“Time won’t leave me as I am, but time won’t take the boy out of this man”--”City of Blinding Lights”, U2

Monday, September 12, 2005

Blog Move

I'm moving my blog over to a new website: TimSisk.com. I'm still building it, but my posting will be over there. Please update your bookmarks, come over and read, and continue the conversation with me.


Hat tip: Kaus

My apologies to Dean

Dean responds to my Venice UMC-Sheehan Post Mortem 3 here. I think he's right. If you don't follow the links you won't get his full comment. Also, after reading my post through I've concluded I didn't properly mitigate the part of his comments that I respond to with the full post.

I think blogging etiquette prevents me from substantively editing the post, so I'll leave an update at the post and quote Dean's full comment to the Venice UMC-Sheehan Post Mortem 2 here.

He wrote:
About this partisan question: I am actually very cautious here. I was asked by the Washington Post about clergy endorsing candidates from their pulpits. The article is now archived by the Post and you have to pay to read it, but Maggie Gallagher quotes part of my remarks. I said that I cannot imagine endorsing a candidate myself, but I believe strongly in the freedom of the pulpit. If Scripture led a preacher to condemn a candidate --say someone preaching in Germany in the 1930s condemning Adolph Hitler when he was running for office -- we have to defend the freedom of the preacher to do that.

Then too I am thinking this way: once a candidate is elected, talking about him or her isn't partisan anymore. They are now everyone's president, everyone's Secretary of Defense, etc., whether you voted for this administration or not. Criticize away if your engagement with Scripture leads you to this word.

Why did no one call preaching about Clinton's sexual mistakes partisan? Aren't policies that result in people living or dying just as much a matter of morality?

Tim, where's the flaw in the way I am thinking here?

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Venice UMC-Sheehan Discussion Post-Mortem, Part 3

Here is my response to comments (here and here) by both Stephen Fife and Dean Snyder:

Dean and Stephen:

Dean writes here:
Why did no one call preaching about Clinton's sexual mistakes partisan? Aren't policies that result in people living or dying just as much a matter of morality?
A sentiment echoed by Stephen:
Thank you Dean for raising my point again. Why is it only bad when it involves Bush and not Clinton?
I’ve made it clear on my blog that I believe it wrong to mix partisan politics with religious activity regardless of the political party being supported or denounced. I'm not expecting you to know that, after all, my blog is only a month old. But let me state for the record, I’m no fan of the Moral Majority, Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family (when they are involved in politics), or any other politically active religious right group even if I share some political and theological values with them. Raising the issue of Clinton seems to me to be a diversion, as I haven’t suggested that it was okay to preach against him nor was my blog around at the time to comment upon it contemporaneously.


Stephen asks here about pastors who spoke against Bill Clinton and John Kerry:

So what am I supposed to do? Should I write to all these pastors and demand them to explain their actions?

My answer: If they are United Methodist and you are in covenant with them, then, yes, you should engage them. (Which incidentally I did when I contacted the Rev. Tom Zeigert, appealing to our order as the ordained, about the Venice UMC Event that sparked this discussion). Be respectful, but seek a conversation with them. Regarding clergy from other denominations, I don’t think we really have a covenant that can allow for such conversation to take place except with our own personal relationships with pastors from other denominations. And, I would add, ecumenism can be damaged if we regularly practice judgment with one another without that convenant.


The fact that you raise the issue of Clinton pretty much confirms my point to begin with. Mixing religious and political activity leaves the preacher and the church open to charges of inconsistency and hypocrisy. It is almost impossible to be completely fair because of our own political predispositions. We tend to turn a blind eye to those whom we agree with politically while searching for ways to condemn those with whom we disagree. And surely you aren't suggesting that its okay to do anything just because the other side does it. (That is how conflict escalates into war, btw). I punish my kids equally for hitting one another, no matter who started hitting first.

Further, it is easy to recognize political problems that require a Christian response. *Solving* those political problems can be much more difficult. Prayerful, reflective responses may involve a variety of faithful but diametric approaches.

An example: poverty. Very few Christians will debate that one of our primary places of ministry should occur among the least and the lost. But how do we evaluate governmental social policy in light of these concerns? For example, many of the Christian left opposed the Welfare Reform Act during the Clinton administration. (I know the National Council of Churches opposed it. I’m pretty sure that the General Board of Church and Society did as well but the links were broken when I did a search at the United Methodist website.) They did so with a certainty that would take the breath away from the most die-hard fundamentalist (one of the glaring weaknesses of the fundamentalist is the perspective that sees things so simplistically that it is almost dualistic: black and white or right and wrong, there are no gray areas).

Was the Welfare Reform Act that sought to fix the problems of the Great Society programs immoral? Did the Bible say that the welfare programs of the Great Society were the right approach? I don't know. I don't know enough about economics, law, political theory, or the welfare program to be able to speak with that kind of certainty. I'm just preacher. But I have read widely enough to know that the issue is complex and that reasonable people will disagree. Here I want to point you to two secular writers. Read this post by Megan McArdle which deals with the complexity of social change. The book I would like for you to buy is this book by Mickey Kaus, The End of Equality. It is a bit utopic and pretty radical in its suggestions, but does a good job of explaining how damaging the pre-reform welfare programs were to the very people they intended to help.

The preacher and the church that takes sides with such specificity on political issues or candidates (or elected officials) stand in judgment, right or wrong. When the pastor and the church speak, they speak with authority, and with authority comes great responsibility for ones actions. And while judgment isn’t necessarily evil, the possibility of evil being committed when doing it should cause one to tread very, very lightly.

Here Dean writes:

Then too I am thinking this way: once a candidate is elected, talking about him or her isn't partisan anymore. They are now everyone's president, everyone's Secretary of Defense, etc., whether you voted for this administration or not. Criticize away if your engagement with Scripture leads you to this word.

Me: I have never written nor addressed a sermon to an individual person. Criticism, if required, should be a private concern, not a public one. I don’t believe my authority from the pulpit gives me the freedom to criticize by name anyone. The instances in scripture where this is done are very, very rare and were done by widely admitted “prophets”. I’m not a prophet, I’m a pastor. And only in extremely exceptional circumstances would I admit that I should.

So, if you think Bush is about to start a genocide that will kill 6 million people, well then, bang away.

UPDATE: After Dean left a comment I reread the post and feel like I wasn't entirely fair to Dean. Here's my apology and the full quote of his comment.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Venice UMC-Sheehan Discussion Post-Mortem, Part 2

I had planned to make some final observations in response to the Rev. Tom Zeigert (pastor of Venice (CA) UMC). Tom graciously emailed (here and here) after I inquired about an event held at Venice UMC in April of this year. Before I was finished with that response, Dean Snyder (who has the coolest named Methoblog) has written and linked to these series of posts. I ended up combining my response to Tom Zeigert with a response to Dean Snyder. This had made for a VERY long post. I hope you’ll stick around and read the whole thing. (I just hope my English Comp teacher doesn’t find this blog, she’s liable to collapse in disgust and shame at having passed me in her class).

As I commented here on his blog, I agree with Dean for the most part but have a few points that I would like to quibble with him. Dean Snyder titles his post with the question: “Is Opposing War Partisan?” and opens with the statement: “Tim Sisk has raised the issue of whether opposing the War in Iraq is a partisan political activity.”

My first “quibble” is that I find the title and the first sentence to be (unintentionally) unfair to me and my series of posts. The title of the post comes pretty close to a “loaded question” in that it is a question with a disputed supposition. I didn’t make the claim that opposing war is a partisan activity, nor did I make the claim that opposing the War in Iraq is a partisan political activity. I did, however, over the course of these postings make essentially three points regarding the Venice UMC-Sheehan Event:

1. There should be a disconnect between partisan, political activity and the activity of the church.

2. The Venice UMC April 2005 event was a partisan, political activity (for specific reasons which I’ll reiterate below.)

3. There was no condemnation or pastoral response that recognized the absence of the language of love in Sheehan’s remarks (the only speech at the event that I have found posted online).

The reason this is bothersome for me is that I intentionally didn’t say what Dean suggests I said. I wrote to Tom Zeigert (posted here):

As I mentioned in my email to you and the post of my blog, my interest isn't to debate the issue of the Iraq war. Perhaps part of our struggles in becoming faithful disciples might involve in doing such a thing, but I'm choosing not to do that at this time or in this forum. I think we can agree, though, that war is always less than God's perfect will.
I did conclude that their event was partisan political activity:
I think one could defend a speaker list of people opposed to war in general. A speaker list that only includes those who are opposed to the Iraq war is troublesome. (What can be the harm in hearing from people who support the war?) A speaker list that includes people who not only oppose the war but who have very publicly expressed anti-Bush sentiment is absolutely indefensible and tendentious.
Admittedly my writing style is muddy (I’m more of an oral communicator) and working to improve my writing is one of the reasons I started blogging. My intention was to make a rhetorical point. A speaker list of people opposed to war in general would be defensible in that it is well within accepted and widely agreeable Christian thinking. A speaker list that only includes those opposed to a particular war would be troublesome (but not partisan and political) in that it limits a full and free expression of ideas, which is why I asked parenthetically, “What can be the harm in hearing from people who support the war”. I had in mind people who find the casus belli of that war to be just as well as the conduct of that war. (I’ll address Dean’s point that not all viewpoints are equal in the church below. ) It is the next sentence where I reveal the tipping point, “A speaker list of those who not only oppose the war but have very publicly expressed anti-Bush sentiment is absolutely indefensible and tendentious.” Here the language of “only” (i.e. exclusively), “those” (i.e. plural), and “publicly expressed anti-Bush sentiment” (anti-Bush) are particularly important to my point.

I can imagine a scenario where Sheehan is invited to speak at the church, say, next month. I might expect sharp language from her (hopefully not of the sort she used in the April 19 event). Even if she were strongly anti-Bush, I wouldn’t say that the church hosting her was guilty of partisan, political activity. This is, after all, one person’s speech. In the Venice UMC event, a panel of speakers were anti-Bush. The plurality of speakers anti-Bush is one of the tipping points that makes this for me a partisan, political speech.

I would add that Dean Snyder is welcome to come to my church at any time and speak against war in general and against the Iraq War, specifically. Why? There is no history of partisan, political activity in his speeches (unless you have some confessing you want to do Dean *wink*). Anyone that hears him speak or knows that he will be speaking, knows that Dean will be speaking from a faith informed by his understanding of the Bible, Church teachings, experience, and reason. He is not compromised as a partisan, political speaker. No mistaken assumption could be made that hosting him was tacitly or explicitly advocating a political view.

But a conference (or event) featuring the speaker list described above—well that’s a horse of a different color—partisan, political activity.

Second quibble: Snyder writes: “Note that both viewpoints—for and against a war—are not equal within the church… Our bias is against war and against every particular war, even when some may conclude that a particular war is a necessary evil.”. He does this appealing to the Social Principles. I don’t think the Social Principles are as unambiguous with respect to war as Snyder would assert, I think they allow for a just war theology (and I would add that something that is just can’t be evil). I really do think my characterization of war in my first letter to Zeigert captures our teaching a bit more accurately, that is, war is always less than God’s perfect will.

But even if I’m wrong and Dean is right, then I still think his point is problematic. Consider how Dean’s reasoning would work in the following hypothetical scenario:

What if I were a member of Foundry UMC and wanted to host a symposium against same-sex marriage. Would his church favor this event (even if most of his congregation was against it), particularly since this is the teaching of the UMC? [ed--But isn't it true that the Social Principles argue for equal rights under the law for homosexuals? Me: Yeah, but if its clergy can’t preside at a homosexual marriage services, then the only way to reconcile these two views is that the United Methodist Church doesn’t recognize that marriage would fall under the equal rights category for homosexuals.] Here, it would seem, the church has taken the position against civil recognition of marriage.

I can’t speak for Dean on this, but I can imagine his church inveighing about such a conference. I can’t imagine his church believing that it needn’t be balanced in favor of presenting just such a view. And I doubt Foundry's ministers or church board being comfortable with Foundry hosting and promoting such an event.

I certainly don’t need to remind Dean the arguments that many made when the homosexual prohibitions were entered originally into the Social Principles was that the Social Principles are not binding upon the church, but are guidelines to describe the general teaching of the church, a view upheld by the Judicial Council with the exception of the homosexual prohibitions.

In my reading of both Tom Zeigert and Dean Snyder, I’ve noticed two curious omissions. Neither Zeigert nor Snyder address the point I raised that Sheehan’s speech was personal and repugnant (read uncharitable or un-loving) and could prevent the church from effectively ministering to at least three people (all of whom where named in the speech and spoken about in a hateful manner). I’ll ask again:

Could this church ever feel like home for them after such an event was organized? And if it cannot, is it truly a church of open minds, open hearts, and open doors if it is closed to these…men?
Why no condemnation of their personal and repugnant remarks Sheehan made about Bush, Cheney, and Wolfowitz? Just read the excerpted paragraphs in my original post. Sheehan clearly moved beyond questioning political positions to language that was personal and hateful. The language of love was clearly absent in her speech. Had the remarks been made in private, particularly in a pastoral care situation, then I would say, fine, it is healthy to let her vent and grieve the death of her son. But in a public forum, sponsored and advertised in the community, and part of a ministry strategy of growing disciples are these comments allowed to stand?

The second curious omission is that neither Tom Zeigert nor Dean Snyder admit to agreeing with me that partisan, political activity in the church is wrong and immoral (and certainly a violation of a church’s tax exempt status in some situations). Either they agree with me or don’t. I think Dean believes that partisan, political activity in the church is wrong. I would like for him to say that it is. Because unless Tom, Dean, and I can agree that it is wrong, then our conversation is pretty much a waste of time. I particularly worry that Tom is unwilling to fully condemn partisan political activity in the church, because if he does then the April 19 event at Venice UMC must be judged.

Further, the omission is important to me in that it is what I was attempting to argue from the beginning. The closest I get to it is this statement from Tom Zeigert:

Your evaluation that the event was partisan is well founded. We had hoped for better.
If you are organizing an event and wish to engage those who might be politically/culturally different from you and you know that there might be some reservation on their part to speak, feeling that your church may not be home for them, the burden lies with you to do everything in your power to insure that those barriers are overcome. To give up when an invitation is declined and to go on with an event that is culturally and politically homogenous only confirms the visceral reservations of the oppositional speakers.

In the South, there is still a cultural/political divide between races. I serve as the president of the local Ministerial Association (predominately white, but does have active minority membership and leadership). You better believe when we plan our ecumenical events, particularly the Community Thanksgiving Service hosted at the largest church building in the city (First Baptist Church [Southern Baptist]) that we make the highest effort to ensure that these cultural differences are put aside. (Last year, our thanksgiving service was preached by an ordained African-American female. She may not have been the first woman or the first African American to preach there, but I’m pretty sure she was the first African-American woman to preach there. Had we not been successful in attracting that participation, I’m sure our response would have been more substantive that “we hoped for better” and I guarantee we would not put the failure to engage on those that didn’t participate (Tom calls it “contempt prior to investigation”). We would have known that it is our failure that they felt unwelcome.

PS: We’ll agree to disagree about Michelle Shocked. You like her because she sings about peace (and that she rocks). I’ll stand by my point that her participation in this particular event was inappropriate in that her recent career has been viciously anti-Bush.

Candidly, I'll confess a short-coming on my part. Even if she weren’t anti-Bush, it is still a little weird to me to have her performing in the church. I’m not saying listening to her is sinful or anything, God forbid. But it just seems to be jarring to me to blend church work with her music. It's not the first time I felt like this so I know its probably a growing point for me. When I was a student at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, I was appointed to student appointment. My Teaching Parish supervisor was a great guy and I learned a lot from him. However, one day in one of our meetings, he told us he had accepted an offer from his credit card company to purchase a bloc of tickets for the Rolling Stones concert coming to Atlanta, who were touring for the first time in years. He bought a bunch of tickets so he could take his youth group to the concert. I just wasn’t sophisticated enough to think it wasn’t just a little weird that this would become a “church event”. My limitation probably informs my perspective with Michelle Shocked performing in the church.

But to the guys of U2, you can perform at my church any time you want...

I have finally arrived...

Got my first link from Dean Snyder at United Methodist, my first comment spam, and a brief mention at Instapundit, all within a seven day period.

No longer am I a mere mortal!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

WordPress and Godaddy.com

I've decided to go the next step and try to move this blog off of blogger and host my account. I don't know what I'm doing, at all. But I did some research and decided to chose WordPress. Let me me say again, I don't know what I'm doing, at all. Since I registered my domain names a while ago through Godaddy.com I decided to use them again. After having a number of problems with setting up Wordpress with the account I googled the problem and found Godaddy is lousy with Wordpress to set up.

Godaddy.com won't/can't help me (Wordpress wasn't developed by us). Right now, I'm trying to work through it, but I may just cancel the account and start somewhere else. I'll update later and let you know if I have any hair left. (At this point, I'm not unhappy with Godaddy. They have kinda tried to be helpful.)

Update: Okay, scrapped the Godaddy.com webhosting. No real complaints about the company yet (we'll see if they give back my full refund, seeing how I cancelled within 4 hours of purchasing a years worth of hosting). I'm just such a newbie at this stuff that without an auto-installer, I couldn't do it.

So, I'm hosting with Blue Hosting. Auto-install of WordPress went great (though it took me a few minutes to find out how to do it). I'm ready to begin customizing WordPress (which I'll do over the next week). In the hour I've been with Blue Hosting, I like them, but no 24 hour tech service like Godaddy.com had. So we'll see.

So new sitet in a few weeks will be at TimSisk.com. I'm supposed to be able to transfer my stuff from Blogger to WordPress with out much problem. (I'm told transferring the comments may be tough, but as my comment section isn't exactly overflowing, I'm sure that won't be a problem).

It's 1 am, I'll turn in now.

Update (2): Just got notified that Godaddy.com has given me a full refund. So I have absolutely no complaints about their service and am pleased with my interaction with them. (I hope they'll find a way to auto-install WordPress though like some other web hosting companies

Technorati Problems

Is it just me or has anyone else had problems getting search results from Technorati lately? I'm getting this message constantly:
Sorry, we couldn't complete your search because we're experiencing a high volume of requests right now. Please try again in a minute
Anyone else having this problem?

Favorite Sayings

I love "old sayings" and find they can add color to communication. Just came across a new oldie:

Old Irish Saying: "When everyone says your drunk, you better sit down." (From Hugh Hewitt)

I'm going to keep updating this post as I find more.

Yahoo Searches

I keep getting referrals to this site from Yahoo search. I finally got curious enough to check what search people were using on Yahoo to get to this blog and this is what I found:

Hurricane Katrina Flood Pics

Curiously, this blog pops up as the third item on the search. Even more curiously, it is right behind two other websites that apparently show beheading videos. I don't know what to make of that.

Why would this blog rank so high on the Yahoo search list? Especially under those search terms. (The actual post Yahoo links to doesn't have my flood pics that I posted, but rather is the Hurricane Relief Bleg I participated in with Instapundit, N. Z. Bear, Hugh Hewitt, et. al started.)

Anyone have any ideas?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Venice UMC – Sheehan Discussion Post Mortem (Part 1)

First of all, let me say, thanks to everyone who read my posts on this subject. In the short life of this blog, I recorded my highest visit total during this time period. During this time I was one of many who appeared on Instapundit’s Hurricane Relif blog-bleg, so I suspect some of the numbers where a micro-Instalanche.

To encourage discussion I tried a new tactic. I checked out every blog that showed up in Wesleyblog’s Methodist bloggers list and created a mailing list from the email addresses that showed up on their blog. I then invited everyone to come in and comment on the issue.

Several folks replied, including one guy who said he wasn't Methodist but had joined Wesley's mother church. But in the end, I got one comment (thanks, Rev. Fife!) and one link to my posts (thanks, John the Methodist (Locusts and Honey!). No link from the Methoblogdaddy, though. Hey Shane! Over here! Look at me! (Maybe if I cut my hair real short and trade my contacts for some metal rimmed glasses and post my picture on my blog so that I look like one of those “Emerging Church” guys, Shane will link to a post of mine, occasionally).

Seriously, though, I hoped this would generate a bigger discussion than this. True, its kind of a pet subject of mine. But I am growing increasingly worried by the mixture of religion and politics in churches today. As our country grows increasingly politically polarized, I’m worried that our pews will become increasingly divided. We just don’t need the extra challenge to unity for temporary political change. (A true revolution in our country, whatever your political persuasion, will come about as hearts and minds are changed, not by the election of political candidates or ratification of political ideas.) Emphatically let me say, United Methodists don’t need the extra challenge to unity. (Consider the bizarre controversy from a few years ago when the Boy Scouts Policy Ban on Homosexual Scout leaders was supported by our United Methodist Men, quite publicly, but opposed by the General Board of Church and Society, quite publicly).

Which is why I hoped for me discussion from the Methoblogosphere. True, many people’s time and attention have been involved in other things (Hurricane Katrina is a once every 50 years kind of storm). Then you have the Lake Junaluska controversy which I didn’t want to blog about. (Heretics in the church! You’re the sodomite ‘cause you like gay people! No, you’re the sodomite because you’re inhospitable!)

Yeah, I think it was provocative for Reconciling Ministries to schedule a meeting (or whatever Dean Snyder says we should call the “Hearts On Fire!” event) in the SEJ and at a United Methodist Conference Center. (After a General Conference where the business meeting was interrupted by a “peaceful protest”, broken chalice, etc., how can you be surprised at the provocation?) I appreciate Dean and read his blog nearly every day (you should too! He's a great guy!). Dean worries about language so let me point out this entry from the Reconciling Ministries Network Blog:

We are evangelical," Preston said, commenting on the hijacking of that word by conservative members of the denomination.
"Hijacking" is a much more inflammatory and pejorative word than the IRD's use of the words "rally" and "jamboree" wouldn't you agree?

I, for one, however, don’t want to open a new front in the war between progressives and conservatives by legislating who should get to use what facility. I said it here and I’ll say it again, for me, the issue isn’t homosexuality but how we can reconcile divergent views about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in interpreting the Bible. Besides, the only way to really effect change is through changing hearts and minds, not through legislation.

But I digress.

As I reread this entry prior to posting, it sounds so negative, but I don’t mean it to be so. I’m typing most of this with a smile on my face (perhaps because the Tonight Show is on the tube behind me—I love Headlines!). But in my next post, I’ll post my last response to the Rev. Tom Ziegert email as well as a reply to the Rev. Fife’s comment.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist Dead...

My prayers go out to his family, friends, and colleagues.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Update: Second Response from the Rev. Tom Zeigert

I just received a gracious email from the Rev. Tom Zeigert about the April 2005 Event at Venice UMC. Tom responds to my email to him that I posted here. He clarifies some assumptions that I make about that event, so I wanted to make sure this gets posted as quickly as possible.

As I read his email, Tom makes the following points:

1. Invitations were sent out to speakers representing diverse viewpoints, not all invitations were accepted, probably because of Venice's reputation as a left wing community.
2. The event was partisan but the church had hoped for better.
3. The church plays an important role in being a voice of conscience to business and goverment while being independent of both.
4. Demographics and varying world views will lead to different strategies for leading the lost to Christ. His previous appointment was in a military community and he was successful there.
5. Tom is not a pacifist, but war is always evil. There is a place for a strong military. God isn't pleased by the evil we do but does forgive. Just war is bad theology and pastors who don't point that out are guilty of the bad theology of convenience.
6. Given the the overwhelming cynicism in the Venice community for professed Christianity, Tom's ministry requires him to affirm his community's passions and commitments and to affirm their place in the world.

I hope that I have summarized it accurately, but just in case, I include the email he sent in full below (Note: I was having trouble with the formatting when I cut and paste, so I retyped the letter so if I made a mistake I'll go back and fix it):
Dear Tim,
(And please call me Tom). Thank you for sharing with me your observations and concerns. All of them are reasonable and appropriate and well founded. No "buts."
Just to clear up a few assumptions:

(1) Gen. Tommy Franks was in LA during the event, was invited, but didn't respond. Local organizations, including those involved in the Apr 19 event have people from the White House Administration, including California Representatives and our 2 Senators, and our own US Rep. (our local US Rep is Jane Harman, a democrat who continues to voice support for the war in Iraq),
Venice has a reputation for having a large extremely left wing population, you might say. I'm sure it feels unfriendly to many who hold traditional world views--"contempt prior to investigation." Usually they tend to beg off when invited. Were any to accept, we would make sure the environment would be more balanced. We have tried to make sure those we invited could set guidelines to feel less threatened.

Your evaluation that the event was partisan is well founded. We had hoped for better. But just because one viewpoint refuses to show up doesn't mean the other should be quiet, particularly when the opposing viewpoint is getting its way. You know, the founding fathers worked to create a balance of power not only in government but in society itself. They worked to make it the case that the de facto power of Land holders and businessmen in combination wit the de jure power of government would be balanced by the institutional power of the church, whereby the church would never be influenced by government but influence it and business morally and ethically. Uncompassionate capitalism would be tempered by God: "In God We Trust" right on our money! The church in America was designed to critique policy and systemic oppression. What I love most about the UMC is that it has always been faithful to its role in American society.

(2) Just as you begin your ministry with your neighbors with where they are in their world view, so do I. In Starkville, my ministry would initially look much differently than it does here. But, in the end we both seek to lead the unchurched, agnostic, and pain-filled to Jesus Christ. You will agree with me, I'm sure that the demographics and world-view of Venice California is far different from those in Starkville Mississippi. It really wouldn't be fair for me to judge your ministry strategy against mine, or vice-a-versa. (In the end, maybe someone will count the saved.)

(3) You have suggested that I am a pacifist. That is not my evaluation of myself. You missed my point that while wars do not lead to peace, sometimes we must choose the lesser of two evils. ["At the same time, it is important for people to understand that sometimes a system corrupted by the powers and principalities...leave us no good choice but only the lesser of two evils."]
A strong military is appropriate and wars will be fought. But, I do not pretend that any war is "just," "good," or "right," only better than the alternatives sometimes. God must weep when we kill one another. God is never pleased with the evil we do. But God forgives because God understands, and Jesus Christ is the proof. But war is not good and no good comes from it, maybe only less evil (and I'm not sure about that). {FYI: My last appointment was in Tentynine Palms where the largest Air-Ground Marine Base is. Many of my congregants were Marines and Veterans. My ministry was considered successful as we experienced a 600% increase in church attendance while I was there.}

I am not a fan of Augustine nor am I impressed that the Roman Catholic Church wants to draw some fine lines on "just" and "unjust" wars. The United Methodist Church, in our Social Principles par. 165 B & C calls it rightly, in my mind: All nations have a right to determine their own destinies but war is evil--though sometimes necessary. I think any church that allows those who come to it for guidance in faith to believe that some killing is just misses the entire New Testament's point: Killing is never just or right, merely forgivable. [I will be very clear too: Just because a professed Christian believes that there can be a just war does not make it so. They have been misled. And the pastor that lets them get away with it has a bad theology of convience. How much more powerful it is to know, that in world that sometimes leaves us no good choice, God understands, loves, and forgives when men and women will not.

(4) One last point about strategy for Christian growth: 90% of Venice is unchurched. Some of the reasons include that the church is in bed with governent, irrelevant, without compassion, supporting views repugnant to them, too many laws not enough human dignity, too judgmental not compassionate, I'm sure you could expand this list even from your distance removed. I meet people where they are. I affirm their passions and understand their commitments. I remind them that God is with them and loves them. Jesus died for them. Then teach them to live rightly with God and look to Him for guidance. One thing I learned in the barrios of LA: Before you can bring people to Jesus, you need to bring "bread" to them. Its no small thing to affirm a person's place in the world. And its and even greater thing when someone who felt abandoned by God can affirm God's place in the world again. You might be surprised to learn what man people who come to this church, cynical and repelled by what appears as professed Christianity, wind up confessing to me and asking me about and professing to me. But, that's my ministry.

Hopefully, this is not a debate. I do not deny your respectable position. I just live somewhere else and have something else in mind. You may have noticed that I do have a motivating understanding of the gospel that guides me and restricts me. It is how God chose to impress me so that I would do what he would have me do. I am also sure that God guides you as well. I am thankful for your ministry and that God has helped us connect. I praise God for the passions that drive you and your faithful actions. All of us here at Venice UMC are praying in word and deed for the deliverance of those who are effected by the hurricane and its devastation.

Blessings and peace, Tom.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

My reponse to the Rev. Ziegert (Very Long Post, sorry!)

Below is my response to the Rev. Ziegert. My original post on the April 2005 Event at Venice (CA) UMC can be found here. The pastor of Venice UMC, the Rev. Ziegert, responds to my email requesting information about the event and his thoughts on politcal activity in church can be found here. My lengthy response back to him is below:

William Timothy Sisk [mailto:tim at timsisk dot org]
Sent: Thursday, September 01, 2005 10:49 PM
To: veniceumc *at* aol *dot* com
Subject: RE: Cindy Sheehan speech at Venice UMC

Dear Rev. Ziegert,

Please feel free to address me as Tim. Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to respond to my email. Let me also express appreciation for your ministry. I hope you had a refreshing and enjoyable vacation. Sometimes pastors forget to reserve some "Sabbath" time away church and ministerial duties to the detriment of their person, family, and ministry.

While I suspect that there are many issues we will disagree about, in times like these, when so many in my state and neighboring Louisiana are suffering, it is important to focus on that which can unite us. I am appreciative of the connectional system and the strength of our response when we face difficult crises. I am particularly grateful for the work of UMCOR, a ministry of our connection, and urge support of their relief efforts.

As I mentioned in my email to you and the post of my blog, my interest isn't to debate the issue of the Iraq war. Perhaps part of our struggles in becoming faithful disciples might involve in doing such a thing, but I'm choosing not to do that at this time or in this forum. I think we can agree, though, that war is always less than God's perfect will.

As I expressed in my post, I am troubled by UM churches being involved in political activity. As politics are a part of life, I agree with you when you write that “politics [are] unavoidable when we live in community”. (But I believe we should tread very, very lightly). I don’t, however, believe churches of any stripe, theological persuasion, or political leaning should be involved in partisan, political activity. Based on the media reports that I have read about your April 19 event, I believe that your church did just that.

I come to this conclusion for a couple of reasons. First, I'm concerned about the speaker roster. I think one could defend a speaker list of people opposed to war in general. A speaker list that only includes those who are opposed to the Iraq war is troublesome. (What can be the harm in hearing from people who support the war?) A speaker list that includes people who not only oppose the war but who have very publicly expressed anti-Bush sentiment is absolutely indefensible and tendentious. Given that this event was publicized before and after by various "left-wing" (I don't mean that pejoratively) media outlets suggests to me that I'm not the only one who sees the predominate (in fact only ) perspective of the event. (Consider this, this, this, and this.)

Secondly, it is hard for me to imagine how this event could be part of any church strategy for Christian growth. Perhaps the inclusion of Michelle Shocked [website here, warning nudity and language] is what tips me over in this. Although I’ve never been a fan of hers, I’m not opposed to secular music. I listen to secular music and even use it sometimes in a positive way in my Bible studies (The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” is a favorite that I used before.) But as each church has different approaches to living and preaching the gospel, I’ll concede that perhaps this is something that I just don’t get. But put this together with the first reason expressed above, I do feel pretty strongly this was a partisan event.

Even if we can’t agree that the event was a partisan, political activity and should be discouraged, I am troubled that the event could comprise your church’s ministry.

Some quotes from the event:

Is there anyone in America who cannot yet see that Donald Rumsfeld is a liar...that he, as with Hitler and Stalin....will say anything so long as he thinks it will help shape the world to his own liking? Is there even one, sane adult among us who cannot see that Donald Rumsfeld is a threat to our nation’s security and to peace on our beloved earth?


As soft-spoken and sincere-sounding as Paul Wolfowitz is, is there yet any sane adult in this country whose skin does not crawl when this murderous liar opens his mouth and speaks? Am I the only person in this room who clearly sees that Paul Wolfowitz is a threat to our nation’s security...and to peace on our beloved earth?

Can we not agree that however one feels about Rumsfeld’s policies, linking him to Hitler and Stalin (two men who history says are directly responsible for deaths of 12 million people) is unsuitable in any setting but certainly out of place in church. I can’t imagine a Christian response that could defend the personal invective expressed in just these two paragraphs. Consider what Christ said:

43 "You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 TNIV).
Surely the above Sheehan quotes regarding Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz qualifies as hateful speech. It is certainly ugly and insulting to these two men. And regarding the ugly, insulting language directing toward these two men, consider the words of James:

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (James 3:9-12 TNIV).
One might say, it is unfair for the church to be responsible for the content of the remarks of these speakers. To which I respond, surely it wasn’t a surprise what the speakers were going to say. And it certainly was clear from the speaker roster what position the church was taking in that only speakers who were stridently opposed to the Iraq war and who had voiced strong positions against the Bush administration spoke. I’m not suggesting that the church was able to view their speeches before hand, but many of the invited speakers have a famously partisan reputation. (I am unaware of media reports regarding Cindy Sheehan prior to this event, therefore she may have been an exception at the time, though I suspect not, because she was, after all, invited to this event).

Further, I would suggest part of your duty as the pastor of this church is to point out when that the language of love is absent in these remarks. Perhaps you did, or have, or you intend to do it. Silly as it may sound, do you think your church could minister to either Cheney or Wolfowitz if they came to Venice United Methodist Church after Sheehan’s personal, repugnant remarks went un-condemned by the pastor? Could this church ever feel like home for them after such an event was organized? And if it cannot, is it truly a church of open minds, open hearts, and open doors if it is closed to these two men? Could our fellow United Methodist George Bush feel like this church is a place he could worship in after this church was bathed in the music of Michelle Shocked, who has made her recent musical career mocking and demeaning him? Is there no room at the table of your church for serious, reflective Christians who have come to the conclusion that this war might be just? Can they not at least be heard from? Will they ever have the confidence in knowing that they will be fairly and respectfully listened to (heard) after your church hosted this event?

And if you take the view that all wars are unjust have you not made a judgment that faithful Christians high (Augustine) and low who believe in a Just War theology (even if it is debatable whether the Iraq War would fall under that doctrine) are sinful and wrong? I’m considering your response below when you write, “Whenever I can, I speak against war and how war never has brought a lasting peace but is a preamble to more violence. I consider that an extension of New Testament gospel.” I consider pacifism to be a very defensible response to war. But I think it is important to point out that there are many serious and devout Christians that believe that there can be just war even if it is less than God’s perfect will. While I don’t preach pacifism, I have made sure that when I lead studies on the morality of war that I’ve made it clear that I thought pacifism was a strongly defensible theology even as I argued that I personally believe in a doctrine of Just War. (And here, I recognize that our Social Principles articulates neither pacifism nor Just War.

I apologize for the length of this email. As I promised in my blog post, I would post your response should I receive it. I will also be posting this email. I welcome any further comments from you on this issue and will post them accordingly. I want to be fair to you and if you feel I haven’t or that you have been misrepresented in anyway, please, please let me know and I’ll rectify it quickly and publicly. I’m interested in the conversation, not in condemning you or your church. I have a great deal of respect for you and your ministry (feeling yoked with you by our ordination as elders in the United Methodist Church). Our connectional system makes us strong as does our diverse life experiences.

Grateful for your ministry,


The Rev. Tim Sisk
Aldersgate United Methodist Church

Update on Cindy Sheehan speech at Venice UMC

In April 2005, Venice (CA) United Methodist Church hosted an event that I felt crossed the line of acceptable political activity by a United Methodist Church. I blogged about it here. In my original post I wrote:
I have emailed the Rev. Ziergert for more information about the event and asked for his thoughts about political activity and the church. I'll post his response when it is received. I want to make clear, it is not my intention to criticize any one for the content of their remarks. Rather, my point is that I think such an event might be problematic for ministry.
The Rev. Ziegert was on vacation and so wasn't able to respond until now. I appreciate the time he spend responding as well as his courtesy. As promised, here is his response:

From: veniceumc@aol.com [mailto:veniceumc@aol.com]

Sent: Thursday, September 01, 2005 12:54 PM
To: tim@timsisk.org

Subject: Cindy Sheehan speech at Venice UMC

Hello Rev. Sisk and greetings in the name of our lord Jesus Christ,

I've returned today from my August vacation. I pray that you are well and didn't feel neglected by the lack of response to your e-mail. For church purposes the April 19 event was meant to provide dialogue, access, and interpersonal connection with some people who have personal investment in their views of the war in Iraq. Petty Officer Pablo Paredes who was facing a court martial for refusing to return to Iraq based on his belief that the war is immoral and illegal also spoke, as did ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the father of a soldier killed in action spoke, and also a veteran of Iraq. Whenever I can, I speak against war and how war never has brought a lasting peace but is a preamble to more violence. I consider that an extension of New Testament gospel.

Teaching the language of peace and understanding is one of the requirements of donning the stole of ordination. Understanding the toll violence takes on humans and seeing the faces of its victims is important no matter how one feels about war. Politics is unavoidable when we live in community--who has power over whom, how that power is shared, and how we apply our faith in engaging one another is important. Paul of Tarsus dedicated much time to just that subject

I am comfortable speaking against violence in all its forms as I deliver the good news to my congregation. At the same time, it is important for people to understand that sometimes a system corrupted by the powers and principalities of which Paul spoke can leave us no"good" choice but only the lesser of two evils. What does a faithful Christian do then?

A church must provide spiritual and moral guidance to our society else it is irrelevant. Our society is in the shape it is because we have too long neglected our responsibility to guide. Here at Venice, a neighborhood of Los Angeles that is extremely active politically, the church must help these people to discern and act faithfully, understanding the power of prayer and fasting in the process that leads to action.

So we open our hearts, minds and doors six days a week for our neighbors to gather and work out their passions and fears, hopes and faith. On Sunday we preach the gospel and praise God for never abandoning us but calling us ever into His embrace.

This church does not take an official position for or against the war, I do not condemn or condone people's political convictions, party affiliation, or action. What I do is insist that they understand the role of their faith and their relationship with God in those convictions and actions. My role is to neither tell others how to think or support those who do but to insist that people do think through their relaitonship with God and what God calls them to do.

I think that if we tried less to judge who is right and who is wrong, less to be conservative or progressive, less to align ourselves with someone else's doctrine, but rather realize that scripture, experience, reason and tradition inform us all and God invites us all into relationship with Him and one another we might discover that none of us is totally right or totally wrong. We might just come to the truth because we cared enough to work it out together.

The blessings and peace of God be yours,

Tom Ziegert, Pastor, VUMC
My response to the Rev. Ziegert will come in the next post.

Katrina Flood Aid: Bleg Burst

Hugh Hewitt suggested a coordinated blog burst to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Instapundit seconded, suggested Thursday, September 1, and is keeping up with the list of bloggers here. N. Z. Bear is aggregating.

Because I am familiar with their work (and because I'm a United Methodist pastor) I highly recommend the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). You can donate here. All money (100%) donated hits the ground at the site of the relief effort stipulated by the donor. UMCOR's administrative costs come from sources other than donations. They also have a list of physical supplies they need - on the Katrina page. UMCOR's main distribution center is about 50 miles from NOLA, and while it was affected, it's operational.

If you are a member of a United Methodist Church, be sure on your donation form to type their name into the form and your donation will be linked to your church (all money goes to UMCOR but your church gets "credit" for your donation.) If you don't have a church and give through this website, then I ask that you type in Aldersgate UMC, Starkville, MS.

On my sidebar, you can click to go to the Red Cross donation site. They, of course, always do good work. There are a number of other charitable organizations well worth your donation, just visit Instapundit for a good list.

Update: Amazon.com who became a donation point for Red Cross during the Tsunami Relief last year initially declined to do so for this disaster. They have changed their mind and are now collecting for Hurrican Katrina Relief. Donate to the Red Cross through Amazon here. (Amazon receives no money for this service, 100% goes to Red Cross.)

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