August 2007


I wrote about this last month, and it is still absolutely inexplicable to me how an Israeli government can allow this to happen:

A month-old Islamic dig on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to replace faulty electrical cables has damaged an ancient wall that is likely a remnant of the Second Temple, Israeli archaeologists said Thursday.

The work, which is being carried out with the approval of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the state-run Antiquities Authority, has been repeatedly condemned by independent Israeli archaeologists, who are calling for its immediate halt.

“The Israeli Government is lending a hand to the destruction of one of the most important archaeological sites in the world,” said Bar-Ilan University archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkai at a Jerusalem press conference.

Barkai said the dig, which involves tractors and other heavy construction equipment, has created a 400-meter-long and 1.5-meter-deep trench on the site, destroying layers of ancient remains.

Among the antiquities that have been damaged are a 7-meter-wide wall that apparently dates back to Second-Temple times and was likely part of the Temple courts, according to Israeli archaeologists from the nonpartisan Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.

Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar said that the Temple Mount had become “one big construction site,” and blasted the government for authorizing “rampant barbarism and vandalism” there.

You can let the Israeli Antiquities Authority (which according to the article has turned a deaf ear to the protest of people who should know what’s going on, namely archaeologists) know what you think of this historical, scientific, and religious vandalism by going to the web site and giving them a piece of your mind. If you do, remember to be polite, respectful, and cognizant that this is Israeli and Jewish history we’re talking about. References to rebuilding the Temple and the Second Coming won’t get you anywhere, even if they had anything to do with the subject at hand. Let them know that as one who values the history of Jerusalem and the Jewish people, you urge them to stop the Islamic authorities (the Waqf, who deny that anything has been damaged) from destroying antiquities valued the world over.

From Ethics Daily comes the latest evidence that the environmental movement is developing into a new religion:

Visitors to East Anglia’s annual Greenpeace fair in England on Sunday will be able to confess their sins against the environment to a Catholic priest.

But the Rev. Antony Sutch, who will be hearing people’s eco-confessions, said it would be a question of secular rather than sacramental confession.

“I am going along because I am someone conscious of the need to look at our consumption and greed and what this is doing to the world God gave us to live on,” he said.

So does that mean he’s going to do secular absolutions, too?

The fair is taking place just outside Bungay, 100 miles northeast of London, and is the biggest fund-raising event organized by members of Greenpeace, the environmental organization founded in 1971. They hope to raise more than $30,000. This year the sound system at one music stage will be powered by a member of the audience riding an exercise bicycle.

Now, what would really be neat is if they could get the Rolling Stones to play at their event. If they can work that out, this would be the most appropriate cyclist to give the Stones their juice, given their, uh, advanced ages:

bicyclist.jpg

(Via T19.)

I’m going to miss Bob Edgar. The general secretary of the National Council of Churches has given me a lot of laughs over the years, and as he heads off to Common Cause (doing essentially the same work he’s done at the NCC, except in Washington instead of New York), he’s going to leave behind a legacy of overt political activism and nonsensical rhetoric that’s going to be hard to top. By way of reminding us that he’s also a preacher (of the United Methodist variety), he’s leaving us with one of his famous expository biblical theological political sermons, which can be found at Day 1. The “text” for this opus is 1 Corinthians 12:

We have the Apostle Paul to thank for the image of the Body of Christ. In this particular passage, he was addressing the quarreling followers of Jesus in Corinth. Paul had established this Christian community only a few years earlier, and he was writing because he had heard they couldn’t agree on leadership. Sound familiar? So they were arguing amongst themselves. Paul is trying to tell them in this letter-you’re missing the point. Spend your energy on what Jesus taught us. Respect the gifts in each other. And it doesn’t matter what race or class or ethnic background you are, we are all equal in the eyes of the one God.

There’s a lot of talk in our country lately about values. The political campaign for 2008 is bringing to the forefront all the “issues” that have been used to divide us. Americans have been no different than the church goers in Corinth-arguing about leadership.

The key phrase in Paul’s letter is this: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The common good. There it is, right there in the Bible. God’s Holy Spirit gives each one of us a unique gift for the good of all of God’s creation.

“The common good.” As Inigo Montoya famously remarked, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The “common good” referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:7 is not “the good of all of God’s creation.” It is for the good of the church that the Holy Spirit has given spiritual gifts to the people of God. Despite Edgar’s delight in his own discovery (“see, see–I told you! It’s right there in the Bible!”), the Church has known for 2000 years that this verse is in Paul’s letter, and has known what it means. That’s because it is able to read Scripture without assuming that everything must have an application to the political issues of the day (either that or dismissed as archaic). 1 Corinthians 12-14 is about the way the church is supposed to function, and about the context (agape) that forms the setting for that functioning. 1 Corinthians 12:7 is no more about the political stuff that Edgar follows up with than 1 Corinthians 13 is about marital relations.

In another misuse of Scripture, we get this:

Jesus was the agent through which God created the heavens and the earth. And if we can believe the psalmist that “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;”–that’s Psalm 24–why should there be any division among us about reducing greenhouse gases, switching to wind or solar power, or reusing materials we unthinkingly throw away.

So Psalm 24, a magnificent hymn of praise to the King of Glory, becomes proof that we need to follow Al Gore off the edge of a cliff. Scientific evidence of greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming? Hah! We don’t need no stinking science–we have Psalm 24! A psalm that proclaims,

Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!

is actually about recycling! Plastics and aluminum cans, right there in the Bible! Who’da thunk it?

But Edgar doesn’t stop mangling Scripture there. He next moves on to the Gospels:

Jesus also had another priority. It was taking care of the poor. The Gospel of Luke, the first reported words of Jesus in public ministry come right out of the prophet Isaiah. He said this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”

If we are followers of Jesus, what are we doing to eliminate poverty that kills?

Jesus, of course, didn’t say anything about “eliminating” poverty. In fact, He said that we would always have the poor with us. But Edgar thinks bigger than Jesus ever could have–about what you’d expect from someone who used to be in Congress. Oh, and pretty much all biblical scholars are convinced that the first words of Jesus’ public ministry were, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) But Edgar’s never been big on that repentance stuff, except for political conservatives–reeks too much of fire and brimstone.

One possible solution is for those of who are part of the faithful community to support the Millennium Development Goals. [peace and blessings be upon them, as Chris Johnson would say].

That’s right, folks–the way we obey Jesus and eliminate poverty is by supporting the UN in its effort to cut poverty by half by 2015.

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There’s more, but I’m getting a headache.

The EPC General Assembly office has announced the first admissions into the EPC/New Wineskins transitional presbytery. As of August 21st, the following churches had been admitted:

  • Hope Presbyterian Church in Rogue River, Ore.; Brian Boisen, pastor; pending their dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA).

In addition, Grace Chapel Presbyterian Church in Madison, Miss., and its pastor, Steve Bryant, have been received into and EPC transitional presbytery in preparation for possible membership in the Central South Presbytery.

(Via Layman Online.)

Muslim foot-washing rituals have been in the news recently as a number of public universities, including our own local George Mason, have installed special basins in public restrooms on campus for the use of Muslims preparing for prayer. In at least one case in Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union, normally Johnny-on-the-spot in church-state separation cases, declined to intervene, holding that the school’s expenditures were an appropriate “health and safety” measure. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, on the other hand, claims the law on such expenditures is “murky.” Now, another university is seeking to prevent Christians in a school organization from washing the feet of new members, claiming it’s “hazing,” according to the Alliance Defense Fund:

A federal judge said no Friday to Savannah State University’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a Christian student group.  University officials booted the student group, Commissioned II Love, off campus after university officials deemed the group’s act of sharing the Gospel as “harassment” and the club’s practice of washing the feet of new members–as Jesus did with his disciples–as “hazing.”

“Christian students cannot be treated as second-class citizens.  It’s ridiculous that a university would boot a Christian student club from campus simply for exercising its First Amendment right to free speech,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Joseph Martins with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.

Officials at Savannah State University suspended the Christian student organization in April 2006, denying the group access to university facilities and benefits.  On Sept. 11, university officials applied the highest sanction possible against the student group–complete and formal expulsion from campus–alleging that the group violated its suspension when some of its members individually participated in a contemporary Christian music event.

Savannah State officials accused the student ministry of engaging in “harassment” because its members shared their faith with other students and “hazing” because its leaders washed the feet of new members in an act of service.  Foot washing is an ancient Christian custom reflecting Jesus’ service and love for his disciples.  The university charged that foot washing was “an activity which endangers or is likely to endanger the physical health of a student, regardless of the student’s willingness to participate in such activity.”

Yeah, I mean, by the time they’re done somebody’s feet might be clean. Can’t have that on a college campus. I can just imagine the lawyer who argued this in front of a federal judge coming out of the courtroom thinking, “well, I’ve just made a total idiot of myself.”

I’ve heard of people who thought they were God, but they are generally considered psychotic. Evidently the lunatics are running the asylum in mainland China:

As of September 1, China is tightening control over Tibetan Buddhism with a new law requiring government permission for the reincarnation of lamas.

The new law bans Tibetan lamas, or monks, from reincarnating without Chinese government approval.

China, which has ruled Tibet for more than half a century, says anyone outside China cannot influence the reincarnation process and only monasteries in China can apply for permission.

I obviously don’t believe in reincarnation, of Buddhist lamas or anyone else, but does this strike anyone else as being a tad…presumptuous, shall we say?

John Powers, an expert on Tibetan Buddhism at Australia National University, says the law is “absurd” but at the same time, “chilling”.

“They’re [Chinese government] trying to exercise as much control as they possibly can over religious practices and over peoples’ lives,” he said. “It’s not even just exercising control of the present life, they even trying to control future life and death. This sort of thing would only occur in a totalitarian government.”

Actually, I’m not sure that any totalitarian government has ever tried to assert control over the afterlife. I believe we have a new record here.

Of course, this is the same government that has tried for years to tell Catholics that they can’t be led by the Pope, has killed and imprisoned who knows how many Falun Gong followers for doing mental and breathing exercises, and has driven millions of Christians into underground churches as the only way to practice their faith without the government telling them what to preach or teach. And all this by an atheist government! When you’ve got your brute fingers in everyone’s religious pies, why should your monomania for control be limited by a little thing like death?

“As my theology began to evolve and change, I began to see marriage as an antiquated institution that oppresses women,” she said.

–The Rev. Melanie Dawn Miller (United Church of Christ), in the August 26 New York Times announcement of her wedding to  William Lanzana.

(Via UCCtruths.)

The Presbyterian News Service has more information and quotes stemming from the conviction of the Rev. Jane Spahr, who was charged with violating the PCUSA constitution by performing so-called “weddings” for two lesbian couples:

The Synod of the Pacific’s Permanent Judicial Commission (PJC) ruled 6-2 last week that while the “lesbian evangelist” and longtime Presbyterian minister “acted with conscience and conviction,” her actions were still at odds with the church’s constitution.

“Regardless of the expression of conscience by the Rev. Dr. Spahr, she may not circumvent the standards of the church,” according to the synod PJC ruling. “Although the Rev. Dr. Spahr had acted with conscience and conviction, her actions were contrary to the Constitution as it is authoritatively interpreted, [and] is therefore subject to censure.”

This used to be what civil disobedience was about–one would break a law that one believed to be unjust, and then accepted the punishment by way of recognizing the legitimacy, if not the justice, of the law, in order to demonstrate that injustice. But that’s not the way today. Nowadays, one breaks a law one believes to be unjust, and then whines when one receives even so much as a slap on the wrist for doing so:

“I am deeply saddened that our church has chosen not to recognize the loving relationships of members of its own family,” Spahr said. “These couples and many like them have found a sacred trust in their love for each other. This reversal of the presbytery’s decision promotes a belief that somehow this love is less than valid.”

At the same time, Spahr also plays the violence card, to her shame:

“I’m just deeply saddened, I’m deeply saddened because of the injustice,” Spahr told the Presbyterian News Service on Aug. 24. “This kind of second-class treatment often perpetuates not only the myths and stereotypes but often gives people license to hurt us for violence and I’m so concerned about that.”

So because Jane Spahr got “rebuked” by a Presbyterian church court, drunken roughnecks are going to go out looking to beat up the next Matthew Shepherd. No doubt they’ll be chanting, “Spahr got hers, now you’re getting yours!”

The fact is that the violence card is perhaps the most dishonest of all the ploys for support used by gay activists. The April 1968 inner city riots that followed on the heels of the assassination of Martin Luther King were certainly touched off by that murder. I can’t think of a single incident of physical assault on gays in America that can be tied to a news event. That’s not to say that any kind of assault–physical or otherwise–on gay people is ever acceptable. It’s to say that events like the conviction of Jane Spahr in an ecclesiastical court don’t cause them, and it’s supremely dishonest of her to suggest that they do, even indirectly.

As noted above, the decision was not unanimous. Two members of the court offered this by way of dissent:

The two dissenting members of the synod PJC — Linda Lee and Susan Barnes — wrote in a minority report that: “Reverend Spahr’s performance of same-sex marriages is not held by the Presbytery or the Presbytery Permanent Judicial Commission to be contrary to the fundamental tenants of the Reformed faith, therefore [we] believe the issue of freedom of conscience importantly distinguishes her actions from willful disobedience, and does not require censure.”

Translation: “as long as we approve of your cause, you can toss the constitution in the trash for all we care, as long as it’s an exercise in ‘freedom of conscience.’” I’m not at all sure why exercising freedom of conscience “distinguishes” any actions from willful disobedience–after all, civil disobedience is both an exercise of conscience and a freely willed act of disobedience to what is considered an unjust law.

Then there’s the lawyer, Sara Taylor, who’s certain that the court fouled up, and that the PCUSA is, well, you know:

Taylor said she believes Spahr acted within her rights as an ordained minister in marrying the two couples because the section of the PC(USA)’s constitution specifying that marriage is between a man and a woman is a definition, not a directive.

“They did not examine the case thoroughly,” said Taylor, referring to the synod PJC. “They did not look directly at the constitution, which does not bar same-sex marriages because the requirement that marriage is for a man and a woman is not an essential. It’s a guideline but not an essential.”

The attorney said she believes that some serving on the synod PJC were “substituting their own personal beliefs about the nature of homosexuality” in finding her client guilty and already had their minds made up about the verdict “before they came into the room.”

“I do believe they’re substituting their own personal beliefs about the nature of homosexuality instead of considering the constitutional issues raised by this case because Janie had a constitutional right to do this,” Taylor told the Presbyterian News Service. “It [marriage between man and woman] is not an essential. She’s not required to conform her practice and her faith because it’s not an essential. They just didn’t even deal with that issue.”

Taylor went on to say that she believes the PC(USA) is “homophobic.”

A few responses:

1) The definition vs. directive argument is specious. If I see on the side of a can of 10W40 that “Motor oil is not edible,” I don’t need a further warning saying, “So don’t eat this!” When I see on a bottle of bleach that the contents are poisonous, I don’t need to be told not to drink it. (Those warnings may in fact be on the sides of those containers, but that’s entirely a function of the state of liability law in this country.) When the PCUSA constitution says that marriage is between a man and a woman, it shouldn’t have to say, “so don’t marry persons of the same gender, multiple partners, people and animals, or adults and children.” It’s clearly implied by the definition, unless you’re a lawyer.

2) I don’t know whether any of the members of the court were “substituting their own personal beliefs about the nature of homosexuality” in reaching their decision. I do know Rev. Spahr was substituting her own judgment about what parts of the constitution could or could not be treated like origami to allow her to do what she wanted.

3) Taylor saying that PCUSA is “homophobic” is on the same level as a French knight telling the king of England that his mother is a hamster and his father smells like elderberries–meaningless, pointless name-calling. I hope that attorney Taylor felt better afterwards. Maybe she should have put her thumbs in her ears, waggled her fingers and stuck her tongue out, too.

UPDATE: Gay advocacy group More Light Presbyterians national field director Michael Adee weighs in with a response that any activist with the Human Rights Campaign could have written:

Several key matters are at stake with this case and decision. For a religious institution to cling to a binary view of gender is a failure of recognizing God’s palette of creation. Our own hearts, human experience, the sciences and even our own spirits reveal to us that there is no simple notion of what is a man or a woman, or that love is limited to opposite sex hearts only.

“Our own hearts,” “human experience,” and “our own spirits” are three different ways of saying “ME!” The “sciences” doesn’t refer to hard sciences (which haven’t, in fact, shown that “there is no simple notion of what is a man or a woman”), but rather to the social sciences, which are easily manipulatable for political purposes. Please note the two items that are missing: Scripture and the PCUSA Book of Order. The former is supposedly what Presbyterians base their understanding of revelation on (and which plainly teaches a view of gender that is binary and complementarian), the latter was the subject of the trial. Hence the irrelevance of this statement.

This decision reveals that our Church is out of step when it comes to recognizing and embracing all of God’s good creation which includes God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children and their families. God’s good creation includes God’s gift of sexuality and love which is not a possession of heterosexuals only.

A couple of responses: 1) God’s creation is good, but that doesn’t mean that everything that exists in that creation is still good, given the fall. 2) “God’s gift of sexuality and love” is one given to all human beings, but that doesn’t mean that He has sanctioned any and all uses to which our imaginations might put them.

Even our Book of Order used to justify discrimination against LGBT Presbyterians this week in Burlingame reminds us that “councils may err.” The final word about God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children was not spoken this week.

So if the Book of Order errs, change it, the way that any Presbyterian can advocate and seek change, rather than breaking the rules and then declaring that you have to be given what you demand. The justice of your cause is hardly self-evident, so persuade Presbyterians that they should change, rather than relying on what amounts to the brute force of judicial fiat to get what you want.

Presbyterian leaders like former Moderator Jack Rogers and William Stacey Johnson of Princeton Seminary call the Church to end discrimination against LGBT persons and make the case for Christians to support same-sex marriage.

This is a meaningless appeal to authority which opponents can do in equal measure (see Robert Gagnon for a start). Speaking of authority, guess which authority not only doesn’t appear above, but doesn’t appear in Adee’s statement at all. Big surprise, huh?

Love is what matters most.

All kind of depends on your definition, or even what Greek word you use. For this subject, it looks like it is mostly about eros.

(Via Layman Online.)

The Rev. Jane Spahr, who conducted the pseudo-weddings of two lesbian couples in 2004 and 2005, has been convicted by a PCUSA church court of violating the denomination’s constitution. According to the AP:

A regional judicial committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA) ruled 6-2 that while the Rev. Jane Spahr of San Rafael “acted with conscience and conviction,” her actions were still at odds with the church’s constitution, her defense team said in a statement.

The ruling, which was delivered late Thursday by certified mail to lawyers for Spahr and the church, reverses a lower court’s decision in March 2006 that she acted within her rights as an ordained minister when she married two lesbian couples in 2004 and 2005.

That decision essentially said that the PCUSA constitution could be violated by anyone who thought they had a good reason to do so, so it isn’t surprising that its decision was overturned.

Spahr, 65, who is retiring at the end of this month, was the first minister of her faith to be tried for officiating the weddings of gay couples. She was among a handful of Presbyterian ministers across the country facing disciplinary action for similar offenses.

Spahr’s legal team vowed to appeal.

In other words, they will try to convince a higher court that the PCUSA constitution is optional for gay activists.

“My gut reaction was, ‘Oh no, no,’” Spahr, who came out as a lesbian in 1978, told The Associated press. “It was sadness first. Sadness because I want so much for the church to be a place of welcome, and to take seriously our relationships … I want the church to be that place of hospitality and welcome. Not to tolerate us, but to accept us and love us for who we are.”

Then convince the church that its current rules are wrong, rather than going ahead and doing whatever you want. It never ceases to amaze me how tone-deaf people like Spahr are–they do nothing but harden the opposition in its position and resolve when they act in such a way as to say, “the rules don’t apply to me, because I operate from a higher morality than the rest of you peons.”

Whenever Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson says he doesn’t want to be known as the “gay bishop,” just remember stuff like this:

The Episcopal bishop at the heart of the deep division within the Anglican Communion announced plans to enter into a same-sex civil union next summer.

Taking advantage of a newly signed law that offers civil unions for same-sex couples in New Hampshire, openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson unveiled an unofficial date for the civil union in an interview with BBC journalist Michael Buerk.

“We were looking for a three-day weekend which would allow people to travel more easily, and that happened to be the fifth anniversary of my election as the Bishop of New Hampshire and thought that would be an appropriate date,” said Robinson, according to the Church of England Newspaper.

Having linked his homosexuality with his episcopacy by being able to celebrate two anniversaries at once, Robinson has in the process decided to spit once again in the face of much of the world-wide Anglican Communion:

Robinson’s tentative June civil union would occur just weeks before Lambeth 2008, the decennial worldwide gathering of Anglican leaders in July 2008. Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, the Anglican Communion’s spiritual leader, has withheld inviting Robinson to the conference, indicating that his appointment as bishop has caused serious division within the communion, but has extended invitations to U.S. Episcopal leaders who supported Robinson’s consecration.

While Robinson is planning to enter into civil union just ahead of the meeting, he said his critics would find any date he sets “impermissible.”

“I am certainly not doing that to rub salt into anyone’s wounds, but no one should expect me to penalize me and my partner when these rights are being offered,” said Robinson in the interview, according to the Church of England Newspaper.

It’s true that just by entering into a civil union Robinson would be calling yet more attention to himself (something he seems to thrive on). But it really is obtuse to claim that he’s not trying to “rub salt into anyone’s wounds” when he knows that his announcement as well as the actual event will do exactly that. He then compounds the “salting” by acting as though he’s somehow a victim, that if he doesn’t go ahead with his plans when he wants to do so, those who object will be “penalizing” him.

Having played the victim card, he then makes an astounding admission:

Still, Robinson admitted that as the communion faces schism, mainly over what conservatives say is the departure of The Episcopal Church as well as the Anglican Church of Canada from Scripture, and that The Episcopal Church may have got it wrong.

“This was not just my doing this was an entire community’s doing, and that community tried its very best to discern the will of God, and we may be wrong,” he said.

“I am ready to admit to you that I cannot be sure that this is the right thing or the right time or the right way,” he added.

As far as I know, this is the first time that Robinson has ever admitted that it may not have been the Holy Spirit whispering in the collective ears of ECUSA’s leadership and saying, “God didn’t really mean that stuff about homosexuality–go ahead and make Gene Robinson a bishop.” But of course, even as he’s making this admission he makes clear that he’s not the only one to blame, but that all of the bishops and delegates to the 2003 General Convention are responsible for the mess as well. And even if by some chance they were wrong, don’t think for one minute that means he’s going to make any effort to right it:

And although he values the Anglican Communion, the bishop said he would never stand down from his position and God’s call to him.

Which call, written in large letters–BB–across the sky, may have meant “bale barley” rather than “become bishop.” Sorry, old preacher’s joke.

Given the disastrous effects that his ascension to the episcopal throne has had on the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, and indirectly on much of mainline Protestantism in the United States and around the world, one would think that would be enough evidence that he and his pals did make a horrendous mistake, and that he can still do the honorable thing and resign. Yeah, right–and Richard Dawkins is going to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

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