Honest talk about guns

This may come as a shock to many of you, but sometimes I don’t know what to say.

(Then again considering how infrequently I’ve posted here, perhaps that isn’t so shocking.)

Saturday is the one year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and I don’t know what to say.  I can say that I’m appalled, sad, furious when thinking about December 14, 2012. Yet even those words seem to barely scratch the surface of my emotions.

photo by UMNS
photo by UMNS

I didn’t grow up with guns. No one in my close family hunts (or at least not that I know of). None of my childhood friends ever went hunting or talked about it. Other than a bb gun at scout camp, I’ve never fired any kind of gun. And I’m not interested in changing that. I don’t understand “gun culture.” And I’m not really interested in changing that, either.

However, I also know that I am a big ol’ walking, talking, writing, breathing contradiction (which comes as no shock whatsoever). I can say that I deplore guns, the destruction they bring, and the culture that promotes them. But an honest look at pretty much every TV show, book, movie, comic book, and video game that I enjoy has some form of violence as part of its story; often involving guns. So I don’t really know what to say.

As cliché and fake as it sounds, today I do have friends that own guns, friends that hunt. I don’t – and wouldn’t – ask them or want them to change that about themselves. It is part of who they are. In addition, I’m convicted by that great exchange from season two, episode four of The West Wing: Ainsley Hayes scolds Sam Seaborn that his gun control position is not about public safety or personal freedom, but it’s about “you don’t like people who do like guns. You don’t like the people. Think about that.” I see that possibility in myself, but I know I must push back against that tendency. Having a good, close friend who owns guns and hunts helps me with that.

Saturday is the one year anniversary of the massacre in Newtown. Sunday in worship (for sure at the Evening service, possibly at the morning services) we will remember those victims. But honestly, I don’t know what to say.

I’m convinced that gun deaths are not part of God’s dream for the world. I’m convinced that as a follower of God in the Way of Jesus, I’m called to work to bring God’s dreams for the world to life. I’m convinced that is true of our congregation as well. I know that the UMC’s Resolution on Gun Violence states, “we call upon the church to affirm its faith through vigorous efforts to curb and eliminate gun violence.”

Honestly though, I don’t know what to say those “vigorous efforts” should be. But I’m tired of doing nothing. So here is what I propose:

  1. Read the whole Resolution on Gun violence.
  2. Read the Board of Church & Society post about remembering Newtown.
  3. Read about 24 other school shootings that have happened since Sandy Hook. Another one happened today in Colorado.
  4. Attend Sunday Evening Worship this week at 5:00pm. Bring your knowledge, your experience, your limitations, your passion and join with others doing the same as we consider together how Woodridge UMC will work vigorously to curb gun violence in 2014.
  5. Begin the conversation by leaving a comment. Just remember to keep it respectful.

Of course we won’t all agree. But looking at scripture, tradition, experience, and reason together is the way forward; the way to more healing, more hope, more life in this, God’s world.

Together we will find the words. Together we will find the way.


‘a people robbed and plundered…trapped in holes and hidden’

I must admit that the list of national observance days and months is overwhelming and often tedious if not down right ridiculous. For instance, January sports National Fresh Squeezed Juice Week and National Handwriting Analysis Week. This month is National Get Organized Month, Oatmeal Month, and National Polka Music Month, among many others. (Ok, my father-in-law would have loved that last one!)

I sincerely hope that today is not one of those days. Today, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and January is also National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

Through my church, with my family, and as an individual, I’ve been talking about human trafficking – and working to end it – for several years. We’ve partnered with organizations both international and local (see my list of Abolitionists on the right-hand sidebar). We’ve looked at both sex slavery and labor slavery. We’ve hosted speakers, founded projects, screened films, and shared many inspiring, informative links. But in all this time I’ve been disappointed by the small number of projects and stories regarding modern-day slavery by the United Methodist Church.

The main exception to that lack has come from the United Methodist Women. And they didn’t disappoint today either. Check this out from their website:

A major myth about human trafficking is that most trafficked persons are taken against their will…snatched off the street, thrown into a van. Or that they are runaways or drug users, exhausted of options, of money, and of hope.

Most, at the beginning, are leaving home to pursue a good job abroad. Then they find they have been sold, they owe tens of thousands of dollars and will have to buy themselves back.

Remember that for every victim of sex trafficking worldwide there are nine forced labor and/or domestic servitude cases.

Then UMW offered words of trafficked women, imploring readers to “imagine what that journey must be like.” Take a moment to read their stories.

UMW also shares good information. Here’s a taste:

Why does human trafficking happen?
Our current global economic system continues to reward wealth and exploit the poor. Sexual trafficking is connected to the feminization of poverty. Seventy percent of the world’s poor are women and girls, most of whom live in developing countries with limited options available to them. Women comprise 56 percent of the 12.3 million trafficked adults and children according to the Trafficking in Persons Report.

Trafficking of women, children and men
Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do we care so much about this? Here’s one reason… In his first public declaration, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me…He sent me to tell those who are held captive that they can now be set free… He sent me to liberate those held down by oppression.” (Luke 4:18)

Clearly, the victims of modern-day slavery/human trafficking need to hear the good news that God is with them. They need to hear the good news that God’s dream for their lives is for them to be free.

There is always more to learn and more ways to engage this issue. Two of the best anti-trafficking efforts locally are the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and the Salvation Army PROMISE program’s Anne’s House.

Anne’s House is still the only local long-term trauma based residential program for victims of commercial sexual exploitation.

Today, CAASE released their latest research into those who buy sex in Illinois. It is a disturbing read. But important. Here’s why:

CAASE believes that this research can inform more effective ways for law enforcement and communities to address the demand for prostitution. “If we want to adequately and effectively reduce the demand for paid sex, and thus reduce violence against prostituted people, we need to first understand what motivates men to purchase sex,” said Rachel Durchslag, Executive Director of CAASE. “Lara Janson’s report highlights, through johns’ own words, how specific law enforcement responses to prostitution do deter men from purchasing sex.”

The words of Isaiah often inspire work for justice. The title of this post comes from some of those words:

But this is a people robbed and plundered, all of them are trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with no one to rescue, a spoil with no one to say, “Restore!” Who among you will give heed to this, who will attend and listen for the time to come? —Isaiah 42:22-23

I hope you’ll join us as we continue on this journey. I hope you’ll join us in this modern-day abolitionist movement.

My list of abolitionists is pretty good, I think. But I know there are many more organizations engaged in this work. Who am I missing? What are your stories of fighting modern-day slavery?

“The Right to Love”

I shared this video on Facebook yesterday via Tony Jones, but thought it was just too good not to also post here.

Yes, I follow God in the Way of Jesus. Yes, I am an ordained reverend working as a pastor in a church. And, yes, I am convinced marriage must be fully opened to gay and lesbian couples.

It is merely a trailer, but this film, The Right to Love: An American Family, seems like it has great potential to help others open their hearts – and their laws – to all God’s children. May it be so.

IL Forum to Combat Human Trafficking

I was quite encouraged by the crowd present for Monday’s Illinois Forum to Combat Human Trafficking. There were several hundred people there of diverse ages and races. The speakers were passionate and informative. Opportunities to take action to combat trafficking were offered, actions that could be taken right then and there.

International Justice Mission was the main sponsor of the event, in partnership with five Chicago-based anti-trafficking organizations: Traffick Free, Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (CAASE), Salvation Army PROMISE Initiative, STOP-IT Initiative Against Human Trafficking, and The Dreamcatcher Foundation. Representatives from each were present to talk about the work they are doing.

So the forum was very well done. I really don’t know how it could have been better. I am proud to say that of the six forum sponsors, my church has partnered with five of them! (Dreamcatchers is the only one we haven’t connected with…yet!)

By far the most powerful part of the evening was hearing Amanda’s story.

When she was 15, Amanda was trafficked into the Chicago-area sex trade. She was held captive and abused for over two years. Hearing her describe the manner and frequency with which she was abused was truly gut-wrenching and heart-breaking. Her story is a stark and horrific reminder that modern-day slavery is all too real and all too local.

But Amanda’s story also reminds us that there is hope in the midst of this ugly evil. Amanda eventually escaped her captors. She is receiving care for the physical, sexual and emotional trauma she endured. And she is not remaining silent. Working with Dreamcatchers, Amanda is bravely telling her story, shining a light in some very dark places, inspiring people to join (or continue) the fight against human trafficking.

Ready to act?

Here (again) is a simple way to make a difference: tell your members of Congress to pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA). This legislation authorizes assistance programs for victims, establishes key components of the U.S. government’s efforts to stop trafficking, including the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and the annual Trafficking in Persons Report. Passing the TVPRA will extend this law for another three years.

All you have to do is click here. Or here. Or here. Just pick one and raise your voice. Together we can demonstrate to our policy-makers that their constituents care about ending human trafficking at home and around the world.

One thing did disturb me though. If I understood him correctly, U.S. Representative Peter Roskam (R-IL), the Keynote Speaker at the Forum, said that the TVPRA likely will end up on a calendar of bills that are non-controversial.

Which makes sense, right? Who could possibly be for human trafficking?!?

So far, so good. Here’s the disturbing part: Rep. Roskam also said that funding for TVPRA will be hard to come by. It will have to fight for very limited funds just like every other bill. It sounded to me like Rep. Roskam doesn’t expect to find that funding. In fact, it even sounded to me like he didn’t think it should be funded.

I admit that I don’t know a lot about Rep. Roskam. I don’t live in his district so I haven’t encountered him or paid attention to him before. I do know he spoke passionately in support of IJM and in encouraging everyone at the Forum to engage in the fight against modern-day slavery. But if I heard and understood him correctly, my serious question is this:

What does it mean to be in favor of passing TVPRA but not in favor of funding it?

Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe I misunderstood. I hope so. Because that seems to me like a distinction without meaning. It seems to me that the only way to truly be in favor of TVPRA is to be in favor of funding it. Maybe we need to add a line about funding to those petitions.

It does no good to reauthorize the act without also funding it.

Fighting traffick

Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. – Isaiah 1:17

It’s been a little while since I’ve written about human trafficking, so I think it’s time to correct that. You won’t often find them on the front page, but mainstream media stories about human trafficking (which is the legal term for modern-day slavery) are around.

Did you see this story this week?

“Chicago police investigated pimps alleged to have forced dozens of underage girls into prostitution. Nine people were charged last week with ‘involuntary sexual servitude of a minor.’”

Do you remember the Illinois Safe Children Act, about which I wrote just over a year ago? Provisions from it aided the investigation.

“The case marked the first time Chicago police could use wiretaps in a prostitution investigation.” Those wiretaps enabled police to “listen in as the pimps arranged ‘dates’ for the victims, beat a girl and made death threats against their prostitutes.”

That’s ugly and hard to read, I know. But I firmly believe that if we are to fulfill our calling as justice advocates – a calling epitomized by the above words* for the people of God from Isaiah – we must be willing to face the harsh reality of evil in the world and name it as such.

But facing and naming, as important as they are, only go so far, right? How might we extend our advocacy…what can we, you know, do?

  • Pray. Regularly include trafficking victims in your prayers. Pray for their rescue and for those attempting rescues. Pray for justice: relief and recovery for victims and successful capture and prosecution of the slave holders. Pray for all of us – you, me, our church and the church universal – to have the courage to end slavery in our time.
    (I know, I know. That’s quite the unoriginal response. None of these are new ideas. Doesn’t make them any less necessary though.)
  • Be aware. For instance, CNN is in the midst of a yearlong, multifaceted investigation into modern-day slavery, which they call The Freedom Project. You could explore their site and then subscribe to their blog.
  • Raise your voice. Local news outlets such as Patch and Trib Local always seem to include a police blotter (see here or here) With some frequency, that blotter includes stories of women arrested for prostitution. But you know what I have yet to read? Accounts of pimps arrested. While Chicago police and Cook County Sheriffs and State Attorneys are making use of the Illinois Safe Child Act and going after pimp/traffickers, it seems our local officials are still focusing on arresting those who are trafficked.
    Granted, our local officials may be in the midst of investigations into the pimp/traffickers that just haven’t resulted in arrests yet (I really hope that is the case). In the meantime, let’s keep the pressure on by braving the comment sections of those news sources (watch out for trolls) and asking them to investigate the trafficking angle of the story.
  • Recognize labor trafficking. Sex slavery gets most of the recourses, news and outrage. But labor trafficking happens as well. Change.org has excellent human trafficking writers who do a good job of reporting on both sex and labor slavery. Read, sign petitions that move you, and recruit others to do the same.

Obviously, this is nowhere near an exhaustive list of actions we can take. But it’s a place to start. (Or continue, as the case may be.)

Next we’ll look at upcoming events as well as how we can help get the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) passed through Congress.

What else? What tools, resources and actions are you or your organization using to fight modern-day slavery?

*This verse from Isaiah is just one example. There are literally thousands of verses all throughout the bible about social justice.

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:

Theological Dialogue on Youth Ministry #2

For me, what separated this conference from most all others I’ve attended in 15 years of ministry is how well the organizers knew their audience. I expect nothing less from Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Kenda Dean and Andrew Root, but still, it was refreshing to be told, “get up and leave the room when you need to. Go get coffee or take that call or chat wander and chat with other wanderers…we understand important things are happening outside this meeting space.” These things always happen anyway, might as well acknowledge them from the outset. Plus, we youth worker types tend to have trouble sitting still for long. Hey, what can I say? Sometimes stereotypes are based on truth. Or maybe that’s just me and I shouldn’t generalize.

Anyway, the really important way FirstThird demonstrated audience recognition was through all the many avenues for, well, dialogue. I mean, it was built right into the conference name after all.

Monday night the medium for dialogue was that staple of youth minister tricks from time immemorial: show a movie and then force ask those gathered to talk about it. I’d never heard of the documentary American Teen before that night. Now I can’t wait to show it to the parents of the youth in my church. It’s funny, poignant, honest and devastating.

A couple of money quotes (without giving away any spoilers, if such a thing is possible for a documentary. Which I think it is. Some of the discussion revolved around the film having too much editing in an attempt to force stories…but I’m getting ahead of my self. Back to quotes…)

“I wish life was more like video games because then I’d always get the girl,” says the Geek. Yes, the film is populated by stock characters – which provided much discussion fodder as well. As you might expect, the Geek gets most of the funny lines, including what has to be The Worst Thing to Say to Your Date Ever.

Hannah, the Rebel character, goes through the hardest ordeal in the film. But she also seemed most in touch with her hopes and dreams. “I want to do something that will touch people, that they’ll remember. I don’t wanna stay here and work some shit job. Going to Indiana [University] sounds awful. I wanna go to school in California and work in films.”

Parents get in on the act too. The Jock’s Dad serves up this gem “prepping” his son to play in front of college recruiters: “You better get 12 rebounds tomorrow night. Dad doesn’t have money for college, but you get 12 rebounds tomorrow and everything else falls into place.” No pressure though, thanks, Dad. Yeesh. In Dad’s defense, we learn early on that he is an Elvis impersonator. So it’s not like we’re expecting him to be a bastion of stability and good sense.

One more. This is from the Geek again, but it could have been said by any one of them. And was, I think, in one form or another at some point in the film. “I want somebody I can talk to; somebody I can be with and be who I really am.”

It seems to me that the main theme of this film is the search for identity and the search for belonging. I know, I know, that’s no major insight. After all, isn’t that just exactly what adolescence is all about? Of course. But that’s where the church can and should come in. The community of faith, the fellowship of the followers of God in the way of Jesus should have the best response for all the kids in this film: you belong here for in this place you will be welcomed as you are. In this place we see you as a beloved child of God, worthy of dignity and respect. And here we will help you draw close to God and help you hear God’s call on your life, a call to love God by loving others. Here, in this place, you can bring your despair because God meets us in our despair and transforms us, brings life out of that dead place. (See Andy, I was listening!)

That’s my dream for who and what the church should be for young people. For all people, for that matter.