I can be bothered. I am bothered.

Earlier this week, my friend, Steve Knight, shared a link on Facebook to a blog post by Ed Cyzewski. (Good grief, that’s a tortured sentence. Such is the destructive power of social media.) Ed writes:

We still haven’t sought the guidance of female leaders as if the integrity of our witness and the reflection of God’s character depended on it. [Read more]

How do we know we haven’t done this? From the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Ugh. Maybe it’s true there at Willow Creek. For sure it’s true in far too many places.

(Don’t get me wrong: Ed asks good questions, posits true statements, and is on the right side of this.)

But my experience has been quite different. From September 1995 through June 2010, I worked with female senior pastors at Woodridge United Methodist Church. Our district also had three superintendents during that time – all of them women.

It is unconscionable that this “debate” continues in so many churches.

I can’t believe this even needs saying…Of course women can and should lead churches! As pastors, teachers, superintendents, bishops, executive ministers…whatever positions exist, women can, should and must hold them.

Isn’t this beyond obvious? Why are we still allowing arguments about this? The matter is settled: women are people too.

To paraphrase one of the greatest, most powerful episodes of the greatest TV show of all time:

Think about your mother, your daughter, your grandmother, your sister, your aunt, your granddaughter, your cousin, your teacher, your friend, your wife…think about any and all women who’ve ever cared for you or about you. Think about any and all women you’ve ever cared for or about…

If you can look any or all of them in the eye and say to them, “Due to your genitalia, you’re not a full human being.”…then hell, I don’t even want to know you.

Money wins, natch

Hollywood Sign
Image via Wikipedia

Over two weeks ago (which I’m pretty sure makes it about 100 in blog years), Tim Swanson wrote an interesting retrospective on “Boyz N the Hood” which appeared in the Chicago Tribune. (Weirdly, it doesn’t seem to exist on the Tribune website.)

What I found most interesting was this paragraph, which was the third-to-last one (pen-penultimate?? ante-penultimate?? tertiultimate??  I need a ruling here):

And while the movie helped to spotlight the struggle in places like South-Central, it ultimately did little to change the habits of Hollywood, which seemed more interested in tapping the financial potential of a new sub-genre than further democratizing the filmmaking process.

Hollywood creates movies in order to make money, not to create a fair and justice society. Now, I often use thoughts, ideas, soundbites, clips, retellings, quotes from TV shows and movies to make or illustrate a point in a sermon or a lesson. So I’m well aware of the power of story – especially the power of stories well-told.

But that ‘graph has me thinking: Are we guilty of expecting Hollywood to be something it’s not?

And perhaps more importantly: Do we do the same thing with the church? Is the church really interested in democratizing the leadership process? Or does she just trying to tap into the latest fad in hopes of boosting collections?

 

Open letter to Sen. Kirk

Update: Several religious leaders, including General Secretary of the Board of Church & Society, Jim Winkler, were arrested today for praying and protesting the budget proposals in the Capital rotunda.

As a Bread for the World member, I was asked to participate in emailing Senators Durbin and Kirk as we continue to seek to follow God in the way of Jesus by protecting the most vulnerable among us in our country’s budget crisis.

I’ve already sent this privately, now I believe it is time to take this public. This is my open letter to Senator Mark Kirk:

Dear Senator Kirk,

I write to urge you to vote to raise the debt ceiling.

As you know, not raising our country’s debt ceiling puts the full faith and credit of the United States at risk. Failure to raise the debt ceiling will have devastating consequences for our country’s economy and the world economy. The ones most affected by such consequences will be those least able to bear them: the millions of hungry and poor families in the U.S. and around the globe.

As a father of two children under 6, I know how important it is to be able to feed our family. As a Christian, I know God calls us to use our power and influence on behalf of the most vulnerable. Nearly 1 in 4 children in the U.S. lives in a household that sometimes runs out of food. Globally, more than one billion people are hungry, including 11 million at risk of famine in the Horn of Africa (where tens of thousands have already died).
We must do all we can to protect the hungry and poor from further hardship!

Please, Senator, put partisanship aside and vote to raise the debt ceiling!

Congress must show that they are serious about meeting our country’s financial obligations and approving a sustainable, fair, and long-term budget plan that protects the most vulnerable among us. Defaulting on our debt would make a dire situation worse, we must avoid default.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dave Buerstetta

The General Board of Church & Society of the Untied Methodist Church tells of UM responses to this budget crisis, including joining the Circle of Protection. They also have videos of daily prayer vigils on Facebook.

Bread for the World has excellent resources for understanding this budget crisis and how to help protect poor and hungry people.

It’s not too late to add your voice!

GBCS writes:

You are urged to tell your members of Congress that it is crucial to protect vital programs that benefit hungry and poor people. Call (800) 826-3688 to reach the Capitol switchboard and ask to be connected to your representative’s and senators’ offices.

“As people of faith, we have an obligation to help these families be heard by our leaders and to insist that programs serving the most vulnerable in our nation and around the world are protected,” said David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. “They need to hear from you today.”

I hope and pray you will consider raising your voice today.

Glimmer of hope?

Did you know Bishop Jung commended my church this week? I encourage you to read the full statement, but here’s the money quote:

As United Methodists, we express that our God calls us to work together with all people to overcome injustice.  In our Book of Resolutions, we affirm that our Muslim neighbors are our co-workers in making “God’s justice a reality for all people” (6061, pg. 800).  As people of many faiths, we all have sacred traditions.

In our Annual Conference, we have encouraged serious interfaith encounters and exploration between Christians and adherents of other religions of the world.  Over the past few years, I have led interfaith bus trips taking visitors to many different houses of worship where we engage in that kind of encounter.  On Saturday, April 16, we will again lead two bus loads of youth to interface with people of other faiths, including Islam.  As our Book of Resolutions underscores, the hope is that by developing friendships with those from whom and with whom we have much to learn, we can increase our respect for Islam as a way of life that calls its followers to the highest ideals.

Our Conference continues to look for ways which we can work to make our relationship with our Muslim brothers and sisters more concrete.  In 2005, we signed an agreement with the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC) to grow this relationship.  It has opened the doors for various groups to visit houses of worship, engage in holy conversations, and travel to holy places throughout the world.  Additionally, we have spoken out together against policies and practices that seek to limit the exercise of faith, such as a recent DuPage County amendment limiting new places of worship. These actions show that our church stands in solidarity with Muslims in the struggles for economic, political and human rights.

I encourage all congregations in our Conference to develop friendships and create the encounters where they may learn from and work with our Muslim neighbors.  Whether those friendships be through formal dialogues or simply seeking to learn from each other’s faith, may we grow together as co-workers building God’s holy community. (emphasis mine)

Ok, so the Bishop didn’t actually call Woodridge UMC by name. But last week we had a meal and story sharing event with Irshad Learning Center, a Muslim group that meets in our building.  That event is exactly the kind of thing our Bishop is recommending here. Also, four of our youth will be among those on the Interfaith Bus Tour next week.

And this week’s Northern IL Conference posted an article devoted to the event!

Deacon Beth from our congregation led the Storytelling very well, Pastor Jim was a great emcee and we certainly did the work of “building God’s holy community.” I’m very glad to have made some new friends and I really hope our two congregations will continue to love and serve God together.

I’d love to learn from the wisdom of the cloud… What are ways you or your church or other group are fostering interfaith dialogue?

IL gets it right

[Pretty much every week, I write a…something…for my church‘s weekly eNewsletter. Way back when, it was my take on a pastoral letter. Then some time along the way, I started thinking of it more like a newspaper’s opinion column. Now I suppose I think of it as a blog post. Whatever I write for eNews usually ends up here too. Though usually in a slightly different form, edited for the more general audience that I hope is (could be someday?) reading here. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor.]

Pop Quiz time! Grab the nearest Bible and find this verse: “God helps those who help themselves.”

…Time’s up! Did you find it?

I hope not, because it’s not there. While frequently quoted as scripture, it was actually Benjamin Franklin who said it. (As often noted in this space, Scripture actually has the exact opposite to say: God helps the helpless and calls his followers to do the same. But the great divide between those two ideas is a post for another day…)

I thought of that “verse” today because I just discovered that I’ve been guilty of something similar. For years I’ve heard – and repeated – that the great 20th Century theologian, Karl Barth, instructed we who would preach and teach the faith to do so “with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.”

Turns out, Barth said some things in that vein, but never actually said that. What kind of in-depth investigative journalism was required to learn this? About 30 seconds of Google searching and then reading. Wow.

As you may have already guessed, I was thinking about that Barth “quote” this week because of this 1A, above the fold, top headline of the week: “Illinois Bans Death Penalty.” (Though today you could make a strong case that the earthquake and tsunamis in Japan have taken over that top spot.)

Excuse me. That should probably read: ILLINOIS BANS DEATH PENALTY. That’s how it was in the print version of this Chicago Tribune’s story. For reasons unknown to me, the online version has a different headline. (For comparison sake, the Sun-Times’ version.)

That’s just huge, huge news; perhaps even cause for (muted) celebration. For we, the people of The United Methodist Church, have this to say:

We oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

– ¶164G Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

That’s actually the conclusion of the Death Penalty section of the Social Principles. Here’s how we get there:

¶164 Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

The Political Community:

While our allegiance to God takes precedence over our allegiance to any state, we acknowledge the vital function of government as a principal vehicle for the ordering of society. Because we know ourselves to be responsible to God for social and political life, we declare the following relative to governments:

…G. The Death Penalty

We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore and transform all human beings. The United Methodist Church is deeply concerned about crime throughout the world and the value of any life taken by a murder or homicide. We believe all human life is sacred and created by God and therefore, we must see all human life as significant and valuable. When governments implement the death penalty (capital punishment), then the life of the convicted person is devalued and all possibility of change in that person’s life ends. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that the possibility of reconciliation with Christ comes through repentance. This gift of reconciliation is offered to all individuals without exception and gives all life new dignity and sacredness. For this reason, we oppose the death penalty (capital punishment) and urge its elimination from all criminal codes.

Offered as scripture references to support the UMC position are:

Matthew 5:38-39 – Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount “turn the other check” teaching on non-violent resistance to oppression and abuse.

John 8:1-10 – Jesus’ response to the crowd looking to stone to death a woman caught committing adultery (with no mention of punishment for the man!), “let anyone among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

As you would expect, the Board of Church and Society (which is the advocacy arm of The United Methodist Church), leads the way in turning this statement of faith into action. To the words of the Social Principles and the Scripture references, they add:

When another life is taken through capital punishment, the life of the victim is further devalued. Moreover, the church is convinced that the use of the death penalty would result in neither a net reduction of crime in general nor a lessening of the particular kinds of crime against which it was directed. The death penalty also falls unfairly and unequally upon an outcast minority. Recent methods for selecting the few persons sentenced to die from among the larger number who are convicted of comparable offenses have not cured the arbitrariness and discrimination that have historically marked the administration of capital punishment in this country. We will continue to advocate for the final elimination of this act of barbarism, which has no room in a civilized society, nor in a country that prides so much on its Christian heritage.

And you can sign up for their action network

They also offer a link to Amnesty International, an organization which I support. Amnesty is at the forefront fighting against the death penalty. Check out their take on this story. In that post, Amnesty also offers a way you can add your name to a thank you note to Governor Quinn.

As this Chicago Tribune editorial reminds us, you can add this information to the reasons for abolishing the death penalty. “The Governor’s Commission on Capital Punishment found that the death penalty is most often pursued when the defendant is poor or a minority or when the victim is white.” These racial, social and economic factors alone make capital punishment untenable.

The United Methodist Church has a long history of concern for social justice. Our faith moves us to action. I offer these resources to encourage you to take some time to prayerfully and thoughtfully consider where you stand and why. As always, I’d love to make this a conversation by hearing your responses.

What do you think? Did IL get it right? Does the UMC? What, if anything, would you change about the UMC’s position on this?

 

Well said!

Welcome to my version of that blog post staple, the weekly recap/links roundup/info dump. My intent is to highlight stuff I came across this week (or, you know, at least fairly recently) that I found well-written or inspiring or bizarre or…well, or perhaps stuff so good I wish I’d written it myself. I suspect blogging deity, Fred Clark (aka Slacktivist) will feature prominently here.

Enough preamble! On with the Well said! list!

1. I’m just going to go ahead and admit this: I’d never heard of the country of Bahrain until maybe two weeks ago. Call me a stereotypically ignorant USAmerican, I guess. But I know now. Pretty sure I could even find it on a map.

The last few weeks I couldn’t hardly pull myself away from the coverage of the protests in Egypt. I was especially moved by their non-violent nature. Is there anything more inspiring than sucessful non-violent protest and revolution?

But it wasn’t all violence-free, was it? The absolutely horrible and horrifying story of the physical and sexual assault of CBS News correspondent Lara Logan serves as probably the highest profile example of said violence.

Some of the reactions to Logan’s assaults have been almost as violent and nearly as horrifying. Syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. gets it right denouncing those reactions. I especially like how Pitts refers to those attacking Logan now as “something named…”

The whole thing is worth reading, but here’s a taste:

But what is also appalling — arguably, more appalling — is the reflexive objectification of a woman who has been violently violated. To read these comments and the many more like them circulating the web, it is easy to forget that we are talking about a real attack upon a real woman who must now grapple with real consequences. It’s as if some feel Logan’s tragedy exists only as a vehicle for them to score political points.

2. Speaking of Egypt, this is a few weeks old now, but I still think it’s amazing. She was right. They didn’t leave until Mubarak was gone. That’s some serious strength. Via Sojourners

 

3. I could just repost pretty much everything from slacktivist. Seriously. If you aren’t already, you need to read Mr. Clark. Go! Do it now! He is a genius. Here’s a taste of Evangelicals and the politics of spite:

The headline is depressingly unsurprising: “Polling Evangelicals: Cut Aid to World’s Poor, Unemployed.”

The combination of stupidity, selfishness and resentment for resentment’s sake here is an unholy abomination that makes me want to scream and throw things. And I would, if I thought screaming and throwing things would help get through to these folks, but at this point I have no idea what would get through to them. Neither facts nor faith seem to matter to them at all.

4. CJ Adams on The North Star, The Polaris Project Blog

If there is once piece of advice I could give to men who are interested in contributing their skills to the important fight against human trafficking it would be this: talk less, listen more.  (Says the guy writing a blog!)

Adams wrote a two part post How can men oppose sex trafficking? It’s easy: respect women. The above quote is from part 1. In part 2, he really calls male activists and men in general – calls me – to task.

When men start thinking that they are called to bust down the doors of brothels and rush in to save the day, they are often committing the same fundamental crime against women that human traffickers have already committed—the only difference is that instead of treating a women as if she is a thing to be sold, they are treating her as a thing to be saved.

Our goal should be to demonstrate the type of equality that will make the notion of a trade in women un-imaginable to our children.

If my male peers and I learn to respect women as we work together to end this problem, we will create a world where our daughters and sons will not be able to fathom the type of gender inequality that contributes to sex trafficking today.

Now that’s well said!

In support of workers’ rights

Pretty much every week, I write a…something…for my church‘s weekly eNewsletter. Way back when, it was my take on a pastoral letter. Then some time along the way, I started thinking of it more like a newspaper’s opinion column. Now I suppose I think of it as a blog post. (‘Cause I’m all super fly Web 2.0 like that.) Anyway, most weeks, whatever I wrote for eNews also ended up here. Though usually in a slightly different form, edited for the more general audience that I hope is (could be someday?) reading here. It hadn’t really occurred to me before, but now I think it is high time for full disclosure about that. Over there it’s called The View from the Dance Floor. (Yes, there is a story behind the name. Remind me to tell it sometime…) Occasionally, when it seemed appropriate, I’ve subtitled my letter/column/post amalgamation Justice Advocate. This was one of those weeks.

We support the right of all public and private employees and employers to organize for collective bargaining into unions and other groups of their own choosing. Further, we support the right of both parties to protection in so doing and their responsibility to bargain in good faith within the framework of the public interest. – ¶163B Social Principles of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012

That’s right, friends; Justice Advocate returns this week in an attempt to offer you tools to aid your consideration of current events.

Why? Our Scripture and our tradition provide many reasons. Here’s just a couple:

In the Old Testament reading from last Sunday (Feb. 20), Leviticus 19, God commanded the people of Israel not to harvest their entire fields. “You shall leave the gleanings of your harvest for the poor and the alien.” And of course the lesson ends with those wonderful words that were the source of Jesus’ teaching: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

A couple weeks prior (Feb. 6), we heard from the prophet Isaiah (58:1-12) admonish God’s people. Isaiah, speaking on God’s behalf, told them (and, we believe, us today) no matter how pious their worship, God would not hear them or respond to them because “you oppressed all your workers.”

In other words, concern for the poor and taking care of others was built right into the Law from the very start!

As for tradition, The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church & Society (GBCS), the advocacy arm of The United Methodist Church, reminds us,

From its start with John Wesley, the Methodist movement has focused particular attention on the concerns of workers. Justice, dignity and equality for workers are an integral part of our social teachings and heritage. For 100 years, we have fought for a living wage in every industry and our Social Principles make clear that we believe people – not profits – should be at the heart of our economic system.

The GBCS statement on Labor and Worker Justice concludes,

As United Methodists, we are called to stand with workers – in our churches and communities – to ensure their basic rights are protected and their labor is valued.

Put all of that together and I think it is crystal clear why on Bishop Linda Lee of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church wrote to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker asking him to reconsider his attempt to remove the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain. Our scripture, our tradition and our Book of Discipline all demonstrate the need for workers’ rights to remain in place!

Furthermore, Wisconsin leaders from the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Presbyterian Church of USA, United Church of Christ, and the Episcopal Church joined Bishop Lee in that effort.

This debate among our neighbors to the north has generated a lot of media attention. Now it seems our neighbors to the east are considering a similar measure. Some of my hometown friends worry that our neighbors to the west will soon do the same. Will Illinois follow suite? We shall see…should make for an interesting spring!

Want to learn more about the intersection of Christianity, workers’ rights and budgets? Try these:

Interfaith call for a just and equitable budget

Thoughts from Sojourner’s

Religious Voices in Wisconsin from Huffington Post

Add your voice on behalf of workers’ rights with Faithful America

UPDATE: Just came across this very insightful post from Forbes’ Rick Unger further exposing just how duplicitous Wisconsin Governor Walker is being in this matter. Here’s a taste:

If the Wisconsin governor and state legislature were to be honest, they would correctly frame this issue. They are not, in fact, asking state employees to make a larger contribution to their pension and benefits programs as that would not be possible- the employees are already paying 100% of the contributions.

…While the governor of Wisconsin is busy trying to shift the blame to the workers in an effort to put an end to collective bargaining, the reality is that it was the state who punted on this – not the employees. Further, by the state employee unions agreeing to the deal proposed by Walker on their benefits (as they have despite Walker’s refusal to accept it) they are taking on much  – and possibly all – of the obligation out of their own pockets.

UPDATE 2: Today, Feb. 28, the Board of Church & Society tweeted: “What does the Church say about labor unions?” With this link on the main UMC site: http://fb.me/SzR2CLDI Just thought I’d share the happy coincidence!

Speaking Out: Clergy Against Bullying and Anti-Gay Violence

Thanks to a link on Twitter from Kimberly Knight, I became aware of this Clergy Against Bullying petition. In tone and message, the petition is a companion to my Oct. 10 sermon. I encourage you to go read the whole thing (it’s not that long, especially as joint statement press releases go). Here’s the opening ‘graph:

As leaders of Christian communions and national networks, we speak with heavy hearts because of the bullying, suicides and hate crimes that have shocked this country and called all faith communities into accountability for our words or our silence. We speak with hopeful hearts, believing that change and healing are possible, and call on our colleagues in the Church Universal to join us in working to end the violence and hatred against our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters.

Of course I signed right away. I hope you will too. Don’t let the “leaders of national network” thing scare you. We need all people of faith to add their voice, to break the silence, to “work to end violence and hatred against our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers.”

Sisters and brothers who, “each in their own way faced bullying and harassment or struggled with messages of religion and culture that made them fear the consequences of being who they were.”

I have been guilty of remaining silent. I have been guilty of being too worried about possible negative responses to say unequivocally that the God I know and love in Jesus the Liberating King is love. That the God I know and love and follow loves all human beings like a parent loves her child – including all our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers.

In my sermon last week and in signing this petition and writing about it here, I am attempting to end that silence or ambiguity forever. I will strive to no longer abide in privileged silence. I am out as an ally for the LGBTQ community. I hope that doesn’t sound condescending. I don’t want it to be.

That is why, to me, this is the best piece of the statement:

We, as leaders of faith, write today to say we must hold ourselves accountable, and we must hold our colleagues in the ministry, accountable for the times, whether by our silence or our proclamations, our inaction or our action, we have fueled the kinds of beliefs that make it possible for people to justify violence in the name of faith. Condemning and judging people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity can have deadly consequences, both for the victims of hate crimes and those who commit them.

There is no excuse for inspiring or condoning violence against any of our human family. We may not all agree on what the Bible says or doesn’t say about sexuality, including homosexuality, but this we do agree on: The Bible says, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” Abiding in love – together – is the rule we must all preach, teach, and seek to live by.

People of faith must realize that if teens feel they will be judged by their church, rejected by their families and bullied by their peers, they may have nowhere to turn.

Too many things go unspoken in our communities. It’s time to talk openly and honestly about the diversity of God’s creation and the gift of various sexual orientations and gender identities – and to do that in a way that makes it safe for people to disagree and still abide in love.

Finally, a couple of thoughts on who else has signed this. And who has not.

I’m thrilled to see The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator, 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), signed. I don’t know Bruce personally, but I follow him on Twitter and find him to be an excellent voice for peace and justice.

As one who has called a United Methodist congregation both “office” and “home” for 15 years, I’m proud to see these names:

The Rev. Neal Christie, Assistant General Secretary of the United Methodist Board of Church & Society

The Rev. Cynthia Abrams , Program Director, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church

Linda Bales Todd, Director, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist ChurchRelated Articles

I met Neal Christie last year so I know he is a good and vocal advocate for justice, a man with a real heart for God. The Board of Church & Society is the advocacy arm of the United Methodist Church, so it is no surprise to find other names from that Board on here.

But I must say I’m disappoint that no one from my church home, the American Baptist Church (ABC-USA), has signed. I know that justice and advocacy is important to the denomination. Their complete absence from this document is noticeable and shameful.  ABC friends, we can and must do better!

Let us join together and make this our pledge and our prayer:

We want our children and the children of the communities we serve to grow up knowing that God loves all of us and that without exception, bullying and harassment, making fun of someone for perceived differences, and taunting and harming others is wrong. The Golden Rule is still the rule we want to live by.

 

My sermon from Oct. 10, 2010: Settling In & Coming Out

As I wrote previously, the sermon I gave at my church (Woodridge UMC) garnered quite the reaction. I’ve never been more scared about the possible reaction to a sermon. I’ve never been more gratified by a response.

6 dead kids is 6 too many. Anti-gay bullying must stop. All bullying must stop. Every human being is a beloved child of God. You are not alone. I’m coming out as a LGBTQ ally!

Here’s part one, the set up and the disclaimer:

Now part two, the good stuff: