Bishops United calls for universal background checks

Via email:

Citing overwhelming public support, bishops make case for life-saving gun legislation

October 30--Bishops United Against Gun Violence, an ad hoc group of almost 60 Episcopal bishops, today released a briefing paper that “seeks to shed light on new findings indicating that the vast majority of Americans today, including gun owners, support universal background checks prior to all gun sales.”

In the paper, Bishops Ian T. Douglas of Connecticut and William H. Stokes of New Jersey cite a July 2014 poll conducted by Quinnipiac University, which found that 92 percent of voters, including 92 percent of gun owners, support universal background checks. “This new information provides an urgent call for action that can save thousands of American lives each year,” they write.

The paper analyzes gun violence from a theological perspective, as a public health issue and as a political challenge. Clergy minister frequently to survivors of gun violence and to those who have lost loved ones, but they must also “speak out against growing gun violence and work for change,” the bishops write.

Bishops United, was organized in 2013, following the mass shootings at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. The group is convened by Douglas and Bishops Mark Beckwith of Newark and Eugene T. Sutton of Maryland.

“Women who are victims of domestic violence are at very high risk when a gun is in the home,” Stokes and Douglas write. “Guns are a scourge on the streets of our nation’s cities resulting in an extraordinary number of deaths, maiming and imprisonment among young people, particularly males of color. That guns flow to our cities’ streets from states and regions where laws are lax, especially background check laws, makes the issue of universal background checks, and closing gun sale loop holes and so-called ‘straw man purchases’ a nationwide concern,” they add.

The paper includes a series of action steps for bishops, clergy and lay people such as asking members of Congress to support the Manchin-Toomey Amendment in the Senate or the King-Thompson bill in the House. Both of those bills would close many of the loopholes in the current system of federal background checks. The bishops also urge members of the church to support a bill sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) that would close the loophole that currently permits domestic abusers and stalkers to obtain firearms.

“Our political leaders too often seem to be paralyzed in the face of the money and activism of gun manufacturer and gun-owner lobbyists,” Douglas and Stokes write. “The expressed desire of most Americans for action on a matter that concerns the common good – universal background checks – is being held hostage by those with financial power and a clear interest in the unfettered sale of guns. In political terms, this borders on corruption. In theological terms, it is sinful.”

Bishops United Against Gun Violence is an ad hoc group of nearly 60 Episcopal bishops who have come together to explore means of reducing the appalling levels of gun violence in our society, and to advocate for policies and legislation that save lives.

Bishop Ian T. Douglas, a co-author of the briefing paper has also spoken via You Tube to the people of this diocese about universal background checks.

Apple CEO talks about gifts from God

Apple CEO Tim Cook has written an essay for the Bloomberg Business Week website. It includes this:

For years, I’ve been open with many people about my sexual orientation. Plenty of colleagues at Apple know I’m gay, and it doesn’t seem to make a difference in the way they treat me. Of course, I’ve had the good fortune to work at a company that loves creativity and innovation and knows it can only flourish when you embrace people’s differences. Not everyone is so lucky.

While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.

Being gay has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be in the minority and provided a window into the challenges that people in other minority groups deal with every day. It’s made me more empathetic, which has led to a richer life. It’s been tough and uncomfortable at times, but it has given me the confidence to be myself, to follow my own path, and to rise above adversity and bigotry. It’s also given me the skin of a rhinoceros, which comes in handy when you’re the CEO of Apple.


Episcopal Relief and Development reports on efforts against Ebola

Vanessa Pizer, a program officer on Episcopal Relief and Development's international development team, filed this report from yesterday's conference sponsored by the Earth Institute's National Center for Disaster Preparedeness at Columbia University on the Ebola crisis in West Africa and the perceived Ebola crisis in the United States. She writes:

A common concern among the panelists is how fear and political polemics, rather than science, are shaping public views and policy in the United States. They discussed how missteps on the part of the hospital in Dallas and the CDC’s seemingly inadequate response have exacerbated fears and undermined the medical community’s credibility. On the other hand, it was interesting to learn that ultimately the CDC has no authority over state and local hospitals’ and governments’ disease response, as long as these institutions act within the law. So even though it is potentially very damaging for state leaders to enact mandatory quarantines or travel bans, there is little the CDC can do to stop them. Dr. Irwin Redlener, Director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, highlighted the importance of training staff from all hospitals in the US in proper disaster and disease management. He pointed that since 2003, funding for such programs has decreased from $500 million to $250 million per year. In addition, since 2008, nearly 50,000 public health jobs have been lost.

The insights shared by the panelists currently in or recently returned from West Africa were the highlight of the conference. Stories of resiliency and determination among affected communities came from experts such as Dr. Ranu Dhillon, a physician and Senior Health Advisor at the Earth Institute, who is working with the Government of Guinea to put into place protocols and health services needed to contain cases in Conakry. Dr. Dhillon said Guinean health authorities and their partners are making progress, but a huge hurdle still remains – until deep community engagement, based on mutual trust and respect, is achieved, efforts to contain the disease will be slow. He elaborated on how funeral rites and caring for the sick are more than just deeply ingrained traditions: they are how people retain their sense of humanity. This is on top of the many practical barriers that still remain, such as lack of health centers in rural areas, and overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in households, especially in urban areas. Episcopal Relief & Development, working through local Church partners in Liberia and Sierra Leone, is attempting to address these needs by equipping health workers and volunteers with information, protective equipment and relief supplies, but the challenges are still great.

Is you diocese or church taking steps to help fight the Ebola outbreak in West Africa?

General Seminary, EDS and the PB's remarks on Episcopal seminaries

As readers of the Cafe are no doubt aware, two of the Episcopal Church's ten seminaries are beset by internal conflict. The faculty at both Episcopal Divinity School and the General Seminary have expressed significant disagreements and dissatisfaction with their deans. The boards of trustees at both institutions have re-affirmed their confidence in these deans. Two faculty members left EDS for high-profile jobs elsewhere. Most of the full-time faculty at General remains out of work following a series of well-chronicled events, but they and the board are currently negotiating what might be at least a temporary resolution of their difficulties.

In the midst of these conflicts, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's opening remarks to the recently concluded session of Executive Council are worth examination by those who might not typically read the remarks that she and the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings make at the beginning of each session of the council.

As old models become unsustainable in some contexts, dioceses are finding new ways to form leaders – like the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry in Topeka that serves students from four neighboring dioceses. Theological education is much in the news, with active conflict in several places, a result of deep anxiety over looming changes. We have excellent resources for theological education, yet they need to be redistributed to form and train leaders more effectively for new and changing contexts. In some ways, that current reality reflects the increasing economic inequality in the developed world, particularly in the United States. The wealthy have little difficulty in accessing those resources; the poor struggle, yet often the poor discover and create new possibilities out of necessity.

The average Episcopal congregation, with 60 to 70 members attending weekly worship, cannot afford the traditional model of full-stipend paid leadership, a building, and a sufficient program to support its members in their daily baptismal ministry. Nor can seminary graduates with educational debt afford to work in most of them.

Students today can be trained for ordination to the priesthood anywhere, if they can foot the bill. If not, they have much more limited resources in residential seminaries – a couple of them can provide sufficient aid to graduate students with little or no additional debt. Increasing numbers of ordination candidates and lay leaders are being educated in programs like Bishop Kemper School, which require minimal displacement from job and family and produce graduates with little or no additional debt. In order to provide effective formation, those more local institutions and programs work closer to home to gather a community for formation. As has always been the case, the struggling and the poorer communities have tended to be more creative in responding to these changing realities. Most of the residential seminaries we have were started in response to similar challenges – the need for education and the inability to provide it in existing frameworks and paradigms.

The Church of England has made a conscious and canonical shift in its expectation. Those who train for non-stipendiary ministry (NSM) do it in two years; those who expect a “career” take a more traditional three years. One of our seminaries has begun to explore a two-year academic track with an additional practical year. The Lutherans have had a model like that for some time – but it’s four years total, three of the four for academics and the third year as a practicum.

We need responses to changing realities that consider the varied needs of the whole body. We have the canonical flexibility already to permit different paths of formation. What we don’t have is a willingness to make resources available to the whole body. We still live in a system that is far more isolated and independent than interdependent. Each diocese makes individual decisions about how to train students. Each seminary does the same. Each diocese and seminary or training program raises and stewards its own financial and human resources with little churchwide conversation or cooperation.

What do you think of the presiding bishop's remarks? What might they portend for the ten seminaries of the Episcopal Church? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a system such as the Bishop Kemper School?

The presiding bishop says what the church lacks is "a willingness to make resources available to the whole body." Given that each of the church's seminaries must sink or swim financially on it own, how might such a willingness be cultivated?

Program, Budget and Finance begins triennial budget work

Excerpted from Episcopal News Service by Mary Frances Schjonberg:

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When we criticize the Church

Micah J. Murray, in the Huff Post Religion blog, talks about "growing up" in understanding about the neat and tidy version of Christianity:

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Archbishop of Canterbury on child abuse and immigration

Two Telegraph articles, written by Georgia Graham and John Bingham, came from The Archbishop of Canterbury's words to members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Westminster.

From "Justin Welby: I broke down in tears at horror of Church child abuse", saying the church had "failed terribly":

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A big red door is not enough

Rhonda Waters writing in the Anglican Journal discusses a generation that is not hostile to church - they just don't know it exists:

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Barnett-Cowan named interim Secretary General for Anglican Communion

Anglican Communion News Service reports that the Revd Canon Dr Alyson Barnett-Cowan has been appointed as Interim Secretary General for the Anglican Communion:

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African primates, TEC bishops issue communiqué

Archbishops and Bishops of Burundi, Central Africa, Southern Africa, Tanzania, West Africa, Haiti, and the U.S. have issued a communiqué: Transformation through Friendship. From Episcopal News Service:

The following is a communiqué issued by Primates and Bishops of Africa and The Episcopal Church on a recent groundbreaking meeting.

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Race as a social construct: when white wasn't white

VOX reveals map from which covers a decade of immigration to the US, from 1892 to 1903 that shows how conceptualizing race has changed. Also the maps show how this continues to be used to "prove" some people are better than others and be used to perpetuate systemic racism:

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Concerns that TREC does not understand Executive Council

The Executive Council, meeting in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, discussed how to respond to report of the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church. According to the report in the Episcopal News Service, Steve Hutchinson, chair of Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission, the Committee and the Executive Council:

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The negotiations at GTS over faculty's return appear stalled

In a blogpost just published tonight, the eight forcibly-resigned General Theological Seminary faculty gave the first status update on the negotiations with the Board of Trustees on their reinstatement since these negotiations began approximately a week ago.

According to the statement, negotiations have halted around the idea of an ombudsman.

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The 'Nadia Problem': Tokenism and the Church

Emmy Kegler, a soon-to-be-ordained pastor in the ELCA, and Eric Worringer, an ordained pastor, have written a blog post that asks an important question: Do we have a 'Nadia Problem?'

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Major Israeli construction company announces it will no longer build settlements

Africa Israel, a major real estate holding company, held an event yesterday to announce that it would no longer participate in building projects in East Jerusalem or the West Bank. According to the CEO, Oren Hod, "We are not building beyond the Green Line."

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Bishop of Georgia on GTS and social media

Yesterday, in his regular email communication to the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Scott Benhase speculated on the role social media has played in the on-going events at General Theological Seminary.

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Bishop of Western Mass walks around the diocese

Bishop Douglas Fisher, of Western Massachusetts, has announced his intention to travel around each part of his diocese, beginning with a 60 mile tour of Worcester County.
There is nothing so much remarkable about that, save his intention to do it by foot.

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Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii divests from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions

At the 46th Annual Meeting of Convention the Diocese of Hawaii's resolution 6, highlighting peace and justice issues in Israel and Palestine, includes divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions due to their support of Israeli occupation.

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Bp Rickel and the Marysville-Pilchuck HS shootings

The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Diocese of Olympia (Western Washington) writes following the shootings at the Seattle area high school:

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The 1% votes more while the 99% vote less...and it matters.

The wealthy turnout to vote at a rate of almost 99% while those making below $10,000 vote at a rate of 49%, especially in non-presidential elections. This has an impact on public policy regarding women, children, the elderly and the poor.

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Long Island Bp Provenzano and Canon Betit recovering from car wreck

From Diocese of Long Island Facebook page:
Bishop Provenzano and Canon Betit recovering from Thursday evening automobile accident

Posted Oct 24th, 2014

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Panel discussion on civil discourse released

On October 22 The Episcopal Church hosted forum called Civil Discourse in America: Finding Common Ground for the Greater Good. The 90-minute webcast originated from Christ Church, Philadelphia (Diocese of Pennsylvania), in partnership with the Diocese of Pennsylvania.

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Reed elected as Bishop Coadjutor in West Texas

The Diocese of West Texas reports:

The Rt. Rev. David Mitchell Reed was chosen Bishop Coadjutor-Elect of the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas at the Special Council of the diocese on Saturday, October 25, 2014, held at TMI – The Episcopal School of Texas in San Antonio.

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Queen approves women bishops in Church of England

The Belfast Newsletter reported this week:

Measures paving the way for the appointment of women as bishops in the Church of England have received royal assent from the Queen, Speaker John Bercow has announced.

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More U.S. Christians turn 'churchless'

From Religion News Service:

If you’re dismayed that one in five Americans (20 percent) are “nones” — people who claim no particular religious identity — brace yourself.

How does 38 percent sound?

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Bishop Sisk offers an update on resolution of General Seminary's crisis

General Seminary has issued a release that, while typically indirect in its language, seems to indicate that Bishop Mark Sisk, chair of the board of trustees, and the eight faculty members who had staged a walkout and were then fired, have agreed on the terms of the faculty's reinstatement.

It is worth noting, however, that the release quotes a faculty statement that is four days old. There is no confirmation from the faculty this evening that the matter is settled.

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Ebola and social media

The power (and curse) of social media is again being debated during the Ebola crisis, especially after each new case in the US hits the front page.

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The seal of the confessional and child abuse

Archbishop of York John Sentamu says priests in the Church of England should no longer be bound by the centuries-old principle of confidentiality in confessions when they are told of sexual crimes committed against children.


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The new wave of book banning: Poverty and class

Some folks don't want kids reading reality-based portrayals of poverty and class:

More worrying, however, is the recent rise in efforts to get books banned that cover poverty and social class. At a time when rising inequality and the demonisation of poorer people (both in the UK and the US) is commonplace, such attempts to remove books that depict the reality of life for people who are struggling should concern us all.

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Spelling out end of life views: a spiritual act

Religion News Service, Spelling out your views for end-of-life care is a "spiritual’ act:

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Case dropped against first Ugandans arrested under anti-gay bill

Vox has the good news:

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Episcopal leaders support repeal of casino gambling in Massachusetts

Episcopal Church leaders are at the forefront of the campaign to repeal the legalization of casino gambling in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe reports on an interfaith prayer service last night at Harvard University's Memorial Chapel:

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Episcopal Church making uneven progress in repenting of racism

Last night at St. Philip's Cathedral, Episcopalians in the Diocese of Atlanta attended a service of repentance and reconciliation in response to the sin of racism.

In a pastoral letter announcing the service, the Rt. Rev. Rob Wright, the first African American bishop of the diocese wrote:

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The Rev. Jon White named next editor of Episcopal Café

The Rev. Jon M. White, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, in Beckley, West Virginia will become the new editor of Episcopal Café on November 25, the Café’s founding editor Jim Naughton announced today.

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Bishop calls for prayers following Parliament Hill shooting

From André Forget's article in the Anglican Journal:

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Episcopal Bishop on marriage equality in Wyoming

Michele Richinick on MSNBC:

Wyoming on Tuesday became the 32nd state to legalize gay marriage, joining several other conservative areas in allowing same-sex weddings.

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Social media and the events at GTS

We are interested in hearing your thoughts on the role that social media--specifically blogs, Facebook and Twitter--played in the events that unfolded over the last several weeks at General Theological Seminary. It feels to us as though the Episcopal Church has just been through a new experience and we'd like to try to understand it better.

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Episcopal Church in Minnesota forgives 1.2 million in loans

The Trustees of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota are forgiving all loans to their faith communities. Their press release:


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GTS faculty: we're ready to return to work

From Facebook:

Dear Friends,

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Bp of Pennsylvania: Some thoughts on the current moment at the General Theological Seminary and a modest proposal

The Rt. Rev. Clifton Daniel, 3rd, Bishop Provisional of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania and member of the Board of Trustees has issued the following statement:

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Reaction to the Roman Catholic Synod continues

The senior cardinal of Great Britain, Vincent Nichols, has told the Telegraph that he believes the statement released by the recent Synod of Roman clergy did not go far enough to welcome all different sorts of families into the church.

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St Louis parents and teachers talk about race with kids

Leslie Scoopmire, seminarian and contributor to Episcopal Café and Danielle (Elle) Dowd, youth missioner for the Diocese of Missouri share how they discuss race with children in class and at home. St Louis Public Radio has the story:

As part of the continued coverage of these issues, St. Louis Pubic Radio, through the Public Insight Network, invited educators and parents to share how they talk about race at home and in school.
PIN_photo_Dowd_101514_0.jpgDanielle and Adam Dowd adopted their daughter, Alice, about a year ago, from Sierra Leone. “My daughter came to the U.S.A. at age 6, and we immediately started talking to her about race. We do not try to hide any information from her. We try to give her as much info as possible and then listen to her, and let her form her own opinions. She finds it all very interesting and often seeks out books from the library to learn more about the civil rights movement,” Dowd wrote.

Dowd works as the youth missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, supporting and overseeing youth groups throughout the diocese. “Many of the youth and youth groups that I work with are very interested in issues of social justice,” she wrote. “When I talk to youth groups and parents, these things come up. As a transracial family, we talk about race at home almost every day.

“I try to give historical context while not relegating racism as ‘history.’ It is something currently happening as well. I also try to explain systematic racism, which is ‘prejudice plus power’ ... the power (via representation in media, government, heads of corporations) to carry out those prejudices.” Dowd dismisses the notion of color blindness as a “privilege that people of color do not have.” “Color blindness erases the experiences of people of color and does nothing to dismantle racism, “ she wrote....

Leslie Scoopmire, St. Louis County

PIN_photo_Scoopmire1014.jpg“I have three kids: One is a young adult, 20, at college; one is a senior in high school, 17; and one is a freshman in high school, 14. I also just retired (from the Pattonville School District) after teaching middle and high school for 27 years. “With my own kids, (conversations about race occur) over situations they encounter at school, among their friends, or in the news. With my students, it was in discussing historical situations or the news.

“In history class, I would usually talk about the Civil War amendments (especially equal protection and due process clauses), Reconstruction, etc., and go from there.” Regarding the Brown case, “my son (Scott, 14) and I … talked about white privilege … “We also talked about the common tactic of criminalizing a suspect to justify their death at the hands of the police. We also discussed the two different ways the expectation of due process actually played out in this situation. We also talked about the double standard of rushing to judgment in this case, and that overreacting can inflame a situation.”

“Listen to the young people, and be open and honest. Talk about being aware of presumptions we all bring to the table. Treat kids and young people with respect and encourage examining our own views. Discussions should be conversations, not lectures. Be aware that the words an adult uses are heavier than one may realize, and can have a great impact. Be clear yourself, about your own views and attitudes. Remember that very few situations are clear cut.”

[Photo of Dowd family by Graham Gardner provided by the family.
Photo of Scoopmire family from family.]

ENS has this comprehensive report the Episcopalian presence in Ferguson:

Danielle Dowd was back in front of the Ferguson police department Oct. 15, just two days after being arrested there while protesting the fatal police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown and other African-American youths. Since Brown’s Aug. 9 death, “I’ve come a couple of days every week, except for when my 7-year-old daughter had her tonsils out and I needed to do the mom thing. I’ve been able to form some good relationships with young people, whose voices need to be heard,” Dowd, 26, youth missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri, told the Episcopal News Service (ENS).

Similarly, the Rev. Jon Stratton, director of Episcopal Service Corps in the diocese, spent Oct. 13 – his 30th birthday – marching, singing, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? God’s streets,” and ultimately, being arrested.

They and other Episcopalians were among dozens jailed during a “Moral Monday” action at the Ferguson police department. It was part of a weekend series of acts of civil disobedience across the St. Louis region coordinated by “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and the Organization for Black Struggle.

Continue reading over at ENS.

Ebola in Church: Story from Liberia's Cathedral

Herman_Browne_web_web.jpgThe dean of Monrovia's Anglican cathedral entered voluntary quarantine and then preached about it, according to NPR. The Very Rev. Herman Browne had been preaching about ebola protection in his Sunday sermons from the beginning of the epidemic, but the message hit close to home when his wife's friend fell sick and his whole family was put at risk.

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GTS Alumni/ae Executive Committee releases statement--UPDATED

In the ongoing negative reaction to the Board of Trustees's decision on Friday not to reinstate the forcibly-resigned professors and to fully support the controversial dean, today, the Alumni/ae Executive Committee of the seminary issued the following statement, available on their Facebook page:

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Bishop Stokes, a board member, reflects on events at GTS

A statement on the crisis at The General Theological Seminary by Bishop Stokes of New Jersey and a Board Member:

October 20, 2014

Dear People of the Diocese of New Jersey:

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Trustee resigns from the GTS Board

In the aftermath of Friday's contentious decision by the Board of Trustees to not reinstate the forcibly-resigned faculty members, and to fully back the dean of the seminary, the reverberations continue to echo.

Yesterday evening, trustee Jeffrey Small, Jr of Atlanta, announced his resignation on Twitter:

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"The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord"

Scott Carter, a former standup comedian who once suffered from a near-death bout with asthma, has written a play called, "The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord". Carter's play is about spiritual questions from the perspective of the three men and, for Carter, is a means of understanding the spiritual questions of three individuals who wrestled with significant existential questions:

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Bp Dietsche of NY issues statement on GTS, calls for reinstatement of faculty

This statement was sent as an email to the Diocese this morning

Sunday, October 19, 2014

My brothers and sisters,

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Catholic Bishops fail to welcome gays, divorced Christians

On Saturday at the Vatican Extraordinary Synod on the Family, efforts to welcome LGBT and divorced Catholics failed:

Catholic bishops scrapped their landmark welcome to gays Saturday, showing deep divisions at the end of a two-week meeting sought by Pope Francis to chart a more merciful approach to ministering to Catholic families.

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Bp Breidenthal dismayed by GTS Board action

UPDATE: see below re: Diocese of California resolution.

The Rt Rev. Tom Breidenthal, Diocese of Southern Ohio, has posted a public statement about the General Theological Seminary Board of Trustees actions on Friday. From his Facebook page:

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