October 2007


According to the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has refused to rule one way or the other on whether annual conferences can appoint transsexual ministers:

Meeting in San Francisco, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church declined to intervene in the recent re-appointment of a transsexual to be pastor of a church in Baltimore. Citing the lack of a formal complaint against the transsexual minister, the denomination’s highest court said the minister still was qualified for a church appointment. The court said it was not ruling on the permissibility of transsexuality among the clergy because that specific issue was not before the court.

The Rev. Drew Phoenix, pastor of St. John’s United Methodist Church in Baltimore, professes to have changed from female to male.

The Judicial Council is the highest court in the United Methodist Church, which has 7.9 million members in the United States.

The United Methodist Church officially does not ordain into the ministry practicing homosexuals or others who are sexually active outside of marriage. United Methodism affirms God’s love and civil rights for all people, while also affirming marriage as the lifelong union of man and woman. The church has no official policy in its Book of Discipline regarding transsexuality or sex change procedures.

It sounds like the council used a technicality to avoid the decision, but based on this I think that was the right thing for them to do. The 2008 General Conference will undoubtedly face this issue, and being the body most representative of the whole church, it’s the proper forum in which to decide it. Whether bishops will then abide by the GC decision–they haven’t always abided by the Book of Discipline‘s prohibition on sexually active gay clergy–is another story.

If it’s Halloween, it must be the annual UNICEF fund-raising effort, in which American children go door to door asking for financial support for an organization that devoutly wishes there were fewer of them. Many of us old fogies remember UNICEF from our own efforts on its behalf when we were kids, when it was about improving the lot of children, especially in the impoverished regions of the world. Now, what it is all too often about is abortion and population control. Lifesite offers a timely reminder that this is not an organization Christians should be supporting:

Halloween is here again, and with it the fundraising drive for UNICEF the so-called children’s fund of the United Nations which has been mired in abortion support for the last twenty years. The organization has not learned from its past and continues to engage in the anti-life agenda. Earlier this month UNICEF joined Planned Parenthood International and the UN’s population control arm UNFPA in sponsoring a women’s conference, one thirds of which was dedicated to promoting abortion. [See here for news story.]

UNICEF has been implicated in population control and “family planning” measures for many years as thoroughly documented in Winnifred Prestwich’s 1993 pamphlet UNICEF Guilty as charged. The organization descended even further in 1995 when Carol Bellamy, a radical pro-abortion activist, became the executive director of the organization, a post she held till April 2005. From her elevated position, Bellamy turned UNICEF into a more direct force behind the promotion of abortion and abortifacient contraceptives working hand in hand with the notorious UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in such activities. (See LifeSiteNews.com’s archive on such UNICEF activities here.)

The change in focus at UNICEF quickly became apparent causing the Vatican’s UN Mission to issue a press release in 1996 noting that it was withdrawing its symbolic donation of support to UNICEF. The release noted that UNICEF had “begun to divert some of its already scarce economic and human resources from the care of the most basic needs of children” to abortion supporting activities (see the Vatican release here).

While UNICEF still does some good around the world, and has changed some under director Anne Veneman (who has reversed some of the far-left policies of her predeccessor, Carol Bellamy, under whom UNICEF started its abortion and population control advocacy, as well as supporting Palestinian summer camps that taught children about the glories of suicide bombing, among other unsavory activities), it still has a long way to go before it should be back in the good graces of anyone who cares about children yet to be born. Remember that as you answer your door this evening.

martin-luther.gifOctober 31 isn’t just about witches and ghouls–it’s also about one of the most important historical events of the last 1000 years. On this day in 1517, Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenburg church, and while the roots of his action go back years, today is usually designated as the start of the Protestant Reformation. It proved to be a revolution,not just in theology, but in the way that the world is viewed by millions of Christians. Nothing much changed on that particular day; Luther himself wasn’t looking to separate from the Catholic Church so much as to debate much needed reforms in practice and theology that he believed were necessary to purify the faith. But in the decades to come, Luther was joined in his call for reform by some of the giants of the Church, including Melancthon, Calvin, Bucer, Zwingli and others. The results continue to reverberate throughout Western culture and indeed the world.

Clifton Kirkpatrick, in his final year as stated clerk of the PCUSA, seems determined to make lots of people glad that he’s riding off into the sunset. In a “message for the church from the General Assembly stated clerk,” he offers his thoughts on what constitutes the “essentials”:

I hear a good bit of conversation in the church these days about “essentials.”

Some are concerned about the church’s fidelity to the Reformed faith; others, about the essentials of faithful Christian living. All seem to want us to honor and celebrate our diversity, while being clear about the core values and common expectations for our life in Christ that hold us together as a community.

This is not the first time God’s people have had this conversation.

At which point he repairs to Scripture, and specifically to Micah, chapter 6:

Micah reminds us that God does not require elaborate rituals or detailed theological affirmations, but rather three things.

The first is to do justice. In a world and a nation where the gap is growing daily between the rich and the poor and where war and rumors of war are the order of the day, God expects us as faithful Christians to be doers of justice and to prophetically call for the things that make for justice and peace.

The second essential is to love kindness. We need to “talk the talk” in calling for a world of justice and peace, and to “walk the walk” as we relate to one another with kindness and compassion. We are called to be a living demonstration of the love of Christ to our friends and neighbors — and to our enemies and those who have a special need for a visible demonstration of the love of Christ.

The third essential — and the foundation for the other two — is to walk humbly with God. It is only through prayer, dependence on the love of Christ, and being open to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that we will be given the strength to live out Christ’s call to justice and compassion. We must nurture our roots if our branches are to bear fruit!

Sooooooo…all that stuff about the Trinity, the Incarnation, the crucifixion and resurrection, the atonement–we can just lay it aside as part of that “detailed theological affirmation” that God doesn’t require of us. All we need is to “do justice” (which apparently translates nicely into left-wing politics), “love kindness,” and “walk humbly,” which is an attitude of heart. There nothing wrong with any of these, of course; indeed, they are required of God’s people. But even Micah would have, I’m sure, said that these needed to be paired with (at least) “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” In other words, behind justice, kindness, and humility is the God who identity is of paramount importance. Without knowing whom we are being just and kind in the name of, and who it is we are to walk humbly with, all we have are good deeds and noble attitudes. But for at least one mainline denominational official, that would seem to be all we need.

A judge in Ohio has awarded the property of Hudson Presbyterian Church to the majority of the congregation that decided to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA). He’s essentially said that the trust clause of the denomination’s constitution is of no effect in Ohio. From the Akron Beacon-Journal:

A magistrate in Summit County Common Pleas Court has ruled that the property at Hudson Presbyterian Church belongs to the faction of the congregation that voted to leave the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Magistrate John Shoemaker on Friday rejected the argument of the Eastminster Presbytery that all property of the church is held in trust for the denomination as outlined in the PCUSA constitution.

The Eastminster Presbytery, the regional governing body of the denomination, is made up of 55 churches in Summit, Portage, Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

In the legal dispute, the local presbytery represented the minority group that wanted to remain part of the denomination based in Louisville, Ky. The Rev. Dan Schomer, who heads the presbytery, said in a news release that the presbytery is committed to ”the redevelopment of the congregation it first organized in 1982.”

The presbytery will almost certainly appeal this ruling, based on its alleged interference in PCUSA internal affairs:

He also said that the presbytery’s attorney is filing objections to the magistrate’s ruling because it contradicts the denomination’s constitution.

”My concern is about far more than church property. In this ruling, it appears that the civil court has effectively rewritten the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and interfered in the internal matters of the church,” Schomer said. ”I am also deeply saddened for those church members who wished to continue in affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), many of whom helped to found the church as a witness to Jesus Christ in Hudson.”

That strikes me as an argument that won’t fly, since the ruling is not on how the church governs itself, but on the ownership of local property. The problem all along–not only for PCUSA, but for the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, and possibly others–has been that they are trying to claim that a national decision based on fiat can usurp the property rights of local organizations that have financed and maintained the actual buildings, simply because those local organizations are affiliated with the national one. There are some states where that argument will fly, and others where it won’t, and it has less to do with church constitutions and governance than local approaches to property rights. We’ll just have to see which way Ohio goes on this.

(Via the Layman Online.)

 

And to all Red Sox fans out there. I was disappointed that the Rockies didn’t make more of a series of it, but there’s no denying that the Sox are the best team in the game, and that they richly deserved to be crowned World Series champs. Though I was rooting against them, they are actually my favorite American League team, so I can’t say it bothers me all that much. Oh, and congratulations, too, to Mike Lowell on his MVP selection. That award could stand for his value to the Red Sox this whole season, not just the last four games.

The header color has been duly changed as a salute to the Bostonians.

Prior to the Sabeel conference in Boston this weekend, at which he was scheduled to be the keynote speaker, Archbishop Desmond Tutu again demonstrated that the last casualty of apartheid is his own ability to distinguish any geo-political situation or moral issue from the one with which he is most familiar. He does so by writing in the Boston Globe:

My hope for peace is not amorphous. It has a shape. It is not the shape of a particular political solution, although there are some political solutions that I believe to be more just than others.

Neither does my hope take the shape of a particular people, although I have pleaded tirelessly for international attention to be paid to the misery of Palestinians, and I have roundly condemned the injustices of certain Israeli policies that compound that misery. Thus I am often accused of siding with Palestinians against Israeli Jews, naively exonerating the one and unfairly demonizing the other.

Right. So here’s an opportunity to dispel that perception. Instead, after a lengthy discussion of what heaven on earth would look like in the Holy Land, he returns to the old narrative:

What do I see and hear in the Holy Land? Some people cannot move freely from one place to another. A wall separates them from their families and from their incomes. They cannot tend to their gardens at home or to their lessons at school. They are arbitrarily demeaned at checkpoints and unnecessarily beleaguered by capricious applications of bureaucratic red tape. I grieve for the damage being done daily to people’s souls and bodies. I have to tell the truth: I am reminded of the yoke of oppression that was once our burden in South Africa.

I see and hear that ancient olive trees are uprooted. Flocks are cut off from their pastures and shepherds. The homes of some people are bulldozed even as new homes for others are illegally constructed on other people’s land. I grieve for the land that suffers such violence, the marring of its beauty, the loss of its comforts, the despoiling of its yield. I have to tell the truth: I am reminded of the bitter days of uprooting and despoiling in my own country.

I see and hear that young people believe that it is heroic and pious to kill others by killing themselves. They strap bombs to their torsos to achieve liberation. They do not know that liberation achieved by brutality will defraud in the end. I grieve the waste of their lives and of the lives they take, the loss of personal and communal security they cause, and the lust for revenge that follows their crimes, crowding out all reason and restraint. I have to tell the truth: I am reminded of the explosive anger that inflamed South Africa, too.

A lot of what he says about Israeli behavior is either a distortion of reality or a simple misrepresentation of it, and simply refuses to recognize the security fence for the passive (and incredibly successful) defensive measure that it is. When he turns to the Palestinians, he mentions suicide bombing, period. No mention of daily rockets flying into civilian areas of Israel; no mention of the disgusting daily demonization of Israel and Jews by the Palestinian media; no mention of the poisoning of children’s minds (and the future contained therein) by an educational system that is seemingly mostly about the inculcation of anti-Semitism; no mention of the refusal of the Palestinians to say “yes” when they’ve had the opportunity; no mention of the continuing determination of a large part of Palestinian society, starting with Hamas, to destroy Israel and drive the Jews out of the Holy Land. Instead, he mentions suicide bombing and then turns around and blames Israel for most of the negative impact, since we all know that the “loss of communal security,” and the “lust for revenge” that “crowds out reason and restraint” are Israeli failings in the face of provocations that they are apparently just supposed to shrug off.

And once again, all of this “reminds” Tutu of South Africa, though there are so many aspects of the two situations that are so utterly different that the one, in fact, has no bearing on the other, save in the mind of the archbishop, for whom everything is a reminder, whether helpfully or not, of South Africa. One last paragraph from this article makes that crystal clear:

Some people are enraged by comparisons between the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and what happened in South Africa. There are differences between the two situations, but a comparison need not be exact in every feature to yield clarity about what is going on. Moreover, for those of us who lived through the dehumanizing horrors of the apartheid era, the comparison seems not only apt, it is also necessary. It is necessary if we are to persevere in our hope that things can change.

“Not exact in every respect.” You’ve gotta love that. In fact, there is virtually no comparison between the two situations. In South Africa, blacks objected to being banished to “independent” Bantustans; the Palestinians are desperate for a state of their own (if anything, it’s Hamas and their desire for a single, Judenrein Palestinian state that most resemble the Afrikaaners). In South Africa, it was the state that beat up on its own people; in the Holy Land, the Palestinians aren’t citizens of Israel, but would-be invaders from outside. In South Africa, blacks had no rights to speak of; in Israel, Palestinian Arabs who are citizens–about one-sixth of the population–have all the rights of Jewish citizens, including the right to vote, to be elected to the Knesset, to sit in the government, even to speak out in support of their non-Israeli brethren. In South Africa, the courts facilitated the brutal treatment of blacks; in Israel, the courts protect the rights of Palestinians, even to the point of ordering the government to change many of its policies over the years (it is the Israeli Supreme Court, for instance, not the powerless International Court of Justice, that got the government to make changes in the route the security fence takes, ordering it to avoid as much as possible infringing on Palestinian-owned lands, orchards, and farms). I could go on, but the point is that the only place where the South Africa-Israel comparison makes sense is in the minds of people like Desmond Tutu, for whom the need to apply the stark moral distinctions of past battles is a never-ending fixation, and one that only serves to inflame a situation that needs no help in that regard.

UPDATE: The text of Tutu’s speech to the Sabeel conference yesterday is here. He says it is a “cry of the heart” to his “spiritual relatives,” to whom he says:

Don’t be found fighting against the God, your God, our God, who hears the cry of the oppressed, who sees their anguish and who will always come down to deliver them. Be not opposed to the God whose Spirit when it anoints you makes you concerned for the poor. This is your calling. If you disobey that calling, if you do not heed it, then as sure as anything one day you will come a cropper.

For what it’s worth.

Next Page »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 71 other followers