February 28, 2007
A delegation of Christians sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee and the American Friends Service Committee has been to Iran, and discovered that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is actually a Quaker. Well, not exactly. But they did bring back tidings of peace and good will toward men from the man who said that Israel should be wiped off the map, and whose religious leadership repeatedly refers to the United States as the “great Satan”:
As Christian leaders from the United States, we traveled to the Islamic Republic of Iran at this time of increased tension believing that it is possible to build bridges of understanding between our two countries. We believe military action is not the answer, and that God calls us to just and peaceful relationships within the global community.
Actually, the leaders in question do not, by and large, believe that military action is ever the answer, as I’ll get to in a moment. But they go on:
We are a diverse group of Christian leaders from United Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Quaker, and Mennonite traditions. The Mennonites have 17 years of on the ground experience in Iran. We were warmly welcomed by the Iranian people, and our time in Iran convinced us that religious leaders from both countries can help pave the way for mutual respect and peaceful relations between our nations.
I’m glad they got a warm welcome from ordinary Iranian people. I do wonder which Iranian “religious leaders” they’re referring to, though, and whether they’re leaders with any power (say, any members of the Guardians Council). But this is when they get surrealistic:
Our final day included a meeting with former President Khatami and current President Ahmadinejad. The meeting with President Ahmadinejad was the first time an American delegation had met in Iran with an Iranian president since the Islamic revolution in 1979. The meeting lasted two-and-a-half hours and covered a range of topics, including the role of religion in transforming conflict, Iraq, nuclear proliferation, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
What the delegation found most encouraging from the meeting with President Ahmadinejad was a clear declaration from him that Iran has no intention to acquire or use nuclear weapons, as well as a statement that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved through political, not military means. He said, “I have no reservation about conducting talks with American officials if we see some goodwill.”
I’m happy for the delegation that they were encouraged by Ahmadinejad’s “clear declaration” that Iran “has no intention” to develop or use The Bomb. I’m sure that the the rest of the world–whose governments, militaries, and intelligence services (including those throughout the Arab world) are virtually unanimous that Iran has every intention of at least building nukes. But the Iranian president would never lie to a delegation of American Christians, would he?
I’m also glad to hear that he says the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be solved through political, not military means.” That means we can put to rest all that nasty news that Iran has been arming Hezbollah, provided the weaponry for the terrorist rocketing of northern Israel last summer, and the training for the kidnapping operation that led to the 30-day war of 2006. And we can ignore those reports that Iran and Hamas are allies, with Iran likely financing the terrorist organization. We can also forget about the support the Iran has long provided for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group.
Sorry if I sound irritated, but the naivete of these people is simply astounding. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when I look over the participants: four Mennonites, four Quakers, the chief operating officer of Sojourners, the executive director of Pax Christi, the general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, the director of government relations for the Episcopal Church, and the associate general secretary for interfaith relations of the NCC. Of this group, the first eleven are definitely pacifists, and I’d be surprised if the last two aren’t also. Though pacifism has a long and honorable history within Christianity, in recent decades its practitioners have insisted on trying to influence the world’s politics through the twin modus operandi of bottomless anti-Americanism (and an anti-Israelism that verges at times on the anti-Semitic) combined with infinite credulity regarding the motives and actions of tyrannical regimes. Check out the work of the American Friends Service Committee for just one glaring example.
Well, the delegation’s statement wouldn’t have been complete without a set of recommendations:
We believe it is possible for further dialogue and that there can be a new day in U.S. – Iranian relations. The Iranian government has already built a bridge toward the American people by inviting our delegation to come to Iran. We ask the U.S. government to welcome a similar delegation of Iranian religious leaders to the United States.
As additional steps in building bridges between our nations, we call upon both the U.S. and Iranian governments to:
● immediately engage in direct, face-to-face talks;
● cease using language that defines the other using “enemy” images; and
● promote more people-to-people exchanges including religious leaders, members of Parliament/Congress, and civil society.
As people of faith, we are committed to working toward these and other confidence building measures, which we hope will move our two nations from the precipice of war to a more just and peaceful relationship.
So, to sum up, these are folks who really believe in talk. The right kind of talk, of course–“enemy” language won’t do, we have to treat the sponsors of a conference on Holocaust denial as if they’re right around the corner from being our bosom buddies. Beyond that, the delegation has nothing for us save “confidence building measures,” whatever those might be. Nothing about Iran abandoning its support for terrorist groups, or its insistence on enriching uranium, or its language of annihilation directed at Israel. This is supposed to move us from the “precipice of war.” Thanks for the suggestions, folks.
UPDATE: You’ll be glad to know that, though for some reason the statement doesn’t mention it, the delegation did raise the matter of the Holocaust with the president of Iran. According to Mark Breach (who at the FaithAmerica.org blog is listed as a member of the delegation, though his name doesn’t appear on statement at the NCC):
And as planned, the delegation broached the issue of the Holocaust, commenting to Ahmadinejad that his statements about the Holocaust have made the work of those wanting to build bridges toward Iran much more difficult.
In response, he said what has been said previously, that he is concerned that the Holocaust is what allowed for the creation of the state of Israel. “On the pretext of the Holocaust, some people were brought to this land,” he said referring to Israel.
“If it is historical fact, why is no one allowed to study it?” he asked. These comments were not much different than what he said at the meeting in New York last September.
Ahmadinejad did say that this is not about going to war with Israel, but said he wants to see the Palestinians have the right to determine their future through the ballot box. “Palestinians should be allowed to decide for themselves,” he said.
So Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust makes bridge-building more difficult. Not, “is a reprehensible rewrite of history;” not, “is a despicable attempt to rehabilitate Nazism;” not, “is an affront to millions of victims of tyranny;” not, “is understood in the West to be a vile expression of anti-Semitism.” No, apparently they didn’t tell him any of this. Instead, they said, it makes it harder to improve relations with you. Imagine these folks flying to Berlin in late November 1938: “You have to realize, Mr. Chancellor, that these Nuremburg laws and this Kristallnacht thing–which we know your government had nothing to do with–are making it harder to build bridges between your country and the United States. Do you think you could tone down the rhetoric a bit so we can make some progress on the diplomatic front?” I hate to say it, but the truth is that these folks are so scared of risking upsetting the truly evil in the world that when they actually have a chance to step up and show some guts–to speak truth to power, as it were–they rarely if ever do. Venting their spleens at the U.S. government entails no risk whatsoever. But there they were with one of the world’s premier anti-Semites, and what did they do? They talked about “building bridges.”
UPDATE: Many thanks to Debbie for pointing out that the sponsorship of this group was by the Mennonites and Quakers rather than NCC. I’ve corrected the post to reflect this.
February 27, 2007
Posted by David Fischler under Presbyterianism
The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), is trying to decide whether to run for a fourth four-year term:
Despite the departure of a handful of disaffected Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations in recent months, General Assembly Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick remains convinced that the troubled denomination “is in a potential tipping point of renewed growth and vitality.”
And he said he will consider seeking a fourth four-year term as stated clerk. This summer, Kirkpatrick said, “I will pray, talk with friends and colleagues and attempt to assess my energy and the call of the church for another term.”
The evidence of that “potential tipping point of renewed growth and vitality” is not really clear, though he mentions a couple of things later in the interview. But then there’s that pesky New Wineskins movement:
Kirkpatrick said he expects “a relatively small movement out of the PC(USA), though it all hurts.” He said he has “an abiding passion for unity because of what I witnessed growing up in Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis.” That church was torn apart by theological conflict, he recalled, with some members leaving for the Presbyterian Church in America or the EPC. “It was very painful,” Kirkpatrick said, “but has made me utterly committed to the belief that there’s room under the Lordship of Christ for more diversity in our church.”
Outsider’s impression: if there were any more diversity in the PCUSA, they’d be ordaining Unitarians and Raelians, but those impression could certainly be wrong. What I don’t believe is wrong, however, is that for an institution such as the PCUSA to be an effective instrument in God’s mission, it needs less diversity, not more, in the sense of general agreement about what that mission is, and what the theological foundation for it is.
He bemoaned the number of civil court cases resulting from congregations wanting to take their property with them when they leave the PC(USA). “In the vast majority of cases, our presbyteries are not going to court,” Kirkpatrick said. “Congregations are going to court and presbyteries are forced to respond.”
I don’t know how many court cases there are (I can think of several off-hand, but I’m sure that’s hardly comprehensive), and I don’t know who started them. But while Kirkpatrick’s complaint may be factually accurate, he needs to recognize what’s going on. No congregation that paid for its property, pays the bills for it, maintains and improves it, and holds the deed to it, is going to just walk away from that property just because a clause in the PCUSA Book of Order asserts a claim on property with which the denomination has never had any tangible connection. There are a number of states–no one knows yet how many it will eventually be–that have looked on the claims of local churches against more hierarchical denominations than PCUSA (the Episcopal and United Methodist churches, to be exact) with great sympathy, and in California, at least, the national offices and dioceses/annual conferences have gotten completely routed. If Kirkpatrick wanted to avoid court battles, all he’s got to do is instruct presbyteries to dismiss congregations with their property when they decide to leave. Otherwise, there’s going to be a fight in just about every state before all is said and done.
The PC(USA) Constitution allows presbyteries the option of dismissing churches with their property, he said. “The question should always be ‘what’s best for the life of the church?’” That question is tougher, he added, “in cases where there’s a split in the congregation or where there’s a huge investment that must be considered when determining what PC(USA) witness must be maintained in that community.”
And to date, amazingly enough, every presbytery that has followed the advice from HQ (in the form of the notorious “Louisville Papers” has decided that it’s “best for the life of the church” to keep the property. Who’d have guessed?
Kirkpatrick also praised the burgeoning renewal of partnership between the denomination and its seminaries. “A great strength of our church is our seminaries,” he said, “ and one development I’m particularly pleased with is that our seminaries are doing a lot of the things our national agencies used to do. We are increasingly seeing our church and our seminaries not as two separate things, but as two parts of one thing.”
It says a great deal about PCUSA that Kirkpatrick thinks it’s great that this is “increasingly” the case. Apparently seminaries used to be thought of as separate and apart from the denomination. That, of course, is a large part of the reason why there’s so much turmoil in the PCUSA (as well as other mainline churches)–seminaries were allowed to go their own way, teach whatever they wanted, no matter how contrary to the theological standards of the denomination, and trained students not simply to be faithful pastors, but part of the “long march through the institutions” that has been going on among the children of the 60s ever since they got their Ph.Ds. Oh, and this is part of what Kirkpatrick trumpeted as one of those signs of “renewed growth and vitality”: Presbyterian seminaries are now starting to think of themselves as part of the Presbyterian Church. I guess you’ve got to get your positives where you can find them.
Kirkpatrick said the renewed growth and vitality he’s seeing in the PC(USA) is also evident in the ecumenical movement. Christian Churches Together (CCT), for example — which was formally launched three weeks ago — brings together in the U.S. for the first time Protestant, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, historic black and evangelical and Pentecostal churches and religious organizations.
Christian Churches Together has been in the planning stages for several years now. Near as I’ve been able to tell from the denominational reports I used to receive on it, it’s basically a less bureaucratic and more denominationally-inclusive way of doing what the National Council of Churches has been doing–giving denominational leaders a way to do stuff their members probably wouldn’t appreciate. This is from the CCT web site:
The purpose of Christian Churches Together is to enable churches and national Christian organizations to grow closer together in Christ in order to strengthen our Christian witness in the world. The by-laws list seven specific tasks:
1. to celebrate a common confession of faith in the Triune God,
2. to discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit through prayer and theological dialogue,
3. to provide fellowship and mutual support,
4. to seek better understanding of each other by affirming our commonalities and understanding our differences,
5. to foster evangelism faithful to the proclamation of the gospel,
6. to speak to society with a common voice whenever possible, and
7. to promote the common good of society and engage in other activities consistent with its purposes.
Those last two, I have no doubt whatsoever, will be what CCT is doing five years from now, and it, like the NCC, will look like an adjunct of the left-wing of the Democratic Party. Whatever. The point is that I’m not sure how more of the same, ecumenically speaking, is supposed to further the “renewed growth and vitality” of the PCUSA, or any of the other moribund mainline denominations. But that’s just me.
February 25, 2007
Posted by David Fischler under American Culture
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The director of such classic action movies as Aliens, The Abyss, and the first two Terminator films, has a new documentary coming out. This one isn’t going to deal with extra-terrestrials or cyborgs, however–it’s going to focus on coffins, and the fevered imagination of James Cameron. This article deserves to be quoted in its entirety, from Time’s Middle East blog:
Brace yourself. James Cameron, the man who brought you ‘The Titanic’ is back with another blockbuster. This time, the ship he’s sinking is Christianity.
In a new documentary, Producer Cameron and his director, Simcha Jacobovici, make the starting [sic] claim that Jesus wasn’t resurrected –the cornerstone of Christian faith– and that his burial cave was discovered near Jerusalem. And, get this, Jesus sired a son with Mary Magdelene.
No, it’s not a re-make of “The Da Vinci Codes’. [sic] It’s supposed to be true.
Let’s go back 27 years, when Israeli construction workers were gouging out the foundations for a new building in the industrial park in the Talpiyot, a Jerusalem suburb. of Jerusalem. [sic] The earth gave way, revealing a 2,000 year old cave with 10 stone caskets. Archologists [sic] were summoned, and the stone caskets carted away for examination. It took 20 years for experts to decipher the names on the ten tombs. They were: Jesua, son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Mathew, Jofa and Judah, son of Jesua.
Israel’s prominent archeologist Professor Amos Kloner didn’t associate the crypt with the New Testament Jesus. His father, after all, was a humble carpenter who couldn’t afford a luxury crypt for his family. And all were common Jewish names.
There was also this little inconvenience that a few miles away, in the old city of Jerusalem, Christians for centuries had been worshipping the empty tomb of Christ at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. [Editor's note: no Christians "worship" the empty tomb, but you knew that.] Christ’s resurrection, after all, is the main foundation of the faith, proof that a boy born to a carpenter’s wife in a manger is the Son of God.
But film-makers Cameron and Jacobovici claim to have amassed evidence through DNA tests, archeological evidence and Biblical studies, that the 10 coffins belong to Jesus and his family.
Ever the showman, (Why does this remind me of the impresario in another movie,”King Kong”, whose hubris blinds him to the dangers of an angry and very large ape?) Cameron is holding a New York press conference on Monday at which he will reveal three coffins, supposedly those of Jesus of Nazareth, his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. News about the film, which will be shown soon on Discovery Channel, Britain’s Channel 4, Canada’s Vision, and Israel’s Channel 8, has been a hot blog topic in the Middle East (check out a personal favorite: Israelity Bites) Here in the Holy Land, Biblical Archeology is a dangerous profession. This 90-minute documentary is bound to outrage Christians and stir up a titanic debate between believers and skeptics. Stay tuned.
DNA tests??? How exactly is that going to work, do you suppose? And what were the “Biblical studies” that confirmed this absurdity? The Jesus Papers?
And as for the “outrage” that writer Tim McGirk anticipates, how can one be outraged by the ridiculous claims of a carnival barker? Pity is more like it.
February 25, 2007
Posted by David Fischler under Church Year
People are seasonal creatures. That is to say, we usually (unless we live in Hawaii!) expect the year to have a rhythm to it–spring to summer to autumn to winter and back again. I’m sitting at home in northern Virginia looking out the windows of my “sunroom” on a beautiful winter scene of snow, which feels right for February 25. In the same way, there is a natural rhythm to the year for Christians as well. It begins in Advent, with the preparation for the celebration of the Nativity, a kind of Old Testament period of watching and waiting. Beginning with Christmas, we place the events of the birth, life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at the forefront, followed by the coming of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Church. Today is part of that rhythm.
In the Evangelical Presbyterian Church’s Book of Worship, the observance of the season of the church year are commended to us this way: “Each time of worship should give expression to the whole Gospel. However, it is also appropriate to give special emphasis to certain times of the Church year, wherein the whole life of Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the whole counsel of God is celebrated.” About the season into which we now enter, it says this: “Lent, ending in Holy Week, wherein the Church observes a time of repentance and humility, of sacrifice and self-denial, as it celebrates the death of Christ upon the cross for the sins of the world.”
So it is that we begin a time of self-examination, that we may confess our sin unto almighty God; a time of self-understanding, that we may be humbled through the recognition of our proper place before the throne of God; a time of giving, that we may learn what it means to be a servant and imitator of the One who gave Himself for us; a time of turning from self, that we may be renewed in our worship of the One who is the center of our lives and have our love for Him and His people reignited. Lent is a season whose 40 days parallels the 40 days our Lord spent in the wilderness of Judea, and just as He, during that time, was faced with temptation and defeated it, we are called during this time to face our own demons and by the power of the Holy Spirit to defeat them as well. May this season be one of spiritual growth and revitalized faith for all of God’s people, that He may be glorified therein.
February 24, 2007
That would be Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts-Schori, who briefed the people at the Church Center (also known as 815 because of its New York address on Second Avenue) yesterday. The Episcopal News Service had a short piece that said little:
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on February 23 told the community of people who work at the Episcopal Church Center in New York that the new structures asked for by the Primates in Dar es Salaam, and the clarifications they want about the Episcopal Church’s stance on blessing same-gender relationships and partnered gay and lesbian priests becoming bishops, can be a “container” in which the Anglican Communion can continue to discuss issues that many Anglicans would rather avoid.
I’m not sure what she means by a “container,” so I’m open to explanation from anyone who understands Episco-speak.
She told the gathering that the Episcopal Church is called to ensure that the conversation about the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church continues in the Communion.
“It is part of our mission as a church,” she said. “This conversation that has been going on for at least 40 years is not going away. God keeps bringing it back to us.”
Jefferts Schori said that she understands that some people feel that the Primates’ recommendations are a “hard and bitter pill for many of us to talk about swallowing.” But, she said, worldwide attitudes about the inclusion of gay and lesbian people are changing and “I don’t expect that to end.”
I think that last part means, “if we just wait long enough, eventually those reactionary Africans and Asians and South Americans who are giving us such a fit will die out and be replaced by civilized people who think like us.” But that’s just my interpretation. I could be wrong.
Evidently, however, this was not all that Bishop Jefforts-Schori had to say to the assembled multitudes, however. From the Christian Post:
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke to church leaders at the Episcopal Church Center in New York saying that the Anglican Communion has given them a “hard and bitter pill” for them to swallow as to whether to remain in full communion with the worldwide denomination or become autonomous in its stance of fully supporting homosexual ordination and the blessing of same-sex unions.
“It’s an enormous cost and price that’s being asked of us,” Schori told Episcopal leaders, “and I don’t think we can or should pay that price.” Schori supports the full inclusion of homosexuals. [Emphasis mine]
If this quote in Lillian Kwon’s article is correct, I believe the Bishop just had a “Frank Griswold moment.” For those who don’t follow Anglican politics, that’s defined as signing an agreement abroad and then going home and repudiating it, as the former Presiding Bishop did after the Primates meeting in October of 2003. It has previously been thought by at least some conservatives in ECUSA that Bishop Jefferts-Schori would be the most influential voice in favor of the House of Bishops accepting the demands of the Dar es Salaam communique. If this quote is accurate, it now appears that she’s going to try to sink it instead, or at least try to fudge the response in the hopes of “keeping the conversation going.” Truth to tell, it’s hard to discern from her remarks what she’s going to do. Kwon goes on to expand on the ENS reference to a “container”:
[Jefforts-Schori said,] “My encouragement is that we might be able to see it as a container – that the structures that are proposed are really an invitation to hold this conversation and continue to hold it with people who don’t want to talk to each other.”
And the Episcopal head recognized that many people in the U.S. body, going along with American culture, say, “Who are they (Anglican Communion) to tell us what to do?”
“We were born in revolution and we retain a lot of that sentiment,” said Schori. But if they leave the Communion, Schori believes they would be losing the “advantage” of being able to “challenge” views expressed by other Anglican primates in regards to homosexuals.
It is one of the Episcopal Church’s “gifts,” Schori said, to help change other people’s understanding about gay and lesbian Christians.
In other words, even if the House of Bishops did vote to accept the Primates’ demands, it would only be so that they could continue to the effort to try to change the minds of the vast majority of the world’s Anglicans. That’s not agreement–it’s tactical retreat. Maybe she’s not being so ambiguous after all.
UPDATE: The Living Church has more:
“I ache for the pain that this communiqué is causing to people in our church who see issues of justice as absolutely central because I share that view,” she said. “I also hunger for a world where people of vastly different positions can sit at the same table and worship together at the same table, because I think eventually that’s how all of us are converted.
“People are converted by an incarnational encounter of something that has only been theory to them,” she said. “I think that’s another part of our gift. The fact that people from this church have missional relationships with other parts of the Communion is beginning to change people’s understanding. When they sit with a gay or lesbian Christian or with someone from this church who is able to speak about experience, they begin to ask questions and that conversation opens some possibility of conversion. That is a part of our gift.
“It’s an enormous cost and price that’s being asked of us and I don’t know if we can or should pay that price,” Bishop Jefferts Schori continued. “What I want to encourage all of you and the people you talk to to think about is that this isn’t a decision that’s made today. It’s a decision that the House of Bishops will have to make in September, ultimately.”
There’s a big difference between “I don’t think we can or should pay that price” and “I don’t think we can or should pay that price.” Fortunately, ENS has made a recording of her presentation available. So I gave a listen, and what she actually said was, “It’s an enormous cost and price that being asked of us, and I don’t know if we think we can or should pay that price.” So it’s a little different from either version–not as inflammatory as the Christian Post reported, and even more distant from her own opinion than The Living Church reported. There’s other interesting stuff in the audio version–take a listen for yourself.
(Hat tip: Chris Johnson)
UPDATE: Actually, there is one other thing I should get in here, and that has to do with same-sex union blessings. Right at the end of the presentation she said:
“The other piece that was discussed at some length has to do with blessing unions. What they’ve asked us to do is to refrain from authorizing that, and there was a clear recognition that ‘authorizing’ means official public liturgies. We talked about pastoral care, and that it goes on in many places, not just this church, and I think a recognition that it was part of, it’s been part of the conversation out of Lambeth and Windsor and Dromantine, as being an appropriate action, that we are called to effective and appropriate pastoral care for all people. We’re being asked to refrain from authorizing.”
February 23, 2007
Posted by David Fischler under Presbyterianism
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The Rev. Tom Gray, senior pastor of the Kirk of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, has a different perspective from the one in the previous post. He’s responding to a criticism from a fellow Tulsa Presbyterian pastor, who analogizes PCUSA to the Titanic, and says that “if you have a crisis in the engine room you don’t need to have people getting off the ship, you need to have people getting in the boiler room and beginning to put things right.” Rev. Gray takes umbrage, pointing out that that he’s been trying to put out the fire since 1991, and explains why he and the Kirk took the course they did:
The ship of PCUSA is heading in the wrong direction even though it has a clear map of where it is supposed to go, found in Scripture and in the denomination’s confessions. Sometime between 1950 and today, in the denominations from whence the PCUSA was formed, there was a very slow and subtle mutiny. Those opposed to the direction of Scripture gained control of the rudder.
Many of us thought that the problem might be that the correct course change orders were somehow muddled and could be clarified. That’s what we worked on so hard and for so long. We came to find (at the GA in June, 2006) that the wrong orders are being given from the top. Not only that, but every location in the ship—sessions and presbyteries—are now given permission to issue orders completely contrary to the course directions indicated on the map.
If I had paid fare to travel, say, from New York to London, and found that the ship had, without permission or announcement, changed its course for Antarctica, I’d have good reason to get onto another ship—one going in the right direction. This is what the Kirk did when we disaffiliated. The fact that other churches (passengers) are willing to hope that the ship goes back to its rightful course is their business. We found that the officers on the bridge were deaf to our concerns, so we came to the conclusion that the rudder is now lashed in the wrong direction. [Emphasis mine.]
We certainly have left on our lifeboat, seeking a ship that is going to the destination Scripture indicates. For the duration of our struggle the EOP showed no desire to address our concerns or even show real concern for us. The PCUSA and the EOP [Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery] now seem bent upon insisting that our lifeboat be returned to them empty, unconcerned that the Kirk congregation would be left adrift. Should that turn out to become truth, we are ready to tread water or swim for the nearest passing ship—but only if that ship is following the Scriptural map.
And that’s also a very legitimate view, one that I would agree characterizes the leadership of many if not all of the mainline denominations, especially the large ones where accountability at the top is a serious problem (for example, how often have denominational leaders such as Clifton Kirkpatrick of PCUSA issued statements on public issues in the name of the denomination without even the pretense that the views expressed were anything but their own?). So, just as I support those who stay and continue the fight, I support those who have decided that the Lord is calling them to other fields of service. In both decisions, may God be glorified and His will done.
February 22, 2007
The Rev. Faith Jongewaard, Associate Pastor of the San Pedro Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, has an interesting alternative take on the struggle within th Presbyterian Church (USA) at Presbyterian Online. Entitled “Living the Hosea life: an open letter to my Presbyterian friends,” she urges her fellow PCUSAers to consider the situation in which the Old Testament prophet found himself and its application their circumstances:
All his friends would have understood if he had left her. She was unfaithful, wandering, adulterous–plain and simple, she was a whore. The children, who all bore his name, didn’t all look very much like him. He was always having to go after her, always having to hunt her down in bars and strip joints and other men’s houses. He was always having to bail her out of some mess or another—and, that wasn’t cheap or easy. So, everyone would have understood if he had left her. Some would have even applauded. Some would have said, “Well, it’s about time! She’s been playing him for a fool for way too long!”
But, he didn’t leave her. He couldn’t leave her. It wasn’t that he didn’t get frustrated with her—angry, furious, raging mad. But, he couldn’t leave her. He had made a promise—not just to her, but also to God. And, truth be told, it was often only the promise to God that kept him going. He was, he said, being faithful to God, not to her. And that mattered to him more than anything—more than her unfaithfulness, more than the shame he felt about her lifestyle, more than the fantasies (and the advice of well-meaning friends) that he might really have a much better life without her or with another.
I love that story of Hosea and his relationship to his unfaithful wife Gomer—really, of course, the story of God and God’s relationship to God’s unfaithful people. I can’t help but think it has something to say to us in the PC(USA)—perhaps, especially, to those who might be considering leaving because we seem to have become an unfaithful church.
I, too, have been very concerned in recent years about the direction we may be going. I, too, have grieved over events that seemed to denigrate our Lord Jesus, question his atoning gift for us, re-name God to fit our own ideas. I, too, have been frustrated by what often seems an anything-goes approach to Scripture and a selective disregard for the clear meaning of our Constitution and the application of its discipline. I, too, am appalled at the vast amount of time and money—not to mention, words–we have wasted fighting with each other instead of moving into the world with the Good News of the saving work of Jesus Christ for all people everywhere.
But, I will not leave this denomination—and that is not become [sic] I am somehow more righteous or faithful than those who might be thinking of leaving.
I think she has a real point, which is why I have nothing but admiration for those who remain in PCUSA and other mainline churches fighting the good fight. I believe that I was called out of that situation specifically to begin a new work for Him in a setting that wouldn’t have been possible without moving to the EPC. But for those whose call is to remain, I pray only the Lord’s blessings on their efforts. The real question that we need to ask ourselves isn’t, “can I take any more of this?” but, “where does the Lord want me?” Even if the initial impulse is to ask the first question, it’s the second that really matters.
February 20, 2007
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church got off the plane from Tanzania and offered some reflections on the recent Anglican Primates meeting. In the process, she illustrated very nicely how easy is it to misapply Scripture:
We traveled home from this meeting at Carnival, the farewell to meat (carne vale) that comes just before Lent begins. That is an image that may be useful as we consider what the Primates’ gathering is commending to the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has been asked to consider the wider body of the Anglican Communion and its needs. Our own Church has in recent years tended to focus on the suffering of one portion of the body, particularly those who feel that justice demands the full recognition and celebration of the gifts of gay and lesbian Christians. That focus has been seen in some other parts of the global Church, as inappropriate, especially as it has been felt to be a dismissal of traditional understandings of sexual morality. Both parties hold positions that can be defended by appeal to our Anglican sources of authority – scripture, tradition, and reason – but each finds it very difficult to understand and embrace the other. What is being asked of both parties is a season of fasting – from authorizing rites for blessing same-sex unions and consecrating bishops in such unions on the one hand, and from transgressing traditional diocesan boundaries on the other.
A parallel to this situation in our tradition might be seen in the controversy over eating meat in early Christian communities, mentioned both in the letter to the Romans and the first letter to the Corinthians. In those early communities, the meat available for purchase in the public market was often part of an animal that had been offered (in whole or in part) in sacrifice in various pagan religious rites. The troubling question in the Christian community was whether or not it was appropriate to eat such meat – was it tainted by its involvement in pagan religion? Did one participate in that religion (and thus commit apostasy) by eating it? Paul encourages the Christians in Rome and Corinth to recall that, while there may be no specific prohibition about eating such meat, the sensitive in the community might refrain if others would be offended. The needs of the weaker members, and the real possibility that their faith may be injured, are an important consideration in making the dietary decision.
The current controversy brings a desire for justice on the one hand into apparent conflict with a desire for fidelity to a strict understanding of the biblical tradition and to the main stream of the ethical tradition. Either party may be understood to be the meat-eaters, and each is reminded that their single-minded desire may be an idol. Either party might constructively also be understood by the other as the weaker member, whose sensibilities need to be considered and respected.
She is referring to the controversy that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 8, which says this:
Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”–yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
The principle of refraining from action that one’s Christian liberty allows for the sake of the brother or sister whose faith is not as mature makes perfect sense, of course, when one recognizes that the action in question is purely a matter of individual conscience. Eat meat sacrificed to idols, no big deal, an idol isn’t anything, as long as you know that it’s just food, go ahead. Don’t indulge if it will scandalize your fellow Christians, out of love for them, but don’t have any qualms for yourself. But homosexual behavior doesn’t fall into that category. It is expressly forbidden in the moral law, and Paul reiterates those prohibitions along with others that prohibit sexual immorality in general. Engaging in it isn’t a matter of Christian liberty, any more than worshipping other gods or murder or envy are. That doesn’t make it a worse sin than any other; but then again, I don’t see anyone within the churches leading the charge to make worshipping other gods or murder or envy acceptable behavior for Christians. (OK, maybe that first one, a little…)
The point is this: the Bishop’s reference to 1 Corinthians 8 is not valid, because the issue in question (homosexual behavior) is not a matter of Christian liberty. The matter of diocesan border crossings, on the other hand, refers to institutional arrangements that in and of themselves have no basis in Scripture (even if one grants that there are bishops in the New Testament, the idea of the inviolable geographical diocese didn’t come until at least a century or more later). To equate the two issues is to say that the arrangements of men have equal footing with the commandments of God, something with which I think Jesus would have had a problem.
February 19, 2007
Greetings to all the folks who are coming via T19 and any others who linked to me today. I can honestly say you won’t find any Anglican news here that you haven’t seen at T19 or Stand Firm or CaNN or MCJ. What I do offer is some analysis from an outsider to Anglicanism who has a lot of sympathy for the predicament of brothers and sisters, and more than 20 years experience in other mainline denominations. So take it for what it’s worth, and I hope whatever insights I might have into the situation are helpful.
February 19, 2007
More from the Anglican Primates is up at the T19 backup blog. There’s a Pastoral Council, and a Pastoral Scheme (I love it when they talk Brit) that sound like they are designed to stop the bullying of conservative Episcopalians, and vet plans for alternative episcopal oversight. It also approves of the Presiding Bishop’s plan for a “primatial vicar,” which sounds like control a step removed to me, but I’ll let those more familiar with episcopal polity speak to that. The most interesting part, to me, is this:
On Clarifying the Response to Windsor
The Primates recognise the seriousness with which The Episcopal Church addressed the requests of the Windsor Report put to it by the Primates at their Dromantine Meeting. They value and accept the apology and the request for forgiveness made
. While they appreciate the actions of the 75th General Convention which offer some affirmation of the Windsor Report and its recommendations, they deeply regret a lack of clarity about certain of those responses.
In particular, the Primates request, through the Presiding Bishop, that the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
1. make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorise any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses or through General Convention (cf TWR, §143, 144); and
2. confirm that the passing of Resolution B033 of the 75th General Convention means that a candidate for episcopal orders living in a same-sex union shall not receive the necessary consent (cf TWR, §134); unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion (cf TWR, §134).
The Primates request that the answer of the House of Bishops is conveyed to the Primates by the Presiding Bishop by 30th September 2007.
If the reassurances requested of the House of Bishops cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion.
So now conservatives have yet another deadline to look forward to: September 30 is now the date by which the ECUSA bishops must promise not to authorise same-sex blessings and to refuse to approve any new sexually active gay bishops. I don’t see much wiggle room there, though the effort to find some has already begun. From the blog of the Diocese of Washington, DC:
The definition of “authorizing,” as in we must renounce the authorization of “any Rites for Blessing of same-sex unions,” by Sept. 30 will be hotly debated. As I have said before, I think we are being given some room here, as there is a difference between authorizing and allowing. I take comfort in those capital letters. We are being asked not to approve texts. Very, very few dioceses have approved texts. Our diocese doesn’t. So I think we can comply with this.
I wonder how it will sit with the primates if, six months from now, they ask about the fact that gay unions are being blessed in Washington, and the response is that the Presiding Bishop is shocked, shocked to hear that there are gay unions being blessed in the back room of St. Rick’s. After all, the diocese never actually authorized any rites, or approved texts now, did they?
The folks in the pointy hats also weighed in on the property issue:
The Primates urge the representatives of The Episcopal Church and of those congregations in property disputes with it to suspend all actions in law arising in this situation. We also urge both parties to give assurances that no steps will be taken to alienate property from The Episcopal Church without its consent or to deny the use of that property to those congregations.
Practically speaking, I have no idea what this means. Probably nothing, since it is only in the language of “urging,” and I doubt they could do any more than that anyway. I’m especially puzzled, though, by that last sentence. I know what the first part means–we don’t want anyone challenging ECUSA’s trust clause. But what “congregations” are they talking about in the second part? The real congregations or the phantoms made up of a half dozen loyalists that dioceses are using to claim that there’s still a viable “Episcopal” church that wants to meet in the building and kick the other 100 (or 200, or 500, or 2000) out? Like I said, it likely doesn’t really matter; I’m sure they addressed this primarily out of a concern that things not get any nastier than they already have.
Will any of this make any diference? I suppose it depends mostly on whether the folks at ECUSA headquarters are willing to play nice and shut their lawyers up for a while, and whether the bishops are willing to not hide behind clever linguistic gymnastics and actually do what they are being asked to do. Whether that will happen or not, only God knows. But it should be an interesting six months.
UPDATE: I forgot to include the very interesting remarks from the Presiding Bishop as she was preparing to retun to the United States:
“There is awareness that these issues are of concern in many Provinces of the Communion, and that the Episcopal Church’s charism is to continue to encourage the discussion,” said Jefferts Schori, who will offer additional comment after further reflection and her nearly 20-hour journey back to New York.
So the “charism” of ECUSA is to talk the issue to death in the hope that everyone else will give in. At least until September 30.
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