This blog post is a little different from my others. I have spent the last week as a delegate to the General Synod for the United Church of Christ, so this post is in part a report for those I represent and in part a sharing of what I learned. Even if you aren't UCC, or aren't even Christian, I hope you'll keep reading. If you are one of my UCC friends, I definitely hope you'll keep reading! I put my reactions - my 'message,' if you will, in bold italics. The stuff that is mostly business is in normal font, and the plain italics are scripture, except when they are the title of a book.
Saturday, July 17:
This week I have been serving as a delegate for our association at the United Church of Christ General Synod. For someone who was a United Methodist until 4 years ago, this is a little head-spinning. Also, as someone who has written about disillusionment with the church, I wonder how I got here.
I'm glad I am here.
The theme for this year's Synod is Rooted in Love. Psalm 1:3 reads,
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
If all that we do is rooted in love of God, love of each other, and love of all creation we will yield good fruit and our leaves will not wither.
I was assigned to a committee working on a resolution for a just peace between Israel and Palestine. It is fascinating to read and discuss something about which I really don't know that much, but I was so moved to work on a resolution that basically says that Palestinians have a right to live without oppression, and that any criticism of the government of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic, as some would have us believe. To be clear, I didn't get to help write the resolution, but there was debate about how it said what it said. The vote on passage will be this afternoon or tomorrow, and I hope it will pass.
There are also resolutions on banning conversion therapy, declaring racism a public health crisis (that one did pass already), recognizing the UN decade for people of African Descent (passed), becoming a church of contemplatives (passed), recognizing associate conference ministers of the UCC as a formal group, advocating and acting to change the bail bond system to eliminate racial and social justices inherent in the present system, committing to gender equity and safety in ministry settings, encouraging an end to 128 years of war between the United States and the Hawaiian Kingdom, and a resolution speaking for the rights of nature.
Some of the resolutions focus mostly on UCC polity - the ones about becoming a church of contemplatives and formalizing the group of associate conference ministers are more about the church itself than wider issues.
The resolution committing to gender equity calls on all churches in the UCC confess to their complicity and participation in systems of oppression around gender, and to root out sexism, misogyny, transphobia, and gender oppression. Wouldn't it be great if all churches would pass this resolution?
Did you know that while conversion therapy has been discredited by medical professional organizations including the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and the American Pediatric Association (to name 3), it is still legal in 50 states? Because it is a discredited medical practice conversion therapy has moved into faith communities, and continues to harm LGBTQ+ persons, who are beloved children of God.
Do you know how hard it is to encapsulate these resolutions into one or two sentences?
Did you know that cash bail bonds represent a 2 billion dollar industry? That 70% of inmates in local jails are not convicted of any crime? 90% of those who can't post bail ultimately plead guilty, 50% of those who do post bail are acquitted, and a significant percentage of cases are thrown out. Clearly the cash bail bond system stacks the deck against the poor and people of color since poor people are less likely to be able to post bail and people of color are more likely to receive higher bails than white people.
Did you know that in 1842 President Tyler recognized the independence of the Hawaiian Kingdom and multiple treaties were signed, yet in 1893 the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown? That in effect the United States has been at war with the people of one of its own states for 128 years?
These are poor encapsulations of the resolutions that are before the UCC General Synod.
We heard a keynote address from Valarie Kaur, author of See No Stranger. Ms. Kaur called us to "revolutionary love."
One of the things she said that has stuck with me is the beauty of many nations under God. We are a nation of many nations - Italians, Germans, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Indians, Lakota, Cherokee, Choctaw, the Hawaiian Kingdom, Nigerians, Kenyans, Mozambicans, and if I left your nation out it is ONLY because I can't think of them all. We pledge allegiance to the flag, "one nation, under God," but how about if we are a nation of many nations? Sort of like we are a nation of many states? Can't I see the Christ in you, and you see the Christ in me? Are we looking?
Keynote speaker Adam Russell Taylor, the president of Sojourners, called us to be Davids in the battle against the Goliaths of "systemic racism" and "toxic polarization."
One stone was all it took for David to slay Goliath. David declined the armor and weapons of the army - he trusted God and did it his way. We need to trust God and give up on the armies and weapons that aren't working. What is the stone that will slay these Goliaths? Are you holding it?
I attended workshops on the need for universal healthcare - do you know how expensive it is to not have it?, decolonizing faith, and the need for Biblical literacy, which in my mind is critical right now.
The message for worship on Wednesday night was brought by Rev. Michelle Higgins of St. John's Church (The Beloved Community) UCC in St. Louis. She sang-preached her message which is a style with which I am wholly unfamiliar, but it was moving to me. We need to hear messages and prayers brought to us in languages we don't understand and in styles that aren't comfortable to us.
I didn't know that UCC churches have collectively raised money and abolished $67.6 million of medical debt, impacting 51,729 families across the country.
People are tired, people are frustrated, people are angry. We are all traumatized. Some of us are burned out. But the messages I've heard this week are messages of hope, of resilience, of never giving up because God is with us.
Just in case you wonder if this post is an advertisement for the UCC, it isn't, really. I'm sure most churches have similar stories of caring. But I am with the UCC this week, and I am proud of my membership in this denomination.
The message I want you to take from this is that there is power in all of us. Each of us might not be able to do a lot, but we can each do something - vote, write an elected official, talk with someone, ask questions, make phone calls. The opportunities are as vast as our sacred imaginations. All of us together - or even some of us together - can do great things. My $1 might not be much, but when you add yours, we double it!
What can you do to bring God's kingdom? A phone call, a smile, a helping hand? Who can you join to bring God's kingdom here on earth? Your church, a committee, a community program? Where can you pool your financial resources? Your church, UNICEF, the Arbor Day Foundation, the Red Cross, a local pet rescue? Are you called to bigger things? How can we help? How can each of us support those who are called to bigger things? We only need to activate our sacred imaginations.
And speaking of sacred imaginations, if they are to be sacred, they must be grounded. As a Christian I must ground my sacred imagination in the Bible. In order to do that, I need to read, pray, study, think, pray, imagine, wonder, ask questions, pray, read, pray. An hour on Sunday morning won't do it. Worship is important, but worship is only one aspect, and can be in many places and done in many ways. If you are not Christian, what are your holy scriptures? Torah? The Quran? The Tripitaka? The Bhagavad Gita? Don't pretend you know what they say unless you actually know what they say.
Activate your sacred imagination and share your ideas. Together, we can move mountains.
Motion against cash bail bonds: passed.
Motion for Hawaiian self governance was voted down by a very close vote, was denied. It was a resolution of witness and required a vote of 2/3 in favor to pass, and didn't. It is unusual for resolutions not to pass. Clearly we have more work to do around decolonizing, and there is quite a bit of grief that this resolution failed.
As I write this it is Saturday afternoon. I won't post until tomorrow so I can update with the results of votes on resolutions.
Sunday, July 18:
The motion for gender equity passed.
The motion to formally recognize the Alliance of the Associate Conference Ministers of the UCC passed, but not without a fair bit of conversation.
The motion for the ban on conversion therapy passed overwhelmingly.
The motion for a just peace between Israel and Palestine passed. In the committee, we deleted the word "apartheid" to describe Israel's systems of laws. A motion was made to put the word back in and there was quite a bit of discussion. The motion passed, Discussion around the amended resolution was centered on concern about indications of antisemitism (we don't want to appear anti-Semitic), vs those who support the resolution's call for peace and support of Palestinians who are, after all, children of God. The committee also decided against referring to the oppression of the Palestinian people as a sin, because it was felt that it is not our place to decide what is and isn't sinful - that rests with God. A motion was made to restore the word "sin" to the resolution, to strengthen the resolution, and in recognition that oppression is, indeed, sinful. That motion also passed. (Can you tell I'm writing this in real time?)
The motion for the rights of nature passed with 98% in favor.
All of the resolutions that pass should be accessible at United Church of Christ General Synod 33 General Synod 33. I'm not sure for how long, so please look soon.
There is one message that stands out for me from the work of this General Synod: we need to listen. We need to give space to indigenous voices, voices of the oppressed, and voices of the marginalized, and we all need to listen - to languages not our own, to styles of worship unfamiliar to us, and to messages that we might not want to hear. Some of the resolutions were intended to do just that: elevate the voices of the oppressed.
I want to share Psalm 10 with you.
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? 2 In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor— let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.
3 For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart, those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord. 4 In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, “God will not seek it out”; all their thoughts are, “There is no God.”
5 Their ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of their sight; as for their foes, they scoff at them. 6 They think in their heart, “We shall not be moved; throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.”
7 Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
8 They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless; 9 they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert; they lurk that they may seize the poor; they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
10 They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might. 11 They think in their heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
12 Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed. 13 Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, “You will not call us to account”?
14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands; the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers; seek out their wickedness until you find none.
16 The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land.
17 O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear 18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.
Notice that the psalmist calls out those of us who are entrenched in our comfort, our power, our privilege. Are we listening for and to the word of God? But God does not forget the oppressed (v. 12). God does note trouble and grief (v. 14). God does seek out wickedness (v. 15). God hears the desires of the meek and strengthens their hearts. God inclines God's ear and does justice for the orphan and the oppressed. (v. 17-18). God will strike terror into the hearts of the oppressors so that we may strike terror no more.
Beloveds, life is not a zero-sum game. I lose nothing by working to eliminate barriers to someone else. But I must confess that I don't know exactly what those barriers are. I might think I know, and some are so obvious as to not be missed, but I need to stop and listen. I need to hear in their words what is going on.
I am praying for my fellow delegates as we return to our usual lives. I am lifting gratitude for those who worked so hard to put this synod together in a new way. I pray for the United Church of Christ, and all churches, that we might truly listen for and hear the word of God unencumbered by our biases and politics. I am praying for all who do not attend church regularly that they will find a place and a way to feel the love of God - in church or outside of it. I pray that my words are a blessing to you, and I lift gratitude that you are willing to embark on this journey with me, and that you allow me the space to put my thoughts together, because if it weren't for you, my readers, I probably wouldn't bother. So thank you.
If you are moved to check out the resolutions, please do at United Church of Christ General Synod 33 General Synod 33. You'll find them under the Business tab. If one speaks to you, perhaps you could call or write your elected representatives. Perhaps you could bring it to your place of worship, UCC or not. Together, lets lift up the oppressed and work to restore the world that God created.
Breaking news: it is 6:10 PM on Sunday night, and a motion has just been put forward to reconsider the Hawaii resolution! Argument for the motion is that the vote last evening was pushed through quickly and there should be more debate time.
Motion to reconsider required a "supermajority" vote in favor, so although the majority voted in favor of revisiting the resolution, it will not be revisited.
I'm headed home.
Monday, July 19:
It is so good to be home and able to focus on the farm again. The littles are growing and playing - they will be sheared on Wednesday, and although they don't know it yet, they will be SO much more comfortable!
I have quite a bit to reflect on from last week. For today, though, I am resting in knowing that there are many, many Christians in the UCC and across this nation who are passionate about justice for people the world over and for the earth itself. It is sometimes easy to forget that as we go about our every day lives. Our communities, places of employment and even places of worship can feel stifling at times, but each of us has faith the size of a mustard seed, and together we can move mountains. So get your work clothes on, warm up those muscles, drink some water and lets get going. There is so much work to do.
"Rooted in Love" Image. United Church of Christ. https://www.generalsynod.org. Accessed July 18, 2021.