The Truth, Mainly - 07/18/2005

A religious take on gays, Iraq
by Leon Satterfield

A cautionary note: Ever since I was humiliated by a minister who took umbrage back in 1945 when I jumped out of a church window at the close of his sermon, I haven't been trustworthy on matters ecclesiastical.

Nevertheless, matters ecclesiastical are what I'm about to hold forth on. And get this: I'm going to tell you about a newfound admiration I now have for large numbers of clergymen and clergywomen. It grows out of two events that took place on July 4—and it has to do with ecclesiastical declarations of independence that I find admirable. Maybe you've read about them.

(1) In Atlanta, Ga., according to the NY Times, "The United Church of Christ became the first mainline Christian denomination to officially support same-sex marriages when its General Synod passed a resolution affirming 'equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender.'"

Yes, you read that right and it means what lots of people are afraid it means.

The Rev. John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ and its 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million members, told reporters (while obviously relishing the date) that "on this July 4, the United Church of Christ has courageously acted to declare freedom, affirming marriage equality, affirming the civil rights of gay—of same-gender—couples to have their relationships recognized as marriages by the state, and encouraging our local churches to celebrate those marriages."

OK, so he sounds a little breathless. He's justifiably excited.

The resolution, the Times reported, "appeared to have overwhelming support" when the vote was taken by a show of hands of the General Synod after a 45-minute debate.

If you have any qualms about about the rightness of this exercise in testicular and ovarian fortitude, check this out: Later in the week, the LA Times reported that "a small fire and anti-gay graffiti were found at a church in Staunton [Va.] belonging to the United Church of Christ, a denomination that endorsed same-sex marriage last week. Graffiti on the exterior of St. John's Reformed United Church of Christ called church members sinners."

And here's what I consider a principle truth: When yahoos set fire to a church and scribble on its walls, it's a sure sign the church is doing something right.

(2) Then there's the Governing Board of the National Council of Churches USA—which announced that "about 630 religious leaders and nearly 16,000 people of faith in 44 states have endorsed a Fourth of July declaration that urges President Bush to develop an 'early fixed timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops,' and to listen to a wider range of religious advisers and to reevaluate his policy on Iraq."

Why would they urge the president to do that? They go on to make their case:

"No weapons of mass destruction have been found; no link to the attacks on September 11, 2001 has been shown. It has become clear that the rationale for invasion was at best a tragic mistake, at worst a clever deception."

The document provides a list of bad things we should reject, including:

•"leaders who have sent many honorable sons and daughters to fight a dishonorable war."

•"the violence that has cost over seventeen hundred American lives, left thousands grievously injured, and killed untold numbers of Iraqis whose deaths we are unwilling to acknowledge or count."

•"the abuse of prisoners that has shamed our nation and damaged our reputation."

•"theologies that demonize other nations and other religions while arrogantly claiming righteousness for ourselves as if we share no complicity in human evil."

Then the document urges us to work toward and accept these outcomes:

•"foreign policies that seek justice rather than domination, compassion rather than control."

•"An early fixed timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and the establishment of a credible multinational peacekeeping force."

•"honoring…human rights even for our enemies and…a restoration of our reputation as a people committed to the rule of law."

•"spending and taxing priorities that put the poor first, providing health care, employment, and quality education for all."

•"a restoration of truth telling in the public square" and the use of force as a "last resort" rather than a "first strike."

The document concludes with this call: "It is time to speak out that this 4th of July will celebrate the best ideals of our nation for our sake and for the sake of the world."

Pretty heady stuff, hey? Almost enough to make me wonder—briefly—if I could crawl back in through that church window I bailed out of 60 years ago.


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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