Monday, August 26, 2019

Bob Cousy and the Medal of Freedom

Bob Cousy chokes back tears as he speaks of his late wife Missy.
 In spite of everything, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5

Ok, it’s a stretch to call it heartbreak. It’s not really suffering.

But it is painful just the same. And in spite of Paul’s promise it is hard for me to see how this leads to hope. Although I will keep looking.

I know that in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter at all.

I am long past the time when I had a naïve belief that my heroes, especially my sports heroes, were likely to live up to my expectations.

But it was painful to read the stories of Bob Cousy receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom last week. 

Make no mistake. He deserves the award.

Cousy has always had a special place in my pantheon of sports greats. Part of it was because I learned that he was cut from his high school team as a freshman and then again as a sophomore. But he didn’t give up. He got a scholarship to Holy Cross, won an NCAA championship, became a consensus All-American, and an NBA star.

This led me to believe that in spite of my obvious lack of talent, with enough practice, I too could become a great basketball player.

Obviously, that didn’t work out.

But as a young child I became a fan of the Boston Celtics. Those were the Celtics of Cousy and Russell and Heinsohn and Sanders. After one of the games, the announcer was interviewing Bob Cousy, and he asked him about the two young guards who had just joined the team, Sam and K.C. Jones.

“Well,” said Cousy, “personally I’m prejudiced, but I think they’re two of the best young guards in the league.” Actually, he said “pwed-ja-dissed.” And he called them “gods,” not guards. But my young mind reeled. My hero, Bob Cousy admitted on national television that he was prejudiced. I was glad that in spite of his prejudice he could see their talent, but even so, I was deeply disappointed.

Of course it was not long before I realized that he meant he was prejudiced in favor of his teammates, not against black people.

As a basketball player he was amazing, winning six world championships with the Celtics, and leading the NBA in assists for eight years in a row. And he has led a great life off the court as well. In 1950 when black teammate Chuck Cooper was denied entry to the team hotel in North Carolina, Cousy also refused to stay there. By every measure, he has lived an exemplary life.

Cousy has said in the past that he felt guilty that he did not do more to stand up more for another black teammate, Bill Russell, who was the target of several racial incidents in Boston. And he reached out to Russell in a letter expressing his regret. But the truth is that probably says more about Bob Cousy’s sense of right and wrong than it does of a moral failing. Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Jordan are the other three NBA stars who were previously honored with the medal of Freedom.

Bob Cousy deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

So far it’s all good. Bob Cousy received an award he richly deserves. An appropriate coda to a life well lived. After the ceremony he said, “this really is the cherry on the sundae.”

But then.

The news accounts told how Cousy choked back tears as he expressed his sadness that his wife Missy, who passed away in 2013 was not there to share the moment with him even though she “put up with me for 63 years.” And as Cousy sobbed at the podium, Donald Trump put his hand on Cousy’s back to comfort him.


That venal man put his hand on Bob Cousy?

It is a strange juxtaposition because Bob Cousy is everything that Donald Trump is not. He really did rise out of poverty. He grew up in a diverse neighborhood that was basically a slum. He worked hard. He promoted racial equality. He is humble and smart and decent. And, to use a cliché, he is a great family man.

“Mr. President, I know in your world you’re well on your way to making America great again,” said Cousy. “In my world, it’s been great for 91 years.”

Earlier this month, he told, “I simply feel, without getting into the politics of it at all, like many Americans — I agree with some of the things he’s done and disagree with others.”

That’s more affirmation than Mr. Trump deserves, but I could live with it.

And then.

Cousy said the honor was special in part because “it is being presented by the most extraordinary president in my lifetime and I’m a B.R., for before Roosevelt.”

According to the Worcester Telegram “Mr. Cousy, a long-time independent, said he respects the White House as the most powerful office in the world and he felt compelled to pay tribute to the president.”

“I understand how controversial Trump is,” Mr. Cousy said. “So I didn’t want to say something that was going to go viral and get all of us in trouble, but I thought that was a nice middle ground and ‘extraordinary’ I suppose can be interpreted in any number of ways in the mind of the listener.”


I can understand how someone could agree with some of the policies the president has embraced. But how can a person of such obvious fundamental decency countenance the indecency, racism, misogyny, and corruption of Mr. Trump?

I want to believe that if Missy had been there he wouldn’t have said that.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

Friday, July 19, 2019

This Is What Fascism Looks Like

The crowd chants "Send her back!" at a rally on Wednesday night
Woe to you who call evil good and good evil, 
who put darkness for light and light for darkness, 
who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
Isaiah 5:20

In his speech at the opening of the National Museum of African American History in 2016, former President George W. Bush said, "A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws, and corrects them." 

"This museum tells the truth,” he observed, “that a country founded on the promise of liberty held millions in chains, that the price of our union was America's original sin."

President Bush was not the first one to speak of slavery and racism as America’s original sin, but the fact that he said it is a reminder that this should not be a partisan issue and his use of the phrase “original sin” reminds us that the issue is about faith as well as politics.

Confronting racism is a necessity for Christians regardless of their political affiliation.

Racism is evil and it produces bitter fruit for the recipients as well as for the perpetrators. There is nothing about it that can be called good. And woe to us when we do not call it out for what it is.

According to Gizmodo, after Mr. Trump’s speech in Greenville Wednesday night, the two most commonly searched words were Fascism and Racism.

You can be a racist without being a fascist but you cannot be a fascist without being a racist. Sadly, both were on display in Greenville.

One cannot use those words without being accused of being an alarmist. 

But the association is unavoidable.

We cannot pretend that evil is not evil, let alone that it is good.

Half a century ago, Jurgen Moltmann, perhaps the last of the great German theologians of the twentieth century,  was visiting the United States for a theological conference when the discussion turned to segregationists in the South.

“They are Nazis,” Jurgen Moltmann declared, “and when you are confronted by Nazis you must defeat them.”

Nothing else matters, he insisted, until you get rid of the Nazis.

As my theology professor told the story, Moltmann had insisted  to his fellow theologians that they had no business discussing theology until they had first done something about the Nazis.

I remember thinking that although the segregationists were certainly bad, it was hyperbole to call them Nazis. 

Perhaps it is hyperbole to speak that way of the Greenville rally. I fervently hope so. But by the time we know for certain it may be too late.

Jurgen Moltmann grew up in a secular family in Hamburg. As a teenager he was drafted into the German Army near the end of World War II. He was captured by the British and spent several years as a prisoner of war. During that time his captors presented him with descriptions and pictures of the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Auschwitz, and he was overwhelmed with guilt for what his country had done.

While he was held prisoner an American Army Chaplain gave him a New Testament and it transformed his life. “I did not find Christ,” he would later say, “Christ found me.” After the war he completed a doctorate in theology and his reflections on Nazism and the war led him to develop “A Theology of Hope.”

Moltmann could see, as Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, and others had made clear before him that the absolute claims of Nazism were theological as well as political. And that those absolute claims made it antithetical to Christianity. 

When Moltmann insisted that there could be no theological discussion until Nazism had been addressed, he wasn’t introducing politics into theological discourse. He was recognizing that until they were dealt with, the absolute claims of Nazism made authentic theological discussion impossible.

In an interview published in, Chantal Da Silva spoke with Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley, one of the leading scholars of Fascism. And Stanley called the Wednesday night rally “one of the single most racist moments in modern American history.” He also said that the country is “facing an emergency.”

"The word 'emergency' is tricky to use because 'emergency' is a word that anti-democratic people use all the time to justify non-democratic measures," he said.

Stanley said that he was “shocked” when he watched the video of the Greenville rally where the crowd chanted “send her back” after Mr. Trump attacked Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali refugee who came to America as a refugee who came to American when she was eight years old. 

The chants came after Mr. Trump had devoted considerable time to attacking Representative Omar along with three Democratic colleagues, Representatives Aryanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Aexandra Ocasio-Cortez. The women are all persons of color, and Representative Omar is a Muslim.

Mr. Trump initiated the controversy at 5:27 a.m. last Sunday when he unleashed this tweetstorm:
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
Apart from the obvious racism of telling anyone to go back where they came from, it misses the obvious fact that three of the four women were born in the United States. Rep. Omar is a naturalized citizen (like two of Mr. Trump’s three wives).

In the Newsweek interview, Stanley observed that Mr. Trump was expressing his “deep-seated commitment to fascism” as well as racism. "This whole administration has been orienting itself around attacking and vilifying ethnic minorities," he said. "It's horrifying to see."
"Fascist ideology is based upon the vilification of 'outsiders,' you know. It's an ideology that has, at its very center, panic and fear about outsiders. All fascist movements are toxically anti-immigration.”
"Fascist ideology says there's the nation and the members of the nation and they are ethnically defined and they face this mortal threat from leftism, communism, socialism and foreigners and so you would think the president has a choice: he could run saying well you know the economy's strength or he could run with one of the most toxic ideologies the world has ever seen... and that's what he's doing.”
In the Newsweek interview, Stanley insisted that today's journalists cannot equivocate in calling out Mr. Trump’s speech for what it is: racism.
"Journalists have two competing pressures: one is to represent the different sides in political debates and, two, is to tell the truth. These run into conflict with each other when you have a very extreme situation like the one we now face where, with one political side, there is no reasonable way to represent it."
Stanley argues that Mr. Trump “is utterly clear about his white nationalism and his racism.”

“You just have to call it what it is and not suggest that it's being misunderstood," he said.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

*The Jurgen Moltmann story was first included in a post originally published on August 16, 2017 in response to the Nazi demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Casting the Vision

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 
Then the LORD answered me and said: 
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. 
If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.
Habakkuk 2:1-3

Several years ago in a sermon at Annual Conference the late Bishop Dale White talked about the lonely task of the pastor, whose job it is to always take the lead and cast a vision of justice on controversial issues.

We are supposed to be ahead of the curve. 

To be a leader is to be out in front, and it is a lonely task. If Moses had waited until his vision of freedom had broad support, the Israelites would still be in Egypt.

The Rev. Dr. C. Chappell Temple, Lead Pastor of Christ Church (UMC) in Sugar Land, Texas, seemed to take a different tack on this issue in a post titled, "Fun with Math." Writing in the Juicy Ecumenism blog of the IRD (Institute on Religion and Democracy), he points out that in the recent voting for General Conference delegates the elected clergy are more progressive than the laity.

This is not surprising, if we take Bishop White’s exhortation seriously. Pastors are supposed to be out in front. 

(Just to be clear, when we speak of the division between progressives and traditionalists in the church, we are not talking about national politics. The Progressive movement in American politics grew out of the Social Gospel in the  late nineteenth century and today’s Progressives share that heritage, but they should not be confused with the progressives and centrists in the church.)

Dr. Temple argues that although 76% of the elected delegations are progressive or centrist and more than half of the Annual Conferences passed resolutions opposing the Traditional Plan, that does not accurately reflect the perspective of those who sit in the pews.

Maybe it doesn't accurately reflect the perspective of the laity, but 76% is a big number. 

And it is significant that more than half of the Annual Conferences passed resolutions against a plan that passed by a narrow majority at General Conference.

But Dr. Temple argues that if we look more closely at the numbers they tell a different story. He points out that the Texas Conference elected a mostly progressive or centrist delegation of clergy and a wholly traditionalist delegation of laity. Eight of the nine clergy from the Texas Conference are progressive or centrist, but by our system, each one required only 50% plus one vote to be elected. If we looked at the actual vote totals we would find that the real margin was closer to 5-4 than 8-1.

And then he makes an important observation:
“The point is that in a system involving multiple candidates for multiple positions each requiring a majority vote it’s simply not possible to draw conclusions as to the true mind of the whole church when it comes to controversial issues.”
If that sounds familiar it’s because Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter made that same argument several General Conferences ago when they proposed inserting a paragraph in the Book of Discipline recognizing that we were not of one mind on the issues surrounding LGBTQ inclusion. The Traditionalists narrowly defeated that proposal because they had no problem building church law on a slim majority and using that law to punish those on the other side.

He concludes with an observation and a suggestion:
“In the end, it’s pretty clear thus that at least on the question of human sexuality that we United Methodists are far more closely divided than the delegate count might imply.  What is incumbent upon us a church thus is to find a way to honor those differences and create new communities of faith that can live side by side, though with enough separation to stop our long internecine warfare.”
He is right on both counts.

We are closely divided on the issue of human sexuality and we need to find a way to honor those differences so that we can live side by side.

I agree.

Let’s do it.

We can call it the One Church Plan.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Traditionalist Plan Was Designed to Do Harm, But It May Do Some Good

But Joseph said to them . . . “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”
Genesis 50:20

We have been a Reconciling Congregation for five years. But until very recently we had never displayed a Rainbow Flag. We never discussed it. But we’re New Englanders and we have an innate resistance to making a display of our religious convictions. Its just how we're built.

That changed rather abruptly after the Special Session of General Conference 2019 concluded at the end of February and we heard with finality that the delegates had voted (by a narrow margin) that they hated their LGBTQIA siblings even more than they loved Jesus.

We decided that we needed to have a Rainbow Flag in front of the church. We thought it was important to differentiate ourselves from those folks at General Conference. We are United Methodists (and still mostly proud of it), but we are not those people.

We did not have a real flag, but Pastor Carol, always a woman of action, searched through the Sunday School closet and found a rainbow colored fabric we had used to make a “coat of many colors” for Joseph in a children’s musical a few years ago.

It was not a very good representation of a rainbow flag, but it did make me think about the juxtaposition of the flag with Joseph and his many colored coat. 

And Joseph’s words to his brothers.

Many years after they sold him into slavery in Egypt, and after he had risen from slavery into prominence in Egypt, his brothers came to him in a time of famine begging him for food. When they recognized him they expected brutal retribution, but he gave them forgiveness instead.

They intended to do harm and yet good came of it.

With the power and prominence he gained in Egypt, Joseph basically saved the world from famine.

I don’t believe that God “planned” the triumph of traditionalism at General Conference but I do believe that something good can come from it.

Two recent gatherings give me hope. 

On May 17-18 350 activists met at Lake Harriet UMC in Minneapolis. Calling themselves “Our Movement Forward,” they adopted a statement that serves as a preamble to a longer proclamation completed by organizers after the summit:
“We dream of a just and loving church — one that is relevant, growing, and ignited by the life-giving and world-changing power of the Holy Spirit,” the preamble says. “Our passion for justice is only surpassed by our hope in Christ Jesus. And as people of faith, we proclaim that the Good News of Jesus Christ is for all.”
Then on May 20-22 600 Progressives and Centrists met at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas for a gathering called “UMC Next.”

The group affirmed four core principles:

  • To be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity.
  • To resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities.
  • To reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and resist its implementation.
  • To work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ individuals.

The truth is that we should have gotten here sooner. Much sooner. And it should not have taken the debacle of General Conference to force the issue. But this is where we are. And in spite of the stony road that brought us to this point, there is hope for the future.

Rev. Dr. Adam Hamilton, Lead Pastor of the Church of the Resurrection and one of the conveners of UMC Next, echoed Joseph’s words to his brothers when he observed that this was one of the unintended benefits of the adoption of the Traditionalist Plan by the 2019 General Conference was that it pushed centrist churches to take action. Now, he said, the centrists are saying, “not anymore.” Those churches find themselves with no choice but to take a stand. And they are saying, “We’re not going to be quiet anymore. We’re a church for everyone.”

When asked what the UMC Next participants meant by their commitment to “reject the Traditional Plan” and “resist its implementation,” he said that some annual conferences will ordain LGBTQ persons as clergy, and that “thousands and thousands of churches will stand with LGBTQ people.”

And then he summarized that by saying, “We’re headed toward forming a church that my granddaughter will be proud to be a member of.”

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Making America Great: Harry Truman and the Marshall Plan

President Truman signs the Marhall Plan
Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of this world lord it over their people, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”
Matthew 20:24-28

Today is Harry Truman’s birthday.

He was born on May 8, 1884.

Although every politician wants to claim that he or she grew up in modest surroundings, in Truman’s case it was really true. He is the only president since William McKinley who did not earn a college degree. And there was little in his early years to suggest that he would someday become President of the United States. 

And yet he achieved great things for America.

He was not the president who won the war, although he presided over its conclusion. But he was the president who won the peace.

He established NATO. He integrated the Armed Forces and federal agencies. 

And he led what may well have been America’s greatest achievement.

On October 5, 1947, President Harry S. Truman delivered the first presidential address ever broadcast on live television.

And that first address may also be the greatest.

His address followed a presentation by the Citizens Food Committee concerning the starvation in Europe and the need for Americans to sacrifice in order to save their European sisters and brothers.

After the Second World War the United States embarked on one of the greatest achievements of world history, the rebuilding of Europe and Japan after the devastation. The Marshall Plan prevented economic collapse and led to a world-wide economic expansion and shared prosperity.

But when President Truman addressed the nation, the rebuilding of Europe was faltering. “The situation in Europe is grim and forbidding as winter approaches,” he said. “Despite the vigorous efforts of the European people, their crops have suffered so badly from droughts, floods, and cold that the tragedy of hunger is a stark reality. The nations of Western Europe will soon be scraping the bottom of the food barrel. They cannot get through the coming winter and spring without help--generous help-from the United States and from other countries which have food to spare.” If we do not act, said the President, all of the rebuilding efforts may be wasted. “I know every American feels in his heart that we must help to prevent starvation and distress among our fellow men in other countries.”

Truman called on the nation to give up meat on Tuesdays, to give up poultry and eggs on Thursdays, and to give up one slice of bread per day. He also called on distillers to save grain by stopping the production of alcoholic beverages for 60 days. And he called on the Commodities Exchange Commission to tighten regulations and reduce the “gambling” in grain futures which resulted in even higher prices.

He told the country that Mrs. Truman had directed the White House staff to follow the food conservation measures. And he said that the same policy would be followed in all government restaurants and cafeterias throughout the country. “As Commander in Chief,” he said, “I have ordered that the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force shall also comply with this program.”

And he concluded by saying of the people in Europe, "I know that they will be waiting with hope in their hearts and a fervent prayer on their lips for the response of our people to this program. We must not fail them."

This morning, as I read Harry Truman’s brief address, I reflected on the present state of the world, from the immigration crisis, to the brewing trade war with China, to the continued violence in the Middle East and the war in Yemen, and the economic collapse in Venezuela. 

It is hard to imagine any leader, here or abroad, calling for the level of shared sacrifice that President Truman called for after World War Two. And we need to remember, that was after the great sacrifices required by the war itself.

But real greatness, for a country or an individual, requires sacrifice.

The food measures did not last long. With increased American help, the European recovery soon made such radical conservation unnecessary. Europe and Japan were rebuilt and America entered a time of unprecedented prosperity.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

*Some the material in this post was first published on October 5, 2011.

Friday, April 19, 2019

What Was Good about Good Friday?

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Mark 15:16-20

The most common (most frequent and crudest) explanation of Jesus' death on the cross is that God sent him to die for our sins. Someone had to pay for the sins of humanity. Jesus suffered so that I didn't have to. He was perfectly sinless and it was a perfect sacrifice.

That is a caricature of what is called the theory of "substitutionary atonement." I have deliberately used the caricature to make a larger point. In spite of the fact that it's the theology I grew up with, and it's still the most common theological understanding of the crucifixion, I am convinced it is wrong. It is wrong biblically, historically, morally, and theologically.

On Good Friday, Jesus was tried, and convicted, and tortured, and killed. It was a triumph for the powers of darkness, and there was nothing good about that Friday. 

Or so it seemed. 

But in his death he exposed the moral bankruptcy of the Empire and the shallow religiosity of the chief priests and elders who collaborated with the oppressors. Good Friday is the story of a collision between the goodness of God in Jesus, and the evil of a violent empire.

Before we go any further, we need to clear up two major misunderstandings:
  • The Jews did not kill Jesus; the Romans did. 
  • He was not executed for blasphemy; he was executed for treason. 
The Jews did not kill Jesus. We know this as an absolute fact because they did not have the authority to carry out capital punishment. We also know this because if he had been sentenced to death by a Jewish court, he would have been stoned to death. The Romans were the only ones with the authority to kill him, and they did.

We know that the Romans executed Jesus for sedition because they crucified him. Crucifixion was a death reserved for those who committed treason against the empire. It was a form of state terrorism designed to torture its victims and terrify the populace. The Romans did it often so that the people were kept constantly aware of the consequences of defying the empire.

So why did Jesus die? And what does it mean?

I don’t believe that God sent Jesus to die. I don’t believe that it was God’s plan.

That’s partly because I think that speaking of God’s plan is too anthropomorphic. It imagines God as some sort of supernatural version of a human being. But it’s also morally suspect. It suggests that somehow God was sending Jesus on a suicide mission.

Jesus died because he was completely faithful to God and his faithfulness collided with the sinfulness of humanity in the form of the Roman Empire. He died because he proclaimed the Kingdom of God as an alternative vision of how the world could be. Against the normalcy of violence, he proclaimed nonviolence. Against the normalcy of self-interest, he proclaimed self-sacrifice. 

The commandment to love our enemies is about as subversive of what passes for normal as anything could possibly be. And two thousand years later, even those of us who claim to be his followers have a very hard time even imagining what that path looks like, let alone following it.

When he invited his followers to take us the cross, he invited them to follow the path of self-sacrificial love. 

And he promised that the way of self-sacrifice is also the way that leads to life.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 

*An original version of this post was first published on April 5, 2015

Monday, April 8, 2019

It Was Only a Flag

"If the world hates you, 
be aware that it hated me 
before it hated you."
John 15:18

When I arrived at the church this morning I discovered that someone had ripped down our Rainbow flag. Only a tattered fragment remained attached to the frame. The flag had survived less than a week. 

It was only a flag, of course. 

It’s not a big deal. No one was injured and there was no related property damage. 

But now that it is gone it feels like we have lost more than a flag.

How can anyone hate anyone that much?

We became a Reconciling Congregation five years ago. We did not do it sooner because it seemed unnecessary. We told ourselves that everyone already knew who we were and what we stood for, and we did not need to formally declare ourselves open to everyone regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

When we had the meeting to formally vote to become a Reconciling Congregation, several people wondered out loud whether it was really necessary. But only one person spoke against the proposal. She was new to our congregation. She said that she felt she had been sent by the Holy Spirit to tell us that homosexuality was a sin. She not only believed that it was an abomination, she believed literally in the biblical punishment of death, although she conceded that was not possible in the United States.

Those who had doubted the need to take a stand were immediately convinced. As one person wryly observed, “I think maybe she really was sent by the Holy Spirit . . . though not in the way that she believed.”

We announced the decision in our monthly newsletter, we put a statement on our website, and we include a statement in every Sunday’s worship bulletin.

But we did not put out a rainbow flag.



It seemed unnecessary.

But in the wake of the recent vote at the Special Session of General Conference in St. Louis at the end of February, we felt like we had to do something.

For those of us who are LGBTQIA and for those of us who love and respect our LGBTQIA siblings, the news was heartbreaking. 

The Special Session rejected a compromise that would have allowed each congregation to choose their own path, and by a narrow majority (53% to 47%) delegates passed the Traditionalist Plan which rejects marriage equality and makes mandatory penalties for clergy who officiate at same sex weddings. It strengthens the rules against ordaining or appointing LGBTQIA clergy. It also requires clergy and bishops to sign a loyalty oath stating that they will uphold those provisions of the Book of Discipline.

The new plan doubles down on what was already a bad policy. It is hateful and unchristian and we felt like we had to do something to make it clear that we were not them; that our local United Methodist Church was not in alignment with the vote in St. Louis.

Pastor Carol Reale found a large rectangular piece of fabric that had previously been used in a Sunday School program as part of Joseph’s “coat of many colors” and put it up out front. 

Then last week we got a real rainbow flag and Carol attached it to a frame by the church sign next to the road.

Last night at youth group, one of the kids, who is transgender, told her how much it meant to him to come to the church and see that sign. “It makes me so happy,” he said. “We have to keep it up forever!”

Yes. Apparently we do have to keep it up forever.

The flags are not expensive. We will buy more.

The hatred is a bigger problem.

Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.