Archive for the 'Human Rights Issues' Category

28
Apr
11

on unholy ground

Another costly decision to exclude has created unholy ground for my dear Mennonite denomination—a church whose focus includes peace, justice, non-violence, and walking in the Way of Jesus. Mine is not the only denomination struggling to makes its way in the 21st century. The Christian Church is struggling—with greater and lesser success—at achieving relevance in the current age; however, my immediate concern is with the leadership of Mennonite Church USA who has recently cut off its nose to spite its face.

There is a saying among church folk today that is posited as a loving stance. It goes like this: Love the sinner, but hate the sin. It’s a strange juxtaposition of terms for followers of Jesus, and I don’t recall this notion presented in any of the Gospels. I don’t know if that particular sentiment was the slogan Randall Spaulding, pastor of the Covenant Mennonite Fellowship in Sarasota, Florida, heard in his ears for the past several years of his indictment proceedings. Maybe it was softened in some way, maybe not, but I can tell you from personal experience that it doesn’t matter what the words are—what the rationale is—the end result is the same: betrayal that hurts to the core.

Randall Spaulding’s situation began in 2008 and burst forth in 2009 when his desire to live openly with his covenanted partner was met with the revocation of his pastoral credentials by the Southeast Conference of Mennonite Church USA.  For an account of this, read Celeste Kennel-Shank’s articles in the Mennonite Weekly Review: 10/20/08 and  10/5/09.

Promises for loving dialogue were made. We all hoped and prayed they would be kept. Then on April 12, 2011, a letter from Randall appeared on the MennoNeighbors listserve. Devastation and lamentation rippled through the supportive community. Many of us have our own experiences of betrayal, either personally or in association with loved ones. This was inconceivable, because Randy’s music has become part of our worship life in many, if not most congregations!

Dear MennoNeighbors,

Some of you have probably heard about my recent expulsion from the Binational Worship Council.  You can read a bit about it here: http://www.mennoweekly.org/2011/4/18/pastor-removed-worship-council/.  The council is a US/Canadian group of Mennonite music and worship leaders considering the possibility of a future new hymnal or collection of songs for Mennonites.

Once again, the process of “loving dialogue” has, in my opinion, been subverted. I was not invited to dialogue or conversations that were taking place between Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Publishing Network and conference leaders. I had one conversation with an executive leader on March 7 (after the decision had already been made to expel me), and the next day I received an email saying that on behalf of Ervin Stutzman and others in leadership of MCUSA my role on the council was over.

While the action isn’t surprising, it’s still disappointing and hurtful. I grow weary of always having my integrity and Christian character maligned because I’m gay and desire to live in a covenanted union blessed by God. I’m attaching my letter of response to the expulsion that I sent to Ervin Stutzman and Terry Shue. I hope it will come attached to this email.

Please pray for the Binational Worship Council as they continue their work, and pray that God will guide us all to a vision of healing and hope that embraces EVERYONE in the non-violent hospitality of Jesus.

On a brighter note, I’ve been accepted at Yale Divinity School and will be moving to Connecticut with my husband, Gary, this fall where I’ll be working on an MDiv degree. I’m sad to be leaving my wonderful and courageous congregation in Sarasota, but I’m also excited about the journey ahead.  Please keep the Covenant Mennonite Fellowship in your prayers as they prepare for this transition and discern their next steps.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of you at Pittsburgh this summer where I’ll be serving as Covenant’s delegate.

Peace,
Randy

Randy Spaulding, pastor
The Covenant Mennonite Fellowship
Sarasota, FL
www.covenantmennonite.com

I am confused. Is the executive board hating the sin or hating the sinner? (I use the term sinner only to make a point.) Solomon’s dilemma over whether to split the baby in two to satisfy two women both claiming to be its mother, comes to mind. We are all sons and daughters of God. Jesus showed us that. So how do we love the person in whom God’s face shines, but reject the face that shows us God? How do we separate the gift of music from those who bear it and bring it to us? I wonder if Randall Spaulding’s name will be erased from our song books and his songs torn out, or will a rationale be constructed that will allow accepting the gift while rejecting the giver?

The outcry has come from gay and straight corners of the denomination. Here’s what Martin Lehman, a wise, generous, straight elder had to say in response to Randy’s expulsion:

Dear Neighbors:

Some time ago I wrote the following unpublished paragraphs.  I think the insights relate to the expectations, mercy and grace of God in changing times:

“Once upon a time God created the first human beings and instructed them to be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth. A semen of a single male carried millions of sperm and one female produced a monthly egg or two. To fill the earth required that the sperm and egg meet for conception.

Nothing could be wasted. A man who spilled his semen on the ground to avoid impregnating an egg-bearing woman was considered a wicked man. A man who was wealthy enough to support multiple wives and have many concubines and used his sperm to beget many sons and daughters could still be

considered a righteous man. A widow was given to a brother of the deceased man in the hope that she could conceive children in the name of her late husband. A barren woman was disgraced.

“Now, leap with me over the millennia to the present and acknowledge that times have changed. Now, overpopulation is feared. The pressure to have babies is off. The early customs of God’s people, the law of Moses, many of the psalms and proverbs in the Bible were written by men under pressure to multiply and fill the earth.

“The rules governing sexuality developed for the people of a long gone-by era no longer apply.”

I understand and grieve over the pressures on denominational and conference leaders. However, I grieve more deeply when big and little congregations and their conferences band together to override the witness of a small congregation that has found what seemed good to them and the Holy Spirit. The MC USA has lost, and Randall Spaulding has gained an open door.  We have not heard the last. The story is not finished.

Indeed it is not finished. Here is a letter from a Mennonite Weekly Review reader:

For five years I have greatly benefited by having Randall Spaulding as my pastor at Cov­enant Mennonite Fellowship in Sarasota. But in 2009 Southeast Conference of Mennonite Church USA took away his credentials, not because he was ineffective but because he was gay.

Randy also served MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada as project editor on the hymnal supplements Sing the Journey and Sing the Story. He was also on the Binational Worship Council until he was recently expelled, presumably because his gayness would taint Mennonite music. Does that mean all copies of Sing the Journey and Sing the Story should be recalled or destroyed? Do the decision-makers assume God is not able to work through a talented pastor and musician whom God created gay?

Randy is reliving the Anabaptist experience of the 1500s as a victim of ignorance, violence and persecution. How sad that his primary persecutors are Mennonites who claim to be descendants of independent-thinking, nonviolent Anabaptists. By committing psychic violence on Randy and Covenant, and by deliberately being blind toward the unfolding of new truth about homosexuality as a given and not a choice, these zealous Mennonite descendants have betrayed the values of their Anabaptist martyrs. Hiding their prejudice under the garments of remote biblical passages and their own view of God’s will is an affront to all truth seekers.

David A. Ryan Sarasota, Fla.

And in another corner, a person with centuries of ancestry tied to the faith, has decided he cannot remain in an organization or church that prohibits membership based on sexual orientation. You can read his views and decision to withdraw membership in the April 22 posting  of his blog.

The effort to broaden the doors of the Church in the love and by the grace of God—which Jesus lived his his life—continues. Today is Thursday, the 28th of April, just seven days following the commemoration of the death of Jesus and four days following the Resurrection.

It’s not about sex. It’s about love…the way God made each of us as persons to be loved, and to love as we are born, not made.

Respectfully submitted,
Called by Name

Postscript:

Pink Menno Campaign has written a letter to the MC USA leadership. If you would like to add your signature, pull down the About Pink Menno tab and follow the instructions.

Chicago’s, Windy City Media Group has reported on a recent talk at Elmhurst College, by Bishop John Shelby Spong that fits very well with the  subject of this posting. Hey, New York Times…are you listening?

04
Apr
11

afterward…on the way home

Last December I introduced peace and justice activists, Mark and Sara, and their friend, death row inmate, William Glenn Boyd. (See: Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas; In the Bulb There is a Flower; State By State )

On March 31st, Glenn was executed on schedule at 6:00 pm. The following day I posted some details in Forgive As We Forgive, along with my thoughts and point of view. Today, I want to share Mark and Sara’s thoughts as they drove home from Holman Prison last Friday.

Hello to all,

The sun is shining and the morning breeze is turning warmer. Rev. Megan is driving, Mark is sitting next to our son, and Grandma is entertaining our grumpy little baby girl in the back seat. Before we head back to home, we thought we would take a quick detour to the beach and see the ocean.

Glenn’s spirit has been traveling around—making lots of stops and visits. He is now free to go see loved ones he hasn’t seen in years.

We had a wonderful visit with our brother Glenn yesterday. He was in good spirits. We talked, laughed, prayed, and had communion together around 10:00 am. We even had a last supper together, around 3:00 pm. Glenn had requested fried chicken, french fries, tomatoes, and apples for his last meal.  He knew he wanted to share the meal with all of us, so that’s why he ordered some vegetables—to appease the vegetarians amongst us. They brought it into the visiting yard. We bought a couple of sandwiches from the vending machine to supplement. There were eleven of us and not enough food, so each just had a little bit…symbolically sharing the meal together. We kept encouraging him to eat the chicken and he insisted that we all share it and eat together. so we split up all of the food, shared and communed together. It was absolutely beautiful.

Be still and know that I am God.

I want to give a shout-out to the corrections officers who were part of the ‘execution’ team. They were so kind and compassionate towards us and Glenn—so deeply respectful. I would never have expected to experience God through them, but I did.

Glenn was strong through to the end. We left the prison around 3:30 pm. Two of his spiritual advisors stayed with him in the death cell until 5:30 pm.  They then moved him to the death chamber. His pastor and another of his spiritual advisors were in the witness room. Glenn was able to focus on them until his last moments.

We were out in a pasture near the prison, praying and reading psalms 23 and 91. Shortly after 6:00 pm, a hawk flew towards us and circled over the pasture a few times and then flew on towards the creek. We stayed, prayed and sang Amazing Grace. Just as we were about to leave, his pastor, Don, came to the pasture and shared with us that Glenn was strong and at peace up until the very end. He did not have any last words, but that is normal—most guys don’t. He imagines that there are so many thoughts going through their heads.

Glenn had written a letter to the victim’s family. His plan was to read it as his last words, because nine members of the victims’ families came for the execution, but was not allowed to do that. Glenn’s lawyer now has the letter and we will be sending it to the victims’ families. It was a short, but beautifully written apology. At the prayer vigil, while sharing about what a great and wonderful person Glenn was, Mark started to say, “…and Glenn was…”

Glenn’s brother, Billy, piped in and just said one word: “Amazing.”

Glenn was amazing.

Love,
Sara and Mark

*****

This account puts a very human face on what has been reported in the news. No gorging of food, no cowardice, no lack of repentance…only compassion, generosity, truth, and God’s loving presence. Sara’s letter ended with this postscript to her church family and friends:

I had a moment where I nearly broke down before entering the prison on Thursday morning, but I felt your prayers. One of the corrections officers ministered to me, and I felt your prayers through her as well. Thanks to all of you who have sent us prayers. They were…and are felt.

*****

Yesterday, at church, I learned that a few days before the execution, a bereavement card addressed to Mark and Sara was waiting for them when they returned home. It was from Glenn, carefully sent a few days earlier. It was simple and sweet…consoling them for the loss of the friendship they had shared together over the years. As I remember the weeks and days leading up to the death of my adopted daughter Bettina, I know how important it was to Glenn to be able to make that last gesture. I remember saying tearfully to Bettina, that I would miss her. Her reply was: “I’ll miss you too, Mama.” We needed to tell each other…to assure ourselves connection over the great unknown. Death, however it comes, is a sacred mystery.

 

 

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know

Be still

Be…

 

If you would like to contact Mark or Sara concerning Christian Peacemaker Teams, the death penalty, or other peace and justice issues, here is the contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

01
Apr
11

forgive as we forgive…

Mark and Sara are on their way home from Holman Prison in Atmore, Alabama. They and  pastor Megan, drove down to spend the few days of life their friend, William Glenn Boyd, would have before the state would exact payment by lethal injection,  for the lives he had taken 25 years ago.

“You have heard it said, `an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not set yourself in violent or revengeful resistance against an evildoer.”

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38)

Some statistics rank the United States as having an 85% Christian population. It is astonishing to me that out of an estimated 224,457,000 Christian persons there are simply not enough souls who understand Jesus’ teaching—further, that forgiveness by grace given through the Holy Spirit are the core of the Christian faith.

In Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus gives us the mother of prayers, which we refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. Whether your Lord’s Prayer uses the word trespasses, debts or sins, the request for forgiveness is followed by a promise to forgive “…as we forgive…”

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

“Forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors.”

William Glenn Boyd served 25 years on death row. In that time he reckoned with his sin, asked for forgiveness, received it and led a transformed life. For many he was the salt of the earth and a light to the world  (Matthew 5:13-16). Yet, to the political system in Alabama, he could not be forgiven without just payment. Not much different from the Roman order of the day in Jesus’ time. Then, Caesar was god. I don’t think any of Alabama’s Christian citizens would say that Governor Bentley was God; nevertheless, if he is a Christian, the governor’s decision not to honor the appeals of this redeemed man was not in accord with God being God.

You can Google William Glenn Boyd and find quite a bit of coverage of the execution that took place at 6:00 P.M., Thursday, March 31, 2011. It will vary from sensational to respectful and include blogging sites. I choose the report by Bob Johnson of the Associated Press published in the Gadsden Times to include here. As soon as I hear from Mark, I will post a follow-up.

“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)


10
Mar
11

state by state

It took 11 years, but Illinois has finally abolished the death penalty. This is not happening in Alabama, where Glenn of the Red Velvet Cake and the Flower in the Bulb is facing his execution date of March 31, but it is an important step forward for the country as a whole. I wish this step could include Glenn…I wish all of humankind could step away from the faulty premise that an eye for an eye is a restorative measure of justice. Our justice system is far from perfect…far from the taint of revenge and the power-grab. Mistakes are made. Judges and juries are fallible. Evidence can be twisted and turned. Innocent people are put to death and that in itself is murder. (I downloaded a fact sheet from the Death Penalty Information Center. Take a look and see for yourself.)

It’s time we, as a so-called civilized society, come to terms with our investment in this practice. It is draconian, violent and irreversible. The penalty of death appears to have little effect on the incidence of violent crimes. Our prisons are overflowing. They are warehouses and hotbeds for increase in crime, not decrease. How do we reconcile ourselves with the innocent victims of this practice…those wrongfully accused? Execution is irreversible. Execution is not at all what the God, Jesus so loved, would do. We may not all be able to forgive as beautifully as the Amish did after the school shootings in 2006, but we can take a look at our own investment in our judicial system, both individually and collectively.

When a loved one is murdered or otherwise horrifically abused, one’s hurt runs deeper than words can say. If the perpetrator is put to death as a penalty, does the memory of pain and loss disappear? My own experience is that it does not. Living by the revenge principle hardens my heart and locks in the pain.

Yesterday began the Christian Lenten season: ashes to ashes and dust to dust…remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. The message of Lent is repentance. This word is a translation of the Greek word, metanoia. It means turning around, doing it differently…seeking forgiveness. How meaningful it is that the governor of the State of Illinois signed this legislation into effect on Ash Wednesday! I’d like to think that there is hope for the world. Who knows…in time, maybe we’ll even understand that war, far from solving problems, creates them. It could happen—someday.

25
Feb
11

In the Bulb there is a Flower

In December you read about the Christian Peacemakers Teams, my friend Mark Frey and his friend Glenn who has been on death row for 25 years. The post was titled,  Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas.

Today Mark writes to say:

Glenn called this morning, saying “It’s a bad day, brother. They gave me a date: March 31.”  That’s when Alabama (but really it’s our society) will kill him at 6:00 pm.

He was task-focused, trying to figure out what he needed, and wanted, to do before the end of his life. He was filled with regrets about all the things he’d wanted to do and letters he’d wanted to write before the end, but just wont have time to do.

He asked me to call his “soul-mate” in England, so that she’d find out about his date from a friend rather than through the internet. She took the news well: “We knew this was coming.”

“Yes, but it’s real now,” I said.

She and Glenn are devout Christians. She responded, “He’ll be with the Father, in a much better place.”

“Yes, I know that……” I said. Her voice full of emotion, she emphasized for me and herself, “He’ll be having a party, talking to old and new friends….He’ll be in GLORY!”   Amen!

Later in the day Sara and I shared with Glenn the hymn text from, “In the Bulb there is a Flower.” (The composer Natalie Sleeth dedicated it to her husband who was diagnosed with cancer soon after she wrote it.  And a few years ago Sara and I participated in a memorial service choir for a close friend’s father who was taken very suddenly by an aggressive cancer.)

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

We’re still trying to wrap our heads and hearts around this news that we knew was coming.

We are trying to arrange things so that we’ll drive as a family to visit Glenn the days before his execution, and hold a prayer vigil while the execution takes place.

Please pray for an end to the death penalty.

If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

20
Dec
10

red velvet cake and the spirit of christmas

I have a lovely Christmas story to share and a fine storyteller to introduce, but first I must give some background.

In the mid-1980s, members of the historic peace churches began seeking new ways to express their faith. Out of this desire came the Christian Peacemakers Teams, an organization, which seeks to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love in partnership with local peacemakers worldwide. Denominations and organizations supporting active CPT chapters are—Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Congregation of St. Basil, Every Church a Peace Church and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

My friends Mark and Sara—peace and justice (CPT) activists from my church—entered a letter writing program to prisoners through a Church of the Brethren friend of theirs. Through this program they met Glenn, an inmate at Alabama’s Holman Prison, where he has been on death row for the past 25 years. Mark and Sara have visited him 3 times since 2002 when their correspondence began. Each time, they found that they were the only visitors Glenn had that year.

A couple of days ago Mark sent this remarkable story….Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas…to the congregation through our listserve :

Glenn called today and left a voice mail saying, “Brother, I have something important to share with you.”  I called him back.

He said, “You know what my favorite dessert is?” He’d told me some time ago, but I couldn’t remember. “Red velvet cake. Everyone (the inmates) around here knows that. Today, a ministry (program) was here distributing food packages.’

(Aside: there are a few ministries that distribute such food packages throughout the year. The inmates look forward to these. On death row, I’ve learned, food is a BIG deal. The daily prison food is awful, so anything normal is a major event.)

“Sister Antonia gave me my package and I told her my date was around the corner. I looked through the package and saw that there were a lot of good items. It was a pretty good collection.  And the dessert was…red velvet cake…home made!  Of all the desserts to be in there….I told her it was my favorite.”

“A little while later, she came back, and pushed another piece into my cell.”

“A little while later, another piece came, passed on down the line by the guys, from cell to cell.”

“And a little while later, another, and another, and another, until every guy on the tier had passed their red velvet cake.”

Glenn was choked up at this point in the phone call. He said jokingly, “I must have male menopause.” I told him it was a very touching thing and he was just being human and that the guys were just giving back in a small way what they’d received from Glenn over the years.  Glenn said, “Whatever they’ve received, it has been from God, not from me.”  Glenn is deeply faithful and very humble and attributes whatever positive influence he’s had on others as God’s working through him. And I believe it.

Mark goes on to share some about his friend Glenn:

Here is a story of part of Glenn’s transformation—one that happened in spite of the brutality of the so-called correctional system, and because Glenn opened himself and listened to God.

“When my sister was young, she was put into a mental hospital where she was raped repeatedly by one of the workers. As a young man, I was so angry. I pictured the man in hell, and I wanted to torture him to the verge of death so he’s feel pain like my sister.

“While in prison I asked Jesus into my heart. God said, ‘You shall know the truth and it shall set you free.’ I had to tell the truth before I could be free, and the truth was that I wanted to kill the man. The truth was not that I wanted to try to love the man. I wanted to mutilate him.

“Once I confessed to god this truth the way opened up. In a dream I heard the voice of God say:

“Glenn, there are people in your life that you hurt, not in the same way, but pain is pain, and they want you to hurt. But I don’t want you to hurt because I love you. And guess what, I love that man too, and I don’t want you to hurt him.”

“I Woke up and cried like a baby. I said to God, ‘I can’t do it, but I’m willing to let you, God, do it through me.’ I got to a place where I could envision being in the same room with the man, and telling him that I forgive him and that I love him.

“People who knew me when I was 19 (when I entered prison) will not recognize the person I’ve become; God’s love allowed me to forgive.”

In the 25 years Glenn has been on death row, the courts have denied his appeals and he will be executed in early 2011. Mark and Sara are his friends. They see a deeply wise, intelligent, compassionate and religious person in Glenn…a very different person today than who he was when he committed his crime. I believe this is true and do not understand the twists and turns that keep a redeemed person  pinned to the past. Many people say we are a Christian nation…if so, where is the repentance and compassion that Jesus taught us? He asked  the woman caught in adultery where her accusers had gone and if any condemnation remained. She tells Jesus that no one remains to condemn her. Jesus responds with compassion, and tells her that he does not condemn her either and exhorts her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)

Our penal system practices an ancient code of an eye for an eye. It does not redeem, but God breaks through walls. I believe people can, and do change. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught: “You have heard it said, `an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not set yourself in violent or revengeful resistance against an evildoer.” (Matthew 5:38)

As Christian Peacemakers, Mark and Sara speak for me.  If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

And a little child shall lead them….




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