Wednesday, June 27, 2007

More God, Less Name-calling

While on dinner break at the UCC General Synod yesterday I happened to see Ann Coulter on Hardball with Chris Matthews. During the questions from the crowd, an Obama supporter asked her how she can call this church-going man "godless." You can see the question and answer here (at the end of the segment). She somewhat dodges the question by discounting Trinity Church UCC in Chicago (Barack's church) by stating the pastor supports Qaddafi and says that we deserved 9/11. Actually, she says that the church is sort of crazy. I've yet to find a reference for making that assertion. And even if (a big if) that might have some validity, it remains a smokescreen to the issue of Obama's faith practice. Indeed, the young man is right to call her on her ability to call a fellow believer "godless" (as one could infer from her book about liberalism, even if she hasn't said so directly...indeed, here was her opportunity to set the record straight if she didn't intend the slur).

And it seems like she is incapable of stopping herself from mud-slinging. Prior to her appearance on
Hardball, she was on the June 25 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, where she said, "I do think anyone named B. Hussein Obama should avoid using 'hijack' and 'religion' in the same sentence." She was apparently referring to Obama's remark in Saturday's speech to the UCC General Synod that "somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked."

When this passes for informed public discourse on the issues of the day then we should not be surprised that we are so polarized. Ms. Coulter has a habit of saying nasty things about people. For that Chuck Currie, on his blog, calls her a sinner. Indeed she is (as are we all), but she is surely not godless. Neither is she the "worst person in the world" as Keith Olberman called her.

There is certainly room for differences of opinion in America, as surely as there is the same room with Christianity. Why must some among us so consistently claim that this is not so? Name-calling quickly shuts down any chance of dialogue. I'll concede that it is difficult to accept that a person whose beliefs are radically different from mine might still be part of the same family of faith with me, but I try always to be willing to start with that assumption until proven otherwise. In this way we can sometimes find acceptable common ground solutions to move us forward. Cutting the other off at the knees only creates a shortcut to a guaranteed impasse...and should lead me to my knees in confession. I pray that Ann Coulter will do just that. How about instead of more "godless" name-calling, seek more God, less name-calling?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Last Day of General Synod

Today was a day busy with business at Synod. Much of today's time was spent taking action on resolutions. The first two resolutions addressed both concerned the resolution passed at General Synod two years ago in Atlanta supporting equal marriage rights for all. According to the standing rules for this gathering, resolutions of witness such as these require a 2/3 majority vote. So, even though it might appear that the Synod was weak-willed on these resolutions by voting “no action,” there are two important points to make. First of all, the votes were overwhelming (as they needed to be) and the reason given by the committee for taking “no action” in lieu of simply voting to defeat the resolutions was that this was one way of recognizing the divisive nature of this issue within our denomination. I must agree that since the committee (representing 10% of the delegates) reported that the opinion of the committee members was nearly unanimous in opposition, it would do little good to bring about a vote that might re-open wounds and end in no change of position. This is a good model of the church at work.

Another moving moment occurred when actress Lynn Redgrave shared the story of her struggle with breast cancer, accompanied by a powerful collection of photos taken by her daughter. At the heart of her tale was the fact that she had not been a regular church-goer, but after her mastectomy she heard that there was a female minister at a church in her town, so she went because she thought a woman might be more understanding. On her first Sunday there she heard words that were familiar and prayers for others who were likewise suffering and it put her suffering in perspective, and as she put it, she “lost her innocence.” It was stirring and assuring to hear someone speaking of finding care and comfort in the local church. This is where “the rubber hits the road” in church growth.

In the afternoon, a pastor of a church who three weeks ago took a vote considering leaving the UCC spoke to the body telling us that he encouraged his church to remain in the denomination because as he put it, “they need us for theological diversity.” He told us that a later speaker said, “sure, they need us but they don't want us.” He then assured us that his experience at General Synod has been one of extravagant welcome and thus supported the resolution on Reaffirming Our Commitment to Observing Covenant (or something like was renamed from Reaffirming Our Faith to Retain Our Churches). It was nearly unanimously passed, certainly reaffirming our commitment to seek unity in diversity.

A resolution stating concern about the nation's immigration policies was passed after a small amount of debate. A resolution calling for a study of the issue of the legalization of physician aid in dying was passed on a split vote (2/3 was required) after some amendments and much debate. A resolution calling for solidarity with the persecuted in the Philippines, where disappearances and death squads are serious problems, was passed after a minor debate about language. The final resolution was in opposition to the use of depleted uranium in weapons and passed easily.

Typical of church business, a large amount of time was devoted to an issue involving a simple issue of the allocation of money. On a close vote, the body decided to allocate money from the Strengthen the Church offering to support the Still Speaking Initiative. The beauty of the process was shown in the fact that after the vote count was announced, the moderator's request that there be no applause was honored and a prayer was offered instead.

While there is a tad bit of business left that will push the beginning of evening worship back some, all that remains is closing worship in which we will be challenged and anointed to service.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday at General Synod

This afternoon in the plenary session of the General Synod, a resolution calling on us as churches of the UCC to address global warming was nearly unanimously passed. An interesting (at least to this vegetarian) was an effort to insert a call to encourage a movement toward a plant-based diet since, according to the one making the suggestion, animal agricultural efforts contribute 18% of greenhouse gases world-wide. The amendment was out of order for parliamentary reasons, so the will of the body was never determined.

During her candidate's speech , Edith Guffey (Associate General Minister) mentioned something that struck a chord with me. She pointed out that most members of the UCC don't know who the denominational officers are. This came home to me yesterday when one church member asked about who the people were that we pray for during our communion prayers and another, who attended the worship at Synod yesterday, said, “So THAT is John Thomas.” So whether you've met them or not, our leaders are busy serving the church and I can assure you that they appreciate our prayers.

Marian Wright Edelman, director of the Children's Defense Fund, continued the practice of delivering exceptionally inspirational keynote addresses at General Synod. She delivered an impassioned plea to work to make sure that Congress provide health care coverage for 9 million uninsured children in America. She pointed out that Congress voted to go to war in Iraq without first coming up with the money to so, and isn't providing health care to children more important? She ended with a prayer that included “Dear God, let us not confuse what is perfectly legal with what is right and just in your eyes. Amen.”

Ken Medema, an extremely talented musician, was charged with responding in song. He improvised a beautiful song incorporating words from the person who introduced her, “sometimes you have to stand up when you just want to sit down.” So he sang to Marian that we would all stand up and not sit down until the job is done. While he was singing, one by one people in the audience stood up. By the end of the song we were all standing, many wiping tears away. Marian was among the tearful as she ran back onto the stage to embrace Ken in thanks.

Filled with the inspiration of that moment I left the building to join in a march around the block in protest of the war. As I turned one corner I encountered our Associate Conference Minister, Peter Wells, standing on a wall staring down the marchers. He shouted “what do you want for your children?” Indeed, we all want peace.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

General Synod

Busy days are in order because the United Church of Christ is celebrating its 50th birthday at its annual meeting in Hartford and I've been attending. Today was day 2 of 5.

Today's buzz was all about Senator Obama. Unfortunately, like Barack's own pastor, I had to miss his speech since I was elsewhere officiating a wedding. It was very lovely and through the wonders of the Internet I don't have to miss the speech...and neither do you. You can view it here or you can read the text here

The part of the day that I did attend that was incredibly inspiring was the address by Bill Moyers. In addition to his credentials as a first-rate journalist with impeccable integrity, he also has earned a Masters of Divinity and that showed in his talk this morning. He reminded us that Jesus saw the corruption in the temple and "threw the rascals out." He called on us to do the same with the corrupt leaders in our goverment for the sake of preserving democracy. You can read more about his talk by following the link in the UCC headlines section that has been newly added to our church web site at

I also attended a stimulating talk about on-line social networking and the implications for the way our youth are learning to socialize. It is a little hard to unpack that in this email, but I am very interested in this topic and will try to involve our youth more in this area. One interesting development is that there is now a UCC church under construction in Second Life. If that means nothing to you, don't fret, but if you already know about Second Life, check out the island of Xenia and look for Sophianne Rhode.

Tonight the birthday party for the denomination included a tribute to the inventor of the laser, who is a member of a UCC congregation. He spoke to us about the compatibility and similarity of religion and science. We also got to see a flashy demonstration of his invention. Here is some video:

I need to do a lot of digesting and review my notes to be able to post some responses. Tomorrow is a time for a huge worship service, I can't wait!

Read a daily digest of the activities at General Synod here and check out the headlines section of that page for more stories.