This week in the Biblical Witness Fellowship
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue May 30, 2006 at 09:32:13 AM EST
John Dorhauer, Talk To Action writer
Oh, this really is too much fun.

On April 1, the Biblical Witness Fellowship posted an invitation (which was enveloped in another not so clever attempt to smear the United Church of Christ - the church over which they have wet dreams trying to come up with new ways to castigate them). The invitation was to the "thousands" who belong to the "Fellowship of the Ejected."

What is the "Fellowship of the Ejected?" Oh, you really are going to love this:

it is any "ordinary committed Christian" (the omission of the comma is theirs, not mine) in the UCC who has been denied: pastoral standing; in-care status (the designation we give to those in seminary preparing for ministry); ordination. Or it may also include those who have been removed from lay leadership; church membership; or even the entire denomination.

The invitation itself was for these "thousands" to post their stories about being `ejected' from the UCC.

 This is their response to what they have referred to as the "whimsical new UCC ad" (which, by the way, you can view by clicking here or on the picture of the thumb pushing a button in the left column on the front page here at talk2action), an ad which features people being ejected from their pews for various reasons. The ad, which played very well to those who have historically felt disenfranchised from of by the church, is viewed by the BWF and its ilk as the newest indicator of how far gone the United Church of Christ is.

The invitation was clearly a hit: two people in two months have responded.

Oh, dear - so much to write about, so little space in which to do it.

One of the mythologies of these renewal groups is this created narrative that the hierarchy of the United Church of Christ conspires to remove members and ministers from their ranks because they will not tolerate conservative theologies.

I have personally witnessed this and been accused of it myself many times. Goerge Dohm lost his standing as a UCC minister when he a.) returned to a church from which he had resigned to perform services and sacraments - a clear violation of our ethical code; b.) stood in the pulpit of that same church seven months after he resigned and preached that the UCC was like dog-crap cooked into a brownie; c.) continued to meet with ranking members of that church (who called themselves his disciples) to plan the takeover of the church, promising them that is they took it out of the UCC he would return as their pastor. It came as no surprise that a Committee on Ministry found him to be unfit for Ministry in and on behalf of the UCC. And yet George and others to this day believe that there was a conspiracy to remove him because of his conservative theology.

Last week I heard the same thing when a pastor wrote me asking to list him on our supply pastor's list which we post on our Conference Website. I wrote him back asking if he had taken Boundary Training - our policy is that we do not list anyone who has not. He was the fourth one THAT WEEK to whom I had sent the same response.

When I checked his file I saw that he had refused to take boundary training four years ago when it became mandatory for all our clergy with standing. The policy was clear: take it, or lose your standing. He did not take it - he in fact refused. Rather than lose his standing, he retired. A letter in his file reveals that he was allowed to keep his standing as long as he did not perform active duties as a pastor of any kind - it even named specifically in that letter short term pulpit supply. I wrote him back and reminded him of  HIS OWN DECISION.

His response to me was telling: "I guess I wonder why this is called "Boundary Training" and is it being used
>to weed out those who theological views that do not comport with certain
>General Synod decisions?"

The irony here is that I have close friends who lost their standing before the same committee because they would not do the Boundary Training, (and since I served on the Committee that made that decision, I had a hand in them losing their standing) and he got to keep his standing - but I am still accused by him of fabricating this policy to weed out conservatives.

This particular example truly displays the tendency of this faction to take the truth, filter through their lenses, and come out with something that just doesn't make any sense.

What is profoundly sad here is that while the United Church is doing everything possible to build a table of fellowship at which all are welcome, this radical faction continues to conspire to foment dissent; they continue to train activists to pull out entire churches; they continue to put into print articles with half-truths and outright lies in order to entice people to leave us. And when people do leave, they turn around and accuse us of a witch-hunt that does not exist.

Of the two people who responded to this invitation to join the "Fellowship of the Ejected," one writes:

"Don't believe one moment that the UCC is "open and affirming." They are "selectively opening and affirming." I have found if you ask the hard question such as "How can bisexuality be considered a Christian lifestyle because it automatically engages one in adultery?" I have constantly been ignored by conference and denominational officials. I'm glad to be out of the UCC."

Ignore for a moment her misunderstanding about the sexual orientation to which she refers in her statement. It is her final sentence that is most revealing to me: "I am glad to be out." This is not a woman who was rejected: she left. That she may have encountered reasonable people who did not agree with her is probably a given. I do not believe that any one of them said to her - "Get out! We reject you." She left, and is glad of it.

That is good - for her own sake more than anything else. But to construe such decisions as the acts of a church hierarchy kicking people out because of their theological views is just another in a long line of fabricated half-truths that is fast losing its cache.

I mean, really: two people wrote back.


We HAVE three weapons, and our weapons are THREE !

Gossip, innuendo, slander, and Biblical literalism !....


We have FOUR weapons, and our weapons are FOUR !

Gossip, innuendo, slander, Biblical literalism, and fits of picque !


We have FIVE weapons, and our weapons are FIVE !......"

John, I just couldn't resist.  Jonathan Hutson made this spoof - and better - but he's not around at the moment and this one seemed ripe for it.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue May 30, 2006 at 11:59:00 AM EST

I love a good Python reference, esp when used as a parody of the BWF.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue May 30, 2006 at 04:08:32 PM EST

Well, the thumb icon link to the UCC  TV ad comes and goes here on talk2ation, so I edited into your story the UCC web address where they show the TV ad you mention.

Hope you don't mind.


_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Tue May 30, 2006 at 12:53:59 PM EST
Why, I appreciate it. thanks!
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Tue May 30, 2006 at 04:07:28 PM EST

But what in the world is "boundary training" and why do some people refuse to take it? I've taught therapists (and some chaplain residents) about boundaries but I expect you mean something less prosaic.

by Psyche on Wed May 31, 2006 at 02:09:03 AM EST
is a new concept, and it means almost exactly what it says: pastors are taught what appropriate boundaries are. Another way to say it is learning where to draw lines. What are appropriate sexual boundaries? Ethical boundaries? Social boundaries? Time management boundaries? You get the idea. They are required for our clergy to maintain standing, and for two very good reasons. The first is moral or ethical: we must ensure that the congregations to which pastors are being called are going to be safe from sexual predators, or just from those too naive, ignorant, or stupid to know where proper boundaries are. Sexual exploitation of parisioners at the hands of their pastors always pays a heavy toll on countless individuals; and the church historically has done very little to help ministers understand the power dynamics inherent in their relationship with the members of their church. Boundary training is an effort to help them understand not only what is expected of them, but why. And secondly, on a much more practical level, we have reached a point in time when Insurance carriers are not going to cover a pastor for liability unless they can demonstrate that they have a good grasp of what is expected of them when they take a church. So, the training helps the insurance provider feel that they are lowering their risk of coverage for liability of the pastor has taken this training.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Wed May 31, 2006 at 08:28:51 AM EST
I too thought that perhaps Boundary Training was something more complex than that... but your explanation is very clear that it is training about proper boundaries for clergy...

So - I'm a bit confused...

Exactly why would UCC clergy feel that Boundary Training was meant to filter out conservatives??

It sounds like your basic risk management program to me...


by EmilyWynn8 on Wed May 31, 2006 at 03:30:50 PM EST

Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Wed May 31, 2006 at 07:07:31 PM EST

It does clarify some things. If I get it straight, BT sounds like some combination of counseling considerations, ethics training, and risk management. Don't have a sense for how intensive the training is. Especially if it's more than a lecture and has experiential elements, I could understand "conservatives" being threatened by the requirement.

Aside from a basic mistrust of anything newfangled and wanting to believe that they know everything already, conservatives could be offended that someone is challenging behavior and thinking that is part and parcel of the way they operate. As dogemperor has documented on many occasions, some clergy can be quite intrusive; violating emotional, spiritual, and even physical boundaries to the point of abuse - while thinking they are doing God's work. Doubt that they would want to hear that such behavior is inappropriate - it's far easier and more self-protective to "blame the messenger."

The minister you mention above who returned to a church from which he'd retired was clearly violating church and congregation boundaries. When all is said and done, I suppose the whole renewal movement and the IRD's incursion into mainstream churches could be seen as boundary violation on a systemic scale.

Glad to hear about boundary training. Sounds like it would be helpful to those who are receptive and "weed out" (whoops) those who don't belong in the denomination. Maybe it could also be used to help inoculate clergy and congregations against church takeovers as well if such takeovers are framed as one kind of boundary violation.

by Psyche on Wed May 31, 2006 at 10:19:43 PM EST

You make some very good observations which, honestly, had not occurred to me. BT standards do mitigate against many of the behaviors, tactics, and strategies employed by the radical right in their takeover attempts. That it would be perceived as a threat to them should not come as a surprise to me. There is an element present in their ideology - I believe - which leads them to believe that the ends justify their means and that they are to be held to a different standard: rules that apply to others do not apply to them because their cause is just. Detroying churches and the pastors who serve them by crossing what ethical peers would deem appropriate boundaries is necessary to do the work that their god has called them do. This seems to me to be an important insight, and I thank you for it.
Shalom, Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer "Time makes ancient good uncouth; we must onward still and upward who would keep abreast of truth." from Lowell, "The Present Crisis"
by John Dorhauer on Thu Jun 01, 2006 at 11:04:43 AM EST

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