March 2007


Yeah, that’s a pretty harsh charge. But if you go to the Web site of FaithfulAmerica.org (which calls itself the “interfaith online action program” of the National Council of Churches), you’re confronted with this:

FaithfulAmericans call for U.S. Attorney General to free jailed Palestinian professor

More than 4,000 members of the online advocacy group FaithfulAmerica.org have sent emails to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales calling for the release of jailed professor Dr. Sami al Arian. The Palestinian-born former University of South Florida professor was arrested on suspicion of terrorism and has been imprisoned since February, 2003, during much of the time al Arian was kept in solitary confinement.

Although Dr. al Arian was acquitted of all violence-related charges and was scheduled to be released under a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney General’s office, several delaying maneuvers have occurred which al Arian’s legal counsel claims are designed to keep al Arian in prison indefinitely….

FaithfulAmerica.org, in a recent action alert, called upon the U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to stand by the plea agreement which he personally approved. The alert stated “Dr. al Arian has been repeatedly called to testify before a grand jury unrelated directly to his case, causing his prison time be extended again for up to 18 additional months. This is a clear violation of the plea agreement on the part of the U.S.Government. There is nothing to stop the use of additional grand juries to extend his prison time again and again and again.”

On Friday [March 23] a circuit court judge denied an appeal of a contempt charge in which al Arian refused to testify in subsequent trials. The appeal contained transcripts from the plea agreement in Tampa in which US attorneys were in full agreement that Dr. al Arian would not be required to testify in other trials.

That last is simply disingenuous. Al Arian is being called to testify to a grand jury, not in a trial. He’s currently being held in contempt for refusing to rat out his fellow terrorist enablers. He’s also awaiting deportation (not “release”), and the government is finding it hard to get anyone to take him.

As for this sainted individual’s “acquittal,” that’s a half-truth. He was acquitted on eight charges, and a jury deadlocked on eight. But if you’d like to see what he pled guilty to, you can check it out here. In addition to the conspiracy charge, it also contains stipulated facts that make clear that al Arian was an active supporter and financier for Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist organization. He may not have been convicted of any “violence-related” charges, but he certainly provided resources to enable others to engage in suicide bombings and the like. Here’s another perspective on the guy the NCC wants to spring:

U.S. District Judge James Moody had a very different impression of Al-Arian when he sentenced him to 57 months in prison last May. Pointing out that Al-Arian had made no effort to prevent terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic Jihad, the Judge Moody observed, “You lifted not one finger. To the contrary, you laughed when you heard of the bombings….The evidence was clear in this case that you were a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

That same article goes on to say it plainly–this is a bad guy:

Here is the truth about Al-Arian, which we are not likely to hear from his apologists: he stands convicted of being an operative for a Palestinian terrorist organization. Following a six-month trial where the jury failed to convict him of being a murderer, Al-Arian was faced with the prospect of a tight prosecution focusing solely on his role as a U.S.-based terrorist financier.

He and his attorneys realized that they could not likely defend against these charges, given the surveillance tapes. The fact that he could claim to be a legitimate philanthropist all these years, as Al-Arian knew, was the product of some archaic information-sharing rules that prevented law enforcement from fully understanding what he was up to. Those days are over.

The contrast between Al-Arian’s public face and his secret role in financially supporting overseas violence – which so enraged Judge Moody last May – could no longer be concealed. His lawyer, in fact, acknowledged Al-Arian’s role in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad during the trial, arguing that he had no viable choice. He pleaded guilty. This deal had an obvious attraction to Al-Arian. His plea agreement in Florida meant that his deception in the 1990s, which included media support from the St. Peterburg Times and parts of the United States government that embraced him, had been redressed. He could no longer be prosecuted for that conduct.

However, a person as connected as Al-Arian has information that will allow our nation’s law enforcers to discern who else is out there living a lie, and that is what interests Kromberg and his colleagues. It is true that Al-Arian has no obligation to cooperate with his accusers. However, it is also true that the grand jury has a right to all non-privileged information pertinent to its inquiries, and that the government can compel this information through a grant of immunity, which Al-Arian now enjoys. If Al-Arian persists in refusing to provide that information, following the court ruling that he has no right to refuse based on the Fifth Amendment, the remedy is more time in prison, until he sees the light.

So why exactly is the NCC’s Internet arm trying so hard to get this guy out of jail?

Ladies and gentlemen, the new uniforms of the University of Tennessee cheerleaders!

 

(Picture via the naughty Web Elves at CaNN, though I have to admit the caption is mine.)

Having seen the reaction of the ECUSA House of Bishops to the Dar es Salaam communique, it looks like some prominent Episcopalians are ready to call it a day. There’s these:

Conservative leaders were less sanguine.“Appeals to ‘our polity’ would be more convincing if we actually took our polity seriously,” the Bishop of Dallas James Stanton observed. The consequences of the bishops’ rejection were grim, others argued. “It now appears that a divorce maybe unavoidable,” Bishop Jeffrey Steenson of the Rio Grande told his diocese. Now “there is clearly no place left for conservative Christians within the Episcopal Church’s official structures,” Dr Ephraim Radner of the Anglican Communion Institute stated, while Dr Paul Zahl, the Dean of Trinity School for Ministry, the Episcopal Church’s flagship evangelical seminary, lamented: “It is time for all of us to give up,” and “give up unconditionally.”

And this one:

The Rt. Rev. William H. Love, Bishop of Albany, has appealed for unity following news that his predecessor has entered into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

The Rt. Rev. Daniel Herzog retired as Bishop of Albany Jan. 31. Bishop Love said he learned of Bishop Herzog’s decision in a letter dated March 19 which he received upon his return from the spring retreat of the House of Bishops.

And this one:

Concerned that his presentment trial would be a financial and public relations disaster for The Episcopal Church, retired Bishop William J. Cox informed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on March 29 that he had left The Episcopal Church and had been received into the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone.

(This one is especially scandalous. From what I gather, Bishop Cox, 86, had done saintly duty as a priest and bishop for over 40 years. He was being charged with performing sacramental duties without the permission of the diocesan bishop when he ordained two priests and a deacon at Overlook Park, Kansas on behalf of the Primate of Uganda in 2005, as well as conducting a confirmation service the next month. The idea that ECUSA would proceed to trial on charges like this when it refused to ever even charge John Spong for repudiating the Christian faith is obscene.)

Oh, and don’t forget this one:

Colorado’s largest Episcopal church was left in chaos after leaders voted to leave the denomination and the bishop responded by dismissing the parish’s leadership.

The controversy at Colorado Springs’ Grace Episcopal Church and St. Stephen’s Parish is the latest to roil the Episcopal Church following the national denomination’s acceptance of homosexuality.

The vestry of Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish on Monday voted to bolt from the national church and instead join a conservative Anglican church based in Nigeria.

If I’m not mistaken, that’s the largest congregation in the Episcopal Church (Christ Church, Plano TX), the two largest in Virginia (Truro and Falls Church), the largest in Kansas (Christ Church, Overland Park), the largest in Colorado, and dozens of others, with many more to come, including, most likely, some more big ones. Looks like the dam’s finally breaking, big time.

UPDATE: Should have mentioned that leads to the links came from T19 and MCJ. Thanks, brothers.)

The Major League baseball season is about to start, and that means it’s time for the United Church of Christ to go into high dudgeon:

The scheduled participation of the Cleveland Indians baseball team in Memphis’ annual Civil Rights Game on March 31 is drawing criticism from the UCC’s General Minister and President John H. Thomas.

Thomas is speaking out against a decision by Major League Baseball to pit the Cleveland’s baseball franchise – with its racially-charged “Indians” nickname and “Chief Wahoo” logo – against the St. Louis Cardinals in the annual exhibition game that honors the nation’s Civil Rights Movement.

“America’s pastime ought to reflect America’s noblest values,” Thomas told United Church News. “Logos and mascots that demean anyone fall far short of that vision.”

The use of the “Indians” name in sports is widely offensive to American Indians and the team’s “Chief Wahoo” is regarded by many to be a racist caricature of Native Americans. Its use is often spoken in parallel to the “Little Black Sambo” caricature of African Americans, which dates to the early 1900s.

Chief Wahoo is a cartoon character who looks like this…

…and if I were the Indians, I’d have ditched it long since, solely because it’s extraordinarily goofy looking. I mean, can you imagine putting this on the helmets of the Washington Redskins? And yes, I agree that it’s a racist caricature by virtue of its goofiness, which has more in common with Amos ‘n Andy than anything complimentary of American Indians.

But the UCC doesn’t want to just dump the cartoon. They have also been leading the movement that has scared so many colleges and even high schools into changing their mascots over the last decade. Marquette’s Warriors became the Golden Eagles, St. John’s Redmen became the Red Storm, even my high school in New Jersey changed from Redskins to Red Hawks. Personally, I couldn’t care less about the changes, but the bullying self-righteousness of those who are forcing the changes does bother me.

The article above is a good example of that. The name “Indians” is not “racially-charged.” Any baseball historian will tell you that the Cleveland franchise changed its name in 1915 to go back to the 1890s National League franchise name, which was in honor of Penobscot Indian Louis Sockalexis (in the same way, the team had been called the “Naps” for several years in honor of the great second baseman Nap Lajoie). And the reference to such nicknames being “widely offensive” is simply dishonest. I’m sure everyone John Thomas knows can’t stand them, but as for American Indians themselves, that’s another story. The news site Indian Country offers just a couple of examples (more could be cited):

The New Mexico State House of Representatives once voted 49 – 7 on a memorial to support the use of Indian nicknames for sports teams. The memorial was sponsored by two Navajo representatives, both Democrat. The memorial stated that ”some critics have emerged arguing that [the] use of Native American images is derogatory and offensive while the vast majority of Americans, including Native Americans, find these sporting images both acceptable and applaudable … [and] … that colleges, universities, high schools, and professional sports teams be encouraged to continue to use Native American names and images as part of their team image and that other teams be encouraged to adopt other Native American images.”

The Albuquerque Journal in 2004 published an item in its sports page that stated: ”A poll of American Indians found that an overwhelming majority of them are not bothered by the team name [Redskins]. Only 9% of those polled said the name was ‘offensive.”’

An often-cited Sports Illustrated poll several years ago found only 25 percent of American Indian people found the use of team names offensive.

On top of all that, there’s the witness of my American Indian wife, who is offended by the nerve of white people like John Thomas, as well as the arrogance of American Indian “activists,” to claim to speak for all Indians. She has no problem with the nicknames (she’s an Atlanta Braves fanatic), and would gladly tell the grievance-mongers, if they’d listen. But that’s not likely, given that they certainly know best. As quoted by a story on the New Jersey State Bar Foundation site, Indian activists explain such false consciousness by saying, “Native Americans’ self-esteem has fallen so low that they don’t even know when they’re being insulted.”

Thank goodness the UCC is there to inform them.

…oh, wait, it’s the same person, if you’re telling this joke in Amsterdam:

An elected official of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands has said congregations in his denomination should be wary of trying to set limits to the beliefs of their clergy, including those who say they do not believe in the existence of God. “You cannot capture the relationship with God in an arithmetic sum, just as you cannot turn a loving relationship into a formula,” said Jan-Gerd Heetderks, the outgoing chairperson of the church synod, in an interview with the Protestant newspaper Nederlands Dagblad.

One obvious question, of course, is how you can have a relationship with someone whom you do not believe to exist. I can have a good time reading about the adventures of Gandalf, for instance, but that doesn’t mean I have a “relationship” with the wizard. Another obvious question is, why bother? I mean, why go through the rigors of ministry (assuming Christian ministry is at all similar in Holland to what I’ve experienced in America) for the sake of a lie? And if you’re not lying, you’re out front about being an atheist, why not just work for the government (if you want to help people) or a school (if you want to be a scholar). But why inflict on yourselves and others the ridiculous fiction that you in any way are seeking to serve One whom you think is a fairy tale?

And what kind of a church is it that lets atheists occupy its pulpits?

I know, a dead one.

(Categorized under “Other Faiths” because this isn’t really Christianity, is it?)

Not the economic marketplace, but the intellectual one. Seems there are professors from several departments at Southern Methodist University who don’t want any competition:

Science professors at Southern Methodist University have written letters of protest to school officials to complain about a coming conference about intelligent design.

Members of the school’s anthropology department demanded the school shut down the “Darwin vs. Design” conference, co-sponsored by the SMU law school’s Christian Legal Society. The conference will argue that a higher power is the best explanation for aspects of life and the universe.

Anthropology is usually classified as a social science, and calling its practitioners “science professors” is stretching the definition. Whatever.

“These are conferences of and for believers and their sympathetic recruits,” a letter from the anthropology department said. “They have no place on an academic campus with their polemics hidden behind a deceptive mask.”

I’m not sure who the letter is referring to when it mentions “believers.” Are the professors suggesting that Christians, and those who look at the world from a Christian perspective, “have no place on an academic campus”? Are they suggesting that intelligent design, put forward by scholars credentialed in their academic fields, is unworthy of discussion at colleges? And are they really, seriously suggesting that “polemics” have no place in the ivory tower? Have they ever read any academic journals?

The biology and geology departments sent similar letters.

The university does not endorse the event but won’t cancel it, interim provost Tom Tunks said last Friday.

“Although SMU makes its facilities available as a community service, and in support of the free marketplace of ideas, providing facilities for those programs does not imply SMU’s endorsement of the presenters’ views,” a statement from the school said.

Ah, yes, the “free marketplace of ideas,” a concept increasingly opposed in America’s universities by those who don’t believe in free markets of any kind, but especially not of ideas, which can be dangerous to the ruling, unchallengable orthodoxies of the academic elite. Good for the provost. SMU doesn’t have to endorse everything that is said on its campus to allow it to be said. Even anthopology, biology, and geology professors should be allowed to express their opinions, as long as they don’t shut down others. Oh, wait…

SMU professors say the “Darwin vs. Design” conference could send a message that scientists at the school support intelligent design as an explanation for how life forms evolved.

“This is propaganda,” said John Ubelaker, former chairman of the chemistry department. “Using the campus for propaganda does not fit into anybody’s scheme of intellectual discussion.”

Yeah, it’s a good thing that nothing else propagandistic gets spewed into the atmosphere at schools such as SMU. For instance, no one would ever dream of refusing a treasure trove of information about world and national events such as a presidential library simply because they disagreed with the politics of the president in question, would they? Fact is, opposition to a “Darwin vs. Design” conference is simply academic cowardice. If the profs at SMU are so certain that intelligent design is bogus, why don’t they just show up and refute it?

The Episcopal Church has come out with the ultimate urban evangelism/worship tool: the Hip Hop Prayer Book. I kid you not–here’s the description:

The Rev. Timothy Holder, Editor

“If Jesus walked the earth today, he would be a rapper.”The Rt. Rev. Catherine Roskam.

A powerful evangelism tool, developed at Trinity Church of Morrisania in the birthplace of Hip Hop, the South Bronx, The Hip Hop Prayer Book offers a means to worship that will draw in the young and speak to those not generally spoken to by the Church. Containing daily prayers, psalms, a variety of services (including a Eucharist), and a selection of bible stories all designed with the enlivening power of Hip Hop in mind, and prefaces by two bishops of the Episcopal Church and a wealth of contextualizing materials, The Hip Hop Prayer Book is designed for in personal worship and by church leaders looking for ways in which to broaden the reach of their congregation.

Psalm 23 as adapted by Ryan Kearse
The Lord is all that, I need for nothing.
He allows me to chill.
He keeps me from being heated
and allows me to breathe easy.
He guides my life so that
I can represent and give
shouts out in his Name.
And even though I walk through
the Hood of death,
I don’t back down
for you have my back.
The fact that you have me covered
allows me to chill.
He provides me with back-up
in front of my player-haters
and I know that I am a baller
and life will be phat.
I fall back in the Lord’s crib
for the rest of my life.

It’s a good thing I’d already finished breakfast when I saw this, or I’d have Wheat Chex all over my screen now.

UPDATE: There’s a picture at ENS of Bishop Roskam gettin’ jiggy wit’ it that I’d love to post, but there was so much ridicule of her on the Internet after it came out that it’s now proprietary. So if you’d like to see the endorser of the Hip Hop Prayer Book, click the link. The photo is miscaptioned, however. The actual caption should be a quote from one of the African-American teenagers saying, “Why’s that overdressed white lady doing the chicken dance out here?”

(Via Cann and Canterbury Tales.)

The National Council of Churches has the answer to the deepening crisis in the Persian Gulf:

The incident today of Iranian seizure of British naval personnel underscores in dramatic fashion our call for diplomatic relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran does have an ambassador in London and we understand that communications between Great Britain and Iran are already underway. We pray that this matter will be resolved quickly and peacefully, without harm to human life.

The US and Iran should have the same channels as the United States did with the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War to avoid circumstances where misunderstandings, accidents, or other unanticipated events could lead to a military confrontation. That is why we again call for diplomatic ties with Iran, believing that a new day for US-Iran relations is both possible and necessary.

That’s it. The Iranians grab sailors of the Royal Navy in what may be an act of war against Great Britain, and the NCC’s suggested action is…the United States should re-establish diplomatic relations. So that when the Iranians do it to Americans, we can talk about it.

I don’t really have any objection to this idea, so much as I object to the faith that dominates NCC thinking on international relations, which is that talk can solve practically any problem. That isn’t even the case in the Christian church, so why does anyone think that power politics works that way?

The general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches has written a strongly worded letter to the head of the African Union urging that…well, something be done about Zimbabwe. Writing to John Agyekum Kufuor, the president of Ghana, the Rev. Setri Nyomi said:

“It is our hope that through your leadership the African Union will exert influence on the Zimbabwean government to turn away from injustice and to seek the return of good governance where all enjoy justice and freedom.”

I’m not sure what he means by “the return of good governance,” since Zimbabwe has seen virtually none of that since Robert Mugabe took over. The WARC news release went on:

For some time WARC has been quite concerned about the lack of freedom of expression, the intimidation of voices of dissent and the deteriorating economic situation which has led to increased suffering and impoverishment for many in Zimbabwe. Events over the last two weeks have “heightened our concern,” the general secretary added.

“The latest phase of violence and intimidation includes the arrest and beating of opposition politicians. The violence and intimidation was also meted out against people gathered for prayers concerning the situation in Zimbabwe and against student movement leaders.

“The use of violence by government and security forces is unacceptable under any circumstances. It is especially disturbing when it is used against people simply wanting to pray for a better country or when they simply wish to express themselves,” Nyomi said.

I agree whole-heartedly with Nyomi’s concern, and I’m glad he’s expressing it to the African Union. He’s certainly correct about the deterioration of human rights in Zimbabwe, though it’s been going on a lot longer than the last two weeks and is more pervasive than this press release suggests. But his heart is certainly in the right place. The sad thing is that the only thing he can suggest in terms of action is that the AU “exert influence” on the Mugabe government in the hopes that one of Africa’s most vicious thugs will play nice if he’s just “influenced” in the right way. Of course, it’s also sad that Africa is chock full of dictators and tyrants whose methods of staying in power are just as thuggish as those of Mugabe, and who therefore lack both the moral credibility and the inclination to do anything about the situation there. I’m afraid that if Nyomi is to have any hope at all of changing the course of events in Zimbabwe, he’s going to have to look outside of AFrica for help.

New charges have been filed in the case of the Rev. Janet Edwards, the descendent of Jonathan Edwards who conducted a lesbian “wedding” back in 2005. According to the Presbyterian Online:

A new complaint has been filed against Janet Edwards, the Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh who last year was taken to church court for marrying a lesbian couple, only to have the charges dropped because the court found they were filed four days late.

James C. Yearsley, a Presbyterian minister who is currently serving in Florida, filed a complaint against Edwards shortly after she performed the marriage in June 2005, only to see the charges against her dismissed on a technicality in November. Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Permanent Judicial Commission ruled that a special investigating committee filed charges against Edwards after its deadline for doing so.

But now a new case may be brought against Edwards, who has been an activist for the full participation of gay and lesbian people in the church.

Yearsley announced last month that he has submitted a new grievance against Edwards that alleges she acted in “willful and deliberate defiance” of her ordination vows and of the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).Seven other PC(USA) ministers and six elders from Texas, North Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Washington State have signed on to the new complaint, joining Yearsley as “co-accusers.”

Yearsley, who filed the original 2005 complaint alone, said in a press release that he decided to re-file the accusation with Pittsburgh Presbytery in conjunction with others this time “because the church and Ms. Edwards never had their day in court.”

The PC(USA)’s Book of Order defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and church courts have ruled that Presbyterian ministers may not utilize the denomination’s marriage liturgy in same-sex ceremonies.

In their complaint, a copy of which was provided to the Presbyterian News Service, the church leaders accused Edwards of acting in “willful and deliberate violation of her ordination vows” as stated in the Book of Order by performing the same-sex wedding ceremony.

Edwards, 56, said she does not believe she violated her ordination vows by marrying the lesbian partners, who live near Wheeling, W.V.

We’ll see what a new court does–actually conduct the trial in a manner that upholds the Book of Order, or whether it is run with a predetermined result in mind. One interesting aspect of this case is this: Edwards, a clergyperson from Pennsylvania, even while proclaiming her innocence, freely admits that she “married” two lesbians from West Virginia in a ceremony in California. Same sex marriage is not legal in any of those three states. So just what was it that she thinks she was doing?

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