July 2009


That would be me. I leave tomorrow morning for a week in Monterrey, Mexico, where I will be taking part in a medical mission as an extra pair of hands to assist doctors and nurses. I’ll also be preaching on Sunday at the church that will be hosting the clinic, as well as visiting in nursing homes in the area.

So posting will be light at best over the next week, but I’ll try to get some updates on how the trip is going as time permits. Please be praying for all of the 23 folks who will be ministering under the auspices of the PCA’s Mission to the World agency over the next eight days.

Lydia Evans, a lay deputy from South Carolina to the recently concluded Episcopal Church General Convention, has an excellent summary/analysis of the events. She not only deals with the sexuality resolutions, but the theological incoherence and financial difficulties that are also plaguing the denomination:

The Episcopal Church has become mired in her own polity, expecting discernment to arise from our legislative process — a system which attempts to settle matters of theology within a body of impatient laity and clergy.  In struggling to discern matters of human sexuality, we have begun to dispense convenient answers to very complex questions.  All too often these days, the Church, taking her cue from cultural contexts, seeks to provide a pastoral response by reconsidering questions settled long ago.  But as Christians we are called to be long-suffering and to look beyond our horizons — to reflect on centuries of Anglican teaching and tradition, and to listen carefully to our brothers and sisters in Christ — before we dare to move forward.

Read it all.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has written a letter to her denomination in which she again demonstrates why she might be best addressed as “Your Dishonestness.” She addresses the flap over what’s probably the most controversial resolution, D025, and does so apparently expecting that those who read her letter won’t bother to compare her version with what was passed. She offers this paraphrase:

  • reaffirms our commitment to and desire to pursue mission with the Anglican Communion;
  • reiterates our commitment to Listening Process urged by Lambeth Conferences of 1978, 1988, and 1998;
  • notes that our own participation in the listening process led General Convention in 2000 to “recognize that the baptized membership of The Episcopal Church includes same-sex couples living in lifelong committed relationships ‘characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God’”;
  • recognizes that ministry, both lay and ordained is being exercised by such persons in response to God’s call;
  • notes that the call to ordained ministry is God’s call, is a mystery, and that the Church participates in that mystery through the process of discernment;
  • acknowledges that the members of The Episcopal Church, and of the Anglican Communion, are not of one mind, and that faithful Christians disagree about some of these matters.

Now, by and large, that’s accurate, except that she left out, either as a quote or a paraphrase, the most important passage: “That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church.” The emphasized words, to anyone who can read English, say that the way is open for those previously mentioned (gays and lesbians in committed relationships, i.e., sexually active) to be called to the episcopacy in the future. Though phrased as a statement of fact, it is in reality a repudiation of a moratorium on the ordination of sexually active homosexuals to the episcopacy that the Episcopal Church had pledged to the rest of the Anglican Communion it would abide by–if it isn’t, it is utterly pointless, and has caused an uproar in the Anglican Communion for no reason whatsoever. Bishop Jefforts-Schori only acknowledges that such ordinations have been in the past (i.e., Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, to whom the phrase “is being exercised” in her fourth bullet point pertains), but doesn’t mention that such may be the case in the future, in contravention of previous commitments. You have to wonder: does she (and all of her colleagues who are peddling this same, dishonest line) really think that people don’t know how to read, or are unable to distinguish between the past and future subjunctive tenses? Does she really think her fellow Anglican primates are unable to do so?

My favorite atheist, Allahpundit from Hot Air, digs up a marvelpus piece on some atheist guerrilla theater that has him thinking, “I might as well go back to the Church. At least there’s wine and music.” It’s from USA Today:

Up until last summer, Jennifer Gray of Columbus, Ohio, considered herself “a weak Christian” whose baptism at age 11 in a Kentucky church came to mean less and less to her as she gradually lost faith in God.

Then the 32-year-old medical transcriptionist took a decisive step, one that previously hadn’t been available. She got “de-baptized.”

In a type of mock ceremony that’s now been performed in at least four states, a robed “priest” used a hairdryer marked “reason” in an apparent bid to blow away the waters of baptism once and for all. Several dozen participants then fed on a “de-sacrament” (crackers with peanut butter) and received certificates assuring they had “freely renounced a previous mistake, and accepted Reason over Superstition.”

For Gray, the lighthearted spirit of last summer’s Atheist Coming Out Party and De-Baptism Bash in suburban Westerville, Ohio, served a higher purpose than merely spoofing a Christian rite.

“It was very therapeutic,” Gray said in an interview. “It was a chance to laugh at the silly things I used to believe as a child. It helped me admit that it was OK to think the way I think and to not have any religious beliefs.”

Well, actually she does have a religious belief–that God does not exist. Because the existence of God cannot be proven scientifically one way or the other (I’m not saying there aren’t solid reasons for believing in God, just that science can’t be enlisted to give a falsifiable, experimentally demonstrated proof), to declare that God doesn’t exist is a statement of faith, albeit a negative one. Think of it as atheist apophaticism.

Public ceremonies to confer de-baptism, however, seem to be primarily an American phenomenon.

“I think a de-baptism ceremony (in Europe) would strike a lot of secularists and atheists as kind of pointless,” Evans said. “They would leave the ceremonies to the religious.”

Not all American non-believers have warmed to de-baptism rituals. Secularist Phil Zuckerman, a Pitzer College sociologist who studies apostates, said he would never take part in such an event because it “feels intrinsically negative” and “immature.”

I think he’s right about that, but hey–if it makes some people feel better about rejecting their Creator, more power to them. Since feeling better about themselves is about all they have to look forward to, they may as well get all they can. I hope it tides them over through that long, lonely eternity.

My friend Hampton alerted me to a Michael Gerson column in the Washington Post that recounts comments made by Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the U.S. Supreme Court on abortion. Her remarks were in an interview that she did with the New York Times magazine, and are genuinely amazing in a person of her position:

Q: “Are you talking about the distances women have to travel because in parts of the country, abortion is essentially unavailable, because there are so few doctors and clinics that do the procedure? And also, the lack of Medicaid abortions for poor women?”

Justice Ginsburg: “Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae -- in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.” (Emphasis added.]

Medicaid, you’ll remember, serves poor people, and a disproportionately large number of people of color. What she seems to be saying is that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about over-population (which there was, even if the concern was misguided), and that this concern was especially about certain kinds of undesirable populations. Evidently, she means that Roe was meant, in part, to help effectuate a reduction in the population of poor people, which would especially mean minorities. Which is another way of saying that Roe was meant by its advocates, in part, as a continuation of the eugenic policies of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood.

Now, I’m not saying that Justice Ginsburg is a racist, or that she hates poor people. Though she uses the word “we,” it’s not at all clear whether she agreed with this eugenic agenda, or was merely describing what the generalized thinking was behind the movement to legalize abortion. But there is no question that the unfettered abortion license has had a disproportionate impact on those groups of people, as Sanger wanted it to and as supporters of abortion rights may well have thought it would. Even if Justice Ginsburg was not putting her stamp of approval on such thinking, it’s revealing that a person who used to be chief litigator of the ACLU’s women’s rights project, and thus a fervent abortion rights advocate, would speak out loud about the eugenic mindset of many in the movement.

You never know what will catch you’re attention. This morning I was looking at the United Church of Christ web site (I check all the major mainline denominations every day, to see what new zaniness might be out there), and came upon a promotional video for “Our Church’s Wider Mission” (OCWM), the UCC mission offering. It’s eight minutes long, and trumpets the mission work of the UCC in what it calls “plain talk.” It’s really a remarkable presentation.

There’s a lot of talk about what the UCC does and where OCWM dollars go, about all the good works being done, the people being helped, the injustices being fought (no specifics given on that last, of course). The most amazing thing about it is that with one single exception (a reference to “God’s big church”), one would never know that God had anything to do with all the good things the UCC does. The denomination is “changing lives,” it’s “fighting injustice,” it’s helping disaster victims, it’s doing all kinds of things without God having anything to do with it, apparently. The word “church” is used repeatedly, and there’s a reference to “worship services” as one of the things done by the local church, but other than that, the video could just as easily be explaining the work of FEMA or U.S. AID or ACORN or Amnesty International or the Shriners or government social workers. Based on the evidence of this video, there’s no gospel in what OCWM does, except of the most generic humanitarianism. And yet, according to the person in charge at OCWM, this was all the rage at the recent General Synod:

“Conference ministers were stopping me every 15 minutes at Synod asking ‘When can we have that?,’” says the Rev. Jane Heckles, the UCC’s minister for OCWM. “They’re looking forward to using this video as a means to explain how giving builds partnerships across all settings of the church.”

They may be “building partnerships,” and I’m sure they’re helping folks in need. Since that’s all they’re doing, I suppose it makes sense that they don’t need God to get involved. He’d just mess up a good thing, anyway.

Today is the 40th anniversary of one of humanity’s greatest achievements: setting foot on a celestial body other than our own. I still remember that day in the summer of my tenth year, watching with my parents and brother as something never before done by human beings was broadcast to the entire world. It fired my imagination, and for a time I wanted nothing more than to be an astronomer and study the heavens. Though that was not to be, I still can’t look at the night sky without wonder, and now, at least, without a word of thanks to the Lord for creating this universe we live in.

I should also add that I was filled with a kid’s kind of pride when I heard that the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin, was from northern New Jersey, and had gone to high school in Montclair, less than an hour from my home in Parsippany. The world remembers Neil Armstrong, and rightly, but I’ve always had a special regard for my fellow New Jerseyan whose footprints are also still on the surface of Earth’s closest neighbor.

Footprint_on_moon

So here’s to you, Buzz, Neil, and command module pilot Michael Collins. Thank you for going where no one had gone before.

Adult theological re-education at the congregational level is an urgent need within American churches today. It is essential to Christian formation. And from my own experience and from a number of studies, I know that it has been a source of re-vitalization in hundreds of congregations around the country. [Emphasis added.]

Marcus Borg, Episcopalian and Jesus Seminar fellow whose theology would be quite at home in the Unitarian Universalist Association if he didn’t talk about “God” so much, is the newly appointed canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefforts-Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson seem to have an unlimited faith that the endless piling up of meaningless words can get them out from under the consequences of their denomination’s actions. Putting such faith into action, they have written to the Primates of the Anglican Communion, attempting to convince them that black is white, up is down, and resolution D025 didn’t actually change anything. You can find the letter as a whole at Stand Firm; the key paragraph, as Matt Kennedy identifies it, is this:

“It remains to be seen how Resolution B033 will be understood and interpreted in light of Resolution D025. Some within our Church may understand Resolution D025 to give Standing Committees (made up of elected clergy and laity) and Bishops with jurisdiction more latitude in consenting to episcopal elections. Others, in light of Resolution B033, will not. In either case, we trust that the Bishops and Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church will continue to exercise prayerful discernment in making such decisions, mindful and appreciative of our relationships in the Anglican Communion.”

Translation: Our dioceses are now free to do anything they want regarding ordaining sexually active gay bishops. What are you going to do about it?

The funniest paragraph is this:

In adopting this Resolution, it is not our desire to give offense. We remain keenly aware of the concerns and sensibilities of our brothers and sisters in other Churches across the Communion. We believe also that the honesty reflected in this resolution is essential if indeed we are to live into the deep communion that we all profess and earnestly desire.

The translation of this one: If you’re offended, tough toenails. We don’t give a rip what you think. Do you think we’d pass something like this if we were?

The latest crusade of the National Council of Churches and its allies is broadband access for everyone, because we all know that if it ain’t fast, it ain’t really the Internet. For chuckles I took a look around the BringBettyBroadband.org site, which features a cartoon video so dopey the cable company might have put it out (if they didn’t mind looking like total idiots, that is). Anyway, here’s some of what they have to say about the campaign:

Because of uneven availability of online access, information about local issues – whether that is a crime report, an environmental hazard. or an upcoming local election – is easily and readily available to some people, but others are left out.

This, presumably, is because so few people own either a radio or a television.

For too long, the process of reaching out and educating traditionally disenfranchised communities has been left to volunteer efforts and the philanthropic community alone.

Such a state of affairs is totally unacceptable, of course, which means that this is a case for MEDIA JUSTICE MAN!

Broadband and our Communities. Today, from everything to scheduling a special garbage pickup to driver’s license renewal to voting locations are available on line. Without access to the web, parents cannot communicate with teachers or principals and children can’t do homework assignments.

Which is possible without broadband.

Broadband and Economic Justice. Without adequate internet access, how does a person acquire job skills, employment information, education, and dialogue with potential employers or peer networks?  Some individuals must congregate at job sites or stand in long lines to get a job, while others can review job postings, sort by geographic location, post a resume and email thank you notes from the comfort of their homes.

Which is also possible without broadband.

Broadband and Equal Access to Health Care. Our country is currently debating the use of new technologies in a variety of arenas.  For example, Barack Obama’s proposals to expand health care for all Americans relies to a significant degree on adoption moving health care records to an electronic platform.  Over the long term, this means individuals without broadband access could receive poorer quality health care than those with that access.

Which is a red herring, since doctors have the scratch to be able to afford broadband, and patients (if they will be able to access such records over the Internet at all) will be able to do it without broadband.

As adopted in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

As the UN declaration explains above, the right to disseminate and receive information is an essential human right.  It is a right that helps to define ourselves as human beings and political actors, helping individuals to participate and define in one’s own culture and identity.

Which, amazingly enough, people have been doing since long before the introduction of broadband, as Steely Dan notes:

And which you can do even now, on the Internet, without broadband.

Increasingly in the U.S., and across the world, the fundamental right to communicate means internet access.  And not just any internet access—high speed Internet access.

So there it is. Broadband Internet access is a fundamental right, along with the right to scare Halloween trick-or-treaters, the right to wear a Detroit Lions football helmet to a wedding, the right to the keep and bear penguins, and the right to eat crackers in bed.*

In other news, the word “right” was laid to rest yesterday at Forest Lawn. Police are still looking for whoever savagely beat, mutilated and left for dead this fine old English noun.

*Said right was once abridged in the contract of Philadelphia Athletics pitcher Rube Waddell, whose teammate and roommate, Ossie Schreckengost, refused to sign a new contract in 1904 until a “no crackers in bed” clause was put in Waddell’s contract. This crime against humanity was overturned in the 2006 Supreme Court case, Flywheel v. Shyster, as a violation of the UN Charter and the 32nd Amendment to the Constitution.

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