August 2009

Unitarian minister the Rev. Deborah Haffner of the Religious Institute, whom we last saw advocating a change in sexual mores among clergy, is now peddling her fish to United Methodists regarding their teenagers. She writes in the newsletter of the General Board of Church and Society:

More than 15 years ago, I developed a framework for a moral sexual relationship. I believe, based on my more than 30 years as a sexuality educator and now as a minister, that a moral, ethical sexual relationship — whether one is married or single, 16 or 35 or 80, gay, bisexual or straight — is defined by five criteria: It is consensual, non-exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected, if any type of intercourse occurs.

Please note: according to Haffner, unmarried 16-year-olds can have moral, ethical sexual relationships. Note as well that, just as marriage is not necessary for a “moral, ethical sexual relationship,” neither is commitment (life-long or otherwise) or monogamy.

I teach adolescents and young adults to remember the five criteria by thinking the word CUHMP or by a mnemonic of the first letter of the five criteria, “Can U Have My Pleasure?”

The “word” CUHMP? “Can U Have My Pleasure?” Does anyone know what this even means?

We go on to talk about that the five criteria need three conditions: communication between the partners, adequate time for the relationship to develop and shared values. These criteria are more ethically rigorous than abstinence until marriage because they apply to intimate relationships both before as well as after marriage.

Haffner flatters herself. “Communication,” undefined “adequate time,” and equally undefined “shared values” may be fine things (and in the case of the first, communication certainly is foundational for any meaningful relationship) that will help make a relationship better. But these are not “ethical” criteria, which are means for determining the rightness or wrongness of an action or thought. As in so much of the work that has been done by Haffner and like-minded thinkers, they have confused formulating ways of making people happy with helping them make moral decisions.

Most parents, public health professionals and religious leaders agree that most adolescents, especially those in high school or younger, are not ready for mature sexual relationships that include intercourse. The wisdom of religious traditions confirms that a moral sexuality demands self-understanding, respect and self-discipline.

It’s nice to know that Haffner recognizes that “most adolescents” are not ready for sex. It’s a pity that everything she advocates seems directed toward facilitating what teenagers shouldn’t be doing.


The Rev. Samuel Kobia will soon be leaving the post of General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. It’s a good thing, since he’s overstayed his welcome on the world stage. He made his final report to the WCC’s Central Committee on Wednesday. Part of it was about Israel, and it contained a whopper:

Occupation along with the concomitant humiliation of a whole people for over six decades constitutes not just economic and political crimes but, like anti-Semitism, it is a sin against God. [Emphasis added.]

“Over six decades” is a reference, not to 1967, but to 1948, the year of Israeli independence. The year the newly established Jewish state (established, one might add, by United Nations action) was invaded by five Arab armies and almost destroyed in infancy. Somehow, in one of the most amazing military feats of all time, those armies were beaten off, and a new nation was born.

So, the effect of Kobia’s statement is to say that Israel’s “occupation” and “humiliation” of its Arab neighbors goes back to its very founding. This is another way of saying that the very existence of the state of Israel is “a sin against God.” He also claimed that the West Bank, Gaza (now run by Hamas, and from which all Jews have departed), and East Jerusalem constitute a “full-blown apartheid system complete with its brand of “Bantustans.”

At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Samuel Kobia’s next gig will be at Al-Jazeera, or maybe the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information. All I can say is, go away, Sam, just go away.

(Via Naming His Grace.)

The World Council of Churches’ Central Committee has elected a new General Secretary (ever wonder about the Communist-style nomenclature?). He’s the Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, head of the Council on Ecumenical and International Relations of the Church of Norway (the Lutheran state church). According to the WCC:

Norwegian theologian and pastor Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, 48, was elected 7th general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Thursday 27 August during its Central Committee meeting. Tveit will be the youngest general secretary since Willem A. Visser ‘t Hooft who had led the WCC while it was in process of formation and following its founding assembly 61 years ago.

“This task I really feel is the call of God. I feel that we have a lot to do together”, said Tveit in his acceptance speech before the central committee. He stressed the spirit of unity that dominated the whole process and expressed hope that it will continue to reign in the common journey. Tveit encouraged the committee members to continue praying for him: “Please do not stop!”

I’ve been looking to see what I could find on Dr. Tveit, but there isn’t much out there. He was called in to the Israeli embassy in Oslo last December so the Israelis could protest a letter about the conflict in Gaza that the Israelis said was “one-sided”–no surprise there. He has been in the forefront of efforts to improve Christian-Muslim relations in Norway, and two years secured a joint statement supporting the right of conversion between faiths, which may well have been a first on the part of Muslims. I’ve also found an interview he did earlier this month with a German newspaper. A couple of highlights:

Rheinischer Merkur: Are you looking to shared communion between Protestants and Catholics?

Tveit: Catholics and Protestants can get closer to each other than they have done until now. And I think that shared communion is possible. We have already arrived at a wide-ranging understanding about the sacraments. What divides us is the question of ministry through which the sacraments are administered. But we can work further if we really think it is important to bear witness through celebrating the sacraments together.

His optimism is charming, but with all due respect the problem regarding the sacraments is not primarily a question of ministry. For Rome, the problem has to do with the fact that full communion does not exist between it and the Protestant churches, and that in turn is the result of continuing, serious disagreements about core issues of doctrine. Until those are resolved (something that looks doubtful this side of the Second Coming), shared communion is essentially impossible from the Catholic standpoint.

RM: Has the ecumenical movement placed its emphasis too one-sidedly on political involvement?

Tveit: That is the image at least that Pentecostals and Evangelicals have of it. That is why they have problems joining it. Today we certainly see things in a more nuanced way. It’s no longer ‘either/or’, as it was even two or three decades ago.

RM: What do you think yourself about this?

Tveit: In Norway in the 1970s there was a debate as to whether the Church of Norway should continue to be a member of the WCC. Particularly the Inner Mission was against. I believe that the ecumenical movement has both to undertake the proclamation of the Gospel and be a political witness in the world. There must not be an either/or.

The “Gospel” that the WCC has proclaimed for decades now has been almost exclusively a political one. On the basis of this, I wouldn’t see that changing, but perhaps Tveit will surprise us.

There’s more. Take a look at the interview, and pray that God may indeed use the new GS to turn the WCC back to the gospel.

For some people, the idea that anyone any time, any where should have to keep their pants zipped is anathema. Writing in the Huffington Post, The Rev. Debra Haffner, director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, shows us the next–but no doubt not final–frontier in the battle to sexually liberate America’s clergy:

On Friday, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted by a substantial margin to affirm the ministries of gay and lesbian clergy in “committed, lifelong, same-gender relationships.” In the words of my colleagues at the ELCA, the vote means “ending the discriminatory two‐tier system of the past and holding all ministers to the same high standard in their relationships.”

All of this is excellent news for same-sex couples, of course, but the emphasis on “committed, lifelong relationships” leaves out the single minister, the divorced minister, the widowed minister — whether gay, straight, or bisexual — who must still adhere to a standard of celibacy unless their partner status changes.

I’ve long believed that the major sexuality problem denominations face is that they are unable to acknowledge that celibacy until marriage doesn’t apply to most single adults. There are more than 75 million American adults who are single — more than at any time in history. We are marrying later, divorcing at high levels, and living longer, so more of us will be widowed. And as a whole, we’re having sexual relationships when we aren’t in marriages.

The ELCA has joined other denominations in confirming that it wants its clergy coupled for life — or sexless. But just as the prohibition on gay and lesbian clergy in relationships didn’t work (but merely drove people in relationships underground), I’m guessing that a lot of single clergy aren’t giving up sex, either. Further, an inability for clergy to live authentically open sexual lives may actually fuel misconduct and inappropriate behavior. It makes sense to require that clergy not engage in sexual relationships with congregants; it does not make sense to ask them to give up adult sexual lives outside of the congregation.

The Religious Institute has long called for a new sexual ethic to replace the traditional “celibacy until marriage, chastity after.” This new ethic is free of double standards based on sexual orientation, sex, gender or marital status. It calls for sexual relationships to be consensual, non-exploitative, honest, pleasurable and protected, whether inside or outside of a covenanted relationship. It insists that intimate relationships be grounded in communication and shared values.

Please allow me to translate: sex by any adult, loosely defined, that is agreeable to all parties is hunky-dory. Despite the title, there really are no discernible limits here–not just fornication, but adultery, polyamory, polygamy, and pretty much anything else you can think of is perfectly OK by Haffner’s Hefnerist approach. This is what the Unitarian Haffner is advocating, not just for swingin’ UUs, but for all religious leaders. The ELCA, in insisting on fidelity and commitment in relationships and celibacy for the uncommitted, is just not with it. For what it’s worth, Haffner has at least one fan among the repressed Lutheran clergy. “Dougk56” writes in the comments:

As an ELCA pastor, I think this is right on target. Nearly 20 years ago the ELCA attempted to adopt a sexuality statement that honestly addressed the changing nature of sexual relations. It went down in flames. Now we have adopted a much more conservative and hesitant document that is way behind the cultural curve and provides little in the way of genuine insight or guidance on these questions. Rather than frankly acknowledging people’s real sexual lives we are trying to prop up outdated standards which even conservative Christians are ignoring. Thanks for calling us out on this and highlighting the unresolved question of rewarding and responsible sex for singles.

By the way, in case anyone thinks this is just one nutball and her “institute” that think it’s time for clergy to drop their linen and start their grinnin’, check out the list of endorsers of the statement to which Haffner makes reference in her column. It’s not all Unitarians, not by any stretch of the imagination. There are over 3500 names on that list, over 75 of which are associated with the mainline’s many seminaries, and some of which are pretty well known: Walter Wink, James Cone, Douglas Ottati, Marvin Ellison, Paul Capetz, Barbara Lundblad, and Jack Rogers, along with a grab-bag of Episcopal and United Methodist bishops, lots of PCUSA, UCC, Baptist, Lutheran, and Disciples pastors, etc.

UODATE: I don’t normally point this sort of thing out, but Rev. Haffner came by to respond to my post, which she characterizes as “derisive and inaccurate.” Take a look at the rest of her comment and see what you think.

(Via T19.)

The Research Services unit of the PCUSA has published a look at statistical trends in the denomination since it was formed through merger in 1983. The Presbyterian News Service offers the following regarding the book and its information:

Released this week, Comparative Statistics 2008 features an introductory essay, “The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at 25,” by Jack Marcum, coordinator of research services for the General Assembly Mission Council.

Marcum’s analysis gives clear markers for many of the related issues of decline that have faced the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) since reunion:

  • Membership (from 3,131,228 to 2,140,165, a loss of 31.6 percent or an average of 1.3 percent per year);
  • Baptisms (child baptisms declined by 48.9 percent and adult baptisms by 63.0 percent);
  • Congregations (from 11,662 in 1983 to 10,751 in 2008, a total decline of 7.8 percent, or an annual average of  0.3 percent);
  • New church developments (a “ragged decline” ranging from  a high of 45 in 1992 to a low of 16 in 1999, with 20 in 2008);
  • Worship attendance (from a weekly estimated 1,360,000 in 1990 to 1,090,000 today, down 19.7 percent); and
  • Active ministers (declined by 11.7 percent, while the number of retired ministers has more than doubled).

At the same time, several areas of growth can also be traced:

  • Attendance as a percentage of membership (from 47.6 percent to 51 percent);
  • Women in ministry (a fourfold increase, from 1,010 in 1983 to 4,253 in 2008);
  • Asian membership (from 57,517 in 1999 to 69,912 in 2008);
  • Hispanic membership (from 27,800 in 1999 to 29,699 in 2008);
  • and Financial giving (on a per member basis, adjusted for inflation, from $677 per year to $1,109 per year.)

There are undoubtedly a variety of theological, cultural, and demographic factors involved in this picture of decline. Without survey work being done among those who have left, whether for other denominations or through inactivity, it’s impossible to say what is the most important. Sounds like a worthy project for a researcher in religious trends.

(By the way, even the items referred to as “areas of growth” should not really be of any solace: the jump in the number of women ministers is not a sign of vitality in itself; the Asian and Hispanic figures are really pathetic compared to the increases in the size of those groups in the general population; and the attendance percentage and giving figures are primarily a sign that the PCUSA has been able to keep a higher percentage of committed members as opposed to the less committed, which is certainly good, but the relatively small increases indicate that many committed members have left or died as well, and aren’t being replaced very well.)

In an interesting piece of scheduling, the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod brought greetings to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly the day after its vote to allow the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. The Rev. Dr. Gerald Kieschnick brought greetings, all right, but didn’t pull punches, either. Here’s the money quote:

I speak these next words in deep humility, with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend. The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies. The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm. This grieves my heart and the hearts of all in the ELCA, the LCMS, and other Christian church bodies throughout the world who do not see these decisions as compatible with the Word of God, or in agreement with the consensus of 2000 years of Christian theological affirmation regarding what Scripture teaches about human sexuality. Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God’s revealed and infallible Word.

Under the circumstances, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson’s response was gracious, expressing hope that the two denominations can continue to work together in the areas where they currently cooperate. As for the audience, it looked like about a third of the delegates gave Kieschnick a standing ovation, while the rest not only stayed seated but appeared, by and large, to sit on their hands. Not too surprising, I guess.

If you’d like to hear Kieschnick’s full speech, you can find it on the ELCA site (click on the “Plenary Videos” tab, and then “Plenary 10,” though I’ll warn you you’ll have to search for it through a long video). You can also find the written version where I did, which was in Harry Edmon’s comment on a thread at Titusonenine.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided today to join the Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ in allowing the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians. According to the Associated Press:

Leaders of the nation’s largest Lutheran church voted Friday to allow sexually active gays and lesbians in committed relationships to serve as clergy.

Gays and lesbians are currently allowed to serve as ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America only if they remain celibate. The proposal to change that passed with 68 percent approval.

At 4.7 million members and about 10,000 congregations in the United States, the ELCA is one of the largest yet to take a more gay-friendly stance on clergy.

The final decision on whether to hire gay clergy in committed relationships will lie with individual congregations.

Some critics of the proposal have predicted its passage could cause individual congregations to split off from the ELCA, as has been the case with other Christian denominations, including the Episcopal Church.

Two predictions: 1) Membership loss in the ELCA, which has already cost the denomination more than 10% of its membership and over 700 congregations since it was formed in 1987, and which has accelerated since 2002, will get even worse in the years ahead; and 2) there will be deafening silence after the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod speaks tomorrow.

UPDATE: According to the Living Church Foundation, they’ve also approved same-sex blessings.

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