcher regarding changing the 1993 AI and sending delete G-6.0106b.

Making Certain Fewer People Can Join Your Church

The General Assembly Committees will be working into the night finalizing their recommendations for their reports to the plenary which will begin Wednesday afternoon. I am hoping for the defeat of one of the recommendations coming from the Committee on Church Polity.

It is the addition of membership vows. Now we already have conditions for membership in the Book of Order. This addition would require people to respond in a rote way to a specific question by the session. Here is the text:

“2. Membership Vows
“At the time member-candidates present themselves to the session for reception into membership, whether by profession of faith, transfer of letter, or reaffirmation of faith, the following question[s] shall be addressed to the member-candidates for their answer as indicated. Sessions may make the determination, on an individual basis, to exempt certain persons from answering these specific questions due to physical or mental disability. In such a case, appropriate alternative questions and their presentation should be devised, still meeting the requirements of G-5.0101a.
“Who is your Lord and Savior?
“Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.
[Other questions are recommended and may be used, such as:]
“Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
“I do, by God’s grace.
Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
I will, with God’s help.
“Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill your calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
“I will, with God’s help.”

Following this ritual the candidates may then spin twice, click their heels three times, and curtsy.

In addition to treating adults like five year olds, this little exercise has a subtext. Every overture that comes to the General Assembly has a story. This one comes from Mission Presbytery where this overture originated.

Mission Presbytery is the home of Saint Andrews Presbyterian Church. This is a progressive congregation that strongly advocates for social justice and encourages freedom of thought. It doesn't treat adults like children.

They welcomed into membership journalism professor at the University of Texas, Robert Jensen. Take time to read his saga, Finding My Way Back to Church and Getting Kicked Out: What It Means to be a Christian Today. Do take time to read this insightful statement. You may be moved by his candor and his faith and disturbed by what happened to him and the congregation as I was.

Dr. Jensen, despite his reservations regarding dogma, was joyfully received into the membership of the church. He even thought out where he was in matters of theology:

  • On God: I believe God is a name we give to the mystery of the world that is beyond our capacity to understand. I believe that the energy of the universe is ordered by forces I cannot comprehend.

  • On Jesus: I believe Christ offered a way into that mystery that still has meaning today.

  • On the Holy Ghost: There are moments in my life when I feel a connection to other people and to Creation that rides a spirit which flows through me yet is beyond me.

  • I believe that Holy Spirit can only be nurtured in real community, where people make commitments to each other. I have found that community in St. Andrew's. I have tried to open myself up to our pastor's teaching, to the members of the congregation, and to the church's work in the world.
  • Sounds like a thoughtful person to me. I would be glad to have him join my congregation. St. Andrews thought so too and welcomed him.

    Now get this. This happened. Really.

    The Presbyterian Right in that presbytery didn't think Dr. Jensen should be a member of St. Andrews and took the congregation to church court! Really. Believe it. Dr. Jensen writes about that saga as well in the above statement. I haven't kept up with where St. Andrews is in the church court process, but the overture from Mission Presbytery regarding membership vows is in response to this situation.

    Now there is nothing wrong with the language in the recommendation. It comes from the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship. I have used this language myself in welcoming members on occasion. If a new member found this language helpful to them in articulating their faith, I would be glad to use it again.

    That isn't the point. The Book of Common Worship is a liturgical resource. It is not part of our constitution. Its purpose is to enhance the articulation of one's faith, not to enforce specific language upon people. It is a worship resource not a manual of dogma.

    While this recommendation seems harmless enough, and many Presbyterians could in good conscience answer these questions or go through the motions whether they could or not, this recommendation is not about honoring Jesus or building up the church.

    It is about adding a weapon to the arsenal in order to hassle progressive, thoughtful congregations and their members. They don't want gays. They don't want freethinkers. They want robots who will do what they are told. They will use all the ecclesiastical weaponry at their disposal in their attempt to stop progressive congregations from growing.

    Think carefully about this one, dear commissioners. Once something gets in the Book of Order
    , it is tough to get it out. There is no need for this recommendation. It is a wolf in sheep's clothing and it will only be used for mischief.

    A Matter of Conscience

    Here is a thoughtful post from the New Church (R)evolution blog, Personal statement on G-6.0106b. Author of the post, David Paul wrote:

    It is hard to comprehend sometimes why any Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (LGBT) person would remain in the PC(USA). Even with so many supportive and loving people in this denomination I am not sure why we continue to stick around. The church has made it explicitly clear that LGBT people are not welcome. Psychologists, therapists, and probably most people would say we are a bit insane. And to some degree I concur.
    Today the Church Orders Committee will be voting on some sort of recommendation to the General Assembly on what to do about the gay, or as Parker Williamson of the LayMAN calls God's children, "sundry anomalies."

    Sixty people testified yesterday and spoke either for or against changing our policies. The committee will vote today. Then on the floor of the General Assembly whatever recommendation is put forth will be debated.

    David wrote on his blog regarding his observations of the testimonies:

    The other thing that struck me today were all those beautiful gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals bearing witness to God's call in their life and the church's refusal to accept. You can see it on every single LGBT person that has stuck with the church. You can see it in their eyes and you can see how their heart aches. Beautiful children of God sharing what they know to be true. The church says one thing and yet we know that God's call is real and powerful. We know another reality exists....

    So why again do we LGBT people stay in this broken discriminatory denomination? There are some things I guess we can never fully answer. For me I stay because I care. It sucks that I care, but I do. I wish I didn't and I could just walk away. But right now I care too much to walk away. So I am here in San Jose taking a week of vacation from my job to testify why the church should allow me and so many others to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
    Each commissioner will have to wrestle with his or her conscience at this General Assembly. No one will be able to claim ignorance. No commissioner can say, "I didn't know about the exclusion these folks experience." The witness of LGBTQ people has been phenomenal. I am only there in a virtual way. But I see the pictures of the knitted scarves.

    (Read about what those scarves mean here).

    I can read and hear the testimonies as well as you can. Yes, the church has been talking about this for decades.

    Please do not misunderstand. This conversation is
    not about sex.

    It is about what it means to be human. It is about what it means to follow Christ. It is about following the example of Jesus who loved and embraced those very people who the religious authorities dismissed as "sundry anomalies."

    What is decided this week will have larger implications than the Presbyterian Church. The decisions will have bearing on gay people in your life whether you know they are gay or not. The world is watching this week.

    Are you worried, commissioners, that we might lose members and money or be labeled as a "queer church" by your friends and neighbors? Are you worried about the backlash of the right wing? Or do you really think that these folks are sundry anomalies and not worth the possible threat they pose to the so-called purity of the church?

    Your conscience. Your call.

    This is what one of those "sundry anomalies," David, wrote about his experience with the church:

    The church is too busy trying to protect the purity of the church to listen to Jesus.
    Maybe this week you can prove him wrong.

    (photos by Erin Dunigan for The Presbyterian Outlook)

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Sundry Anomalies

    Kudos to Professor Patrick Evans for catching Parker Williamson, editor emeritus of the LayMAN, revealing his theology of contempt. Here is the letter to the editor published today (June 23):

    Editor Emeritus Williamson writes:

    "Proclaiming itself a champion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgendered and other sundry anomalies, the Covenant Network ..."

    Really? Could you be more specific about who the "sundry anomalies" are? To which children of a loving, redeeming, sustaining God do you refer?

    Is there any place in supposedly Christian journalism for this kind of language?


    Jesus would describe any of us as sundry anomalies, or be pleased that supposed followers who claim His name would?

    Patrick Evans
    Associate Professor in the Practice of Sacred Music
    Yale Divinity School and Institute of Sacred Music

    Presbyterians Really Are Nerds

    A fitting tribute to one of the most dour, humorless clerics to have ever thumped a Bible.

    The John Calvin bobblehead.

    At a PC(USA) General Assembly near you!

    General Assembly at the Ballgame

    Inspired by watching the Johnson City Cardinals defeat the Kingsport Mets in their home opener, here is a baseball metaphor for the GA regarding lgbt issues.

    This is slightly revised, from in my opinion, easiest to more difficult:

    1. Walk--Revise the Heidelberg Catechism to its original language.
    2. Single--Approve John Knox Overture regarding AI of G-6.0108.
    3. Double--Render obsolete the 1993 Authoritative Interpretation.
    4. Triple--Send new definition of marriage to the presbyteries.
    5. Home Run--Send delete G-6.0106b to the presbyteries.
    6. Grand Slam--All of the above.

    The committees are meeting today and tomorrow. Watch the developments on PC-Biz.

    George Carlin is Heaven Now

    And boy is he pissed.

    One of the all time best--I loved this guy, George Carlin--died of heart failure on Sunday.

    I will miss him. Here is the article.

    When Will Jesus Bring the Porkchops?

    Soon, George, very soon. Rest in peace.

    Here is a good one for us religious folks, Religion is Bullshit (OK, disclaimer, typical George Carlin language, as if you didn't know):

    Sunday, June 22, 2008

    Janie Does It Again!

    God, I love this woman. Rev. Jane Spahr, fresh off an acquittal from the Presbyterian supreme court (GAPJC) for marrying same-gender couples (the court ruled her innocence because they weren't really marriages), has performed a same-gender wedding in California. Marriage is now "real" in California for same-gender couples.
    Rev. Spahr said: "I pronounced them married under the authority granted me by the state and as a minister of the Presbyterian Church..."
    The newspaper went on to say:

    Now that gay and lesbian couples can get married in California, a similarly technical ruling won't be possible, said Spahr, who is scheduled to officiate more same-sex weddings this summer.

    "Although it is holy and it is a blessing, it is a marriage," she said. "I'm saying to our people who have voice and vote, it is time for you to stand up for what is right."

    Did I mention that I love this woman?

    Saving Paradise

    I just saw on Witherspoon a thing about Rita Nakashima-Brock. She and Rebecca Ann Parker have a new book coming out,

    Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire.

    I do like that title.
    "But once Jesus perished, dying was virtually all he seemed able to do."
    It is a bit pricey, but it looks like an excellent read.

    The Blogging Moderator

    The election of Bruce Reyes-Chow may have changed the way Presbyterians will be doing business. BRC is a blogger with a huge internet presence. Google him and you find his life. Who cares about interviews with moderator candidates in the traditional newspapers such as the Presbyterian News Service, the Layman or the Witherspoon Society? How many people actually read the paper copies of those magazines anyway? I can find out about Bruce by asking him myself on-line. So can anyone else. This is a totally new deal.

    This was an internet election and the candidate who knew the internet best and blogged most won. That in no way takes anything way from his message and his personality or that blogging was somehow an unfair advantage. No, he is the man for the job because he has the pulse of what is happening in church today. The medium is a big part of his message.

    The internet is democratic, well, pretty much. It allows voices of the smaller church folks, layfolk, youth, and people without access to traditional sources of power, make it happen on-line. This medium allows people into the discussion. Adding voices is the heart of Bruce's message.

    My internet presence has made a huge difference in how I do ministry. Much if it is on-line ministry. Much of my session business is done via e-mail as well as pastoral care, committee work, you name it. And I'm a loser at the computer. I can't even figure out how to get one of those real wide, attractive blogs to work.

    And outreach?
    The PFLAG chapter would not have the influence and success it has here without the internet and the willingness to use it.

    Bruce knows this. That is why he is moderator. It will be exciting to watch what happens.

    Sermon: Equality is Sexy

    Equality is Sexy
    John Shuck

    First Presbyterian Church
    Elizabethton, Tennessee

    June 22nd, 2008

    We are making our way through the Bible in 2008. We are now finishing the Writings of the Hebrew Scriptures. Today, two texts will be featured, the Song of Solomon and the Book of Ruth.

    The story of Ruth is a favorite in the Hebrew Scriptures. The story begins with a woman named Naomi and her husband who lived in Judah during the time of the Judges. There is a famine and they and their two sons leave Judah and settle in Moab. Naomi’s husband dies there and the two sons marry Moabite women, named Ruth and Orpah. The two sons also die leaving Ruth and Orpah who are now grown women.

    So Naomi decides to return to Judah. Much time as passed and conditions have improved. But Ruth and Orpah are Moabite women. Naomi advises them to stay in Moab as there is no future for them with her. Orpah decides to stay in Moab, but Ruth does not. She loves her mother-in-law and tells her in words that are often used in weddings:

    ‘Do not press me to leave you
    or to turn back from following you!
    Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
    your people shall be my people,
    and your God my God.
    17Where you die, I will die—
    there will I be buried.
    May the Lord do thus and so to me,
    and more as well,
    if even death parts me from you!’
    18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
    Ruth 1:15-18

    So we have a story that features as its protagonist, Ruth, a foreign woman with no resources. No money, no protection. But she does have one thing, her mother-in-law whom she loves.

    They return to Judah. Naomi has a relative named Boaz. He is doing pretty well. Ruth decides to glean in his field behind the reapers. Boaz notices her and offers her protection from the other reapers and allows her to glean. He is impressed with her and with the care she has taken for Naomi her mother-in-law.

    Naomi devises a plan for Ruth to marry Boaz so that Ruth will have some security. She will go when he is sleeping and “uncover his feet” which is probably a euphemism for something a bit more erotic. Anyway, she does it and Boaz is impressed. He decides to marry her and they have children. One of the grandchildren is David, eventually King of Israel.

    That is the short version. This story is set in conditions in which our heroine, Ruth, has absolutely no resources. The injustices of patriarchy leave her without protection, security, or economic opportunity. As a foreigner, she is even more marginalized. None of that is questioned within the story. It is assumed as the way things are and should be.

    Yet the story hints that YHWH’s favor is upon Ruth. It is that favor for the marginalized that provides the critique of this system as not the way YHWH wishes the world to work. Through the courage, loyalty, and intelligence of Ruth, she becomes a subject not an object. She becomes a human being not defined as someone else’s property or a foreigner.

    It is a story of comfort and hope in that YHWH looks with favor upon those most marginalized. The word to those who are marginalized is this:

    “No one thinks you matter, but I do.”

    I was thinking about Ruth’s story in light of the Shepherd’s Inn. The Shepherd’s Inn is our safe house in Elizabethton for women who are victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is not Ruth’s story. However, lack of resources, protection, security, and economic opportunity is Ruth’s story and the story of virtually every woman who enters the Shelter.

    Ruth and Naomi were fortunate. They had each other. The women who enter this shelter often do not have even that. Domestic violence continues because it isolates women from those things that can be a source of empowerment.

    The unfortunate reality is that most of these women go back to these violent relationships. Observers from the outside may wonder why. They may put the blame on the women. But the reality is that there are often few options. Pressures from families and religion, and lack of economic resources are too much for many of these women. Coupled with that, psychological issues regarding self-esteem can make imagining a different future nearly impossible.

    It is neither accurate nor just to put the blame and the responsibility on these women. We need to work toward making a community in which domestic violence is unacceptable.

    We have our work cut out for us.

    The task involves breaking the silence and becoming educated about the reality and the depth of domestic violence.

    The task involves imagining and creating a new ethic of right relationship between all people. This entails equality and opportunity regardless of gender. It includes education at all levels beginning with the very young in our schools about solving conflicts peacefully.

    It includes asking these questions:

    “Is the home a private sphere where the larger community turns a blind eye to violence within the home?”

    “Is sexual violence and rape permissible when it occurs between a married couple?”

    Too often a marriage license is viewed as a license to control another person’s body.

    It includes asking questions about the inequality of traditional gender roles. This week has been historic as same-gender couples have been granted the right to marry in California. Some say this will somehow hurt marriage. But evidence suggests that same-sex couples have a great deal to teach heterosexual couples.

    A recent article in the New York Times, “Gay Unions Shed Light on Gender in Marriage” cites a number of studies on same-gender unions and how they compare with opposite gender unions.

    After Vermont legalized same-sex civil unions in 2000, researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 couples, including same-sex couples and their heterosexual married siblings. The focus was on how the relationships were affected by common causes of marital strife like housework, sex and money.

    Notably, same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex, while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally.

    While the gay and lesbian couples had about the same rate of conflict as the heterosexual ones, they appeared to have more relationship satisfaction, suggesting that the inequality of opposite-sex relationships can take a toll.

    “Heterosexual married women live with a lot of anger about having to do the tasks not only in the house but in the relationship,” said Esther D. Rothblum, a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University. “That’s very different than what same-sex couples and heterosexual men live with.”

    Equality in relationships leads to more peace.

    This is not to say that gay or lesbian couples never have violence. But it does show that we can learn from each other and re-examine gender roles that legitimize oppression within the home.

    In the Ruth story, the true love story is between Ruth and Naomi. Boaz is somewhat of an extra. He is needed for security. He offers that for Ruth and Naomi. But it is the loyal, faithful, “I will be with you until you die, friendship” between Ruth and Naomi that is the heart of the story.

    I want to turn to the Song of Solomon. This is erotic poetry. It is really quite beautiful. There is no violence in this book. There is no domination. No forcing. The relationship is mutual, equal, and sexy.

    As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,
    so is my beloved among young men.
    With great delight I sat in his shadow,
    and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
    4He brought me to the banqueting house,
    and his intention towards me was love.
    5Sustain me with raisins,
    refresh me with apples;
    for I am faint with love.


    How beautiful you are, my love,
    how very beautiful!
    Your eyes are doves
    behind your veil.
    Your hair is like a flock of goats,
    moving down the slopes of Gilead.
    2Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
    that have come up from the washing,
    all of which bear twins,
    and not one among them is bereaved.
    3Your lips are like a crimson thread,
    and your mouth is lovely.

    How different this ancient book is from how sexuality is perceived and portrayed in our society? Women are objectified to sell everything from cars to cameras. Eroticism is equated with domination and control. The church’s attitudes toward sexuality are atrocious. It thinks it has done its job when it controls people and tells them they are dirty for being sexual beings. It has removed the sacred from the body.

    We do have our work cut out for us. Sexual justice is related to all other forms of justice and right relationship. Violence whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual against women or sexual minorities is all connected.

    We can begin to make a new ethic. This ethic involves making equality sexy. It is about loving our bodies and respecting the bodies of others including the body of our Mother Earth.

    I am going to close with Toni Morrison from her book, Beloved. Baby Suggs speaks to her congregation:

    "Here," said Baby Suggs, "in this here place, we flesh. Flesh that weeps, laughs, flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don't love your eyes; they'd just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people, they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face 'cause they don't love that either. You got to love it, you! ... This is flesh I'm talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved.