‘Hurting the Feeling of Muslins’

UPDATE.  After this original blog post was published we learned that the story of a video being the provocation of the attack on our embassy in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Stevens and three others was not the truth.  As you read this update you know this issue has been the focus on Congressional hearings and is part of the 2016 presidential campaign rhetoric.  I left the original post below as written but read it now in the newer context of what you know about the truth of this sad tale. 

Protesters in Libya killed the US Ambassador and three embassy staff members as they fled the US consulate building in Benghazi which had been stormed and set on fire allegedly by al Qaeda-linked gunmen blaming America for a film that they claimed insulted the Prophet Mohammad. In Egypt protesters broke into the US embassy and burned the US flag.

The US State Department put out this press statement prior to the embassy attacks but it has been subjected to fierce criticism for continuing to convey a sense of moral equivalence first laid out in President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo in what is widely now called his ‘apology tour’ for suggesting that there is a linkage between American values and policies and Muslim violence.

U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement

September 11, 2012

“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”

We have our Priorities Wrong!

While we recognize the sensitivities that Muslims have about the depiction of the Prophet, that is no excuse for storming our embassies let alone killing the US ambassador and his staff.  The decision by the US State Department to blame this on Coptic Christians who are regularly persecuted by Muslims in Egypt and elsewhere is unbelievable.

Never mind the starker reality is that these incidents are not mere protesters out of control but the work of terrorist groups seeking to exploit the sensitivity to create the incident in hopes of provoking a crisis suited to their destabilization goals.  Never mind that this is standard modus operandi in the thousand year old tensions between Sunni and Shi’a and that the killing of Muslims by other Muslims is common place. Never mind that it is no coincidence that these attacks happened on September 11th, yet the State Department announcement completely ignores these realitities as it seeks to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslims.

The State Department statement and our Government’s policy and reaction to this incident is shameful.  Our blame of the Coptic Christians for also wanting to practice their religion is shameful.  Our government’s willingness to abandon our own principles to avoid hurting the feelings of Muslim terrorists is shameful.

We pray for Ambassador Stevens and his three staff members killed in the Benghazi attack.

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There is No Religious Test for President

Timothy Dolan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Ne...
Timothy Dolan, Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The day after evangelical pastor Rick Warren said that his followers would have trouble voting for Mitt Romney because Mormons do not believe in the Trinity, Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Sunday on Face the Nation that Republican front-runner Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith should not be an issue in the presidential campaign.

There may be reasons not to vote for Mitt Romney as president of the United States. That he’s a Mormon cannot be one of them.“I don’t think Catholics would have any problem voting for a Mormon at all.”                      —Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York

Dolan has reminded his followers that it was not too many years ago that Catholics felt the sting of such discrimination in the election of 1960 that saw John F. Kennedy win the presidency.  During the Republican primary season dominated by conservatives, Romney’s religion has been a recurring subplot in the strategy of his opponents.

For Cardinal Dolan to called out the discrimination for what it is was admirable, but it was also subtle, delicious political payback for President Obama’s action to force the church to support health care practices in opposition to its teaching.  The Cardinal is reminding the White House that the church is not without its influence in these matters .

Dolan brought up religion us prejudice in a speech to the Jewish Anti-Defamation League when he was asked how the Jewish and Catholic communities could cooperate better. He got a standing ovation after he told them

we Catholics and we Jews have felt the sting of the other side. And now, one of the ways we can cooperate is to see that religious prejudice, religious bigotry doesn’t enter the campaign.”

“It is like you were sent by God”

“It is like you were sent by God”, that was the simple thank you message from freed Iranian fisherman Fazel ur Rehman after American sailors rescued him along with other distressed and adrift in the Persian Gulf after their vessel broke down and was taking on water.

It probably was not the headline the Mullahs wanted to see in the New York Times, but there is was for all the world to see. 

What are the odds that twice in one week Americans would rescue Iranians, feed them and send them home in a matter of hours with God speed wishes.

Now compare that to the Iranian decision to sentence to death an America in Iran to visit his elderly grandmother on charges that he is a spy for the Great Satan.  The ex-Marine Amir Hekmati had the permission of the Iranian interests section–the U.S.-based diplomatic representative for Iran in Washington D.C. to travel to Iran in August to visit his elderly grandmother. He was arrest on August 29 and Iranian officials initially urged the family to keep quiet in order to facilitate his release. But in December, Iranian media showed a video of Hekmati allegedly confessing to working for the CIA a charge his family denied.  Iran has used this same tactic to torment the US since the days our embassy staff was held hostage for 444 days.

Maybe there is a sign from God somewhere in these intertwined stories. As tensions rise between Iran and the US over nuclear weapons and other issues and it looks like it will get worse before it gets better suddenly something completely unexpected happens—not once but twice.  The Great Satan rescues Iranians in need, offers them food and hospitality and gets them safely home.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you—maybe the Iranian Mullahs should study their lessons!

Nielsen Study of Optimism and Opportunity for Women

I have not written much about our 20/20 Vision process lately.

It has been dormant while St. Timothy’s searches for a new rector believing that whoever God calls to be the shepherd of our flock should be an active participant in framing our parish vision for the future.

But that should not stop us from research and examination of useful information when that 20/20 Vision process picks up again hopefully next year.

So here is a good news story to keep your attention focused on our 20/20 prize.

Nielsen is out with a very interesting new study of the attitudes of women.  What makes this study useful for our work in the Church Growth Program is the breakdown of the data from the survey results across ethnic and other demographic lines that make it a good resource for planning mission and ministry programs.

We’re learning from the 2010 Census data about the profound changes in demographics reshaping our country.  Those changes are not just ethnic they are also being reshaped by the changing role of women in the workplace and in our society.  Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group and their attitudes about optimism and opportunity will have major impacts on media, retail and manufacturers now and in the years ahead—and provide lessons about of message of hope and opportunity for an optimistic role for woman in the Episcopal Church.

The Nielsen study offers good news for our mission and ministry work in the vineyard over the next year working congregation by congregation to help each devise a church vitality and growth strategy that works for them.  Its focus on attitudes about optimism and opportunity are very important benchmarks for our church vitality and growth work ahead.

So what are the headlines from this Nielsen study?

  • Optimism was highest among African American and Hispanic women, especially how they viewed the opportunities they have had compared with those of their mothers.
  • Women of today are not only optimistic for themselves, they expect their daughters to have more opportunity than they do.
  • American women are heavy users of technology – even if they aren’t early adopters. Women of all ethnicities use media in similar ways, with one key exception: smartphones. Just 33 percent of Caucasian women have a smartphone in their household, compared to penetration rates in the 60s for women of other ethnicities.

I recommend this Nielsen Report to you:  Women of Tomorrow: U.S. Multicultural Insights.

Anglican Covenant Rejected at DioCal Convention

Seal of the Diocese of California
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The 162nd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of California rejected the Anglican Covenant by a wide margin October 23rd.  This was not a surprise since sentiment against the Covenant has run strong and deep since it was first unveiled.  But there was a holy and healthy peace about the decision and a sense of sadness that the debate had produced such acrimony across the Communion.

The Anglican Communion was formed as a freewill association of independent churches sharing the common faith foundation from the mother Anglican Church of England.  But America fought a revolution for its independence from England and has thrived for the past two centuries quite well on its own.  America democratized the church with the invention of the Standing Committee.

While the Episcopal Church of the US clearly wants to remain in communion with the other Anglican Communion members, we are not prepared to sacrifice our independence or subordinate ourselves to a Standing Committee other than our own.  Such a price is too high to pay—-and worse such a price is too high to even have the audacity to ask for.  So the logical answer is no thank you.

In a world full of intolerance, the message from the Diocese of California is clear and unmistakable: 

EVERYONE who loves God and seeks Christ is welcome at our table where we come together to find renewal, hope and unconditional love.

Disciples in the Dougherty Valley

Notes from the October 15th Workshop on Collaborative Ministry at St. Clare’s Pleasanton.  If you were there please add your comments to this post.

No, we are not wandering in the wilderness!

It was a wonderfully sunny autumn day in Pleasanton, California as we pulled into the parking lot at St. Clare’s Episcopal Church for a workshop on Church Growth in the Dougherty Valley.  Rector Ron Culmer was decamped in a folding lawn chair at the cashier’s table for the parish rummage sale to raise money for youth ministry.  He had not slept much overnight while the “lock in” of kids took place in the church.   But he called our workshop crowd of 20 people from across the Diocese to prayer with his call to the Holy Spirit to fill us up and send us out to roll up our sleeves and get to work out in the vineyard.

It was altogether a wonderful day.

Bringing people together in community is our first step in sharing the Good News.  That was the message Shelton Ensley the project manager for the three congregations, St. Clare’s Pleasanton, St. Bartholomew’s Livermore and St. Timothy’s Danville, reported as he explained the task before them.

Bishop Marc has asked these three congregations to not only define the mission and ministry needs of this vast developing area at the edge of the Diocese of California but also to model collaboration ministry as a great ‘lab experiment’ for the vitality of our church future.

Collaboration is the current day term for what Jesus might call discipleship.  Ron Culmer reminded us that the common mistake today is to think of the church as being in the membership business and even our own church growth program talks about growing average Sunday attendance, membership and pledge units—-but instead we should see ourselves in the discipleship business and invite others to join us.

You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Questions

We laughed about that line as the project team described the rich multicultural nature of the Dougherty Valley area with a large Asian population from many nations, many languages, many faith traditions.  But that is the challenge the church faces in our future.  How do we reach out to many different cultures and communicate in ways that is welcoming and open, respectful yet transparent about our own faith journey testimony.

How do we ‘do church’ in a geography spread out in valleys and beyond the next hill where small Episcopal congregations live at the boundaries of old growth and new growth, old ways and new ways, and minister to such diverse needs as three generation households where the oldest generation may not speak English, may not drive, may not have a support system like they once had.  How do we minister to the needs of kids who often are the translator bridge between generations yet are growing up in an American culture vastly different that their grandparents could have imagined.  How do we reach out to working parents leading busy lives with competing demands for their time.

You have questions, we have questions

The Dougherty Valley project is designed to find ways to be in community with this new community.  To reach out and talk to people, to listen to their views and needs, to find ways to bring the message of Jesus to those who are open to hearing it without turning off those who are not yet ready.  The Dougherty Valley project is designed to get three congregations and the Diocese to work together outside their comfort zones to try new things, explore new ideas for doing church, and focus on building community beyond church that keeps the conversation going.

You have question, we have questions

We do know this—God has given us this wonderful opportunity to be disciples.  He has set before us a “project” that is not like anything and or anyplace we have tried before to serve.  He is challenging us to be open and transparent about our own personal testimony about why Jesus is important in our lives.

He is calling on us to be the Body of Christ and invite others to join us and do it in the ‘languages of the people’.

The Dougherty Valley project is our Pentecost—-how will we respond?

Here are some resources we learned about at Saturday’s Workshop:

The New is Here

The Rev. Joseph Andrew Lane, Vicar of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in San Rafael, completed a doctor of ministry in congregational development at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois in May 2011. His thesis is entitled:

Canaries in the Coalmine:
The Impact of Creative People on Congregational Development in the Episcopal Church

Here’s the abstract:

“The Episcopal Church is suspended between a very real desire to welcome new members and an equally real sense of anxiety over its decline in membership. Meanwhile, growing numbers of potential worshipers from what Richard Florida has named the Creative Class are standing just outside the door—scientists, engineers, architects, designers, writers, artists and musicians who use their creativity as a key factor in their work in business, education, health care, law and other professions. In terms of congregations, I would include as members of the Creative Class volunteers who employ creativity in their church work, that is, people whose work-a-day vocation is not necessarily creative but whose avocation or, one might say, vocation-in-faith is. This thesis takes a close look at people already in Episcopal churches who exercise their creative gifts in unusual ways—“canaries in the coalmine” who might signal to other members of the Creative Class the hospitality of the Episcopal Church—and it shares the advice they offer to church leaders devoted to congregational development.”

If you’d like to check out the whole thing, click here

What I liked about this paper was Father Lane’s attempt to connect the old church language with the real world language of business and professional people looking for their place in the church.  Yes doing that often involves dealing with buzz words and jargon but when you cut to the chase, the paper calls us back to the beginning of the church and the words Paul himself used to describe it:

2 Corinthians 5:17

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

So don’t be afraid to change a few things that are getting in the way of growing your own congregation.  If someone questions you—tell them to talk to Paul!