Be an advocate. Please.

Summer is winding down, school begins soon for many and the weather is (finally!) outstanding, beautiful and inspiring. If you’re like me, that means your tolerance for reading some long missive from me is basically nil.

Yet, the call to incarnate the love of God as experienced in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus is always upon us. Our scripture, tradition, experience and reason tell us we are to be advocates for justice; that we are to be the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in the world, especially with and for the most vulnerable among us.

Fortunately (and obviously), the unending reach of the internet has flattened the globe and enabled us to raise our voices even in the midst of vacations, school preparations and doing anything and everything we can outdoors.

Poverty.

Hunger.

Modern-day slavery/human trafficking.

Water.

Peace.

The needs of the world are tremendous.

But so are the resources of the people of God! So, as always, I encourage implore you to prayerfully discover the intersection of your passions and the world’s needs.

And then respond.

Need to be more informed on issues?

Try this tool from the advocacy arm of the United Methodist Church, the Board of Church and Society.

Need to be inspired?

Read this amazing, poignant story from Nicholas Kristof about a child’s incredible generosity and the Charity: water campaign she inspired.

Want to make sure your members of Congress do the right thing by supporting the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011?

Consider this and follow the steps.

Haven’t forgotten about the devastation in Japan earlier this year?

Use this to send a word of hope.

Or, for something completely different, log off and go buy some school supplies for families in need right here in DuPage County. Bring the supplies to church and we’ll get them to our wonderful partners, West Suburban Community Pantry.

Pray, read, click, give…act. Sometimes being Jesus-followers is as simple as that.

[Note: This is a slightly edited version of a post originally written for my church eNewsletter, which drops Friday, Aug. 12]

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Widening the circle

Yesterday I shared that I was one of over 4000 pastors who signed an open letter to President Obama and Congress regarding the current budget impass.

I am also one of over 500 people from across Illinois who signed a memo to our Senators, Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk. Today, Bread for the World activists delivered those memos to the Senators’ local offices. The memo reads:

MEMO

TO:    Senator Richard Durbin/ Senator Mark Kirk

FROM:    Your Constituents (enclosed)

RE:     Things to Consider Before You Vote

As you work to balance the federal budget and reduce the deficit, I want to make sure you know my priorities. The economic recovery is still too slow. One in six families in the United States struggles to put food on the table. And one in five people around the world lives on less than $1.25 a day.

I agree that we need to substantially reduce future deficits, but not at the expense of hungry and poor people. You must create a circle of protection around programs vital to hungry and poor people. As you debate how to balance our budget, I want you to keep the following questions in mind:

• Did I vote to protect vital programs needed by the most vulnerable people here and abroad in these difficult times?

• If I did not, what do I tell the men, women, and children who have been hit hardest?

Or ask yourself, “What would Jesus cut?”

I’m counting on you as my representative in Congress to do the right thing. As a voter, I care deeply about the 26,000 kids abroad who die daily because they are simply too poor to survive, and about the millions of people here at home looking for work and trying to make ends meet.

Hunger has never been a partisan issue. Now is not the time to make it one. I’m interested in protecting hungry and poor people in these difficult times.

Thank you for listening.

Over 11,000 people from across the country have sent this memo to their members of Congress. I hope you’ll join us in creating a Circle of Protection with and around the most vulnerable among us.

In related news, Brian McLaren had a terrific Debt-Ceiling Dream you should read about.

How are you raising your voice?

My ad in Politico

Ok, so this isn’t exactly my ad in Politico…but I am one of the 4000+ pastors who signed on to this:

Sojouners writes more about this on their God’s Politics blog today. They also list the ad signers by state.

Sojo invited me to write “2-3 sentences” about my support for this movement which they will distribute to local media. I admit I hope I will get contacted about this. I find this very important, a time and place we who follow God in the Way of Jesus must raise our voice on behalf of people who, largely, are voiceless in this federal budget process. Here’s what I wrote:

As a parent, I know how important it is to be able to feed our two children. As an American, I want all people to be able to feed themselves and their children. As a Christian, I am called to help make that hope a reality. So I stand with those resisting budget cuts that undermine the lives, dignity, and rights of poor and vulnerable people.

I join Sojo, Bread for the World and many others from across the denominational spectrum (and the non-denominational one) forming a Circle of Protection with and around the poor.

How will you add your voice?

Guest blogger: Pastor Jim responds to Ministry With

A few weeks ago I wrote about the new UMC resource, Ministry With* the Poor  I hope you’ve checked that out by now and at least watched the introductory video. If not, I encourage you to do so now.

One of the fascinating things about Ministry With* the Poor is the collaborative effort bringing it to life. You may recall I was a bit overwhelmed by all the boards that make up this task force. I’m happy to say Rev. Dr. Jim Galbreath, Lead Pastor at our church, writes to offer some clarification and education about all those boards!

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Pastor Jim Writes

OK, so you read Pastor Dave’s excellent column dated June 3, and you were impressed with the “Ministry with the Poor” initiative and the great video clip.  (If not, click here right away—it’s less than 3 minutes.)  BUT you were a bit overwhelmed by that list of United Methodist groups, wondering “what are they all for?” (Enough of a Methodist structure to give a good Baptist like Dave a bit of a migraine!)

Well, you’ve asked a good question, and I’ll try to break it down a little.  (As to the question of lines of communication and flow charts, I’ll touch on that in a moment.) The word “General” in each of these names refers to the fact that these bodies serve and are responsible to the whole United Methodist Church, not some smaller section of the church’s geographical divisions.

•       General Board of Church and Society
This group is responsible for helping the church become aware of issues of social justice and designing ways for the church to respond faithfully to areas of need for empowerment and witness.  Often confronts controversial issues and speaks up for the voiceless.

•       General Board of Discipleship
This group provides liturgical and devotional resources for worship and spiritual growth.

•       General Board of Global Ministries
This group trains and sends missionaries around the world and supports ministries of healthcare, agriculture, and mission schools. Often works in areas of extreme need.

•       General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
This group examines and certifies relationships with colleges which claim connection with the United Methodist Church, and it manages the overall standards and materials for working with those seeking to enter the ordained ministry. It also supports Africa University.

•       General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits
This group handles clergy pension benefits for tens of thousands of United Methodist clergy, as well as managing the health benefits for them. Because it has a massive investment pool of several billion dollars (There are a lot of UM clergy!)and operates under strict guidelines for socially responsible investing, it has been able to invest over $775 million for the creation and preservation of affordable housing and other community development facilities.

•       General Commission on Archives and History
This group conserves an amazing archive of United Methodist heritage writings and artifacts, reminding the church of its origins and consistent work with and among the poor.

•       General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
This group provides a vital link to the wider Christian community and facilitates and encourages interfaith dialogue.

•       General Commission on Communications (UMCOM)
This group tells the church’s story, both through internal resources (websites, videos, brochures, etc.) and through resources aimed at the world beyond the church (press releases, web resources, advertising programs, etc.)  It also arranges for churches and church-related programs to obtain software and computer hardware at substantial discounts.

•       General Commission on Religion and Race
This group has the responsibility to monitor racial and ethnic inclusiveness in the operations of the church structure and to provide resources for raising awareness of such issues in the life of the church.

•       General Commission on Status and Role of Women
This group works to monitor and advocate for full inclusion of women within the structure and life of the United Methodist Church and lifts up women’s issues.

•       General Commission on United Methodist Men
This group works to revitalize the church’s work with men, and to encourage men to find ways to express faith through Christian outreach and service.

•       General Council on Finance and Administration
This group is the budgeting arm of the whole church and handles the details of administrative order and financial planning and accounting.

•       United Methodist Publishing House
This unit of the church handles printing and distribution of resources and items used in the life of congregations in education, worship, music, signage, church furniture, etc.

As to the significance of this list of agencies and commissions working together on the initiative of  Ministry with the Poor, a graphic might be helpful.  This represents the way many groups tended too often to see their relations to each other:

 

 

 

 

 

This  Ministry with the Poor initiative is changing that vision to more closely resemble  the image below:

Hallelujah!  Looks like the church is heading in the direction Jesus would expect!

Blessings!

New math: With > 2 & 4

I am an American Baptist. I grew up attending an American Baptist church and I am ordained by the American Baptist Churches USA.

However (and oddly), I’ve spent the last 15+ years serving as one of the pastors of the Woodridge United Methodist Church. As The United Methodist Church is about ten times bigger than ABC/USA, I’ve had a lot to learn about tradition, history, structure and polity. It has been, and continues to be, a blessed journey. I’ve learned to love and respect the denomination. As you might expect, I especially love and respect the deep commitment The UMC has to mission and justice ministries.

However, there is a lot I still don’t know; I lot I can’t explain. Take, for instance, this Task Force and it’s list of member agencies:

The Interagency Task Force on Ministry with the Poor

  • General Board of Church and Society
  • General Board of Discipleship
  • General Board of Global Ministries
  • General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
  • General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits
  • General Commission on Archives and History
  • General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
  • General Commission on Communications (UMCOM)
  • General Commission on Religion and Race
  • General Commission on Status and Role of Women
  • General Commission on United Methodist Men
  • General Council on Finance and Administration
  • United Methodist Publishing House

That’s a lot of bureaucracy! I couldn’t begin to describe how each of those boards, commissions and whatnot officially relate to each other. I could not begin to create a flow chart of them. (Or at least not one that would reflect reality.)

But I do know this about them: They have partnered together to create a fantastic new resource for mission and justice!

This week Ministry With* the Poor went live and it rocks!

It has a ton of information and links to explore. You could easily spend hours reading and watching, donating and mobilizing, learning and blogging. At the very least though, please take 2.5 minutes and go watch the introductory video. We watched it as part of our Youth Mission Trip preparation this week.

Wait, are you still here? Go watch that video! Now! Do it!

…And we’re back. So, what did you think? Were you moved? Want to know more? Want to join the effort? At Woodridge UMC we’ll definitely begin exploring ways to do just that. Wherever you live, I hope you’ll join that conversation here or at Ministry With* the Poor.

For now, here are a couple pearls of wisdom from the site:

What’s this site about?

The goal of this site is to help connect, inform, inspire, and energize the people of The United Methodist Church to engage in ministries of love and justice that involve partnering with and empowering those who are in poverty to eradicate poverty. We are, after all, called to be disciples of Christ for the transformation of this world.

What are the founding principles?

Ministry with the Poor is fundamental to our Wesleyan and pietistic roots and integral to the Church’s mission “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by proclaiming the good news of God’s grace and by exemplifying Jesus’ command to love God and neighbor, thus seeking the fulfillment of God’s reign and realm in this world” (The United Methodist Book of Discipline 2008, par. 121). Indeed, Ministry with the Poor is a biblical imperative—as much for everyone today as it was for Jesus when he proclaimed: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19; see Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6-10; Leviticus 25:8-55; Galatians 2:10).

Followers of Jesus too are “anointed”—anointed to serve as disciples of Jesus, to be his “witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8), and to serve as God’s co-creators in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth. But being “anointed” as disciples for the transformation of the world does not imply superiority; in fact, quite the opposite is true.

Disciples of Jesus are all called to be ministers with the poor. As such, disciples are called not only to be prophets, liberators, healers, equalizers, and justice-makers, but also to be hospitable and caring brothers and sisters in Christ, who break bread with one another, nurture community, and work together to make this world a place of justice, mercy, and love. (Romans 12:13).

“Anointed to serve as God’s co-creators in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth.” To me, that is what following God in the Way of Jesus is all about!

Let’s share best practices: what ways are you engaging in ministry with people in need?

“That’s some salty language!” – final version of Feb.6 sermon

Not exactly sure why, but unlike many of my more disciplined colleagues, I’ve never been one to post a written version of a sermon. Probably has mostly to do with not preaching from a manuscript. Posting a few notes with a few more-fully written paragraphs and a few other thoughts that end up not being said…well, just doesn’t sound very appealing.

But it also has to do with seeing the sermon as more of a singular, oral event that occurs in a particular context for a particular audience and not as a paper to be submitted. It just seems like something is missing when reading a sermon – it’s meant to be heard!

(Please don’t misunderstand this as criticism of any of who do write out and post a sermon. I’ve read some that were really good.)

Now, as you’ve likely guessed, I’m about to do the very thing I just said I don’t like to do. Sort of. Think of this as the SportsCenter highlights version of my “That’s Some Salty Language!” sermon. I shared some thoughts on this recently. What follows now are my reflections after the fact.

Following the lectionary, the texts were Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20.

My synopsis: Jesus calls his followers to be salt and light in the world – to live righteous lives. Isaiah helps us define that righteousness as rescuing the oppressed.

While I didn’t say this exactly, these commentaries on those texts guided my message:

Isaiah 58 mocks worship preoccupied with ritual and blind to human oppression and need. It subverts a religion, no matter how passionate and busy, that ignores social arrangements that leave people dehumanized and enslaved. Authentic worship occurs when liturgy is joined to a hands-on involvement with the hungry and homeless.

Salt and light are functional metaphors. By their very nature they do something, and do it openly. They have an impact on the surrounding environment. Disciples of Jesus cannot retreat into private spirituality. Our call is to the marketplace, the public arena, where discipleship becomes witness and the same commitments Isaiah made are to be practiced.

What are those functions? Salt preserves and protects. Salt brings out the best in food. And, as all of us here in the Chicago area rediscovered this week, salt melts away that which paralysis us, that which causes us to stumble, that which oppresses us. Light eradicates darkness and helps us to see things as they really are, helps us see the truth.

What if we saw church as training ground for teaching people to be salt shakers and flashlights – what if the purpose of church is to transform the world?

That’s what the UMC says it’s for! “Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”

Isaiah and Jesus tell us today what we are to be transformed into.

What if what we do here at WUMC is train people how to be salt and light, encourage each other in those efforts, recruit new agents of change, celebrate successes, commiserate failures, seeing worship as filling us up with the Holy Spirit in order to leave our building ready, bursting even!, to change the world…to be salt and light.

That’s what Isaiah & Jesus are talking about.

So who among us beams with light? Who is providing salty flavor? Who is fasting rightly, bringing deliverance, hope and life to those around them? Who is preserving/protecting? Who is melting away that which oppresses? Who is eradicating darkness?

-Final Bloody Sunday march in Northern Ireland? British government finally admitted its troops were to blame for the massacre, not the demonstrators. Further, British government admitted the troops had no reason to believe they were under threat from the victims, gave no warnings before firing and lied to the official inquiry. This reversed decades of official government explanations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Family of our congregation who takes in young people with no where else to go, young people often rejected by their own parents.

Egyptian protester kissing riot police This is the greatest example of Jesus’ teachings on the Sermon on the Mount I’ve ever seen! Brilliant, non-violent, disarming but still affirms and loves the other, the enemy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Rosa Parks: She would have been 98 years old Friday. We don’t hear that Parks worked with the Youth Council of Montgomery’s NAACP in a “mighty but unsuccessful” effort to integrate Montgomery’s library when she became angry that black children didn’t have access to books.

“As long as people use tactics to oppress or restrict other people from being free, there is work to be done.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Christians encircling Muslims at prayer in Egypt this week

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-In January, on Coptic Christmas, Egyptian Muslims became human shields for Coptic Christians to ward off further violent attacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-fighting trafficking – slavery – at the Super Bowl. National Hotline gets more calls from Texas than any other state. 1 out of 3 children who become homeless are sold into sex slavery w/in 48 hours of hitting the street. Super Bowl called “single largest human trafficking incident in USA, especially under-age slaves” Consider that when you see how many commercials this evening denigrate women. A South Florida task force estimated that tens of thousands were trafficked through there for a recent Super Bowl.

About 50 girls were rescued during the past 2 Super Bowls

“I’m not buying it” Campaign. Jay Ratlif, 3-time Pro Bowler from Cowboys made PSA for it. “Real men don’t buy children. They don’t buy sex.”

Airlines holding training to learn what to watch for.

Texas Attorney General working on it. NFL and Host Committee are ignoring it.

The group behind Traffick911, the founder of “I’m Not Buying it” campaign? A nondenominational church plant in Fort Worth. They wanted to raise awareness and show Christian compassion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Friday and yesterday, one of our college students, Catie, participated for the third time in the U of Iowa’s annual Dance Marathon. She helped raise over $1.2 Million for U of Iowa Children’s Hospital Pediatric Oncology Unit

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Another of our college students, Nikki, working with Invisible Children campus group to help child soldiers in Africa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-19 year old Zach Wahls speaking before Iowa Senate, shining light on a resolution that would return Iowa to the days of discrimination and oppression

People full of light, speaking a very salty language. May God’s Holy Spirit keep moving each of to be citizens in God’s kingdom, to be light bearers, to speak with THAT kind of a salty tongue. Amen? May it be so!

“…Seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan…”

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

“During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we rededicate ourselves to preventing and ending human trafficking, and we recognize all who continue to fight this serious human rights violation,” declared President Obama as he proclaimed January as, well, National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

You can read the whole thing here (it’s not that long):

But the money quote is:

We stand with those throughout the world who are working every day to end modern slavery, bring traffickers to justice, and empower survivors to reclaim their rightful freedom.  This month, I urge all Americans to educate themselves about all forms of modern slavery and the signs and consequences of human trafficking.  Together, we can combat this crime within our borders and join with our partners around the world to end this injustice.

Additionally, January 11 was National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. I was glad to see the Northern IL Conference includes it in it’s “January Days of Note.” However, the link provided frustratingly has only last year’s information on it. And one of the links there is broken.

[Sigh]

Now, look, I’m glad our Conference is paying attention and I’m glad Board of Church & Society (the UMC’s advocacy arm) is concerned…but I wish it were concerned enough to keep their info up to date. Seriously, old info and broken links? That’s just embarrassing (kinda like going two months between posts).

January 11 also happens to be the day most committees at my church meet this month. For a couple years now, all committees that meet on the second Tuesday of the month begin by gathering all together for devotion and announcements. We do that to remind ourselves that no one group or committee exists alone, to be reminded that we’re part of a greater whole. We do that to engender inter-committee cooperation, share ideas and tasks. I think it’s a great tradition.

Since these two events (that is, committee night and Trafficking Awareness Day) collide on the same day, Pastor Jim asked me to prepare a short presentation on trafficking for the gathering time.

One good thing from the aforementioned Board of Church & Society statement (Guess that link isn’t totally useless!): “Local congregations can play a role in reversing the numbers of people being trafficked through education and action.”

My church, Woodridge United Methodist has already engaged in both education and action. But what’s next for us? That’s what I tried to offer on Jan. 11.

It is my attempt to briefly inform about the issue, review all the bold actions our church has taken together so far, and inspire our next steps in the fight against modern-day slavery.

Granted, viewing it like this loses a lot of the affect of being in a room full of attentive people. And it loses all of the additional comments, questions and responses. Most especially it loses all the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking stories that put flesh on the bones of those statistics.

So for what it’s worth, you can view my presentation here:

http://www.slideshare.net/davebuer20/slavery-presentation-6556069

Want to learn more? I offer these for your perusal and edification:

Watch this video from Polaris Project. They maintain the National Human Trafficking Hotline. I couldn’t help but notice and be moved by how young their staff is.

-Read what UMCOR is doing to fight trafficking

-Adopt 1, 2 or even 11 of these ideas

Anti-Trafficking Heroes for 2010

Trafficking in nearby Indiana

-A glimpse at how slavery grows out of poverty

-The ugly underbelly of the country’s most-watched sporting event

-What some churches are doing to raise awareness

-Prepare to be angry. Alabama Sen. Sessions blocked an important bill, thereby supporting child sex trafficking.

Anne’s House and shocking proximity

According to the author of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus began his public ministry with a reading from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to bring good news to the poor…to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…” Then Jesus declared that He fulfilled those words!

According to our membership vows, all United Methodists promise to “do all in our power to fight evil, injustice and oppression, in whatever forms they present themselves.”

These are just two reasons I continue to push for my congregation (and all Christians) to be advocates with and for oppressed and marginalized people. Maybe your vision of oppressed people starts in some far away land. While you may not be wrong, that is not the whole truth.

Some oppressed people are living right in our midst. Even some enslaved people.

Hopefully by now you have read or heard that Anne’s House opened this month in Chicago. Why should you care about that? Anne’s House is the long-term, residential, therapeutic care home for girls rescued from commercial sexual exploitation. This house provides the emotional, educational and vocational support the girls need as they recover from the horrific nightmare of sex slavery. And the people of Woodridge United Methodist Church helped make this house possible!

Way back last Christmas we took an offering in support of a dream. The Salvation Army wanted to open this home. They had a location, what they lacked was funding. So we helped provide them with some. And eleven months later, that dream became a reality. The faithfulness and generosity of our people helped make that happen. In a small way, sure. But we did help.

I’m reminded of something Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And of something Dr. Cornel West says, “justice is what love looks like in public.”

Now you might be wondering, where will the girls who live in Anne’s House come from? From Cambodia or India or Mexico?

Try a little closer to home.

Oh, you mean like Seattle or Cleveland or Chicago.

Well, yes, in a nationally coordinated FBI operation conducted earlier this month, more girls were rescued from sex slavery in Seattle than anywhere else in the country. And Cleveland had a few too, as did Chicago. But you need to think even closer to us. By the way, the use of “girls” here is not a euphemism. We’re talking about children aged 12-17.

I think I might have heard something about South Holland, IL. (But I don’t know where that is.)

You’re right; girls are forced into sex slavery in South Holland too. (It’s about 40 miles southeast of Woodridge. I had to look it up.) But that’s still too far away.

Just tell us already! You’re obviously trying to shock us with the revelation of a spot near to us, a spot we’d rather not think child prostitutes could exist…where is it?!?

Downers Grove.

The heart-breaking, impossible-sounding, makes-me-want-to-retch truth is that of the 69 underage girls nationwide who were found in this operation, 1 of them was in Downers Grove.

Call it what you will – human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, sex slavery, child prostitutes, modern-day slavery – but we can never again call it a problem over there somewhere. It is very literally right here in our midst.

The operation was a success nationally: 884 arrests including 99 pimps from 40 cities across 30 states and the District of Columbia. Locally, 39 arrests included 3 pimps. Kudos to the FBI and local police and sheriff’s departments.

And thanks to the new Illinois law, minors found in the sex trade here are treated as the victims they are and not as criminals. So the good news is that the 3 underage girls in the Chicago area are now receiving treatment. Maybe they’ll eventually end up in Anne’s House.

Maybe even the girl from Downers Grove.

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May God give us the courage to unflinchingly look evil in the eye, the wisdom to respond with actions of faith, hope and love, and the strength to never give up even if we grow weary.

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.

 

More good thoughts on anti-gay bullying

There is no joking around about this one: I’m furious. And my heart is shattered.

6 teens from across the country dead at their own hand. 6 teens dead at their own hand because they were mercilessly bullied. 6 kids bullied, 6 kids dead because they were gay. And those are just the ones we know about.

Today I add my voice to so many others, saying: ENOUGH! The violence against gay people must stop! And our culture which fosters and approves of violence against gays must change. Enough! 6 dead kids is 6 too many. And the Christian church –  which I call home, and in which I serve as a pastor – must acknowledge its role in creating a culture that encourages violence against the gay community, must repent of that role, and must change.

I hope to have the video of my sermon from today on this posted here soon. A video that includes a surprise ending, when my congregation did something I’ve never experienced or seen or even heard of it doing before.

Until then, two things:

1) To all young people, wherever you are, who ever you are: I am your ally. And my congregation is with me on this. If you are being bullied, we want you to know that we love you and that you are not alone. And whatever is being said to you, isn’t true. God loves you. And so do we.

If you are a bully, we want you also to know that we love you and that you are not alone. We will help you with whatever it is inside you that is pushing you to hurt other kids. We love you. God loves you. And you are not alone.

And, of course, you don’t have to be a young person. All of this is true for anyone. If you are hurting, suffering, or have been victimized: you are not alone. We love you. God loves you.

2) I’m going to re-post a few thoughts on this from others.

Here’s one from Cody J. Sanders on Religion Dispatches:

Why Anti-Gay Bullying is a Theological Issue | Sexuality/Gender | Religion Dispatches.

Here’s the money quote:

A Theology of Anti-Gay Bullying

Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it has a theological base. I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti-gay violence and bullying exist without the anti-gay religious messages that support them.

These messages come in many forms, degrees of virulence, and volumes of expression. The most insidious forms, however, are not those from groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Most people quickly dismiss this fanaticism as the red-faced ranting of a fringe religious leader and his small band of followers.

More difficult to address are the myriad ways in which everyday churches that do a lot of good in the world also perpetuate theologies that undergird and legitimate instrumental violence. The simplistic, black and white lines that are drawn between conceptions of good and evil make it all-too-easy to apply these dualisms to groups of people. When theologies leave no room for ambiguity, mystery and uncertainty, it becomes very easy to identify an “us” (good, heterosexual) versus a “them” (evil, gay).

Additionally, hierarchical conceptions of value and worth are implicit in many of our theological notions. Needless to say, value and worth are not distributed equally in these hierarchies. God is at the top, (white, heterosexual) men come soon after and all those less valued by the culture (women, children, LGBT people, the poor, racial minorities, etc.) fall somewhere down below. And it all makes perfect sense if you support it with a few appropriately (mis)quoted verses from the Bible.

With dualistic conceptions of good and evil and hierarchical notions of value and worth, it becomes easy to know who it is okay to hate or to bully or, seemingly more benignly, to ignore. And no institutions have done more to create and perpetuate the public disapproval of gay and lesbian people than churches.

If anti-gay bullying has, at any level, an embodied undercurrent of tacit theological legitimation, then we simply cannot circumvent our responsibility to provide a clear, decisive, theological response. Aside from its theological base, anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it calls for acts of solidarity on behalf of the vulnerable and justice on behalf of the oppressed.

But this imperative to respond reminds us that the most dangerous form of theological message comes in the subtlest of forms: silence.