September 2007

The visit by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Columbia University earlier this week was international news,
sparking a tremendous debate over the propriety of inviting a man who has spoken of destroying Israel and cast doubt on the historicity of the Holocaust to speak at an American college. On the other hand, his visit with over 140 North American religious leaders garnered almost no attention. According to the New York Times:

After two days of prickly confrontations with critics at Columbia University and the United Nations, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran held a friendly, even warm, exchange yesterday with Christian leaders from the United States and Canada convinced that dialogue is the only way to prevent war.

The session, held under tight security at a chapel across the street from the United Nations, was a reminder that Mr. Ahmadinejad is a religious president of a religious nation who relishes speaking on a religious plane. He spent his 20 allotted minutes at the start of the two-hour meeting recounting the chain of prophets central to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the commonality of their messages.

He took questions from a panel that included a Quaker, a Catholic, an Anglican, a Baptist and a representative of the interfaith World Council of Churches, some of whom separately said they had been criticized by other religious leaders for sitting down with the Iranian president. Given the furor over Mr. Ahmadinejad’s earlier appearances, there was no advance publicity.

The organizers said that they had pressed hard to find a Jewish leader to join the panel of questioners, but that those invited declined because they could not win support from Jewish organizations.

Gee, I wonder why?

“My heart was broken that there was so little support from other religions to be here,” said Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that helped sponsor the event. “If we don’t walk down this path of dialogue, we’re going to end up in conflagration.”

Speaking of those “other religions”:

[T]he Bahais, a minority religious group that has suffered persecution in Iran, said they supported these efforts at dialogue with the Iranian government. They had been invited to the prior meetings, but the Iranian side refused to come if Bahais were there, said Kit Bigelow, director of external affairs, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahais of the United States.

No word on whether any of the participants asked about the severe persecution that Bahais suffer in Iran. But the Christians weren’t going to let a little thing like that stand in the way of their effort at private diplomacy:

Though Mr. Ahmadinejad’s answers differed little, the tone of the session was a marked contrast to the verbal pummeling he received at Columbia University on Monday, when the university’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, called the Iranian president either “brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated” for his stance on the Holocaust.

At the clerics’ meeting, Albert Lobe, executive director of the Mennonite Central Committee, said pointedly, “We mean to extend to you the hospitality which a head of state deserves.”

I’m sure they would have done the same for Augusto Pinochet while he ruled Chile, Baby Doc Duvalier when he ruled Haiti, any of the distinguished members of the Burmese military junta, or any of the other well-known right-wing national leaders of the last several decades. /sarc

Mr. [Glenn] Stassen [ethics professor at Fuller Seminary] asked President Ahmadinejad, if the United States could guarantee no aggression against Iran, “could there be an Iranian guarantee of no violence against Israel?”

Mr. Ahmadinejad responded by asking for a three-minute break “for the interpreter.” After the break, he said that it was the United States and “the Zionist regime” that had nuclear weapons, while Iran was seeking to enrich uranium only for “fuel purposes.”

Translation: “After due consideration, my answer is: you have got to be kidding. What do you think I am–a naive American Christian pacifist?”

Looks like another big church has decided to make the jump from PCUSA to the EPC, according to the Layman Online:

Saying that “remaining in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and fighting for reform is not a viable option,” the largest congregation in the Presbytery of South Louisiana has scheduled a meeting next month to “terminate its voluntary affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and petition for voluntary affiliation with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.”

First Presbyterian Church in Baton Rouge, at the “unanimous recommendation of the session’s denominational affairs committee, the unamimous endorsement of the board of trustees and the unanimous recommendation of the session,” has scheduled a congregational vote on the issue at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28.

The congregation has 1,592 members, according to official denominational statistics, compared to the average PCUSA congregation’s 209 members. The Presbytery of South Louisiana is comprised of 67 congregations in the southern part of the state, including New Orleans.

In a 55-13 vote Nov. 4, 2006, the presbytery agreed to a stipulated judgment that said First Presbyterian Church “holds all property titled in its name in full, complete and unfettered ownership” and that neither the presbytery “nor any person, entity, administrative unit, agency, commission, committee or governing body action on behalf of the Presbytery of South Louisiana or in its stead, or claiming by, through or under the Presbytery of South Louisiana, has any right, title or interest in or to the Property, whether in trust or otherwise, nor any right to determine control, directly or indirectly, the use or ownership of the property.”

While saying that separation from the PCUSA “will not be without consequences or pain,” the committee recommendation includes “continued, but limited financial support” to the presbytery.

I haven’t been keeping close track, but just from memory I’m sure that this is at least the third congregation that is the largest in its presbytery that has made the move (the others being Memorial Park from Pittsburgh Presbytery and Kirk of the Hills from Eastern Oklahoma Presbytery). These three churches by themselves have a total membership of almost 6000. If anyone knows of any other “largest” churches that have or are preparing to leave PCUSA, let me know.

You may recall that Austin Seminary was having a colloquium this week on the question, “Joining and Being Church: What’s Not Negotiable?” Well, Classical Presbyterian Toby Brown went to it, and discovered the answer:

I don’t know what I should have expected from the over-planned Colloquium yesterday, but what we got was an orchestrated, manufactured dog-and-pony show. I felt this way. Jim Rigby and the people from St. Andrews [who started the controversy by admitting a professed atheist to membership–DF]  felt this way. What a cop out!

But where the presbytery needed a guided discussion of the real issues involved in our ideas about church membership–what it means and why it matters–we instead received a pre-fab product, designed for our consumption. Each of the two featured speakers got 45 minutes and there was a panel from the presbytery of three. After all of this, we had 15 minutes for questions. 15 minutes??

Both speakers came down on the basic side of St. Andrews, in my opinion. Jim Rigby seemed to agree with my assessment. Both speakers went out of their way to state that faith is not intellectual assent.

For this being said in a roomful of intellectuals, I found this darned ironically funny! If our faith has no intellectual component, then what’s with the whole seminary thing?

Little from Scripture was used in all of it. No confessions were brought to the discussion. Imagine that, friends: Presbyterians not mentioning what the Bible or the confessions have to say about church membership, or any issue for that matter! I found that ludicrous.

Michael Jinkins did find the time in his talk to dismiss Westminster-type Calvinists and Puritans. He found the time to rhetorically diss the beliefs of the historic Reformed community. And (surprise, surprise!) no time was found to defend or even investigate what those silly old Reformed confessions might say about the issue.

In other words, just another day at the office at a mainline seminary. Thanks for the report, Toby.

(Hat tip: Will Spotts.)

The Rev. Bob Edgar, the former general secretary of the National Council of Churches who over the summer departed to join Common Cause, is held in high esteem in some quarters for turning around the NCC’s finances. They were left in shambles by his predecessor, the Rev. Joan Campbell Brown, and he cleaned up the mess in large part by turning to political cronies and left-wing foundations to pick up the slack left by shrinking mainline denominations.

Turns out, however, that Edgar has left town at an exceptionally fortuitous moment, according to the United Church of Christ news service:

Citing the need for fiscal responsibility in the face of projected $1.2 million budget shortfalls for the current and subsequent fiscal years, the governing board of the National Council of Churches, meeting Sept. 25 in New York, announced significant budget cuts and a sweeping staffing restructure.

Fourteen professional staff positions, including two deputy general secretaries and six associate general secretaries and the professional program positions reporting to them, will be eliminated on Dec. 1.

The Rev. Michael Livingston, president of the NCC, acknowledged the cuts are “deep and painful” especially given the “extraordinary professionalism and dedication of our staff.”

“But,” Livingston said, “we are committed to operating within budgetary parameters that are realistic. This plan moves us forward toward long-term sustainability so that the important ecumenical witness of the Council can continue well into the future.”

While the NCC’s 35 member communions, including the UCC, have not backed away from their support of the NCC’s mission, the action was deemed necessary because of the obvious diminishing capacity among member churches to sustain the organization as they have in the past.

The action comes on the heels of the departure of the Rev. Robert Edgar, NCC’s general secretary since January 2000, who stepped down in May to become president of Common Cause.


“The Edgar Years”

Sometimes it isn’t just the secular media that doesn’t understand what’s happening in the world of Christianity. Sometimes the Christian media doesn’t get it either:

The Episcopal Church has agreed to halt the ordination of homosexual clergy in efforts to prevent a schism in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In an announcement Tuesday, the U.S. arm of Anglicanism said it would also stop all prayers of blessing for same-sex couples, thus fulfilling the two major conditions requested by Anglican officials before a Sept. 30 deadline.

Furthermore, The Episcopal Church would allow conservative dioceses to opt out of American church body and affiliate with a conservative province thousands of miles away.

There is not a single accurate statement in these three lead paragraphs from the story by Daniel Blake at the Christian Post. It’s not a matter of interpretation, either, he’s just flat wrong:

1) At best, the bishops said they would not consecrate non-celibate homosexual bishops, not clergy.

2) There was no statement anywhere to the effect that same sex blessings would stop. The bishops said they wouldn’t authorize any official rites. That’s simply the status quo ante, and will not have the effect of stopping anything (right, Bishop Bruno?).

3) That last item about dioceses is completely inexplicable. No where was anything of the sort even hinted at. It’s as though Blake was at an alternate meeting in a parallel universe.

Even the headline, “Episcopal Church Agrees to Conservative Anglican Demands,” is bizarre under any possible reckoning of what happened in New Orleans.

I’ve been using the Christian Post as a source of information for what’s going on in the world of Christianity for months now. After reading this piece of fiction, I may have to reconsider that.

UPDATE: The Post has made a partial correction. In what is now titled, “Episcopal Bishops Respond to Anglican Concerns,” the story now reads:

The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has pledged not to authorize the blessing of same-sex unions until a broader consensus emerges in the worldwide Anglican Communion, or until the primary governing and legislative Episcopal body takes further action.

In their response Tuesday “to questions and concern raised by our Anglican Communion partners,” Episcopal bishops also said they agreed that a resolution on the election of bishops calls upon church officials “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

“The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 (the resolution) pertains,” they added.

While some interpreted the statements to mean that The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – would put a stop to the ordination of homosexual clergy, conservative Christians were quick to point out that the bishops simply said that they agree that they have been called upon not to consecrate non-celibate homosexuals who would stir up more controversy. A pledge was only made regarding the blessing of same-sex unions.

These paragraphs replace the wholly inaccurate ones that previously led the article. They also included the Martyn Minns quote that I included in today’s “Quote of the Day” post. The writer is now listed as Eric Young, with “contributions” from Daniel Blake in London. A correction is appended:

An article on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007, about a statement issued by the Episcopal House of Bishops incorrectly reported that The Episcopal Church had agreed to halt the ordination of gay clergy in an effort to prevent a schism in the worldwide Anglican Communion. While Episcopal bishops agreed that there should not be consent given to the consecration of non-celibate homosexuals who would “challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion,” they did not state any intentions to bar such consecrations. (Italics in original)

No word on whether the “Episcopal Church would allow conservative dioceses to opt out of American church body and affiliate with a conservative province thousands of miles away.” But some correction is certainly better than none.

From the New York Times story on the wrap-up of the meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops:

“They’re offering business as usual. The communion asked them to make a change, to embrace the teaching of the communion about homosexuality, and there’s no change at all.”

–the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA)

As reported by the Rev. Matt Kennedy at StandFirm, it looks like the party’s over. Here the so-called “bullet points” approved by the Episcopal bishops:

*We reconfirm that resolution B033 of General Convention 2006 (The Election Of Bishops) calls upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

They weren’t asked to “reconfirm,” a meaningless expression; they were called to clarify. They apparently decline to do that.

*We pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions.

Also known, as of today, as the “Bruno shuffle.”

*We commend our Presiding Bishop’s plan for episcopal visitors.

See StandFirm for more information on this.

*We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end.

This is clearly the thing that really exercises them.

*We support the Presiding Bishop in seeking communion-wide consultation in a manner that is in accord with our Constitution and Canons.

Talk, talk, and more talk.

*We call for increasing implementation of the listening process across the Communion and for a report on its progress to Lambeth 2008.

This refers to the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 on homosexuality. They support the second part of that resolution; the first part, disapproving of homosexual behavior, has been dropped down the memory hole.

*We support the Archbishop of Canterbury in his expressed desire to explore ways for the Bishop of New Hampshire to participate in the Lambeth Conference.

Which would guarantee that most of the Anglican Communion would not be there.

*We call for unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons.

Which is completely uncontroversial and in need no of repetition.

More to come.

UPDATE: Here’s the “discussion” of the first point:

The House of Bishops concurs with Resolution ECO 11 of the Executive Council. This Resolution commends the Report of the Communion Sub-Group of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates of the Anglican Communion as an accurate evaluation of Resolution B033 of the 2006 General Convention, calling upon bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees “to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion. The House acknowledges that non-celibate gay and lesbian persons are included among those to whom B033 pertains.

I don’t know the resolutions referred to in this, but I’ll check them out if I can find them. That last sentence is the first recognition by the bishops as a whole of what everybody assumed was the case, that the BO33 resolution was particularly in reference to non-celibate homosexuals. But a number of bishops (it may be as high as 20, if I recall correctly) have publically repudiated that document, so I’m not sure how much weight can be given to the approval of this (Rev. Kennedy only heard one dissenting voice). And the rest of the bullet points seem to advance the debate not one whit.

UPDATE: Matt Kennedy has incorporated a footnote to the last sentence of the discussion paragraph in the previous update:

The Communion Sub-Group noted that “the resolution uses the language of ‘restraint’ and the group knows that there has been considerable discussion since General Convention about the exact force of that word. By requiring that the restraint must be expressed in a particular way – ‘by not consenting … ‘ however, the resolution is calling for a precise response, which complies with the force of the recommendation of the Windsor Report.” The group also noted “that while the Windsor Report restricted its recommendation to candidates for the episcopate who were living in a same gender union, the resolution at General Convention widened this stricture to apply to a range of lifestyles which present a wider challenge. The group welcomed this widening of the principle, which was also recommended by the Windsor Report, and commend it to the Communion.” [Hopefully I’ve corrected typos in this correctly.]

It isn’t often that someone in a clerical collar and pectoral cross is caught in a flat-out, bold-faced, demonstrable whopper. Such, however, was the fate of Los Angeles Episcopal Bishop Jon J. Bruno at a press conference in New Orleans last night. Here’s the exchange between Bruno and a New York Times reporter:

NYT: How is the [Dar es Salaam] communiqué different from the desires of conservatives who wish for you to reverse course on sexuality issues. Doesn’t the communiqué ask you to reverse course in the same way. How can you distinguish between what the conservatives want you to do and the Communique asks you to do?

Bruno: You have asked whether we will continue the process of General Convention. The fact is that we have never authorized same sex unions.

NYT: it happens on the diocesan level all the time.

Bruno: Not in my diocese. It does not happen with my permission.

NYT: But it happens in many dioceses on a private level. How do the questions of the communiqué differ from what conservatives want?

Bruno: I’ve answered it as best I can. If I were to answer it any more clearly we would break the promises we made in the house.

The Times reporter was probably really baffled by this response because of something that appeared in her paper on Sunday:

Robert Walter Stanley and Robert Karl Marohn celebrated their union yesterday at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, Calif. The Rev. Gabriel Ferrer led the commitment ceremony. The Rev. Maryetta Anschutz, also an Episcopal priest, participated.

This is only the latest, of course. StandFirm this morning offers a whole slew of public same-sex blessings that have taken place in the Diocese of Los Angeles, including one in which Bruno himself participated:

On May l6, 2004, Bishop Bruno of Los Angeles blessed the union of Malcolm and Mark Thompson in a ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral, on the 20th anniversary of their life partnership. Mark, former cultural editor of the Advocate newsmagazine, is a therapist, photographer, activist, editor of “Long Road to Freedom: the Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement,” and author of a famed trilogy: “Gay Spirit,” “Gay Soul” and “Gay Body.”

It is not known whether Bishop Bruno gave himself permission to take part in this blessed event. It is certainly possible that, like all the others happening in his diocese, this one was a rogue operation by an out-of-control cleric.

(Via StandFirm, MCJ, and T19.)

UPDATE: Bruno has apparently learned a thing or two from Richard Nixon. According to the Rev. Susan Russell, president of the gay caucus Integrity and an occasional performer of same sex blessings in DioLA:

When contacted by The Living Church, the Rev. Susan Russell, associate rector at All Saints’ Church, Pasadena, and president of Integrity, clarified the apparent contradiction.

“Same-sex blessings occur in the Diocese of Los Angeles all the time,” she said listing several parishes including her own at which same-sex blessings had recently been performed. “We don’t ask for permission because Bishop Bruno has told us that he cannot give it until General Convention approves an official liturgy. He has told us that we are free to exercise appropriate pastoral care” for parishoners.

Yeah, and I’ll bet she and Bruno never bought it when Nixon did it.

UPDATE: The Times reporter in question is Neela Banerjee, who is female. I’ve corrected the pronoun above to reflect that. (Hat tip: Irenaeus.)

The Associated Press has a global warming story out this morning that I, as a layman, find both hard to believe and interesting in its implications. According to science reporter Seth Borenstein, sea level rise is coming and there’s nothing we can do about it:

Ultimately, rising seas will likely swamp the first American settlement in Jamestown, Va., as well as the Florida launch pad that sent the first American into orbit, many climate scientists are predicting.

In about a century, some of the places that make America what it is may be slowly erased.

Global warming — through a combination of melting glaciers, disappearing ice sheets and warmer waters expanding — is expected to cause oceans to rise by one meter, or about 39 inches. It will happen regardless of any future actions to curb greenhouse gases, several leading scientists say. And it will reshape the nation.

Interesting item number 1: The 39 inches mentioned here is significantly larger than the 7-23 inches projected by the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which even in a worst case scenario only went to thirty. So while we don’t have hysteria in the Al Gore range (17-23 feet), it still sounds like someone is going overboard. Interesting item number 2: They say there’s nothing we can do about it, that regardless of what we do about greenhouse gases, it’s going to happen anyway. That sounds for all the world like a natural change in planetary atmosphere, rather than something caused by humans. Interesting item number 3: The article never points that out. Hmmm.

Few of the more than two dozen climate experts interviewed disagree with the one-meter projection. Some believe it could happen in 50 years, others say 100, and still others say 150.

Sea level rise is “the thing that I’m most concerned about as a scientist,” says Benjamin Santer, a climate physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

“We’re going to get a meter and there’s nothing we can do about it,” said University of Victoria climatologist Andrew Weaver, a lead author of the February report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Paris. “It’s going to happen no matter what — the question is when.”

If this is accurate–a big if–then Americans will have some serious questions to ask about various low lying areas that may not be habitable, as well as historic spots that we may not be able to protect. But according to maps produced by the University of Arizona, one of those areas is supposed to be the San Joaquin Valley in California. Take a look at this and see if it makes sense:

Look closely at the map in the lower left corner. It shows San Joaquin County, including the city of Stockton–more than 60 miles inland–being “effected” (whatever that means) by sea level rise, whereas San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and most of the rest of the Bay area–much of which is at sea level–won’t be. Does that make sense?

One of the interesting aspects of reading denominational news sources is that they frequently don’t report what the leadership considers bad or inconvenient news (or if they do so, it’s only long after the fact). Stuff that isn’t congenial to the agenda just gets dropped down the memory hole, the thinking being that that way no one will ever hear it. But since the blogosphere came into its own, that’s no longer possible.

A case in point is the address made to the Episcopal House of Bishops yesterday by the Archbishop of Jerusalem, Mouneer Anis. He was blunt, to the point, and didn’t obfuscate even a little bit:

Anglicans are aware with humility that we are not “the” church but we are one member of the body of Christ, the one Holy Catholic Church. We proclaim this every week in our churches. This places upon us the responsibility to listen to and respect our ecumenical partners.

My friends, you may believe you have discovered a very different truth from that of the majority in the Anglican Communion. It is not just about sexuality, but about your views of Christ, the Gospel, and the authority of the Bible. Please forgive me when I relay that some say you are a different church, others even think that you are a different religion.

I understand that it is difficult for you in your context to accept the standard teaching of the Anglican Communion. That is why you refused to accept Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10. You also ignored all the warnings of the Primates in 2003, 2004, and 2005. Your response to the Windsor Report is seen by the Primates as not clear. You cannot say you value being a member of the Anglican Communion while you ignore the interdependence if the member churches. The interdependence is what differentiates us from other congregational churches. I would like to remind you and myself with the famous resolution number 49 of the Lambeth Conference of 1930 which declares “the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of churches that…are bound together not by a central legislative and executive authority, but by mutual loyalty sustained through the common counsel of the bishops in conference.” With respect, I have to say that those who would prefer to speak of laws and procedures, constitutions and canons, committees and process: you are missing the point! It is our mutual loyalty and fellowship, submitting to one another in the common cause of Jesus Christ that makes us of one Church one faith and one Lord.

It is clear that you actions have resulted in one the most difficult disputes in the Communion in our generation. You may see them as not core doctrinal issues. Many like me see the opposite but the thing that we all cannot ignore is that these issues are divisive and have created a lot of undesired consequences and reactions. For the first time in centuries, the fabric of our Communion is torn. Our energies have been drained and our resources are lost and it is difficult for both of us to continue like this.

My friends, if you really believe that the truth revealed to you is different from that shown to the rest of the Communion, then you need to uphold that claim with boldness even at the risk of losing unity. If you think it is right and necessary to ordain and consecrate practicing homosexuals and that you should bless same sex partnerships or even marriages, you should be true to what you believe is right and accept the consequences.

However, if you appreciate being members of the global Anglican family, then you have to walk along side the members of your family. Those who say it is important to stay together around the table, to listen to each other and to continue our dialogue over the difficult issues that are facing us are wise. We wholeheartedly agree with this, but staying around the table requires that you should not take actions that are contrary to the standard position (Lambeth 1.10) of the rest of the Communion.

That lays out unequivocally the choice that lies between the two sides in the ever-deepening rift throughout mainline Protestantism. As such, one could easily see this as a case of helping the bishops to clarify their choices, a service that few of them have availed themselves of in recent years. But I had to find this speech at StandFirm. At the Episcopal News Service, the lead story is about a medical anthropologist who spoke in support of the Millenium Development Goals (the actual gospel being propagated by a lot of Episcopal bishops these days). As for the Archbishop’s speech, you’d never know he was even there. Now that’s fair and balanced reporting.

UPDATE: My mistake–Archbishop Anis is actually the primate of the province of Jerusalem, and Bishop of the Diocese of Egypt.

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