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November 2007

Hate Crime in Oklahoma -- Gay Man Murdered by White Supremacist

A few weeks ago news reports began to link the murder of Steven Domer with a white supremacist group. I worked with some folk to put together an LGBT community response. Then we got word that the police weren't backing the information in the news reports, and we had some insider information that suggested that it might not be a hate crime. Last year there was a hate crime hoax, so we wanted to be sure before we moved forward publicly. At the time, Rob Howard and I did release this statement.

Now more information is out. Read today's article in the Oklahoman here. Now the DA is saying that Domer was targeted because he was gay.

Here's more info on the investigation and the narrative that is developing.

The LGBT community has been closely monitoring this story and now will move to respond.

Welcome and Inclusion

My column "Welcome and Inclusion"


Recently a friend sent me a link to a story about a church I used to work with pretty regularly. Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, a moderate baptist church, is wrestling with the issue of how to be welcoming to gay folk. Some gay couples had shown up to have their pictures taken for the church directory and some in the church objected. This absurd episode compels me to reflect on what it means to be welcoming. But first, more of the story.


Bret Younger, Broadway's pastor and a colleague I have worked with, is quoted by the Baptist Press (the journalistic arm of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention – Broadway is not a conservative church):


"Broadway has for years had an amazing policy on including gay people. It's not a policy that a committee came up with, or the staff or the deacons. It's an unwritten policy that came out of the shared life of this congregation, a policy I believe was inspired by the Spirit," he said. "This church has for a long time included both gay people who are committed to Christ and members who aren't affirming and who have serious questions, but who are willing to share the church. This has allowed us to be a congregation where the conversation can take place about being gay and being Christians."


There are many congregations (and families, civic groups, schools, businesses, governments, etc.) who think this sort of "policy" works. Basically it means we'll let gay people join in our life together, as long as they really aren't gay about it.


One problem with this attitude is that sooner or later you have to face the issue. It is absurd that Broadway's attempt to quietly welcome gay people has finally erupted over pictures in a directory – hardly one of the great issues of equality and justice.


To be welcoming of any group that is "different" is difficult work. It takes training and continual maintenance. It is a highly intentional process. It requires getting people to consider the differences of another person. It is the crux of compassion, to "love your neighbor as yourself".


For example, it is not sufficient that a school system or a business adopt a policy of non-discrimination. They also have to have training. People need to learn something of the culture, worldview, and experiences of those to be welcomed and included. There have to be educational opportunities. Thus the importance of things like the Stop Hate in the Hallways Conference.


In my congregation (the Cathedral of Hope), we are launching a new deaf ministry. Not only are we providing translation of our church services, but I'm also requiring our leadership receive diversity training. We will learn something of deaf culture and the deaf experience and some easy signs, all so we can truly be welcoming and inclusive.


It's not enough just to believe in welcome and inclusion. The actual practice of it takes diligent, committed work.


Dr. King said that the civil rights movement's worst enemies were not the outspoken segregationists, but were the moderates. Bigots are clear, can be argued against, and their positions are open. Moderates generally assume that time will take care of the issue. But, as King also said, time is neutral, it doesn't do anything. People do.


In order to be welcoming, an organization must take productive steps to deal with potential issues. Some churches, for example, avoid having opportunities for education on LGBT issues because they want to avoid the issue blowing up, but avoiding education means that sooner or later it is going to blow up, usually in some silly episode like this. And they aren't going to be prepared to deal with it.


Welcoming without affirming doesn't work. Many people think it does, but they're wrong. If you don't think LGBT people, or any other category of people you define as "different" can openly serve in leadership, get married, or otherwise participate fully in the life of your group, then you simply aren't welcoming.


And for a religious institution, this gets to the heart of what their faith and what they proclaim. If a Christian church, for example, remembers, proclaims, and practices the gospel as Jesus' radical message of grace, compassion, liberation, and hope, then they must be an inclusive and welcoming congregation. If they aren't welcoming and inclusive as a congregation, then they must remember and experience the gospel of Jesus differently. Their gospel must not be one of grace, compassion, liberation, and hope. I then question for whom it is "good news."


Ultimately Broadway decided not to do a church directory. Seems like a further attempt to not face the issue. This "amazing policy on including gay people" seems neither welcoming nor inclusive to me.

Part of the early story of the Religious Right

Interesting article about Francis Schaeffer and the birth of the Religious Right. Thanks to Jesus Politics for the link.

An excerpt:

The most succinct illustration of the clash between the Schaefferism that could have been, and the fundamentalism that instead fed and grew on his work, occurred when Billy Zeoli told the Schaeffers they had to cut some footage from How Should We Then Live?. Frank had put his father on some scaffolding next to Michelangelo's David to give a sense of scale, and the senior Schaeffer, high above the ground, close to the art he loved, had been transported into a distinctly unfundamentalist rhapsody. But that wasn't Zeoli's problem. He wasn't concerned with ideas. It was David's exposed genitals. American evangelicals, he said, just weren't ready for that.

Frank pointed out that they'd included footage of Mary's breast in depictions of the Virgin and the Baby Jesus. "One holy tit is OK," Zeoli responded. "But churches don't do cock!"

The senior Schaeffer gave in, muttering his dissent: "We're working with fools."

The Moment

As of a minute ago every Friday and Saturday between now and Christmas now has something scheduled on it. Of course some nights will end up with 2-3 things scheduled. A couple of the already scheduled things are afternoon parties (I guess some people realize the night times are competitive).

Forward with a Vision

Forward with a Vision

Psalm 98

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

25 November 2007



    "O sing to the Lord a new song, for God has done marvelous things."

    In 1994 something new was born in South Africa. The many decades of apartheid had come to an end and Nelson Mandela, long a political prisoner of the state, was now being sworn in as the first president of a truly democratic South Africa.

    In that inaugural speech, Mandela talked about possibility and vision and future. It was a celebration of newness. And his words on the occasion were powerful:


    Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

    It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.

    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

    Actually, who are you not to be?

    You are a child of God.

    Your playing small doesn't serve the world.

There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone.

And as we let our light shine,

we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,

our presence automatically liberates others.


    On this Reign of Christ Sunday, we come once again to the end of the church year. And we end with a vision of the kingdom come, God's will done on earth as it is in heaven. This is the Sunday when we come face to face with our eschatological hope for justice, peace, and plenty.

    It is fitting that Reign of Christ and Thanksgiving come so closely together. Thanksgiving is not a church holiday. It is, in point of fact, a secular holiday, made official by Abraham Lincoln. But it celebrates an event that is part of the Christian story, in fact part of our UCC story as our Pilgrim ancestors and our Native American ancestors joined together to give thanks for the harvest.

    Thanksgiving is a core part of the spiritual life. We are grateful to God for the many blessings in our lives and grateful to the people around us for how they contribute to us. This year I spent Thanksgiving morning writing thank you cards. Every couple of months I send out some personal thank you cards, and it was time to do that again. But it also seemed quite fitting, so I think I'll make that an annual spiritual practice – writing thank you notes on Thanksgiving Day.

    The blessings we are thankful for are little signposts of the coming reign of Christ. We teach that the reign of God has come, is coming, and will come. So with the conjunction of these two holidays we are reminded of what has happened, what is happening, and what our vision is for the future. Thankful for what parts of God's reign we now enjoy, while with longing and expectation we await the coming of Christ in fullness. And so the year turns and thanksgiving turns to advent. Celebration of fullness and longing expectation forever connected in a yearly cycle of yin and yang.

    Christ the King Sunday reminds us that our faith must be placed in God. The reign of justice, peace, and plenty will come about in this world through the work of God. It cannot be achieved by the normal human endeavors of politics, economics, religion, or art. In fact, societies that think they are ushering in the millennium are usually societies that end up creating great evils.

    So, it is God's work, not human work. But it is also true that God works in and through us. Therefore, God's reign cannot come unless we are living faithfully as disciples of Jesus crucified and risen. We must become God's instruments, as St. Francis of Assisi so eloquently put it in his famous prayer

    Make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy. O divine master, grant that I many not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

    Now we understand the force of Nelson Mandela's words. God's reign is not ours to make happen, but God's reign will only come if God is working through us. We must become the instruments of God. Mandela thinks that people are frightened to become God's instruments. It is easier for people to go along to get along. Some people think it is easier not to have faith and hope. Easier not to show compassion. Easier not to work courageously for justice and peace.

    But these people would be wrong. Because the universe bends toward justice. God's reign is coming on earth as it is in heaven. It is who we are as children of the light, children of God. We only become fully ourselves, truly free, blessed, when we live according to the will of God, because this is who we really are. This is who the universe really is.

    Part of the task, then, of Christian discipleship and spiritual formation is to unlock our true selves. To open ourselves to God. To make manifest the glory of God. This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine!

    Near the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Albus Dumbledore is finally trying to explain Harry's destiny to him. From the beginning of the Harry Potter series, Harry has been weighed down by the burden of his history and his fate. He is the only person to have survived the death curse from the evil Lord Voldemort. He survived because the love of his mother, who gave her life to protect Harry's, shielded Harry from the curse. Love is more powerful than hatred.

    Because Harry has survived, he seems to have a unique fate. Maybe he will continue to be a champion, or could he turn to the dark side himself. These questions linger through the earliest books, but finally get set aside as Harry has proven again and again that he is a hero for the cause of good. It becomes clear as you read along, that eventually Harry and Lord Voldemort must face each other in a battle to the death. It is about this that Harry and Dumbledore are talking in the passage that I'm interested in tonight.

    What Dumbledore makes clear is that yes it is Harry's fate to fight Lord Voldemort. But this is something Harry can freely choose to do. The reason the fight must occur is because Voldemort will never stop hunting Harry. Even if Harry did not pursue Voldemort, the force of evil would come after him. The reason Harry is such a threat is because Harry is filled with love and a pure heart. If Harry were seriously tempted to evil, if his suffering made him a coward, then he would not be a threat. Harry's is a noble soul.

    Harry is destined to face Voldemort not because he's bent on some revenge fantasy, but because of the kind of person that Harry is – a good person. Here's what J. K. Rowling writes when it finally dawns on Harry what Dumbledore is saying

But he understood at last what Dumbledore had been trying to tell him. It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew – and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents – that there was all the difference in the world.

    We become the instruments of God by becoming certain types of people. People who are compassionate, just, grateful, peaceful, humble, adventurous, and good. We have the courage to become those people if we have the optimism of hope and the conviction of faith.

    And here's where the difference matters. We don't become these people because there are rules that make us that way. We don't become these people because of coercion. We become good people because we are excited by the possibilities, because we freely choose to become disciples of Christ.

    This week I came across a prayer that expresses this idea. It is by one Brigid Rees


    O God, you claim me as your partner, respecting me,

    trusting me,

    tussling with me.

    Support me

    as I dare to be vulnerable with you,

    encourage me as I dare to take risks with you,

    and together we can transform our world.


    Three years ago you all set as your mission, the transformation of the world. It was an ambitious mission statement –


To empower all people to experience the presence of God, to grow toward wholeness, and to act in love.


And you were going to do that as a


People who serve in the manner of Jesus – with compassion, inclusion, liberation, and hope.


All of us who have come alongside you since that point have shared in this mission and vision. We became members of this church because we were passionate about being this sort of church, because we wanted to become this type of people. Because we wanted to be God's instruments.

    Here's some of what I'm thankful for this year.

    I'm thankful for karaoke parties. Not because these have some deep theological meaning. Not because these are places for spiritual growth to occur. But simply because they are fun.

    I'm thankful for comfort. Sometimes we are challenged enough in life already and simply need to find a place where we can be comfortable.

    I'm thankful for Ken Curl. Last spring when Mykael Mekaska died, and we put together his memorial service, I called on Ken for help and he was there. We are present for each other – at the hospital, on the phone, in thank you notes, in the courthouse, when a child is born, or a pet dies.

    I'm thankful for Bill Wade. Last year he noticed that two visitors were sitting alone at our Christmas banquet, so he went and sat with them. Those visitors were Jason Hammonds and Steve Kuder. I'm grateful that "welcome" is one of Bill's spiritual gifts.

    I'm thankful for Mary Frances. She writes the prayers used in our prayer ministry. Her words inspire us. They aid our spiritual formation.

    And I'm thankful for the choir. They come early every Sunday and spend time preparing for our worship services. Worship is the most important thing we do together as a people. It doesn't happen accidentally. For us to come in here each week and be touched or find meaning, hours of preparation and training have been involved.

    So this fun, comfort, presence, welcome, formation, and worship are just some of the things I'm thankful for this year. These are blessings. Signposts of the reign of God. Sources of hope and faith.

    They call us to become our true selves, fulfilling our destiny. They prove that we are not inadequate. The truth is, with God working through us, we are powerful beyond measure.

    Tonight, we as a church move forward with our vision. We will shine even brighter. We will be the folk that God will use to liberate even more people. Tonight we ask everyone to commit together to this vision. And tonight we ask our members and regular attendees to pledge their financial stewardship of this vision, by turning in their pledge cards during our offering. On this Reign of Christ Sunday, may our vision for the future fill us with faith, hope, and courage as we make a joyful noise to the Lord.

    Let us pray:


O God, inspire our church, the Cathedral of Hope, Oklahoma City, to reflect the glory of your message.

Give us the compassion of your Son, Jesus, toward all people.

Let us be stewards of your world.

Combine all our talents into one that we may do your work.

Make us one in hope and one in despair.

Build us outwards and let us grow upwards reaching to you.

May we always be there for each other.

Blend your Spirit with ours that we may be spiritual people.

Deliver us from what takes us away from you.

Let us always love each other as you do, just the way we are.

Bring us forward to achieve our goals.

With you we shall be a beacon of freedom for all people!

In the Name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

UCC Executive Minister on Oklahoma Immigration Law

Convenient Memory Loss

November 26, 2007

M. Linda Jaramillo

Executive Minister

I hear story after story about communities across the
country being torn apart by fierce debates over immigration. I read
speech after speech delivered by political leaders adding inflammatory
remarks to an already hostile social environment. In all the
fear-producing outcries, immigrants are named as the problem with
America. One such place is the State of Oklahoma.

What mystifies me about all this is our apparent memory
loss. I am confused by our patriotic cries that raise the American
flag and the Statue of Liberty as the icons of our culture. Yet, we
seem to have forgotten that the thirteen stripes on the flag represent
the original colonies made up of rebellious and courageous immigrants
coming to this land to make a better life. We have forgotten that the
Statue of Liberty is called a symbol of freedom and opportunity,
inscribed with these words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your
huddled masses yearning to breathe free…." We have forgotten that
most of the American West was Mexico not very long ago. Most alarming
is that we ignore that this land first belonged to Indigenous peoples
who have been set aside.

This memory loss reminds me of my history lessons in
public schools over a half-century ago. As an eighth grader, I was
required to take Colorado History. The problem with the Colorado
History class was that the textbooks left out significant information
about the real history. Never did I see people in those books who
looked like me, even though my ancestors had been on the land for
centuries before the United States expanded and created states like
Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho,
California, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. The school books only told
stories about those who traveled west on wagon trains – courageous and
rebellious immigrants in search of a better life. It seems that the
authors of the history textbooks had lost their memory too.

Now, our memory loss is showing up in hateful state legislation
that strips people's dignity and their basic human rights. Oklahoma
House Bill 1804, enacted November 1, 2007, is based on assumptions
that have no proven foundation. Legislators and the Governor endorsed
a bill that blames "illegal" immigrants for the economic woes and
lawlessness in the state. Where is the data that proves that
"illegal" immigrants are committing crime at a higher rate? Where is
the data that verifies that "illegal" immigrants are draining public
resources? This bill is not about data, it is about a loss of memory
that has rendered people invisible in the history books and in today's

What is even more ridiculous is that the State of Oklahoma claims that
this law will be enforced without discrimination. It reads, "The
provisions of this section shall be enforced without regard to race,
religion, gender, ethnicity, or national origin." Let's not kids
ourselves: this law is all about discrimination. Oklahoma is but an
example of bigoted public policies being considered in many
statehouses in this nation.

Hispanic Oklahomans are leaving the state in droves out of fear. Many
of them are not recent immigrants; they have been there for
generations. Native Americans in Oklahoma are being mistaken for
Hispanics and targeted for deportation.

Last week's celebration of Thanksgiving is based on an historic event
in this nation. But as we celebrated, we seemed to have forgotten the
truth about our history. We've had a convenient loss of memory.

The United Church of Christ has more than 5,700 churches throughout
the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of
congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC
setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC
congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on
important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed
to unity in the midst of our diversity.

Another List of Great Novels

The critics at Time magazine have published their list of the top 100 English language novels since 1923. You can find it here. Better than some of these lists, I've read 27 of the 100. Lists like this remind me that I am not, relatively speaking, well-read.

The 27 I've read and how I rated them on Time's reader response (1-5, with five being the hightest, though we couldn't do half points, I am adding that myself):
American Pastoral -- 4.5
Atonement -- 3
Beloved -- 5
Blood Meridian -- 4
The Catcher in the Rye -- 2
The Corrections -- 2
Go Tell It on the Mountain -- 4
Gone with the Wind -- 3
The Grapes of Wrath -- 5
The Great Gatsby -- 5
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe -- 5
Lolita -- 5
Lord of the Flies -- 4
The Lord of the Rings -- 4
Midnight's Children -- 4
1984 -- 5
Portnoy's Complaint -- 4
The Power and the Glory -- 4
Rabbit, Run -- 3.5
Slaughterhouse-Five -- 3
The Sound and the Fury -- 2
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold -- 4.5
Their Eyes Were Watching God -- 5
Things Fall Apart -- 5
To Kill a Mockingbird -- 5
White Noise -- 5
White Teeth -- 2