Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rick Warren, Obama, and the ELCA

“There is no need to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population.” Thus said Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church, one of California’s largest megachurches, and a major supporter of Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage in the state. Warren knows that small minorities, such as gays, generally have no clout. President-elect Barack Obama knows this also. Right wing Christians are much more numerous than gays, and, so, the olive branch is extended to Warren, who will deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration.
So, too, in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), anti-gay conservatives are much more numerous than gays. This reality is reflected in the political calculation that is its “Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality” ( In this document, the ELCA stated that “Marriage is a structure of mutual promises between a man and woman blessed by God (Mark 10:7-9) and authorized in a legal arrangement required by the state.” (lines 1005 - 1007) The draft continues: “After many years of study and conversation, this church does not have consensus regarding loving and committed same-gender relationships.” (lines 1116 - 1117) And, further, “This church recognizes the historic origin of the term “marriage” as a life-long and committed relationship between a woman and man, and does not wish to alter this understanding.” (lines 1151 - 1153).
Like Obama, the ELCA is bowing to the clout of the “consensus” of religious conservatives who definitely want is keep marriage “traditional.” If gays leave, the ELCA won’t be losing many people. It’s better to see them go, so thinks the ELCA, than to upset the “base.”
So, Mark 15:15 comes to life again. Obama and the ELCA “wishing to satisfy the crowd,” like Pilate, find it expedient to sacrifice the gays. However, one reason to be a Christian is the clear biblical witness that the “crowd” and leaders who pander to them are, in God’s view, often wrong. We hope, as Christians, that the “crowd” will not always hold sway. One way of lessening the impact of the “crowd” is for people of goodwill to identify publicly with people who are demeaned and ostracized. Lutherans Concerned/ North America (LC/NA) has introduced a new program, “Reconciling Lutherans” ( that invites all Lutherans to publicly witness to their call for a church and world that welcomes and includes all:
People of every age, class, color, and ethnic origin….
People of all sexual orientations and gender identities….
People who are single, married, divorced, separated, blessed or partnered….
People who are temporarily-able, disabled, or of differing abilities….
As the press release for “Reconciling Lutherans” points out: “Each name added to the list of “Reconciling Lutherans” will strengthen the call to the church for change. For too long, many Lutherans have presumed that there is simply not enough support for the church to proceed with changes in teaching and policy. By revealing the true depth and breadth of support for change, the “Reconciling Lutherans” roster will give courage to all members and leaders, bringing closer the day when all are truly welcome.”
Rick Warren heads up one of the world’s largest megachurches. If enough people show their solidarity with the gay minority, his “crowd” will have less power to discriminate.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Today is World AIDS Day

Below is the press release from Lutherans Concerned/North America concerning World AIDS Day, which is today. The release contains good advice, particularly, " lift prayers for those suffering from HIV and AIDS."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Today is World AIDS Day

From: "LC/NA Database"

Today is World AIDS Day, a day set aside to raise awareness of the disease. Though the state of affairs is undeniably better than it was 10 or 20 years ago, the situation is clearly not good. Across the globe there are between 30-36 million people living with HIV. The most recent annual toll was 2 million deaths. New cases of infection declined from 3 million to 2.7 million in the same period. The overall number of people living with HIV continues to rise as new infections add to the total, people live longer in treatment, and new infections outnumber deaths. The percentage of the population infected has stabilized since 2000.

Women account for half the people living with HIV. Young people, 15-24, account for 45% of new infections - 45%. There are an estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States; in 2001 that number was 1.0 million. In 2007, 22,000 people died from AIDS. In Canada , there are an estimated 73,000 people living with HIV; there were 49,000 in 2001. Around 500 died in 2007.

Executive Director Emily Eastwood suggests that "whether or not you are able to attend one of the many worship services to be held across the country, please set aside a few minutes of today to lift prayers for those suffering from HIV and AIDS; for the researchers who seek more effective treatment, a vaccine, and a cure; for doctors, caregivers, family members, and especially for those at highest risk, our young people and those in poverty. We have lost so many dear friends. Please take good care, get tested, and act for the health and safety of yourself and others."

Keep awareness of the disease, the simple but effective means to prevent being infected and prevent spreading it, its devastating effects on health and quality of living, and its death toll before everyone, but especially those who could place themselves more at risk than others. Among those are the young, who may make poor spur-of-the-moment decisions. It takes only one careless act to be infected by this life-altering and -threatening disease. There are no do-overs.
Show leadership. Get tested, even if you know there is no way you could have contracted the disease. Lead by example. At the next meeting of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, the Bishops will be tested, to demonstrate that AIDS prevention and remediation is everyone's concern and that there is no stigma to getting tested.

Make sure that correct information is provided, errors corrected immediately, so that those who live with the disease are not ostracized, demeaned, or shunned. People living with HIV need to be encouraged, loved, and uplifted for their courage. And, do not forget those closest to those living with HIV/AIDS, who can be driven down, debilitated, and hopeless in the face of the relentless onslaught of the disease and by the fear of loss.

Phil Soucy
Director Communications LC/NA

Sunday, November 30, 2008


“My name is Harvey Milk, and I’m here to recruit you.” This was the signature declaration of Harvey Milk, who in the ‘70s, was a force in San Francisco politics and probably the most influential figure in U.S. gay liberation yet. In Gus van Sant’s movie, “Milk,” Sean Penn, playing the title character, enlists us as enthusiastic foot soldiers in the movement for freedom and justice, not only for gays, but for anyone who values personal integrity and truthfulness. For Milk, truthfulness was central. Many of the people in his circle were still in the closet (Milk himself had long been out), and he knew that the only way to defeat Proposition 6, which would require the firing of homosexual teachers, was for everyone to come out of the closet to family, employers, and friends, so that the supporters of Prop. 6 could no longer talk credibly about “them.” There would be no “them,” no “other,” when almost everybody had a son, daughter, father, or mother who was queer. His approach worked; Proposition 6 was defeated, but not before he had appealed to many conservative groups, many of them church people, to defeat Prop. 6.
If there is a villain in the movie, it’s not just Dan White who assassinated Milk and Mayor George Muscone, but rather, the nasty, mean-spirited churches that made their hatred of gays more than clear. In the movie, the Gospel is not proclaimed in the churches; instead it is proclaimed in the bedrooms, the streets, and the voting booths of San Francisco, where gay men found love, joy, and fun; where they marched to demonstrate that they were equal to anyone; and where they helped build a society in which the contributions of gay men are valued.
In contrast, the churches continue, even today, on their road to irrelevance. Even as they triumphed with the passing of Proposition 8 this November, the spirit of Harvey Milk will not be crushed. Nor will the Gospel be crushed. Rather, it will lead people, gay and straight, to equity, justice, and fairness.
A few Sundays ago in church, we heard a passage from Amos 5 that could be a description of God’s reaction to the hateful churches that Milk contended with:
“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
These could be the words of the God who created Harvey Milk. He helped justice roll in San Francisco; it’s now up to us to increase the flow so that God’s righteousness comes to all.
I hope you see “Milk.” When you do, I hope you hear the Gospel.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thank You, Miss Manners

Indeed, Miss Manners has come to believe that the basic political division in this country is not between liberals and conservatives but between those who believe that they should have a say in the love lives of strangers and those who do not.

-- Miss Manners (Judith Martin)
Courtesy of "The Daily Slab"

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The ELCA can Learn from the Mormons

The Mormons spent 25 million dollars in California and, with the help of the black churches, “saved” heterosexual marriage, as Proposition 8 passed. They also got what they probably see as a PR disaster. They are now firmly associated with bigotry, division, and discrimination, the very opposite of the Gospel.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) would also “save” marriage for heterosexuals, as it tries to get its “Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality” approved. I pray that the ELCA will take the Mormons’ experience as a warning. If the ELCA approves the draft statement as it now stands, it can expect the same public derision that the Mormons are now receiving. The ELCA will be seen, not as a source for the Gospel, but as an enemy of the Gospel.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Holy Cross Lutheran in Newmarket Disciplined for Calling Openly Gay Minister

I just received this email from Lutherans Concerned/North America. It speaks for itself. I'll just say that everyone must work to stop the prejudice.

On November 15, 2008, Pastor Dawn Hutchings and the Congregational Council of Holy Cross Lutheran, Newmarket, Canada, were informed that the Bishop and Synod Council of the Eastern Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, had suspended the congregation for having called the Rev. Lionel Ketola to be Associate Pastor. The congregation was informed on Sunday the 16th. The synod clergy and the media were informed this afternoon.

Bishop Michael Pryse said in his letter that the congregation could not send delegates to conference, synod or national meetings, could not vote on any matters before such meetings, and could not have any of its members hold elective office within the ELCIC above the congregational level. The suspension is to remain in effect for as long as Lionel remains in his position or until the ELCIC changes its policy and recognizes Lionel's ordination and call to ministry. The congregation and its members, however, can continue to participate in the programmatic and worship life of the ELCIC.

Lionel was called by Holy Cross Lutheran as Associate Pastor and Ambassador of Reconciliation, ordained on that basis on May 16, 2008, and installed on May 18. These acts violated the policy of the ELCIC not to "ordain or recommend for call a self-proclaimed homosexual" in that Lionel is open and public about his sexual orientation. Lionel is married to Stephen, a marriage legal in Canada but not recognized by the ELCIC.

In his letter to the congregation, Bishop Pryse, widely known for his progressive thinking and support of LGBT issues, said that he wanted the strong relationship with Holy Cross to continue, that the Synod Council took no joy from the discipline decision it made, and that the Synod Council would continue to "responsibly work toward changing policies that preclude the full participation of all God's people in our ecclesial life."

In her letter to the congregation, Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned, lauded the congregation for having "courageously enacted the church as it should be in the present. You have taken a great risk for the sake of justice, for the sake of the Gospel. You have embraced Luther's freedom of the Christian. You have acted on your beliefs. The ultimate outcome is assured. Only the time is in question."

In the press release that has just gone out, Pastors Hutchings and Ketola and Emily were quoted as follows:
Pastor Dawn Hutchings, pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran, said, "While we all knew that such a judgment was possible, it still hurts. To be suspended by our church for doing what we have felt called to do for the sake of the Gospel, is painful. Our sadness is tempered by the knowledge that we have acted together as a congregation and together we will continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit as we respond to the Eastern Synod's failure to live up to its professed desire to be a church "In Mission for Others." We will do all that we can to encourage, help, and challenge our Bishop and Synod Council to live up to their "expressed desire to responsibly work toward changing policies that preclude the full participation of all God's people in our ecclesial life." As faithful members of the ELCIC we shall continue to work and pray for the day when all God's children enjoy the freedom of equal opportunity in God's holy church."

Pastor Lionel Ketola said, "It is especially difficult to hear of the suspension of this vibrant Lutheran congregation for their decision to call me, while just one day earlier hundreds of people had gathered with the city's mayor in nearby Oshawa, Ontario, in support of a lesbian couple who were the victims of anti-gay violence. We yearn for the day that our church's calls for justice for all are matched with deeds embodying a commitment to equality for all. Our church must become one of full inclusion of all in the life of the church, following the teachings of Christ. I, along with the people of Holy Cross, remain committed to working in partnership with our ELCIC to see this dream become a reality."
Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America, said of this action, "Once again the authorities of the church have failed to demonstrate leadership, failed to follow the lead of the Christ and Holy Spirit, and, instead, have endorsed a policy of oppression and discrimination based on dusty prejudice and ignorance. Holy Cross has chosen to live life as Christ's church should. One day, and soon, the rest of the church will follow the example they have set - recognizing that LGBT people have always been part of the wondrous diversity of God's creation and Christ's redemption."

Phil Soucy
Director Communications LC/NA

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Same-Sex Marriage and the Down Low

The success on November 4th of ballot initiatives preventing same-sex marriage in California, Arizona, and Florida has left most gay people feeling angry, and some are directing their anger at black voters, 60% to 70% of whom voted to keep marriage only between heterosexuals. Gay people say it’s a civil rights issue and why don’t blacks, who have been through so much discrimination, help gays fight the discrimination directed at them?
Many blacks voted against same-sex marriage because their pastors, as well as the Mormon Church, encouraged them to. This encouragement was often couched in terms of the need to “save” marriage. Gays often respond that their marriages didn’t threaten heterosexual marriage, so there is no need to “save” marriage from legal same-sex marriage. This, I think, is to miss a major concern of the black community about the health of marriage in that community: Same-sex marriage between black men could make the shortage of eligible bachelors in the black community even more severe than it is now. Whether this concern is well founded is open to question, but, by many measures, the pool of marriageable black men in the US is smaller proportionally than the pool of marriageable white men. American white racism, although it also oppresses black women, comes down particularly hard on black males and makes it harder for them to be the strong providers often envisioned for traditional heterosexual marriage. For example, compared with the general population, they have less education. Only 52 percent of public high school students in the fifty largest US cities (where many blacks live) graduate after four years; the national average is 70 percent. ( Black men are more likely to be unemployed than the general population. For example, unemployment in August, 2008, was higher among blacks (10.6%) than in the country overall (6.1%), and unemployment among black men was 11.2%. ( and
And black men are more likely to be in prison (4,789 per 100,000 residents) than white men (736 per 100,000). (
But there is another concern in the black community that makes the discussion of same-sex marriage even more difficult. It is life on “the down low.” “The down low” refers to black men who have sex with men, and it is a term often used by black men who are sexually active with men, but who don’t consider themselves gay. I first learned about the down low from an article in the August 3, 2003 “New York Times” magazine by Benoit Denizet-Lewis called “Double Lives On The Down Low.” (
The article’s title tells the story. As Denizet-Lewis writes: “Rejecting a gay culture they perceive as white and effeminate, many black men have settled on a new identity, with its own vocabulary and customs and its own name: Down Low. There have always been men -- black and white -- who have had secret sexual lives with men. But the creation of an organized, underground subculture largely made up of black men who otherwise live straight lives is a phenomenon of the last decade.”
Further on, he continues: “...the black church -- like many in white America -- is careful not to condone homosexual behavior. 'Some gays want a flat-out, standing-on-the-tower affirmation from the church that the gay lifestyle, or the lifestyle of whoring around with men, is acceptable,' says Kelvin Berry, the director of the (Cleveland Antioch Baptist Church AIDS) program. ''And that's not going to happen.'” And in fact, the black churches are fighting the legalization of same-sex marriage, because they see the down low as dishonest and dangerous to black women and the black community.
And who can disagree? So, gays like me who support same-sex marriage need to step back and understand better the concerns of the black community on this issue. We need to understand that same-sex marriage can seem to pose a threat to traditional marriage in the black community and in society at large, because of many men’s duplicitous behavior. Living a lie – in the closet, on the down low – is not a good life, however sexy and attractive. Coming out of the closet, out of the down low, is the better course however difficult.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Under the Huppah

Walter and Darrel got married a few weeks ago. After nearly 48 years of being together, they decided it was time. They called a friend in California, and a room was found for the ceremony in the courthouse at the L.A. airport. The friend also arranged for another friend to be a deputy marriage commissioner for the occasion. And so they were married.
Walter and Darrell invited us to look at their marriage certificate and the pictures of the wedding. In one of the photos, Walter and Darrell, standing under a garland of flowers, are looking tenderly at each other. When I saw this, I said, “It’s a Huppah!” and cried a little and hugged and kissed them.
Darrell is Australian and loves opera. Walter is Jewish, tells awful jokes involving rabbis, and is religious not at all. And yet in the photo, I saw a Huppah, and Walter didn’t disagree.
As one website has it: “A traditional wedding Chuppah (often spelled Chuppa, Huppah, chuppot (pl) huppot (pl)) is the canopy under which the bridal couple says their wedding vows. Chuppah means "that which covers or floats above". It is open on all four sides, recalling the tents of the Jews’ nomadic ancestors, and must be a temporary structure. The Huppah canopy represents G-d's presence at the wedding, and is a symbol of the home. In this sense, the chuppah is often viewed as the couple's first home.”
It certainly looks to many as if God was on the side of those who voted to outlaw gay marriage in Arizona, California, and Florida. But in the picture, there are Walter and Darrell together under those insubstantial, perishable flowers - under the Huppah - to start this new phase of their life together. I think G-d was present at the wedding of Walter and Darrell, and I say mazal tov to them both! And G-d bless!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The ELCA wins

Gay marriage ended today in California. Gay marriage is now prohibited by the Florida and Arizona constitutions. In those states, “normal” people no longer have to endure the presence of gay people married to each other.
This is a resounding victory for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the denomination to which I belong. In its “Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality” (, the ELCA stated that “Marriage is a structure of mutual promises between a man and woman blessed by God (Mark 10:7-9) and authorized in a legal arrangement required by the state.” (lines 1005 - 1007) The draft continues: “After many years of study and conversation, this church does not have consensus regarding loving and committed same-gender relationships.” (lines 1116 - 1117) And, further, “This church recognizes the historic origin of the term “marriage” as a life-long and committed relationship between a woman and man, and does not wish to alter this understanding.” (lines 1151 - 1153). So, in California, Florida, and Arizona, the ELCA’s understanding has been carved in legal stone. Not only is there no consensus for gay marriage, the consensus, at least in California, Florida, and Arizona, is against it.
You’ve got to give the ELCA credit. It put its finger in the air, found the direction the wind is blowing, and the ELCA is going along with the wind, which will blow gay people back into their place. That place, the ELCA hopes, will be a very quiet closet.
As in Mark 15:15, the crowd has been placated. The ELCA has stood primly by and let it happen. A scapegoat has been found and sacrificed and peace will reign. Until the next time. Which minority will the ELCA let be sacrificed then? The Lutherans in Germany let the Jews be sacrificed in the 1930s. In photographs of the period, the Lutheran clergy look very happy in the presence of Hitler.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

“Doctor Atomic”

We saw John Adam’s opera, “Doctor Atomic” last night at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The opera is a compelling and very disturbing work about the implications of the first detonation in 1945 of the atomic bomb. The story centers on J. Robert Oppenheimer (sung beautifully by Gerald Finley), the lead physicist of the Manhattan Project, which developed the bomb in New Mexico. Oppenheimer is presented as a Faustian figure, agonizing over his desire to unlock the power of the atom and his fear for the destruction of the world now possible with the use of the bomb. The climax of his crisis is his aria, “Batter my heart, three-person’d God”, a sonnet by John Donne. The horrible destructive potential of the bomb is invoked in his second major aria, the terrifying vision of Vishnu in the “Bhagavad Gita,” “At the sight of this, your Shape stupendous, full of mouths and eyes ... terrible with fangs... when I see you, Vishnu ... with your mouths agape and flame-eyes staring -- all my peace is gone; my heart is troubled.”
The climax is not the test detonation in New Mexico, but the evocation of the devastation of Hiroshima, with the voice calling for water in Japanese. The work is both solemn and exhilarating, a very unlikely combination. I left the opera house knowing how god-like we humans are: like Vishnu, we can destroy the world. I also know that as yet we don’t use our God-given power to give peace. When will we “little Christs” follow his example?
“Doctor Atomic” will be performed again on October 25th and 30th, and on November 1st, 5th, 8th, and 13th. I hope you see it. A DVD of a Dutch performance is also available.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Gospel in Connecticut

Yesterday the Gospel was proclaimed in Connecticut. Not in the churches, God knows, but in the Connecticut Supreme Court, which ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutional in that state. The court ruled further that Connecticut’s civil union law violated the constitutional guarantees of equal protection under the law. The court echoed the Gospel in affirming that justice requires equality. This aspect of the Gospel has been clearly proclaimed in Peter’s speech in Acts 10:34, where he says “I truly understand that God shows no partiality...” While many churches are working hard to restrict the rights of homosexuals to same-sex marriage, as in California, Florida, and Arizona, the majority on the Connecticut court clearly stated that without equality there is no justice. As Justice Palmer wrote: “Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same-sex partner of their choice.” To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.”
“The New York Times” in its article, on October 11th, about the ruling stated: “Striking at the heart of discriminatory traditions in America, the court — in language that often rose above the legal landscape into realms of social justice for a new century — recalled that laws in the not-so-distant past barred interracial marriages, excluded women from occupations and official duties, and relegated blacks to separate but supposedly equal public facilities.”
As I wrote in my blog post of July 12, 2008, “Same-Sex Marriage: The ELCA and California, Compared”: “Equality and justice are hallmarks of the Gospel. In “Reforming Christianity" (2001), Don Cupitt points out that as the Church loses influence because of its ridigity and fear, signs of the Kingdom often appear 'on earth' in secular society.” As in California, a Connecticut court has proclaimed the Gospel, while the churches either oppose the Gospel or stand by mute, unwilling to take the risk of proclaiming God’s love for all.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

High School Homophobia

I’ve submitted a letter to the editor of “The Christian Century” in response to an article, called “Relationship Smarts,’’ in the September 9th issue. The author, Amy Frykholm, notes that at least one student in a high school class about relationships, called “Connections,” had difficulty in seeing marriage and family as applying to his life, but she doesn’t suggest possible reasons for this. I write in my letter that one reason why he might be reluctant to participate in the class exercise in which the students can “marry” someone of the same sex is that he is gay. Perhaps he feels that such a “marriage” would reflect his true desire too accurately for all to see, and he might be unwilling to expose himself to possible homophobia if he were thought to be gay.
I assumed that high school homophobia was so well recognized that it was self-evident. Be that as it may, as reported in today’s “New York Times,” evidence for homophobia among teenagers is now available from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, or Glsen (pronounced glisten). (
Glsen is introducing a public-service TV ad campaign to call attention to the derogatory and hurtful nature of the common phrase “That’s so gay” as a putdown. The theme of the campaign: “When you say, ‘That’s so gay,’ do you realize what you say? Knock it off” points to the harm such comments can cause and urges people to become aware of the possible effects of their language. This is enforced by the name of the website for the campaign:
But what harm can such comments cause? To answer that question, the introduction of the campaign will be accompanied by Glsen’s release of the 2007 edition of an annual report, the “National School Climate Survey.” The survey will report that 9 in 10 teenagers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender said they were verbally harassed during the last school year. Almost half said they were also physically harassed because of their sexual orientation.
So evidence is available that high school homophobia exists and that it can cause real harm. It’s no wonder that gay students may be reluctant to come out. They can be verbally and physically abused by fellow students and maybe even teachers. I hope that Glsen’s campaign will reduce the abuse and help gay students to be open about their sexual orientation.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sex Education

At “Theolog,” the blog of “The Christian Century,” Bromleigh McCleneghan has posted a piece on Purity balls, which, she writes, are “ to which conservative Christian fathers take their daughters for dinner, dancing and promise-making.” (
Below is the comment I posted on her piece:

Sex education is obviously necessary if we are to become responsible sexual beings, but it is not a one-time thing. Sex education must start early and continue onward – until we die, because everyone is sexual from birth to death. Because we are always sexual, all our relationships, overtly sexual or not, are part of our sex education. What do we learn in our relationships? Are we even aware that our relationships have something to teach us about sex and life?
Perhaps the basic lesson in sex education is that sexual desire is with us always, and it is not bad or sinful. The purity movement would counter desire with the denial of desire. However, among young people, this clearly doesn’t make them sexually abstinent. One study showed that those who took virginity pledges preserved their technical virginity about 18 months longer than teenagers who didn’t pledge, but they were six times more likely to engage in oral sex than virgins who hadn’t taken a pledge. They were also much less likely to use condoms during their first sexual experience or to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Disease rates between those who pledged and those who didn’t were actually similar (“Students of Virginity,” “New York Times” magazine, March 30, 2008.)
It seems to me that a better approach to sex education and the sexually responsible life is to teach that sexual desire should be managed, not somehow eliminated. Of course, managing sexual desire is a tall order, especially for young people, but there are helpful approaches: Be as conscious as possible of the presence of desire. The goal is for the person to be in charge of the desire, not the reverse. Attempt to envision the outcomes of various courses of management. Be aware that not to act is to make a decision. These approaches can be more easily implemented if possible options can be discussed with trusted, nonjudgmental family members and friends. It follows that family and friends should listen and help clarify options, rather than demand courses of action or threaten dire consequences. Of course, Paul (or someone writing in his name) describes this approach beautifully in I Corinthians 13. Too bad that Christians so often fail to heed this advice.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A review of "Reforming Christianity"

A few posts ago in “The New Yorker,” Theodicy, and Don Cupitt, on July 2nd, I mentioned "Reforming Christianity" by Don Cupitt (Polebridge Press, 2001). Below is a review by Graham Warren from November 2001 of that book on the blog, "Sofia, Sea of Faith in Australia" ( I think the review provides a good overview of Cupitt's ideas and a challenge to us church members to move out of church Christianity into Kingdom religion, because for me the saddest idea in Warren's review is "The Church has condemned itself to the sideline of history." This is because the church refuses, as Jesus did, to stand with "God facing up to nihilism."
By the way, "Radicals and the Future of the Church" is another wonderful book that I recommend highly.

Here is Warren's review:

Don Cupitt's latest book "Reforming Christianity" is a post-script to his 1989 reformation book, "Radicals and the Future of the Church." His proposals for and sketches of a church of the future - how it will be organized and what it will actually do - were mocked. Now, sadly, he portrays himself as a man who does not mind losing the church and its version of Christianity. However, he fears the loss of Jesus - a serious blow. Jesus may not be rescued as a divine saviour but we may be able to do something with him as an ethical teacher - provided we don't mind seeing him not as a god who can't be wrong but as a man who might be right.

My first acquaintance with Don Cupitt was a life-altering reading in 1988 of "Sea of Faith - Christianity in Change" (1985). I then read backwards "Taking Leave of God" (1980), "Jesus and the Gospel of God" (1978), "The Leap of Reason" (1976), "Christ and Hiddenness of God" (1971). Somewhere along the way I read "The Long-Legged Fly" but I have lost my copy and with it the memories and thoughts evoked in the reading.

Don Cupitt prefers plain speech. He refuses to be an ecclesiastical apologist. He is a philosopher of religion and an heir to the Enlightenment exploring Kant's insight that we fabricate our world. Like Hegel he believes that reality emerges in our encounter with historical developments. Don Cupitt follows the critical path of Schopenhauer, Freud, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Derrida. Cupitt does a more complete draft of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer intimated - religionless Christianity. He asks 'do we want to grow up?' Do we want to join the global shift away from authoritarianism and traditionalism? Are we prepared to move away from the assumption that the world is ready-made and all we are required to do is to be enthralled.

Can Christianity be reformed? It is a given, is it not? Only if one has a belief system which is immutable - “deposit of faith” as it is known in the Roman tradition wherein all is revealed from above. Contrast this with a voluntarist view where autonomy and responsibility are balanced one against the other.

This book may scandalize the faithful. With each new book Don Cupitt adopts a more urgent iconoclastic polemic with the church as a “deposit of faith” squarely in his sights. One constantly hears echoes of the forebears of Cupitt's ideas: "…faith as an act of will", "…religion is an attempt to familiarize the terrible" - Soren Kierkegaard; "…man’s last and highest parting occurs, when, for God's sake, he takes leave of god" - Meister Eckhart. This book is an urgent call to throw off "the painted veil", a metaphor as old as Plato, to describe that which hangs between the eternal world and us. This is not new material from Don Cupitt but it is the most urgent and latest call to act. As Church Christianity melts away there is an urgency: don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Don’t lose sight of what Jesus represented!

The Church has condemned itself to the sideline of history and Cupitt has analyzed the reasons for this over a lifetime of writing. But now we are in danger of losing the voice of Jesus - not the Christ of faith constructed by the church since first they puzzled over the delay in the parousia - but the Jesus as the original caller to the Kingdom. Don Cupitt preaches kingdom theology, kingdom values.

Jesus preached the Kingdom and we got the church. Now that the church has reached its use-by-date, we need to rescue core teachings.

Don Cupitt argues that reformation and renewal of Christianity are possible. Church Christianity, as we have received it, is handicapped in its view by two great errors – the mistaken interpretation of Jesus Christ as being co-equal Son of God incarnate, and a mistaken belief that there is a controlling supernatural place beyond this world.

To escape we need to start again with the message of Jesus about the Kingdom of God on this earth. In honest reflection on this message Don Cupitt argues for a religion that is immediate, beliefless and entirely based on the here and now. Religion is no longer how we relate ourselves to the supernatural realm, but rather how we relate ourselves to life. To reject the church is to reject a mediated view of God.

What power had the old mediated view? It promised reward later! History and maturity have stripped us of this as a credible belief and we stare in the face of nihilism. Don Cupitt embraces nihilist Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer but shows us God facing up to nihilism. This is the voice, resurrected after two millennia, of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus preached the Kingdom. Don Cupitt preached Kingdom religion. This is a combination of "solar spirituality" and humanitarian social ethics. It is autonomous and responsible. It embraces the end of belief in life after death. Why did Jesus express such eschatological urgency? Perhaps it is, and was, here and now. We need to embrace it. We are not called to prepare for it. It is now. "Solar spirituality" is lived not explained. If Jesus had so much trouble being understood, small wonder that Cupitt likewise does.

This is not a secular humanist rebellion against God nor a repudiation of Christianity. On the contrary, we see it as Christianity's own struggle to advance from its warped ecclesiastical stage to its final Kingdom stage of development. The church has always prayed "…thy Kingdom come (but not yet please!)”.

The church very early became locked into the view of Jesus as portrayed in John's gospel - a divinised Jesus Christ. This is in stark contrast to the human Jesus of Nazareth portrayed in the other gospels. Why do church theologians in seminaries not cross the corridor to listen to their colleagues in scriptural study? New hermeneutical tools and analyses have given us a chance to hear the muffled voice of Jesus. Why has the institution remained deaf and mute to these new understandings of their founder?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Policing: A Middle Way between War and Pacifism

An international police force may be a way between war and pacifism that can reduce violence in the world. This is the thesis of a new book of essays, “Just Policing, Not War: An Alternative Response to World,” reviewed by Donald W. Shiver Jr. in the July 29, 2008 issue of the “Christian Century.” Ivan J. Kauffman, an author of one of book’s essays, points out the defects of both the just war tradition and pacifism. The former assumes that violence can achieve justice, while the latter assumes that opposing violence is the way to justice. However, merely opposing violence does not produce peace. Peacemaking is a larger effort, in which policing can play a major part. Policing, Shiver points out, is unlikely to eliminate violence in the world, but policing can diminish violence, subject it to judicial restraint, and treat life as worth preserving, and thus lead us toward a world that deserves the name “civilized.”
I haven’t yet read the book. Shiver’s review makes me want to read it, but more broadly, I’m drawn to reconsider the role of policing in the world, especially as undertaken by international organizations like the United Nations. I hope these essays lead our policy makers to see policing as an important alternative to both war, which is rarely if ever just, and pacifism, which often seems merely oppositional rather than actively peace seeking.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Same-Sex Marriage: The ELCA and California, Compared

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in its Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality ( maintains the tradition that “Marriage is a structure of mutual promises between a man and woman blessed by God (Mark 10:7-9) and authorized in a legal arrangement required by the state.” (lines 1005 - 1007) The draft continues: “After many years of study and conversation, this church does not have consensus regarding loving and committed same-gender relationships.” (lines 1116 - 1117) And, further, “This church recognizes the historic origin of the term “marriage” as a life-long and committed relationship between a woman and man, and does not wish to alter this understanding.” (lines 1151 - 1153)

Compare this with the opinion of Chief Justice George of the California Supreme Count who, in May, 2008, wrote in the majority opinion overturning the ban on same-sex marriage that “The right to marry represents the right of an individual to establish a legally recognized family with a person of one’s choice and, as such, is of fundamental significance both to society and to the individual.” Like the ELCA, Chief Justice George conceded that “as an historical matter in this state marriage has always been restricted to a union between a man and a woman.” But, unlike the ELCA, he maintained that “tradition alone” does not justify the denial of a fundamental constitutional right. Furthermore, when lawyers for the state identified two interests to justify reserving the term marriage for heterosexual unions - tradition and the will of the majority. Chief Justice George said neither was sufficient. (“New York Times” May 16, 2008) Apparently Justice George thinks that equality and justice are more important than tradition and consensus.

Equality and justice are hallmarks of the Gospel. In “Reforming Christianity" (2001), Don Cupitt points out that as the Church loses influence because of its ridigity and fear, signs of the Kingdom often appear “on earth” in secular society. Justice George’s ruling is such a sign. In contrast, the ELCA, fearful of losing its conservative base, has forsaken the Gospel in regard to same-sex marriage and is hiding behind “tradition and lack of consensus.” If Jesus had based his ministry on tradition and consensus, he would be long forgotten. As equality and justice prevail for gay people, the ELCA will be ignored and then forgotten. The ELCA should hear the Gospel and proclaim it, because the Gospel is to way to life. If the ELCA proclaims the Gospel, it will live. Otherwise, it’s dead.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

“The New Yorker,” Theodicy, and Don Cupitt

“The New Yorker” didn’t publish my letter, below, so I’m posting it today:

Although James Wood cites Nietzsche at the beginning of his article, “Holiday in Hellmouth” (June 9th & 16th), he seems to yearn for the return of the theistic God, whom Nietzsche so famously declared dead, to solve the problem of theodicy. Such a supernatural, otherworldly, almighty God no longer captures the imagination of many people. Rather, as Don Cupitt writes in “Radicals and the Future of the Church,” some of us are coming to “... believe in an historically-evolving, human, and culturally-established God.” Further, “...we now have become responsible for our God. We’ve got to appraise him, update him, rewrite him continually.” Cupitt points out, following Hegel, that the doctrine of the Trinity is an obvious beginning for reinterpretation: “The co-equality of the second person (Christ, the Son) with the third person (The Holy Spirit) is an invitation to demythologize, because the full coequality and coeternity of the Son means that everything the Father is, the Son is also. And when the Son completely and irrevocably commits himself to becoming human then God has become human, without remainder. So everything that God is, this fellow human being beside me now is.” Also, “... the God of Pentecost (The Holy Spirit) is a postmodern God who has ceased to be a substance and has instead become the interrelatedness of everything.... the medium in which we live and move and have our being, the dance of signs.” Therefore, we are not passive bystanders in God’s world waiting for God to overcome evil, but rather we humans can be God incarnate, expressing the Spirit through (as the old prayer has it) “our life and conversation.” We know all too well that we have the ability to bring about evil. The challenge lies in whether we can express God to foster good.

This letter is an outcome of my re-reading “Radicals and the Future of the Church,” which, I think, 19 years after its publication, is still an excellent description of what the church could be like if non-realism were adopted. It is out of print, but Amazon has 6 used paperback copies from $7. It’s well worth the read.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Response to the ELCA’s Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality

On March 13th, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) published a draft of a “Social Statement on Human Sexuality” and asked for responses. The draft is available at: My response to the draft is below. My response is best understood in conjunction with the draft, but I think that my comments are understandable by themselves.
I hope you will read the draft and my response and provide your own responses to me, to the ELCA, or to me and the ELCA. Thanks.

A Response to the ELCA’s Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality

This response comes from an individual.

Overall Rating

1. How well does the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality provide a useful and adequate framework to help this church discern what it means to live faithfully with our neighbors in the increasing complex sphere of human sexuality?

1 - Not Very Well (I checked this option.)
5 - Very Well

General Comment:

Overall, the draft continues the traditional church practice of demanding sexual renunciation of many of its members, specifically those not in a heterosexual marriage. As a result, it reinforces the heterosexual domination system by privileging heterosexuals. Thus, the draft does not proclaim the Gospel.

2. How helpful is each sub-section in Section II in explaining how Lutherans approach ethics?

I did not find the rating system helpful.

What if anything is a specific strength of Section II?

The draft recognizes that those participating in sexual activity should be responsible.

3. How helpful is each sub-section in Section III at interpreting why Lutherans regard our sexuality as one of the contributing blessings of God's good creation while acknowledging the complexities and difficulties that people experience in the sexual dimension of their lives?

I did not find the rating system helpful.

What, if anything, would you hope to see added to Section III?

An acknowledgement at least that sex is not always so fraught, solemn, frightening, and exalted as this section would have us believe. Although sex can certainly lead to all the miseries that are cataloged in this section, sex can also be pleasurable, fun, silly, frivolous, and romantic. Sex is not as grim as the draft would have it.

How helpful is each sub-section in Section IV in exploring matters of sexuality and relationships?

I did not find the rating system helpful.

What, if anything, would you hope to see added to Section IV?

Line 773 states that “Children are targets of sexual bullying, destructive language, and vicious humor.” This statement does not go on to point out that many bullied children are gay or perceived to be gay. Bullies justify their bullying by calling upon heterosexual privilege, as in “Queers deserve to be beaten up.” Persons in authority, such as teachers, principals, school boards, and legislators, often participate in or are afraid to go against the implicit heterosexual privilege in the community. Therefore, they do not work to stop bullying. Because the draft endorses heterosexual privilege, it also shies away from the truth that gay children are often the targets of bullies. The draft aids and abets gay bullying.

Line 797 indicates that violent and degrading pornography is a threat to children and adults. It should be obvious that it is the violence and degradation in such pornography that has potential for harm, because violence and degradation are usually harmful. Whether sexually explicit images and writing that are not violent and degrading are harmful is much less certain. Sexually explicit material that shows care and concern for people of the same sex can, in my opinion, be very helpful, particularly to gay people who are told that homosexuality is unacceptable. This, of course, has been the traditional Christian message for centuries, as expressed pithily by Fred Phelps: “God hates fags.” The church’s constant emphasis on “purity” has made many a gay child hate his sexuality and try to hide it and change it. With the advent of the internet and the sexually explicit material available there, children can see and experience a different perspective on their homosexuality. They can learn that it is not bad and sinful as the church has taught, but good, beautiful, and life-affirming. I say: “Thank God for the sexually explicit material on the Internet.” Such material is a way of envisioning the future when people are not hounded and ostracized because they don’t conform to the church’s version of “purity.” I wish that as a 13 year old boy in 1947, I could have seen on a computer men making love. If I had, I wouldn’t have felt so alone, abandoned, and evil. Even now the disapproval of sex coming from the churches, as in this draft, is a good part of the reason that sexually explicit material is watched “obsessively and in secret” (lines 799 and 801). Society is obsessed with sex because it is forbidden and church people are the principle forbidders. As long as the churches have an influence in society and use that influence to make people feel “impure” about their sex lives, people’s interest in sex will be obsessive and secret. The draft should encourage a view of sex that is neither so exalted that no one could ever have “good” sex nor so base that anyone who has sex outside of heterosexual marriage is branded as a sinner. Sex feels good, which is why people have sex and why they should have sex. There is enough misery in the world; sex can be a way of finding some happiness in a messy world. That said, not every sexual encounter is a sacred union, nor does it need to be. Likewise, not every sexual encounter is bestial exploitation. In fact, the litany of miseries in the draft has very little to do with sex, but rather the exploitation that is possible when sex is seen to be bad by the watchdogs of society. Someone is always available to make money on perceived sin.

Line 814 indicates that sex education should emphasize responsibility, mutuality, and abstinence. Responsibility and mutuality are, of course, are necessary in any sexual or for that matter, nonsexual, encounter, but abstinence may be more of a problem than a solution for sexual issues. Here is an excerpt from “Students of Virginity” in the March 30, 2008 issue of the “New York Times” magazine that shows that abstinence is not a sex-free zone, nor necessarily a way for people to exercise responsibility and mutuality:
“Millions of teenagers have since pledged to remain sexually abstinent until marriage, mainly on the grounds that premarital sex is sin.
At the same time, Congress and the Bush administration have directed hundreds of millions of dollars toward abstinence-only education in the public middle schools and high schools — classes that have been roundly criticized for blurring the line between science and religion. A 2004 report issued by Representative Henry Waxman, a California Democrat, found that 11 of 13 abstinence curriculums that his government-reform committee examined were rife with scientific errors and false and misleading information about the risks of sexual activity. Many states are now rejecting federal financing for such classes, on evidence that they fail to limit sexual behavior or reduce teen pregnancy.
In a follow-up study to a 1995 national survey of close to 12,000 students in grades 7 through 12, two sociologists, Peter Bearman at Columbia University and Hannah Brückner at Yale, found that while those who took virginity pledges preserved their technical virginity about 18 months longer than teenagers who didn’t pledge, they were six times more likely to engage in oral sex than virgins who hadn’t taken a pledge. They were also much less likely to use condoms during their first sexual experience or to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Disease rates between those who pledged and those who didn’t were actually similar. The authors, who published their findings in 2005, concluded that the emphasis on premarital abstinence was insufficient to fend off disease and ‘collides with the realities of adolescents’ and young adults’ lives.’”
My guess is that the writers of the draft were pressured by the right to include the mention of abstinence.

5. How helpful is each sub-section in Section V in understanding matters of sexuality related to life in society?

I did not find the rating system helpful.

6. How well does the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality balance the need to speak to issues in intimate personal relationships with the need to address social issues that are broader and structural?

1 - Not Very Well (I checked this option.)
5 - Very Well

7. How well does the Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality helpfully address the needs and questions of all people in this church?

1 - Not Very Well (I checked this option.)
5 - Very Well

8. The proposed social statement on human sexuality will have a series of implementing resolutions. Such resolutions provide an opportunity to commit the church to the development of additional resources or programs relevant to the concerns of the social statement. Please list up to three topics you think it would be essential to include among the implementing resolutions for this social statement.

Resolved: Sexual renunciation, as advocated in the ELCA’s Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality, is a form of works-righteousness.

9. If there is anything else you particularly want to share with the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, please use the space below:

The ELCA’s Draft Social Statement on Human Sexuality is cowardly, cynical, and political.

First, the draft is cowardly because it is not the long-hoped-for announcement of a new sex ethic for the church. Instead, the draft attempts to reinforce the old, failed, discredited sex ethic that, probably more than any other single factor, causes people to leave the church. The old sex ethic would require people not in heterosexual marriage to renounce sex. This approach to sex is profoundly non-Lutheran. We Lutherans say that we cannot win God’s approval by what we do; God loves us unreservedly. However, the history of the church, including the Lutheran church, shows that there is one work traditionally required for acceptance into the church family: sexual renunciation, which is often encoded in Christian scripture, liturgy, and hymns as: “purity.” The flip side of purity, in this view, is fornication and impurity. St. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, denounces fornication and impurity without defining either (Galatians 5: 19). The draft quotes Paul’s angry words without any interpretation, stating that St. Paul writes that fornication and impurity shred the bonds of trust (Line 1222).
The draft asks no questions about this passage, such as: What was happening in Galatia that led Paul to write these words? Or: Why was Paul so hostile to sex? In contrast to Paul, Webster’s dictionary defines fornication as “consensual sexual intercourse between two persons not married to each other.” This seems quite nonjudgmental, particularly the “consensual” part, but it hardly seems to fit with Paul’s condemnatory tone.
One website, “Liberated Christians” (, takes a different approach toward Paul and “fornication,” suggesting that “I Corinthians 6:9 badly mistranslates ‘porneia’ as fornication. English translations use ‘fornication’ for Paul's original Greek word ‘porneia,’ which means to sell and refers to slaves bought and sold for cultic prostitution. In Corinth, farmers would visit the temple priestesses who represented the fertility gods. By having sex with these prostitutes, the farmers believed that their fields would be more fertile. This wasn’t simply going to prostitutes, but pagan cultic worship. So, perhaps fornication in the Bible is not “consensual sex,” but religious sex with gods (or their representatives) who are not the God of Abraham.
The traditional Christian message has not considered possibilities like this, rather, as in the draft, it has condemned any sex, in thought, word, or deed, outside heterosexual marriage as sinful. Augustine went further, claiming that even within heterosexual marriage, sex was sinful if not entered into with the intention of procreation. The idea that fornication might refer to idolatry is lost on most Christians, and, because of this, church teaching, reinforced in the draft, states that in order to be good Christians, acceptable Christians, church people should renounce sex outside of heterosexual marriage. They have been asked, since the church began, to perform this work, this obviously very difficult work, to be good Christians and, it follows, to gain salvation.
Where did this emphasis on sexual renunciation in the church come from? In “The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity” (1988), Peter Brown traces the development of the thinking and practice of men and women in late antiquity, starting with Paul and concluding with Augustine, as they defined and sought sanctity. The result of their frequently very strenuous efforts at ascetic renunciation was that it moved to the center of Christian life early in the church’s history. Brown shows that the church, from its early period right into the Middle Ages, opted to make sex and contact with sex one of the main benchmarks of the hierarchy of the Christian life. Celibacy for men and virginity for women took on great importance.
We church people live with this works-righteousness (the idea that our works will save us) even today. Although celibacy and chastity for men have always been important, it is women’s virginity that is emblematic of sexual renunciation. It is only a translator’s slip that has given us Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a virgin. Isaiah 7:14, the passage in the Hebrew Bible that speaks of the mother of a deliverer like Jesus, uses the words, “a young woman” not “virgin.” However “virgin” was the word chosen in the Greek translation, and virginity very early in the church became the ideal state for all. Of course, the cult of virginity brings the concept of purity to its fullest flower (to use a sexually fraught metaphor). The Virgin Mary is revered not so much for her role as the mother of Jesus, but as an exemplar of virginity and, thus, purity. Mary becomes the exemplar of virginity, rather than, as in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), the servant of God, who, while noting her lowliness, is quite assertive, presenting a quite liberal, if not socialist, vision of a world where the poor are fed while the rich are pulled from their thrones of privilege. This is not the traditional virgin, meek and mild, but a strong woman with a radical program for social change.
Virginity, or, more precisely, what it implies, is the curse of Christianity, making us, as sexual beings, always guilty and never “pure” enough. Rather than being guilty about our sexuality, we should embrace it, and learn how to be responsible sexual people. The draft is cowardly in that it embraces renunciation and works righteousness, giving no guidance on how all of us, not just married heterosexuals, can be both actively sexual and responsible.

Second, the draft is cowardly because it does not abide by the second great commandment that the draft cites as foundational (line 8). The draft refuses to go where the Gospel is always leading us: To the conviction that God loves all creation and, in response, we are lead by the Spirit to love all people without partiality (Acts 10:34). Instead, the draft implies that God is partial to heterosexuals, blessing their marriages (line 1005), but not those of same-sex couples (line 1117). The draft claims that the church does not have consensus regarding same-gender relationships (line 1117). Without this consensus, the draft refuses to proclaim the Gospel: God calls for fairness and equality for all people and this should be without regard to their sexual orientation. Instead the writers of the draft, politically and cynically, have put their fingers in the air to determine which way the wind is blowing, and, lo and behold, they have discovered that the right wing is blowing to keep marriage for heterosexuals only, thus attempting to maintain and strengthen the heterosexual hegemony build into traditional society. The possibility of gay marriage challenges this hegemony, eliciting strong, often violent, reactions against those who name and oppose heterosexual privilege. The draft upholds heterosexualism when it merely recognizes controversy without providing leadership toward a position of sexual and marriage equality.
The plight of the Anglican Communion today should be instructive for Lutherans. Archbishop Rowan Williams has consistently tried to placate the Communion’s right wing by shunning gays, notably Bishop Gene Robinson. If, at Robinson’s election, Williams had welcomed him as a fellow bishop, a message would have been sent to the right that gays are not to be made scapegoats in the church to “satisfy the crowd” (Mark 15:15). Now that openly gay people are being shunned in the Anglican Communion, violence and hatred against gays have been released because they are seen as convenient scapegoats. For example, in 2006, Nigerian Archbishop, Peter J. Akinola supported a proposed Draconian law in Nigeria that would have effectively banned the "promotion" of homosexuality - punishing violators with up to five years imprisonment. (Wayne Besen:, 2008).
So, for the ELCA to deny gays church marriage because popular opinion seems to be against it, is to fall into the same trap as the Anglicans have. Homosexuals in the ELCA may not marry in the church because some in the church might object. The draft appeases these objectors in a manner similar to Williams’ appeasement.
It wouldn’t work, because the point of Christ’s passion is that his scapegoating is called out and pointed to as wrong. That is why Christians “proclaim the Lord's death until he comes” at communion (I Corinthians 11:26): To proclaim publicly that scapegoating is wrong and God wants people to stop it. Christians should be saying: “Don’t satisfy the crowd, don’t throw the crowd another scapegoat in an attempt to avoid controversy, but proclaim the Gospel that God loves all people equally.

Thirdly, the draft is cowardly because, by privileging heterosexuals, it makes it harder for homosexuals to embrace their sexuality in the face of social hostility. This cowardice has real life consequences, particularly among gay youth. The Rev. Dr. Janet L. Parker of Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ has provided evidence concerning the hardships faced by gay youth. On June 10, 2007, she wrote that: “Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children account for up to 40% of the youth living in homeless shelters and foster homes in our nation’s cities. Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth are three times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide. Queer youth are much more likely to run away, end up as teen prostitutes, attempt suicide and suffer beatings and abuse inside and outside of their homes than heterosexual youth.” ( In the face of these findings, the draft goes along with heterosexualism making the lives of gay people harder than they need to be.

Because there is no consensus, the draft takes the easy way out and satisfies the crowd. The draft accomplishes nothing but the reinforcement of the status quo. It provides no leadership; it does not proclaim the Gospel.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Understanding Resurrection

Below is an article from yesterday's "New York Times" about resurrection. Next Sunday, March 23rd, is, in the Western Church, Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection.


Resurrection Is Often Misunderstood by Christians and Jews


Published in the "New York Times" on March 15, 2008

As Christians in most of the world approach the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, it is startling to find three distinguished scholars, all known for scrupulous attention to theological tradition and biblical sources, agreeing that the very idea of resurrection is widely and badly misunderstood.

Misunderstood not just by those whose contemporary sensibilities restrain them from saying much more about resurrection than that it symbolizes some vague (and probably temporary) victory of life over death. But also misunderstood by many devout believers who consider themselves thoroughly faithful to traditional religious teachings.

Kevin J. Madigan is a Roman Catholic who teaches Christian history at Harvard Divinity School. Jon D. Levenson, a colleague at Harvard, is a Jew who teaches Jewish studies. Together they have written “Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews.”

The book, which will be published next month by Yale University Press, argues that the idea that God will raise the dead to life at the end of time is central to both Jewish and Christian traditions.

N. T. Wright is a noted New Testament scholar who has continued to churn out academic and popular works, even after moving from Oxford in 2003 to become the Anglican bishop of Durham. Last month he published “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” (HarperOne).

These two books are different in tone and agenda. Professors Madigan and Levenson are particularly interested in countering the assumption that resurrection is solely a Christian belief, rather than one deeply rooted in the Judaism from which Jesus emerged. Bishop Wright has written a more popular and pastoral book, with practical proposals for church renewal.

But both books converge in challenging several widespread notions. Resurrection, they maintain, does not simply mean going to heaven or life after death.

Resurrection is not a belief that divides an other-worldly Christianity from a this-worldly Judaism.

Nor is resurrection something that refers only — or even primarily — to the individual’s survival after death.

Instead, both books emphasize that in classic Jewish and Christian teachings, resurrection refers to a collective resurrection of people and renewal of all creation at the end of time.

Resurrection was linked to the expectation of judgment and a final triumph of justice. This was the idea of resurrection that had evolved as Jews returned from exile and struggled under foreign domination in the period before Jesus. It was this idea of resurrection that Christians had in mind when they declared that what occurred on Easter was the “first fruits” of what was to come.

If there is a key to the convergence among these authors, it lies, first of all, in their insistence on the bodily and communal character of resurrection, a view that has long competed with a Hellenistic philosophical and especially Platonic dualism, in which an individual disembodied intellect or spirit could be saved from its corruptible and corrupting body.

Even as great a Jewish sage as Maimonides seemed to be tempted in this direction, and Bishop Wright sees the legacy of this dualism in the storehouse of Christian images, from Dante to classic hymns, in which souls shorn of bodies find their final destiny in a heavenly region quite elsewhere than on earth.

This Hellenistic dualism had earlier reached its apogee in Gnosticism, which almost always taught the incompatibility of spirit and matter and sought salvation in the shucking off of the material body. Professor Madigan, Professor Levenson and Bishop Wright view the anti-Gnostic stances of early church fathers and rabbinic sages alike as a proper defense of their traditions’ core beliefs and not, as recently argued, a tactic in religious power politics.

Unlike Gnosticism, Judaism and Christianity, in different ways, held to the goodness of creation and the flawed nature of humans. This equips both traditions, in these writers’ opinions, to avoid the illusion that humans can build a perfect world on their own while yet instilling in humans the confidence that the good they do will finally be affirmed and completed by the God of Resurrection.

Both these books build on their authors’ previous works. In “Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel” (Yale University Press, 2006), Professor Levenson argued that belief in resurrection was much more deeply rooted in the Hebrew scriptures and Jewish tradition than many Jews today realized.

Five years ago, Bishop Wright, whose important contributions to the scholarly debate over the historical Jesus have emphasized Jesus’ place within Judaism’s expectations for a divine restoration of Israel, published “The Resurrection of the Son of God” (Fortress).

Although both books emphasize resurrection as the final expression of divine power, vindicating those faithful to God’s promises and regenerating all creation, neither is indifferent to the question of the immediate destinies of the departed.

Professors Madigan and Levenson do not think that their explanation of resurrection entails “a disbelief in the immortality of some aspect of the person or in the notion that the departed righteous even now enjoy a blissful communion with God.” And though Bishop Wright can be rather impatient with much of the talk of “souls” and “immortality” and “heaven” thoroughly embedded in Christian prayer and ritual, he has no problem when heaven as a “postmortem destination” is seen as a “temporary stage on the way to eventual resurrection of the body.”

This eventual resurrection, he writes, is not “life after death” so much as “life after life after death.”

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why Sex is Important

One response to Gov. Spitzer’s sex scandal is, “It’s just sex. Why is it so important?” Well, it is just sex, and it’s important, because sex is important in our culture way beyond its role as one of our basic, and perhaps strongest, appetites. Often, sex is also a surrogate for our deepest, unconscious, unexamined emotions. This is, of course, Freud 101, but what is usually not recognized is the church’s complicity in keeping sex and the related emotions unexamined. For 2000 years, the church has been urging the renunciation of sex in favor of “purity.” For example, in Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists “the works of the flesh,” which he links to death. The first three are fornication, impurity, and licentiousness. Thus, unsanctioned sexual activity takes pride of place in his list of vices which continues with apparently nonsexual activities, such as idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, and anger among others. Paul here seems to imply that the sexual sins lead right to all the other vices. Although all these are bad, the sexual ones may be at the root of the others, leading ultimately to separation from the Spirit.
Whether this interpretation of Paul is correct, the church has certainly acted as if it were. Peter Brown in his book, “The Body and Society” has documented that the church, from Paul right into the Middle Ages, opted to make sex and contact with sex one of the main benchmarks of the hierarchy of the Christian life. Celibacy for men and virginity for women took on great importance. Even today, as the Spitzer scandal demonstrates, there is zero tolerance in our culture for sex outside of the culturally permitted norms.
Now, this is not to say that sex should be or can be without consequences. The power of the sex drive militates against this idea, because sex without mature and conscious internal control can lead to some or all the nonsexual sins Paul deplores. However, instead of urging mature self-control in sex, the church; and, by extension, “Christian Civilization, has demanded that we “just say no” to sex.
But renunciation does not eliminate the appetite for sex or sexual activity. Instead, it makes guilty hypocrites of essentially everyone who tries, and generally fails, not to feel sexual, think about sex, or have sex. Of course, hypocrisy frequently leads to denial, deception, and lying, as in Gov. Spitzer’s case. Apparently, illicit sex was for him the response to a sex drive, which he couldn’t resist but which he thought he could handle. It seems as if renunciation did not work for him. How much better for him – and for us – if our culture could have allowed him to deal effectively with the issues represented by his unsanctioned sexual feelings.