For the first time since 1975, a UCC General Synod will be without Balaam’s Courier. But according to the Rev. Ted Braun, its “prophetic voice” will be back at General Synod 2015 in Cleveland.
Braun says career changes, moving and other personal conflicts among the publication’s volunteer staff led to the decision to not publish in 2013.
“We are sorry that we won’t be at General Synod” to provide the usual commentary on the issues facing the country and the church, said Braun.
While Balaam’s Courier is not present in Long Beach, Braun expects Balaam’s spirit to be among the delegates. “There are major issues before us in the nation that we must be attuned to,” he said.
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of the UCC’s Local Church Ministries, said he “can’t really imagine us having a Synod without Ted Braun and Balaam’s Courier. He, and his journalistic conspirators, kept the UCC’s feet to the fire at each Synod since 1975.”
“It will be a diminished Synod without Balaam’s Courier,” said the Rev. Daehler Hayes, former Rhode Island Conference Minister.
Braun, a retired pastor from Tennessee, was serving the Church of the Good Shepherd, UCC, in Carbondale, Ill., in 1975 when he and some like-minded UCC members discussed the need for a periodical to “comment on the issues at General Synod and in the country and the world.”
“We believe that the church in the U.S. has lost is prophetic voice” and “has become the chaplain of the American nation, preaching a harmless, easy and individualistic faith, and captive to the warfare state and an exploitative economic system,” they wrote in their organizing statement.
With a volunteer staff of three, a typewriter and a mimeograph in a nearby church, the familiar blue paper (“Nothing else was printed in blue at the time”) made its debut at the tenth General Synod in Minneapolis in 1975.
The authors chose as their symbol Balaam’s talking donkey, found in the Old Testament Book of Numbers.
“Usually there have been four daily issues/editions of B.C. at each General Synod,” Braun says. “Generally we tried to come out with eight pages in each edition.”
In addition to the biennial publication of the Courier, Braun and the Balaam’s staff also produced “A Handbook to the United Church of Christ,” and was included in “The Living Theological Heritage of the United Church of Christ” (Vol 7) edited by the Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund.
And what about Balaam and his talking donkey?
According to Brown Zikmund, Balaam, a character of questionable repute, from the Old Testament, “gets angry at his donkey when it mysteriously turns off the road to avoid the judgment of the angel of the Lord standing in the road.” Balaam does not see the angel and beats the donkey “until the donkey reminds Balaam that he has been a good donkey for many years.”
Balaam now sees the angel in front of him and is chastised for striking the animal. “I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse to me.” At that point, Balaam repents of his sinful ways and does what God tells him in the future.