Century Marks

Century Marks

Occupational hazard I

Pastors are experiencing obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans, reports the New York Times (August 1). Clergy Health Initiative, a Duke University survey of Methodist ministers in North Carolina, cites clergy as having a 10 percent higher rate of obesity, for instance. One reason for the health problems: pastors are not taking time off for vacations. "They think that taking care of themselves is selfish, and that serving God means never saying no," says Gwen Wagstrom Halaas, a medical doctor who is married to a Lutheran minister and is the author of The Right Road: Life Choices for Clergy.

Can you do that?

Anne Rice, author of best-selling vampire novels, returned to the Catholic Church in 1998 and stopped writing fiction about the underworld. But recently on her Facebook page she announced to fans that she has "quit being a Christian." She said she remains "committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group." She refuses to be part of a church whose public face is antigay, antifeminist, anti-artificial birth control and antiscience (Facebook.com).

Flagging injustice

Churches throughout India were urged to hoist black flags for a day last month to protest discrimination faced by Christian Dalits, people from low castes treated as untouchables. The protest marks the 60th anniversary of the introduction of free education and reserved government jobs for Hindu Dalits. Such benefits were extended to Sikh Dalits in 1956 and then to Buddhist Dalits in 1990. Christian Dalits, who account for two thirds of some 28 million Christians in India, as well as Muslim Dalits, are denied these rights.

Category mistake

James Alison, Catholic priest and theologian, recalls two iconic images that appeared almost in the same week in 2004. The one pictured Private Lynndie England holding a leashed dog with a pile of humiliated male prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The other image is of two women walking down the steps of the Boston city hall waving a marriage certificate. Alison asks, "To which of these two images does the biblical category of 'Sodom' rightly apply?" It is a category mistake to use the language of wayward behavior to categorize people who are attracted both emotionally and erotically to persons of their own gender, he says. This is just the way these people are, neither by choice nor circumstances, and it is becoming clear that they are capable of "full-heartedness of love for each other," which "is not just lust nor a defect," but in fact is "a gift from, and an access to, God" (Broken Hearts and New Creations, Continuum).

Church do’s and don't's

When Roy M. Terry IV was asked to plant a church in Naples, Florida, he wrote to some wise people, asking them for the top five things they’d do if they were starting a church. From Stanley Hauer­was, his former teacher, he got this ad­vice: “Don’t start a Sunday school. Never have a men’s or women’s group. Don’t have a men’s softball team. Get the congregation involved in a soup kitchen or helping the homeless. Never use the language ‘New Church’; instead use ‘Be­coming God’s Church.’” It was this last point that really struck Terry. He has aimed his Corner­stone United Methodist Church at becoming God’s church, not starting something new or different or better. It is God’s work, not ours, he says (Wordcare, Ekklesia Project pamphlet no. 15).