Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, a guest of Patrick Henry College’s Newsmakers series last year, recently penned an essay about the encounter at Wheaton College described here. Butterfield was invited to Wheaton, as she was to Patrick Henry, to discuss her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith. The book tells her story of transformation from a “lesbian professor specializing in feminist studies at Syracuse University” to orthodox Christian convert and pastor’s wife.
A group of Wheaton students found the invitation troubling, so they held a vigil. It seems that wherever she goes to speak, there is concern that Butterfield’s story is being employed to undermine the dignity of LGBTQ students by suggesting that they, too, are trapped by what she has described in herself as a “false identity.”
“In the beginning when God was creating the heavens and the earth, everything was just a formless void and in deep darkness. And then a wind from God began sweeping over the waters, and God said: Let there be light! And there was light! Then God separated the light from the darkness, and called light ‘day’ and darkness ‘night.’ So there was evening and there was morning… a first day.” [Genesis 1:1-5]
Did you watch Tuesday’s “debate” between Bill Nye and Ken Ham? If it was not clear before, it should be clear now that reading Genesis as if it were science is an insult to both science and to our concept of God.
It’s striking that Ham and others are still making the same false arguments we addressed five years ago when we first celebrated Evolution Weekend: Confusing the domains of science and faith and redefining “science” to include ideas that can’t be tested, and promoting a completely fabricated history in which Charles Darwin and his ideas are responsible for the shameful past of slavery and Jim Crow. The truth is precisely the opposite, which may be why this particular lie is such an important one for today’s “religious authorities.”
The reality is that Darwin was a staunch Abolitionist. His ideas were a radical challenge to the popular understandings of “race” during his lifetime, and represented a true repentance, or new way of thinking. One of the things that most outraged his contemporaries was his rejection of the widely accepted idea that the “races” were actually different species – a notion vigorously defended by the religious authorities of the time – and his insistence that all of humankind has a common ancestry. This idea enraged such authorities, who condemned it, in the words of one typical broadside, as a hypothesis inspired “by hostility to the Christian revelation.” It must be understood that the “revelation” in question held not just that all living things were created in their present form by God, but that non-white peoples were not descendants of Adam (i.e., were not really human) and therefore had no souls. This particular “revelation” was not new, but it happens to have become quite important to the “powers and principalities” of the mid-ninteenth century.
We are left dumbfounded by this incoherent essay, promoted by the Loudoun-based “Colson Center for Christian Worldview.”
The takeaway of James Tonkowich’s “Love Doesn’t Make a Family” is that love – that thing we are told is the greatest commandment of them all, that thing that Jesus extravagantly showed for all of humanity by giving away his life – is nothing but “a shabby little advertising slogan.”
Reflections on Pentecost 18 and Sept 7th, 2013 at St. James UCC
Introduction: In a worship and spirituality that continues to revolve around the Good News of The Reign of God that is rooted in mercy and compassion… and some relevant liturgies from the past that help us in the process of wrestling with the issues God puts before us in the contexts of today . . .
We began with, Shana Tovah! Have a good year in Hebrew… a greeting that begins celebrations of Rosh Hashanah, [literally, The Head of the Year], a year that begins with 10 days of repentance that climax with Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, and there’s always the play on words: at-one-ment, getting AT ONE with God, and that’s what these Holy Days are about. Rosh Hashanah is not a term used in the Bible regarding the day, although it does pop up parenthetically in Ezekiel 40:1; but, as noted in Leviticus 23:24-25, it is Yom HaZikkaron [day of remembrance] or Yom T’ruah [day of sounding the shofar], and the blowing of a trumpet that is always meant to be a WAKE UP CALL! And some scholars say it was in exile that the day really took on significance… because that experience was certainly a WAKE UP CALL for those who considered themselves Israelites… just like Jesus’ crucifixion was a WAKE UP CALL to his followers and to a primitive Christianity that got them on track for transcending religion and recognizing that mercy and compassion are about a way of life… and given where we are in our own moment in history, there are clearly a host of WAKE UP CALLS sounding off in many contexts and places, and it all makes THE GOSPEL OF LUKE seem like it was written for our own moment in time…
A New Heaven and a New Earth
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”
The reading from Revelations today contains within it a meme that has been -enthusiastically – adopted by people who are trying to maintain an exclusionary definition of marriage as “one man and one woman.”
This symbolic illustration of the Church “coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband” has become literalized in what is really a political narrative of explaining what God’s design for marriage supposedly is, and the people who employ it do take it very seriously. They honestly believe that this is what the Bible says about what marriage is.
First of all, the language leaves no doubt that this is metaphor. To illustrate just how odd it is to literalize it, let’s look at some other metaphorical language, a kind of language that’s very common in the Bible. From the Song of Songs:
Published in the Loudoun Times-Mirror January 9, 2013
Epiphany (Jan 6th) in the Christian calendar and the story of the visit of ‘The Magi’ to Bethlehem invite us back into the real world from the romanticized and sentimentalized pageantries of Christmas. As you read the whole story in Matthew 2:1-18 – and the author clearly wants us to see that ‘whole story’ – the stark reality of Herod’s massacre of innocent children to maintain political and economic dominance reminds us all too vividly of a violence and indiscriminate madness in our own world that claims the lives of innocent children… innocent lives too often reckoned as ‘collateral damage’ in terms of maintaining dominance and control… so the ‘whole story’ calls for some observations and concerns . . .
- Who are ‘The Magi?’ All we know is they are from ‘the east’ – and in a time of increasing multi-cultural and inter-faith realities ‘Eastern’ thinking ‘epiphanies’ might help us understand some spiritual truths that have too often been obscured and distorted by an imposition of ‘Western Christianity’ connected with global economic and political domination, and maintained too often by violent means. So we rejoice in some liberating spiritualities that come from the wisdom of contemporary ‘Magi’ – and the Dalai Lama might epitomize that wisdom among us today.
- Not the least of impositions of ‘Western Christianity’ is the assumption of a ‘Christian culture’ that frequently manifests a ‘Herodian paranoia’ – as in hyped up fears about a ‘war on Christmas’ – and reacts with hostility (with violent under-and-over-tones) toward truths that emerge from outside the box of traditional Christianity. So we are thankful for the creation of Loudoun Interfaith BRIDGES for bringing greater understanding and cooperation among people of faith… just as we are thankful for the witness of our Atheist sisters and brothers.
- Observing Herod’s ‘collusion’ with the organized religious community to pin-point Bethlehem as a likely place for a new ‘Judean messiah’ to be born… (given his own co-optation of the spirit of the ‘Maccabean revolution’)… we might take note of a ‘religious nationalism’ today that too often offers blind patriotic support for global US military domination. So we rejoice that on January 12th a coalition of faith communities will gather near CIA Headquarters to protest the use of ‘torture’ and ‘drone warfare.’ [For more info: Contact Jack McHale, 703-772-0635.]
- And to better understand a Herodian mentality among us today look for Andrew Feinstein’s “The Shadow World – Inside The Global Arms Trade”, a tale of global arms trading and collusion among senior politicians, weapons manufacturers, felonious arms dealers, and the military— a situation that compromises security and undermines democracy, as well as Michael Moore’s recent Christmas Letter: “Celebrating The Prince of Peace in The Land of Guns.”
A final thought: The ‘whole story’ suggests a subversive ‘Magi’ spirit in risking Herod’s wrath by not sharing information he was seeking and returning home “by a different way.” [Matt 2:12] Surely, in a world of violence and indiscriminate madness, people of faith must seek a ‘different way.’
The following letter was published December 3rd in the Leesburg Today, on behalf of members of St. James.
The remarks of Supervisor Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) reported in the Washington Times (Nov 26, 2012) call for a response from faith communities in Loudoun County. An effort to give all residents equal access to the courthouse grounds has yielded a great variety of displays, some with significant symbolism reflecting the spirit of the holidays; but, as the Times article put it, “not everyone likes the way different groups have been decking the grass mall.”
Years of conversation and contention over the holiday display policy show that there is significant concern about Loudoun’s “town square” and symbol of equal justice appearing to endorse specific religious beliefs, especially in a county as diverse as ours. The new, county-designed display planned for this year ignores this concern.
But according to Supervisor Reid, “[n]one of the religious organizations in the county have had any problem with what we’re doing. It’s strictly this group of terrorists. They’re fanatics who basically want to stamp out religion in all public life and property.” As members of one of the “religious organizations” in Loudoun County, we do have a problem with the board choosing and endorsing religious symbols for display on the courthouse grounds, and we take great exception to the use of terms like “terrorists” and “fanatics” to describe people who oppose that policy. Reid seems to believe that this is a disagreement between all people of faith and atheists, when it’s actually a disagreement between defenders of church-state separation, whether people of faith or atheists, and certain Christians who feel that they have a special right to use public property.
In referring to a group of caring, law-abiding citizens as “terrorists” Supervisor Reid has overstepped the boundaries of behavior expected from those elected to public office.
Some apologies are certainly in order, to the atheist community to be sure, but to the entire Loudoun County community as well.
Rev. R. Don Prange
St. James United Church of Christ, Lovettsville
Originally published in the Loudoun Times-Mirror on October 11, 2012.
Taking ‘the Bible’ seriously, not literally, is a major principle of the United Church of Christ. We see it as a ‘library’ of writings reflecting spiritual experiences, both Jewish and Christian, (although Muslims include some of their memories in their ‘library’ known as the Qur’an.) Rather than divine revelations understood in literal terms, we see biblical writings as spiritual experiences described mostly in metaphorical symbolism. That is true of theological concepts quite often rendered in poetry and song – such as stories of creation, but also of those considered historical – like the heroic epics of David, but hardly history in an objective sense. Such an approach offers greater possibilities for biblical relevance in discovering and taking seriously spiritual truths significant for daily life – especially truths involving human compassion, mercy, justice, and peace.
Literal interpretations have too often obscured these truths. Astronomical discoveries revealing countless galaxies beyond our own make ludicrous an observation five centuries ago that Copernicus and Galileo were heretics for saying the earth revolves around the sun. But a geo-centric mentality also led to distortions of biblical truth as human space evolved into religious space, and a narrow Christo-centric worldview emerged. The transcending truths of Jesus of Nazareth, already obscured by misunderstandings that named him Christ (Messiah in Hebrew terms), were lost in theological rhetoric excluding other paths to an authentic spirituality for life.
Christian superiority and exclusivism – and a history of European religious wars and inquisitions spanning a millennia and reaching horrific proportions in the Post-Reformation era makes it clear that not even Christians can agree when it comes to religious truth – reaches into our own moment in history. And in the United States – indeed, right here in Loudoun County – two contexts need to be cited.
One deals with concepts of family and the meaning of marriage. Distortions of biblical truth, based on literal understandings of certain narratives, lead to a failure to recognize that non-heterosexual orientations are as normal and natural in the order of creation as the earth revolving around the sun. We no longer take literally any biblical assumptions about that reality; neither should we take literally its assumptions for defining family or marriage. When it comes to same-sex marriage or same-sex families, both are quite capable of embracing transcending biblical truths about bonding human relationships around love, and compassion, and rearing children to be loving and compassionate. Sadly, there are those who continue to promote ‘family research’ and a ‘public advocacy’ that is un-biblical.
Another deals with religious bigotry, especially targeting Muslims and distorting transcending truths they embrace. Most take those truths seriously and challenge those with distorted views of the Qur’an. And if there are concerns about a ‘Muslim rage’ in certain places, just recall that ‘Christian rage’ cited above. Then consider what a small fraction of the population has been involved; the numbers are probably no more than 100,000, not even one-thousandth of 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
In taking the Bible seriously at St. James UCC in Lovettsville, we continue to reflect on realities such as these… just as we did last Sunday in observing a spirit of a ‘worldwide communion’… with a recognition of a spirituality that being the family of God involves an acceptance of all our sisters and brothers… and with an extravagant welcome that says “no matter who you are or where you are in the journey of life you are welcome” in our religious space.
The Rev. Don Prange, Director-Ministries in Economic Justice, email@example.com and Minister, St. James United Church of Christ, Lovettsville, www.stjamesucc-love.org
We come first of all in humble and heartfelt confession . . .
Mindful that dreams of justice, mercy, and peace in the Americas are too
shattered by the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism
We confess our complicity in these dream-shattering realities.
For each vibrant life and hopeful dream annihilated by war and too
often written off as collateral damage
We lift up our pain and remorse.
For the millions who go hungry or suffer sickness because bombs are more
lucrative than bread and missile and drones more important than medicine
We lift up our grief and shame.
For each mind forever haunted and each body broken by war, for wars in
which soldiers become pawns and veterans become burdens
We lift up our sorrow and sadness.
For homes reduced to rubble, and citizens cast out as refugees, for our
thirst for revenge and our captivity to a narrative of violence, and for
hiding our terror of vulnerability behind a bravado of greatness and
We lift up our complicity, our pain and remorse, our grief and shame,
our sorrow and sadness, and humbly seek forgiveness and renewal.
But we come also in joyful celebration for all who have ever witnessed against
racism, materialism, and militarism and the systemic injustices they bring . . .
So we celebrate and give thanks especially for the witness of our brother, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And mindful that there is always a price to pay for a witness to justice,
mercy, and peace
We celebrate and give thanks for his sacrificial witness, and for all
those who paid the price for embracing his vision and his dream.
And mindful of so many struggles for justice, mercy, and peace we think
first of all of the Indigenous in the Americas, and then of all those – known
and unknown – who have struggled for the rights of people: those who
endured and resisted slavery, who struggled for worker’s rights and
economic justice, who struggled for women’s equality, who struggled (and
struggle yet) for civil and human rights regarding sexual orientations, who
stand in solidarity with immigrants, and all who have at any time spoken and
acted for the poor, the marginalized, and the liberation of the oppressed
We celebrate and give thanks for their faithful witness, and with our
brother Martin invite their spirits to join us at this moment.
So we call on all who have gone before us and for all who are still resisting
forces of racism, materialism, and militarism… and whose witness stirs up
our hearts with visions and dreams of justice and liberation, with tenderness,
and, above all, with a spirit of humility
Stand beside us now and encourage in us a deeper capacity for
critical dialogue… for engaging in risk-taking endeavors… and for becoming committed communities enlightened and empowered to pursue the dreams and visions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
-Rev. Don Prange, St. James United Church of Christ
Delivered at the Annual I Have A Dream celebration at the Douglass Community Center, Leesburg, January 16, 2012
Reflections for January 8, 2012 – the First Sunday after Epiphany…
Some introductory thoughts: In recognizing our faith, worship & life journey this year as one of pausing to take time for some spiritual discernment… we moved last Sunday from celebrating Jesus as the Christ-child to celebrating ourselves within a spirituality of being children of God. And as we recall today that Jesus grew in wisdom as he matured into adulthood… we want to take note of the story of The Magi and the degree to which he might have been influenced by eastern wisdom. So we will reflect today on a spirituality of creation with its emphasis on the metaphors of darkness & light in pursuing a transcending immersion in a spirituality in which we see God in everything and in each other.
So we began with a hymn lifting up the spirituality of THE MAGI… one that helps us understand what worship is all about… and following their sighting of the star the lines go on…keep looking »