Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More News: Updates to Stories about Archbishop Nienstedt, Rev. Frank Schaefer, David Gushee, and LDS Church

And finally this morning, some odds and ends providing updates on stories we've discussed here in the past: 

For Minnesota NPR, Madeleine Baran reports that, for the second time since he testified this past April in abuse trials, the testimony of St. Paul-Minneapolis archbishop John Nienstedt has been called into question:

Archbishop John Nienstedt gave a false statement under oath about his knowledge of a priest's criminal conviction for sexually assaulting a child, letters obtained by MPR News show. 
Nienstedt testified on April 2 that he first learned of the criminal conviction of the Rev. Gilbert Gustafson, an archdiocesan priest, "during the last six months." He also claimed little knowledge of Gustafson. "I believe that he is retired," Nienstedt testified. "He's in our monitoring program, and he's living on his own." 
That statement surprised Catholic parishioner LaLonne Murphy, who had written to Nienstedt more than six years ago to inform him of Gustafson's criminal conviction and his ongoing work as a consultant for Twin Cities parishes.  

For previous discussions here of Nienstedt's testimony, and of the situation in his archdiocese, please click the label with his name beneath this posting.

I've reported previously on the disciplining of Rev. Frank Schaefer by his United Methodist Church for officiating at the same-sex wedding of his son. Good news: yesterday at The New Civil Rights Movement site, David Badash indicates that Schaefer was reinstated yesterday by a UMC court, which has announced, "The Rev. Frank Schaefer will remain a clergyman."

I've reported several times here (and here and here) about the journey of the widely-respected evangelical ethicist David Gushee to come to terms with gay people, gay lives, and the ugly response of many Christian communities to those people and lives. Gushee, who teaches at a Baptist university, Mercer, is back in the news now, as he makes available the text of a presentation he will give in early November to the Reformation Project Conference, a gathering of pro-LGBT Christians in Washington, D.C.

As Jonathan Merritt notes, Gushee's text states that he will announce: 

I do join your crusade tonight. I will henceforth oppose any form of discrimination against you. I will seek to stand in solidarity with you who have suffered the lash of countless Christian rejections. I will be your ally in every way I know how to be.

Gushee's text also states,

It took me two decades of service as a married, straight evangelical Christian minister and ethicist to finally get here. I am truly sorry that it took me so long to come into full solidarity with the Church’s own most oppressed group.

As Merritt and Fred Clark at Slacktivist both note, Gushee's change of heart is a big deal, because his reputation as an important evangelical ethicist "with impeccable academic credentials and impeccable tribal credentials" (Fred's summary) now presents a serious problem to the gatekeepers of the evangelical tribe, who will have to work hard to delegitimize a voice they've previously valorized. Merritt also points out that Gushee's journey to solidarity with his LGBT brothers and sisters has everything to do with the fact that he has a sister who is an out lesbian, whose life has been made extremely difficult due to the attitude of Christian churches to her.

Finally, I've reported a number of times here (click the appropriate labels below for these discussions) on the ongoing conversation about gay people and gay lives in the LDS church, after the church took a big hit when it worked hard (and gave much money) to see proposition 8 passed in California. When the significant Mormon contribution to stripping gay people of the right of civil marriage in that state was made public, many Mormons began to distance themselves from their church and to make public statements of support for their gay family members.

The exodus of members from the church of late, and the critical questions being pressed by Mormons who refuse to endorse the church's official anti-gay policies, have clearly rattled top LDS leaders, who have begun to respond to these developments in some interesting — and perhaps promising — ways. Here's one response: as Bradley McCombs is reporting for AP, the LDS church has just posted on its church website an essay admitting that its founder, Joseph Smith, practiced plural marriage, and one of his wives included a 14-year-old girl.

This "news" will come as warmed-over news to many people who have made it their business to study the history of the LDS church and its founding members. What is new about it, however, is that at the most official level possible — from the very top of the church's hierarchical structures — the church is now admitting what historians have long known and said about Joseph Smith.

My take: I see it as all to the good when faith communities that have been caught in dysfunctional moments of fierce defensive reaction to necessary cultural changes can admit their mistakes and try to move on, into the future. I keep waiting for my own Roman Catholic church to do this.

And I wonder why my church can't do this, for God's sake, if the leaders of the hidebound Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints can apparently do so.

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