Tags: discrimination, gay, homosexuality, judgment, lesbian, LGBT, New Church, rights
(Sample chapter from Ordained Part II America)
Wednesday September 23, 2009, Bryn Athyn College.
The weekly Wednesday service took place at 10 a.m. in the auditorium. College students were required to attend. Every week a different minister would speak. Sometimes this was a guest speaker, an ordained New Church ministers from out of town. Today an elderly gentleman who served in the congregation of Boynton Beach, Florida, had been invited to address the 180 or so young adults.
He had chosen as his topic: Homosexuality.
Since the topic had been posted in advance, the room was packed. Normally students would try to bend every rule in the book to escape the compulsory Wednesday attendance. But not this time.
The minister was dressed in his white robes and walked confidently, although a little bent and stumbling with age, up to the altar. It occurred to some students at this point that this might turn out to be a rather conservative talk, given the age of the speaker.
He began. “I read from the Word of the Lord in Leviticus: ‘If any one lie with a man as with a woman, both have committed an abomination: let them be put to death. Their blood be upon them.’”
This was not unexpected. Of course a minister would start with Leviticus and then launch into an open-minded and balanced evaluation, using the enlightened teachings of the New Church. The students all looked at the minister on the stage and collectively telepathed him, ‘OK, got it, now move on.’
“In the Writings homosexuality is classed together with adultery. Listen, you young people, there is no doubt about where we as a church stand. Homosexuality is called a foul conjunction. It is a profanation. In the Arcana, and I quote, it is called a foulness contrary to the order of nature.”
Adding several more direct quotes the older minister’s voice got stronger. He radiated absolute authority, a skill he had honed during 45 years of preaching. The students were frowning five minutes into the talk. Some were coughing as if they needed to clear their throats. Bags were shuffled around on the floor, notebooks opened and then closed again.
“A man, or a woman for that matter, who is in the interior love of self, who loves to rule over others, to dominate and compel, may express this through homosexuality. He may be in touch with spirits who flow in from hell and not even know it. A person may have some physiological abnormality that predisposes him to homosexual feelings and behavior.”
He spoke eloquently, not forgetting lesbians either.
The college teachers and ministers who were present in the auditorium kept their faces carefully blank and neutral. Their eyes, though, showed fevered brain activity. They were going to have to do some serious damage control in the days to come.
The students’ faces, virtually without exception, had begun to register anger, disgust, and disappointment. There were a few older students in the audience who handled this experience by seeing the humorous side. They were grinning and rolling their eyes at each other. One particular student needed to shield his face with his hands to hide an attack of the giggles. However, a female student who was graduating this year with a major in psychology and sociology was openly crying.
The minister appeared blissfully unaware of these reactions. He embarked upon a rational, broad-minded, and charitable conclusion to his sermon. At least that’s what he himself thought he was doing.
“How do we deal with homosexuals? How do we deal with lesbians and other degenerate dysfunctions? Are they not also human beings? Here the Writings give us counsel. For example, we can maintain a degree of friendship with these people, without allying ourselves with their evils. We can accept them for the sake of repentance. Just like Jesus did when he dined with sinners. We can assume, for their sake, that their condition is curable. And this is true charity. That does not mean we excuse them or turn a blind eye. No, let the truth be the truth. That does not mean they can be ordained as ministers in the New Church. No, that is an abomination. That does not mean they can get married. No, they can’t. It is an abomination. Let the truth always be the truth.”
The service finished with the minister asking all to rise, the singing of a hymn, and a prayer. In the prayer he requested that Jesus Christ protect all those present from ignorance and sin. Then he resolutely closed the bible, and strode out with the air of a job well done.
The college dean usually made some announcements at this point. Today he came out, stood on the stage in front of all the students, his face pale. He made several attempts to start speaking. But he saw their faces. He saw the hard eyes. He saw the tears. He could not speak. He didn’t want to speak. He was feeling in himself the conflict between his official responsibility and his personal anger. He couldn’t resolve it.
So he simply, and silently eloquent, left the stage again.
Tags: discrimination, equality, feminism, ministry, rights, suppression, women
(Sample chapter from Ordained Part II America)
Mary had grown up in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, as part of the religious community that was called the New Church. Her father worked as an accountant in nearby Willow Grove. Her mother had stayed home most of the years when the children were young, but had lately begun to volunteer at the school and the thrift shop. Mary was the youngest of four siblings.
Bryn Athyn was a nice place to live. Mary loved it and felt a deep sense of home, of familiarity, and of safety. Their house was on one of the side streets to Tomlinson Road, their yard was large, the whole neighborhood was her playground. She knew everyone. The church school where she started in first grade was just up the road, a couple of minutes walking away. It was a fun ritual every morning to wait for the crossing guard to halt traffic and let the kids through. They usually called out to him, “Good morning, George,” even though his name wasn’t George.
Mary loved school, was fond of the teachers, and had a whole bunch of friends that she hung out with throughout those ten years of elementary school. Her friends, of course, lived in Bryn Athyn as well. It was a church school, so all the people who came there, kids, parents, teachers and ministers, were all part of the New Church.
The building itself was very exciting for a young child. The many corridors and extra wings that had been built over the years made the school a maze. The sports fields were right outside. In the summers the outdoors swimming pool, reserved for and maintained by the Bryn Athyn community, was their second home.
In the classrooms the teachers, who were mostly women, would start each day with a story from the bible. The kids all sat on the floor in front of a little altar, which they themselves were allowed to decorate, and the teacher would open the book and read. They sang songs together. As she grew older the class went every morning to attend a worship session in the theater hall, where a minister presented a talk. This wasn’t always fun, but it was so much part of the daily routine that no one really thought about it. The ministers wore white robes, whereas the teacher in the classroom wore her normal clothes when she talked about the bible and Swedenborg.
Bryn Athyn had an elementary school, a high school, and a college. It was natural that Mary’s whole schooling career would take place here. After all, this was where her friends were. She liked the place, she knew the teachers, and the thought of going somewhere else was a little frightening. In high school the pattern of a daily 10-minute worship continued, but now the talks were more fun and more personal. She liked the young ministers making humorous remarks – they were not jokes but close – as they taught lessons about God, angels, or growing up to live a spiritual life. Her closest girl friends during those years began to scoff a little at the continual emphasis on religion in their education, but Mary didn’t mind. There was beauty in the ritual, in the teachings, in the sense of being part of something greater, a church that spanned the globe.
When Mary joined Bryn Athyn College, whose buildings were across the large grassy fields toward the Pike, now maybe an 8-minute leisurely walk from home, she quite consciously selected the religion courses, both the compulsory ones and the optional ones. She had begun to have a silly dream, which she never confided to anyone. The dream was to perhaps choose religion as her major. She had told her parents that she was looking at biology for her major, but that was really only because the biology teacher was this Swedish guy with funny glasses whom she felt was cute. He played guitar in a rock band as well, which was kind of amazing.
She entered college, a sheltered girl full of hopes and dreams, with no personal awareness of the world outside her home town. She had never had sex, never even dated. She did not smoke. She felt completely normal and accepted by her environment. The time for choices in her life was getting closer, but was still a few years away. In her heart she felt drawn to be active in the church, to teach, to minister, to pass on the wonderful knowledge of the life in heaven.
Then a small thing happened. It was a very small thing, so small she might even have missed it. But it shattered her world.
It happened in the Religion 101 class, which was led by a young man called Oliver. He was a teacher of education and religion, and was himself going through theological school. He was a mild young man with a broad smile. During classes with him there always were lively discussions, which he encouraged. They had been reading a chapter in the book Conjugial Love by Swedenborg, a special book since it talked about relationships, marriage, and love. One of Mary’s friends had tried to make fun of it and asked Oliver a question with a challenge in it.
“So don’t you think this is all a bit old-fashioned? The way he describes gender roles? I mean, I know it’s from the 18th century and all, but we seem to take this seriously nevertheless. There’s even this paragraph about women working in the kitchen, I mean, come on!” her friend said, shaking her long hair in playful combativeness.
Oliver took this in the spirit it was asked in. He smiled and started talking about the history of the church, how it was indeed very conservative in some areas. “We have existed in this very place, Bryn Athyn, for almost 100 years. The ideas that were valid then have become part of our community and schools. 100 years ago there were no women on the board of the church like there are today, for example. Or teachers in college. On the other hand, we still don’t ordain women. Yet so much that we are doing today would have seemed liberal and totally unacceptable to our forefathers.”
Mary had been smiling at her friend’s questions and curiously listening to what Oliver might say. This promised to be another lively discussion. Then she had heard the words ‘We still don’t ordain women’ come out of the teacher’s mouth. She reeled back in her chair. She had turned pale. Oliver turned his head toward her.
She had never heard that before. Time slowed down, and in just a few seconds a thousand memories, images, and cryptic remarks that had been made by the people around her, fell into place. The ministers in the white robes were always men. Her father had once prodded her mother when she began to have time on her hands, ‘Why don’t you become a minister?’ and she had answered, ‘You know I can’t.’ Mary had seen the theological students on campus, and yes, they were all men. It had never occurred to her. No one had ever told her. She had simply assumed that such a simple thing would of course be possible. Why on earth not?
We still don’t ordain women. This was why she instinctively had kept her interest in religion hidden. She had sensed a resistance. Her church, the New Church, which people loved to call the crown of all churches, did not allow women to become priests? We still don’t ordain women. But wait, hadn’t she seen a woman preaching? Oh, that was at the Laurel summer camp. The rules were different there. And what about Elisabeth Conway? Elisabeth was a chaplain, she had told Mary herself. Then Mary realized what had not been said. Elisabeth was indeed a chaplain, but not a New Church chaplain. She worked for another church. Because we still don’t ordain women.
“Are you alright, Mary?” Oliver asked, looking a little concerned.
“You just said that we still don’t ordain women…” she croaked from a strangely constricted throat.
“Yes…?” he answered gently. And she saw that he knew what was going on in her. She could tell by the look in his eyes. He knew. Mary started crying.
“No one ever told me!” Her tears were flowing freely. The class was silent and uncomfortable. Her friends had funny looks on their faces. They did not understand her feelings. She realized it fully now, and felt so foolish and so hurt. She would not be allowed to become a minister in the church she had grown up in, the church that was so much part of her life. Because we still don’t ordain women.
She got up and left the classroom, eyes red and blurry. Outside the grass was green and the fields of Bryn Athyn stretched far and wide under a warm autumn sun.
Mary did finish college, but with biology as her major. As soon as she had her Bachelors, she joined a volunteer program in Thailand. She spent two years helping in villages and hospitals. She exposed herself to the world ‘out there,’ outside of the walls of her home town, and realized how secluded she had been. How much she had missed.
As far as the New Church was concerned, there was no going back. There was no reason to go back. None at all.
(Sample chapter from Ordained Part II America)
Soon the scary day arrived that I was going to meet my class mates and teachers.
We were messaged to turn up in the library room of the theological school, inside the college building. What was called theological school was in reality one classroom, one library room, two teacher’s offices, and a kitchenette. It could be said that it was smaller than its reputation. But then, as I found out in due course, there were hardly any students at any given time. The fact that this year there’d be all of six men starting, and the current 2nd year had five students, was a unique and rarely seen occurrence. This year the teachers would have to work a little harder.
The theological school had a secretary, who was not given an office. She sat on the corridor. That made her by default also the receptionist. Two jobs for the price of one.
I walked into the library, smiling and cautious, and met the following people there.
Abraham Holm, a very common surname in the New Church constellations of families, was distantly related to Archibald Holm. He was the kind of person who, when given a Rorschach test by his psychiatrist, would fail it. He tended to complicate things for no reason. My first impression of him was of a heavyset business manager who temporarily had gotten lost in this corridor. When I found out he was one of the students I was at first dismayed.
Mitchell Eisenhower looked more like a student. He was younger, flippant, irreverent, laughed a lot, and he liked cars. He was the kind of person who, when shown a new shiny convertible, would sell his house, clothes, stereo and TV in order to buy it. We quickly gave him a middle name. Mitchell ‘The Car’ Eisenhower. The first impression he made was of a sports fan who had no idea what he had signed up for by enlisting in theological school. He was the first to agree that this pretty much described him.
Benny Bronson was a former insurance salesman. He could talk smooth, like a born politician. What he didn’t accomplish with his skills or reasoning mind, he would accomplish with his broad smile. We discovered that he had the, for us, disconcerting habit of filling awkward silences in his public presentations with huge and unwarranted smiles. His thing was ships, boats, and other floating devices (like Arks). He had once crossed the Atlantic on a sailing boat without telling his wife, and then phoned her from a pub in Ireland. She almost died of a heart attack. We called him Benny ‘The Boat’ Bronson.
Jamie Craig, also quite young, came out of a nebulous career in business. I never precisely understood what he had done before. He had two older brothers who both were ministers, one of them employed as a teacher right here in the college. Despite being still under 40 his hairline had begun to recede. His middle name, consequently, became Jamie ‘The Edge’ Craig. I have evidence from conversations with his wife that he never realized that his middle name did not in fact refer to his sharp mind.
The final soldier in this checkered first year battalion was Philip. No last name. I think he was one of the disciples. Having no last name it was quite impossible to give him a middle name.
Abraham also didn’t get a middle name. With a first name like Abraham who needs a middle name?
All of them except Benny had been ‘born into the church.’ A weird phrase, for sure, but it meant that their parents were New Church. It suggested that there were two kinds of people in the world, those born into the church and everybody else.
The dean I had already met. The other teacher who was permanently attached to the school was Jefferson Holm. That name again. He was a tiny balding man, spry, bright and wrinkled. While Richard was often just Rich or even Richie, Jefferson was never Jeff. He proved a major challenge for me in the beginning. Then I figured him out somehow and he became docile.
“Welcome all,” Richard Hut began. “I don’t have to tell you, this is a great day for me. The new program structure, condensing four years into three, and the accompanying financial aid, have been a success. You’re all here. All of you are second career men. That’s what we aimed for. I am very excited about the next three years.” Rich was sitting solidly in a large office chair. When he spoke he didn’t move. His hands were lying on his knees, his head gently swiveled from left to right, but nothing else moved. I suppressed a giggle, thinking back to the fitting middle name I had unknowingly given him, a middle name that consisted solely of the definite pronoun ‘the.’ The Star Wars theme music was playing softly in the background of my mind.
Rich proceeded to talk about practical matters, dress code (which to my relief did not include a tie), schedules, reading load, books, papers, etc. The weekly schedule was quite full. I didn’t mind. That was what I was here for. After ten years of sitting in an office, putting in 40+ hours a week staring at a computer screen, the prospect of attending classes seemed positively relaxing.
Apart from the prescribed theological courses we would also have to take some college courses. He mentioned psychology, Latin, Swedenborg’s Philosophy, and bible history. I understood that meant we’d be mixing with the normal college students. Who would probably not appreciate mixing with the abnormal theo students. It also meant we’d be getting an array of different teachers, not only Rich and Jefferson.
A very welcome new addition to the college campus was a small Starbucks inside the Swedenborg Library building. We’d be frequenting that place a lot over the next few years. The Starbucks was run by students.
Heading over there after the introduction talk, Mitchell said, “So now we first have to figure out a way to get around the dress code.”
“What’s wrong with it?” Abraham asked.
“Well, I like polo shirts. I have a cupboard full of them. When he said ‘shirts’ I am somehow sure that didn’t include polo shirts. So we’ll see what happens. I want to wear my polo shirts.” He said the last words in a whine, like a toddler.
“Thank God we don’t need to wear ties,” I laughed. “But you know, this is America, right?” They looked completely blank at that joke. “So I was thinking maybe I should get some bolo ties. That way I am covered if they ever change their minds…” I delicately adjusted my cowboy hat, making it tilt a little.
Benny said, “Where I worked we had a practice of Hawaiian shirt Friday. Let’s institute that here, too. Then after a while the dress code will have weakened.” The proposal was welcomed with cheers. I didn’t own any Hawaiian shirts, but there was always eBay.
“So by the time we get ordained it’s down to swimming shorts only!” Abraham guffawed. “A chance to show my abs.” We laughed. Abraham didn’t have any abs.
I smiled. It was probably going to be OK, working with these guys.
Tags: America, Denmark, Ordained, Stallone, USA
(Sample and extract from Ordained Part II America)
I had lived in Denmark for 23 years. During all that time I had certainly naturalized and learned the secret language of ‘how-we-do-things-here.’ I had seen many nice places, beaches, dunes and forests. I had gotten to feel comfortable with Danes. I had gotten a Danish passport. But I had never fallen in love with the land. In that sense it was easy to leave.
But America? America had such a bad name in Denmark that in a way I considered it a necessary evil that we had to move there. The newspapers were anything but pro-American. The involvement with Iraq had evoked harsh condemnation of the Danish and the American governments. I would have preferred if the theological school had been located in England. I believed that America was a country riddled with crime, drugs, police, political campaigning, and rap music. Why would anyone want to go there?
The movie that summed up the image for me was Cobra, from 1986. Sylvester Stallone’s gravelly voice opens the film with:
‘In America… there’s a burglary every 11 seconds… an armed robbery every 65 seconds… violent crime every 25 seconds… a murder every 24 minutes… and 250 rapes a day.’
The film goes on to show the tip of the iceberg of the crime wave, using the streets and parking garages of LA as a backdrop. I loved the film, but if I never got to visit LA that would be okey-dokey with me. And so, when I was swept off my feet by America, this preconception was presumably why it took me a couple of months to recognize at a conscious level what my heart knew within a few hours.
Tags: Bryn Athyn, homosexuality, LGBT, New Church, religion, Swedenborg, theology, women in ministry
The road to hell is paved with noble religious sentiments.
Tell me about it…
Ordained is a novel. (Part II : now released)
Ordained Part II America is about the time I spent in Bryn Athyn, PA, in theological school. It contains a fictionalized account of my experience in classes and in the college, with the different teachers who are employed there, as well as with the bishop. It contains accounts from the Experiential Learning projects we were assigned, including the counseling classes where invited guests told their stories of what had happened to them in the name of the New Church.
It contains an account of a men’s group, as well as a detailed report of my first SWET weekend.
It contains the rumors I overheard about life in Bryn Athyn, about people, about New Church history. It contains reports on the extensive medication, indoctrination and child brain washing (which we experienced first hand because our 8-year old son attended the church school).
It contains accounts of the psychopathic imbalance that the bishop demonstrated in front of us all.
It touches upon the issue of women in the ministry, and of homosexuality, of course. What do the clergy really think about gays and lesbians? And about premarital sex, about divorce and remarriage? What is the actual standpoint that is not admitted to?
Finally it touches upon dissertation writing, the ordination procedure for ministers, and the requirements that theological school put upon us. Some of these were totally reasonable, some were fucking insane.
Welcome to a novel about the New Church. Available from Amazon.
If you think Part II America is bad, wait until Part III Sweden comes out…
Tags: Bryn Athyn, soul, spirit, Swedenborg, theological school
(Extract from chapter A staunch defender, ‘Ordained Part II America.’)
Swedenborg’s visions had been so convincing, so all-overwhelming, so all truth-inducing, that he never applied his trained scientific intellect to question what was going on with himself. He had been in a unique position, but had very early on decided that his mission was writing down the revelations that were coming to him. Just writing them all down. No application, no research, no passing on mouth-to-mouth to any disciples. A shame really.
“What about his search for the soul?” Mitchell added to the discussion. We had talked about that in a previous class. Swedenborg stated in the scientific part of his life that his mission had been the search for the human soul. “When his spiritual eyes were opened, did he find the soul?”
A really hard question, I thought.
“Oh yes,” Jefferson answered confidently. Apparently not so hard for Jefferson. “Swedenborg calls it our spiritual life, or the life of our understanding. Understanding is a faculty. Paired with the will. The spirit is called the soul. The will is called the heart.” Juggling a few concepts through the air there, I thought. A person could make this mean anything at all.