February 2010

We’re getting to the end of the Winter Olympics, which have been going on in Vancouver, Canada for the last couple of weeks. I have to admit that I haven’t watched any of it–I can’t get worked up about a “sports festival” that includes ice dancing and curling in the winter games, and synchronized swimming in the summer, but doesn’t include one of the world’s most popular games, baseball. Nevertheless, I want to salute our Canadian friends for their accomplishment. The occasion calls for a song, courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

MST3K fans will recall this from the episode, “The Final Sacrifice” (one of my favorites; it included the immortal line offered by Crowe as he watched the director’s name, Tjardus Greidanus, scroll across the screen: “that’s an anagram for ‘straight to video,'” as well as one of the all-time best movie character names, “Zap Rowsdower”):

I’m against the death penalty, but there are times when I wonder whether death penalty opponents actually listen to themselves. This comes from the newsletter of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society:

Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (VADP) has issued an alert calling people to take a few minutes to say “no” to executions. The alert is intended to help stop Virginia’s 106th execution since the Supreme Court sanctioned the death penalty in 1976. This is the second-highest total of executions in the nation, trailing Texas.

Paul Warner Powell is scheduled to be killed by the Commonwealth of Virginia at 9 p.m. Thursday, March 18, for the Jan. 29, 1999, murder of Stacie Reed.

VADP’s alert suggests several actions to help “stop the cycle of violence that state-sanctioned killing perpetuates.”

If I never hear the expression “cycle of violence” again, I’ll be quite happy. Using it in this context suggests that people commit capital crimes because the state executes people who commit capital crimes. Or that’s what it would mean, if in fact it meant anything. Instead, it’s as if because there’s violent crime involved, the writer of the “action alert” simply took the first suggestion out of his cliché machine, which happened to be this one.

And yes, I’m aware that this is a little thing. Take it as evidence that I got up on the wrong side of the bed today. Even so, Harvey Korman stills speaks for me:

The Executive Committee of the World Council of Churches has been meeting in Switzerland this week, and just as for some people its always 1968, for the WCC its apparently always 2007–Al Gore’s just won the Nobel Peace Prize for for his apocalyptic science fiction movie, and there’s “scientific consensus” about global warming. They issued a statement today that is classic ostrich-head-in-the-sand:

The WCC is disappointed with the outcome of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties (COP 15) held in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December 2009 as the Copenhagen Accord did not reach the expectations of the ecumenical movement and the larger civil society.

The mobilization of the ecumenical movement towards and in Copenhagen was aimed at supporting widespread initiatives in order to reach a fair, ambitious and binding treaty. This should have included the recognition of the historic responsibility for the CO2 emissions of industrialized countries, a measurable commitment to have a maximum of 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, concrete ways of adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and funding in a legally binding instrument which would have framed the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

In other words, the expectation was that Copenhagen would give the most extreme of the global warming hysterics (including the WCC) everything they asked for, regardless of cost, regardless of science, regardless of political considerations. Most especially, it was supposed to produce this in the face of Climategate and the burgeoning scandal surrounding the politicized manipulation of data and scientific peer-review processes. Those scandals, which have since engulfed the IPCC and reduced its credibility to next-to-nothing, have continued to unfold around the world, everywhere, apparently, except in Geneva:

In light of these considerations, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 23-26 February 2010:

    A. Reiterates the serious concerns expressed by the churches over climate change and its life-threatening effects, especially on the poor and vulnerable communities in many parts of the world, such as the low-lying islands of the Pacific or the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa region;

    B. Appreciates the wide ecumenical participation in the process towards and in COP 15 in Copenhagen with ecumenical activities such as the ecumenical celebration, the handing over of signatures, lobbying, side events and the statement presented at the high-level segment.

    C. Affirmsthe basic thrust of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol to provide an instrument for a significant reduction of greenhouse gases in order to mitigate human-induced climate change;

    D. Calls for renewed efforts with its member churches to call on their respective governments to ensure with urgency a fair, ambitious and binding agreement to be reached as a result of the COP 16 that will take place in Mexico in December 2010;

    E. Encourages member churches, specialized ministries and other ecumenical partners to strengthen further their commitment and to foster their cooperation with regard to climate change, especially in the process towards and at COP 16 in Mexico;

    F. Urges member churches and ecumenical councils to enhance inter-religious cooperation and constructive intervention, ensuring better stewardship of creation through their joint actions.

Scandal? What scandal? Questions about the integrity of scientific data? What questions? Concern about the costs of this program, and the likelihood that hundreds of millions of people could be pushed back into poverty by it? What concerns? We’re saving the planet here!

I would like to say that I’m surprised that anyone could have been conscious over the last few months and still advocate the full-speed-ahead-no-matter-what approach. But this is, after all, the WCC we’re talking about. They’re on a mission from God.

This nation demands that even the poorest of people pay taxes. Those same “poorest” of people then deserve health care.

–the Rev. Susan Smith, UCC pastor and Washington Post “On Faith” columnist, who apparently doesn’t know that 1) virtually no one classified as “poor” in America pays income taxes, and 2) the “poorest” of Americans receive health care paid for by Medicaid; thereby demonstrating anew why some clergy should avoid making public policy pronouncements until they know what they are talking about

Via T19 and Hot Air, respectively, a pair of terrific pieces by Walter Russell Mead of The American Interest. The first is a smack-down of the bishops of Mead’s Episcopal Church, whose penchant for political pronouncements over pastoral work is helping to kill the denomination. He makes clear that it’s an affliction that plagues the leadership of the mainline churches in general. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s the money quote:

The job of a bishop isn’t to make statements about the minimum wage or the Iraq war.  It’s to help the clergy in his or her diocese form communities that produce dynamic, committed and intelligent laypeople who will shape political debates on these and many other matters.  A bishop isn’t here to inject Christian values into public policy debates; a bishop is here to inject mature, thoughtful and committed Christians into public life.  The Diocese of Long Island shouldn’t be taking stands on the minimum wage; it should be producing people who transform the life of the region at every level of engagement.

If the bishops were already doing this pretty well I would be much more tolerant of their occasional ventures into public debate.  But it’s as plain as day that en masse the American bishops are catastrophically failing at that core task — as indeed are their colleagues in the other mainline denominations. In the parlous state of today’s Episcopal church, every dime a diocese spends and every minute of a bishop’s working day needs to be focused on local congregations.  The church is melting before their eyes and many bishops seem to be passively watching it happen; at most they hope to manage decline as smoothly as possible.

The second is an obituary for the climate change movement from one who sympathizes with what it was trying to accomplish, but is appalled at the way it did it business. Mead is a political as well as religious liberal, but he’s also a clear thinker, and recognizes that regardless of the science, the politicians and scientists who tried to turn a scientific enterprise into an apocalyptic hysteria screwed up on behalf of all of us:

The Washington Post this morning has a strong story on the collapse of the movement to stop climate change through a binding treaty negotiated under UN auspices.  And even the normally taciturn New York Times is admitting that the resignation of the top UN climate change negotiator suggests that no global treaty will be coming this year.

As the Post story shows, the mainstream media is now coming to terms with the death.  Environmentalists are still trying to avoid pulling the plug, but the corpse is already cool to the touch and soon it will begin to smell.  As the global greens move from the denial stage of the grief process, brace yourself for some eloquent, petulant and arrogant rage.  Tears will be shed and hands will be wrung.  The world is stupid, uncaring, unworthy to be saved.  Horrible Republicans, evil Chinese, demented know-nothing climate skeptics have ruined the world and condemned our grandchildren to lives of sorrow and pain.  Messengers will be shot; skeptics will be blamed for asking questions and the media (and the internet) will be blamed for reporting the answers.

The climate change movement now needs to regroup, and at some point it will have to confront a central, unpalatable fact: the wounds from which it is bleeding so profusely are mostly its own fault.  This phase of the climate change movement was immature, unrealistic and naive.  It was poorly organized and foolishly led.  It adopted an unrealistic and unreachable political goal, and sought to stampede world opinion through misleading and exaggerated statements. It lacked the most elementary level of political realismall the more egregious given the movement’s politically sophisticated and very rich opponents. Foundation staff, activists and sympathetic journalists cocooned themselves in an echo chamber of comfortable group-think, and as they toasted one another in green Kool-Aid they thought they were making progress when actually they were slowly and painfully digging themselves into an ever-deeper hole.

Again, read it all. The point is not that the scientific conclusions are necessarily wrong–there is evidence of warming, though that evidence is not definitive and has some questionable elements; there is evidence of a human contribution, though that evidence is weaker and is plagued by politically motivated handling. The point is that the advocates of the theories (here think Al Gore, Mead’s chief target) have come across like something out of a science fiction novel, when they haven’t come across like religious fanatics (or total lifestyle hypocrites–think Gore or the Prince of Wales).

Mead’s a guy I’m going to be reading more in the future. For now, Joe Bob says check it out.

In case after case, Planned Parenthood acts in contempt of its legal and professional obligations to report child rape. At a time when the Obama administration, through its new health care plan, is offering potentially billions of dollars to the abortion industry, state and federal lawmakers need to take notice of Planned Parenthood’s lawlessness and make certain they receive no more taxpayer subsidies.

–UCLA senior Lila Rose, president of Live Action, which has exposed ten different Planned Parenthood clinics in six states breaking the law in ignoring their legal responsibility to report statutory rape in favor of providing an underage girl an abortion

(Via Hot Air.)

The anti-Israel contingent in the PCUSA has been hard at work over the last year, trying to put together something the denomination’s General Assembly will swallow after the rebuke it delivered in 2006. The “Special Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Study Focused on Israel/Palestine” is getting ready to belch forth its report, and the Presbyterian News Service has advance details:

With several sections of its massive final report still to be completed and edited, the committee approved with just one dissenting vote a package of 30+ recommendations calling for an immediate end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; endorsement  of the emphases on hope, love, non-violence, and reconciliation found in an ecumenical statement by Palestinian Christians called the Kairos Palestine Document; and urging the U.S. government to take swift action toward a just peace that guarantees secure states for both Israel and Palestine — the commonly called “two state solution.”

Yeah, well. The actual recommendations advocate a lot more than “hope, love, non-violence and reconciliation.”

“This committee brings such a diversity of opinion and a wealth of experience from the region of our concern,” said Committee Chair the Rev. Ron Shive (Salem Presbytery) in a press release issued by the committee. “Given the variety of personal experience we bring to these conversations, the fact that we were able to reach such strong consensus on our report and recommendations demonstrates the unity of the Spirit and our witness for justice and peace for all peoples.”

Actually, what it says is that with one exception (the Rev. Byron Shafer of New York, who took John Wimberly’s place when the latter resigned because of the one-sidedness of the committee), everybody on the committee is of one mind in bashing Israel and overlooking or excusing the Palestinian contribution both to current circumstances and to violence.

The report affirms historic PC(USA) positions — an immediate cessation of violence by both sides, an immediate freeze on the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied territory, the relocation of Israel’s “separation barrier” to the internationally recognized 1967 border, a shared status for Jerusalem, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and immediate resumption of negotiations toward a two-state solution.

This is the usual litany, some perfectly reasonable, some one-sided or contradictory (“shared status” for Jerusalem predetermines the outcome of the negotiations on that particular issue, for instance). But there’s more. The committee calls on the United States to:

•repent of its “sinful behavior” throughout the Middle East, including the war in Iraq, its “continuing support of non-democratic regimes,” and its “acquiescence” in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands;

So the occupation of the West Bank–which came about as a result of Israel defending itself from imminent three-sided attack by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in 1967–is “sinful” (language that I’ll bet won’t be used with regard to, say, rockets attacks aimed at civilians or anti-Semitic propaganda in Palestinian schools and media). That won’t prejudice negotiations, I’m sure.

•eliminate tax loopholes that permit U.S. citizens to make donations “to organizations that support human rights violations and breaches of international law and U.N. resolutions”;

I can’t wait to see what examples of such organizations the final report offers. Without examples, the call is meaningless; with them, the bias should be obvious, unless they really surprise me.

•account for the percentage of U.S. foreign aid that supports such activities and redirect that aid toward the rebuilding of Gaza and the  “dismantling of remaining settlement infrastructure; and

Good luck determining that. Of course, to do so, you’d first have to determine what constitutes “human rights violations and breaches of international law and U.N. resolutions,” but I’m sure the committee has a long list of Israeli deeds that fit those categories, at least as far as they are concerned.

•“employ the strategic use of influence and the withholding of financial and military aid in order to enforce Israel’s compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.”

No such forcing of compliance by Hamas or the Palestinian Authority is necessary, natch. At this point, if you aren’t familiar with the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (a far-left organization whose 12-member steering committee includes Judith LeBlanc of the Communist Party USA as well as United Methodist and Quaker representatives), take a look at their Web site. These recommendations are essentially the USCEIO platform.

Other recommendations:

•the main Palestinian political parties — Fatah and Hamas — to work toward immediate reconciliation;

No word on whether that means Fatah has to adopt Hamas’ call for Israel’s extermination, or Hamas has to accept Israel’s right to exist. Not a small point of disagreement, that.

•all parties in the Middle East, including Iran and Israel, to refrain from all nuclear arms proliferation;

I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. It’s the world’s worst secret that Israel has nuclear weapons, and won’t admit it much less give them to anyone, so what “proliferation” has to do with Israel, I don’t know. As for Iran, that’s a nice thought. Hopefully the committee will take the first plane to Tehran after General Assembly to convince the mullahs. I should also note that there’s no mention in the recommendations that Iran stop funding and giving weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah. Hopefully that will be in the final report.

•Egypt and Israel to end their blockades of Gaza;

Nice to know that they recognize that an Arab state, an ostensible supporter of the Palestinians, has blockaded Gaza as well. What would be really helpful would be a recognition of why Egypt felt that it has to do so. Of course, that would also necessitate a recognition of the nature of the Hamas regime in Gaza.

•all parties in the Middle East to “cease rhetoric and actions that demonize others, including Iranian leaders’ holocaust denials, threats by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel, and threats by Israel to transfer masses of Palestinians to Jordan;

I agree wholeheartedly with this. It would be even better if the final report mentions the disgusting anti-Semitism that is a daily reality in Palestinian media and school textbooks. Ignoring Palestinians participation in the demonization game doesn’t make it go away.

•Syria and Israel to resume negotiations about the status of the Golan Heights;

Ain’t gonna happen. Period.

•creation of an international council for Jerusalem, which is a spiritual center for all three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

To what purpose, the news article doesn’t say. Maybe the final report will.

The committee avoided — or commented on — inflammatory words and phrases that have exacerbated the conflict over the years. The words “divestment” and “sanctions” do not appear in the document.

Apparently they think that Israel and its supporters in the PCUSA are so stupid that if they don’t use the magic words, they’ll miss the point of items like their recommendations on “tax loopholes” and U.S. foreign aid. “They advocate cutting off military and financial aid to Israel, but thank God they didn’t recommend sanctions!”

And the phrase “the right of Israel to exist” includes a footnote explaining the pain it causes Palestinians.

“Israel was built on the ruins of Palestinian land and culture,” said Nahida Gordon, a committee member and Palestinian American who teaches at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. “I take this personally — my personhood as a Palestinian has been obliterated. Palestinians are being erased as human beings. To say this [‘the right of Israel to exist’] is to give Israel a pass on the way Israel was created and denies the legitimacy of the Palestinian people.”

At the suggestion of the Rev. Susan Andrews of Hudson River Presbytery, the committee added the following footnote: “The phrase ‘the right of Israel to exist’ is a source of pain for some members of our study committee who are in solidarity with Palestinians, who feel that the creation of the state of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights.”

And thus does this committee fall into utter irrelevance. The one absolute demand, the one thing on which Israel cannot compromise–that Palestinians recognize that it has a right to exist, without which acknowledgment Palestinians will never give up the fantasy of driving the Jews into the sea–becomes the phrase that dares not speak its name, because one, maybe more, members of a committee that is supposedly committed to the two-state solution cannot bear to hear it. Gordon claims that admitting that Israel has a right to exist “obliterates” her “personhood as a Palestinian.” If this is true, it would seem that the only way to restore Gordon’s personhood would be for Israel to cease to exist, and for the committee to advocate for such on behalf of their aggrieved colleague. At which point the committee and its report becomes no more significant to the next General Assembly than the minutes of the Wannsee Conference.

Makes me wonder–several of the committee’s members have referred to Israel as an “apartheid state,” a phrase that is not only historical and political nonsense, but is a “source of pain” for all supporters of Israel. Does that mean that there will be a footnote in the report to the effect that they didn’t use that phrase (even though they believe it to be true) because it would offend some readers? You know the answer–when pigs are allowed to compete in Olympic ice dancing.

I’ll finish with a reminder of who the members of this committee–which was supposed to represent a “broad spectrum of viewpoints” within PCUSA–actually are. This is from my post, “What the PCUSA Means by ‘Broad’“:

Susan Andrews is a former PCUSA Moderator. She was a strong advocate of the ill-fated Israel divestment policy passed by the 2004 General Assembly, and tried to maintain that the 2006 repudiation of that policy was actually a reaffirmation of it.

John Huffman, an evangelical, nevertheless supported the General Assembly’s actions in calling for divestment from Israel back in 2004. Shortly after the passage of that action, he told his congregation, “I must speak up clearly, though briefly, to support the stand of our denomination in regard to the Middle East.” He justified this by saying that “Considerations of divestiture of Presbyterian investment in companies contributing to this violence is not exclusively directed toward Israel, but a policy also suggested to be used in a number of the other troubled areas of the world,” a statement which was either dishonest or the height of naivete.

Marthame Sanders is a former missionary to the region. He has referred to Israel as a “militaristic, unjust and racist nation,” and considers the Jewish state to be a practitioner of “apartheid.” He, of course, is also a strong supporter of divestment.

Ronald Shive was an opponent of an overture at the 2008 GA that called for the PCUSA to be “non-partisan” in the issue, to not take sides, and supported a one-sided approach embodied in this overture.

Frederic Bush is a Fuller Seminary emeritus professor. He has long been an anti-Israel campaigner, and has connections both to the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the anti-Semitic Jerusalem-based Sabeel Center.

Nahida Gordon is a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University. She has accused Israel of seeking to ethnically cleanse itself of Arabs.

Lucy Janjigian has thanked Jimmy Carter publicly for his book calling Israel an apartheid state.

I expressed my concerns about this committee at the time the makeup was revealed. I was told by at least one commenter that the opinions I linked to above were from 2004 or 2006, and might well have changed. I think it’s pretty clear from this preliminary look at the report that they haven’t.

(Hat tip: Viola Larson, who on Facebook alerted me to a news release from the Simon Wiesenthal Center that addressed the contents of this article. I think the Center’s reaction goes a little overboard–I don’t see anywhere in the story the assertion that “Israel, if defined as a Jewish State, must be inherently racist,” though I have no doubt that at least a couple of the committee members believe such a thing–but it’s worth reading nonetheless.)

The Network of Spiritual Progressives (brainchild of Tikkun magazine’s Rabbi Michael Lerner) held a conference in San Francisco recently called “A Strategy Conference for Liberals and Progressives” which Lerner has written about at the Huffington Post. It is a revealing piece, and indicates that the participants seem to think that the Kingdom of God can be brought in with some constitutional tinkering and congressional spending.

One focus of the conference was a proposed constitutional amendment–who it’s proposed by I don’t know, but it sounds like it was written by a liberal cleric trying to sound like a lawyer. It needs to be read as a whole to be believed:

The Environmental and Ethical Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. (EERA)

Article One: Corporations are not and shall not be considered “persons” or given the rights of individual human beings under the terms of the U.S. Constitution or the constitutions of any state in this Union, nor shall Congress or the courts give them similar rights or protections. The use of money in elections is not a protected form of “speech” and Congress shall limit the amount of money spent on any election campaign, lobbying or advertising to shape public opinion on any given piece of legislation or issue, and shall require equal time from media or equal print space to present the major alternatives in elections and ballot measures in the words of the candidates or those supporting any ballot measure, and may take other steps to insure that the American people are well-informed about the major alternative positions being debated in American society on economic, environmental, health and health care, corporation’s environmental and ethical responsibilities, high-tech, science, defense, human rights, child-rearing, elderly care, product and food safety, social justice, war and peace, labor, wages, employment, housing, immigration, transportation, foreign policy, nutrition, education, the legal system and prisons, and caring for each other issues, and the worldviews and ethical and environmental values that lie behind the differences in position, and informed of these alternative views by the advocates of the different positions who must also be given adequate and equal time to explain their critiques of the alternatives to the positions they hold.

Translation: the federal government will take over the media, and spoon-feed the citizenry whatever it thinks they need to know about any public issue. The job of debating such issues is to important to be left to individuals or private groups, so the government will decide what gets said. And given that people such as Harry Reid and Dick Cheney (pick your villian) do such a good job of framing public debate, it makes perfect sense to leave it in their hands and those of their chosen minions to decide whether all sides are fairly represented.

Article Two: Congress shall require that any corporation with an income of over $100 million per year must obtain a new corporate charter once every five years, and that charter will only be granted to those corporations that can prove a satisfactory history of social, environmental and ethical responsibility to a grand jury of ordinary citizens.

Translation: only corporations funding approved left-wing political activism and supporting progressive legislation will be allowed to operate in the United States.

Article Three: It is the responsibility of the United States Government and all its offices, and all other state and local governments, to develop policies and implement them, for the sake of enhancing the environmental sustainability of the planet and the well-being of all people on the planet, including, but not limited to the well-being of all Americans. Citizens may receive injunctive relief from policies that are environmentally destructive, and Congress shall provide adequate funding for a judiciary sufficient to inquire thoroughly about these alleged threats to the environment, hear the testimony from different perspectives, and then issue relief to the impacted individuals or communities as they may deem appropriate, and impose fines or imprisonment to corporations whose boards have not taken adequate steps to protect the environment or government officials who have been similarly negligent.

Translation: the most extreme forming of global warming hysteria will be enshrined in the Constitution. Failure to bow down to the Religion of Green™ will be expensive, to say the least.

Article Four: Every educational institution in the U.S. from k-graduate or professional school training shall require at least one course each year to train people on how to become aware of the ethical issues faced in decision making in the various aspects of daily life, the world of work, government, the military, police, the courts, the corporations, banks and investment firms, the stock markets, educational institutions, foreign policy, economic policies, human rights policies, health institutions, immigration policies, and the pursuit of environmental sustainability, food and agricultural policies, regional planning, and homeland security. This training shall allow for a variety of perspectives on the ethical responsibilities that people hold not only to their clients but also to the larger society, the entirety of humanity, and the sustainability and flourishing of the natural environment of the Earth.

Translation: Christian and Catholic education will either be nationalized or banned. All educational institutions will be transformed into indoctrination centers where only progressive worldviews, politics, and ethics will be tolerated.

Now, this exercise in wishful thinking has as much chance of becoming part of the U.S. Constitution as I have of winning the Miss Universe contest. That’s beside the point. The point is that this is a window into the mind of “spiritual progressives” and their left-wing secular allies. NSP leaders Michael Lerner, Cornel West, and Joan Chittister and their friends offer here a picture of what their ideal America would look like, a picture that has more than enough in common with various totalitarianisms to give one pause about the influence these people have.

Lerner also mentions a couple of other items that the conference took up. One is a Global Marshall Plan funded by America and the West, which “would dedicate 1-2% of their GDP each year for the next twenty to once and for all end global poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care, and repair the global environment.” Their faith in the ability of money to bring in the Kingdom is touching, isn’t it? The last one is a petition to the President and Congress that advocates, among other things:

Education reform to teach students that what should count in life is to maximize our own and each other’s capacities to be loving, kind, generous, caring for each other, ethically and environmentally responsible, and filled with gratitude and awe at the grandeur of the universe.

They don’t want much, do they? This, presumably, is an extrapolation on Article Four above.

By the way, I should also mention that the NSP is having a similar conference in Washington in June. Among the speakers will be the General Secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, Jim Winkler, and emergent church icon Brian McLaren. Not to suggest that they approve of the above amendment (though they may well), but if they don’t, I wonder how they like being in bed with a bunch of people whose ideas about freedom sound like they come from the Soviet Politburo?

(Via the Wall Street Journal “Best of the Web column.)

As a result of the passage of gay marriage by the District of Columbia, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese has felt it necessary to put an end to its foster care program. The rationale is that once gays start marrying in the District, the church will be forced to place children in same sex households for foster care. This is certainly the church’s prerogative, and a reflection of its conviction that its moral principles may not be compromised in order to work with the state. In response, the Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State takes the archdiocese to task, essentially arguing that the Catholic Church should be more like his own United Church of Christ:

“If ‘faith-based’ charities cannot or will not obey civil rights laws, they ought not benefit from public funds,” he said.

“I am amazed that church officials would threaten to stop helping the disadvantaged because they are being asked to treat all citizens of the District fairly,” he continued. “They seem to have lost all perspective. How strong is their commitment to helping the poor if they’re willing to take this hard-line stance?

“If Catholic Charities drops its participation in publicly funded social services,” Lynn concluded, “I am confident that other charities would be happy to pick up the slack.” [Emphasis added.]

Imagine–how dare the Catholic Church presume to tell the state that it will not do its moral bidding?! Takes a lot of nerve to refuse to cave in when the state demands that you bow to its particular morality.

One can’t help but be amused by Lynn’s sneer at the Catholic “commitment to helping the poor.” There is no non-governmental organization, whether religious or secular, that does more for the poor in this country than the Catholic Church. I have no doubt that the Archdiocese of Washington wlll find other ways of serving the needy children in the District that do not involve compromising its moral message. In doing so it will put to shame the mainline denominations in their willingness to jettison their theological, evangelistic, and moral message in order to seek (typically without success) a measure of political influence.

Lynn’s absurd insistence that Catholics need to be more like liberal Protestant reminds me of a song:

The Freedom from Religion Foundation is at it again. This time, their complaint is about the clergy housing allowance tax benefit, which they think is unconstitutional because…they don’t get it. According to the Tennessean:

A nationwide atheist group is asking religious leaders to take Jesus’ advice and render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s — especially when it comes to taking the federal tax break on their housing.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation says the housing exemption gives churches an unfair advantage because they can compensate their leaders with tax-free housing. Other nonprofits, such as the foundation, can’t do that. So it’s suing the federal government to outlaw the housing allowance.

“We think the law is rotten at the core,” said co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor. “It is not constitutional, it is not fair, and it is not necessary.”

Presumably, if Gaylor could get that break, she’d think it peachy. But heaven forbid (pun intended) that the tax system should give clergy any break of any kind. The thing is that there are also tax disadvantages to being clergy:

Ken Behr, a pastor at LifeChurch.tv in Hendersonville, takes the housing allowance, which he says offsets penalties he gets for being a minister.

Behr, like most ministers, is not an employee of his church. He is considered self-employed, so he pays twice as much for Social Security as most workers, and he pays the self-employment tax.

Gaylor is not, of course, calling on the Social Security penalty to be eliminated.

Here’s the deal: when it comes to churches and their pastors, the government is in a difficult position. The First Amendment is universally taken to mean that government entanglement with, much less destructive pressure on, religion should be kept to a minimum. The question then is how to do this. The most important reason why churches are exempt from taxes is that the power to tax is the power to destroy, so churches get the exemption so that the state can’t, whenever it finds religion an annoyance, use its power to tax to eliminate a nuisance. The reason clergy are considered self-employed for Social Security purposes (which is plainly a legal fiction) is so that the state doesn’t wind up taxing churches, which it obviously would if it made them pay the employer’s portion of an employee’s tax.

If my taxes through the years are any indication, clergy typically wind up paying a good deal more in self-employment taxes than they get knocked off their income tax because of the housing allowance deduction. (That’s especially the case for those living in manses or parsonages–they can take off utilities and furnishings, but that’s dwarfed by what those who own their homes can take off in mortgage payments.) Most clergy, I suspect, if you offered them a 50% reduction in the self-employment tax in exchange for the housing allowance would gladly take it.

But that isn’t what the FFRF is talking about. They don’t care if clergy are penalized by virtue of their vocation, as long as they don’t receive any sort of benefit to help offset the penalty. For the FFRF, what matters is not constitutional questions, but attacking religion any way they can.

One final note. Every time I see Matthew 22:21 (“render to Caesar”) quoted with regard to clergy taxes, I want to scream. Honest clergy do render to Caesar. They pay the taxes that are required of them, just like everyone else. If the laws get changed, they pay according to the new rules, just like everyone else. To suggest that just because they are clergy they have some kind of obligation to pay above and beyond what the government requires of them is not only contrary to what Jesus said. It’s a manifestation of an anti-religious animus that is contrary to what a nation that values freedom of religion is supposed to stand for.

(Via the Layman Online.)

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