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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

What I found more surprising than the NASCAR stats, though, was the abject shock from my green friends when I shared the information. It is precisely these kinds of ‘purple issues,’ combining the interests of Blue and Red States alike that will allow us to find the compromises (that’s right, I used the c-word) we need to break political deadlock and take effective action to solve some of society’s biggest problems.

NASCAR Green is purple precisely because it is ‘oxymoronic.’ It highlights common ground, letting us come out from behind the barricades to see the other side as having merit and something to contribute to the solution. As the national political parties continue hammering away at each other’s differences, these purple issues give us a chance to play off our shared values.

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Every person processes and embodies their tradition in an original and organic way that is complex and embedded in the person’s experience of joy and suffering; loss and loves. When talking about religion we are always treading on delicate and intensely personal ground and an authentic religious conversation involves listening more than speaking in order to fully understand and appreciate another person’s religious background.
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Paul Raushenbush, the wise and elegant editor of Huffington Post Religion, has just written an outstanding piece on the art and work of bringing religious ideas and difference into our public spheres. It’s sentences like the quotation above that deserve slow reading and pondering.

Sen. John DanforthHe then applies this thinking to what happens to religion in politics and in political lives, weaving in some astute observations from former Senator John Danforth. When I spoke with Danforth several years ago, he gave me much to think about. He has lived this line of faith and politics in an especially robust way.

by Krista Tippett, host

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The Key to Relationship? Good Old-Fashioned Conversation about Everyday Topics

by Krista Tippett, host

As I write this, I am still reeling from the nine-day production trip that took us to Jerusalem as well as Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Hebron. Suffice it to say, everything I thought I understood about Israeli and Palestinian realities, indeed about “the Middle East” in general, was cracked wide open.

I realized in a whole new way how the humanity of those people, places, and histories is simplified and distorted by our focus on the politics of the region. We will be producing five or six shows in the coming weeks and months, hoping to open that up for our listeners as it was opened up for us.

And so it is with a bit of cognitive dissonance, but happily, that we release our show with Kwame Anthony Appiah this week. Of all of the "Civil Conversation" voices we’ve interviewed up to now, his credentials are the most erudite and global. He is the incoming president of the PEN American Center, a Princeton philosopher, and an American citizen raised and educated between the country we now know as Ghana and the United Kingdom. He has written sweeping, fascinating, and influential books, including Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers and The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen. In his latest work, he analyzes the real-world ingredients of social change and “moral progress” in disparate times and places — the end of foot-binding in China, for example, or of the slave trade as a social and economic staple of the British Empire.

Anthony Appiah also has a rare kind of personal moral authority with which to analyze such things, and that makes him the kind of voice I love.The whole family mid 60s

His intellectual passion is leavened by life experience. He is the product of a seismic cultural shift that seemed unimaginable but then transpired within a generation. Every culture has had these. In my lifetime, there is the fact that black people were still sitting in the backs of buses in American cities. And the interracial 1953 marriage of Anthony Appiah’s African father and British mother — the daughter of a former chancellor of the exchequer — was condemned as morally repugnant, the stuff of global headlines.

I pursue a bit of a thought experiment with him for the purposes of this conversation. What if we considered the breakdown of civility in American political, media, and cultural life as a moral crisis — a condition fed by our worst instincts and destructive of our highest ideals, which will rot us from the inside if we don’t address and correct it? How might Anthony Appiah’s knowledge about moral change inform our words and actions moving forward?

For all the gravity of that question and the scholarly intelligence Anthony Appiah brings to it, his response is a relief. Sometimes we need to address difference head on, he says, but often the best way is to “sidle up to it” — to accept and live it without forcing agreement or even addressing it head on.

He echoes a point made forcefully by Frances Kissling on this program, speaking from the context of the abortion debate, that our rush to come to agreement can get in the way of really understanding each other. But Anthony Appiah brings this closer to the ground. He muses on how differences retain their vitality within extended networks of friendship and family — not going away, often, but also not presenting a stumbling block to relationship. Appiah is a gay man, and he relates in his personal history experiences of family who may not accept his sexuality as moral, but with whom he can stay in loving relationship.

What we need more than agreement, he says, are simple habits of association with different others, encounters that breed familiarity. There is real social and even moral value to be had, he suggests, when we connect with others even on the most mundane topics of who we are and how we spend our days — whether it be soccer or football, shared hobbies or parenting. In fact, Anthony Appiah says, this kind of human exchange — as much a matter of presence as of words — is the old-fashioned meaning of the word “conversation.”

The trick in our time, of course, is that the world is conspiring against human presence even as it gives us a million new ways to connect. We have to work particularly hard to seek out those who are different from us. Anthony Appiah’s analysis on this point is provocative and helpful, one other piece of the puzzle of what has gone awry in what we used to call “common life.”

Yet even here, his prescriptions are doable. He tells a story of one especially formative relationship from his early life that he calls a great piece of good fortune. As a left-leaning student activist, he formed a friendship with an arch-conservative neighbor. He agreed with this man on virtually nothing, yet they conversed in a spirit of neighborliness and friendliness. This experience of connection that held and contained difference, he says, has shaped his movement through the world ever since. These, surely, are the kinds of encounters we could all begin instantaneously to nudge into existence, to sidle up to, and to do so with our children. I for one will be looking, with relief, for such good old-fashioned conversation.

About the image: Anthony Appiah’s mother, father, and siblings in the mid-1960s. (photo courtesy of Anthony Appiah)

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A Force More Powerful

by Margaret Benefiel, guest contributor

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Children watch fish in the reflection of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at a park in Thrissur, India on International Non-Violence Day. (photo: Ragesh Vasudevan/Flickr)

In the midst of the American discussions of violence and civility in public discourse, we would do well to remember a lesson that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. learned and taught: nonviolence is a force more powerful than violence.

Martin Luther King, Jr., following Gandhi, believed that nonviolence, like electricity, is a powerful force, and that humans have only begun to tap into its potential. The more we experiment with using nonviolence, the more we will discover its power to transform conflict into mutual understanding, to transform injustice into justice. Violence, on the other hand, always leads to the same end: more violence and destruction.

Dr. King reminded us:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction — the chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."

Many have experimented with the power of nonviolence in international and national conflicts: Christian Peacemaker Teams stand between opposing forces in the world’s hot spots, Polish Solidarity leaders brought freedom to Poland without firing a shot, Gandhi and his followers broke the power of British rule in India, to name but a few.

What we also need in America today are those who will risk experimenting with the power of nonviolence in our families, in our communities, in our nation. American culture has become a violent culture, and we need pioneers who will blaze a new trail. We need to be shown another way.

Julio DiazA few unsung ordinary heroes (and probably many more we don’t know) have taken the first steps in blazing the trail. When New Yorker Julio Diaz followed the man who had taken his wallet at knifepoint and offered him his coat as well, leading to a transformative conversation and to his wallet being returned, he demonstrated the power of nonviolence in response to street violence.

Rep. Al GreenWhen Texas Rep. Al Green started his town hall meeting on health care reform with questions for his audience about how the meeting should be conducted, resulting in the group creating a mutually agreed-upon contract, he demonstrated the power of mutual respect in a group to counter disruptive violent tactics. We need more people who will follow in the footsteps of these pioneers.

As we begin to experiment with nonviolence, we will come face-to-face not only with our actions, but with our hearts as well. In Dr. King’s words:

"Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."

Martin Luther King’s words, addressing the international arena but just as true within a nation, ring true for Americans today:

"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation."

May we choose to experiment with nonviolence in our families, our communities, and in our public discourse. If we take this experiment seriously, we will discover a force more powerful, a force powerful enough to transform our relationships on every level, powerful enough to transform our culture and to change the world.


Margaret Benefiel Margaret Benefiel lives in Boston and is a member of Beacon Hill Friends Meeting. She’s a consultant at Executive Soul and author of Soul At Work and The Soul of a Leader.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Listener Demands Apology and a Civil Exchange Results

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Civility Saves
(photo: Metal Chris/Flickr, reprinted with Creative Commons license)

Chad Smyser, a listener from New York City, took us to task for our editorial decision to broadcast and podcast a recent show featuring Evangelical leader Richard Mouw. He wrote:

I am so disappointed in last week’s episode.

This broadcast was ill-timed in the wake of the hate crimes in New York and the suicide at Rutgers. In addition, at a time when SOF is transitioning its brand identity, one would think the choice of material would be less divisive.

I have listened to your show for years. It has brought great comfort and understanding into my life. I will continue to listen, even in the wake of what I consider to be a giant gaffe from a show that I deeply respect. Would the show have given voice to someone who supported Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage laws in 1967, no matter how civil the voice? In my mind, this is what “On Being” did, translating it to 2010.

But civility in the political and religious arena is such an important topic! I wish it had been explored in a way that didn’t highlight one man’s disapproval of gay marriage. I long to be respectful of other folks’ beliefs, struggles and communal aspirations. Regrettably, it is impossible for anyone who believes in equality to reconcile Mr. Mouw’s beliefs on gay marriage. How is it civil to deny someone his or her right to marry the one he or she loves? An on-air apology to your gay and lesbian listeners would be most welcome.

The language used on one of the Facebook posts (“No matter what your opinion on gay rights”) was appalling. While I’m sure it was unintentional, I feel that the show really needs to clear the air.

All the best,
Chad Smyser

This critique echoed many other listeners’ reactions to the show. And, we answered as many as we could. But, it was the following exchange between Kate Moos, our executive producer, and Chad that offers an example of what quality conversation can be when we are honest, open, and vulnerable with one another:

Dear Chad,

Thanks for taking the time to write. I’m sorry the show disappointed you. There has been some follow up on our blog, and there will likely be more. Our internal editorial process was quite fraught along some the same lines of question and concern you describe. The program itself was not designed to be—and wasn’t—a show about the gay marriage and gay civil rights issues. It was aimed at the broader topic of civility. But Mouw’s position on gay marriage colors his authority—in many peoples’ view—for other topics of moral weight.

We argued about this and wrestled with it. Ultimately, we felt it was important to factor in the people with whom Mouw is in a distinct position to have high authority: other conservative Christians, whom he is taking to task and challenging to greater compassion, humility and civility. In fact, we received an email yesterday from one of those conservative Christians who has been paralyzed in her relationships with 2 close family members who are gay. She wrote to thank us because she was heart-broken and felt Mouw gave her a way to be in relationship with them, and in some sense, gave her permission to love them. So that is another impact of this program.

We would not have a guest on our show who would defend inter-racial marriage laws. And yet your point is taken—theological thinkers and religious people have erred badly in the past, and continue to err on matters of central moral gravity, things like slavery, voting rights, and marriage. Some people clearly put Mouw in that category.

The idea was to challenge all of us to keep listening through our most profound disagreements.

Chad, I am a lesbian who is long partnered, and who went to Canada to be married a few years ago—believe me I was challenged in producing this show, to keep listening to a point of view that I find in its essence a condemnation of my life. I am also related to people who share Mouw’s view of gay-lesbian marriage, and of the essential sinfulness of homosexuality. I struggle mightily to keep an open heart for them. This is where we are living, all of us, in this kind of contention.

I am not writing back to you to counter what you say but perhaps to amplify it. We will be posting reflections on this show in the coming days that might help “clear the air.” If you have other thoughts on how we can do that I’d love to hear them.

Thanks for writing, and peace.
Kate Moos

And Chad’s reply:

Dear Kate,

I am deeply touched and grateful for your thoughtful, heartfelt reply. Perhaps this episode struck such a dissonant chord with me because, like you, I struggle with the issue of civility and open mindedness in dealing with folks in my own family and circle of acquaintances. It was Mr. Mouw’s views on homosexuality in the context of creating an open dialogue amongst people of vastly varying viewpoints that really caused my disappointment.

Also, I look to SOF/Being as one of my touchstones to a spiritual life. I was raised evangelical and threw out all things spiritual when I came out. I thought that the two were mutually exclusive. It was really your show that allowed me to find a way back to belief in something bigger than myself. Through SOF I discovered the quiet revolution of Thich Nhat Hahn. I started uncovering the secular movement toward well-being via Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness and Andrew Freear’s architecture. I even felt a deep kinship with Shane Claiborne, although his views on homosexuality certainly aren’t akin to mine. Nevertheless, his spirit of subversive inclusiveness and social justice really appeals to me.

I am moved by the response of one of your conservative Christian listeners who struggles to find a way to have a relationship with her gay relatives. Perhaps this one outcome is worth all the confusion and anger gays and lesbians may have felt. Furthermore, I suppose this episode has truly challenged my views on civility and dealing with those whose views I know are empirically wrong when it comes to homosexuality, yet with whom I must find a way to reconcile. There is nothing more human than failure. I would be well advised to accept others’ failure as well as my own.

I continue to look forward to the journey from “Faith” to “Being.” Airing your and the staff’s own struggles with this episode would be a great help to your gay and lesbian listeners. Understanding your journey has profoundly affected mine.

Sincerely,
Chad

Of course we are sensitive to these types of personal conversations, so I requested Chad’s permission to publish the exchange, to which he replied with a graceful note:

Dear Trent,

Yes, you may publish our correspondence. I am very grateful for Kate’s response, and I imagine that it will speak to others. It really helped me to understand the spirit behind Krista’s conversation with Mr. Mouw, along with the editorial struggles that went into its production.

All the best,
Chad

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How Do We Live and Honor Each Other Despite Our Differences?

by Krista Tippett, host

Restoring Political Civility with Richard Mouw

"Restoring Political Civility: An Evangelical View" with Richard Mouw was as hard as any show in my memory to produce, edit, script — and even to justify, as news unfolded while we were creating it.

I have known Richard Mouw for 15 years and interviewed him on this program in its early days. Other Evangelical Christian leaders have been more visible in American political and media life: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ted Haggard, James Dobson, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, and on the more progressive side Jim Wallis and Richard Cizik. I have followed them, but I have also always kept my ear and eye on quieter figures like Richard Mouw. As president of Fuller Theological Seminary, with more than 4000 students from 70 countries and over 100 denominations, he is training generations of Evangelical and Pentecostal pastors and global leaders.

And in this political season, in which values have once again — and with a new edge of hysteria — come to be a rallying cry for viciousness, I wanted to speak with him again. A book he first wrote in 1992, Uncomon Decency, has just been released in a revised version with the subtitle, “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” Mouw has long been a kind of bridge person — theologically conservative on some issues and more progressive on others — but he most fervently insists that the way people are treated is a greater measure of Christian virtue than the positions one takes.

I’ve wondered rhetorically how our political life would have evolved differently if the Christian re-emergence into politics in the late 20th century had modeled a practical love of enemies. My own deepest despair at present is not about the vitriol and division per se — as alarming as they are. It is about the fact that we seem to be losing any connective tissue for engaging at all, on a human level, across ruptures of disagreement. Across the political spectrum, many increasingly turn to journalism not for knowledge but to confirm individual pre-existing points of view. What we once called the red state, blue state divide is now more like two parallel universes where understandings of plain fact are no longer remotely aligned. This leads to a diminishing sense of the humanity of those who think and live differently than we do. And that is the ultimate moral slippery slope, for everyone on it and for the fabric of our civic life.

Richard MouwRichard Mouw lays out the imperative to all kinds of Christians for gentleness, reverence, humanity, and “honor” of the different other at the heart of the Bible and the life of Jesus. But this is not a feel-good plea for harmony. Even as he calls for civility and gentleness, Mouw reasserts his public and private opposition to gay marriage and civil unions. The civility he calls for would not minimize difference, at least at the outset, but would create a different space for discussing and navigating it — indeed for bringing differences into public life with virtue and vitality of expression. Picking up on a phrase coined by Christian historian Martin Marty, Richard Mouw builds upon this idea of “convicted civility.”

We had impassioned and difficult discussions on our production team about his ideas, and the complications and contradictions they present. When he says that, as a Christian, he sees other human beings as “works of divine art,” can that genuinely apply to a person whose sexual identity he defines as fundamentally wrong? And then, in the thick of creating this show, the Rutgers student Tyler Clementi committed suicide — one of a string of suicides of gay youth. This sharpened a question of whether religious views condemning homosexuality — however civilly expressed — inevitably fuel hateful, even fatal, behavior.

With all of this on my mind, I was struck by an open letter the Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler wrote in direct response to those teen suicides. Though Mohler is to the right of Richard Mouw theologically and culturally, his letter takes an unexpectedly kindred tone. Mohler leads the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, and one of the most conservative. He spends the first few paragraphs of his statement reiterating his firm theological conviction that homosexuality is a sin. But in words that echo a search for a new way of “convicted civility,” Mohler confesses, “Much of our response to homosexuality is rooted in ignorance and fear.” And he asks, of the faithful and of his church leaders, “What if Tyler Clementi had been in your church? Would he have heard biblical truth presented in a context of humble truth-telling and gospel urgency, or would he have heard irresponsible slander, sarcastic jabs, and moralistic self-congratulation?” I read in Mohler’s statement a profound shift of tone, if not of position — and an opening to new ways of being.

This all drives towards a question I pursue in so many of my conversations: How does social change happen? We will not all be “on the same page,” as Americans like to be, on sexuality or many other issues for generations to come. The 21st century has opened up questions Western civilization thought it had put to rest. Some of them are intimate and raw, terrifying in every life at some point and therefore all the more unsettling when we are forced to ponder them out in the open together. Same-sex marriage is but the tip of an iceberg of human redefinition: What is relationship? What is marriage? What is friendship? What constitutes a family? In this messy moment, we retain our rights and responsibilities as human beings and citizens to discern our truths and live by them. But we have no choice, at the same time, if we want this to end well, to search for new ways to discern our multiple truths while living together.

Richard Mouw suggests that we need to start some of our conversations again from the beginning, certainly the conversation about sexuality. He believes that only by naming our hopes and our fears, articulating them among ourselves, revealing them to each other, can we begin to recreate something called a common life, which can contain, and not be destroyed by, our differences. I want to believe him, to believe that this is one answer to the question of how social change happens. If I didn’t believe that a new kind of conversation can also be a starting point for walking forwards together — living together, differently — I would not do what I do.

And yet, maybe another reality we have to live with is that these critical new conversations will start small, in many places, compelling us to connect dots for a while in lieu of convening the sweeping dialogue we might hope for. I’d point to a few that we’ve pulled together at onBeing.org with this show, including Albert Mohler’s letter in its entirety as well as a Religion Dispatches report about an historic meeting between a senior Mormon elder and LGBT Mormons.

1990 Ordination of Gay and Lesbian PastorsWe’ve also posted a piece we admire by fellow journalist Sasha Aslanian titled "Sex, Death, and Secrets" — featuring an interview with two lesbian pastors who’ve experienced a roller coaster ride of discernment within their own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

And we’ve posted another kind of contribution to civility, an act of care for “despairing LGBT kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future” — Dan Savage and Husband Terry from "It Gets Better" Projecta video project called “It Gets Better” that was created by syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry. Both come from families with conservative religious roots, and we see photographs that bespeak the embrace they’ve both received as members of these families. They are photographs of love that has overcome convictions — or chosen to live in a gracious, loving tension alongside them. This too is possible. Please add your thoughts, stories, and pictures — your dots, if you will — to this difficult, dispersed, essential conversation.

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Richard Mouw: A Twitterscript with an Evangelical Leader on Civility

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Richard MouwThis coming week we will be releasing our latest show, which focuses on the topic of incivility in political, religious, and civic culture with one of the leading Evangelical Christian leaders in the United States today. On September 8, 2010, Krista interviewed Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary and a professor of Christian philosophy and ethics, which we live-tweeted (@softweets) from behind the glass of Studio P at Minnesota Public Radio. Here’s a compilation, our Twitterscript if you will, of all those tiny nuggets, and a few exchanges with our followers:

  1. Tweeting Krista Tippett’s interview on civility with @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:11:57 2010
  2. "The antichrist has changed across my lifetime…in the 1980s it shifted towards Islam" - @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:12:47 2010
  3. On civility, @RichardMouw quotes the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah: “Seek the shalom of the city in which God has placed you.”
    Wed Sep 8 14:18:06 2010
  4. "What does it mean for me to honor the Muslim..the Mormon..the people of unbelief who are hostile towards Christianity?" - @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:18:22 2010
  5. "What I owe to my mother and friends, I also owe to the stranger. And that’s more than toleration." -@richardmouw on going beyond tolerance
    Wed Sep 8 14:19:11 2010
  6. "Evangelicalism goes back + forth between alienation to a takeover mentality - but alternate between two theologies." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:26:32 2010
  7. "I do think Jesus is a model of civility - of convicted civility." -@RichardMouw, president of Fuller Seminary
    Wed Sep 8 14:32:48 2010
  8. "For starters concentrate on your own sinfulness and the other person’s humanness." Evangelical leader @richardmouw on gentle Christianity
    Wed Sep 8 14:32:55 2010
  9. "Glenn Beck + anti-Islam have revived the Evangelical sense that they’re taking something away and we need to get it back." - @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:36:42 2010
  10. "It’s very important for a leader to approach people having a hard time controlling their fears." -@RichardMouw on conservatives’ concerns
    Wed Sep 8 14:42:13 2010
  11. @mindywithrow You’re welcome! It’s tough keeping up. in reply to mindywithrow
    Wed Sep 8 14:42:52 2010
  12. "We have to be careful that we not sin in the process of acting on those concerns." @richardmouw on “Glenn Beck followers’” moral concerns
    Wed Sep 8 14:45:42 2010
  13. "We’re not messiahs. And God isn’t going to hold us responsible for righting all the wrongs in the world." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:48:27 2010
  14. "Instead of telling Mormons what they believe, asking them what they believe." @richardmouw on a “gentle” approach w/ those we disagree with
    Wed Sep 8 14:51:19 2010
  15. "GK Chesterton once said, ‘It’s bad to have false gods. But it’s also bad to have false devils.’" -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:52:44 2010
  16. "Seeing other people is a kind of exercise in art appreciation." - @richardmouw on the realization that all people are a work of art
    Wed Sep 8 14:53:02 2010
  17. "Even in expressing our differences we’re dealing with people that are precious works of divine art" @richardmouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:57:41 2010
  18. "One of my stories about learning in civility was going to a gay Mass at an Episcopal church." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 14:58:38 2010
  19. "I’m gratified by a growing Christian subculture of the more conservative side that are willing to think some new thoughts." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:04:05 2010
  20. "There’s a common life. There’s something that bonds human beings together that politics can’t create and shouldn’t destroy." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:07:58 2010
  21. RT @expatminister: ah yes, the oft-quoted Jeremiah 29. Much more complex, much harder than “I know the plans…” bumper sticker. Good tho…
    Wed Sep 8 15:09:57 2010
  22. "I think more and more we’re committed to bringing people in (@FullerATS)… It’s important to create these kinds of spaces.” -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:11:51 2010
  23. "We need safe places. The problem is that there aren’t safe places any more." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:13:21 2010
  24. "If more people who have influence and leadership positions can give their blessing to this [civility] and encourage this…" -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:19:56 2010
  25. "In many ways, we are living in a world that’s much like some of the best years in Christianity in the past." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:23:50 2010
  26. "We have to bracket those kinds of [social] issues and live with more mystery on that." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:26:29 2010
  27. "We need to see He [Jesus] calls us to go out to identify with the things he cares about." -@RichardMouw
    Wed Sep 8 15:31:00 2010
  28. And that concludes our live-tweeting of Krista’s interview with evangelical leader @RichardMouw. Thanks for reading!
    Wed Sep 8 15:32:35 2010
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It Gets Better Project

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The YouTube project called "It Gets Better" is a noble effort to help save the many young gay and questioning children and teenagers out there right now who are struggling, who are contemplating suicide. The project tries to show those “despairing LGBT kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future” that adults who were in their same situation as them have endured and emerged in a safer, happier place. They are examples that life goes on, that situations do improve.

The video above of Dan Savage, the author of the syndicated sex column “Savage Love” and who started this project after Billy Lucas’ suicide, and his husband should be a vivid reminder to all of us about the true virtue of civility and kindness. No matter where you stand on the gay rights issue, this video should appeal to the need for a common decency for all people.

And for all of you Project Runway fans, Tim Gunn has recently released his contribution to the project with a troubling story from his own childhood:

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A Mormon Example on Sexuality and Religion

by Krista Tippett, host

Elder Marlin K. JensenReligion Dispatches offers a riveting report of a recent meeting in Oakland in which a leading Mormon authority offered an apology for the pain caused by the LDS Church’s activism on California’s Propisition 8. To an emotional gathering of “LGBT Mormons and their allies,” Elder Marlin K. Jensen reportedly said:

"To the full extent of my capacity, I say that I am sorry … I know that many very good people have been deeply hurt, and I know that the Lord expects better of us."

I’m on record as saying that we should measure the public virtue of religious traditions not merely by the positions they take, but by the way they treat those with whom they agree and disagree along the way. It is, sadly, rare to witness religious authorities open up to this kind of human and seemingly searching encounter on an issue in which they have staked a theological and political claim. I say, “Bravo.”

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A Church Divided, Together: The ELCA One Year after the Vote

by Andrew Haeg, Public Insight Network

In the audio above you hear Rev. Daniel Ostercamp from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Webster, South Dakota, who opposes the ELCA vote, followed by the voice of Joseph Haletky, a member of the congregation at First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palo Alto, California, who has supported it.

On August 21st, 2009, the Evangelical Church in America voted to allow gay pastors in committed relationships to serve as clergy. To understand the impact of the vote on the church, we’ve been reaching out over the past several months to Lutherans who are part of the Public Insight Network, and many others. More than 2,000 have shared their story or insights. We’re using what they have shared to produce an online project that will unfold over the coming weeks.

Many of the stories we’ve received come from many Lutherans who rejoiced over the vote, and whose congregations have experienced a new, stronger sense of inclusiveness and welcome. And we’ve heard from those who were saddened and distraught over the vote. In many cases, their congregations have chosen to un-affiliate from the ELCA, weaken ties to the national church, or to express their displeasure by withholding money. We start by tuning into the very different experiences of two congregations — one in South Dakota, one in northern California.

st-johns-lutheranSt. John’s Lutheran Church in Webster, South Dakota sits on Main Street next door to other fixtures of small town life, the city hall and the library, and a block down from the post office. The church just celebrated its 125th anniversary. Five or more generations of families have worshiped here. It’s a congregation of 800 in a town of 2,000.

When the vote took place last August, the pastor, Daniel Ostercamp, was saddened and disappointed. He and much of his parish were strongly against the push to make gay pastors full clergy. But the traditions of the church ran too deep to be uprooted so quickly. “It’s very much a sense of history, a sense of connection,” he says. “To walk away from a church because you lost a vote is a very hard thing.”

Daniel Ostercamp, Pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church in Webster, South DakotaHe says the church is a powerful bricks-and-mortar expression of a community and their beliefs. “As much as Americans want to talk about being a people that travel that move — a mobile society,” Ostercamp says, “a sense of place is still important. When you’ve been baptized in a congregation, your kids have been baptized here, and you were married here. That’s where you’ve said your prayers, that’s where you’ve sung your hymns,” he says. “You’ve been in a sanctuary. And if there’s a controversy that’s forcing you to make a choice, that’s very gut-wrenching.”

St. John’s has not chosen to leave the ELCA. They’ve opted instead to symbolically proclaim independence from the authority of the national ELCA through gestures such as withholding money they would normally give and sending it instead to the Lutheran church in South Dakota, or to local missions.

He says he believes that “congregations are going to be more responsible for who they are, and that the synod and the national are going to have fewer and fewer resources and less and less influence, for better or for worse.”

The experience at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, California is a world apart from St. John’s in Webster. It’s in the middle of the largely progressive Sierra Pacific Synod. Years ago, First Evangelical had voted to be a Reconciling in Christ congregation — meaning it was open and welcoming to gay and lesbian members, and pastors.

First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Palo Alto, California on Easter SundayThis, in marketing terms, gave them a kind of “first-mover” status in town, and as Haletky says, the church drew new congregants who were looking for a church that was inclusive and focused on social justice.

Last year’s vote was enthusiastically supported in this church, and as Haletky says, has given the congregation confidence to reclaim the words “evangelical” and “confessional” from conservative Christians who they say have co-opted them.

Yet their joy is tinged with some sadness. Seven of the 206 churches in the First Evangelical’s Sierra Pacific Synod have left the ELCA. That’s a small percentage, and fewer than in other parts of the country, but it’s evidence of a major fissure that’s opened underneath the ELCA — one that has to be mended if the church hopes to stay together. “We weren’t going to succumb to some sort of triumphalism, that we had won somehow,” Haletky says, “because there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done healing the church.”

Joseph Haletky, congregant at First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palo Alto, CAThe vote brought to Haletky’s mind a “beloved” pastor who had served the church back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Well into his 40’s, the pastor revealed to a few congregants that he was, in fact, a gay man. Haletky says all the “little old Swedish ladies tried to marry him off to their nieces,” while he kept his secret for fear of being defrocked and shunned.

Now pastors who were similarly closeted can come out and participate fully in the life of the church. This makes Haletky happy. He says that for First Evangelical, the vote “has been a plus all the way around.”

Check in here for periodic stories of the impact the ELCA vote on the lives of individuals and communities. And, tell us your stories about how this issue is affecting your community.

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