July 2010

I heard yesterday that Anne Rice, the famous horror novelist (Interview With the Vampire) and Catholic revert (she took up writing novels about Jesus a few years ago) had “quit being a Christian.” She made two Facebook posts on Wednesday to announce this to the world and her readers:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

She followed these up with a number of quotes from the New Testament, and makes clear her continuing commitment to Christ. What I think she actually means is that she’s decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church because of her disagreements with its moral teaching (I’m not sure what that stuff about “anti-Democrat”–Catholics are evenly split between the parties–“anti-secular humanism”–huh?–and “anti-science” are about–you’d think she was leaving an independent Baptist church, not Rome). Whether she will land in another Christian church I don’t know, though given the centrality of the Body of Christ to the mission of God in the New Testament, I would certainly hope so.

Normally, I wouldn’t have commented on this. Ms. Rice, though a well-known person, isn’t a leader in the church. Her statements are too short to be really clear, and I suspect to at least some extent she is reacting as a political liberal to trends in Catholicism that offend her politics, rather than as someone who has made a considered theological judgment regarding the truth or falsity of Catholic teaching. What caught my attention here was not so much Ms. Rice’s announcement as the response from the Rev. Geoffrey Black, president of the United Church of Christ, who despite his denomination’s aversion to evangelism saw an opportunity, and took off like Van Helsing after getting a hot tip:

“I am certain that Anne Rice’s public repudiation of Christianity has been a difficult, but seemingly necessary step for her to live authentically as a person of faith and reason,” said Black, the UCC’s general minister and president. “Many in the United Church of Christ can understand and appreciate her insistence that she must follow a God of love, justice and inclusion.”

“Too often we have confused following Christ with defending the institutional church, and we have unnecessarily insisted that we must be of one mind, instead of one heart,” Black said. “Hopefully, declarations such as Anne’s will challenge and alter our definitions of Christian discipleship and, in the process, change the church itself. I, along with many in the UCC, share Anne Rice’s commitment to a personal relationship with Christ that affirms life in its fullness and diversity, not denies its beautiful and sometimes complex realities.”

The UCC has been in severe decline for decades, in part because its leadership has virtually repudiated both the theological basis for and the need to engage in evangelism. But let a celebrity announce, in essence, that her politics are more important to her than her Catholic identity, and the UCC leaps into action.

In response [to Rice’s Facebook announcement], the UCC launched a public campaign on Facebook — “You’d Like the UCC, Anne Rice” — to offer support for the author and introduce her and others to the denomination.

“Many of us who are Christian share Anne Rice’s values of inclusion and reason,” said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, the UCC’s communication director who initiated the Facebook campaign. “It’s important that she and others know that a church like the UCC exists.”

There something grotesque about a denomination that couldn’t care less about the spiritual welfare of millions of non-Christian and unchurched people, but will engage in a “public campaign” to snag a disaffected celebrity from another Christian church just because their politics line up. It’s almost like…well, you know:

That title’s meant literally. Seems there’s a non-denominational church in Florida that wants to makes a statement about Islam, and its chosen method is to burn copies of the Koran. The National Association of Evangelicals has asked that it reconsider. According to the Christian Post:

The nation’s largest evangelical body is urging the Florida church behind “International Burn A Quran Day” to cancel its plans.

Plans to burn Islam’s holy book on the ninth anniversary of Sept. 11 shows “disrespect” for Muslims and would only “exacerbate tensions” in Christian-Muslim relations worldwide, stated the National Association of Evangelicals on Thursday.

“It sounds like the proposed Quran burning is rooted in revenge,” said NAE President Leith Anderson, in a statement. “Yet the Bible says that Christians should ‘make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else’ (I Thessalonians 5:15).”

Dove World Outreach Center, a non-denominational church in Gainesville, Fla., recently announced it will host a Quran burning event on its church property in observance of the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to warn Americans about the dangers of Islam.

In an interview with The Christian Post this week, Senior Pastor Dr. Terry Jones explained, “We only did it because we felt there needed to be an outcry against Islam, because Islam is presenting itself as a religion of peace.”

I hope Rev. Anderson is praying for a miracle, because that’s the only way these people are going to be stopped from doing something titanically stupid. How do I know? You can tell by who they hang with:

The Dove World Outreach Center has a history of provocative public protests against what it considers sins. In the past, it has put up a sign on its property reading, “Islam is of the Devil,” and has joined the extremist Westboro Baptist Church in protesting homosexuality. Its purpose, as the church explains on its website, is to get Christians to stand up for the truth of the Bible.

I didn’t think there was any church in America willing to get down in the slime with Westboor. Apparently the people at the misnamed “Dove” church are determined to do for Christian opposition to the errors of Islam what Fred Phelps and the Kids have sought to do for Christian moral teaching on homosexual behavior–bring it into complete disrepute in the larger society.

The NAE is right to oppose this, but expressions like “disrespect” and “exacerbate tensions” just don’t get it done. Leith Anderson should be willing to say it straight: this “church” is no part of the Body of Christ, and what it is doing is disgusting.

Senate Democrats, trying to round up any help they can in pushing an unpopular legislative agenda through Congress, have decided to ignore that pesky wall of church-state separation and ask for help from (HORRORS!) the “faith community.” According to Religion News Service:

Top Senate Democrats said Wednesday (July 28) that Democrats need the help of religious groups in overcoming Republican opposition to key pieces of legislation.

In a media roundtable hosted by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Democrats’ Steering and Outreach Committee, senators said the majority of “the faith community” is fully on board with Democratic policies on immigration, health care and clean energy.

What she actually means is the National Council of Churches, the leadership of the declining mainline denominations and liberal Jewish organizations, some Catholic bishops, and Sojourners. People in the pews, who are against the policies in question in percentages similar to the rest of the population, don’t count.

Senate Democrats said the progress they’ve made on economic recovery and job growth is due to the continued support of faith communities. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, cited a common thread of “economic and social justice” between Democratic lawmakers and religious groups.

What he actually means is that people like Jim Wallis and Michael Kinnimon give Senate Democrats coverto do what they want to do anyway. No one in Washington is under any illusions that liberal religious leaders can actually persuade anyone of anything, but they allow people such as Sherrod to say, “but the ‘faith community’ supports us!”

But as the Democratic majority faces stiff resistance from the GOP on other legislation — “a battle on every bill we have put forward,” Stabenow said — religious groups need to play a larger role in supporting those bills.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., highlighted the “strength in numbers” that faith communities have, and urged them to continue “pushing back” against Republican opposition.

Now, the truth is I don’t have any problems at all with Klobuchar, Brown, and Stabenow appealing to liberal religious leaders to help them with their agenda, any more than I have a problem with Republican leaders appealing to conservative religious leaders for help with theirs. None of said leaders have to help, and in doing so they violate no laws, much less the Constitution (whether from the standpoint of their theological commitments they should do so is another question entirely). I only mention it so say that if, say, John Cornyn, Jim DeMint, and Tom Coburn had asked for religious leaders for help opposing comprehensive immigration reform, saving the Bush tax cuts, and repealing ObamaCare, Americans United and its ilk would be screaming to high heaven about the “Religious Right” and its efforts to destroy America as we know it and impose a theocracy straight out of A Handmaid’s Tale.

This is a big part of the reason why guys such as Harold Camping are gonna have some ‘splaining’ to do when they come before the judgment seat of God:

Marie Exley of Colorado Springs is convinced that Armageddon, the end of the world as written of in the Bible, will come next year.

Her conviction is so strong that, though unemployed, she’s paid $1,200 to buy advertising space on 10 Springs bus benches through October to get the word out. The ad says, “Save the Date! Return of Christ: May 21, 2011, WeCanKnow.com.”

“I want to do all I can to get the message out,” Exley, 31, said.

Exley got the idea for the ads from listening to Family Radio, a Christian broadcast heard on 55 stations in the United States, including KFRY, 89.9 FM, in Pueblo. It’s hosted by controversial Christian leader Harold Camping.

The ads are written and designed by the creators of WeCanKnow.com, an Ohio-based web site devoted to reminding people of Christ’s return.

“We hope it raises awareness and sends people to their Bible,” said Robert Dunham, spokesman for WeCanKnow.com. “Time is running out, but there is still time for salvation.”

WeCanKnow.com says it has no connection to any other organization, but Camping’s paw prints are all over it. Regardless, the idea that unemployed people are wasting their scarce resources to get out a ridiculous and indeed completely unbiblical “warning” ought to shame people such as Camping and Dunham. What I said about Camping back in January goes not only for him, but for his would-be apostles as well:

The sad thing is that this would-be prophet, like so many before him, is going to take in who knows how many people with his numbers game, and do who knows how much spiritual damage in the process.

Pray for Ms. Exley, that one of the orthodox churches in Colorado Springs will see its way clear help her with her financial need if any, and get her disconnected from the likes of Harold Camping.

For reasons known only to the voices inside his head, Fred Phelps’ band of Merry Pranksters from Westboro Baptist Church are picketing outside Comic-Con this weekend. (For the culturally unaware, Comic-Con is an annual gathering of comic book, science fiction, fantasy, and other genre fans; gathering so many nerds in one place usually results in a temporary slippage of the Earth’s axis, which is why it’s so beastly hot here in the DC metro area today–naturally, I’d be there if I could.) Anyway, they were doing their usual God-Hates-Fags-America-Pretty-Much-Anyone-Who-Isn’t-Part-Of-The-Phelps-Gene-Jacuzzi routine, when the fanboys (and girls) went into action. Comics Alliance has pictures, including my favorites:

Amen–preach it, brother. Then there was the line of the day, from commenter “Kat,” who apparently does know his or her New Testament:

The geek shall inherit the Earth.

(Via Hot Air.)

I do not, as a matter of policy, comment on the posts of other individual bloggers. I will make an exception when 1) the other blogger refers to me by name; 2) comes here to comment; and 3) is civil. Matt Rhodes, who blogs at Faith and Family, qualifies on all three counts. So Matt, this one’s for you.

He begins by noting that I didn’t deal with the Gene Robinson’s sermon as a whole. I will admit that I haven’t listened to the sermon that provoked this post (I will do so when I get a chance, however). I responded off of Jeff Walton’s report (found at the IRD). So if once I’ve listened to Robinson’s sermon, if I believe I have misrepresented him in any way, I will say so and apologize. Until then, I assume the accuracy of Jeff’s report.

Matt then wrote:

I must take issue with your understanding of the situation in the ECUSA where ‘congregations, priests and members are fleeing in droves.’ Of the 7,100 individual parishes in the ECUSA, 83 have left – that’s 1.1 percent.

I’m not sure where he’s getting his numbers. By my count, just the four dioceses that have left the Episcopal Church–Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Quincy–account for 151 churches. While I don’t know an exact number, I think it’s fair to say that hundreds of congregations have left. In addition, there’s the matter of membership and average Sunday attendance, both of which are down drastically in the last 7-10 years. Again, I think it’s fair to say that hundreds of thousands of Episcopalians have voted with their feet, and that the vast majority of those voting have been against turning the Episcopal Church into the United Church of Christ with fancier dressed clergy. That’s pretty drastic.

Matt then goes on to respond thus to another commenter:

Undergroundpewster refers to feeling that Bishop Robinson has discovered truth and is operating under self-delusion. I would contend that it is not delusion or the discovery of truth, but an understanding of the Bible as he has arrived at it.

Given what I know of his history, I suspect Robinson first came to a realization about his sexual orientation and preferred sexual behavior, and then went to the Bible to try to justify it. But I could be wrong about that.

One of the marvelous things about any Christian denomination is that, for millennia, Christians have engaged in deep study of the Bible and n the area of scriptural interpretation. Just as you and I may disagree over whether the Bible is literally the word of God or rather man’s understanding of God’s word, our understanding of the Bible and the meaning that we get may also differ.

There are a couple of problems here. One is that by putting the nature of Scripture as an either/or, Matt unnecessarily divides what ought to be held together. That God speaks to His people through the Bible has been the teaching of the church since its inception. That it also records the responses of human beings to God is obvious. To refuse to acknowledge the latter makes the Bible a Christian Koran, dropped from heaven without human input, something that all but the most extreme fundamentalists have always rejected. To refuse to acknowledge the former, however, is to undercut any authority that Scripture would otherwise have. If it is only the record of humanity’s perceptions of God, then anything that we don’t like (say, it’s teaching on sexuality) can be tossed out as irrelevant to a new age. This is not at all like the matter of interpretation, which involves various people examining various biblical passages and coming away with different understandings based on where emphasis is placed and how one understands the relation of the part to the whole. Instead, this is a matter of rejecting that God, rather than mere man, is speaking to us through Scripture. That way lies the chaos that now engulfs the mainline denominations.

The second problem has to do with what constitutes a valid interpretation. Jeff Walton says that during the Q&A that followed Robinson’s sermon, he gave the standard line about what the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality “really” is:

Robinson claimed that the seven verses specifically prohibiting homosexual behavior were each addressing an understanding of what homosexuality was perceived to be: a disordered action of a heterosexual “behaving badly,” rather than a different orientation. In that context, Robinson asserted, Scripture’s authors were not aware of monogamous committed homosexual partnerships, and thus those were not addressed in Scripture.

It is true that the writers of the passages that deal with homosexual behavior didn’t know anything about sexual orientation, but that’s beside the point. They weren’t addressing orientation or desires, they were addressing behavior. It is not the attraction that is condemned per se, but the behavior that it leads to. Biblical scholars such as William Countryman have been making arguments like Robinson’s for years, but there are fewer and fewer of their fellow scholars who buy them, especially since they’ve been answered so effectively by scholars such as Robert Gagnon. So instead, the ground has generally shifted to the experiential and the vaguely moral/theological (the “justice” and “equality” arguments).

My point is that Robinson’s different “interpretation,” aside from being one that literally no one thought of before the 1970s, is on very shaky ground, ground that is in the process of being abandoned, and ground that has the air of an ex post facto attempt to justify an ideological stand that was already in place (not just by him, but by gay advocates in the mainlines churches in general).

I’m confident that Undergroundpewster would be offended if someone felt that his understanding of the Bible was wrong and called him deluded. No matter our differences of opinion, any debate – in the realm of theology or anywhere else – should always be tempered with respect. My wife and I have differences of opinion from time to time on church issues, but we view each other’s opinions – and always those of others – with respect.

Undergroundpewster may speak for himself (and I’m sure will in the comments). Personally, I think “deluded” is a fair term if it is heard as descriptive rather than pejorative. I don’t think there’s any question that Robinson has convinced himself, against the evidence, that what he does in bed is perfectly OK with God, and that the Bible doesn’t indicate that He has any problems with it. Another way to say that is that he is deluding himself. That’s something we all engage in at times, I’m afraid, including Episcopal bishops.

Matt also takes issue with my response to Robinson’s treatment of Acts 3:1-10 when he writes:

“Finally, with regard to your last paragraph, a listening of the complete sermon would clarify the use of Acts 3. I agree completely that God healed the man through Peter and John, but it was not God that allowed the newly-healed man into the Temple – it was that he finally met the rules of man that finally allowed him into the Temple. It was not just healing, however, but a new view of this person by the Temple officials – just as the view of the ECUSA towards ALL of our brothers and sisters has changed and they are being welcomed.

It is true that there are a couple of different perspectives from which to see this story. The man’s admission into the Temple following his healing does indicate that they viewed him differently once his disability had been dealt with. But as is so often the case, this story isn’t first and foremost about the Temple officials, or even about the man entering the Temple–it is about the man’s healing by God in the name of Jesus Christ. It is a story about transformation, about a life being changed, in this case through an act of physical healing. My point again was and is that Robinson was ignoring the central thrust of the story precisely because it is about the one thing he doesn’t want to acknowledge, which is that being a disciple of Christ doesn’t mean that He puts His stamp of approval on our desires, but that we are to conform ourselves to Him. That is only possible inasmuch as we are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, whose message to all of God’s people is that He loves us too much to leave us as we are, but desires that we be molded into the shape of His holy and righteous and loving and gracious and merciful and just Son. Ignoring a substantial part of that by claiming that God doesn’t care about our sexuality as long as it is free of abuse and loving simply doesn’t jive with the message that comes through from one end of Scripture to the other.

Matt has a couple of things to say about me and commenters here (“I saw very little evidence of faith or even of a Christian mindset in the post,” and “spout the same tired lines of fear and hatred that we’ve been hearing for the last seven years”) that I think are way off base, but he’s welcome to his opinion of those he disagrees with. I appreciate the opportunity expand on my views in dialogue with him, and hope he will continue to come by and speak him mind.

Christian morality is as old as Christianity itself. It doesn’t need to be invented now. Those attempts to invent new morality look for me like attempts to invent a new religion — a sort of modern paganism.

When people say that they are led and guided by the Holy Spirit to do it, I wonder if it is the same Holy Spirit that inspired the Bible, if it is the same Holy Spirit that inspires the Holy Orthodox Church not to change anything in Christian doctrine and moral standards. But if it is the same Spirit, I wonder … if there are different spirits acting in different denominations and inspiring them to develop in different directions and to create different theologies and different morals?

Father Siarhei Hardun of the Orthodox Church of Belarus, speaking to the PCUSA General Assembly

(I know I have previously posted on this, but Terry Mattingly’s syndicated Scripps-Howard column included the full quote, so consider this an oldie but goodie.)

…does that mean they can take Communion? For at least one impulsive moment in an Anglican church in Canada, the answer was yes, according to the Toronto Star:

St. Peter’s Anglican Church has long been known as an open and inclusive place.

So open, it seems, they won’t turn anyone away. Not even a dog.

That’s how a blessed canine ended up receiving communion from interim priest Rev. Marguerite Rea during a morning service the last Sunday in June.

According to those in attendance at the historical church at 188 Carlton St. in downtown Toronto, it was a spontaneous gesture, one intended to make both the dog and its owner – a first timer at the church — feel welcomed. But at least one parishioner saw the act as an affront to the rules and regulations of the Anglican Church. He filed a complaint with the reverend and with the Anglican Diocese of Toronto about the incident – and has since left the church.

“I wrote back to the parishioner that it is not the policy of the Anglican Church to give communion to animals,” said Bishop Patrick Yu, the area bishop of York-Scarborough responsible for St. Peter’s, who received the complaint in early July. “I can see why people would be offended. It is a strange and shocking thing, and I have never heard of it happening before.

“I think the reverend was overcome by what I consider a misguided gesture of welcoming.”

Sometimes it’s best to just not say anything. So instead, here’s a song:

Well, it was either that or “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

(Via Religion News Service blog.)

Not content with having brought his own denomination to the brink of schism and collapse, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson toddled into Washington to spread the joy to United Methodists. According to Jeff Walton of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, he preached last Sunday at Foundry United Methodist Church, and invited them to follow him down the yellow brick road:

A United Methodist congregation should conduct same-sex marriages despite church law prohibiting them, according to Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Robinson and his fellow gay activists have turned the Episcopal Church’s canon law into a hunk of Swiss cheese through selective enforcement. The result is a denomination where congregations, priests and members are fleeing in droves, and anyone who is not sold out to the activists’ agenda feels as though they are in headquarters’ cross-hairs. So naturally he wants Methodists to join the party. It’s no surprise that Foundry can’t wait to do so:

Foundry states on its website: “We are conscious of positions that The United Methodist Church has taken that are opposed to same-gender marriage, but those aspects of church discipline are in conflict with the deeper emphasis of the church’s Book of Discipline upon the gospel of grace and pastoral care for all of God’s children.”

Translation of  “gospel of grace and pastoral care for all of God’s children”: of course you should be able to boink anyone you want. What kind of a killjoy would say otherwise?

Robinson’s presence at Foundry and message to the congregation served to demonstrate the Washington church’s position as being at odds with that of the denomination.

“Our preacher of the morning is often introduced as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, but that is not particularly why we invited him here this Sunday,” Snyder said.

No, I’m sure that was a total coincidence. I’m sure they asked Pittsburgh Bishop Bob Duncan (head of the breakaway evangelical Anglican Church in North America) first, but he was busy.

The New Hampshire bishop explained that change happens when a person begins with a worldview that interprets the world and the things that happen in it.

“Then along comes an experience for which that worldview is insufficient and inadequate to explain and incorporate this experience,” Robinson said, explaining that the person then enters into a kind of chaos. “Coming out on the other side, you either have to deny the reality of that experience or you come out on the other side with a revised and transformed worldview that now takes that experience into account. That is exactly what the church, the synagogue, the mosque all over the world is encountering now with homosexuality.”

That’s precisely what happened to Robinson. His theology (which from what I’ve heard is–or was–substantially more evangelical than that of most Episcopal gay activists), not to mention  the Bible, collided head-on with his sexual desires. Guess which won.

Robinson connected his account of change and homosexuality with Acts, chapter 3, where St. Peter heals the crippled beggar at the temple gate.

“If you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, that is your story. That is my story. We know what it is like to be told you can only come so far,” Robinson said. “Do you know what it is like to sit at the door and beg, to be told that our affliction makes it not okay to come to the center of the church’s life? We know what it is like when someone in the name of Jesus tells us to stand up and walk, that we are loved beyond our loudest imagining, that we too are God’s children and that we too are beneficiaries, heirs of God’s creation. We run into the temple and we proclaim God’s love.”

“Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are coming into the temple and they are bringing their beloved partners and they’re saying it’s God that has done this,” Robinson continued. “What happened in the ancient temple was that the powers that be got really mad.”

I read stuff like this, and I can’t help but wonder: is he being deceptive, or can he simply not read? The apostles didn’t just offer the beggar entry into the Temple; Peter healed him (or rather, God did through Peter). Robinson wants to believe that he should be admitted to the Temple, not only without being healed, but with God putting His stamp of approval on his ailment. The healing of the beggar on Solomon’s Porch was a miracle of divine transformation, which folks such as Robinson would maintain is not only not necessary, but decry as offensive to who they are. He’s happy engaging in behavior that Scripture prohibits; why can’t God be just as thrilled?

They are practicing child abuse in teaching that the world operates in ways other than it does. And in my opinion, they are engaged in terrorism by weakening our nation and our understanding of science and things with which we can defend ourselves and progress. If it had not been for these fools we could have been at the stars 2,000 years ago.

Edwin Kagan, national legal director for American Atheists, conclusively demonstrating that intelligence is not required to be an atheist

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