May 2011


From the “Why Should I Listen to Myself Talk, Nobody Else Does” file, we have Anglican bishop George Browning of Australia on “climate change.” According to a press release from the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, God’s asleep, so it’s up to Australian Anglicans to save the world:

Twenty-eight religious leaders will converge on Canberra on 2 June to pressure the federal government to act on climate change.

Representatives from many different faiths, acting under the banner of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), will meet with Julia Gillard, Greg Hunt, Andrew Wilkie and around twenty other Members of Parliament.

Bishop George Browning, a member of the delegation, said the time to act is now.

“Our generation has been given humanity’s last chance to avert a climate emergency. Our grandchildren will just have to bear with the results of what we decide to do now,” Bishop Browning said. [Emphasis added.]

Formerly the bishop of the Diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, Bishop Browning, who is now the Chair of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, said that climate change skeptics were preventing Australia moving in the right direction.

“The naysayers are holding Australia back from taking responsible action with their fear-mongering and misinformation. Not only can we act, we must act.” [Emphasis added.]

I’m so glad that Bishop Last Chance is not so crass as to engage in fear-mongering about the end of the world.

When I was young (long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…), I remember lots of folks making jokes about the Italian military. “Why did all of the submarines in the Italian navy sink during World War II? Because they kept forgetting to close the screen doors.” That sort of thing. Anyway, the Italian government has long been a joke as well–what have there been, something like 729 Prime Ministers since 1945? The current government, wishing to demonstrate to the world that it can be funnier than Saturday Night Live (admittedly, not difficult to do these days), has decided to prosecute a team of seismologists for being unable to do the impossible. According to Fox News:

Italian government officials have accused the country’s top seismologist of manslaughter, after failing to predict a natural disaster that struck Italy in 2009, a massive devastating earthquake that killed 308 people.

A shocked spokesman for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) likened the accusations to a witch hunt.

“It has a medieval flavor to it — like witches are being put on trial,” the stunned spokesman told FoxNews.com

Enzo Boschi, the president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV), will face trial along with six other scientists and technicians, after failing to predict the future and the impending disaster.

Earthquakes are, of course, nearly impossible to predict, seismologists say. In fact, according to the website for the USGS, no major quake has ever been predicted successfully.

“Neither the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake,” reads a statement posted on the USGS website. “They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future.”

According to a judge, the scientists were guilty of…not knowing exactly what was going to happen when:

Judge Giuseppe Romano Gargarella said that the seven defendants had supplied “imprecise, incomplete and contradictory information,” in a press conference following a meeting held by the committee 6 days before the quake, reported the Italian daily Corriere della Sera

In doing so, they “thwarted the activities designed to protect the public,” the judge said.

They gave “imprecise, incomplete, and contradictory information.” About the possibility of an earthquake. Well, duh. Kind of the nature of the business–like judges and bureaucrats sticking their noses into matters where their ignorance is darker than the largest black hole.

Next up: the Italian government exhumes and burns at the stake the body of pseudoscientist Raffaele Bendandi, who died in 1979, but whose (incorrect) prediction of an earthquake in Rome on May 11 scared thousands of Romans badly enough that they left town, or went to work for the government. If you can call this working.

(Hat tip: Kevin.)

Several of those who have been commenting on PCUSA affairs have made the point that the denomination has been drifting in the direction of apostasy for a long time, and that gay ordination is a rather peculiar place to draw the line in the sand. I agree with them, though it is also the case that it is usually easier for people to understand changes in behavioral standards than theological ones.

We have another example today of just how unmoored from anything resembling Christianity some elements in the PCUSA have become in a column in the Buffalo News. Another junior-league Spong, the Rev. David Persons, makes the evidence-free claim that “Protestant” churches are losing members because they take the contents of that Bible thingy way too seriously:

The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo is not alone questioning the “mass exodus” from its services; Protestants also do. As a Presbyterian minister here for more than 30 years, I watched our local Presbytery lose thousands as churches closed.

Many claim, as reporter Jay Tokasz shared, the cause is secularism. I disagree. The major cause is beliefs no longer giving credibility to reason and modern scholarship. After centuries, the Catholic Church recognized scientists Copernicus and Galileo. How long before the traditional churches admit that literalizing stories of the Bible has no historical basis?

Current archaeological and historical studies depict 95 percent of the Bible with no historical basis. With no historical proof of a man named Jesus and repetitions of similar stories going back 20,000 years, the traditional approach to Christian scripture interpretations is changing.

The biblical stories were mostly borrowed and taken from ancient pagan (folk) sources, which shared these stories as allegories depicting eternal truths. These stories were part of the ancient eastern Mediterranean spiritual teachings using the lunar calendar to teach universal spiritual truths. The church literalized these old pagan stories, making forms, liturgy and government inviolate. The message of the Jesus story, as from Isus of Ancient Egypt, was simple; the presence of spirit, the realm of God, is within us. One experiences this presence by changing understanding (repentance) and looking within.

I seek to share these stories from a symbolic, allegorical viewpoint. The winter solstice at Christmas teaches the soul coming to the darkness of Earth. The Easter equinox is the seed emerging from darkness into the light of sun, symbolizing our awakening (meaning of resurrection).

The old pagan stories are rich with meaning and relevance if understood from a non-literal viewpoint. Early church teachers who taught this view were called Gnostics — “those who understand.” In the 4th century the church declared them pagan heretics, with most of their writings destroyed.

I expect to read stuff like this in the comments in the “On Faith” column at the Washington Post, where atheists, Wiccans and other New Agers, and the old-fashioned ignorant duke it out. But this isn’t just for a newspaper article. Evidently, this is what the people at the church in New York where Persons is interim pastor are subjected to as well. He writes in his “Pastor’s Page” on the web site of the First Presbyterian Church of West Seneca:

In my messages and teachings I will continue to emphasize the God I speak of as accessible to everyone in anyplace. I feel the church has placed God too “out there” beyond the reach of ordinary people. People come to sit in rows to hear the elevated “experts” describe the conditions for God’s blessings. My goal is to shorten the gap between “teacher and student” so each one can claim his or her divinity. My messages are given from a non-literalist view of the Christian faith, seeing the Bible as ancient spiritual stories and metaphors to help people access the “Kingdom within.” My messages stress the conviction that God, Divinity, the Christ-Mind indwells each one of us, even those who don’t believe or accept it. Love is Universal. Heaven is here and now; hell is a life and mind living without the concept of choice and responsibility for one’s own thoughts. I believe the One Spirit lies dormant in every person, awaiting the time to be accepted, listened to, and followed.

The Presbyterian Lay Committee has asked the question in a paper at the Layman Online web site, “Can Two Faiths Embrace One Future?” My response to that question is, “what do you mean, two faiths?” Does anyone really know just how many religions there at work in the PCUSA (or any of the other mainline denominations) these days?

(Hat tip: Adel.)

Three churches in the PCUSA’s Presbytery of Cincinnati have voted to leave the denomination, according the to Layman Online:

A group of Ohio congregations delivered another blow to the Presbyterian Church (USA) in what is becoming growing fallout following major changes in ordination standards.

“When churches within a denomination cease to hold to the same basic beliefs concerning the faith, it no longer makes sense to be joined under one name,” read a statement issued by Russellville Presbyterian Church (Russellville, Ohio), the Church By The Woods (Sharonville, Ohio) and Holtsinger Memorial Presbyterian Church (Cincinnati, Ohio).

“We believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, and that people are called to try and live in accordance with the standards set forth in the Bible,” the churches stated, adding, “we reject the pluralism that has crept into mainline denominations such as the PCUSA.”

One indication of what has led to these three churches to leave at this time is the vote in the presbytery, which was 99-72 in favor of changing the ordination standards. This despite the fact that, according to one of Russellville’s elders, the presbytery had previously been conservative:

[Elder Dallas] Hurt said the Presbytery of Cincinnati had been “conservative on these issues” for the past 25 years as the controversies began simmering within the General Assembly.

“At this point in time, we have lost those votes [in the presbytery].  We’ve lost the General Assembly,” he said, adding “there is no common ground left.”

The churches now believe, according to their recent statement, that the presbytery is a “frequent proponent of liberal theological change within the PCUSA.”

I suspect this is going to be a determining factor for a lot of evangelical congregations. In the past, there were a lot of churches where they could say, “yeah, there’s lot of loony stuff going on in Louisville, but at least our presbytery is still sane.” With the number of presbyteries that have flipped on the ordination issue (22, at latest count), as well as all the uncertainty surrounding the proposed new Form of Government in the Book of Order, I’m anticipating a lot of churches throwing in the towel. How many is a lot? Beats me. But I’ll bet these three small churches in Ohio are just the tiniest tip of the iceberg.

I say that Oprah Winfrey is a conduit for the qualities and the work of the Feminine Divine because I think that her work embodies the qualities of God the Mother….She has been not only a conduit of knowledge, but of wisdom as well.

As Oprah Winfrey moves to another stage of her life and work, I am grateful for the twenty-five years of her program. Thank you Oprah. And when we think of the extraordinary woman that she is, we see a glimpse of the Goddess, Earth Mother, Friend who is a divine source of truth, generosity and love.

Valerie Elverton Dixon, former seminary professor of Christian ethics, on the apocalyptic event that did happen this week, as Oprah Winfrey ascended to the right hand of God ended her 25 year run on daytime television

It’s a measure of the degree to which American society has been desensitized to the sexual propaganda being fed to our children that the following elicited little comment from parents. In one Oakland, California school, it’s apparently considered fine and dandy to teach kindergartners about the joys of crossdressing. According to the Oakland Tribune:

Some girls like the color blue. Some boys like to wear things that sparkle. Not all girls play with dolls, and not all boys like to play with trucks.

Kindergartners at Redwood Heights Elementary School reached those conclusions on Monday during a lesson about gender and acceptance. “Colors are colors,” “toys are toys,” and “activities are activities” were the mantras of a lesson designed for kindergartners and first-graders. Older children learned more about what gender means, how it’s been expressed in different cultures throughout human history, and that it’s possible to be both genders — or neither.

Redwood Heights is the first elementary school in Oakland to teach children about gender identity and expression with a curriculum developed by Gender Spectrum, a San Leandro-based organization. The school’s parent groups endorsed the lessons as part of an ongoing effort to make the school more welcoming, Principal Sara Stone said.

“Really, it’s about reducing and dispelling stereotypes and prejudices so kids can show up to school and feel like they can learn and thrive without being stigmatized or teased,” said Brett Bradshaw, a Redwood Heights parent who is also chairman of the school’s LGBTQ Affinity group.

Why an elementary school has an “LGBTQ Affinity group” is anybody’s guess. And why it is using a curriculum from an advocacy organization that is as confused–or politically manipulative–as Gender Spectrum (which claims in its FAQ both that gender is “hard-wired” in the brain and that children can “change their minds” about whether they are “cross-gendered”) is also anybody’s guess. But I can guess why they are starting out using this stuff on kindergartners: it’s the old Jesuit maxim, “give me your children until they are six, and they are mine forever.”

Stone said she was surprised that her school’s lessons about gender differences had elicited such outrage, especially since there had been so little controversy among the school’s families. The lessons do not include issues of sexual orientation, she said.

“What is wrong about teaching kids to be caring and kind?” she asked.

Flint said state law doesn’t permit children to “opt out” of lessons other than sex education while they are at school. At least one Redwood Heights student stayed home Monday, he said, and three other families inquired about it.

On Monday morning, children in Cynthia Bagby’s kindergarten class discussed whether there were, in fact, “girl colors” and “boy colors.” Some giggled when Joel Baum, the trainer from Gender Spectrum, read “My Princess Boy,” a nonfiction children’s book by Cheryl Kilodavis about her son who liked to wear dresses and a tiara.

“That’s a funny boy!” one boy said.

After the story was over, Baum and Stone asked the children how the boy must have felt when people in the book laughed at him for being different.

“It may be unusual, but we don’t want to laugh at people, and we don’t want to make them feel bad,” Baum said.

“Clothes are clothes,” he added.

“And people are people,” a girl chimed in.

Right. As Groucho Marx once said in Animal Crackers, “Well, art is art, isn’t it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west, and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce, they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does.” Which makes as much sense as the teaching the normalization of crossdressing to five-year-olds does.

The Pacific Justice Institute provides more information:

On May 23-24 Redwood Heights Elementary School will be teaching children in grades kindergarten through fifth that there are more than two genders. The two days calendared for this are entitled “Gender Spectrum Diversity Training.” In documents released by the school, students will be taught that “gender is not inherently nor solely connected to one’s physical anatomy.” Further, gender is a “complex interrelationship between (physical traits) and one’s internal sense of self as male, female, both or neither as well as one’s outward presentations and behaviors related to that perception.” Another document from the school advises parents: “When you discuss gender with your child, you may hear them (sic) exploring where they (sic) fit on the gender spectrum and why.”

The activities and reading list include: Grades K-1: “Boy, girl or both? Which Outfit, Which Hairdo? (Reading) My Princess Boy.” Grades 2-3 “What is gender? (Reading) 10,000 Dresses.” Grades 4-5: “Three dimensions of gender. (Reading/Song) All I Want to be is Me.”

“This instruction does not represent the values of the majority of families in Oakland,” said attorney Kevin Snider of the Pacific Justice Institute. PJI has been providing legal counsel to parents in the Oakland Unified School District on this matter. “Though to many this may seem extreme, based upon some of the bills now pending in the Capitol such as SB 48, this will be the new normal in California’s K-12 public schools,” Snider continued.

(Via Stand Firm.)

UPDATE: From Canada, we have this heart-warming story of parents who refuse to disclose the gender of their newborn, because they find parental decision-making on the part of the children “obnoxious”:

The neighbours know [Kathy] Witterick and her husband, David Stocker, are raising a genderless baby. But they don’t pretend to understand it.

While there’s nothing ambiguous about Storm’s genitalia, they aren’t telling anyone whether their third child is a boy or a girl.

The only people who know are Storm’s brothers, Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, a close family friend and the two midwives who helped deliver the baby in a birthing pool at their Toronto home on New Year’s Day.

“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.

Most of the time, it isn’t necessary to ask, because there are clues. Gotta ask, though: how did Stocker know, the first time he met Witterick, that she was female? Did he have to guess? Was it a mystery? If not, why impose that on their children? (Of course, maybe it was impossible to tell–there are no pictures of the parents. But check out Storm and his brother Jazz.)

Witterick and Stocker believe they are giving their children the freedom to choose who they want to be, unconstrained by social norms about males and females. Some say their choice is alienating.

“What we noticed is that parents make so many choices for their children. It’s obnoxious,” says Stocker.

Jazz and Kio have picked out their own clothes in the boys and girls sections of stores since they were 18 months old. Just this week, Jazz unearthed a pink dress at Value Village, which he loves because it “really poofs out at the bottom. It feels so nice.” The boys decide whether to cut their hair or let it grow.

Like all mothers and fathers, Witterick and Stocker struggle with parenting decisions. The boys are encouraged to challenge how they’re expected to look and act based on their sex.

Read it all (including the five-year-old’s decision not to go to school, and to use the pseudonym “Gender Explorer” on stuff he’s written), and then ponder this question: is the parental ideology that Stocker and Witterick (a pair of unabashed lefties) are employing a form of child abuse, abdication of responsibility, or wave of the future (or all three)?

(Hat tip: Kate.)

Heads are exploding all over the anti-Israel world (including mainline church Israel-haters) today, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke before Congress and delivered some hard truth to those who want the Jewish state to cave in and commit suicide. You can read his entire speech at his Facebook page, but here are a few highlights:

Support for Israel’s security is a wise investment in our common future. For an epic battle is now unfolding in the Middle East, between tyranny and freedom. A great convulsion is shaking the earth from the Khyber Pass to the Straits of Gibraltar. The tremors have shattered states and toppled governments. And we can all see that the ground is still shifting. Now this historic moment holds the promise of a new dawn of freedom and opportunity. Millions of young people are determined to change their future. We all look at them. They muster courage. They risk their lives. They demand dignity. They desire liberty.

These extraordinary scenes in Tunis and Cairo, evoke those of Berlin and Prague in 1989. Yet as we share their hopes, but we also must also remember that those hopes could be snuffed out as they were in Tehran in 1979. You remember what happened then.  The brief democratic spring in Iran was cut short by a ferocious and unforgiving tyranny. This same tyranny smothered Lebanon’s democratic Cedar Revolution, and inflicted on that long-suffering country, the medieval rule of Hezbollah.

So today, the Middle East stands at a fateful crossroads. Like all of you, I pray that the peoples of the region choose the path less travelled, the path of liberty. No one knows what this path consists of better than you. This path is not paved by elections alone. It is paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule….

This startling fact reveals a basic truth: Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East. Israel is what is right about the Middle East.

Israel fully supports the desire of Arab peoples in our region to live freely. We long for the day when Israel will be one of many real democracies in the Middle East. Fifteen years ago, I stood at this very podium, and said that democracy must start to take root in the Arab World. Well, it’s begun to take root. This beginning holds the promise of a brilliant future of peace and prosperity. For I believe that a Middle East that is genuinely democratic will be a Middle East truly at peace….

As for Israel, if history has taught the Jewish people anything, it is that we must take calls for our destruction seriously. We are a nation that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. When we say never again, we mean never again.  Israel always reserves the right to defend itself.

My friends, while Israel will be ever vigilant in its defense, we will never give up on our quest for peace. I guess we’ll give it up when we achieve it. Israel wants peace. Israel needs peace. We’ve achieved historic peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan that have held up for decades.

He had strong words for the Palestinians as well, making clear that he is more than willing to see them in their own state, but that they must accept that a Palestinian state will live along side a Jewish one:

The Palestinians share this small land with us. We seek a peace in which they will be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people in their own state. They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish.

We’ve already seen the beginnings of what is possible. In the last two years, the Palestinians have begun to build a better life for themselves. Prime Minister Fayad has led this effort. I wish him a speedy recovery from his recent operation. We’ve helped the Palestinian economy by removing hundreds of barriers and roadblocks to the free flow of goods and people. The results have been nothing short of remarkable. The Palestinian economy is booming. It’s growing by more than 10% a year.

Palestinian cities look very different today than they did just a few years ago. They have shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, banks. They even have e-businesses. This is all happening without peace. Imagine what could happen with peace. Peace would herald a new day for both peoples. It would make the dream of a broader Arab-Israeli peace a realistic possibility.

So now here is the question. You have to ask it. If the benefits of peace with the Palestinians are so clear, why has peace eluded us?  Because all six Israeli Prime Ministers since the signing of Oslo accords agreed to establish a Palestinian state. Myself included. So why has peace not been achieved?  Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state, if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it.

You see, our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. This is what this conflict is about. In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews said yes. The Palestinians said no.  In recent years, the Palestinians twice refused generous offers by Israeli Prime Ministers, to establish a Palestinian state on virtually all the territory won by Israel in the Six Day War.

They were simply unwilling to end the conflict. And I regret to say this: They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.

My friends, this must come to an end.  President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I said – “I will accept a Palestinian state”. It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say – “I will accept a Jewish state”.

Those six words will change history.

And there is the crux of the matter. Hamas, of course, wants to exterminate the Jews in the Holy Land. Fatah, on the other hand, accepts the existence of Israel, but is still insisting on the “right of return,” which is code for flooding Israel with as many Palestinians as possible in order to shift the demographic balance against the Jews, who would eventually be forced to leave by being treated as dhimmis. Those who libel Israel by labeling it an “apartheid state” (think IPMN and USCEIO, as well as other mainline groups) are those who screech about the “right to self-determination” for every people on Earth except Jews, and they will never be happy until Israel takes the pipe. Benjamin Netanyahu has done a brilliant job of putting such people in their place. By all means, read the whole speech.

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