Houston Clergy Respond to Gov. Perry

TFN isn’t the only group organizing a public response to Gov. Perry’s Christians-only prayer rally in Houston later this summer. A group of Houston-area clergy are also objecting to the exclusive and politically divisive nature of the event. Earlier this week, they released a letter spelling out their concerns, including these wise words of caution:

We believe in a healthy boundary between church and state. Out of respect for the state, we believe that it should represent all citizens equally and without preference for religious or philosophical tradition. Out of respect for religious communities, we believe that they should foster faithful ways of living without favoring one political party over another. Keeping the church and state separate allows each to thrive and upholds our proud national tradition of empowering citizens to worship freely and vote conscientiously. We are concerned that our governor has crossed the line by organizing and leading a religious event rather than focusing on the people’s business in Austin.

To these thoughtful and brave clergy who are speaking out for religious liberty, TFN can only say, “Amen. May your tribe increase.”

Full text of their letter after the jump. (And if any religious leaders in the Houston area would like to join this effort, you can add your name to the letter by emailing Rev. Jeremy Rutledge.)

June 13, 2011

As Houston clergy, we write to express our deep concern over Governor Rick Perry’s proclamation of a day of prayer and fasting at Houston’s Reliant Stadium on August 6th. In our role as faith leaders, we encourage and support prayer, meditation, and spiritual practice. Yet our governor’s religious event gives us pause for a number of reasons:

We believe in a healthy boundary between church and state. Out of respect for the state, we believe that it should represent all citizens equally and without preference for religious or philosophical tradition. Out of respect for religious communities, we believe that they should foster faithful ways of living without favoring one political party over another. Keeping the church and state separate allows each to thrive and upholds our proud national tradition of empowering citizens to worship freely and vote conscientiously. We are concerned that our governor has crossed the line by organizing and leading a religious event rather than focusing on the people’s business in Austin.

We also express concern that the day of prayer and fasting at Reliant Stadium is not an inclusive event. As clergy leaders in the nation’s fourth largest city, we take pride in Houston’s vibrant and diverse religious landscape. Our religious communities include Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists, and many other faith traditions. Our city is also home to committed agnostics and atheists, with whom we share common cause as fellow Houstonians. Houston has long been known as a “live and let live” city, where all are respected and welcomed. It troubles us that the governor’s prayer event is not open to everyone. In the publicized materials, the governor has made it clear that only Christians of a particular kind are welcome to pray in a certain way. We feel that such an exclusive event does not reflect the rich tapestry of our city.

Our deepest concern, however, lies in the fact that funding for this event appears to come from the American Family Association, an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The American Family Association and its leadership have a long track record of anti-gay speech and have actively worked to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. The American Family Association and its leadership have also been stridently anti-Muslim, going so far as to question the rights of Muslim Americans to freely organize and practice their faith. We believe it is inappropriate for our governor to organize a religious event funded by a group known for its discriminatory stances.

As religious leaders, we commit to join with all Houstonians in working to make our city a better place. We will lead our communities in prayer, meditation, and spiritual practice. We ask that Rick Perry leave the ministry to us and refocus his energy on the work of governing our state.

Signed,

Rev. Dr. Jeremy Rutledge, Minister, Covenant Church, Alliance of Baptists/American Baptist Churches
Rev. Douglas Anders, Conference Minister, South Central Conference of the United Church of Christ
Rev. Paul Beedle, Unitarian Universalist
Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel, Minister, Plymouth United Church, UCC
Rev. Beth Ellen Cooper-Davis, Minister, Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church
Rev. Michael Diaz, Director of Connections, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church
Rev. Pat Farnan, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church
Rev. Lura Groen, Pastor, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Teddy Hardy, Minister, St. John United Church of Christ
Rev. Lori Keaton, United Church of Christ
Rev. Harry Knox, Senior Pastor, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church
Rev. Janice Ladd, Executive Pastor, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church
Rev. Dr. Becky Edmiston-Lange, Co-Minister, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church
Rev. Mark Edmiston-Lange, Co-Minister, Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church
Rev. Mona Lopez, Volunteer Staff Clergy, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church
Rev. Laura Mayo, Minister, Covenant Church, Alliance of Baptists/American Baptist Churches
Rev. Dr. Daniel O’Connell, Senior Minister, First Unitarian Universalist Church
Rev. David Pantermuehl, Grace United Church of Christ
Rev. Adam Robinson, Assistant Minister, First Unitarian Universalist Church
Rev. Ken Richter, Senior Minister, First Congregational Church, UCC
Rev. Bill Royster, United Church of Christ
Rev. Sam Schaal, Transition Minister, Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church
Rev. Robert Tucker, Executive Director, Foundation for Contemporary Theology
Rev. Ernie Turney, Pastor, Bering United Methodist Church
Rev. Bonnie Vegiard, Unitarian Universalist

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17 Comments

  1. Charles
    Posted June 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Good attempt Steve–but not quite true. The United Methodists and a number of the other denominations listed (and some that could have been listed but were not listed) are traditionally Christian in nature. Jesus did not boot anyone, so we are not authorized to boot anyone either. The atheist/agnostic beef is REALLY almost exclusively with the far right wing fundies and evangelicals who believe that they are the only—what they call—“true” Christians. Basically, it is a first floor broom closet claiming that it runs the whole mansion. Please direct your indignities to the broom closet. Thanks!!!

  2. Kirsten J.
    Posted June 22, 2011 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Hi Steven- good to know. Thank you for the information.

  3. Posted June 21, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Kirsten, Coragyps, and Quentin: Some of the religious leaders who signed the letter are atheists themselves, not Christians. The Unitarian Universalists are about 50% humanist/atheist; this is known as religious humanism. About half of UUA ministers are humanists (i.e. atheists) and I’m sure some of the signers are. The United Church of Christ (UCC) are also quite liberal (in a religious sense), perfectly tolerant of atheists and nonbelievers although theist themselves. For both of these denominations, Christianity is only one source of their theology, so it is not correct to give credit to “Christians” for their tolerance of agnostics and atheists. Most of these religious leaders would not describe themselves as Christians but as simply as Religious. I agree their tolerance and acceptance of atheists is refreshing compared to what we usually see in Texas, but the reason is education in a wide variety of religious histories and sources, including religious humanism, not solely in Christianity.

  4. Charles
    Posted June 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Well, first Mary, let’s get the pronunciation correct:

    “Leeyuv and layut leeyuv.”

  5. Mary
    Posted June 17, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    When did Houston become the “live and let live city?”

  6. Charles
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Rev. Jeanne. I am a United Methodist too. Perhaps you can answer a question for me. WHY do these churches seek the support of government? Ain’t Jesus enough for them? Has the Holy Spirit jilted them so badly that they most run to the state for shelter? What in the “herp derp” is it?

  7. Rev. Jeanne Devine
    Posted June 16, 2011 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I hope a wide array of religious leaders will add their names to this list. Historically, many faith groups came to this country seeking freedom to practice their religious faith free of government support or control. We have somehow found ourselves in the late 20th and now the 21st century in a different landscape, when some religious groups seek government support for their views and some politicians seek religious support for their views.

    Some relgious groups who sought to practice their faith free of government support or control include Baptists, Roman Catholics, Mennonites and Quakers. I hope to see some of them represented on an expanded list, as well as more than one name from my own religious community, the United Methodist Church. If I lived in the Houston area, I would gladly sign.

    Rev. Jeanne Devine
    Austin, TX

  8. Adam R.
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Fundies, in their arrogance, are creating a needless war with their fellow citizens. It will cost them dearly in the long run.

  9. Kirsten J.
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Quentin and Coragyps-

    I agree with you both. Progress is being made, inch by inch. It definitely gives me hope.

  10. Quentin Dergan
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I have to completely agree with you Kirsten, just reading this brings me great happiness, it’s amazing to see Christians that care about others as much as themselves. I hope this gets further, as an Atheist and Gay rights supporter, I’m 100% for this!

  11. Coragyps
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Kirsten:
    I, too, was almost startled to see us atheists included. Progrss, d’ya think?

  12. Kirsten J.
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    As an atheist I really appreciate the religious leaders including us in their letter and treating us with respect rather than contempt. It has been rare, in my experience, to see Christians do this, publicly at least. I respect everyone’s right to their own religious beliefs as long as they are not imposed upon me.
    Acceptance of others with differing views from yourself is the first steps towards understanding and community-building.
    “Non- believers” were also included in President Obama’s inaugural speech. I’m sure many others besides myself appreciated this.

  13. Charles
    Posted June 15, 2011 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    It’s the same old story Harry.

    The rest of the church rolls over and plays dead in the face of evil just like the Catholic Church did during World War II. Here at home, it was all the churches/denominations listed above (and many more) saying, “We don’t won’t to get involved. We’ll just stay quite, lay low, and hope it all goes away—wouldn’t want to upset those on the Religious Right in the interests of “Christian unity.”

    The thing they forgot is that real Christian unity is a mutually respectful and tolerant two-way street. The Religious Right and the churches/denominations that support them have never been interested in Christian unity. They are a law unto themselves, and anyone who does not believe the exact same way that they do is automatically labeled as an enemy of God—and treated that way.

    The way to answer these latter day pharisees is spelled out clearly in the New Testament. You REBUKE them until their heads spin. Then you ice the cake by setting the example that Jesus did in Matthew 23. Then you hammer them day and night with it until no one will respect anything they have to say or until they see the error of their ways—which is most likely never—which means they are in for a very long hammering. Hammer. Hammer. Hammer.

  14. Posted June 15, 2011 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    Too little, too late! Where were all of you the last 30 plus years as these Flase Prophets were spreading their gospel of hate across the United States? I guess it was all inevitable …The U.S.A. WILL become a theocratic dictatorship in the coming years. May not be 2012 (although it well could be) but I’d say within the decade.

  15. abouttime
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    It’s good to hear some more sensible thoughts coming from religious leaders who are not on the far right. I hope they speak up more often. The others, to my mind, give Christianity a bad name.

  16. Posted June 14, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    It’s not a good idea to throw rocks from within a glass house,

  17. Charles
    Posted June 14, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Well, I remember what my deceased Christian fundamentalist Uncle Malcolm used to say. Let’s see if I can recall it. Oh yes: “No matter whatever else it is they believe, our first responsibility as Christians is to tell them that they are wrong.”

    There is a problem with that though. If you do it in a harsh, militant, and totally in your face sort of way, people are not attracted to the gospel. They flee from it—not because of the content of the gospel—but because of the rudeness of the individual in their face.

    We may not agree with what other people believe, but that disagreement is no reason to focus on giving out a harsh, life-destroying punishment for it. Numerous people who come to that meeting with Perry would vote to fire a gay person from their job. That is not just disagreeing with a person or their sin That is putting yourself in the role of judge, jury, and executioner. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” It is not a sin to disagree with another person. It only becomes a sin when one takes it upon themselves not only to disagree but to mete out whatever punishment they believe that person deserves because of what they believe.”

    The people in that stadium will be more than willing to focus on the sins of everyone they hate. They will claim that they hate the sin but not the sinner. Why then do they seek to punish the sinner? If that is justified, does that not mean that they too should be subject to the same harsh punishment for their sins? They forget the nature of the first sin in Eden. If you read your Bible carefully, that sin was not to disobey God. The sin was the desire in Eve’s heart to be like God—to know the difference between right and wrong and be the sole judge of it.

    Biblically speaking, everyone stands within the circle of sin. If you hack your neighbor with a hatchet because of his sin, you are obligated to hack yourself. I am just wondering how much of your own blood you plan to let go of in that stadium.

    .

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