Bishops' Pastoral Word: We are in what some expect to be the home stretch of the faithful journey as Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust makes its way from the Task Force for Sexuality Studies to the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
One of the milestones between the proposed social statement's release on February 19 and the August 17-23 assembly passed last week: the ELCA Conference of Bishops met, considered the proposed statement, and decided to issue a "pastoral word" to the rest of the church.
To the best of our knowledge this is the only pastoral word the Bishops have given the church: their other communications have been characterized as pastoral letters or as pastoral messages. We believe this is significant. Not only do the bishops have no consensus among themselves over the substantial issues of the social statement, we suspect they also have no consensus about how the churchwide assembly will respond to those issues. They do not know what leadership challenges they will face after August 23. In their own words:
We know that our human decisions are often imperfect, but we are confident of Godís persistent forgiveness. We are deeply committed to the unity of this church. Whatever decisions the assembly makes, we trust that Godís Spirit will form the wisdom of Godís faithful people gathered in deliberative assembly. We are prepared to stand together united in our continued service to the Church.
The next milestones on the journey are committee meetings: Church in Society Program Committee March 13-14 and Vocation and Education March 13-15.
Be Still and Know: Most Holy Redeemer ("Your Catholic parish in the Castro") was set to host a production of the play Be Still and Know by the theater group from Sacred Heart Preparatory School in Atherton. The production originated at Sacred Heart Prep where it was performed January 30-31 and February 6-7. The performance at Most Holy Redeemer was scheduled for Sunday March 8 at 2PM.
Be Still and Know is a stage adaptation of the 2007 Alex Sanchez novel The God Box. Both works explore homosexuality in an adolescent, Christian context. Amazon describes the Sanchez book:
High school senior Paul has dated Angie since middle school... But when Manuel transfers to their school, Paul has to rethink his life. Manuel is the first openly gay teen anyone in their small town has ever met, and yet he says he's also a committed Christian. Talking to Manuel makes Paul reconsider thoughts he has kept hidden, and listening to Manuel's interpretation of Biblical passages on homosexuality causes Paul to reevaluate everything he believed.
On Tuesday March 3, Archbishop George Niederauer cancelled the performance (or according to some sources, requested that Most Holy Redeemer cancel the performance). No explanation was given for the abrupt cancellation.
On Wednesday, March 11, Matier and Ross writing for the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the play did indeed go on: it was performed on March 8 about 1.3 miles away from Most Holy Redeemer at the Presentation Theater of the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco.
All this came to us in email with the subject:
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Our readers in West Bend, Wisconsin will note that the West Bend Community Memorial Library has one copy of The God Box, but it is checked out as of this writing.
Clergy Voices: On March 6, Public Religion Research published Clergy Voices: Findings from the 2008 Mainline Protestant Clergy Voices Survey by Dr. Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox. The Clergy Voices Survey is largest study of mainline clergy to date.
On LGBT issues, the survey finds:
Mainline clergy overwhelmingly support the principle of equal rights for gay andlesbian people. Nearly 8‐in‐10 (79%) agree that "homosexuals should have all the same rights and privileges as other American citizens."
Mainline clergy also strongly support some legal recognition of same‐sex relationships. Nearly two‐thirds (65%) of mainline clergy support either same‐sex marriage (33%) or civil unions (32%).
The report also indicates that the views expressed by clergy on this issue are inline with the views of mainline Protestants overall:
On the issue of legal recognition for gay couples' relationships, for example, nearly two‐thirds [of clergy surveyed](65%) support either same‐sex marriage or civil unions, compared to 70% of Mainline Protestants overall and 57% of the general population (FAPS 2008).
The table shown below summarizes clergy responses on LGBT issues.
Just Say None!: On March 9 the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC) at Trinity College, Hartford, CT released the American Religious Identification Survey 2008 (ARIS 2008). ARIS 2008 is the third in a series of studies devoted to how people in the United States identify their religious affiliation. 54,461 adults participated in the 2008 survey. Previous studies were done in 1990 and 2001.
The study documents three trends in what people say about their religious affiliation: the percentage of avowed Christians in the United States is dwindling (86.2 percent in 1990, 76.7 percent in 2001 and 76 percent in 2008); among Protestants, generic evangelicalism is outpacing denominational Christianity; and in 2008 respondents were much more likely to claim no religious affiliation than they were in previous studies:
The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million "Nones." Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent "Nones," leading all other states by a full 9 points.
Only the Bishop Knows Why: Anonymous sources in the Central Great Lakes Synod report that the normally affable Bishop Thorvald "Wally" Noe-Effingway has been in a somber mood since returning to the office on March 11. The ELCA Conference of Bishops met March 5-10 in Chicago. On March 5, members of the Conference of Bishops were tested for HIV to demonstrate their solidarity with all those affected by the disease and to lessen the stigma of being tested. One source speculated that perhaps Bishop Noe-Effingway had received some unwelcome news. Another pooh-poohed that speculation noting that the bishop is often more subdued during Lent.
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