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Exercising Their Faith
Progressive Christian Group Plans
Walk to Promote Inclusive Vision of Jesus
Elnes had a vision last year for the development of a truly progressive
Christianity-and he promptly tried to forget it.
"It was the plum from heaven that exploded like a hand grenade," Elnes,
pastor at the gay-friendly
Scottsdale Congregational United Church of Christ in Scottsdale, Ariz.,
chuckles. "I wondered what would happen if someone developed a new set
of Christian principles, walked them across the United States, and nailed
them to the doors of America."
After taking long walks from his home to the outlying suburbs of the
Phoenix metro area to get the idea out of his system, he says he accepted
that he wasn't going to rid himself of the vision, and began sharing it
with others. Elnes's vision has blossomed into the creation of the organization
CrossWalk America, which will present a 2006 event aimed at connecting
progressive Christian organizations and introducing the country to a set
of Christian values rooted in love of God, neighbor and self. The 12 principles
being promoted in the walk, known collectively as the Phoenix Affirmations,
are resolutely pro-gay, although the pro-GLBT segments of the document
are far from the only controversial part of the document.
The walk itself is slated to begin in Phoenix, Ariz., on Easter Sunday
(April 16) and conclude in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 3, where a rally
and celebration is planned. Although only six to eight core walkers will
complete the entire route, Elnes and Rebecca Glenn, who are co-presidents
of CrossWalk America, expect thousands of walkers to join them for at
least part of the journey.
The affirmations being promoted through the cross-country walk are 12
declarations that articulate a set of Christian values that include the
- Openness to wisdom from other faiths;
- Care for the earth and its ecosystems;
- Valuing artistic expression in all its forms;
- "Radical inclusiveness" of all people-including God's LGBT community;
- Opposing the commingling of Church and State;
- Seeking peace and ending systemic poverty;
- Promoting the values of rest and recreation, prayer and reflection;
- And embracing both faith and science.
Elnes developed the Phoenix Affirmations late last year, with input
from lay persons and ministers in the Phoenix area. Much of the clergy
input came from the pro-gay group No
Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice, of which he is a member. He noted
that No Longer Silent had formed with the intent of serving as a broadly
progressive response to fundamentalist Christianity, but the organization
had chosen to focus "like a laser" on GLBT issues in the church, since
they had seemed the most pressing. This year, the directors of No Longer
Silent expressed a desire to expand into other areas, while keeping the
focus of their group, so clergy participation in CrossWalk America represents
an expression of that original idea, he said.
While the pro-gay language of the Phoenix Affirmations is sure to challenge
some Christians' idea of following the path of Jesus, Elnes also noted
that people also struggled with the affirmations that validate other faiths,
or express a desire for a strong separation of church and state. Glenn
noted, however, that for every person who came to CrossWalk America expressing
difficulty with certain affirmations, there were others who found those
assertions the key to their embracing the document. Glenn and Elnes encouraged
GLBT Christians to participate in the Walk, whether or not they lived
along the route. Elnes said that some of the GLBT persons and allies he
had talked with liked the Affirmations because they covered issues beyond
that of gay and lesbian spiritual dignity.
"The exciting thing about the affirmations for GLBT people is that they
give an entire set of beliefs," Elnes said. "(Gay people) are so used
to getting shot down for one thing - they can take these and say 'this
is my Christianity.'"
Approximately 40 to 50 volunteers have been working with Elnes and Glenn
to plan the walk. The group is promoting a series of fundraisers this
winter and next spring to raise the $1.3 million needed to cover walk
logistics, produce and distribute a video documentary about the walk,
and create mechanisms to link and strengthen progressive Christian groups
across the country. Many mainline, evangelical and other Christian groups
are in conversations with CrossWalk America about participating in the
walk- either through walking the route, donating logistical support, discussing
the walk and the Phoenix Affirmations at their home churches and in their
communities, or designing miniature walks in their own communities designed
to raise the profile of progressive Christian values.
The organizers of the walk expect to encounter a spectrum of reaction
to the principles they are promoting. Elnes said that he'd rather face
an angry church than have no response at all from a community.
"We want to reach out to people who disagree, find out what their assumptions
are about GLBT people," he said. "We aren't coming at it from a polarized
angle, but looking at why they believe what they believe-not fighting
Beyond reaching out to Christians who feel "spiritually homeless," Elnes
said, and respectfully listening and dialoging with those who disagree,
he and the other walk organizers hope to change the way Americans look
at so-called "Christian Values."
"I hope that Christianity is nudged a couple of inches towards the love
of God, neighbor and self," he said.
Glenn said, "How will we know if we've succeeded? If the news media,
when talking about Christian values, is talking about love, hope and progress."
For more information
about CrossWalk America, including information on how to contribute to
the walk, a map of the walk's planned route and a detailed discussion
of the Phoenix Affirmations, visit www.CrossWalkAmerica.org.
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