Monday, June 13, 2016

A Response to the Orlando Terrorist Attack at The Pulse Night Club in Orlando, FL by Rev. Chase Peeples

KC Interfaith Service

Picture of the participants of the KC Interfaith Service Held for Victims of Orlando 6/12/2016
CCCUCC Assoc. Pastor, Bethany Meier. in attendance

A Response to the Orlando Terrorist Attack at The Pulse Night Club in Orlando, FL
by Rev. Chase Peeples

Dear CCCUCC family,

We awoke Sunday morning to the news that a gunman had opened fire at a night club in Orlando, Florida killing at least 20 people.  By worship time, more news had spread--that the night club was one frequented by LGBTQ people and the number dead stood at 50 with more than that wounded.  Although the full horror of the attack had yet to hit us and most of us had not yet seen images of the scene of the attack, one of our own members, Jonathan Overall, stood during the prayer time to state he had grown up near the club and was worriedly watching his phone for updates from friends in Orlando to see who was alive and who, if any, of his friends were missing or dead.  We left church yesterday still learning of the depth of the crime committed against LGBTQ people in Orlando.

This attack strikes at the soul of our congregation, because we have chosen to answer God's call to be Open and Affirming of LGBTQ people--people who have become essential members of our congregation.  LGBTQ members of our church and those of us who are straight allies understand this violence can happen anywhere at any time, yet it is still a shock when it does occur.  It is particularly jarring that the largest terrorist attack/mass shooting since September 11 was carried out against an LGBTQ night club.

It is sickening to see politicians and religious leaders offer condolences to the victims of the massacre who regularly condemn LGBTQ people and demand the passage of laws which would discriminate against LGBTQ people.  Similarly, it is sickening to see politicians scapegoat all members of one religion because a deranged man declares he kills in the name of God.  It is sickening to watch as our nation's leaders shrug and offer empty platitudes in response to yet another mass shooting carried out with weapons created only for killing.  

Yet, we are not abandoned to our fates as a people drowning in our own disease of violence and cynicism, for God has not abandoned us!

As we grieve, as we experience anger, as we lament crying out to God on behalf of those who grieve their children, family members, friends and lovers this day, let us not be overcome by despair.  As evidenced by the spontaneous vigils popping up across our country--such as the one in KC last evening that our own Bethany Meier attended with other area faith leaders (see picture above)--the number of people on the side of love is far greater than the number of people on the side of hate.  Our work of love is not lonely work, but instead we are joined by people of many faiths and no faith who believe in pluralism, inclusion and equality.

Although we grieve and cry today; although we experience fear for ourselves and our loved ones today; we are promised by our loving Creator that death does not have the last word and hate shall be overcome with love.  Our mission as a church remains what it has been to proclaim the good news that God loves all people and that God stands with the powerless and oppressed.  We must continue our work to declare that any voice that uses the name of God to justify violence abuses the God of love who created all of us.

I invite you to stop what you are doing and pray the following prayer with me and the members of our congregation:

Our loving Creator, we cry out to you on behalf of the blood of your children shed in Orlando, Florida.
We bring to you our pain, anger and questions.
We cry out to you to offer peace to the dead, comfort to those who mourn and healing to those who remain wounded in mind and body.
Help us not to give in to despair.
Remind us that Jesus Christ demonstrated there is more power gained from loving our enemies than by responding to violence with more violence.
Help us to proclaim that you have created LGBTQ people in your image and they should be embraced rather than demonized.  Enable us to demonstrate the power of Christ's welcome to LGBTQ who have been attacked in word and deed by religious people who claim to know your will but deny your commandment of love.
Help us to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters who have been slandered by the actions of a nihilistic few who claim to act in the name of a peaceful religion.  Enable us to stand with them as they face the venom spewed by politicians seeking to divide us one from another.
Grant us the ability to trust in you for a better tomorrow, so that we might act in accordance with your will for a just and peaceful world.
Remind us that even in the face of terror and violence that love is stronger than hate, forgiveness is stronger than violence, hope is stronger than despair, joy is stronger than cynicism, hospitality is stronger than rejection.
We pray this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ who wept at the death of a beloved friend, who forgave his murderers and who demonstrated that God's love is greater than death.

As proof that we do not engage in our struggle alone, I have included below statements from our national officers of the United Church of Christ and the Open and Affirming Coalition of which our church is a part, and the Center for Progressive Renewal of which our Missouri Mid-South UCC conference is working with.

Grace and Peace,


Statement by the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition
and the UCC's National Officers
Grieving in Orlando

Today the United Church of Christ and the Open and Affirming Coalition stand with the LGBTQ community in Orlando, Florida, and with all who are grieving for the victims of the massacre at a gay nightclub in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Their grief is our grief.

We pray for the families and friends of the 50 who were killed.

We pray for the many injured and for their doctors and care-givers.

We renew our resolve as a church to work in Florida and in communities across America for the safety, dignity and freedom of our LGBTQ members and neighbors.
We renew our resolve as a church to work for sane laws that will curb the epidemic of gun violence in this country.

We now know the assailant was a U.S. citizen and a Muslim. We join with the leaders of Muslim communities in the United States who have denounced the attack in Orlando and the unreasoning hatred that motivated it.

The time has come for churches to end the spiritual violence they perpetrate against their LGBTQ members and neighbors. Preaching hate against others because of their sexual orientation or gender identity has taken a terrible toll of lives lost to suicide, and is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus Christ. We call on every church to stand with, and not against, the LGBTQ community.

We are angry, but we will not return hate for hate. Hate will not stop the cycle of violence--not in this country, or anywhere in the world. And so we remember at this time the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
"Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that."
National Officers of the United Church of Christ
Leadership Team of the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition
Open and Affirming Coalition | United Church of Christ | 216-926-6262 | 

A Reflection on the Orlando Mass Shooting
by Rev. Cameron Trimble
CEO, Center for Progressive Renewal

Today, we pause to lament.
We lament that our nation has experienced another mass shooting without a single piece of legislation passed since the last mass shooting to even attempt to prevent this one.
We lament the tragic loss of 50 lives that dared to display joy in what they deemed as safe space.
We lament that LGBTQ pride month has been interrupted by heinous homophobic mass murder.
We lament that islamophobic slurs from a presidential candidate have interrupted the blessed season of Ramadan.
Today, we pause to lament. More than just a cathartic display of grief or sorrow, lamentation, according to Catholic nun and noted author Elizabeth A. Johnson, is "dangerously remembering the dead in solidarity with their suffering and hope of future blessing...[which] has the capacity to nurture ongoing resistance to the victimization of others." Pride may very well be the most powerful act of resistance that exists for those whose lives are constantly assaulted by bigotry and hatred. If pride as resistance can diminish the future victimization of anyone, then by all means let us soon stand and march with pride again.
At The Center for Progressive Renewal, we believe we are stronger together than alone. We believe a collective effort to heal the world is more likely to produce solutions to the world's most complex and troubling problems. We believe the human spirit can be healed, the capacity for abundant life does exist, the common good is attainable and that we all have inherent worth and dignity. Today, we grieve the loss of 50 innocent lives who lived that reality by their own acts of joyous resistance to homophobia.
If we are ever going to change the world, we are going to have to do it together - every single unique, beautiful one of us. And it starts by embracing our whole selves for everything God created us to be and our neighbor as ourselves.

We're in this together,
Rev. Cameron Trimble
CEO Center for Progressive Renewal

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Recommended Reading, Listening and Watching--4-6-16 edition

Recommended Reading and Listening
On a more or less regular basis, I share my thoughts with the congregation I serve including a list of links to stuff I think are worth reading, watching and listening to.  Here's the latest list:

CCCUCC in the News
United Church of Christ in the News
  • UCC Leaders Speak Out Against North Carolina Transgender Law
  • Great story of what happened when a UCC church in OK was picketed and harassed by an extreme anti-abortion group--area Muslims, Jews and atheists came out to protect their Christian neighbors.
  • For Earth Day this year, the UCC is urging congregations to speak out on keeping existing fossil fuels in the ground rather than exploiting them and furthering climate change.  The campaign is called "Keep It In the Ground."
SJR 39 the MO LGBTQ Discrimination Bill
MORE2 in the News
Faith and the Election Season
Race and Racism
God and American Culture
  • What Dave Ramsey Doesn't Get About Poverty by Rachel Held Evans--I'm the first to admit my family uses Ramsey's financial management tools, and they work for us, but my wife and I are white and middle class. I don't think Ramsey's financial management principles are unique to him, but rather he's just better at marketing them to Christians than others. When Ramsey gets into politics, he steps out of financial principles and into an ideology that ignores systematic racism and systematic poverty as barriers to economic advancement. As Rachel Held Evans says, his "blame the poor" philosophy ignores scriptural precedent, not to mention the teachings of Jesus. We will continue to use Ramsey's tools, because they are accessible and they are working to get us out of debt, but I never have nor will I ever respect the man Dave Ramsey.
  • Persecute Me Please: God's Not Dead 2 and the Evangelical Lust for Victimhood  This nails what's wrong with American evangelicalism. It's written by a skeptic, but I feel closer to him than I do to people who turn out for awful films like this one.
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool

You are Not Your Depression

 "The real me is something bad, something that has to be controlled with drugs," said the teen.

My heart sank to hear these words from the teenager I was speaking with.  In previous conversations, he and his family had shared with me his years of struggle with depression which resulted in behavior ranging from extreme anxiety and to anger and rage.  For his parents, finding the right medication after a long roller coaster of emotional pain was a godsend.  Their family had at times nearly fallen apart as they wrestled with what to do about their son.  Yet, for the son, medication was a source of shame, a sign that he couldn't control himself and an abiding sense that deep down he was a monster.

As I wondered what to say to this anguished teen, one of those Holy Spirit moments occurred and the words just came out of my mouth.  "You are not your depression,” I said to him.  “That's just chemicals your brain has produced in the wrong amount.  The medication gets rid of that interference, so the real you can come out."

I went on to tell him about my own battles with depression.  I had experienced episodes where everything seemed so bad and nothing seemed worth living for, but despite how "real" that view of the universe felt, it was all the chemicals talking-either too little or too much of various combinations in the brain.  For me, medication was a gift from God which let the real me inside be revealed.

Sometimes theologians speak of the "true self," "inner light," or "divine spark" inside of us to describe that piece of us made in the image of God.  That "real" self, as opposed to the false selves we show the world or mistakenly believe are legitimate, is our identity given by God.  To be human is to have trouble discovering that "true self," but some of us have an additional complication in our search for who we really are, because we struggle with mental illness of one degree or another.  That warped view of reality which is filtered through depression or another type of mental illness sure seems real enough, but God works though medication, therapy and relationships to help us discern who we really are and how good the world can be.

As our conversation ended, my teenage friend seemed to perk up with hope, "You mean I'm really not a bad person?  The real me isn't something bad?"  I nodded and said, "Yeah, that's just the chemicals; that's not the real you."  He smiled tentatively, as if he was daring to believe, maybe for the first time, in his own worth.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Recommended Reading and Listening 3-24-16 edition

Recommended Reading and Listening
CCCUCC in the News
  • Earlier this year, CCCUCC hosted an event for families with transgender children and their allies.  At that event was the creator of a podcast from here in KC who interviewed me and others re: our advocacy for LGBTQ people.  The podcast is  Unblocked--take a listen and subscribe to it.
  • Good quote from CCCUCC member Jan Parks who chairs the Education Task Force of MORE2 about KCMO's inconsistent use of tax abatement to spur development.
MORE2 in the News
Faith and the Election Season

It's an ugly election season to say the least, and religion plays a huge part in the ugliness.  Here are some articles I found interesting as I try to make sense of this political time we are living in.
God and American Culture
Misc. Stuff I think is Cool

Who Cares About the Religious Right Anymore?

I wrote this blog post for the United Church of Christ blog New Sacred.  

If the son of a famous preacher makes an inflammatory political declaration, does he really make a sound?

I asked myself this question when I read The New York Times' profile of Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell, Jr.  Graham, the son of the much-heralded Billy Graham, is launching a tour to rally conservative Christians in an election year, all the while spewing anti-Muslim screeds whenever a microphone is nearby.  Meanwhile Jerry Falwell, Jr., the son of the founder of the Moral Majority and Liberty University, has endorsed Donald Trump for President and urged Liberty students to arm themselves with guns to defend themselves from Muslim terrorists.  These two can still make headlines, but they fail to wield the influence of their fathers.

I came of age in the 1980's and remember vividly Reagan's embrace of the senior Falwell's Moral Majority.  I can also remember how at the close of the decade Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition had so-called "voter's guides" in churches across the country.  I grew up Southern Baptist and watched fundamentalists purge conservative people from the denomination because they weren't conservative enough.  Compared to those days, this next generation of leaders of the Religious Right seems laughable.

Don't get me wrong, far-right Christians still wield considerable influence.  Recently one of my state's legislators declared the Supreme Court had "created a third sex" by legalizing same sex marriage (whatever that means).  I also encounter daily people with real spiritual wounds from the sexism, homophobia and transphobia of right-wing churches.  I'm well aware right-wing Christianity is still out there. 

I can't help but feel, however, that the current right-wing religious outrage is more desperate than substantive.  It used to be that the Religious Right fought hardest against abortion and homosexual rights as well as for the return of prayer in schools.  Now their leaders have embraced gun rights, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in order to stay relevant.  One way of understanding the not-very-religious Donald Trump's popularity among conservative Christians (Two Corinthians???) is that the Religious Right just doesn't matter like it used to matter.

Once my own religious and political beliefs moved from conservative to progressive, I bemoaned the lack of a "Religious Left" to counter the Religious Right.  I've written plenty of columns for church newsletters, blog posts and print publications responding to what I consider to be the misguided efforts of the Religious Right.  Yet, I've harbored the suspicion for a while that such efforts might have been a waste of time.

In a culture where "none of the above" is the fasted growing response to the question of religious affiliation, the outrage of any church-right, left or center-is becoming less and less relevant.  Not only do people care less about the Religious Right but they care less about anything at all resembling traditional religious identification.  I realize now that the time is past-if it ever existed-for me as a Progressive Christian to waste my energy on the Religious Right.

The world is hurting now just as much as it ever was, and I turn my attention away from hurting people when I choose to live in reaction to the Religious Right.  It's past time for me and people like me to turn our attention back to where it should have been all along-prophetically demonstrating God's radical love for all people.

We don't need a "Religious Left" to face off against the Religious Right.  Instead we need Christians who believe living out the Gospel means working for peace and justice.  We need Christians who ask "What Would Jesus Do?" and then answer by offering inclusive hospitality to all God's children no matter who they are.  We need Christians who will admit to not having all the answers and then enter into relationships with people of other religions or of no religion.  We need Christians who believe their job is to love rather than control other people.
I have spent too much time saying, "I'm not that kind of Christian." in reference to the Religious Right.  It's time for me to start saying, "I am this kind of Christian" in relation to the call of Jesus Christ who came to "to bring good news to the poor. . . to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

KC Religious Leaders Opposed to SJR 39 and LGBTQ Discrimination

Press Conference of KC Religious Leaders Opposed to SJR 39

On March 14, I stood with 23 other KC religious leaders (and many more who were with us in spirit) at a press conference held in our church sanctuary.  We expressed our opposition to SJR 39, a bill passed by the MO Senate and headed to the MO House, which would put a constitutional amendment on the state ballot.  That amendment would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people.  I'm grateful to CCCUCC's own Bethany Meier, Wendie Brockhaus and Stephen King for being present as well.  

Take a moment to sign our on-line petition opposing SJR 39.

Here's the media coverage we received.