This is my personal blog. My views are my own and do not represent those of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Believing In God

I believe in God.
I don't believe in God.

Those statements seem crystal clear, don't they?  You either do or you don't.  You believe in God or you don't believe in God.  You are a believer or a non-believer, a theist or an atheist, religious or non-religious.  Never the twain shall meet.

I find this polarization unfortunate and simplistic and I challenge the either/or.  I think that both statements "I believe in God" and "I don't believe in God" could be true for the same person. Once we start to parse the statements, "I believe in God" and "I don't believe in God" things become far less clear.  The words "believe" and "God" require definition.    These words mean different things to different people.  In fact, they can mean different things to the same person depending on how and when we use these words. 

Let's start with the word "believe."  What does the verb "to believe" mean?  I am not interested in the proper use of the verb as if that can be determined.  I am interested in the way it is used by those who use it.  We may object that we shouldn't use the word in a certain way.  Fine.  Still we do.

1)  The verb believe is at times used as a synonym for assert or affirm or declare--as in assert, affirm, or declare as a fact.   For example, in my eight points, I wrote that I believe in evolutionary theory.  I affirm, as fact, evolution.  I believe North Dakota borders Montana. I believe Earth is a sphere.  I believe in the existence of protons.   In this sense of believe, believers affirm, assert, or declare the existence of God (in whatever definition they assume for God).

2)  The verb believe can be used to express an opinion that may or may not be shared widely.  "I believe that 9/11 was an inside job" or "I believe Sarah Palin would make a great president."  It can be used to express a hope or a fear:  "I believe that marriage equality will be the law in all fifty states by 2017." My eighth point expressed this use of the verb when I stated that I believe that industrial civilization is headed for a long descent.  It is an opinion of what I think will happen.   This sense of believe may have some urgency about it.  That I believe in this long descent means that I think we should prepare for it and take it more seriously than we seem to be doing.

3)  It can also reflect a commitment.  The synonym might be trust or even love.   We might say, "I believe in you."  We mean, "I trust you" and "I am committed to you."  In point two I stated, "I believe in higher criticism of the Bible."  Higher criticism obviously exists.  I am declaring its existence as a fact.  But I am also stating that it is a good thing to use.  I have a commitment to using higher criticism as an approach to the Bible.  I trust it to deliver good results.  This is similar to the way I believe in evolutionary theory as well.  I have a commitment to using it to better understand life including human life and of course, religion and theology. 

4)  It can also reflect a value even if what is being valued is not real, or is fictional, mythical, or highly abstract.  "I believe in love."  We may have a debate over whether or not love exists or what we mean by the word, but still value it.   "I believe in Harry Potter."  In this sense I am saying I value what this character communicates as a way of being in the world.  Adults can say, "I believe in Santa Claus."  They are "believing in"--that is valuing and making a commitment to--what the Santa Claus mythos represents: generosity, joy, human kindness, etc.   To say, "I believe in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" may involve my commitment to, trust in, and value of, the totality of what this particular collection of symbols means for me.  It doesn't necessarily mean I believe that these entities exist. That is not the point.  To believe in this sense is to embrace a particular way of engaging life, a Christian way in this case.  I believe in, that is I trust and love what these metaphors imagine. 
In summary, the verb believe can mean to affirm as fact, to state an opinion, or to express one's love for and commitment to X.  The verb believe can be used as a combination of the above ways or in a particular way that excludes the other(s).

I think the reason the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has avoided making its leaders and members subscribe to a list of "beliefs" or essential tenets is because to do so would emphasize the affirmation or opinion aspect of believe over the more relational, trusting, and commitment aspect.  Nonetheless, we still can't seem to get beyond the notion that belief is about affirming the existence of external realities.  If that is the best we can do, we should jettison belief altogether and become belief-less or do more work to communicate the relational aspect of the verb to believe.

When Hemant Mehta titled my piece and I approved the title, "I'm A Presbyterian Minister Who Doesn't Believe in God" he was responding to what I had written: "I don't believe in God as a supernatural agent or force."   No, I do not affirm the existence of a supernatural being, nor am I committed to such an entity.  But as a Christian I do trust, love, and am committed to--that is I believe in--what the symbols of faith invite me to be in this world.   I do believe in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  I do believe that the Bible is "God's word to me" and I do believe in Jesus called the Anointed.  All of those beautiful and powerful symbols beckon me to a particular way of living.  All of this is God. 

I don't believe in God.
I believe in God.


Thursday, April 09, 2015

Christianity's Misplaced Scandal

...but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles… 
(I Corinthians 1:23)

I am certainly no apologist for Paul.   I can never be certain what Paul really meant.   I do think that Christianity has for the most part misplaced the "stumbling block" or the "skandalon" regarding how we might speak about Jesus's execution.   The execution of Jesus is a theological scandal and should be a scandal that we proclaim.  However, the scandal is light years away from substitutionary atonement or other supernatural shenanigans that "Christ crucified" has often symbolized.

Paul, like Jesus, and like all thinkers around the first century of the common era, lived in a supernaturally charged geocentric universe.   Stuff happened because unseen agents intruded into the world.   Various divine actors were given credit and blame for everything from the rise and fall of kings to pregnancy.   Paul, Jesus, all the apostles, Caesar and Cicero were products of this world, even as they may have doubted aspects of it.   

We no longer live in that world.  Stuff happens not because of the will of divine agents or The Divine Agent, but because of natural processes.   As one sage quipped, "Darwin put 'God' out of a job and Galileo put 'God' out of a home."    Much of modern theological work is a less than impressive attempt at shoring up a god of the gaps.   Supernatural theism has no relevance in a modern universe.  
 Simply put, there is nothing for this god to do.
The only thing that keeps supernatural theism afloat today in churches and elsewhere is a combination of fear and power plays.  The most common responses to my guest post in the Friendly Atheist could be categorized as follows:
  1. "You should be afraid of going to hell."  (That has been the more mild way of stating it).
  2. "You need to be removed from your position as minister."  (Again, mildly put).
Fear and power plays.   Google "John Shuck Presbyterian" and you will get an eyeful.   We even had demonstrators on the sidewalk screaming at my parishioners that their minister is going to hell and they will join me if they listen to my false teaching.   

I find this fascinating.     

So much fear.

What really fires people up is that I state clearly that I am a Christian.  Not only a Christian, but I am a proud Christian minister.   Proud to be one.  Because I am proud of the gospel, the good news, the scandal, even as I do a poor job of living it.  Nonetheless, I will try to proclaim it and will do so until I am dead, retired, fired, defrocked or whatever else could happen to a person.  

So what is this scandal?   What is Christianity when we finally banish supernatural theism into the dustbin of history?  

Let me give it a whirl. 

To reiterate:  proclaiming the scandal of the executed Jesus is not proclaiming supernaturalism in a modern world in which supernaturalism is no longer meaningful.   We don't need to be proclaiming the existence of a divine being or that Jesus is the incarnation of this divine being.   It is pointless to try to get people to believe in divine beings in general or that we are in an intimate relationship with the "real" divine being.   Divine beings are meaningless.  They are the product of a pre-modern world.  Many Christian churches continue to push supernatural theism as the definition of Christianity.  This is Christianity's misplaced scandal.   It is a losing effort.  

The scandal then and now is on the meaning and the message of Jesus.   The scandal is not that Jesus was Son of God as if supernaturalism was the point.  
The scandal was that Jesus, the precocious peasant, was Son of God as opposed to the imperial claim that Caesar was Son of God.  
There were sons of gods all over the place because a supernaturally charged world was filled with that kind of imagery.   To translate the language of supernaturalism to our time is to ask what values do we hold as we live in this world?   The challenge of faith is not whether or not to believe in the existence of a god.  Instead the important questions are these:  Who/what is "God" for you?   How do you name God?  Whose side will you take?   To whom will you give your heart?  For whom and for what will you live and die?   To believe in God is to give one's heart to a particular way of being.  
  • Do I believe in God as if that means do I believe in the existence of a supernatural being, God?  No.
  • Do I believe in God as if that means do I put my trust in a way of living in this world that is for me as a Christian, the way of Jesus?  Yes.  
That was the scandal for the first century followers of Jesus.   They proclaimed the way of Jesus best exemplified the way the world should work, to use a metaphor, the kingdom of God.   Jesus took his stand with the executed not the executors.  Normalized civilization, the Roman Empire, required too much collateral damage to maintain its peace.  Jesus and those with whom he died were the collateral damage.   

Jesus took his stand with a peace "not of this world," that is to say not of the normalcy of civilization.  He took his stand with the makers of peace through justice.   Jesus stood with the marginalized and the oppressed.   He blessed them.  

This I think is true for Jesus the historical person, whoever that might have been, and for the layers of legendary material attached to him.  The layers of legend and meaning that we continue to produce today is a way of articulating this liberating impulse for our time.      

The trickle-down economists, the three-piece-suit wearers, the climate change deniers, the oh-so-polished politicians who massage their Bibles as they take away healthcare, housing, and food for the poor, and then beat the drums for one war after another to maintain some fantasy of "infinite growth" and profit for corporations are those who Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians chapter 1:20-31:
Where does that leave the expert?  Where does that leave the scholar?  Where does that leave the pundit of this age?  Has not God shown the world's wisdom to be foolish?  Since in the larger scheme of God's wisdom the world did not come to acknowledge God through its own wisdom, God decided to save those who embrace God's world-transforming news through the "nonsense" that we preach.  At a time when Jews expect a miracle and Greeks seek enlightenment, we speak about God's Anointed crucified!  This is an offense to Jews, nonsense to the nations;  but to those who have heard God's call, both Jews and Greeks, the Anointed represents God's power and God's wisdom; because the folly of God is wiser than humans are and the weakness of God is stronger than humans are.   
Consider your own situations when you were called, my friends.  Not many of you were considered wise in the eyes of the world, not many of you were people of power and influence, not many of you were descendants of the nobility; but God has chosen people the world regards as fools to expose the pretensions of those who think they know it all, and God has chosen people the world regards as weak to expose the pretensions of those who are in power.  God has chosen people who have no status in the world and even those who are held in contempt, people who count for nothing, in order to bring to nothing those who are thought to be really something, so that no human beings might befall of themselves in the presence of God.  It is God's doing that you belong to the people of the Anointed Jesus.  God has made him our wisdom and the source of our goodness and integrity and liberation.  So, as scripture says, "If you have to take pride in something, take pride in what God has done."  The Authentic Letters of Paul:  A New Reading of Paul's Rhetoric and Meaning.
This passage is one of the most powerful indictments of privilege in Western literature.   I have to say with regret that I am far too often more on the side of the "wise" of this world than on the side of the "fools" for the Anointed.    

The scandal, the offense, and the nonsense of the gospel is the same today as it was in the first century.   
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. --Jesus
If you wish to criticize my Christianity, fine, do it.  But don't criticize me for not affirming supernatural theism.   Criticize it where it counts: 
  • for my failure to pick up my cross daily for the poor and the houseless, 
  • for my support of unjust and unsustainable systems, 
  • and for my lack of courage to preach this "nonsense" to the privileged.   
  For that, I stand indicted.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Demonstration Sunday

We had an object lesson for Palm Sunday.  Demonstrators visited Southminster and shouted "Hosanna!" at worshipers.  Actually no, they shouted a lot of vulgar stuff.  One wore a t-shirt that read:  "No Sodomy in Hell."   Lovely.  Here is the news story

Apparently, the news that Southminster sent up an overture that will in June expand marriage from a man and woman to two people didn't sit well with these gentlemen.  In the spirit of Jesus they responded by shouting obscenities at children. 

Their passion was also fueled by the Christian media. Since I wrote my piece on belief-less Christianity for the Friendly Atheist, my Christian sisters and brothers have engaged in name-calling (Satan is a favorite), mud-slinging, and character assassination.  These demonstrators read these stories and carried on in similar Christian love.

Ah well.  In the meantime, I preached a sermon on what it means to have Jesus in my heart.  I like this place.  Southminster is a great church filled with courageous, gentle, and friendly seekers.

We turned this into a teaching moment for adults and children about the important mission of our congregation (a mission that is important enough to generate opposition). It was also a teaching moment about free speech. The same right that allows us to worship as we please allows people to voice their disagreement from the sidewalk.

Andrew Maldarelli did a great job with the children. He wrote this on our Southminster Groups Facebook page:
“Despite protests, the children and I had a very fantastic talk this morning during Sunday School. They were all curious about the folks hollering outside. We focused on the words of Martin Luther King Jr..."One day the people of this world are going to need to learn how to get along with one another" And, "Hate cannot drive out hate...only love can do that! If you had a kiddo in Sunday School with me, know that it was a great morning with a lot of love and understanding, and I will look forward to seeing you next week! I thank everyone for being cool under pressure.”
The demonstrators might or might not return for Easter Sunday. It doesn't matter if they do or don't, we will demonstrate our Christian witness either way. We will be safe with police presence. We will welcome worshipers in the parking lot with some good tunes from Andrew, our children's minister. His electric guitar this past Sunday was louder than the hateful language and a great deal more pleasant. We will show hospitality to everyone, including the loud gentlemen. Our mission statement is to include, not exclude. We have a great Easter service planned. Join us and bring your friends!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Faith Beyond Belief

My guest post in the Friendly Atheist continues to get people talking.   Christian News wrote a story about me and quoted another minister who accused me of being "someone who wants to infiltrate the church in order to destroy it."   True believers have picked up the story and ran with it.   Here are a few tasty quotes:
  • Charisma News -- "It's also a perversion of the truth that could send people to hell and the blood of those who buy into Shuck's false gospel will be on his hands." 
  • Bill Muehlenberg -- "He is a proud minister alright – a proud minister of Satan."  
But enough of that.  The hate speech is loud and voluminous.  Yet there are people who are seeking a more meaningful faith than what has been traditionally presented to them.  Here are a few comments that I found hopeful.
Wandering Vine: Because of your honesty with those you serve, as well as with those you answer to, I can't find fault with your approach. And I appreciate your desire to glean what you can from the Christian narrative rather than simply becoming antagonistic to it.
Exactly.  I am not antagonistic.  I am not infiltrating in order to destroy.  If anything, I seek to help to preserve the church by taking what I think is good from the tradition and inviting others to do the same.
sar [T]hanks for your article, and for articulating well how it is be possible a Christian without embracing all the beliefs of the Christian Church. Indeed, for me being Christian is to follow Christ; even if what we know of the historical Jesus is filtered through the experience of early believers. The essence of living in his way includes living love, finding ways to include the marginalized and practicing compassion and forgiveness -- which may also be the path of humanism, and Buddism, and and Islam and many other "religions".
I, too, retain the use of the symbol "God". In all cultures over all of time there have been, and will continue to be, efforts to describe that which calls humanity to love and compassion and forgiveness and inclusion. In the culture and time I live in, that is captured by the language of "God".
The "language of 'God'" is a good phrase.  Many of us still speak this language.
DieselMVB“Christianity has placed all of its eggs in the belief basket. We all have been trained to think that Christianity is about believing things. Its symbols and artifacts . . . must be accepted in a certain way. . . . The choices we are left with are either rejection or fundamentalism.” 
Indeed, religion in general, including nominal Christianity, still for the most part retains its all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking. Many narrow-minded, mostly right-wing, preachers insist on everyone accepting the whole theological package, tied with the red ribbon of unquestioning belief. Fortunately, now there are much more folks allowing themselves to think outside of the medieval box of the old conservative, narcissistic and power-hungry men of the cloth. I completely identify with the Presbyterian Minister, John Shuck. I myself am an agnostic leaning heavily toward mathematical processes of evolution. I feel proud of my lack of belief in what I see as “Christian mythology” – and I thank “God” for that!
Many have moved beyond either/or choices offered to us by narrow forms of religion.
LilianaYou are my kindred spirit! I have exactly the same ideas and I can say I do not believe in an old male in the sky God; I have had personal experiences about some sort of power bigger than myself and invisible to the eye...I think I am a humanist and I am very proud of it
There are more of us than you might think creatively exploring and naming our experience.
LaustenGreat to hear. I've looked into a lot of theologians and ministers like this, but I've never heard one go this far. Usually when I read one of their sermons or their books, I find they say all this stuff, but tell people to believe in Jesus. This guy, could be different. What really interests me is what his bosses are saying!
I don't have "bosses" as such, but the congregations I have served including the current one are looking for progressive approaches to faith.   I think it is more interesting to wrestle with the things Jesus said than to believe things about him.
Reasonable QuestHaving grown up in a Presbyterian Church, and attended a college associated with the Presbyterian church, I have to say I might have continued on as a Christian if John had been my pastor. I ended up in a large Evangelical church where anti evolution, and fundamentalism pushed me to question everything, and lost my faith. But once I've seen behind the curtain, it just doesn't make sense to me to try and salvage any of the good stuff from Christianity, because I can get the positive things religion has adopted without having to redefine words. But, I support John continuing to work within Christianity to bring those people along who are not quite ready to give up the Christian label or cultural traditions.
Your story resonates with many.  Fundamentalism has been the face of Christianity.  I think progressives should show another face.  I also think we are in the midst of a great transition.  Some move beyond.  Others redefine.   Hopefully, we can all be reasonable and kind as we do so.
SueNow this is a church I could probably find myself attending.
Cool!  There are many more like it.  Here is one resource.
GlenA brave and interesting approach, and I find it refreshing. I think most people attend church for the sense of community, solace, and moral instruction, all of which can be had without the belief in the supernatural. Many of my colleagues at the university I teach at are De la Salle Christian brothers, all with PHds, and although they might not admit it, I think they are all, to a man, atheists.
The same is true for many clergy, let alone church members.
LarryI think each religion is a language, complete with vocabulary, metaphors, symbols and history. some speak Zen, some fundamental Christianity, some orthodox Judaism, etc. Some speak Jain. Then there is the practice of the religion one speaks. I started going to a Christian church after several years of reading and doing my best to understand and practice Zen Buddhism because I realized that almost no one around me spoke Zen. I felt then (over 40 years ago) that both traditions were talking about the same things at their cores, with somewhat different terminology, and I believed I'd be ok being a Christian even though I had rejected such trappings as virgin birth and hell--and especially a god who would punish us for being so stupid as to transgress a rule that would then send us to hell. so John, I endorse your position. We have one chance to make a difference. And that one chance is this life. Jesus, among others, showed us how to not waste it.
Fanstastic.  The last three sentences are worth repeating as a mantra.
CarstonioI've long wanted religions to evolve into the belief-less concept that Shuck describes. Only one quibble - why would "God" be shorthand for beauty, truth, healing and justice. Truth in particular is a meaningless terms because it can mean anything that anyone wants it to mean. Since the vast majority of Americans use "God" as the name of the Christian deity, perhaps a belief-less Christianity should abandon the name.
Fair enough.   My friend and colleague in the United Church of Canada, Gretta Vosper would agree with you.
Linda LaScola John Shuck is also an open member of the Clergy Project for current and former clergy who do not hold supernatural beliefs and has written about Evolution Sunday on the Rational Doubt blog.   
He has also interviewed several non-believers, including me, on the local NPR show he hosted before his recent move from TN to OR.  He is one of a growing number of clergy who do not believe in a supernatural god but one of the few who discuss it openly. Thanks, John for being at the vanguard of positive changes in religion and thanks to your congregation too.
Thank you, Linda!  I appreciate the caring you have shown for many clergy who find themselves in impossible positions.

Earlier today, I was feeling down from the overwhelming barrage of hostility from fundamentalist Christians.  I happened to glance at my bookshelf and saw a book that I hadn't read yet, Faith Beyond Belief by Margaret Johnston.    I was thumbing through it and found this:

If the common point all religions share is about not the beliefs they espouse but following the will of Spirit toward action in this life (as opposed to securing one's own salvation in the next), then the goal of anyone aspiring to spiritual maturity will be a journey beyond belief toward faith.  It is time we stopped allowing immature oracular authorities to shun people for lack of belief and recognize spiritual maturity for what it is.  Mature faith is not so much about belief; it is recognized instead by its traits and its inclusive worldview.  For those who are ready, a more meaningful faith is waiting, beyond the constraints of literal belief.  p. 274  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Southminster Played A Part in the Marriage Equality Amendment

The late Robert Funk, the bad boy of the Jesus Seminar, had a great quote regarding leadership.   He said that leadership is finding a parade and getting in front of it.   While my picture is in the paper, the good folks at Southminster helped get this parade going!

To be clear, Southminster did not draft the language that was adopted by General Assembly.  Southminster's session (board of elders) had approved a resolution that was created in its Sunday Starter group.    The session then reached out to advocacy groups and adopted language another group had created so that there would be a unified effort.  Since the language was similar to its initial resolution, the session sent this new adopted language to Cascades Presbytery.  Many sessions across the country sent similar resolutions to their presbyteries.   Cascades Presbytery was first to meet, thus the overture came from Cascades and 16 other presbyteries concurred.   It is a testimony to collective, collaborative effort across the country.

Here is the story in the Portland Tribune.

Laura Chapman, 18,...has attended Southminster since she was in elementary school and recently graduated from Tigard High School.

While she wasn’t part of the group that drafted the original resolution, she got involved at church and attended last year’s General Assembly, where she shared her views with smaller groups. She said her interest in gender equality in the church stems partly from being bisexual.

“I feel like it’s important for our church to move forward on this issue and become more inclusive,” Chapman, now a freshman at Oregon State University, said by telephone.

“I feel that God views marriage more about love and less about the specifics of the people,” she said. “This was really personal for me, so that’s why I chose to speak up about it.”

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Belief-Less Christianity

I thought it would be good to share some more reflections on my guest post in the Friendly Atheist and the responses it has received.  It certainly is being talked about.   The post has received over 1100 comments and over 12,000 Facebook shares.   A lot of it is trash talk, of course.
"You are going to hell."
"You are an idiot." 
Then there are people who get it:
Gehennah:  'He's simply doing what so many other preachers do, just a step further. Preaching the good things and the good messages of the Bible, and sweeping the crap away.'
Linda LaScola and Aric Clark have offered thoughtful responses.   There are many gems out there amidst the dross.     

Hemant Mehta is the editor of the Friendly Atheist.   He is a hard worker, a solid journalist, and an excellent editor.  He sent me an email and asked if I would make a guest post.  He had heard about my Eight Points post and wondered how I could be a Christian and believe these things. He said:
"I know a lot of atheists, myself included, often have a very specific idea of what Christians believe, and if you're breaking the mold, I think we should know about it."
He helped me with the wording and encouraged me to expand and clarify in several places.   With his help I was able to articulate what I wanted to say.

The Title

I knew the title would poke the emotion button.  I originally titled it "A Belief-Less Christianity" but Hemant suggested the title that we used, "I'm A Presbyterian Minister Who Doesn't Believe in God." I knew that many wouldn't read past the title but I also know that titles are for catching attention.  I approved it.  It is not not true.   I wrote in the piece something that I have said for a long, long, time:
I don’t believe in God as a supernatural agent or force...
Of course I am not alone in that!  Once theologians realized that Galileo put God out of a home and Darwin put God out of a job, they have been scrambling to redefine the term so they can retain it.
  • God is in the universe but not contained by the universe.
  • God is the Process of the unfolding universe.
  • God is Creativity.
  • God is Being itself.
  • God is Mystery.
  • God is Love.
Pick your favorite or create another version.   You can find theologians and ministers (including Presbyterians) who have been redefining God for a long time.  It is the on-going process of myth-making.   I think it is fascinating to watch this exploration unfold in my life and in the stories of others.  Bring your own God.  Find your path.  Make it yours.

Belief in God

This is really the point of the piece. Belief is the least interesting aspect of the Christian faith.  Diana Butler Bass, author of Christianity After Religion quotes Harvey Cox:  
"Faith is resurgent while dogma is dying. The spiritual, communal, and justice-seeking dimensions of Christianity are now its leading edge….A religion based on subscribing to mandatory beliefs is no longer viable." p. 109-110. 
Most of the things Christians thought that they were expected to believe are supernatural assertions that are no longer credible.  I don't think that Christianity--or any of the pre-modern religions for that matter--has to remain tied to believing in a supernatural god.   Even though supernatural agents may have haunted our past they need not haunt our future. I have been practicing a belief-less Christianity for some time.  My ministry has been to introduce people to pioneers who have cut these trails long before me.   Progressive is a great place to be introduced to some of these creative thinkers.   Here are their Eight Points:

Mandatory Beliefs
 "He is in violation of his ordination vows!!
If I had a dollar for every time I have heard that one, I wouldn't need a pension plan.  To be a minister (teaching elder) or ruling elder in the PCUSA, you have to affirm or re-affirm ordination questions.   Many people including, unfortunately some Presbyterians, think this exercise is about swearing on a box of beliefs.  It is not.  This exercise is about committing oneself to honor relationships with the tradition, colleagues, and the people we serve as we carry out our particular vocation.  

These questions have been misused to control and repress.   Imagine Ms. Smith coming to a group with an idea.  What are some possible responses to her idea?
Great idea!  Let's do it!
Not so sure, but let's try it and see.
Boy that is an ugly idea.  But hey, it might be what we need.
Here is how it works in the church:
That is not Christian.  You have violated your vows. Just for bringing it up, your career with us is now over.
Imagine science working that way or a research institute!   The problem with beliefs, especially mandatory beliefs is that they stifle creativity.   The most honest and creative among us are silenced or worse, we self-censor, living in fear that we might violate something if we share honest doubts with our congregations or with colleagues.   The cost of this self-censorship is high as members of The Clergy Project can attest.  These are bright, caring people whose learning moved them beyond the mandatory beliefs of their religious institutions.

I think Christianity will be better served by jettisoning mandatory beliefs.    Roy Hoover described the situation accurately in his Fourth R article, "Tradition and Faith in a New Era":
Those who insist upon the unaltered retention of traditional forms of religious understanding and language and who retreat from the challenge posed by the actual world after Galileo want to direct the Christian community into the confines of a sacred grotto, an enclosed, religiously defined world that is brought completely under the control of scripture and tradition; and they want to turn the ordained clergy into antiquities dealers.
I vote for a belief-less Christianity, one that is open, honest, creative, and evolving. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Media Release about Southminster and Marriage Equality

Here is a press release we are sending to local media regarding Southminster's role in the marriage equality amendment.

John Shuck, Minister
Southminster Presbyterian Church
Southminster Presbyterian Church of Beaverton Instrumental in the Presbyterian Church (USA) Decision on Marriage Equality  
BEAVERTON, OR.   On March 17 Presbyterians approved marriages for same-gender couples in the first ever nationwide, grassroots vote on marriage equality by a faith tradition. The Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA) now holds that marriage is between “two persons” rather than “a man and a woman.” 
 Beaverton’s Southminster Presbyterian Church initiated the amendment after a series of courses studying marriage and sermons reviewing the issue. The study group drafted an Overture on the subject which was approved by Southminster's session and ultimately by the Presbytery of the Cascades.   With a 71% vote last summer at the national General Assembly, the PC(USA) governing body voted to change the description of marriage.  However, the amendment required 51% of the 171 regional bodies called presbyteries to affirm the change. That threshold was crossed on March 17, as 85th and 86th presbyteries voted yes. 
The change aligns the church’s constitution with a reality that has long been true: both same-gender and opposite-gender couples have been living in relationships that demonstrate covenant faithfulness, shared discipleship, and mutual love. 
 The Beaverton congregation, at the corner of Hall and Denney Roads, is a progressive congregation which is inclusive and welcoming to all communities with a worship service on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. Southminster has supported LBGTQ rights for decades with the marriage equality measure simply being the latest action taken by the congregation.  We believe that we honor God by following the teaching of Jesus as we understand them leading us to fight for social justice for all groups including women, the poor and the planet as a whole.  Recently installed Pastor John Shuck brings decades of fighting for equality and social justice to the Portland area forming a partnership with the congregation to do even more in the future on poverty, environmental and LBGTQ issues. 
 In response to this decision, Shuck said: 
“It is hard to believe that this historic day has arrived.  We stand on the shoulders of so many faithful people who told their truths with courage and tears for many, many years.   All of us at Southminster rejoice that all couples can now have their relationships solemnized before God and the Christian community in marriage. 
Presbyteries will continue to vote on the amendment over the next few months, and the change will become effective June 21, 2015.
 Southminster Presbyterian Church is an inclusive, welcoming community of Christian faith.   Southminster people come from all kinds of religious backgrounds, and all are seekers.  Southminster has been affiliated with the "More Light" Network since 1995 and is a member of the Welcoming Congregations of Portland. Our goal is to include, not exclude. 
 For additional information or to schedule an interview, please contact John Shuck, Minister, Southminster Presbyterian Church, at 503-644-2073.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Yes!! Marriage Equality in the PCUSA!!

It happened.  Donegal and Palisades presbyteries sealed the deal on St. Patrick's Day by being the 85th and 86th presbyteries, respectively, to ratify marriage equality in the Book of Order.  The joyful irony is that Southminster Presbyterian Church, Beaverton, Oregon was instrumental in getting the ball rolling by submitting an overture to the presbytery.  Salute!

Here is the text:
Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well-being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. 
It is hard to believe that this historic day has arrived.  We stand on the shoulders of so many faithful people who told their truths with courage and tears for many, many years.    Thank you, PCUSA.  And my daughters thank you, too!

My Guest Post in The Friendly Atheist

Hemant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist contacted me and asked me to make a guest post on his blog.  Someone pointed him to my Eight Points and he thought his readers might be interested.  Some may stop at the title alone and make judgments.  I trust that some will choose to struggle with these questions along with me.
“How can you call yourself a Christian, let alone a minister?!” 
I get asked that question frequently and the questioner is hostile more often than not. Still, I like to answer it if I believe the questioner is sincere. 
Though I self-identify as a Christian and I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I raised eyebrows a few years ago when I posted an article on my website about how my personal beliefs don’t align with those of most Presbyterians.
For example, I believe that: 
  • religion is a human construct 
  • the symbols of faith are products of human cultural evolution 
  • Jesus may have been an historical figure, but most of what we know about him is in the form of legend 
  • God is a symbol of myth-making and not credible as a supernatural being or force 
  • The Bible is a human product as opposed to special revelation from a divine being 
  • Human consciousness is the result of natural selection, so there’s no afterlife
In short, I regard the symbols of Christianity from a non-supernatural point of view….

Monday, March 16, 2015

New Jersey, We are Looking To You

The tally is now 84 - 42.   On St. Patrick's Day, three presbyteries--Palisades (New Jersey) and West Jersey as well as Donegal (Pennsylvania)--are scheduled to vote.   Palisades should be a solid yes.  West Jersey was a tie last time (which means no) so they are do for a flip.  And Donegal was a close yes so they could vote yes, too.    Two yeses make 86 and marriage equality will be written into the Book of Order.

It will be nice for the great state of New Jersey to participate in the making of PC(USA) history.   Obviously, if you are in one of those presbyteries, make sure you make the meeting, wear your green and be part of this historic moment!