July 2007


British interdenominational agency Christian Aid is sponsoring the latest in what is becoming a never-ending series of gimmicky non-events to make people aware of climate change. According to Ecumenical News International:

They won’t go around the world in 80 days but walkers in the longest-ever protest march in British history are going to great lengths by criss-crossing the United Kingdom and Ireland to draw attention to climate change.

Sponsored by Christian Aid, an agency of 41 denominations in Britain and Ireland, the “Cut the Carbon” marchers began their 1000-mile (1610 kilometre) trek on 14 July in Bangor, Northern Ireland. The march will end in early October in London, where the walkers will present a petition to Prime Minister Gordon Brown that will press for urgent action to cut carbon dioxide emissions.

The British prime minister will also be offered thousands of shoelaces tied together – organizers hope for 1000 miles of them – to illustrate the backing for the event. Supporters across Britain and Ireland are invited to send their used shoelaces. They will receive in return from Christian Aid a new pair bearing the march’s logo, plus a written message to wear as a symbol of support for the march.

Behind the gimmicks and carnival atmosphere as supporters join the marchers for rallies and concerts by celebrities en route, organizers say the intention is to deliver a precise message.

The petition for Brown urges the introduction of legislation to make British companies declare their carbon dioxide emissions according to an agreed mandatory standard, and for the country to push for an international agreement to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

Which just happen to be the magic number and date plucked out of the air, completely without scientific rationale or practical roadmap for achievement, and delivered to the world on stone tablets by the man whose most fervent followers call the Goracle, the former vice president of the United States.

Oh, well. At least these folks are walking, rather than flying, to show their devotion to the Prophet. Their carbon footprint will be nothing compared to that of Gore’s Live Earth concerts.

A group of evangelicals have written an open letter to President Bush to express their support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Signed by such people as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary, evangelist Leighton Ford, Chancellor Vernon Grounds of Denver Seminary, Gordon MacDonald of World Relief, David Neff of Christianity Today, the presidents of the Christian & Missionary Alliance and Evangelical Covenant Church, and Richard Stearns of World Vision, it’s a pretty unobjectionable statement of where many if not most evangelicals are. I’d associate myself with it, and so reproduce it here in its entirety:

Dear Mr. President:

We write as evangelical Christian leaders in the United States to thank you for your efforts (including the major address on July 16) to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to achieve a lasting peace in the region. We affirm your clear call for a two-state solution. We urge that your administration not grow weary in the time it has left in office to utilize the vast influence of America to demonstrate creative, consistent and determined U.S. leadership to create a new future for Israelis and Palestinians. We pray to that end, Mr. President.

We also write to correct a serious misperception among some people including some U.S. policymakers that all American evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution and creation of a new Palestinian state that includes the vast majority of the West Bank. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians. We hope this support will embolden you and your administration to proceed confidently and forthrightly in negotiations with both sides in the region.

As evangelical Christians, we embrace the biblical promise to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you.” (Genesis 12:3). And precisely as evangelical Christians committed to the full teaching of the Scriptures, we know that blessing and loving people (including Jews and the present State of Israel) does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted. Genuine love and genuine blessing means acting in ways that promote the genuine and long-term well being of our neighbors. Perhaps the best way we can bless Israel is to encourage her to remember, as she deals with her neighbor Palestinians, the profound teaching on justice that the Hebrew prophets proclaimed so forcefully as an inestimably precious gift to the whole world.

Historical honesty compels us to recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine. Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other. The only way to bring the tragic cycle of violence to an end is for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a just, lasting agreement that guarantees both sides viable, independent, secure states. To achieve that goal, both sides must give up some of their competing, incompatible claims. Israelis and Palestinians must both accept each other’s right to exist. And to achieve that goal, the U.S. must provide robust leadership within the Quartet to reconstitute the Middle East roadmap, whose full implementation would guarantee the security of the State of Israel and the viability of a Palestinian State. We affirm the new role of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and pray that the conference you plan for this fall will be a success.

Mr. President, we renew our prayers and support for your leadership to help bring peace to Jerusalem, and justice and peace for all the people in the Holy Land.

The difference between this approach and the extremes on right and left is striking. They don’t insist, as many on the religious left do, that Jerusalem has to be divided, or that the “right of return” must be given to the Palestinians (a move that would destroy Israel as a Jewish state), or that Hamas must be returned to power or treated as a legitimate partner for peace (which it isn’t). They don’t insist, as many on the religious right do, that Israel has a biblical claim on the West Bank (much less on all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates), or that the Palestinians should under no circumstances be granted sovereignty, or that essentially anything Israel does in the pursuit of its security is morally acceptable. There are things I might have wished they’d said–for instance, a recognition that there are still lots of Palestinians who are devoted to Israel’s destruction, or that virulent anti-Semitism continues to be endemic in Palestinian schools and media, making it next to impossible to create a climate where fruitful negotiations are really possible–and I think that they failed to do so because they were striving so hard for “balance.” But by and large, in terms of the goals that we should be supporting, I think they got it right.

UPDATE: Hmm. I have to admit that this makes me wonder what I’ve missed here:

Corinne Whitlatch, CMEP’s director, called Ron Sider this morning with appreciation for this important evidence of public support among evangelicals for a fair solution to the conflict and with suggestions for bringing their letter to the attention of members of Congress and other key people in the Administration.

CMEP’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict embodies the worst of the religious left’s stance (they have advocated all three of the items listed above, for instance). If they approve of this letter…?

The great Swedish movie director Ingmar Bergman died today at the age of 89. If you’ve never seen The Seventh Seal, I suggest you get yourself to the nearest Blockbuster as soon as you can. If Bergman had never made another movie, that one–one of the great films in the history of cinema–would have been enough to secure his place in the annals of the medium.

Immigration has been one of the hottest issues of the year, but I’ve avoided commenting on it because I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, for years I was in favor of an “open borders” policy–let anyone come here who wants to, for whatever (non-nefarious) reason. I’m the grandson of Polish and Lithuanian immigrants, and I’d like to think that the country that welcomed my grandparents during the massive wave of immigration in the first couple of decades of the 20th century still has plenty of room for those looking for freedom and opportunity. On the other hand, in an age of international terrorism, the safety of the population has to be a big factor in immigration policy, as does the rule of law–as long as there are legal requirements for entry into the United States, it’s incumbent on the government to enforce them.

Such is not the mindset, however, of a group called Interfaith Worker Justice of Arizona, which is looking for people to send a letter to the Sheriff of Maricopa County (Phoenix) opposing what it calls an “anti-immigrant hotline.” The left-wing PCUSA caucus called the Witherspoon Society has a copy of it on their web site:

As people of faith and conscience, we decry your announcement of a telephone hotline to be used by residents to report information or evidence relating to crimes involving illegal immigration or smuggling. In setting up such a hotline and publicly declaring it to be a weapon against illegal immigration, its worst use will be to incite neighbor against neighbor.

Let’s get this straight: these folks are opposed to citizens reporting “people smuggling,” an activity that is not only illegal but dangerous to those being smuggled into the country. So smugglers should be free to continue endangering people’s lives, dehumanizing them as cargo, and profiteering off of others’ desperation. Got it.

Inviting the residents of Maricopa County to report information about or evidence of crimes related to illegal immigration creates ear and tension in the community and thus achieves precisely the opposite effect: far from your role as a peace officer and in direct opposition to your stated desire to protect the residents of Maricopa County.

I think that the authors of this letter have confused law enforcement officers with social workers.

As people of faith and conscience, we believe that a measure of a government is in its protection of its most vulnerable residents.

Unless they are being smuggled into the country by others looking to make a buck, in which case the government should turn its back.

We believe that by opening such a hotline to the general public, persons of obvious ethnic identity will be “turned in” on the basis of little more than their skin color.

This has the sound of an over-active imagination. As of 2005, the population of 3,635,528 was 29% Hispanic. That means that over one million people would theoretically qualify as “persons of obvious ethnic identity.” It’s really hard to believe that one-third of the population will suddenly be the object of citizen snitches.My suspicion is that in a place like Maricopa County, the assumption will be that one is dealing with legal immigrants or citizens unless one has a reason to think otherwise.

As faith leaders and residents of Maricopa County, we suggest that citizen crime reporting is already accomplished under your other hotlines, ones that do not have the potential to target vulnerable residents.

Given what’s in the rest of this letter, I have to assume that the other hotlines to which the letter refers don’t deal with immigration-related crimes, in which case they don’t actually accomplish anything to inform law enforcement about such crimes. It also occurs to me that the tenor of this letter is that if there is a possibility for abuse or even mistakes when enforcing laws, then those laws should go unenforced.

There’s more, but that certainly gives you the basics. Those who are signing this letter–including the Rev. Trina Zelle, co-moderator of the Witherspoon Society who works for Interfaith Worker Justice and may be the author, that’s not clear–are essentially arguing for open borders without saying so. That’s a respectable position, though they should do so openly rather than implicitly (and don’t, I suspect, because they know that there is almost no support for such a position). But what’s really problematic is that, in the absence of an open borders policy by the government, they are also essentially arguing that laws should go unenforced, including those that would protect the vulnerable from those who would exploit them. Doesn’t sound like a progressive religious position to me.

I disagree with Chuck Colson about the hate crimes legislation now before Congress. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t very real efforts being made by some in government to shut down Christian speech. Colson’s latest BreakPoint column describes one of the most egregious attempts in many a year:

It doesn’t pay to take your constitutional right to free speech seriously anymore—at least, not if you live in Oakland, California. There, a handful of African-American Christian women recently found out that their free speech rights had effectively been outlawed.

The women, who are Oakland government employees, had formed an organization called the Good News Employee Association. As their flyer put it, their group was “a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With Respect for the Natural Family, Marriage, and Family Values.”

As columnist George Will relates, the women posted their flyer after other employee groups, including those advocating gay rights, had advertised their activities on the city’s email system and bulletin board. When Good News asked for equal opportunity, they were told to forget it. City officials destroyed their flyer. They accused the women of Good News of being “determined to promote harassment based on sexual orientation. If the women posted any more flyers, or sent their message via email, the city warned, they would be disciplined and perhaps terminated.

In effect, as Will notes, Oakland “has proscribed any speech that even one person might say questioned the gay rights agenda and therefore created what that person felt was a “hostile environment.” While homosexual rights groups used the city’s email system to advertise “Happy Coming Out Day,” the terms “natural family” and “marriage” and “family values” are considered intolerably inflammatory, he adds.

The Good News group has gone to court over Oakland’s attack on their First Amendment rights, and the super-liberal Ninth Circuit Court, not surprisingly, has ruled against them. The group now hopes the Supreme Court will intervene.

I don’t have the slightest doubt that the Supreme Court will overturn this ruling, and I wouldn’t even be surprised by a 9-0 vote. The idea that someone can shut down someone else’s speech simply because one is personally offended by it is  poisonous–to the American constitutional order, to the free exchange of idea, and most of all to the very notion of truth. The conduct of the Oakland officials is redolent of Soviet-style repression (without the “re-education camps”–though the spreading practice of “sensitivity training” makes one wonder what’s next in some jurisdictions), and hopefully the coming SCOTUS smackdown will make that crystal-clear to the West Coast thought police and other like-minded bureaucrats across the country.

Those who would like to further pursue the Michael Behe-Richard Dawkins kerfuffle that I wrote about here are invited to take a look at the review article by philosophy professor Ric Machuga in Christianity Today. Contra Dawkins, Machuga makes clear that Behe is no creationist, in the usual sense of the word; while he is one of the chief proponents of intelligent design, Behe finds much to appreciate in evolution even as he is critical of its less than stellar track record in dealing with the findings of microbiology and biochemistry. Machuga also deals with philosophical questions that people like Dawkins prefer to avoid. It’s not necessarily an easy read, but worth the effort.

(Hat tip: Hampton.)

The Layman Online has a helpful story and chart on congregations that have left or voted to leave the PCUSA since the 2006 General Assembly. The Layman counts 25 that have left or voted to leave, a figure that reflects only churches that have informed the Layman about their situations. In addition, six others (five in Mississippi and one in Louisiana) have sought to have courts declare that they are the sole controllers of their property, perhaps in anticipation of future departure. The number of churches in each of these categories is likely to increase substantially in the months ahead. Check them out to get the latest lowdown.

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