Thursday, March 27, 2008


In an earlier post I sounded off on a comment on my post about the United Church of Christ's IRS problems. (For the latest news on that topic, click here.) In that sound-off I said
For the first time (ever, I think) I've gotten a comment on my blog from someone who's name I don't recognize. I don't know for sure if this is someone from my community, or just someone connected with UCCtruths. I suspect that it is the latter, canvassing the internet for blogs making reference to the IRS investigation of the United Church of Christ, and slapping a rather nasty comment onto those that side with the UCC.
Well, just yesterday I received a comment on my blog from UCCtruths! "James" writes
Hi Rev. Josh!

I'm the guy responsible for UCCtruths and I apologize if someone enthusiastic about the site is bugging you. I was just doing a blog search for 'ucctruths' and found your site which is pretty cool.

UCCtruths is intentionally irreverent and within the context of the web site, you kind of expect this but it's not acceptable when it's projected onto other sites and people.

God's peace my friend.


I have so much respect for that response. "James" identified himself as responsible for UCCtruths, and apologized for "Drew" ...who apparently has no official ties to the site. He makes sure to tell me how he found my blog, so no mystery there. He touches on the fact that UCCtruths intentionally strikes the tone that it does, which of course is fine. (It doesn't happen to be a tone that appeals to me, but that's not "James'" problem, now is it?) He also says, though, that projecting the tone from his site onto others' isn't acceptable. Which is a really nice, concise way of saying some of what I was getting at when I sounded off in the first place.

Besides which, he thinks my site is "pretty cool." And it's always good to hear nice things, isn't it?

As for his site, it's not really my thing. But I am going to look at it every once in a while, because even though I come to different conclusions than "James" does most of the time, at least he makes me think about why I do.

God's peace, my friends,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Wright Stuff

I don't like talking politics. I don't have the mind, or the heart for it, for one thing. But there have been so many things happening in connection to the upcoming election that have been seriously disturbing me. I knew things were going downhill during the 2000 presidential election when the most unbiased and complete (and therefore helpful) coverage was not a major news program, but rather The Daily Show.

That's the first thing that's been disturbing me, and it has been for a long time now. One of these days I'm going to tell the story that led me to realize how much television editing can change the tone of something, but for now, let me say this: Maybe I'm an idealist, but I thought journalists, all journalists, including television journalists, were supposed to be fair and unbaised, "Just the facts, Ma'am." We've all seen, I hope, that television journalists especially have left that little ideal far behind.

And now we're not going to focus on the candidates themselves, but rather on their churches. And I'm not even talking about some inflamitory political talk show on FOX. I'm talking the ABC News.

Please understand, I'm not upset about this whole thing because it's a UCC church that's under fire. I'm upset because, in my opinion, the casualties of this political move of the media are too high: the impartiality of the press and freedom of the pulpit.

I think that John Thomas said it best in a recent statement responsing to the Wright controversy. He wrote:
What's really going on here? First, it may state the obvious to point out that these television and radio shows have very little interest in Trinity Church or Jeremiah Wright. Those who sifted through hours of sermons searching for a few lurid phrases and those who have aired them repeatedly have only one intention. It is to wound a presidential candidate. In the process a congregation that does exceptional ministry and a pastor who has given his life to shape those ministries is caricatured and demonized. You don't have to be an Obama supporter to be alarmed at this. Will Clinton's United Methodist Church be next? Or McCain's Episcopal Church? Wouldn't we have been just as alarmed had it been Huckabee's Southern Baptist Church, or Romney's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?

I simply ask you, what's at stake here?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Amazing Story

It's not every day that I get permission to repeat a story of a pastoral call someplace public, like this blog is. And specific requests for me to do so are... well, this is the only one, to my memory! I hope I do it justice.

So, the other day I was chatting online with one of my favorite people, and she shared with me the story of a friend that she had met on-line through Pandora's Aquarium. Her friend was living somewhere in the UK, if what she was going through can appropriately be called living. You see, her friend was being sold for sex by her father.

Go ahead, read that again. No, it's not a typo, her friend was being sold for sex by her father.

Luckily, one of my favorite people knew about Love146, an intenational abolitionist organization dedicated to ending child sex slavery and exploitation. She immediately told her friend about the organization, and despite catching flak from an administrator of the message board (for being too "dogmatic"), one of my favorite people contacted Love146 on behalf of her friend. Love146 pointed her to International Justice Mission, who in turn pointed her to CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking). One of my favorite people asked me to pray for her friend, and you better believe that I did, and wholeheartedly.

Some time after that, I received a phone call from one of my favorite people. She told me that she had just heard from her friend, and that she was attempting suicide. It very quickly became clear that one of my favorite people had her friend on-line right there, and so I gave her some advice concerning what she should be trying to do (including getting an address so an ambulance could be sent and giving her online suicide hotlines). Her friend, however, was insistant that suicide was the way out. I told one of my favorite people that she was doing the right thing, and to stay with her friend as long as she could. And when we ended our phone conversation, that's where we left it.

I kept imagining what it would be like, wondering if your friend was alive or dead, possibly never hearing from them again and not knowing one way or the other. It would haunt me...

So I was exstatic when I got a happy phone call from one of my favorite people, and she told me that not only had her friend lived, she had been rescued by CAST! I'm always happy to field those difficult phone calls, but it absolutely makes my day to get one of those joyful ones!

A final note: I recently heard from one of my favorite people that her friend had just had a miscarriage and gone through a surgery that is very similar to an abortion. I have a friend who went through the same thing, and it was very traumatic for her. But one of my favorite people's friend was upbeat, happy, and hopeful. And that was what finally prompted one of my favorite people to ask me to write this post. Because her friend was so very inspiring.

Whatever difficulties you're going through right now, you can make it. Her friend has.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gary Gygax

In the late 1960's, Jeff Perren and Gary Gygax created and published the rules for a war game played with minatures, and they named it Chainmail. The 1971 edition of Chainmail provided a fantasy supliment which added rules for jousting, man-to-man melee, and conducting battles with fantasy creatures. This supliment was written by Gary Gygax. Three years later Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published an expansion of these rules in the form of three slim books with the following dedication:
"Dedicated to all the fantasy wargamers who have enthusiastically played and expanded upon the Chainmail Fantasy Rules, with thanks and gratitude. Here is something better!"

The name of that "something better" was Dungeons & Dragons.

Gary Gygax died on Tuesday, March 4th. In his own words:
I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else.

I don't think that will be a problem.

Play games with each other,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Feeding the Troll?

For the first time (ever, I think) I've gotten a comment on my blog from someone who's name I don't recognize. I don't know for sure if this is someone from my community, or just someone connected with UCCtruths. I suspect that it is the latter, canvassing the internet for blogs making reference to the IRS investigation of the United Church of Christ, and slapping a rather nasty comment onto those that side with the UCC.

Which isn't to say that there isn't some truth to what "Drew" pointed me towards. He attached this link to the the comment, and if this letter is indeed accurate and legitimate, I'll have to slightly revise my position. As I said (and "Drew" ignored) at the end of my post, I reserve the right to be wrong. I am not an IRS lawyer, so I don't know for sure if the position held by either side is correct.

Assuming, for the moment, that this letter completely accurate, then elements of Sen. Obama's speech crossed the line. As I pointed out in the last post, he was hardly the first to cross that line, but there it is. I remember the general excitement that Sen. Obama would be speaking at General Synod, but I honestly can't remember one way or the other concerning the UCC pushing the idea that a presidential candidate would be speaking to Synod. As to the rest of it, UCCtruths sums it up better than I could:
Obama was not a candidate for office when invited, Obama only slipped twice in his speech in reference to his candidacy and that volunteers were campaigning outside the Civic Center and could not be controlled by the UCC.

Even though UCCtruths makes some interesting points that should be considered, I have a difficult time wading through their tone. There's something terribly absolutist about the way they say things that just sets my teeth on edge. Then again, perhaps I'm guilty of reading their blog with the tone of "Drew" still ringing in my ears.

Here's the comment "Drew" left on my blog:
Before you drink the punch on this, you should read the actual complaint that outlines the rules and specifically how they were violated:

So, what do I know about "Drew"? He or she wants me to look at the link to UCCtruths, which I have done. He or she wants me to carefully consider his or her point of view, which I have done. He or she wants to win me over to the position of the IRS. This, he or she has not accomplished. To be quite frank, "Drew" is lucky that I went so far as to click that link this morning. Because his very first words are such an egregious and disgusting attack that I very nearly deleted his comment out of hand.

"Before you drink the punch..." is an obvious reference to the Jonestown Massacre. Evidence and eye-witness accounts of the very few survivors of that tragedy show that most, if not all, of the 909 people who died were, in fact, murdered. Referencing such a horrendous event in such an off-hand manner is not a good way to start with me.

I have been a member of the United Church of Christ my whole life. I was ordained by the UCC. I have worked as a delegate for two different General Synods, and I have seen first hand how our denomination is made up of an extremely diverse group of people with different theological emphases, different cultural backgrounds and different political ideals. What makes them special is that they are willing to come together, pray together, worship together, and openly work together on some very difficult issues. They respect—no—they treasure being exposed to new ideas and opposing viewpoints. As one columnist for the Hartford Currant wrote, "Really, sending the IRS after these people is like having the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms kick down the door of a bunch of nerds playing Dungeons and Dragons."

Seriously, though, I know these people, and even when I don't agree with them, I trust them. I am deeply insulted that "Drew" decided to make an anology between the United Church of Christ and Jim Jones. I hope, for their sake, that "Drew" is not one of the UCCtruth people, because he or she is not doing them any favors.

As for UCCtruth, I'm glad they're there. Their site says that every denomination should have one of these, and they have a point. If we are never challenged, never criticized, we never grow. However... they refer to the UCC's argument against the IRS allegations as if it were simply a tactic to get the UCC out of trouble. Is it really so shocking to consider the idea that the UCC is arguing that "that the spirit of the IRS rules are to prohibit churches from endorsing a candidate and the UCC went to great lengths not to endorse a candidate," because that's what they believe?

So, revision time: I personally believe that those laws are on the books for the purpose of keeping religious organizations from endorsing candidates. I know for a fact that we went out of our way to not endorse Sen. Obama. If every letter of the law was not followed, then yes, there should be some consequences. I do not, however, believe that yanking our tax-exempt status is a punishment that fits the crime. I believe in the separation of church and state, but I do not believe that means that church and state should not be in communication. And I believe these things strongly enough to provide a link to the Legal Defense Fund again, just in case you feel moved to contribute.

Make up your own minds,
and be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I don't like talking politics. However, some of you have been asking me about news reports that the United Church of Christ is under investigation by the IRS and that the IRS is in fact threatening our denomination's tax exempt status.

The reports are true. Here is an article from the UCC site explaining the whole thing. In fact, they even supply this link to the actual letter from the IRS.

Basically, the IRS is arguing that having Barack Obama speak at General Synod constituted an endorsement of his presidential campaign by the UCC. Here's why I think they're wrong: Sen. Obama, a long time member of the UCC, was invited as one of 60 diverse speakers, all of whom were asked to speak about the intersection between their faith an their respective vocations. He was invited to do this before he announced his candidacy. Once it was clear that he was running for president, the UCC carefully researched the very laws that the IRS accuses them of breaking. The letter from the IRS mentions Sen. Obama's campaign crew being outside the convention center. They were outside the convention center because they were banned from being inside General Synod. Also... well, check this out:

Did Sen. Barack Obama's speech get too political? I don't know. Was it too political in January when both Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke separately to the National Baptist Convention of America? Was it to poitical in April of 1996, when then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, spoke before her denomination's General Conference? Was it too political when President Ronald Reagan gave his famous "Evil Empire" speech before the National Association of Evangelicals? Was it too political when John F. Kennedy appeared before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to explain the “so-called religious issue” and “to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election.”?

I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that the National Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, nor the Greater Houston Ministerial Association had their tax exempt status investigated by the IRS.

So here's the thing, as the general minister and president of the UCC pointed out:
"The very fact of an IRS investigation, however, is disturbing," Thomas said. "When the invitation to an elected public official to speak to the national meeting of his own church family is called into question, it has a chilling effect on every religious community that seeks to encourage politicians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities."

That's why I'm a little hot under the collar about this. Not because it happened to the UCC specifically, but because it happened to anybody. The laws that the IRS are citing are supposed to be in place to keep religion from screwing up the political process and are not supposed to be interpreted so narrowly that they abridge our 1st Amendment rights to free speech. I don't like it when certain politicians trot out controversial topics with severe religious overtones during elections, but I support their 1st Amendment right to do so. I certainly think it is important for poloticians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities.

I feel the need to provide a link to the UCC's Legal Defense Fund, but I'm not going to ask you to contribute. I put it here merely to save some time for those of you who were of a mind to contribute already.

That's about all I have to say about that. I reserve the basic human right to be wrong. Perhaps Sen. Obama's speech, despite the best efforts of the UCC to abide by the law, truly did break it. I guess we'll see.

Speak your mind,
but be good to each other,
Rev. Josh