Friday, March 10, 2006

Taking back Kansas: Mainstream clergy stand up to theocracy

Something is stirring in Kansas (and Missouri, for that matter). As a friend told me yesterday in a private email, “The point I’m trying to make is that there is a movement a foot.”

In January, I reported on a rally I attended in Lawrence, Kan., that surprised its organizers by drawing hundreds of people from four counties. Prompted by the state Board of Education’s anti-science stand and a host of other ultra-conservative efforts, the rally brought together Kansans who desperately want to turn the state away from what appears to be a rush to theocracy.

Yesterday, I reported on a new organization of clergy and lay people. They held a press conference to declare their opposition to a legislative resolution that would declare Christianity the official, “majority” religion of Missouri.

At the beginning of the week, I ranted (and “rant” is the right word) about how I was sick of living in a world of “can’t.” I decided that I would become the fool and believe the amazing idea that the world doesn’t have to hurt people. I declared then – and declare now – that I am an enthusiastic fool in love with the thought that we CAN change the world into a fair place.

Those three posts may not seem to have much in common with each other or with the idea that there’s something “a foot” in Kansas, but I think they do. What’s happening is that people are waking up and standing up for what they believe. That’s the first step in healing our society and turning it into a place where “can” is the operative word. Can you imagine a culture where fair laws and respect for individuals are the norm?

The movement among clergy in Kansas and Missouri is an interesting example of what’s going on. Moderate, mainstream clergy, including Baptists, Presbyterians, Methods, Lutherans, those from the United Church of Christ and Jewish leaders made efforts in the past to organize, but somehow their efforts lacked energy.

Last year was a turning point, though. From what I hear and saw, it was the religious rights attack on the region’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens that helped spark the change. Those attacks came in the form of constitutional amendments in both Missouri and Kansas banning same-sex marriage. The Kansas amendment also went so far as to ban any form of the “rights or incidences of marriage” for a same-sex couple. (A concept that legal scholars still can’t figure out how to define.)

Meanwhile, clergy in Topeka, Kan., were outraged when the funeral-picketing church of Fred Phelps helped push through a citywide anti-gay vote. The referendum was aimed at striking down an anti-discrimination ordinance.

Clergy leaped into the campaigns against the two proposals. In Topeka, clergy signed a letter opposing the Phelps initiative. In Kansas, 134 clergy signed a letter opposing the constitutional amendment. Many of them spoke at a rally in a Johnson County church on the Sunday before the April 5 vote.

The campaign in Topeka succeeded and a fair law was kept on the books. We lost the fights over banning same-sex marriage in Kansas and Missouri.

Out of those efforts, though, people found each other. Moderate clergy and people of faith realized they weren’t alone. Those of us of a spiritual or secular bent learned that religion didn’t have to be defined by the dominationists who use God as a 2x4 to beat up people.

Today, at least two organizations of moderate clergy and people of faith are at work in Kansas. Both have taken the name of “Mainstream Voices of Faith,” although they aren’t affiliated. One group is in Topeka, and the other includes people from Kansas and Missouri and is centered in the Kansas City area.

I don’t have much information, yet, on the Topeka group. (Can anyone help with that?) However, I can tell you about the Kansas City group.

It's chaired by the Rev. John Tamilio III of Colonial United Church of Christ and the Rev. Heather Entrekin of Prairie Baptist Church, both in Prairie Village, Kan.

Boo Tyson, executive director of the MAINstream Coalition, reports that Voices of Faith has two events coming up.

May 7 - Rally - 3p.m. to 5 p.m., probably at St. Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, although the location may have to be changed because of space limitations.

June 10 - Workshop (location to be announced). Tyson says, “We will try to offer a framework for discussion for how progressive faith values guide us to respond [to today’s challenges.]” Other issues to be addressed at this meeting include those involving human dignity (challenging racial, sexual orientation, and religious discrimination), science and religion (stem cell research and evolution), the creation of a moral economy (living wage, the service-slashing TABOR proposal, budget priorities, public transportation and access to opportunity) and education.

For more information on the Kansas City area Mainstream Voices of Faith, see their fledgling web site or email or

Thomas Frank wrote angrily about “What’s The Matter With Kansas” in the book of the same name. Those of us who are living here now have decided that “what’s the matter” is that we have sat back for too long. It’s time to heal our state.

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