Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"The Family" Connection in Uganda

Jeff Sharlet is the contributing editor for Harper's and Rolling Stone, and editor of The Revealer, which has been a link on the sidebar of Jake's since we opened our doors. He was also one of the founding editors of Killing the Buddha, which is where I first noted his work.

In 2003, Jeff wrote an article for Harper's, Jesus Plus Nothing, in which he introduced us to "The Family," a secretive fundamentalist group of politicians living communally just outside Washington D.C. He has now expanded that article into a book; The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

To get an idea of how alarming The Family is, consider this description from the bookjacket:

They are the Family—fundamentalism’s avant-garde, waging spiritual war in the halls of American power and around the globe. They consider themselves the new chosen, congressmen, generals, and foreign dictators who meet in confidential cells, to pray and plan for a “leadership led by God,” to be won not by force but through “quiet diplomacy.” Their base is a leafy estate overlooking the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia, and Jeff Sharlet is the only journalist to have written from inside its walls.

The Family is about the other half of American fundamentalist power—not its angry masses, but its sophisticated elites. Sharlet follows the story back to Abraham Vereide, an immigrant preacher who in 1935 organized a small group of businessmen sympathetic to European fascism, fusing the Far Right with his own polite but authoritarian faith. From that core, Vereide built an international network of fundamentalists who spoke the language of establishment power, a “family” that thrives to this day. In public, they host prayer breakfasts; in private they preach a gospel of “biblical capitalism,” military might, and American empire. Citing Hitler, Lenin, and Mao, the Family's leader declares, "We work with power where we can, build new power where we can't."
Yesterday, as I was driving back for New York, I happened to catch an interview with Jeff by NPR's Terry Gross. What was new information for me was the direct connection Jeff made between "The Family" and the Ugandan "Death to All Gays" Bill.

You can listen to the complete interview here. What follows is from the transcript of the section of the interview related to Uganda:

GROSS: Let's talk about The Family's connection to Uganda, where there's, really, a draconian anti-gay bill that has been introduced into parliament. Uganda already punishes the practice of homosexuality with life in prison. What would the new legislation do?

Mr. SHARLET: Well, the new legislation adds to this something called aggravated homosexuality. And this can include, for instance, if a gay man has sex with another man who is disabled, that's aggravated homosexuality, and that man can be - I suppose both, actually, could be put to death for this. The use of any drugs or any intoxicants in seeking gay sex - in other words, you go to a bar and you buy a guy a drink, you're subject to the death penalty if you go home and sleep together after that. What it also does is it extends this outward, so that if you know a gay person and you don't report it, that could mean - you don't report your son or daughter, you can go to prison.

And it goes further, to say that any kind of promotion of these ideas of homosexuality, including by foreigners, can result in prison terms. Talking about same sex-marriage positively can lead you to imprisonment for life. And it's really kind of a perfect case study and the export of a lot of American largely evangelical ideas about homosexuality exported to Uganda, which then takes them to their logical end.

GROSS: This legislation has just been proposed. It hasn't been signed into law. So it's not in effect and it might never be in effect. But it's on the table. It's before parliament. So is there a direct connection between The Family and this proposed Anti-Homosexual Legislation in Uganda?

Mr. SHARLET: Well, the legislator that introduces the bill, a guy named David Bahati, is a member of The Family. He appears to be a core member of The Family. He works, he organizes their Uganda National Prayer Breakfast and oversees a African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda.

GROSS: So you're reporting the story for the first time today, and you found this story - this direct connection between The Family and the proposed legislation by following the money?

Mr. SHARLET: Yes, it's - I always say that the family is secretive, but not secret. You can go and look at 990s, tax forms and follow the money through these organizations that The Family describe as invisible. But you go and you look. You follow that money. You look at their archives. You do interviews where you can. It's not so invisible anymore. So that's how working with some research colleagues we discovered that David Bahati, the man behind this legislation, is really deeply, deeply involved in The Family's work in Uganda, that the ethics minister of Uganda, Museveni's kind of right hand man, a guy named Nsaba Buturo, is also helping to organize The Family's National Prayer Breakfast. And here's a guy who has been the main force for this Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda's executive office and has been very vocal about what he's doing, and in a rather extreme and hateful way. But these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family.

GROSS: So how did you find out that Bahati is directly connected to The Family? You've described him as a core member of The Family. And this is the person who introduced the anti-gay legislation in Uganda that calls for the death penalty for some gay people.

Mr. SHARLET: Looking at the, The Family's 990s, where they're moving their money to - into this African leadership academy called Cornerstone, which runs two programs: Youth Corps, which has described its in the past as an international quote, "invisible family binding together world leaders," and also, an alumni organization designed to place Cornerstone grads - graduates of this sort of very elite educational program and politics and NGO's through something called the African Youth Leadership Forum, which is run by -according to Ugandan media - which is run by David Bahati, this same legislator who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

GROSS: Now what about the president of Uganda, President Museveni? Does he have any connections to The Family?

Mr. SHARLET: Well, first, I want to say it's important that you said it, yeah, it hasn't gone into law. It hasn't gone in to effect yet. So there is time to push back on this. But it's very likely to go into law. It has support of some of the most powerful men in Uganda, including the dictator of Uganda, a guy named Museveni, whom The Family identified back in 1986 as a key man for Africa.

They wanted to steer him away from neutrality or leftist sympathies and bring him into conservative American alliances, and they were able to do so. They've since promoted Uganda as this bright spot - as I say, as this bright spot for African democracy, despite the fact that under their tutelage, Museveni has slowly shifted away from any even veneer of democracy: imprisoning journalists, tampering with elections, supporting - strongly supporting this Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009.

He's come out just this - just last week and said that this bill is necessary because Europeans are recruiting homosexuals in Uganda, that Europeans are coming in and trying to make Ugandans gay. And he's been rewarded for this because this is sort of where these sort of social issues and foreign affairs issues and free market fundamentalist issues all come together.

GROSS: How did The Family create its relationship with Museveni?

Mr. SHARLET: In 1986, a former Ford official name Bob Hunter went over on trips at the behest of the U.S. government, but also on behalf of The Family, to which - for which both of which he filed reports that are now in The Family's archives. And his goal was to reach out to Museveni and make sure that he came into the American sphere of influence, that Uganda, in effect, becomes our proxy in the region and that relationship only deepened.

In fact, in late 1990s, Hunter - again, working for The Family - went over and teamed up with Museveni to create the Uganda National Prayer Breakfast as a parallel to the United States National Prayer Breakfast into which The Family every year sends representatives, usually congressmen.

GROSS: What's the relationship of Museveni and The Family now?

Mr. SHARLET: It's a very close relationship. He is the key man. Now.

GROSS: So what does that mean? What influence does The Family have on him?

Mr. SHARLET: It means that they have a deep relationship of what they'll call spiritual counsel, but you're going to talk about moral issues. You're going to talk about political issues. Your relationships are going to be organized through these associates. So Museveni can go to Senator Brownback and seek military aide. Inhofe, as he describes, Inhofe says that he cares about Africa more than any other senator.

And that may be true. He's certainly traveled there extensively. He says he likes to accuse the State Department of ignoring Africa so he becomes our point man with guys like Museveni and Uganda, this nation he says he's adopted. As we give foreign aid to Uganda, these are the people who are in a position to steer that money. And as Museveni comes over, and as he does and spends time at The Family's headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, a place called The Cedars, and sits down for counsel with Doug Coe, that's where those relationships occur.

It's never going to be the hard sell, where they're going to, you know, twist Museveni's arm behind his back and say do this. As The Family themselves describes it, you create a prayer cell, or what they call - and this again, this is their language from their documents - an invisible believing group of God-led politicians who get together and talk with one another about what God wants them to do in their leadership capacity. And that's the nature of their relationship with Museveni...
You can't make this stuff up.

If you haven't already, use the list provided in the previous post to contact those involved in pushing this ugly piece of legislation. And pick up a copy of Jeff's book.


The American Global Perspective

My wife found this on some young person's Facebook page:

Funny, yet sad. (After viewing it a few minutes after posting it, I really don't see the humor anymore; it's just plain sad)


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Exporting Homophobia

If you haven't seen it yet, you simply must go read the report Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches and Homophobia. Here is part of the Public Research Associates' press release about it:

Sexual minorities in Africa have become collateral damage to our domestic conflicts and culture wars as U.S. conservative evangelicals and those opposing gay pastors and bishops within mainline Protestant denominations woo Africans in their American fight, a groundbreaking investigation by Political Research Associates (PRA) discovered...
There's a few things in this report that might by of interest to those who have been following the attempted Anglican coup.

For instance, remember when some of the Anglican Provinces announced that they would no longer accept funding from TEC? At the time we assumed that they had received promises of funding from other sources. Apparently, that was indeed the case. But, the way those funds are distributed is rather unusual:

A retired bishop in Uganda explained, "Americans send money to the archbishop's office, who later distributes [it] to dioceses." The Rev. Aaron Mwesigye, the provincial secretary in the Ugandan Archbishop Henry Orombi's office, confirmed this, saying that U.S. conservatives had been "contributing towards the renumeration and salaries of provincial staff since 1998." He added that "American conservatives provide money to Africans not as donors but as development partners in mission."
The report goes on to tell us that Alison Barfoot (now working for Orombi, but most well known as the person who championed the use of "offshore bishops" in the secret memos uncovered in 2003; see "The Attempted Coup" above) handles all the U.S. funding to Uganda. In the U.S., John Guernsey handles all American donations. In other words, no African accountants have access to the records of funds coming from the U.S.

As one example of how this "secret funding" works, remember GAFCON? You might recall that most Ugandan bishops chose to attend GAFCON over Lambeth. All kinds of reasons were given for this choice; refusal to sit with the Western apostates, solidarity with their brother bishops not invited to Lambeth, etc. Well, as it turns out, their expenses to travel to GAFCON were paid by "unnamed friends" of Abp. Orombi. Imagine that.

Another example is this strange bit of information, which has been most concisely summed up by Jim Naughton, who was a member of the advisory panel for this report:

...Among its interesting findings: that an organization run by Diane Stanton, wife of the Rt. Rev. James Stanton, Bishop of Dallas, is among the primary funders of Uganda Christian University, which is led by the Rev. Stephen Noll, who advocates the expulsion of the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, and owned by the Church of Uganda, which has claimed ownership of Episcopal parishes in the United States...
My, my...what a tangled web...

What is most bizarre about all these secret funds, often distributed directly to the Primates of the various provinces, it appears, is that the accusation used to get these African provinces to refuse any funds from TEC was that we were trying to "buy their support." Never mind that all funds that went through TEC budget, or funds contributed through a diocese or other organization affiliated with TEC, made public reports available regarding the distribution of those funds, and put in place responsible accountability standards, to avoid the possibility of corruption. Instead, we have secret funds from the extreme conservatives in the U.S. being placed in the hands of individuals in Africa, with no apparent system of checks and balances regarding how those funds were spent. Who is "buying support" here?

This point is not lost on some of the Anglicans in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. Here's more from the report regarding some of the "irregular" consecrations happening in Africa:

...Dissident U.S. Episcopalian leaders Bill Atwood, John Guernsey and Martyn Minns were consecrated as bishops under the leadership of African archbishops without proper consultation with their respective synods. A senior clergy member complained, "I don't know how they were ordained and why they were ordained. The matter was not discussed at the provincial or even at the diocesan level." One respected professor said, "By consecrating those bishops, the Anglican Church of Kenya violated its own constitution." Another argued, "If it was about rescue of American clergy, they should have asked for an African priest to be consecrated and sent to America," and speculated that the reason the African bishops ordained the Americans had to do with the money the prelates received from U.S. conservatives. In other words, he accused the U.S. conservatives of having bought their bishoprics from African prelates...
The report also highlights other conservative U.S. groups that are using funds and the wedge issue of gay rights to court the African churches. Prominent among them, of course, is the Institute on Religion and Democracy. In my book, the IRD is ranked right alongside Fred Phelps. Actually, because they hide behind flowery rhetroic and sweet smiles as they commit their most unChristian acts, I think they should be put lower than Phelps. At least Fred doesn't use subterfuge when he spews his hate.

The main point that the report makes clear is that it is not same sex attraction that is foreign to Africa. What has been imported in by the West is homophobia.

It also offers us a foretaste of future "wedge issues." Islamophobia will no doubt be next in line. We can see the foundations of that struggle already being built by the extreme conservatives in the U.S.

Read the report. See what jumps out at you. Then, let's talk about it.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Uganda World Prayer Day

The Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill is a nasty piece of work which would make the death penalty the sentence for some homosexual acts.

Anglicans have been urged to condemn this bill, but so far there has been silence from Canterbury and York. The Anglican Church of Uganda backpedaled just a little from their normal strident homphobic stance, suggesting that the death penalty may be a bit much (you think?). But not a word from Henry Orombi, which I suppose isn't a big surprise, considering his past performance when confronted with the suffering and torture of gay and lesbian Ugandans.

If our leaders won't respond, perhaps we can. First of all, today you are invited to join in the Uganda World Prayer Day. Since some of you may not be into Facebook, I'll post the instructions:

We know that there are many of you in this group who are not religious, and we are not asking you to do something you are not comfortable with. But for those who do have a faith tradition we ask that on Tuesday November 17th, you take at least 30 minutes to pray for the following:

1. That Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 would be withdrawn;

2. For protection and peace for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters living in this oppression in Uganda and around the world; and

3. That the Ugandan Church realize this legislation is not morally or Scripturally correct - as there has been disturbing news recently coming from some of my contacts in Uganda and Parliment that the Ugandan Church is starting to make official statements in favor of this bill. I will be posting those as soon as they are official.

Other matters of prayer relating to Uganda can be suggested to Andrew Marin and/or added to the wall.
The hosting group for this event offers us some information for contacting those involved in promoting this bill. Once again, its on Facebook, so I'll reproduce it here:

...We call on the Facebook community to join in opposition to this bill and to contact the various stakeholders named below to express your views.

Contacts to express one's views about Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009:

President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
State House Nakasero

Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi

Speaker of the Parliament
Edward Ssekandi Kiwanuka

Minister of Gender, Labour, and Social Affairs Honorable Opio Gabriel

Chair of the Uganda Human Rights Commission
Med Kaggwa

Directorate for Ethics and Integrity

Chair of the Uganda Diplomatic Human Rights Working Groups
Mathisen Gørild

Please also send a copy to:
Ambassador to the Republic of Uganda Embassy of the United States of America
Jerry P. Lanier

Christian pastors in Uganda:
Martin Ssempa

Stephen Langa
Let us pray:

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in every land who live with injustice, terror, disease and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this world, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

UPDATE: Thinking Anglicans points us to a resolution passed by the Anglican Church of Canada’s Council of General Synod:

COGS passed a resolution that expressed its dismay and concern over the draft proposed anti-homosexuality bill currently before the parliament of Uganda. COGS resolved to call upon the church of the province of Uganda to oppose this private member's bill, and called upon the Government of Canada, through the Minister of External Affairs, to convey to the government of Uganda a deep sense of alarm about this fundamental violation of human rights and through diplomatic channels, to press for its withdrawal; and asked the Primate to send this message to the appropriate bodies.
The Canadians continue to impress me.

Now, who will be next to speak up? Canterbury? New York? Anyone? Anyone?

FURTHER UPDATE: Ekklesia is offering an online petition which demands that all Christian leaders, and specifically Dr. Williams, oppose this legislation.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

An Historic Day in Fort Worth

Today, at 5:00 pm Central Time, Deacon Susan Slaughter will be ordained to the priesthood and installed as rector of St. Luke's in the Meadow in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. This will be the first time a woman has been ordained to the priesthood in that Diocese since its creation in 1983.

Here is more information about this historic event. To grasp the full significance of this day, consider the summation of the history of the Diocese offered within the above linked press release:

...The Diocese of Fort Worth was formed from the western part of the Diocese of Dallas, in part out of opposition to the ordination of women to the priesthood. The founding bishop, A. Donald Davies, and both his successors, Clarence C. Pope and Jack L. Iker, all left the Episcopal Church over women's ordination. Under those bishops, women feeling called to the priesthood either had to give up their call or leave the diocese to be ordained elsewhere. At least fifteen women have done so—and all have been invited "home" for the ordination.

The diocese reorganized after Iker's departure and elected Bishop Gulick as provisional bishop in February. Under his leadership two women priests have been licensed to serve in the diocese—the Rev. Ms. Maurine Lewis who retired to Fort Worth from the Diocese of Milwaukee in 2008 and does supply work among the displaced parishes; and the Rev. Ms. Melanie R. Barbarito, who was hired in August by All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Worth as parochial associate for evangelism and engagement. She came to Fort Worth from the Diocese of Missouri. She is the first woman to be hired on the staff of a parish here.

But the Rev. Ms. Slaughter is the first woman from this diocese to be ordained a priest, an event that marks a historic turning point in the life of diocese and perhaps more than any other one event, signals what a new day it is in the Diocese of Fort Worth...
If you would like to help with the expenses of this event, or desire to send Susan a card or a letter, please see Katie Sherrod's post Celebrate With Us for instructions.

The Diocese will be streaming the ordination live over the Internet through their diocesan website. You can find the live stream here.

Congratulations to Deacon Slaughter and all the people of Fort Worth!

Let us pray:

Oh God of unchangable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; the the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Marking Veterans Day

I usually don't do much to commemorate Veteran's Day, but tonite, I got a phone call from my son, who is one of the chefs at a local restaurant.

"Hey Dad, vets eat for free tonight."
"We're serving veterans for free tonight. Get down here before we close."
"But I'm not hungry."
"You're gonna pass on a free meal?"
"Well...ok...what kinda proof do I have to bring?"
"I dunno...bring what you got."

So, I rummaged around, and came across this ancient thing:

It's my Naval Reserve ID, issued in 1977. I haven't looked at it for a couple of decades now. The edges are a bit torn up, as I used it to open the door of our apartment when I forgot my keys, which happened regularly.

I enlisted in 1973 for a six year hitch; four years active duty, and two years inactive reserves. I served in Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Six out of Norfolk, VA. I was assigned to the Executive Transport Division. We had five H-3 Sea Kings we used to shuttle the brass between Norfolk and the Pentagon.

The strange thing about my enlistment was that even though I strongly protested the war in Vietnam while in my teens, when I became of age, I enlisted anyway. The Paris Peace Accord, which started the process of bringing that war to an end, was signed in January, 1973. I enlisted in April, 1973. I received all the benefits of being a Vietnam era veteran, even though I spent all four years in Norfolk.

Stranger still is that my father also enlisted when he became old enough during WWII. That conflict ended shortly after he commenced his first cruise.

And yet even stranger is the fact that my grandfather also enlisted right after High School during WWI. Those hostilities ended before his company was issued rifles.

So, in my family, we have three generations that enlisted during wartime, only to have the war end within months of taking the oath. Imagine that.

None of my friends were killed in Vietnam. We were all too young to be canon fodder for that one. But I did serve as a chaplain at a VA hospital in Wisconsin for a season. On the psych ward, I heard many blood curdling tales of what happened over there. I cannot even fully imagine what some of them experienced. But I know it sounded much like a hell that surpasses anything even Dante could have ever dreamed up.

I must admit that when it comes to serving in the military, I am somewhat conflicted. I am a firm advocate for non-violent resistance, and believe that when violence is used against violence, the result is almost always more violence. However, I'm not a pacifist.

It seems to me that if we see an act of violence being committed against an innocent victim, we have the moral obligation to stop that violence, by whatever means necessary. If we do not, we share some responsibility for that act of violence.

I believe that the young people who volunteer to serve our country are driven by a sense of duty and honor. Those two motivations do not always easily fit into our carefully dissected categories of right and wrong. For this reason, regardless of our moral opinions about war, I believe it is just and right to honor those who serve in our armed forces on this day.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Northern Michigan: Standing at the Crossroad of History and Hope

During my recent visit to the Diocese of Northern Michigan, I had the pleasure of hearing an excellent sermon, offered by their Convention chaplain, Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett, Mary Wolfe Professor Emerita of Historical Theology at the Episcopal Divinity School. You may know Dr. Thompsett as the author of Living with History, volume 5 of the New Church's Teaching Series.

Dr. Thompsett's sermon was a much needed word of hope for the people of Northern Michigan; a hope rooted in the realities of history. To grasp the full message, I encourage you to consider the entire sermon, but here is part of it:

...It will not surprise anyone here that I am a “big fan” of and “in favor of” the authority of the baptized. When we are standing and rooted in the authority, the deep waters, of our baptism history and hope meet with boldness and audacity. Growing up here in Michigan, the “water wonderland,” taught me to stand literally and confidently by great, fresh, life-giving waters. My beloved biblical mentor, Verna Dozier, taught me to read Scripture with care and authority. She would not let me lose my daily consciousness of baptism. The solidarity of baptism is a theological grounding that admits no exclusions. The energizing, liberating power of Baptism abides, a resource to be cherished now and in days ahead. Over the past year, as I have dipped my hands in the fresh water of the baptismal font, you, the people of this Diocese, have often been in my heart. Do not be afraid to be different in your wide embrace of baptismal authority. Stand, as Jeremiah suggests, planted by the greening waters of new life.

History, like Scripture, is replete with those who have witnessed the cost of discipleship, the cost of holding fast to hard truths and high goals, of not being afraid to be dismissed, or wronged by others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the revered German pastor imprisoned and killed in 1945 resisting Hitler’s Third Reich, in his last days described the church with hope as “Christ taking form in a body of believers.” Bonhoeffer’s insight signals a deep, hard won, and long-standing resource you already have that will continue to serve you well in days ahead. You have built healthy communities rich in trusted and mature relationships. Standing by your side, in your home parish and diocese, are steadfast companions, who invite you to walk together with newness of purpose. You know the dangers of walking alone. In my experience, you are the church of Christ taking form in the body of believers. This is a holy place to stand...
Yes, there is sometimes a cost to holding fast to hard truths and high goals. But, when we live in fear of that cost, we can never become what God has always intended us to be; Christ taking the form of the body of believers.

Let us not be afraid. Instead, let us press on, with boldness and audacity.


Friday, November 06, 2009

Strategic Goals for Episcopalians

It appears the Strategic Planning Committee has identified five stategic goals for the future of the Episcopal Church.

Here is the list of the five areas listed as "very important" by the majority of respondents to a recent survey:

1. Reaching youth and young adults
2. Evangelism/proclaiming the good news of Christ
3. Worship, music and liturgy
4. Leadership
5. Strengthening congregations

What I find ironic is that the programs represented by 2 and 3 were cut from the budget of the Episcopal Church Center by General Convention last Summer.

Am I bitter because the elimination of 2 resulted in the termination of my position? Perhaps. But I was already fully aware that I needed to move on. That environment was not a good match for me. And, to be honest, I didn't do a good job of networking with the movers and shakers. So, to some degree, I understand why I might have been cut from the budget.

But what continues to astound me is that it wasn't just my position that got the axe; they eliminated the entire Evangelism program, resulting in about four evangelism resolutions to now be unfunded.

If I had been consulted, instead of being informed 30 minutes before the elimination of the program was announced to the House of Deputies, I would have suggested that Evangelism be folded back into Church Planting, as it had been in 2007. That would have lessened the public relations fiasco such a cut might cause, if nothing else. But, that's not what happened. So it goes.

This situation can be redeemed, however. Evangelism must now be championed at the diocesan and congregational level. Since most effective evangelism must take into account the cultural setting, this could be a good thing.

However, I am still concerned, especially in light of the revealing of these five areas of importance, that there is no one responsible for tracking the responses to the evangelism resolutions, no funds designated for their implementation, and no one to make a report to the next General Convention regarding the progress made in those areas.

If the areas of importance identified by the Strategic Planning Committee are indeed a reflection of what most Episcopalians desire to be our focus in the coming years, I would hope that in the future the Program, Budget and Finance Committee will consider those priorities before eliminating more programs at the Episcopal Church Center.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Northern Michigan Prepares for the Next "Trial by Internet"

Last weekend, I traveled to Escanaba, Michigan expecting to encounter a disappointed and perhaps even bitter crowd at the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted with warm smiles and numerous outbursts of laughter. After having the opportunity to speak with a few people individually, I'm convinced that their upbeat mood was not simply a show of false bravado, but an expression of the deep current of joy that seems to flow freely throughout that Diocese.

No doubt that there were moments in the last year in which that joy was stifled. In a recent Living Church article, Linda Piper, President of the Standing Committee of Northern Michigan, describes the deep shock experienced by the entire Diocese when their bishop-elect did not received the necessary consents:

...I don’t believe that any of us were prepared for the shock and disappointment, the anger and the sorrow, that came as a result of the failure of the consent process,” she said. “We weren’t ready for trial by internet. We never imagined that what we know to be true and right for us would cause such a reaction from the wider church...
Those that I witnessed gathered last weekend to do the work of the Diocese seemed to have gotten past their shock and anger. They shared stories of their encounters with God and joined their voices in songs of praise and thanksgiving. Their joy may have been stifled for a season, but it was not snuffed out.

Then they got down to the business of the diocese, which is outlined in their press releases, found here and here.

One significant piece of legislation was their approval of a resolution entitled "A Plan for an Episcopal Search Process." Here it is:

The Diocese of Northern Michigan, meeting in convention, October 30-31, 2009, adopts the following elements for the next Episcopal Search Process:
  • Build on the work of the Episcopal Ministry Team
  • Communicate effectively with the wider church
  • Form a Search Committee engaged in discernment
  • Be open to working with a search consultant
  • Use a broad process of collectiing potential candidates
  • Intend to present multiple candidates to the Special Convention
  • Use the "Petition Process" for adding names
  • There was some discussion about that last element, with a motion to strike it altogether. Some of the visitors were invited to address that particular point. The concern was that the Diocese might end up with a candidate who had little knowledge of Mutual Ministry, or even one who was antagonistic to the concept. The chances of that happening seem pretty slim to me, but that concern effectively highlights how important Mutual Ministry is to the people of this Diocese.

    After a healthy discussion (much passion, but no heat), the amendment to strike the petition process was voted down. Then, after a few changes in the wording, the resolution was passed.

    It's a good resolution, in that it should silence the critics of "the process" that were shouting so loud during the last election. To those critics...perhaps you might want to learn a little bit about Mutual Ministry before deciding to challenge what these folks are doing?

    Regardless of who Northern Michigan's next candidate is, no doubt there will still be those who love a good witch hunt expending hours googling up every statement, sermon or liturgy that person ever made public. These hunters appear, at first glance, to have high standards.

    Thomas Merton would be condemned by them. He might be a Buddhist, don't you know. William Temple wouldn't make the grade either, as he was known to say some rather shocking things when he was having a bad day.

    Come to think of it, if all candidates had every sermon they ever preached, or every liturgy they ever designed, carefully scrutinized, I doubt if we'd have any candidates fit for Episcopal election, at least according to the standards of the self appointed watch dogs.

    However, this same group of witch hunters/watch dogs actually commend their own leaders who bear false witness against their brothers and sisters, attempt to steal property from their Church, and strive to exclude great swaths of people from the kingdom of God, based on their personal biases. So much for their high standards.

    One would hope that in the future our Bishops and Standing Committees will think twice before taking the accusations of such angry mobs seriously.

    But, I digress. Back to Northern Michigan.

    A big "thank you" to the people of Northern Michigan for allowing me to join your family for a few days. May your joy continue to flow. And may God grant you the courage to pursue what is right, and the grace to accomplish it.

    And finally, if any of you reading this ever visit Escanaba, Michigan, you must check out the Swedish Pantry. The dining room walls are lined with clocks, all set to different times, causing a constant melody to ring out as they each strike the hour. The Swedish pancakes are heavenly. I had them with peaches, but the locals tell me they are best with lingonberries. Thanks, Rayford.

    Oh, and Ernesto, next time you are seeking Upper Peninsula pasties, try to remember that the word has a short "a."