Would the Great Society’s War on Poverty have been more successful if Lyndon Johnson and Sargent Shriver had donned ball gowns and jumped into the Potomac?
Possibly, at least according to Santa Monica, California’s Ocean Park United Methodist Church, which will host its annual “Fancy Dress Swim to Make Poverty History” on July 13. The church uses the “playful, fun, spectacle of going in the ocean or other bodies of water in fancy dress(es) to attract attention to ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History, launched by Bono of the band U2.” The One Campaign’s goal is for the U.S. to spend at least one percent of GNP on foreign aid, or about $140 billion a year.
Church members and others will slip into their fancy dresses at the church and then run several blocks to splash in the Pacific Ocean to showcase their solidarity with the poor.
Judging from the hairy arms and legs of some of the dress wearers splashing about in the church’s photos of past Fancy Dress campaigns against poverty, the event is an opportunity for some cross dressing. An activist church, Ocean Park United Methodist is gay friendly and is hosting on July 6 a “Love Celebration” to honor “all couples — gay and straight — and their commitments to each other.” All couples, of whatever orientation, who want to renew their vows or get married in the “sacred ceremony” are invited to join in. Of course, the church wants to exploit the California Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex unions.
UNFORTUNATELY FOR THE CHURCH at Ocean Park, the United Methodist denomination officially prohibits any celebration of same-sex unions by its churches or its clergy. Some liberal churches circumvent the ban by hosting rites in public spaces with clergy from other denominations. It is not clear what Ocean Park Church’s specific maneuver will be. But recently, 80 retired United Methodist clergy in northern California announced their availability to defy the ban and preside over same-sex rites.
Theoretically, retired pastors can still be defrocked, but it is unlikely. “We’re willing to challenge the injustice and contradictions of this,” the Rev. Don Fado, a retired United Methodist pastor, told the Sacramento Bee. “There is a lot of support here,” he asserted. “We are called on to provide the full ministry of the church to homosexuals and their families, and, to us, that includes marriage.”
Meanwhile, the southern California United Methodists, at their recent annual conference, resoundingly approved of California’s new homosexual marriage stance. They “support same-gender couples who enter into the marriage covenant and encourage both congregations and pastors to welcome, embrace, and provide spiritual nurture and pastoral care for these families.” They also urged a witness against “heterosexism and any discrimination based on sexual orientation,” and opposition to the “Marriage Protection Act,” which would confine marriage to man and woman, and on which Californians will vote this Fall. Raining a little on the party, a church official reminded the conference that the bishop is “obligated to process complaints” based on the church’s prohibition against same-sex unions.
The 84,000 member California Pacific Conference of The United Methodist Church nonchalantly reported that it lost over 2,200 members last year, continuing a 45-year trend of decline. Methodism in California over the last 40 years, during which the state doubled in population, has lost half its church membership. Despite all the fanfare about “inclusivity” by liberal church prelates there, the legacy of theological liberalism has been near empty churches. The “Fancy Dress Swim” Church at Ocean Park in Santa Monica in 2005 reported only a little over a 100 members and an average Sunday attendance of about 30. Sadly, the church prominently advertises that its sanctuary can be rented for weddings, as clearly its own congregation is not producing very many, of whatever orientation.
THE CONFUSION OVER same-sex unions in California among religious bodies is not confined to United Methodists. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) bishop of the Sierra-Pacific Synod, David Mullen, along with his successor, wrote almost incoherently to their pastors after the California Supreme Court decision: “No pastor is required to preside over any marriage for which s/he does not feel it would be pastorally appropriate to perform such a service,” the bishops said. But pastors who do conduct same-sex rites, along with those who decline, may be “assured of our support for you as you prayerfully deliberate such questions and choose to act out of your pastoral sensibilities.”
Noting that the ELCA denomination does not recognize marriage as any other than man and woman, Bishop Mullen promises that neither he nor his successor have “intentions to bring charges for discipline against a pastor who chooses to solemnize a same-gender marriage, [but] we cannot guarantee that other pastors or congregations will not choose to do so.”
“You might be asking, in the words of Luther, ‘What does this mean?'” the bishops admitted. “Simply put, it means that as pastors in the ELCA, we are expected to abide by the standards and policies of this church, and are not, therefore, constitutionally permitted to solemnize same-gender marriages. This does not mean, however, that you are prohibited from offering pastoral care to same-gender couples who seek the blessing of the church in their lives.”
FAR MORE BOLDLY than the Lutherans, Episcopal Church Bishop Mark Andrus of San Francisco is urging his clergy to push forward full throttle on same-sex unions. “I welcome the ruling of the California Supreme Court affirming the fundamental right of all people to marry,” he enthused in a pastoral letter. “For far too long the onus has fallen on marginalized people to bear the burden of inequalities that exist within the Church, and the decision by our state’s Supreme Court has given us the opportunity to level the playing field.”
Admitting that the Episcopal Church does not yet have canonical rites for same sex couples, Bishop Andrus still urged Episcopalians to volunteer as marriage commissioners in California so they can conduct civil unions for homosexuals. The church should celebrate and exploit the “prophetic opportunity provided by the California Supreme Court’s ruling.” And his diocese will publicly advertise its opposition to the ballot initiative to overturn the court’s same-sex ruling.
There’s also retired Presbyterian minister Jane Spahr, who wed two women at the Marin County Civic Center. Her Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) denomination’s biannual General Assembly coincidentally was meeting at about the same time in San Jose in June, and declined to overturn the denominational teaching defining marriage as man and woman.
Perhaps with the most enthusiasm of any liberal denomination in California, the United Church of Christ’s Northern California-Nevada Conference “received with joy the word of the California State Supreme Court ruling.” The court’s decision is an “affirmation of the Biblical truth we hold so dear — that ALL people are created in the image and likeness of God.” Like the United Methodists, the Evangelical Lutherans and the Episcopalians, the UCC is losing members in California, as it has across the nation, for four decades.
Meanwhile, evangelicals Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Mormons are supporting the “California Marriage Protection Act” that would overturn the California court ruling and define marriage as between man and woman. Their organizing likely will not be quite so flashy as a “fancy dress” dip in the Pacific Ocean. But it might be more effective.