Monday, November 30, 2009


A friend from long ago has left the PCUSA for the EPC, along with his congregation.

I sent a note wishing him well, in the hope that he will find peace in the EPC and be able to serve the Christ he knows in a manner consistent with the how the Spirit has shaped his soul.

Needless to say, I'm saddened by his decision and sympathetic with all the emotions.

Perhaps like a divorce, there's the temptation on the part of the one leaving to eliminate ambiguity and doubt - to justify the leaving and ease the conscience by an over-simplification: that God is the cause of this and the leaving is right, and the one left behind had it coming.

And for the one left behind, the same process tempts: to vilify and damn.

All such efforts fail to grasp the complexity of a divorce - and both must eventually face their own frailties and faults. There are no innocents abroad; all alike are sinners, saved by grace.

But Paul and Barnabas are helpful - they reached an impasse beyond human management, and apparently even beyond that of God, and before they did further harm to one another, they decided to go their separate ways.

I've always been thankful that the Book of Acts records this tragic, and oh-so-human, event.

It happens! And continues to happen throughout history, in church and in marriage, and virtually every other form of human relationship - there is a tragic element in our souls. Our love for one another can never quite rise all that high, and we mostly thrive on like-loving-like.

Maybe that's the point of confession, but tragic or not, life goes on. Barnabas mostly disappears from the text; Paul proceeds to center-stage.

Was Paul right? Was Barnabas right?

Like most such questions, it's the wrong question to ask.

They had a deep and bitter disagreement about Mark. Barnabas wanted to forgive and include him; Paul couldn't forget Mark's desertion of them.

And so it goes.

I think it's time for us to admit our tragic character - that on the question of ordination for GLBT persons, we are unable to find a compromise: either we do, or we don't. There can be no half-way covenant on this one, or so it appears.

So, like Paul and Barnabas, we go our separate ways, before we do any more harm to one another, and who knows what life lies on the other side of the divide?

As much as my friend longs for the day when the debate is finished and he and his congregation can get on with the work of God as they see it, so I long for the day when I and the churches I've served can get on with our work, too - including the full acceptance and ordination of GLBT persons.

This issue has shaped most of my ministry (40 years this coming January) and has consumed enormous amounts of energy and money - all of which could have been spent more effectively on the ministries to which Jesus calls us.

I wish my friend well, and I'm sure he wishes the same for me.

It's time for us to get on with the work of Christ!

Until the next chapter, the next issue, the next whatever ... until Christ returns and brings the final healing for body and soul.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ordaining Lisa Larges

San Francisco Presbytery votes to ordain Lisa Larges, though it'll be on hold for awhile because of legal wrangling.

I'm relieved to hear this, and hats off to SF and to Lisa.

Though for some in our ranks, this can mean nothing but sorrow.

Where and how shall we work it out?

That we can have unity only when we have diversity is the nature of unity. Without diversity, all we would have is uniformity, and uniformity requires very little of us.

Our Lord recognizes this when he admonishes us to love "our enemies" - a pivotal reminder that only love can create unity, with the subtext - that uniformity is no big deal in the kingdom of God. Even tax collectors and such enjoy that.

So, how do we love "our enemies."

I put the phrase in quotes, because I think there's a slight chance of some tongue-in-cheek here - those whom we might otherwise label as "enemy" may turn out to be something quite different when and if we open our hearts to them in love.

Love discovers things that suspicion and fear will never see.

Love is more than tolerance, then. Love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1).

It is our sinful instincts to huddle with like-minded. We all do it, and it's fun.

But at that point, as cozy as we might be, we're no different than the world and we can offer to the world nothing more than what the world already knows - the power of a gated community.

Our gift to the world, if, indeed, we have one, is more than our theology, but our way of life. Yes, our theology counts, but I think our way of life counts just as much, because faith comes by hearing, but it's our good works that enable someone to give glory to God (Matthew 5:16).

We've done rather well, I suppose, in the theology department, and putting all of our apples in that basket, we've forgotten the power of ethical witness, and, if anything, we've engaged in all the dirty back-biting and squabbling found in the local PTA or some condominium association (my apologies to both).

What does love mean?

And what does it mean for me to love my GLBT friends and to support their efforts for ordination?

And what does it mean for me to love a colleague who opposes that ordination with the same passion I muster for it's promotion?

Big questions ...

Any answers out there?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Where Will It All End?

Posted at my blog site at Presbyterian Outlook:

It's been awhile since I've dropped a line or two here at the Outlook blog site.

I'm sure some are delighted at my vacation since I'm pretty upbeat about the current state-of-affairs in the Presbyterian Church.

God's relentless love is moving us along in a deep and swift current taking us far beyond all the usual categories in which we formerly found comfort and too often took unwarranted pride.

Yes, we had the world by the tail, so to speak, but times change, and the world in which we now live is vastly different. But I'm hopeful, and more than hopeful, because I know Presbyterians - surely, not all of them; just a few actually over my 39 years of ministry, starting in West Virginia in the former West Virginia Mountain Project created by missionaries who rode into the area on mules.

I have known laity and clergy, pastors and executives, and I have witnessed a steady effort to be faithful to the large images of Scripture and the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Have we always done it right? It's hard to say. Numbers and dollars, while so tantalizing to our eyes, is of no account to God. Sin itself abounds, but so does grace, allthemore. 

In the last 40 years, demographics and culture have changed radically, and we, and other mainline groups, nosedived on membership, and the more independent and self-confessed evangelicals grew.
Looking back over the carnage, I chuckle a bit, because their "growth" was constantly rubbed in our face, and we hung our heads in shame or anger.

For the growing churches, it became a matter of pride - their techniques and innovations, their technology and their theology, were clearly "right" and we were clearly "wrong."
But pride goeth before the fall.

And now the stats are coming in: the evangelical world is losing membership, they struggle with issues of second and third generation leadership vacuums, heresy trials abound as evangelicals try to define who they are and what they believe. Compelled by the Great Commission, thy sent thousands of their young to the mission field who come back home with a new sense of the Great Commandment and a passionate regard for justice, often at odds now with Mom and Dad.

I recently attended a luncheon at a large evangelical Presbyterian Church to hear a speaker from Internation Justice Mission.

I was shocked at what I heard, because I heard the language and thelogy and passion of justice. There was no bashing of the mainline, but only a sharp review of how the evangelical movment in this nation overlooked justice.

In my own words, the evangelical movement, bright and energetic, too often settled for the joy and power of charity and conversion, mostly ignoring the systemic issues of justice.

IJM deals with slavery (27 million in the world today), the sex trade and the theft of widow's property, and it was clear to me, they are dealing with systemic issues.

If charity and conversation are the two "c's" of faith, there is a third c, Change ... systemic change.
I was heartened by what I heard, and I believe that God's Spirit is moving mightily among a younger generation of evangelicals taking them beyond charity and conversion to changing systemic evils.

More than ever, I am grateful to be a Presbyterian - we have a fine track record on justice - our mission agencies, our missionaries - have tackled some incredibly tough issues around the world, and we've been making a huge difference.

Where it will all end, who knows. But I think mainline and evangelical Christians will find a lot to talk about, and pray about, TOGETHER, when we find common ground in the Great Commandment and the Third C.

Just a few random thoughts from a random kind of a guy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

College of the Ozarks and Sarah Palin

Here's an email I sent to Elizabeth Andrews, head of PR for the college, after hearing that this fine school invited Sarah Palin to speak, as Ms. Andrews put it to me by phone, to address issues of morals and character.

If you concur, please send a note to Ms. Andrews:

Dear Ms. Andrews,

If you would be so kind as to forward this to your president.

As a Presbyterian Pastor who served in Tulsa for 12 years at a church long supportive of the College, and sharing with Sam and Helen Walton at numerous luncheons in the Tulsa area, I have admired deeply the character of the school and its unique commitment to providing a quality education for students who might otherwise be unable to attend college because of financial constraints.

Yet, I was shocked when I read of the decision to have Sarah Palin as a college guest to address matters of character and morals.

There are dozens and dozens of ably qualified speakers from all sorts of religious and political persuasions who might address such matters with skill and experience, but to suggest that Ms. Palin is qualified is a matter for Saturday Night Live.

That she's a lightening rod for the far right-wing is undeniable, but as a speaker on these matters? Hardly.

I'm disappointed in the decision to invite Ms. Palin, though I'm sure there are monied interests behind this, and knowing the tough role of a college President these days, I'm sure there are some interesting guns being held to your head on this one.

I sympathize with your position, and I suspect you'd have rather chosen any number of other far-better qualified people.

Wishing you the best ... and to honor the heart of the founder of the school, you might well invite a missionary, a pastor or a professor of ethics to address matters of morals and character ... I would suggest historian Diana Butler Bass as an able and knowledgeable speaker for the college, or the Rev. Dr. Michael Lindvall, pastor of Brick Presbyterian Church, New York City, a most excellent preacher and a teller of stories.

Blessings on your work and that of the college.

The Rev. Dr. Thomas P. Eggebeen, Interim Pastor
Covenant Presbyterian Church
Los Angeles, CA

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Spurious Emails???

Dear Genesis,

From time-to-time, I receive forwarded emails decrying the efforts of some to eliminate “god” from our national story.

Over the years, I’ve read a dozen of similar notes, long before email was available – remember those days?

Now, with the internet, these stories, slightly updated, flow fast and furious, but, in fact, are false.

Recently, a note about the World War 2 Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the alleged misquoting of Roosevelt’s speech before Congress after Pearl Harbor.

Maybe you’ve seen the note.

If the author of the note were Pinocchio, the nose would be a mile long, and sadly, a lot of decent people unthinkingly forward these notes to their friends and family members, furthering the lie.

If you’d like to check this one out, click HERE to visit Snopes.

And to actually read all the monument inscriptions, click HERE.

As you will see, the email notice is patently false.

As Christians, we have a duty to know the truth, for Jesus is The Truth. We cannot and must not play loose with such things.

And as Paul Tillich noted in his famous “Protestant Principle,” we put a question mark over everything until we have tested it and found it either wanting or true.

It’s terribly important that we not be gullible. Remember – test everything you receive in email, especially “angry notes” that decry the decline of the nation, or some such nonsense.

And if you’re not sure, check with me. I’ve been working on these things for years.

And, please, if you’re not sure of something, trash it; don’t send it on to family members and friends.


Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Does She Call My Spiritual Pain Political?

For the Women Who Work in the LAX Hotel Corridor

©Thomas P. Eggebeen – June, 2009

Why does she call my spiritual pain political?

When I can’t work, because my back is bad, and I’m afraid to go to the emergency
Room, because I have no money … and my son needs a new pair of sneakers for
School … and
I pray to Jesus … and
I cry myself to sleep … and
I scream in silence … because I don’t want
My children to lose their
Childish hope for a better life.

Why does she call my spiritual pain political?

When she lives on top of the hill,
In a big house, with fancy things,
And drives a big SUV, all black and sassy.
And can call a man to fix her pool
Without batting an eye.
And see a doctor and get the bills paid.

Why does she call my spiritual pain political?

She prays, she says – about what?
What does she fuss and fret about?
Maybe I should call her up and tell her,
“That’s not very spiritual – that’s political,
You and your world of so many big things.
Getting what you want, when I can’t
Get enough of what I need.”

Maybe I should call her up.

She calls me up in the hotel – “Bring me lunch,
Make my bed,
Clean the bathroom,
Make me comfy.”

I think that’s political, don’t you?
That the world should be arranged for her comfort.
Her income.
Her taxes.
Her medical benefits.
Her church and her home.
And that big fancy black SUV.
Burns more gas in a week than I
Use in a month.

What does she pray about?
I wonder if I should call her up and ask.

I wonder if she knows just how
Political her life is.
All dressed up in her religion.
Which is never political, of course.
Because it’s all about Jesus and faith, and the
Bible and getting saved and
Going to heaven.

But what about my Jesus, my faith, my tears, my hopes, my fears, my pain?
Because my back hurts from hefting 18 beds every day for
Fifteen years -
And my super tells me that I’ll lose my job if I
Miss one more day of work …
Well, that’s political, isn’t it?

Some union folks were by the other day …
And I was afraid.
My super told me, “Don’t talk to them.”
So I didn’t.
But I prayed.

Is it political to pray:
For a safe place to work …
Some benefits along the way …
That the wealthy who try not think about it might
Think about it …

What does she pray about?

I know she prays.
She prays for her children; I do too.
She prays for her man; so do I.
She prays for her health; me, too, all the time.
She prays for world peace; I pray that late-night gunfire would stop.
She thanks God for a dinner table filled with goodies – I pray for enough money for hot dogs and cereal.
She prays for her safe voyage on a big ship – I pray that I’ll have enough money for next week’s rent.

She calls my spiritual pain political.


In honor of La Mikia Castillo – a tireless worker for justice.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Conservative Church Decline?

40 years ago, Americans began leaving mainline churches, either to go nowhere, or to affiliate with a newer version of the big box church. But the newer version is now experiencing high levels of chaos, heresy trials and uncertainty, as large numbers of children reared in conservative churches are raising hard questions (especially about homophobia), and many of them are opting out. Some are finding new life in mainline churches with their focus on justice. Others are experimenting with house churches and "emergent" kinds of communities. Everything is up in the air, but one thing is clear: we're shifting from an age of belief (creeds and dogmas) to an age of experience and service. The revealing studies done by Willow Creek a few years back and the Barna Institute document this. The pride of the conservative churches is coming back to haunt them, as is did with the mainline churches 40 years ago. Pride goeth before the fall; it always does. Thanks be to God!

Death Penalty?

Historically, the State has the right to take a miscreant's life - this is supported in legal and religious studies, but the question that dogs the story is our flawed ability to determine absolute guilt, and all the related stories of the innocent being executed. Along with these sad stories, the simple reality: the death penalty is no deterrent. Historically, societies that regularly kill lawbreakers are themselves likely to become increasingly violent. Death in the air is breathed by everyone. For me, in view of these pieces, I oppose the death penalty.

Written in response to a Facebook query ...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Thank God

A Confession of Faith written for October 11, 2009 worship:

I thank God for Jesus Christ.
Because Christ has taken care of heaven for me,
So that I might turn my attention to this world,
And be about my Father’s business.

I love God for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Because the love of Christ has reworked my life.
In Christ, God be praised, I am no longer my own.
But belong to God:
Body and soul,
In life and in death,
Now and forever more.

I serve God, because I can do no other.
Now that I know something of God because of Christ,
Any other claim upon my loyalties is just plain silly,
And a waste of good time and energy.

I belong to God, because God made me.
This is who I am, and I can’t change it.
Nor do I want to change it.
Though there are times when I resent the claims of God,
And wish God would leave me alone.

I am grateful to God, because God understands me.
God knows my foolish thoughts and the awful depth of my self-centeredness.
Yet God’s understanding is God’s unconditional love.
A love that will not let me go.
A love that compels me to reach higher, go further and stand taller.
A love that opens my eyes to the suffering of the world.
To nudge my hand to reach out,
And guide my feet to step out.

I am all of this and so much more.
Because of God!
God in Christ.
And Christ in me.

Amen and Amen!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Israel and the State of Israel

Psalm 147 closes:

God has not dealt thus with any other nation;
      they do not know his ordinances.
      Praise the LORD!

Folks sometimes ask if the claims and promises in the Old Testament apply to the State of Israel today.

My answer, for what it's worth - an emphatic, Nope!

God got out of the land business a long time ago. Like any land-endeavor, like any empire, great or small, the land business is costly in terms of lives and livestock, environment and national character.

For God, to create a nation, it was a bloody business from the get-go, and the bloodletting continued to the last fallen stone of Jerusalem.

From that point on, things went in two different directions: there were Jews who believed that Israel was now an idea, a culture, a faith and no longer a land with the Temple as the central feature and its daily sacrifices now at an end. Such is not foreign to the Old Testament prophets who foresaw a day when there would be no more boundaries, but that all the world would join together in God's peaceable kingdom. That God's love would transcend race and boundaries, and even the Temple and its sacrifices.

There were others who yet believed that God would restore Israel to its former glory, symbolized in the reign of King David. It is not by accident that the disciples ask the Risen Jesus if now is the time when God will restore the kingdom, to which Jesus says No and then redirects their thoughts to the world. God is no longer in the land business.

Because of the power of the idea of being Jewish, the Gentile world frequently turned hostile, and it mostly grew worse as Christianity became Gentilized and then grew increasingly hungry for total domination of the mind and heart of Europe and the Middle East (read Crusades), brooking no competition. As long as the Synagogue remained, Jews were a thorn in the flesh for the church; at best, to be tolerated; at worst, to be converted under threat of death or simply annihilated in pogroms (read James Carroll's excellent but brutally sad work, The Sword of Constantine).

No wonder there arose a longing for a place of safety, a land of their own - hence, the birth of Zionism, itself a long-debated idea among Jews.

Zionism, along with the guilt (deserved) of the Allies after WW2, prompted the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, at the cost of many lives and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians; like the land-business of old, it remains a bloody business today.

Within Zionism, the more conservative elements lay claim to the Biblical promises - that Israel as a state is forever. Others, simply lay claim to the human and polical right to be safe, and that I affirm and understand.

Unfortunately, America's failure to genuinely safeguard Israel's security has prompted Israel to become a military power in the Middle East, with the likely possession of nuclear arms. Sadly, the State of Israel has served our purposes - to keep the Middle East destabilized, with Israel as an client state able to threaten its neighbors even as Uncle Sam provides plenty of military aid and satellite photos.

To suggest that Israel's settlement policies, it's brutal treatment of Palestinians and its slow but inexorable elimination of Christian Arabs is somehow related to God's promises in the Bible, is, in my judgment, and that of many others, to be totally in error.

Okay, so where are we?

Israel is a state, a nation, just like Jordan and Iran and Poland and Canada and Peru. That's it; that's all. That get's one a seat in the United Nations as well as the right to exist in peace.

As for God, God is no longer in the land business. Now it's the world that God loves, and all the peoples therein.

Now, for God, it's all the world, or, might I say, the world or nothing.

So, for me at least, and for many Christians and Jews, there is no religious significance to the State of Israel, no more than there is for Chili or Morocco. 

Personally, I regret the formation of the State of Israel.

But history cannot be undone. It is my hope and prayer that America will craft a new policy guaranteeing Israel's security, providing for a real two-state solution and putting a leash on the more radical and aggressive elements within Israeli society - i.e. the Orthodox, many of whom are inclined to believe in a radical Zionism longing for the reestablishment of the Temple with its sacrifices and the coming of the Messiah who alone will bring peace - until such time, struggle and war will be the way it is.

Sadly, this violent vision has been embraced by fundamentalist Christians in America who love their guns and muscles and believe that war in the Middle East is a part of God's plan, and when the final war breaks out (see the Left Behind Series), then God will begin to act. So, let's go to war, as some have said, like John Hagee.

The violent visions of war, the rapture, etc., are profoundly distorted images of what the Bible actually says. But there have always been those whose love of war has become strangely intermingled with their love for God!

It is our task to disentangle these elements - to promote the love of God, and to bring to an end our warring inclinations.

Hope these thoughts help clarify some serious questions about the State of Israel and how we read the Bible.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thoughts About Presbyterian Bitterness

As you may or may not know, I do a blog on "Presbyterian Outlook," and, yes, I'm happy to be a Presbyterian, but some folks aren't. In reply to one of my blogs, some pretty nasty stuff, including a request that "The Outlook" close the blog down. I checked out the writer, a pastor from Western PA who writes his own blog on being Presbyterian. Sure, we have our issues; who doesn't? But it's like a good marriage: either the marriage and its happiness take precedence over the issues, or the issues themselves outweigh the marriage, and then it's only a matter of time before bitterness and outrage prompt a divorce.
Yes, I have been bitter, but God be praised, I have learned anew that bitterness, lodged in the heart of a liberal or in the heart of a conservative, is Satan's poison, and the results are always the same - the slow loss of reason and a growing blindness to the goodness of God flowing free and clean every morning. Bitterness locks the prison door, and therein we brood and sorrow, talking only to the other inmates self-sentenced for the same crimes and misdemeanors. Bitterness prompts us to inordinate self-confidence even as we increasingly despise "the other." Well, just a few thoughts. I am grateful for where I am, and though I've travelled the road of bitterness, though I've sentenced myself a few times to the dark room, I'm not there now, and to God be the glory!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Preaching Schlock?

Excerpt from last (9/13/09) Sunday's message:

I’ve been paying attention to sermons for a long time.

In seminary, I worked in the library – I reshelved books returned by students and pastors … I decided to look at what pastors were reading, and even as a first-year student, I was shocked and disturbed – so much of it was just plain schlock … syrupy spirituality, mediocre moralisms, simpleton ideas and shallow commitments.

(to read the message, click HERE)

I'm still concerned about the character of preaching. Reading Calvin this year, and now into the fourth book of the Institutes wherein Calvin examines the nature of the ordained office and its high calling to instruction, I am saddened by what passes as "preaching" these days.

Many of us have been influenced by the megachurch style - three powerpoints, colorfully illustrated with flowers and crashing waves, along with a few scriptures and a tearful-story or two. The "sermon" outline may be included as a handout, and folks can "follow along" by filing in the blanks, such as "Esther really ________ God."

And, of course, all of this delivered "extemporaneously" ... and listening to a lot of stuff posted to the internet, much of this extemp preaching strikes me as inarticulate as it is loud. Sort of like the preacher of old who noted in the margin of his text, "strike pulpit."

Is this preaching?

Is this teaching?

I don't know.

I've done a lot of extemp preaching over the years, and looking back, I don't think any of it could ever hold a candle to the value of a carefully prepared manuscript filled with carefully prepared thoughts on a text that has been carefully exegeted and prayerfully pondered (sure, no style or method inherently posses the power of God - that's up to God alone, and God will bless what God blesses, and we cannot control or manage that).

I've done the slide-show routine, and there's value there, but like TV, how effective is eye-candy?

Millions have been spent for the latest in tech tools, and I've been there, too, but at this stage of the game, I wonder just how effective it's been in creating disciples and feeding the hungry.

The self-study undertaken by Willow Creek a few years back rocked the megachurch world by its startling honesty, revealing that they had been no more or less successful in creating disciples, spiritually mature followers of Jesus, than anyone else.

I think we've all been cowed by the secular - that glitz, tech and high-powered stunts, will bring folks to Christ, and, the "numbers" of the megachurch prove it ... or do they?

I thank God for the megachurches and how they impacted us, but they're learning, as did the "megachurches" of an earlier time, that numbers are deceptive.

Or in the flow of Isaiah or Gideon's army, it's the faithful remnant who carries the torch, and the remnant is always small in number, so that God's folks never get the impression that it's their might and main that wins the day.

As for preaching?

It's an age-old task - from Jeremiah before the temple to Jesus on the Mount, from Calvin in Geneva to any of us today - and only God will give the blessing!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Presbyterian Divorce?

Just finished the latest issue (September, 2009) of "The Layman" - an exhausting read for me, and clearly unpleasant, as they dislike the path I'm on even as they walk in a very different direction.

Oh well ... they're convinced and so am I. Wonder how that happens, but it does, with everyone striving to claim the high moral ground of Scripture, theology, creed and tradition.

It's always painful, for everyone - those who leave and those who don't.

I think many, on both sides of the equation, believe that we've done just about all the talking we can do.

Or have we?

Is there anything more to be said, or like a tough divorce, should we just get on with and go our separate ways in the hopes of finding ourselves again?

From the tone of "The Layman" and the recent action of the Beaver Butler Presbytery to serve notice on the PCUSA, it seems like some folks have drawn a pretty clear line in the sand.

I suppose I have, too.

Like a broken marriage, we've slept in separate bedrooms for a long time, we've gone on vacation with our theological peers, and when we talk, it's mostly acrimony and accusation.

Would counseling help?

Or is exit counseling the best course of action - to minimize the damage, to bless one another on our respective journeys and to get on our with life, a little bruised and slightly damaged, but still capable of a good life, free of having to look at each across the breakfast table?

Just some very random thoughts ...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ill-Advised Zeal

Writing of the Anabaptists (4.1.13), Calvin notes their sinfulness - yup, that's what he calls it, driven, as it is, by "ill-advised zeal for righteousness."

 A few lines later, Calvin writes: they ... sin in that they do not know how to restrain their disfavor. For where the Lord requires kindness, they neglect it and give themselves over completely to immoderate severity. Indeed, because they think no church exists where there are not perfect purity and integrity of life, they depart out of hatred of wickedness from the lawful church, while they fancy themselves turning aside from the faction of the wicked.

 I think everyone of us has done this because it feels so good.

But the sin of ill-advised zeal is still sin, and it results in the same thing as any plain old sin might do - things are broken, and the heart is steeled against the impulse of the Spirit. Pride begets pride, and then the anger, and then further acrimony, and more pride and more fighting and more sadness.

I find it of interest that Calvin writes in this way of the Anabaptists - like the early Donatists, I suppose, the impulse to get it right, and the need to lambast those whom they see as getting it less than right.
We've all done it; there's a little Donatist, or an Anabaptist in nosing around in every heart - that secrete place of pride and power wherein we adjudge ourselves pure and righteous, and the others? Oh well, see ya' in hell!

 I'm entertained with Calvin at this point: he was a man who could dish it out, and now, on the receiving end of it from the Anabaptist, raises the question of "ill-advised zeal."

How fine is the line between "Ill-advised zeal" and "the zeal of the Lord"?

Perhaps the Book of Proverbs might help us ... or the Beatitutdes ... or the simple washing of feet - for who doesn't need cleansing, who doesn't need grace, who isn't saved by grace morning, noon and night?

Ill-advised zeal - a dangerous business!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Family ... and What a Family It Is!

"The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," by Jeff Sharlet, is an eye-popping, gut-wrenching, read, as he details the rise of "elite fundamentalism" in America, a bizarre blend of Christianity and capitalism, union-busting and anti-government ideology, militarism and market globalization, to generate wealth for the wealthy and power for the powerful, most of it under the table, even as it eschews the "populist fundamentalism" of a Billy Graham.

With a city like Colorado Springs being a refuge for thousands fleeing the evils of urban America and a source of ideas and energy to reclaim America's urban centers for Christ.

With Ted Haggard as one of the leading lights of the movement, that is, until Ted's fall from grace, so to speak.

Though spin puts a happy face on it - Ted was so powerful for the Lord, it would seem, that Satan had to unleash a full-frontal attack on the man, causing him to sin.

Fundamentalism, with its focus on personal conversion and inward piety, combined with a sense of retreat from the evil world even as one acquires its wealth (God's blessing) and the accouterments of worldly pleasure - homes, big SUVs, and fine clothing - is a perfect tool for the unregulated capitalism that has driven this nation to its knees and brought about a near-collapse of the global economy.
Sharlet's book is a perfect sequel to Chris Hedges' fine book, "American Fascists: the Christian Right and the War on America" - a carefully written book examining the classic examples of fascism and how the Christian right has flirted with fascism, if not, in fact, been seduced by it.

As I think and pray about such things, I am continually reminded of such things, since September 1 was the 70th anniversary of German tanks crossing the Polish frontier to begin 6 bloody years of world war, at the end of which 45 million were dead, and we must never forget how adroitly the Nazi propagandists used religion to further their own interests and keep the concentration-camp fires burning.

In the midst of that horror, an even greater question: Why did so many millions of German Christians buy into the rhetoric of a Himmler and a Hitler? Why the hatred of the Jews and Gypsies and all the rest deemed unworthy of the name "German"?

Yes, there was the Confessing Church, God be praised - and the Old Testament scholar, Von Rad, who refused to knuckle under and raised a protest, for which many of them paid the ultimate price.
But the question remains and must be asked countless times: Why did so many bishops and pastors, Protestant and Catholic, and millions more who heard their preaching and received the sacraments from their hand, buy the mythology of Aryan purity and power?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Doctrine and Love???

In 4.1.7, Calvin writes of the Lord's Supper, and of our participation in it: an attestation of our "unity in true doctrine and love."

Had Calvin put a period after doctrine, we'd be left with an impossible dream, for Christians will never find unity on the basis of "true doctrine," at least in the long run. Perhaps in the short run, in the thrill of new friends and new-found associations. But in time, friendships wear and the new becomes just as tired and wearying as was the old.

Doctrine is a good thing, but only as a servant of love.

In those instances where doctrine has been given too much weight, the results are always the same: bickering, dissension and divorce.

And those newly married on the basis of doctrine will soon find other issues to debate, things endlessly in need of fine-turning, sub-point and codicil ... with mountains of paper, books and counter-books, claims and counter-claims, and with each round, a little more bitterness, a little more anger, a little more this and a little more that, until all those little things become big things, and the indifferent makes all the difference.

I know doctrine, but do I know love?

I spent a good many years, early on, in the land of doctrine; it was fun and rewarding, but wearing, too, as ideas wear upon one another like engine parts shy of adequate lubrication, until the whole thing ceases up and comes to a grinding halt.

I think it was Rob Bell who said, "Doctrine makes a good servant but a horrible tyrant." He would know, living and working as he does in Grand Rapids, sort of the Holy City in the Land of Doctrine.

But it's love with which Calvin ends the sentence.

That's always the good end, the only end required of us.

While I'm quite sure what doctrine looks like and a community of faith utterly shaped by it, I have difficulty imagining a community of faith driven by love.

Yet some things seem obvious: like putting up with one another and our respective views, without calling down the wrath of heaven or summoning up the fires of hell.

Making room for one another, and perhaps, then, we can finally address what has been our fatal flaw from the get-to: too much reliance on doctrine and not enough push on love - biblical love - highly ethical and pulsing with loyalty to one another because of Christ's loyalty to us!

Of the former issues of race and gender, those who favored the status quo were able to marshal tons of Scripture and tons more of doctrine. The weight of history, in the main, is always on the side of the conservative [note the Sadducees].

But there are other stories to be told, and someone like Diana Butler Bass ["A Peoples' History of Christianity"] helps us do just that, and with these smaller stories, reminds us of the ways of love, the courage of love, and the humility of love.

Calvin himself relied too much on doctrine [a man of his time, to be sure], but he could never forget the Holy Spirit, the mystery of God, and the power of love.

Doctrine is neat and clean, especially when we walk away from those who might offer another take on things. That's one way of keeping the house clean.

Love, however, requires of us something rather different, or so I think.

The next time I'm at the Lord's Table, which will be this coming Sunday, I'll think about these things ... to be united in true doctrine and love.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Who Wants to Hear About Grace?

One of the most insidious devices used by Satan to destroy us (personally and socially) is the story of the self-made woman ... who, by dint of her own energies and creativity, masters the world and achieves success.

American mythology is filled with images of frontier women and men bravely hacking their way through the impenetrable wilderness, fighting off wild beasts and staving off savage attacks from those who would foolishly resist progress. The loner. The entrepreneur. The successful!

American religion, as well, has drunk deeply from the well of this salvation-by-works view of life, turning many an American pulpit into a podium for motivational jargon and silly stories that always bring a tear to the eye without the genuine transformation essential to the gospel of a real Christ - a living Christ who invites us to deny ourselves, trust God radically, give away profoundly, take up our cross and follow unconditionally.

Why is this notion of a self-made woman such an insidious idea?

Well, for one, it's patently false!

If one probes beneath the surface of the lives of the successful, one discovers the hidden imprint of grace, an imprint discernible through the lens of faith, itself a gift from God.

That's the point, I suppose - life is a gift from God, every bit of it, determined by God. Though we must be careful - this idea has been used by the powerful and the wealthy to justify the poverty of others and the maintenance of the social status quo as if it were the will of God, forever and immutable. Hence, the Victorian objection to Darwin who suggested that systems actually change. Churchly high pulpits linked arms with positions of privilege to fight Darwin's ideas and to promote the "created order ordained by God" to keep others in slavery and some in the lap of luxury. How convenient to believe that poverty and privilege are ordained by God.

But the point remains: the Bible and the work of good theologians point to the mysteries of grace that bestow wealth and power without our participation. Wealth and power - gifts from God, irrespective our character, our morality, our faith or our intelligence. Ouch! Did I just say that?

Socially, the myth of the self-made woman perpetuates the kind of pride that divides a society against itself - the "successful" person, imaging her success to be of her own making, looks down her snoot at everyone else, and then publishes a book or two about how smart she is, and if working-man Pete and single-mom Susie could only be as smart and as hard-working as she's been, why, they'd be successful, too, living on easy street and enjoying the well-deserved fruits of their labors.

Clearly, one of the fiery darts used by the Evil One to puff the soul and destroy our social conscience.

On the other hand, when one confronts the mystery and the joy of grace, one realizes, quickly, just how fragile our success is - how a million little factors, way beyond our purview and control, have brought us to this point in life. It truly is "amazing grace," and such grace leaves us spell-bound and grateful and utterly humbled.

In the face of grace, we begin to see why God has blessed us ... so that we might be a blessing to others (without questioning and judging their status even as we question and judge our own status in the light of grace), and use our position to fight the larger evils that oppress and destroy body and soul.

The wealthy and the powerful, if they truly understood the source of their wealth and power, would all become deeply radical, working tirelessly to change the hideous systems of disparity and death, even supporting a much higher tax rate for themselves, because taxes are the means of a shared responsibility to care for one another, paying their taxes with joy, giving thanks for what they have without demanding ever-more.

Living in the power of grace, the wealthy and the mighty would devote themselves to legislation and programs to provide the best of schools for every child everywhere, to promote unions for the protection of the guys and gals who turn our beds and serve our food and wash our cars and clean our streets and fight our fires and solve our crimes and fight our wars. Living in grace, the powerful would work to change the world rather than using charity as a sop to the poor and a salve to a greedy conscience.

Grace no longer asks the question: Why are poor people poor? As if it were their fault.

But asks the larger question: Why has God given me so much?

And then grace rolls up her sleeves, figures out how to spend a whole lot less on the self and engage a whole lot more in making this God's world, as it should be, after all.

Grace - who want's to hear it?

But it's the truth, and only the truth, the gracious truth, shall set us free at last.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Is the Prosperity Gospel Sick?

When I was a young pastor in the coal country of West Virginia, south of Charleston, up the Kanawha River, and then to Nellis and Brush Creek, I was confronted the first time with the spiritual pickpockets of the American prosperity gospel ... a sick system playing upon the fear and dreams of America's poorest.

These days, millions of Americans buy into this corrupt version of the gospel, and folks like the Copelands continue to enrich themselves at the expense of middle class folks hoping to be rich and the poor hoping to be middle class.

For more about this hideous distortion of our faith, click HERE.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Promise, So I'll Stay

Been thinking a bit … always slightly dangerous …

Sure, we have our ills, who doesn’t?

Been reading 2 Samuel … who doesn’t have their ills?

But it’s the promise of God …

To be faithful … faithful to the likes of us … Joabs and Davids and

Absaloms and Bathshebas and Uriahs and lusters and lovers and

Killers and plotters and avengers and women and men who still

Somehow, are after God’s own heart, because God is steadfast in faith.

That’s what counts … that’s the story … that’s the gospel.


And, sure, we have our ills.

But it’s the promise that sustains us.

We can’t build it.

We can’t kill it.

We don’t get there.

It comes to us!

The promise.

Glad to be a Presbyterian … we have some of that promise-sturdiness in our gut …

Something of that hope, because God is greater …

And maybe it’s God who’s shrinking us …

Like reducing a good sauce, to intensify it’s flavor ..

And teaching us to weep.

Some would quit and walk away to their own peculiar brand of ills.

But I’ll stay, and I’ll weep, and I’ll hope and work and stay the course.

Because of the promise.

It comes to us.



Gratitude …
Sure, it’s a good word.
Who doesn’t want to be grateful?
Or at least, to talk about it.

But gratitude can be a surface thing.
Like a suntan, fleeting for a season …
Words we say, or sing, or pray.

But deep down, something strange and dark.
We actually believe in ourselves more than God.
That it’s our work,
Our diligence,
Our intelligence,
Our drive,
Our ambition,
Our dreams,
Our … whatever … fill in the blank …
That made the day and spread the table,
And filled the bank account and filled
The gas tank.
And I did it my way.

I mean, is it me that provides the daily bread spread upon the table?
Or is there some hidden mystery here that I prefer to ignore.

Some might call it chance.
Or fate.
Or the luck of the draw.
Or it is what it is.

A mystery, that I’d like to ignore … that I have things … and a home … daily bread … and work.
Some would call it grace.
Even God.

But if it’s grace that provides …
If it’s God that gives …
Then I can’t be anything but really grateful …
And humble …
And never again look down my nose at anyone who has less …
And never again suggest that I did it, and so can they,
If they would only work as hard as I have worked hard …
As if I could make the sun rise,
And the wheat grow,
And the stocks rise,
And the world go around …
By my work.

Paul the Apostle, in a fit of disgust with those who pinned
Medals on their chest, wrote,
“I’ve worked harder than all of you.
But it really wasn’t me.”
It was grace at work within in me.”

Poor Paul.
He can’t escape grace.

Grace gives him the work, and
The strength.
The vision.
The moment.
The opportunity.
The “luck” as some would say.

Just grace.
Damn it all!
Just grace.

To shape these hearts into something sweet and soft.
Kindly and gracious.
God gave it all to me: every bit of it.
And God might well take it all away, if that’s what it takes …
To transform hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

To say the prayer with simple trust:
“Give us this day,
our daily bread.”
Now is the time ...
a test
a moment
a word
a fire
a rush
a sound

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Every Morning

Every morning
when Jesus gets out of bed, so to speak,
the scars are there …
big scars and little scars;
every scar a story.

© Tom Eggebeen, July, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Transitions - a personal poem ...

Transitions …

I'm in a spiritual transition of some sort ...
Hard to put into words ...

Wright's latest book, "Justification" impacted me deeply ...
The anxious Middle Ages shaped the Reformation ...
A "get saved" sort of deal - to put the conscience at ease
Not by works, that's good, I suppose.
But by faith, that's good, too.

Bring peace of mind to the soul.

But where's the Abrahamic covenant? Wright's question!
It's as if we traded covenant life for religious jargon, mumbo jumbo.
The salvation churches - all about going to heaven,
And personal purity, whatever that may mean.
But no covenant living.
No care for the garden.
No blessings to the world.
Dirty water, who cares, as long as I can buy bottled.
Terrible working conditions, who cares, as long as I have my office and my SUV.
Health care denied to millions, who cares, because I can afford it.
And besides, I have Jesus.
My soul brims with Jesus joy.
Jesus love.
Jesus life.

Just self.

For me,
The whole Christian thing seems increasingly corrupt.

I've become a universalist.
So let's relax on the heaven thing.
Let's get serious about earth.


Don't tell that to the wealthy, the powerful.
Tell them how good they are.
They're chosen.
Believe in Jesus.
Write a check now and then.
Go on a mission trip.
My, ain't you good!

We need to be Jews who believe in the Messiah.
To have become "christian" - gentile religion - we lost the world
And gained a whole new dimension of self-interest.
And it feels good.
So, preach on preacher.
Tell me about heaven.
And how I'm chosen.
And it's good to be charitable.
But let's not change how the money really flows.
Let's keep it the way it is.
The poor are poor.
The rich grow richer.
God be praised.

Oh well ...

So it goes.

© Tom Eggebeen

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Believe ...

I believe that God’s love is the foundation of my life and the world around me.
I believe that evil, ever so real, will never have the last word.
I believe that Jesus the Messiah is the gift of God to the world, a world so loved by God.
I believe that Jesus the Messiah wrought a new pathway for humankind,
By going to the cross and into the tomb.

A great love at work for all of humankind,
and for the whole of creation,
every creature great and small,
unto the farthest star.

I believe that God’s love is here and now in the person of the Holy Spirit,
Bringing me into the fellowship of faith,
Conforming my life to that of Jesus my LORD,
Enabling me to let my light shine,
So that others may see my good works,
And give glory to my Father in heaven.

I believe that life is greater than death.
And I believe that in death, God’s hand will have me.
And in time, all will be made new.
To the glory of God and to the praise of Jesus,
In the company of the Holy Spirit.

Amen and Amen!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Evangelical Christians Oppose Hate Crimes Legislation

A letter written to the Presbyterian Layman, a newspaper funded and published by hyper-conservatives in the Presbyterian family. They, of course, oppose the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Bill. But hats to the Rev. Dr. Mark Achtemeir, an evangelical Presbyterian, who testified before Congress on behalf of the bill.

Dear Friends,

It is a mistake of incredible proportions for evangelical Christians to oppose hate crimes legislation.

Our track record on hatred has been less than stellar, since we seem to have a penchant for "righteous hatred" which we love to dress up in the robes of Scriptural authority and carefully chosen verses.

Whatever one may personally feel about homosexuality, crimes against such persons, if and when motivated by their lifestyle, as any crime motivated by race, color, religion or national origin, is a hate crime. Period.

To suggest, however, that pastors would be punishable under this law is the worst kind of yellow journalism imaginable. To claim, as some have, that such legislation is part and parcel of an effort to silence the church is childish babbling, but part of strange "persecuted" mentality that has crept into certain parts of the evangelical community.

But let's be clear - pastors of the far right flirt far too often with hatred and delight in fanning the flames of prejudice. Hatred spewed from American pulpits seems to be a part of our heritage, and though this law wouldn't touch this freedom, it behooves Christians of every persuasion to examine their hearts and their pulpits.

Hats off to the Rev. Dr. Mark Achtemeier for testifying to Congress on behalf of the Matthew Shepherd Hate Crimes Bill. He's a wise and faithful evangelical Christian, and I salute him for his effort to help evangelical Christianity come to grips with an elephant in the living room - namely a tolerance for righteous hatred when properly aligned with evangelical sensibilities.

Christians need to join with Dr. Achtemeir in helping our great nation create a climate of freedom and justice for all.

In Christ, for Christ and with Christ,

Tom Eggebeen, Interim Pastor
Covenant Presbyterian Church
6323 W. 80th St.
Los Angeles, CA 90045

310 670 5750

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Protestant Christianity's Reluctance

From Calvin's "Institutes" - 3.7.5, "Now, in seeking to benefit one's neighbor, how difficult it is to do one's duty! Unless you give up all thought of self and, so to speak, get out of yourself, you will accomplish nothing here. For how can you perform those works which Paul teaches to be the works of love, unless you renounce yourself and give yourself wholly to others?"

As of late, I've been wondering why it's so difficult for Protestant Christianity to support justice - to stand beside the workers of America as their jobs are ripped out of their hands by a corporate power-grab that has overseen the largest transfer of wealth imaginable - billions out of the pockets of America's workers into the pockets of the rich, who have quickly shipped the money overseas. The hyper-concentration of wealth is destroying the middle class, but to raise a voice here is to be quickly branded a "radical" or a "socialist" or worse - but what would Jesus say? What would Paul or Jeremiah or Amos offer?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts Prior to Presbytery Meeting

My decision to support ordination for gays and lesbians came over a period of years with a variety of conversations and experiences, conjoined with study, thought and prayer.

I am a committed follower of Jesus Christ and a faithful student of the Bible – that is not in question, nor should it ever be questioned; nor will I ever question the faith or faithfulness of those who see this matter differently than I do. 

All theology is autobiographical – more so, I think, then we prefer to admit, because we want to believe that our take on things is somehow closer to the truth, more faithful to Christ, and more purely founded  – the proverbial game of one upsmanship – my Bible verse is bigger and better than your Bible verse – my theology is more faithful to the traditions than your theology, or my theology is more relevant than yours – we all like to trump one another.

I was ordained in January, 1970, and I read my first GA study on the question before us in 1976, and from that moment to now, we have engaged in a pretty thoughtful process – sometimes marred by rancor and the typical ad hominem arguments wherein we discredit the person rather than dealing with their convictions. Accusation and condemnation have sometimes been hurled thoughtlessly; the threat of leaving, of course, has been used by everyone. In our worst moments, we all believe that the eye can say to the hand, I have no need of you.

Western Christianity tends to think in either/or categories, which mean there has to be victors and the vanquished, or the orthodox and the heretical, the faithful and the apostate. It’s difficult for us to think and live in both/and categories, which is likely closer to the reality and wonder of God than our typical linear thinking.

Our own history has been less than sterling … since 1893, when C. Augusus Briggs was suspended from the ministry and Union Theological Seminary subsequently severed its ties with the Presbyterian Church, and then in 1929, when J. Gresham Machen founded Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, and who was later suspended in 1935, we’ve been locked in a see-saw battle for the church.  Machen went on to form the “Orthodox” Presbyterian Church, which, of course, means that the remaining body wasn’t orthodox. We’ve seen the formation of the “Evangelical” Presbyterian Church, which also implies that the remaining body isn’t evangelical. I’ve always been grateful for the PCA, the Presbyterian Church in America – they’ve never used their name to trump other Presbyterians.

But this only reflects what I call a near-fatal flaw in Reformed thought – we believe we can nail the truth down in our confessions and our rulings, and if only we can quote the right verses of Scripture, and do the needed exegesis, and then shout them loudly enough to one another, and failing that, to cite statistics and the latest findings of sociology and psychology. From the heady days of the Reformation in Geneva through Old School and New School, New Light and Old Light, it’s been a running gun battle, and I wonder about the long-term implications – the casualties have been high on both sides, and I believe our witness to the world has been compromised.

I give thanks for so many who have conducted this debate with respect and humility … no one here can out-Christian the other … no one can claim the high moral ground or hurl one more Scripture grenade – since the mid-70s, we’ve said it all, we’ve done it all, we’ve hurt and been hurt by one another – meanwhile the casualty list continues to grow and the world questions our integrity and value all the more.

I am not a reprobate, though some have said so.
Nor am I a heretic, though some have labeled me as such.
Nor am I apostate, those some have called me so.

I love the LORD Jesus – he is my Savior.
God has been with all my life, and some of my earliest childhood recollections are of God’s presence, in whom I have always found comfort and safety.
I was reared in a Christian family and enjoyed the influence of faithful pastors and strong congregations.

To Christ I belong in faith and practice, in body and soul, in life and in death.
He is my only comfort.
I am faithful to the Bible and it’s chorus of voices.
I am a sinner saved by grace.
I am a pastor of the Presbyterian Church, and I have sought throughout the years to honor the church of my ordination with the best I can give.
I have sought to honor my colleagues … to engage in debate and restrain my worst impulses … I have sought to understand myself and how my life has unfolded, and how the values I hold and the faith that holds me has emerged over the years.

So where do we go from here?
It’s not likely that I’ll forgo my commitment to opening the door of ordination for my friends in the GLBT community … and I will continue to strive for an open door policy in our state and our nation.

Some of my sisters and brothers will continue their stance, too – to honor ordination as they see it – that practicing gays and lesbians cannot be ordained, but only those who practice celibacy.

So where do we go from here?

The only course left to us, the only thing we have beyond what the world might offer, is love – agape – the highest ethical commitment to one another, above and beyond specific loyalties and faith-stances.

Without love, we’re just another bunch of ideologues … no different than a squabbling PTA or a condo association.

We may have all kinds of faith and knowledge, but without love, they are nothing.
For knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

I don’t know how it’ll go …
What does grace mean here and now for us?
What does it mean to walk humbly with our God and to think of others as better than ourselves?

I don’t know …

May God have mercy upon us … upon our beloved Presbyterian Church and the Presbytery of the Pacific, and may the Holy Spirit give us good eyes – eyes to see one another in a kindly light – that we are all sisters and brothers of one another through our LORD Jesus Christ, saved by grace, and not of works, lest anyone should boast, all for the glory of God and the wellbeing of God’s world.

So help me God – here I stand … I can do no other.

Thomas P. Eggebeen
May 12, 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Homosexuality, Christians and Some Thoughts

The following was written May 1 for a Facebook discussion.

Fascinating discussion on all fronts … It’s always helpful when Christians recognize one another in their self-affirmation. If I say “I’m an advocate for the GLBT community” and “I’m a Christian, “no one else can judge that, because that is precisely the kind of judging against which Jesus warns us.

Thus, the conversation is shifted from any effort to discredit one another at the faith-level of life; rather, we have to admit the complexity of the Christian family – people of good faith read the Text differently, and given the wide latitude of the last 2000 years of interpretation and living, we have to back off a bit and give each other the benefit of the doubt, while refusing to claim the high moral ground for our own views. It’s a matter of humility.

As for sexual surgery, why not? Should we then not fix cleft palettes? Or remove an infected appendix? A case can be made that cleft palettes are God’s will, for they were determined in the womb,  maybe even genetically. And why remove the appendix; it may just be God’s will.

Lots of laws in the Bible – in the Jewish Bible, 613 of them – commandments, including prohibitions on eating shellfish and wearing garments made of two types of cloth.

In addition, unruly children should be stoned, along with all sorts of guidelines for sacrifice and incense.

In the NT, the specific intent of Paul’s few passages are not entirely clear. And one has to note, with some degree of appreciation, homosexual practice is never mentioned by Jesus. Fortunately, there’s been some great work done by a very respectable theologian, the Rev. Dr. Jack Rogers (see his book, now in a brand new edition, “Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality). Jack comes from an evangelical background and through careful studies and prayer, he came to his present position of advocacy.

The few Bible passages under  consideration are not a clear-cut case by any stretch. Overall, it’s very difficult to build an ethic of exclusion on such a limited number of passages that are genuinely open to varying interpretations. On the other hand, the overwhelming numbers of passages that speak of welcome and mercy, kindness and love, must surely have the greater voice.

Marriage is not the be-all and the end-all of life. In heaven, there will be no marriage. Paul wasn’t married and actively encouraged others to forgo it, unless, of course, they couldn’t contain their desires. Neither was Jesus married, and he went so far as to redefine his own family as those who hear and do the will of God.

As for Sodom and Gomorrah, it’s all about their lack of hospitality, and their desire to use sexual humiliation for the strangers in their midst – think of prison and how sex is used as domination. And nowhere else in the Bible is Sodom used as illustration of sexual perversity.

All the fuss that was made about those who couldn’t be priests – physical imperfections and sexual damage – Isaiah and Jesus both say, “enough of this!”

Surely to be a Christian is believe in Jesus Christ and follow his commandments – and what is that, but to love God deeply and with the same kind of love, to love their neighbor. It’s love that stands at the heart of Jesus’ vision for the new community, and vast is the number of those who seek and live his love, albeit imperfectly, and in a thousand different ways.

It’s so hard to admit our commonality in Christ; it is the human instinct, it is sin, that compels us to draw boundaries and divide one from the other, claiming the high moral ground – “My Bible verse is bigger and better than yours.” “My love of Jesus is bigger and better than yours.” “My sense of social justice is bigger and better than yours.” When will this madness stop?

It’s easy to divide and love those of our own kind, but Jesus questions that kind of love – anyone can do that. Rather, real love is to love “the enemy” – real or perceived – the one who doesn’t belong to our circle.

I’ve written way too much … this and $4 gets me a cup of coffee at Starbucks!

Blessing and Joy, and let us be kind and welcoming to one another, and unlike the folks of Sodom, let’s not humiliate the stranger in our midst.

Enough of our fixation on sexual orientation. There’s a real place for everyone at the Table of the LORD.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Ordaining Gays and Lesbians

From: Shuck and Jive:

The day after the 87th vote was taken an overture was sent to presbytery en route to the 2010 General Assembly. Here is a news release from Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan:

Ann Arbor, MI – Today, Northside Presbyterian Church, a congregation in the Presbyterian Church (USA), proposed a new amendment to the denomination’s constitution that would allow the ordination of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members. This action was taken as a response to the narrow defeat of a similar proposed change that the denomination has been debating during the past year. Northside’s new proposed amendment would allow the ordination of anyone in the denomination whom God has called, regardless of sexual orientation.

Today, a majority of presbyteries, the local governing bodies of the PC(USA), considered, but by a razor-thin margin failed to ratify, a similar amendment to Part II of the denomination’s constitution, The Book of Order. This was the third such vote in the past 12 years. In contrast to those previous votes, this year an unprecedented number of presbyteries reversed their positions and now stand for justice and inclusion for their LGBT members. In spite of today’s setback, with such powerful momentum building for equality in the denomination, Northside Presbyterian believes it is imperative that the struggle for full inclusion in the life and ministry of the PC(USA) continue without delay and so proposes this new amendment.

“We are seeing something today akin to what happened in our denomination in the 1950s with the ordination of women,” said Brian Spolarich, Elder and Clerk of the Session, the governing body of the congregation. “It took over a decade of organizing, and multiple votes for our denomination to get it right, but in the end we recognized the Holy Spirit leading us to draw the circle of leadership more broadly, not more narrowly. I have faith that we will eventually get this one right, too.”

The new proposed amendment will go to the Presbytery of Detroit for action. If approved, it will be sent to the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for action in 2010. Then, if approved by the General Assembly, the amendment would require approval from a majority of the 173 presbyteries in order to be ratified.

About Northside Presbyterian Church:

Located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we are a small, dynamic congregation of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, we attract a diverse membership from all over Southeastern Michigan. In our denomination, the PC(USA), Northside Presbyterian Church takes a stand as a More Light congregation, affirming and celebrating the Spirit’s marvelous gift of diversity in ministry and ordained leadership, welcoming all sexual orientations and gender identities. Find out more about our faith community on our web site,

About More Light Presbyterians:

More Light Presbyterians, the oldest gay rights group in the 2.3 million member Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), works for the full participation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith in the life, ministry and witness of the PCUSA. Web site:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mainline Clergy Going Liberal

Are mainline Protestant Clergy going liberal?

Well, the latest poll results are in, and it seems that mainline clergy are, indeed, going liberal.

In response to this report appearing in the Presbyterian Outlook, I wrote the following:

While some will decry the results, I celebrate them - to be more just, on the one hand, and to freely admit our diversity of thought and belief on the other. For 1500 years, the church traded in “the right answers” - we had them; others didn't, and if you didn't you might lose your head or be burned at the stake. We knew we had the answers – they were in the councils of the church and in the Pope; in the Reformation, we found them in the Bible and enshrined them in our confessions.

But God has been slowly unshackling the church from its self-imprisonment in answers. Answers fail us badly; they divide us, one from the other - "my answer is bigger and better than your answer," and the very moment we craft an answer and spell it with capital letters, we've cast a graven image of God.

We are recovering the original diversity of the Bible - Leviticus to Psalm 23, Deuteronomy to the Song of Songs, from Matthew to John, from Paul to Peter, from James to Revelation, and we're learning the heart and soul of love for the neighbor, the harvest of righteousness (Philippians 1:11, James 3:18) as an outworking of our love for God who shows no partiality (Acts 10:34, James 2:9).

We are learning that the truth of Christ is vastly different than our answers - thus, creating a new humility and a fresh openness. If this be liberalism, God be praised.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Creationism in Texas and Other Strange Goings-ons ...

Dear Members and Friends of The Clergy Letter Project,

With the Texas State Board of Education set to act on the state’s science standards later this week, it seems an appropriate time for an update – especially since those endorsing The Clergy Letter have been brought into the controversy. Additionally, there are a number of other issues that should interest you.

1. The Situation in Texas – And the Role of The Clergy Letter Project

The Texas State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on Friday on science standards to be implemented across the state for the next ten years. While the preliminary meeting which took place in January was largely positive, with the Board largely adopting the language recommended by the experts it empanelled, a number of troubling motions that open the door for creationism were introduced at the last minute by the Board’s chair. The actions of the Board are of great importance for all of us, even those of us outside of Texas, because Texas adopts its textbooks at the state level and because they purchase so many texts that publishers edit books to be certain that they are acceptable to the Texas market. So, if creationism enters textbooks in Texas, you can be sure that it will enter textbooks everywhere else in the US. You can read more about the situation at the web site The Clergy Letter Project co-sponsors with the Center for Inquiry (

Don McLeroy, the Chair of the Board, is a self avowed creationist. A recent article in The Texas Observer ( summarizes McLeroy’s beliefs quite simply: “McLeroy is convinced that teaching evolution leads to atheism. There’s not a lot of room for negotiation in that position.” Obviously, this position is in direct contradiction to what The Clergy Letter stands for!

Interestingly, and somewhat frighteningly, McLeroy has just written an endorsement for a self-published book entitled Sowing Atheism that attacks The Clergy Letter Project and calls the clergy who have signed our Clergy Letters “morons.” The book says, “In my judgment, only morons—more than 11,500 morons in this case—could sign a letter maintaining that the ‘timeless truths of the Bible’ are compatible with the billions of unpredictable aberrations of evo-atheism. What do these apostate morons celebrate at their Sunday services, the lies about humanity’s origins told by Moses, Jesus, and Paul?”

It is exactly this sort of anti-intellectual name calling that The Clergy Letter Project is designed to combat. What a shame that the individual in a position to shape the framework for science teaching in the country for the next decade thinks that such actions are to be supported. You can read more about the situation on a blog written by Ryan Valentine, the Deputy Director of the Texas Freedom Network (

2. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis Declares Moral Outrage Over an Action He Performed

This item falls well within the dictionary’s definition of hypocrisy! Ken Ham, the head of Answers in Genesis, the group that built the $27 million Creation Museum-cum-theme-park in Kentucky, has recently railed against the BBC for “ambushing” a member of his staff ( As you’ll see if you read the link, Ham claims that Jason Lisle was surprised to find that his scheduled interview on the BBC was actually to be a debate with Genie Scott of the National Center for Science Education. (I’ve not checked with Genie to get her side of the story since it is actually not relevant to the point I’m making here!) Here’s how Ham summarizes the situation: “By the way—the BBC has not responded to our publicist who has challenged them concerning their deception. Then again, for those people who don’t believe in God and there is no absolute authority, not telling the truth and deception would not be ethically wrong—as they have no basis for right and wrong!”

What makes Ham’s complaints so incredibly ironic and hypocritical is that this is exactly what he did to me a year ago. I was scheduled to do an interview last year on a fundamentalist Christian radio show only to discover, upon going on the air, that Ken Ham was also on the line, ready to debate me. When asked why neither the host nor Ken had the courtesy to inform me that I was to participate in a debate rather than in an interview, I was told that they believed that I wouldn’t have accepted their offer had I been told the truth. When I questioned them about the deception, I was told that since the debate was to further God’s wishes, a minor deception of this sort was acceptable.

That’s quite a double standard!

3. Canadian Science Minister Refuses to Discuss Evolution on Religious Grounds

When asked whether he accepts evolution, Gary Goodyear, Canada’s Science Minister refused to answer the question, claiming it pries into his religious beliefs. According to The Globe and Mail (, “’I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,’ Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.”

The response to Goodyear’s comments has been clear. Again, from the same news report: “Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said he was flabbergasted that the minister would invoke his religion when asked about evolution. ‘The traditions of science and the reliance on testable and provable knowledge has served us well for several hundred years and have been the basis for most of our advancement. It is inconceivable that a government would have a minister of science that rejects the basis of scientific discovery and traditions,’ he said.”

4. Journal Editor in Turkey Fired for Publishing Story on Darwin

Cigdem Atakuman, the editor of Science and Technology magazine, a state-run publication in Turkey, was fired, according to the Associated Press (, for attempting to run a story about the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species in the magazine. According to the AP, “Atakuman confirmed reports that the publication was stopped at the presses and the article was removed from the issue. Newspapers printed copies of both the original issue and the new issue without the Darwin article.”

5. Evolution Weekend 2010 – Call for Participation

With creationism continuing to spread as noted above, our efforts continue to be important. Although we are far closer to Evolution Weekend 2009 than we are to Evolution Weekend 2010 (12-14 February 2010), I’ve begun to build a list of participants for next year. What’s utterly amazing is that at this early date, we already have 89 congregations from 34 states and 4 countries signed up to participate. Signing up early will help us enormously by permitting us to focus on new congregations. So, please, if you plan to participate next February, let me know by dropping me a note at I plan to post the list of participants in a couple of months. Remember that participation can take any form you think is most appropriate for your congregation – all that matters is that you help elevate the public discourse about the compatibility of religion and science. Please sign up now and please invite friends and colleagues to do the same.

As always, thanks to all of you who have been active in The Clergy Letter Project. Together we are making a difference.