Bus ads, no-fly lists, gay debates

Three interesting notes for a Friday:

1. The NYC MTA has apparently removed some advertising featuring bikini-clad women from buses passing through Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The community did not like the ads.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, writing for the Wash Post’s On Faith blog, calls the decision “nothing less than complicity in the Talibanization of Brooklyn.”

He writes:

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…like the members of the Hasidic community which objected to the ads and called for their removal, I agree about their being objectionable. But when any one group gets to decide what any of us has a right to see, we are all in trouble, especially when that conclusion is reached through political pressure as opposed to democratic process.

If the Hasidic community were to take the lead in organizing people across the political, cultural and religious spectrum to lobby for stricter guidelines about what belongs on any bus, I might join them. Or I might not, preferring to deal with the challenges of a pop culture saturated with ersatz sexuality in other ways than limiting expression.

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2. CAIR — the Council on American-Islamic Relations — has issued an advisory to American Muslims that if they travel overseas they may not be able to get back into the U.S.

The group says that Muslims are being put on “no-fly” lists without explanation or access to legal representation.

CAIR says: “In the past few months, CAIR has received a number of reports of American Muslims stranded overseas when they are placed on the government’s no-fly list. Those barred from returning to the United States report being denied proper legal representation, being subjected to FBI pressure tactics to give up the constitutionally-guaranteed right to remain silent, having their passports confiscated without due process, and being pressured to become informants for the FBI. These individuals have not been told why they were placed on the no-fly list or how to remove their names from the list.”

3. Presbyterian Church (USA) has been fighting internally for so long about whether gays and lesbians can be ordained that it seems that outsiders are no longer paying much attention.

But, just so you know, at the denomination’s 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis, a committee has approved an overture for new ordination standards — which would erase the current standards requiring that clergy be married or chaste.

The full assembly will soon vote. If the overtured is approved, it would have be passed by a majority of regional presbyteries across the country.

ELCA bishop: Tears of ‘joy and sorrow’ over gay-clergy vote

Bishop Robert Rimbo, leader of the ELCA’s Metro NY Synod, reflected this week on his denomination’s much-publicized recent decision to allow people who live in committed, monogomous same-sex relationships to serve as ministers.

He writes, in part:

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I fully expect that our call process will fundamentally remain the same, with congregations finally determining whom to call as their pastor in a process guided by the Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the spirit of communal discernment in our church and at our Churchwide Assembly. Through it all we have come to recognize the deep love people have for this church, even as our views might vary about how best to live this out. This love was evident in the tears in the eyes of many in the Assembly hall upon the announcement of all of the critical votes. There were tears of joy and tears of sorrow and I found the tears in my own eyes to be a mixture of the two.

When difficult decisions are made, trust levels are often shaken. So let me offer some thoughts on why I believe there is reason for trust in our church to be affirmed:

The process was consistently open and democratic, sometimes to the dismay of those who wanted the authorities in our church to dictate what could or could not be. Debate was robust and outcomes were not known until announced. The 1,045 voting members made these decisions.

There was impressive respect for the deep feelings of others as votes were announced. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson reminded us that given the gravity of all of these decisions, the announcement of results should be followed by respectful silence and prayer rather than clapping or outbursts. And that’s exactly what happened: response was always restrained and prayerful. I think these are important signs of our care for each other and the growing maturity of our church.

The depth of people’s engagement on the floor of the Assembly and in many gatherings throughout our time before and during the days in Minneapolis is a clear sign of people’s great love for this church. I find hope in that, and I trust that we can continue to listen attentively to one another.

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When I interviewed Rimbo a year ago, shortly before he became bishop, he told me: “After years of personal struggle, of study, of conversations, I believe that people who are gay are created that way. Who am I to deny something that God has created?”

Playing catch up

Catching up with some stuff from when I was away:

1. Locally, Ramapo’s first “ultra-Orthodox” police officer has filed a bias claim against the town and some officers, claiming that she was discriminated against because of her religion.

Baile J. Glauber, 31, who was raised in the Satmar Hasidic community, says in her complaint that she has been repeatedly questioned about her religion by police brass.

Glauber is often referred to as “Hasidic” or “ultra-Orthodox,” but we really know little about her since she has not talked publically since becoming a cop last year.

Anything having to do with Hasidic or ultra-Orthodox Jews in Rockland County draws a tremendous amount of interest. Judging by the comments at the end of my colleague Steve Lieberman’s article, this holds true when it comes to Officer Glauber.

2. After years of study and deliberation, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided to allow gays and lesbians who live in committed, same-sex relationships to serve as clergy.

The move is no great surprise, but another step toward the gradual acceptance of gays and lesbians in the mainline Protestant world.

“We’re going to be living in tension and ambiguity for a longer time, partly because the culture has shifted,” David Steinmetz, a Duke Divinity School professor of Christian history, told the AP.

So what happens now? Will the ELCA, which has seen its membership drop from 5.3 million to 4.7 million, get smaller, thrive, break up or what?

Columnist Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News outlines three possible scenarios, but favors this one:

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The ELCA will continue to decline, while more conservative churches will probably prosper in the short run. But the demographic wave on homosexuality is real, and it’s going to impact conservative churches in a big way over the coming decades. But secularism — that is, being unchurched and happy with it — is also a rising trend among younger Americans. Liberalization on the gay issue ought to in theory help more tolerant congregations attract people, but in practice, it’s going to be a wash because significantly fewer of these people are going to care about belonging to any church at all in the future.

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3. Much more quietly, the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA voted to enter into a “full communion” agreement with the United Methodist Church (which already did so).

What does this mean? It means that each mainline denomination recognizes the other’s baptism, Eucharist, and ministry.

It’s not a merger by any stretch, but does say that there is not much that divides the two Christians camps.

At the local level, mainline churches already work closely in many communities. Most have much in common in terms of theology and their basic world views, so the denominations are really catching up with their local communities.

That’s ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson on the left, hugging it out with United Methodist Bishop Gregory Palmer.

Episcopal/Anglican split to widen?

When Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams attended the opening of the Episcopal Church’s national meeting in Anaheim last week, he said, “I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart.”

So much for that.

Yesterday, bishops at the General Convention voted 99-45 with two abstentions for a statement that “God has called and may call” gays and lesbians to ministry.

The day before, lay leaders and clergy had passed a similar resolution. Their group, the House of Deputies, is expected to approve the bishops’ version before things break up Friday.

Three years ago, the Episcopal Church took the position that restraint should be showed in the selection of bishops — meaning that choosing another gay bishop, after Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, would further anger much of the Anglican Communion.

Now, the EC appears to be moving away from that position. But it’s still not entirely clear (at least to me) how the new resolutions are expected to change things.

The AP’s Rachel Zoll writes:

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Drafters of the latest statement insisted that the resolution only acknowledges that the Episcopal Church ordains partnered gays and lesbians and is not a repeal of what was widely considered a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops.

“The constitution and canons of our church as currently written do not preclude gay and lesbian persons from participating,” in any part of the church, said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, on the committee that drafted the statement. “These people have responded to God’s call.”

Still no gay clergy for PCUSA (at least, officially)

Presbyterian Church (USA)’s offical ban on gay clergy lives on.

The denomination’s regional bodies have voted down a proposed change to church law that would have allowed gays and lesbians to be ordained.

Delegates to a denominational assembly approved the change last year, but a majority of presbyteries — 87 out of 173 — had to support the move.

Presbyteries have been voting for several months. As of Saturday, 88 presbyteries voted against the change, meaning that the closely watched vote is over.

Back in 1996, denominational law was changed to prohibit the ordination of anyone who wasn’t married or chaste. The move was aimed at prohibiting the ordination of gay clergy.

This was the third unsuccessful effort to overturn the law.

The Hudson River Presbytery, which represents 91 congregations in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and four northern counties, voted in favor of rescinding the ban. Delegates in the gay-friendly region voted back in February: 94 yes, 12 no, 1 abstention.

The proposed new amendment looked like this:

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“Those who are called to ordained service in the church, by their assent to the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003), pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures, and to understand the Scriptures through the instruction of the Confessions. In so doing, they declare their fidelity to the standards of the Church. Each governing body charged with examination for ordination and/or installation (G-14.0240 and G-14.0450) establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”