Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Justice Group Pickets a Familiar Location

Samantha Tillich, Staff Writer

The pastor and congregation of Bearlberry Presbyterian Church organize more than a dozen protests each year in their pursuit of peace and justice. Last week, they found an unusual target: themselves.

Bearlberry--the largest Presbyterian church in southeast Montana--keeps a simple mission statement: actively work for peace and justice in Jesus’ name. The church’s Social Justice Committee plans and executes some form of protest at least once a month. Members have written letters criticizing the United States’ presence in Iraq, have boycotted national retailers over issues such as sex discrimination and health care for workers, and have even picketed City Hall.

Recently, the committee decided to take on the porn industry. Local high school students were caught passing around copies of a hardcore sex magazine called Fuzz. The magazine had gained an unusually large underground following at Bearlberry High School, so the committee decided to send a delegation to lodge a protest with the publisher.

Amie Jo Wheaton, chairperson of the Social Justice Committee, had a better idea. “Most operations of this sort are owned--well behind the scenes, of course--by a large conglomerate. The best way to stop this smut is to tell the public who is really responsible. Publicize the real producers of porn, and shame them into action. Who knew it would turn out to be us?”

As Wheaton dove into Fuzz, she was able to trace ownership of the magazine to Paradox Publishing. Wheaton was stunned. Paradox is a small, for-profit company established by the Bearlberry Presbyterian Church to support its peace and justice ministries. The company primarily produces books about peace or the environment. It also puts out a few collections of feminist fiction each year. Somehow, in 2001, Fuzz was added to the Paradox repertoire.

“Obviously,” said Wheaton, “Paradox came to own Fuzz by mistake, but our committee was ready to stay the course with this.” Wheaton and her crew continued their plans to protest, and last Saturday, as mourners gathered for the funeral of Bearlberry Presbyterian’s oldest member, the church’s own Social Justice Committee struck.

More than 40 people picketed on the church lawn with signs such as “Stop the Smut,” “This Church Supports Pornography,” and a misplaced “No More Blood for Oil” banner. The crowd chanted slogans, making it difficult for the church’s pastor, Paul Bigglehoff, to conduct the funeral. The next day, even more protesters gathered during the worship service. By some estimates, there were more people outside than the 200 or so worshippers inside.

On Monday, Bigglehoff held a press conference to address the situation. “As the church pastor, I fully support the committee’s decision to fight the evil of pornography. Yet, as the church’s executive leader and--I’ve just learned--an ex officio member of the Fuzz editorial board, I must make no comment to the charges that the church is peddling porn. Our board will review all the information at an emergency meeting this evening.”

The closed meeting was by all accounts a raucous affair. After nearly three hours of yelling, arguing and a short opening prayer, the group ultimately decided to keep Fuzz. Wheaton, along with most of the members of her committee, was angered by the decision. “Before, we were pornographers unbeknownst to ourselves. Now, we are knowingly producing porn. I may hold back a part of my pledge over this.” Wheaton paused, then thrust her fist straight into the air and said, “And the protests will continue!”

A second press conference the next day did not divulge the reasons the church decided to keep its ties with the porn magazine. The church’s lawyer would only say the board believes it is in the church’s best interest to continue publishing Fuzz, and the church will receive a full-page advertisement in the magazine each issue at no cost. One source who wished to remain unnamed said that Fuzz was the most profitable product Paradox produced. “It pays for all of our peace and justice work and the pastor’s Christmas bonus,” the informant said.

No one is sure how this issue will play out in the church. Someone suggested there may be a need for “porn” and “non-porn” pew racks in the sanctuary. Some have hopes that the magazine will be a great marketing tool. Others wonder if the church can endure the strain of dissension. The future for Bearlberry Presbyterian remains uncertain.

In a final twist to the story, the church received some startling and unrelated bad news. Scot Gorgerson, Bearlberry Presbyterian’s youth pastor since 2001, mysteriously disappeared on Sunday afternoon. A secretary also discovered that the entire contents of his filing cabinet were missing. His disappearance is being investigated as a missing persons report, and no foul play is suspected.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Church Hopes for Bishops “of the People”

AP--In an effort to be more responsive to the needs of the people, The United Methodist Church has announced a new format for choosing Bishops, the denomination’s top clergy leaders. Instead of allowing regional bodies known as Jurisdictional Conferences to elect Bishops, the church has signed on with the FOX network to produce a new reality show called Mitre Muster, the United Methodist News Service (UMNS) announced Friday.

Mitre Muster will feature 80 candidates vying for only 20 vacant episcopal seats in the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination. Veteran rocker Mick Jagger and Lutheran scholar Martin Marty have already agreed to judge the event, and negotiations with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher are nearly complete, reported UMNS. The judges will narrow the original contestants down to 30, and viewers will have the opportunity to make a toll-free call to choose the ultimate winners.

The idea for Mitre Muster passed the 2004 General Conference, The United Methodist Church’s highest authority, with minimal resistance. The Council of Bishops released a statement stating that it is “eager for this new process to begin. Mitre Muster will show the nation that United Methodist Bishops are both talented and well rounded.” Contestants on the show will participate in three phases: talent show, theological reflection and swimsuit competition. “It will give us Bishops that much-needed opportunity to shine,” said Bishop Edgar Rowdy of the Great Lakes Area. “I wish this was around when I was elected. I’ve got an awesome liturgical dance based on Tertullian’s “Against Praxeas.”

Should the new television show prove successful, the church has other projects in the pre-production stage. In particular, the Methodists are working on a show that puts a new twist on its ordination process, Who Wants to Preach a Sermon? Church officials have set a target of Fall 2006 for the Mitre Muster’s debut.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Good News Meets the Mean Streets

Gerald Calvin, Staff Writer

The International Bible Society is always looking for new ways to induce people to read holy scripture. Over the years, IBS has produced specialty Bibles for teens, women, men, and more recently, for cowboys and motorcycle enthusiasts. Their latest product is designed to reach some of the most down-and-out people in society: prostitutes. The Word for Hos, due to hit the streets next week, is the culmination of several years of work.

A team of translators, Bible scholars and marketing experts prepared an entirely new paraphrase of the Old and New Testaments they call the Redlight Version. The language was chosen to appeal to ladies of the evening while maintaining the basic meaning of the biblical texts. An example of the new version is given below. It comes from the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well from “John’s Shout Out.”

Jesus went, “Yo, Bitch, give me some water.”

And she was like, “Why you gettin’ all up in
my business, Freak?”

And he was like, “I oughta smack you around
some, Girl. You don’t know who you’re messin’
with. If you did, you’d be begging to suck on my
water hose. And I ain’t playin’.

IBS Spokesman Paul Rosenbaum said the crew left no stone unturned in their research. “This was our most extensive effort yet,” he said. “Our people were so passionate about this they were volunteering to be a part of the project. I’ll bet some of our associates spent more time with the prostitutes than they did with their own families during that time.”

The project leader, John “Velvet Daddy” James, agreed. “There was 100% commitment from everyone here at IBS. The most important thing was to get the Gospel to them hos. Their salvation is all that matters.”

Time spent in the field was valuable not only for preparing the paraphrase, but also for creating study guides and other resources to meet the needs of streetwalkers. One guide that focuses on King David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba encourages whores to refuse to serve married men. Another one, from Proverbs, gives tips on avoiding sexually transmitted diseases. Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer describes how a harlot can pray at all times--even while working.

The new edition comes bound in a sturdy mock leather cover, and the pages are faux vellum to resist stains. There will even be a built-in roach clip, pockets for clean needles, and a secret compartment for cash. The first shipments will be sent to selected markets, and free promotional copies will be given away in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and near the Capitol in Washington, D.C.