January 2011

As I wrote about last week, former Princeton Seminary chapel dean and evangelical Dr. Arlo Duba has created something of a sensation among the PCUSA’s gay advocacy groups with his declaration that he has changed his mind on the ordination of homosexuals. This morning, he graciously responded to my post in the comments Given the significance of the issue, I wanted to give his reply more visibility, and offer my own response to it:

Dear David Fischler,

My dear Brother in Christ, I know exactly where you are. I was in the same place a few years ago. Maybe it was a slightly different place, because I believed with the Apostle Paul, that I must press on. You mention the process of sanctification that follows baptism. That has been a mark of my life since I was baptized on September 21, 1930. And I was taught, as perhaps you were, that that sanctification must continue until our life on this earth is done. Yes, I had a cataclysmic “conversion” as an adolescent. That is probably the type of conversion to which you allude. But I can say confidently that there was never a day in my life that I didn’t love Jesus, but there have been numerous times that that conversion has been intensified.

I was taught, as perhaps you were, that according to Hebrews 6, we are to go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance. I was taught that the ultimate maturity is our departure from this life. My wife and I speak of that as “our graduation,” the completion of our Baptism. I once heard a sermon, “Converted at Every Revival.” It was a wonderful message, opening up Calvin’s Semper Reformanda, “always being reformed by the Word of God.”  And he ended it with an appeal to us that we should pray for that continuing conversion. We should long for it. And we should pray that we never renege or fall into stagnation. Further, the sermon taught that we are not to be lulled by custom or party.  I was taught, as perhaps you were, that the Shorter Catechism speaks of sanctification as a continual process in which we are “enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness.” So for me the Bible has been my constant companion. And I could regale you with several notable conversions I have enjoyed or endured. You are simply commenting on the most recent one.

Let me interject here that I have no problem with Dr. Duba changing his mind, whether through a process of sanctification, or growth in understanding of an issue. I’ve done so lots of times. In college, I was a supporter of abortion rights, and even (to my eternal shame) competed in intercollegiate forensics with a persuasive speech advocating mandatory amniocentesis, so that women could make informed decisions about whether or not to have a “therapeutic” abortion. Most folks would consider my change of position to be in a more “conservative” direction. On the other hand, I once supported capital punishment, but no longer do, a change to what most would think of as a more “liberal” position. In both instances, a variety of factors were involved, including a re-examination of the relevant biblical material. There is no reason why, if the face of new information or new light on old information, why we should not change our minds, if the new information or perspective is correct and compelling. That’s what I have not seen in the debate over homosexual behavior.

I want to correct the title line on your response. Mine was not a “Position in Search of a Justification.” The interviewer asked,

The title of my post was perhaps not the best choice of words. What I was trying to say is that my impression of Dr. Duba’s argument was that it struck me as weak enough that he arrived at the change of mind first, even while still in the midst of his study, and then tried to put together a case for why the change was correct. If that is incorrect, I apologize for creating the wrong impression.

Did you start out this particular study with the inclusion of LGBT Christians in mind?

Not at all. That would have been the farthest thing from my mind. My field is Liturgical Theology. I’m a retired Professor of Worship. I was doing research in the area of Baptism and had just reread one of my mentors, Oscar Cullmann, on Baptism and an open table, where he focuses on Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, and Peter and Cornelius. Cullmann says of his own study of Acts that Luke’s writing is full of surprises. I love biblical word studies, and that is where I started.

The recognition of possible change came slowly and painfully. Let me ask you to imagine what it would be like for you to search the scriptures and find that what you had believed for a long time was being challenged. There was the realization that I would lose friends, that people would try to talk me out of what I was coming firmly to believe, that they would try to convince me that it just couldn’t be the Holy Spirit who was leading me.

I’m not sure why those latter two things are bad enough to be mentioned in the same sentence with losing friends. Isn’t being open to friends’ arguments part of the process?

It happened bit by bit. Let me give you an example. I suppose that I might once have been willing to say as you do, that “preaching to Samaritans has nothing to do with going “beyond the plain reading of scripture.” Have you read Leviticus 19:17-18 and Deuteronomy 15:7-11? A neighbor there is defined as “your people,” and “your brothers.” I believe that the average Jew at that time would have accused Jesus of going beyond the plain reading of scripture. You note what I said about the eagerness of James and John to call fire down from heaven on Samaritans in Luke 9:54. You refer to Jesus’ commission to witnessing in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth as though it had already happened. Though Jesus ministered to the woman at the well in Samaria, I cannot find evidence that any disciple had ministered to any Samaritan. I believe that the first person to act on Jesus’ commission was Philip in Acts 8ff.  And of all people that the apostles sent to check on Philip’s evangelism, can you believe, they sent the same John who was so eager to call down fire from heaven on Samaritans. I think it is really quite probable that many of the Jerusalem disciples hoped that Peter and John would stop that preaching.  To gauge the resistance to receive these outsiders, just look at Acts 11:2 and 15:5 (When you read this last one, put some vehemence into your voice!) Let’s face it. It has always been difficult for people who are different to be accepted.

Dr. Duba is, I’m sure, correct about what the typical Jewish response would have been to preaching to the Samaritans. And if they’d been addressing your typical rabbi, they might well have properly done so. But Jesus is different, right? As God incarnate, He could send the Law which he quoted and upheld in a different trajectory, especially since that trajectory was in line with the universalism of the prophets, who proclaimed that Israel would be a light to all nations. That the church didn’t start preaching to the Samaritans until after Christ’s death and resurrection only makes sense, considering that while on earth He sent them only to the people of Israel. After His resurrection, He universalized their preaching, and the pattern seen in Acts is completely in keeping with the pattern laid out in Acts 1:8. That some resisted makes sense, in light of some of the theological differences in the early church, and especially the conflict involving the Judaizers. But I’m still not sure what this has to do with the question of homosexual behavior, though Dr. Duba does try to explain that later.

Back to the eunuch. Have you studied the ambiguous range of meanings for “eunuch? Please do so. Jeremiah uses the Hebrew word saris eight times and it is translated in the NIV with four different words. Not all eunuchs were sexless. They still had their prostates, and there is ample evidence that they were not necessarily chaste. And, I am interested in your stress on “behavior,” since all of us have behaviors that we have to confess every evening, and every Lord’s Day. Check out the definition of the Greek word, εθνος. You will find that it is not limited to “ethnic” as it is in the English language. In the Bible it is most often translated as “the nations,” always to non-Jews, really, to anyone not like us, people who eat different foods, have different customs than ours, which means different behavior patterns.

Here I think Dr. Duba definitely goes beyond what the text will allow. I don’t think there’s any way you can stretch εθνος (ethne) to include people whose only unifying factor is a particular mode of sexual expression, any more than you can say that all vegetarians are an εθνος, or that all Packers fans are an εθνος, or that all chessplayers are an εθνος. This is simply not what the Scripture is referring to when it speaks of “the nations,” who are not simply “anyone not like us,” but specifically those who are defined as being outside of the Old Testament covenant with Israel. In any case, that goes to the issue of who we are to bring the gospel to (everyone), not to the issue of who should lead the ekklesia. Oh, and as to the eunuch, what Dr. Duba presents is speculation. We don’t know anything about this particular eunuch’s sexual abilities or activities, so he really doesn’t answer the question at all.

Read Luke/Acts as if for the first time. Look for the surprises Luke throws at us. Example: Luke knew Mark’s gospel. Why then does he say the fourth disciple named is Levi? I believe that he might have put Levi there, a hated tax collector, so that early on we would see the inclusion of the customarily unacceptable.  I will be interested in your take on that.

I have no doubt that the tax collector was included by Jesus in His inner circle in part to demonstrate exactly that. I also have no doubt that Matthew (or Levi if you prefer) stopped collecting taxes for the Romans, just as Zacchaeus, another tax collector, said he would give away half his wealth and make restitution fourfold to those he defrauded. And I doubt that either of them ever tried to persuade Jesus that it would be perfectly acceptable for them to go on collecting taxes and defrauding people. So it isn’t just that the “customarily unacceptable” were accepted, it’s that they were transformed by the experience, and left sinful ways of life behind. Did that mean they no longer sinned? Of course not. But they knew that what they had been doing was inherently sinful, and thus to be put away permanently.

And I now believe that Luke, mentioning the sexual-gender of the eunuch five times, when he could have simply repeated “Ethiopian” five times, has unusual significance. I think that the supernatural visit by an angel (like the annunciation to Mary and Cornelius), and the supernatural “snatching up” of Philip after baptizing the eunuch (like Elijah, and like Jesus being taken up after the Supper in Emmaus), demands that it be searched diligently, to try to “see through” it for its deepest meaning. I now believe that as with Peter and the sheet, where God used that metaphor to teach Peter to “see through” to something much more significant that permission to eat pork, shrimp and lobster, in the same way Luke is trying to get us to “see through” the eunuch incident to something much more significant than the baptism of a castrated male.

Perhaps, but not in regard to homosexual behavior. When folks start talking about having to “see through” a passage for its “deepest meaning,” it sounds to me like they’re saying, “look for some way to make this say what you want it to say.” Peter didn’t have to look very far to find the meaning of the sheet, especially since he hears a voice in the vision telling him, “What God has made clean, do not call common,” followed immediately by the arrival of the delegation from Cornelius. To see the lifting of condemnation of homosexual acts, a condemnation repeated by Paul years after the eunuch event, strikes me as a real stretch.

By what standard can we pick and choose portions of the Levitical prohibitions, saying, this one is God’s unchanging will, that one isn’t. It was Jesus who said six times in Matthew 5, “You have heard it said of old . . . . But I say to you. . . .”  And Jesus himself challenged the Levitical laws, so much in fact that he had to say, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them (Matt 5:17). I believe we must pray to perceive how they are to be fulfilled.

That standard is, I thought, pretty well established. The ceremonial law has been abolished, as has the national law of Israel with its penalties for sin, but the moral law remains in force. Not only Paul, but all of the epistle writers make that quite plain in their calls for righteous life and growth in sanctification on the part of believers, a process that is directed in part by the use of the moral law. Dr. Duba’s reference to the Sermon on the Mount is curious, because at no point does Jesus loosen the moral law; rather, He makes clear that the moral law is even more demanding than His contemporaries claim. He fulfills the moral law, as we cannot, so that His righteousness in doing so may be credited to us, but that does not then give us license to ignore that law as a guide for our sanctification (as opposed to justification, which we can never have through observance of the moral law, given our inevitable failure to do so).

I believe that the very evangelical and conservative standard of exegesis, that as we allow scripture to interpret scripture, we must discern scriptural themes. I am no longer willing to say that Romans 1 trumps Galatians 3, nor does it trump the whole of Luke/Acts. Go back to Genesis 2:18, “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” and say that while this passage refers primarily to male and female and to the generation of children, it need not be that alone. But the message of the gospel is Covenant commitment. I even believe that the Apostle Paul is speaking to two quite different registers in Romans 1 and Galatians 3:27-28.

I agree completely that we must allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, and that biblical themes are important to proper interpretation. But to say that Romans 1 “trumps” Galatians 3 or Luke/Acts in the analysis of those who oppose the ordination of gays is to make a couple of mistakes.

The first is to suppose that the matter of sexual morality (which includes a great deal more than just homosexuality, of course, but that as well) is not addressed outside of Romans 1. It turns up repeatedly, and always with the same theme, that sexual expression is meant to follow the pattern established from the creation of humanity, in the form of male-female relations within a covenant bond that came to be called marriage, or is to be avoided. Those who oppose the church putting its stamp of approval on homosexual behavior are not simply proof-texting, but upholding this theme with the utmost seriousness.

The second is in thinking that the notion of “inclusiveness” to which Dr. Duba is clearly alluding is an idea without bounds. The gospel excludes as much as it includes, as Jesus’s repeated chastising of the Pharisees and Sadducees demonstrates. So do Paul’s lists of behaviors whose willful, unrepentant practice indicates that their practitioners are not of the Kingdom of God. Gospel inclusiveness means that God elects His people from every corner of humanity, not that those who are so elected are then given free rein to continue to believe or act the way they did before encountering Christ.

I wish you had resisted listing the “slew of behaviors” that certainly have absolutely nothing to do with our subject.

Why do they “have absolutely nothing to do with our subject”? Dr. Duba, I’m sure, sincerely believes that this is just about that rather rare creature, the “life-long, monogamous, same sex relationship.” But for many, perhaps most, of those with whom Dr. Duba now agrees, it isn’t that simple. For one thing, many gays even within the church reject the idea that “monogamy” means that they may have sexual relations with only one person. For another, there is a small but growing movement within the mainline churches to accept polyamory, one of the “slew of behaviors” I mentioned, using largely the same rationale as has been used during the debate over homosexuality. I hate to say it, but there’s no way to isolate homosexual behavior from other immoral forms of sexual expression.

And since you did not include my closing adaptation of Galatians 3, I will now add it:
I now affirm, building on Paul’s Galatian affirmation in 3:27-28,
All of us who have been baptized into Christ have been clothed in Christ.
There is no issue of ethnic identity except citizenship in God’s kingdom,
no issue of servitude except the service of Christ,
no issue of gender or sexual condition, except the bonds of
covenant faithfulness,
for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.

And with a closing re-write of Galatians 3, Dr. Duba concludes.

I appreciate his response. He is more gracious to me than I deserve, and I appreciate the spirit in which he argues. But I still think he has adopted a hermeneutic that is essentially foreign to Scripture, and based more on the spirit of the age than on the Spirit of God. He is still a brother in Christ, however, and I appreciate the opportunity for discussion.

The mainline-church supported U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (USCEIO) is trumpeting a “battle of the billboards” on their blog today. It seems they and several other groups are putting up anti-Israel billboards and signs in San Francisco, and trying to get counter-signs put up by a pro-Israel group taken down. National advocacy director Josh Ruebner writes:

A recent billboard campaign in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system—sponsored by US Campaign member groups Northern California Friends of Sabeel, American Muslims for Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace—occasioned a racist counter-ad campaign by Stand With Us.

Here’s the ad that USCEIO put up in San Francisco–I disagree with the policy advocated, as well as the implicit characterization of those who disagree, but the sign is perfectly reasonable:

Now, here’s the ad that USCEIO considers “racist”:

Now, USCEIO no doubt thinks the latter “racist” because its sponsor has the nerve to suggest that there actually is such a thing as Palestinian terrorism, which we all know is a fantasy of the deranged Zionist warmonger mind. Anyway, USCEIO is doing a happy dance because the Bay Area Rapid Transit system has decided that free speech is only for points of view with which it agrees. According to the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

Offensive advertisements promoting a right-wing Zionist viewpoint of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were removed from all BART stations this week. “They could be commonly interpreted as disparaging or demeaning to Palestinians as a whole,” according to BART spokesperson Jim Allison told us, saying the violated the district’s advertising standards.

A spokesperson for one of the anti-Israel ad sponsors, from the Friends of Sabeel-North America, said that the pro-Israel ad (sponsored by StandWithUs) had to come down because it didn’t take the correct view of the Middle East conflict:

FOSNA administrative officer Sister Elaine Kelley said the problem with the StandWithUs ad is that it “turns the focus away from the topic of the occupation and toward the unfortunate violence of some Palestinians.”

This, by the way, is after USCEIO screamed and yelled about the bus authority in Seattle taking down another set of anti-Israel ads that looked like thisL

I didn’t post on this when it happened because the ads in question weren’t put up by a group with any church connection, though I did take note for future reference of the the USCEIO’s fit over having them taken down. I happen to think they were right on that occasion, and that if the city of Seattle is ever going to accept ads making political statements, this one should have been allowed as well. But Ruebner doesn’t give a hoot for free speech; rather, for him the question is whether the “right” side or the “wrong” side is having its freedom abridged:

We were really heartened to learn today that BART will no longer tolerate the racist ads sponsored by Stand With Us. Yesterday, the San Francisco Bay Guardian reported that BART has removed the Stand With Us ads!

Let’s celebrate this victory against racism by seeing more pro-active billboard campaigns across the country. It’s working!

USCEIO: your mainline dollars at work undermining the First Amendment as well as defaming Israel!

Duane Shank, senior policy advisor (!) of Sojourners, makes the kind of statement today that leaves one despairing of math education in the United States. In response to the State of the Union address, he writes:

The president urged that annual domestic spending be frozen for the next five years, even though, as he noted, domestic spending is only about 12 percent of the budget (or about $400 billion per year).It has been said here before, but is worth saying again: Domestic spending is not the cause of our deficit.

The annual military budget, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is about $725 billion, $3 billion per week. Including the related costs of veterans benefits, other security-related spending, nuclear weapons spending, intelligence spending; the total exceeds $1 trillion per year. Yet all that was mentioned in the State of the Union about that was, “The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.” No specific cuts, not even a commitment to a freeze. [Emphasis added.]

The one number that does not appear in Shank’s post is the 2011 budget deficit, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates will be $1.48 trillion. What Shank also leaves out is the word “discretionary.” In fact, when all entitlements (which are, of course, spent domestically, and in the case of Medicaid, exclusively on the poor) are added in, it turns out that domestic spending is more on the order of $2.8 trillion, with what he calls “security-related spending” (including over $112 billion for veterans affairs–you know, helping wounded warriors, that kind of thing) being about $1 trillion (a figure that he only gets to by including the interest on debt from previous military spending, and that must be paid in any event). Now, let’s say we take the route that Shank’s seems to be advocating here, and go the Costa Rica route. We eliminate the entire American military, all intelligence gathering, all care for veterans. It’s true that by doing that we both violate our obligations to those who have sacrificed for their nation and increase unemployment by over one million, but let’s do it. Having done so, we still have a federal budget deficit of approximately a half a trillion dollars, which is to say a larger deficit than in any other year in American history.

Am I suggesting that the Pentagon’s budget shouldn’t be cut? Not at all–but the idea that even a substantial portion of the deficit can be eliminated through defense cuts is the kind of argument only a pacifist or far leftist could make with a straight face. The defense budget hasn’t even gone up all that much in the last three years (about 3% a year), while the deficit, of course, has gone from a then-record $438 billion in 2008 to over a trillion in each of the last three years. To contend that “domestic spending is not the cause of our deficit” is like saying that the six slices of triple-chocolate cake I’ve been having for dinner every night for the last year had nothing to do with my expanding waistline–it’s got to be the fault of the granola bar I have for breakfast each day.

Did you know that by virtue of being pro-life, you are racist, sexist, classist, and heterosexist? That you desire, above all, to protect white, male privilege and power? Yeah, me neither. But that’s the claim of the Rev. Dennis Wiley in a speech to the board of directors of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in March 2010 (just put up today on the RCRC web site):

For some time now, I have wondered why right-wing conservative Christians are so passionate about their opposition to abortion. I know what they claim – that they desire to save the life of the unborn child – hence, the moniker “pro-life.” But I have never understood why on the one hand, they often seem to have such high regard for life before birth and, on the other hand, appear to have such little regard for life after birth.

This is a fact-free calumny that Wiley repeats several times in the course of this speech. The truth is that conservative Christians, in numbers and with dollars that undoubtedly baffle their liberal counterparts, give both time and money toward helping the poor, and particularly single mothers who choose not to abort their babies. I’ve been involved with several crisis pregnancy centers (of which there are over 2200 in the U.S.) in the course of my ministry, and without fail they have been staffed by people who are interested, not just in preventing abortion, but in seeing to it that the children who are brought into the world are provided for and raised in loving environments. The people who work there are usually volunteers, and do so out of conviction, rather than for profit. Do they have enough resources, help enough women? No–the need is far greater than the response, at present. But to say that prop-lifers “don’t care” about what happens to children after birth is simply defamatory. I expect that out of Planned Parenthood and NARAL. Hearing it from a pastor (Covenant Baptist Church in Washington, DC) is shocking.

[W]hile I applaud the anti-abortion movement’s concern for life, I must admit that I have always smelled a rat. I have smelled a rat because I have not been able to fathom how one can be so concerned about justice for a child who is inside the womb, and yet not be equally concerned about justice for that same child once he/she is outside the womb. I also smell a rat because, while anti-abortionists express a profound interest in the life, health, and welfare of the child, they seem to express minimal interest in the life, health, and welfare of the mother who, by the way, is also a child – a child of God.

Once again, this is a lie, and a despicable one, that is based purely on differences of views of public policy.

Revealingly, my skepticism about the underlying motives and motivations of “pro-lifers” has not been unlike my similar skepticism about the underlying motives and motivations of politicians, media pundits, and ordinary American citizens who have been so outraged by the recent passage of the health care reform bill. My point here is not to suggest that we should all be happy with the bill, with the compromises that were necessary to pass it, or even with the process that was followed to ensure victory. My concern is with the ugliness, bitterness, and lack of civility, decorum, and respect exhibited by angry politicians and citizens who opposed the measure.

And this speech is, of course, a wonderful testimony to the civility of those who support that legislation. What is it about people such as Rev. Wiley that are completely incapable of hearing themselves in their own words?

And as I thought about all of this it dawned on me, opponents of abortion and opponents of health care reform are essentially the same people. And they are the same, not because their real issue is either abortion or health care, the unborn child or the growing deficit, the right to life or the threat of socialism. Their real issue has to do not with the preservation of life in general, but with the preservation of white, male heterosexual privilege. In other words, even though they will never tell you – because we don’t talk about those things in polite company – their real issue has to do with racism, sexism, classism, and even heterosexism.

And there you have it from Mr. Civility. It isn’t really about saving children from a gruesome death, it isn’t really about sparing women the psychological, spiritual, and possible physical damage inflicted by abortion, it certainly has nothing to do with moral convictions or religious beliefs. It’s all about privilege and power, and continuing to oppress people of color, women, gays (!), and poor people. All you pro-life haters are on notice–the Rev. Wiley has looked into your hearts, and knows the darkness therein, and has pronounced his anathema on you. So there.

The fact of the matter, in my opinion, is that predominantly white, male, privileged pro-lifers have experienced no revelation or conversion experience that would suddenly qualify them to prescribe what is in the best interest of Black babies, Black women, the Black family, or the Black community.

No, that would be Kermit Gosnell, about whom the RCRC has still not said a word.

The Bible asks, “When I was hungry, did you feed me; when I was thirsty, did you give me something to drink; when I was naked, did you clothe me; When I was a stranger, did you welcome me; when I was in prison, did you visit me; and when I was sick did you take care of me?” I assure you: Pro-lifers cannot do any of these things for unborn babies when they are still in their mother’s wombs, and they have proven that they will not do any of these things after they are born and out of their mother’s womb. Jesus’ response, therefore, is “Truly, I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it unto me.”

Look in the mirror, Rev. Wiley. Not only is your accusation regarding what pro-lifers don’t do for children outside the womb a lie, but it applies precisely to you. You are inherently incapable of doing anything for the children in question, because once they are outside the womb at the hands of your friends in the abortion industry, they’re dead. Talk about doing unto others.

It’s now been seven days since the Philadelphia Inquirer broke the story of the grand jury report on abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell. So far, neither the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, nor its member organizations including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, United Methodist General Board of Church and Society and Women’s Division, and various mainline church caucuses, have had a single word to say about Gosnell.

Keep in mind that this was a major news story that involved the killing of at least seven babies (and very possibly hundreds more) as well as at least one woman. Gosnell hasn’t been charged with medical malpractice, or with having a dirty office, but with eight counts of murder. In fact, Gosnell may be the biggest mass murderer in American history, though his destruction of his own records would make that hard enough to prove in court that he’s only charged with eight. (A former assistant of his says that she aided in at least one hundred killings of live-born children.) And yet–perhaps because Gosnell didn’t try to kill a politician, didn’t use a gun, and was practicing a profession that the mainline denominations approve of wholeheartedly–there’s not been a peep.

With regard to the RCRC, that’s not surprising. People across the political spectrum (outside of the abortion-worshipping far left) have been seeking to outdo themselves in indicating their disgust at the chamber of horrors Gosnell ran while killing perhaps hundreds of live babies using a procedure very similar to one that RCRC says should be legal. RCRC apparently figures that if it doesn’t say anything, it won’t look like it’s supporting Gosnell’s practices. But while I’m sure RCRC doesn’t approve of his malpractice or breaking the law, the fact is that RCRC supports two of the pillars of Gosnell’s work: abortion at absolutely any stage of pregnancy, and killing viable babies after bringing them partially (if not entirely) out of the mother. Condemning him would thus be seen as the height of hypocrisy, and defending him would be the equivalent of defending Joseph Mengele, so best that they just ignore the whole sorry mess.

From the mainline denominations that are part of RCRC, as well as their various divisions and caucuses, the silence is only slightly less surprising. RCRC at least has the excuse the it has a 100% supportive constituent base in the mainline bureaucracies and pro-abort interest groups. The denominations, on the other hand, while all officially supportive of abortion rights, still have to deal with minorities (in the case of the PCUSA and UMC, substantial minorities at least) who are pro-life and revolted by Gosnell’s handiwork. You’d think that at the very least, they could muster up some measure of condemnation for him and his filthy practice, even as they reaffirm that abortion should be legal, etc.

And yet they don’t. Now, here’s the contrast that comes to mind. After the mass murder in Tucson, the mainline denominations, along with the National Council of Churches, leapt in with a variety of statements. For example, the NCC has had four different items on its home page about Tucson. The Presbyterian News Service has published five (including one from the Religion News Service on [some] Jewish reaction to Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel”), the Episcopal News Service two (including one that tried to link the Tucson murders to the debate over health care reform), and the UM GBCS three in their January 18 newsletter and another one on gun control in their January 25 edition. Most of them were variations on the two themes of greater regulation of guns and gun accessories as well as the need to “tone down” the political rhetoric (something that didn’t concern them when it was George Bush’s assassination or shooting a Florida gubernatorial candidate that was being drooled across the airwaves).

This is despite the fact that there are some concrete steps that can and should be taken, and that are even now being proposed in the Pennsylvania legislature. For instance, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Sen. Patricia Vance (R., Dauphin), who chairs the Public Health and Welfare Committee, is drafting a measure requiring the state Health Department to swiftly respond to any complaints and to conduct more timely inspections of health clinics.

Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre) vowed to introduce a bill as early as this week to require annual state inspections of abortion clinics. “The most disturbing question which must be answered is, ‘How was this allowed to go on for so long?’ ” he said.

Corman said his proposal would also mandate minimum health and safety standards “for all abortion clinics – the same safety standards which other health care facilities must meet in the state.”

Those seem like eminently reasonable proposals. What’s more, they fit in with the mainliners’ invariable political instinct, which is that when a problem arises, the solution is more and/or better government regulation and oversight. In this case, I happen to agree completely, at least as long as we can’t put abortionists out of business entirely. And yet…nothing.
Instead, through their creature the RCRC, the mainline denominations are pushing Congress to do what 80% of the American people, as well as a similar percentage of members of mainline churches don’t want to see happen, which is for abortion to become the one “right” that all of us have to subsidize the exercise thereof. They are opposing any effort to prevent federal funds from being used in the insurance exchanges set up by Obamacare to pay for abortion. (More on this from Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy.)
One wonders if the victims of Kermit Gosnell, for whom the mainline churches can apparently spare no attention, appreciate their efforts to allow his colleagues to feed from the federal trough.

More Light Presbyterians and Presbyterian Voice for Justice are both trumpeting an interview that Arlo Duba, the dean emeritus of the Princeton Theological Seminary chapel has given to MLP that appeared in the Presbyterian Outlook. In it, he describes his “conversion” from an orthodox position on the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians to the revisionist one:

Would you tell us a little about your process and your conversion on this issue?

To some extent mine was an almost painful story. I was never a gay basher. I had assumed that Christian gays whom I had known were exceptions to a two or three thousand year-old biblical position. I just never questioned that the church might have gotten it wrong. Somehow, in all my years of Bible study I had never found anything in my Bible reading to challenge that assumption. This particular study didn’t convert me easily or quickly. I got the impression that God was simply nudging me bit by bit and taking me where I didn’t want to go. In that sense it was difficult to change, to admit that I had been so unperceptive. I am certain that I am still not to the end of that trajectory of conversion. But at this point in the conversion process I am fully convinced.

I don’t know about you, but I find the use of “conversion” language with regard to this issue just a little creepy. I mean, is Dr. Duba suggesting that the gospel is about inclusiveness rather than Christ, such that one can be “converted” to it rather than to Him? Maybe not, but this just sounds wrong to me.

My study process was to chase down various themes. First, I was finding what would hinder baptism. Then, a study of the Samaritans. Philip was the first one to minister to Samaritans (Acts 8:4-17). And we are all familiar with Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan. I knew that Leviticus, 19:17-18 and Deuteronomy 15:7-11 were well etched into the mind of every Jew who knew the Torah. There the neighbor is confined to “your kin,” “your people.” And, most of those people hated Samaritans. Note how eager James and John were to call down fire from heaven on Samaritans (Lk. 9:54). Less than one chapter later Jesus, himself a good Jew, calls a Samaritan Good, and a neighbor (Lk. 10:33-36). In Acts 8:14-16 it appears that the Christians in Jerusalem were concerned with Philip’s preaching in Samaria. They sent the “senior apostles,” Peter and John, to check on Philip. It is even probable that they hoped that that preaching would stop. But, Peter and John found that God had affirmed what Philip was doing. Though it went beyond the Torah, beyond the “plain reading of scripture,” Peter and John on their return “proclaimed the good news to many villages of the Samaritans” (8:25). It came slowly, but people previously rejected were now accepted and were baptized.

Actually, preaching to the Samaritans has nothing to do with going “beyond the plain reading of Scripture,” given that Jesus had told them on the day of His ascension that they would proclaim the good news “to Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It is anything but “probable” that they wanted the preaching to the Samaritans to stop, given that Peter and John prayed and laid hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit. In addition, the hostility between Jews and Samaritans had to do with stuff that was overcome by the cross of Christ (religious differences regarding worship and ethnicity, to be specific). The inclusion of the Samaritans in the church had nothing to do with changing moral standards. And since one is not made holy by baptism, but rather embarks upon the process of sanctification when one becomes a Christian, it also has nothing to do with the issue.

Chapters 10 and 11 are a structural center for Luke’s narrative. An angelic messenger spoke to Cornelius, an officer of the occupation army, obviously an outsider, but as a Gentile, he was a double enemy. Then we have Peter’s strange dream of the sheet with all the creepy-crawly creatures. “Take and eat!” Three times! It has to be a metaphor. One cannot take the sheet literally; one has to see “through” the sheet to Peter’s conclusion, “God has shown me that I should not call any person undesirable or unclean” (10:28). “In every ethnos (εθνος), anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God” (10:35). θνος is any group of outsiders. In the Bible it is often translated as “the nations,” always non-Jews. Anyone, from any identifiable human group, you name the group, is acceptable. And in this case we have the baptism of a whole group of non-Jews! And Peter had to defend his actions again and again. Read through to 11:18 for the sometimes vehement objections he faced!

Once again, I have no idea what this has to do with the matter at hand. Those engaged in homosexual behavior have just one thing in common, which is that they all engage in a particular kind of sexual behavior. They are no more an “identifiable human group” in the sense of Acts 10-11 than are Green Bay Packer fans, drinkers of Makers Mark bourbon, or people who bet on greyhound races. Ethnos refers to “ethnic” groups, those who are united by language, culture, etc., not by a set of particular behaviors.

Why, do you think, has the church understood scripture to exclude LGBT Christians?

The church has always been strongly influenced by its surrounding culture. It has been very slow to perceive that there is always more light to shine forth from Scripture. Take the place of women. Luke in particular emphasized the role of women. But the leadership of women goes back to Miriam, Deborah, Jael and Hulda, and in Luke, to Phoebe, Lydia and Priscilla. The Christian church is still trying to catch up to a three thousand year history. And in some Christian groups we still wait. Gender equality is similar. And the eunuch as a bearer of that inclusivity goes back to Jeremiah 38 & 39 and Isaiah 56. Wherever in a culture you find a “people” identified who are “different,” you find derogatory human labeling. We are dealing with the human proclivity to stigmatize. I have concluded that gender equality has been in the Bible for well over two thousand years. The surrounding culture has kept us from seeing it. The church is finally ready to deal with the LGBT issue, and this study seeks to establish a biblical basis for doing that. So you ask why this cultural exclusion? I believe that it is a mark of sinful humanity to divide people into we – they categories.

Gender equality has nothing to do with the issue at hand, either. While there is disagreement regarding the roles of women in the church, no one suggests that women may be excluded from ordained leadership because they all engage in and demand approval of a particular form of sinful behavior. Another way to say that is that there is nothing intrinsically sinful about being a woman, while there is something intrinsically sinful about engaging in homsexual behavior (not, mind you, in homosexual attraction, which is no different than the sinful inclinations in all of us, and which is not a disqualifier for ordination in the PCUSA as long as it isn’t acted upon). Indeed, if there is any influence by the surrounding culture at work, it’s the pressure exerted by certain segments of Western culture–media, academia, and others–to which revisionists in the mainline churches have caved.

Do you think this is part of what Luke was teaching through Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch?

Yes, I am convinced of it. As I was going over the whole of Luke-Acts in my research on Baptism, I was getting a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. How could I have missed this? Abba Johannis, a priest of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, was a student at Princeton Seminary. In conversation with him he stated that the Ethiopian eunuch is considered the founder of that denomination. (This is affirmed by Eusebius in about the year 300.) Only now do I start to realize how the story of the baptism of the eunuch fits this pattern of inclusion. Here was a person of a different gender condition, in the Bible, who exercised leadership in the Christian church, and it was a distinguished leadership! Could it be anyone other than the Holy Spirit who was making me rethink?

The fact that the Ethiopian was a eunuch is given almost revelatory significance by some folks, but here is someone just making stuff up. Let’s grant that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded by the eunuch (though Scripture, of course, says nothing of the kind, and Eusebius could certainly have been making assumptions based on the Acts account). That says nothing about whether he “exercised leadership” in it, only that he was the first convert. The fact that he was a eunuch also says nothing about sexual behavior, given that, as a eunuch,  he wouldn’t have engaged in any.

The modern sex lib movement has basically dumped anything other than Ward and June Cleaver into a category called “oppressed sexual minorities,” and demanded equal treatment for all. That would include gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, the questioning, intersex, whatever (the whole LGBTQIW thing). Of course, it doesn’t include a whole slew of behaviors that have not yet found favor with the public: polygamy, polyamory (though some folks are working on this), bestiality, necrophilia, pedophilia (though some folks are working on this one, too), etc. Dr. Duba is all for inclusion, but is careful not to take it too far, just like this allies in the movement.

I don’t know Dr. Duba, had never heard of him before reading this interview, and he says of himself that he is a “life-long conservative Presbyterian.” To me, he sounds at best like a very confused one, and perhaps even one who had decided to change his mind on the issue and then went searching for reasons to support his decision. If so, he didn’t search nearly long enough.

This is not a case about abortion.

–University of Minnesota biology professor P.Z. Myers

Are you quite sure it’s not about abortion? Because, if’n I have this all right, women sought abortions from an abortion mill and received them from an abortion doctor who performed abortions and is charged with 33 counts of illegal late-term abortions (in addition to other double-secret abortions which have been charged as murder) and the grand jury stated that abortion politics — specifically pro-abortion politics — caused the state medical and health bureaucracy to stop inspecting abortion clinics and not pursue complaints about negligence in conducting abortions because of their fear of how such scrutiny about abortions would play within the pro-abortion community.

I’m just an ordinary workin’ feller but I’m gonna take a flyer and posit that maybe this had something to do with abortion.

–Blogger Ace at Ace of Spades HQ

By the way, Ace also notes that there is a striking similarity between partial-birth abortion (which most movement types endorse) and Kermit Gosnell’s favored procedure for killing babies. It’s amazing the moral distinctions some people will draw between killing fully viable babies depending upon whether the head has or has not departed the birth canal.

As we all know, the Tucson massacre was caused by conservatives. According to culture of death warrior Amanda Marcotte, Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors can be blamed on the pro-life movement. She writes in Slate:

Disturbing news out of Philadelphia today: Abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell and some of his staff members have been charged with eight counts of murder for the death of a patient and the alleged killing of seven babies.  It was a little hard to find reliable information on Gosnell in the sea of anti-choice hysterics online, but it appears he was suspended for shady practices in February of last year, and these charges appear to be a follow-up from that first investigation.

Ideological bedfellows of Marcotte’s, you’ll remember, started braying the line about Jared Loughner being motivated by Sarah Palin, Fox News, and talk radio about an hour after his murders, but we’ve got to be careful with Gosnell–it’s “hard to find reliable information,” doncha know. (It would be easier if one just read the grand jury report, but I doubt that Marcotte has the stomach for that.)

What seems to not be in dispute is that Gosnell ran a crappy clinic, something that anti-choicers have been using as propaganda to advocate against legal abortion.  But it doesn’t follow logically.  There are 1,800 abortion providers in the country, and the vast majority run clean, professional operations.  That there are a few shady characters in the bunch is unsurprising, and the pro-choice community exerts quite a bit of effort trying to improve the quality of abortion care, even under the remarkable constraints on provision.

Yes, all that effort certainly cramped Gosnell’s style over the course of the last 18 years…oh, wait…

Oh, and I can’t help but through in here that, largely through the efforts of pro-life crusader Lila Rose, it has been demonstrated that there is a pattern of covering up statutory rape at Planned Parenthood clinics all over the country. Anyway, let’s cut to the chase:

That shady abortion providers get patients at all is something we can safely blame the anti-choice movement for. Most doctors in this country are pro-choice, and many would like to provide abortion, but as Slate‘s Emily Bazelon demonstrated in the New York Times, the stigma of doing so makes it that much harder to do.  Good medical care costs money, but very few women seeking abortion can get coverage, in no small part because of anti-choice initiatives like the Hyde Amendment.  If you’re seeking an abortion but can’t afford it, going to a doctor who provides substandard care on the cheap is certainly going to be an attractive option.

These particular charges involve late-term abortion, and all I could think upon reading the news story was, “I wish these women could have gone to Dr. George Tiller,” because he was renowned for the quality of care provided at his Kansas clinic.  But sadly, that wasn’t even an option, even for those who could afford it, as Dr. Tiller’s life was taken by an anti-choice extremist in 2009.  When vacuums are created, we shouldn’t be surprised when they suck in a bunch of junk.

So there you have it. The Kermit Gosnells of the world (and I use the plural because he is not the first such butcher with an MD) are all the fault of the pro-life movement. If it weren’t for those of us who oppose abortion, the Gosnells would be driven out of business by multitude of doctors who are just chomping at the bit to get into the baby killing business, but won’t because we might say ugly things about them. And no women would go to the Gosnells if the federal government would just pay for women to get abortions of viable fetuses. Then, everything would be morally unquestionable, and those babies would be killed in sterile environments and disposed of properly.

Pardon me while I go throw up.

(Via MCJ.)

Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State seems to be under the impression that religious organizations exist to serve secular political goals. He opines today on a decision by the Maryland Health Care Commission to permit Holy Cross Hospital in Montgomery County just outside DC to build a new facility. The outrageously outrageous nature of the decision has to do with…well, you can guess:

One thing we firmly believe is that people should be able to access medical care without interference from religious groups.

In other words, religious groups that provide medical care should be required to do so in accordance with AU’s policy preferences, rather than what those groups believe to be moral or not.

In some parts of the country, this is becoming difficult to do – especially when public hospitals and Roman Catholic hospitals merge. When this happens, church officials demand that the public hospital adopt a series of rules that reflect Catholic dogma.

This makes no sense whatsoever. If a public hospital merges with a Catholic one, and the Catholic entity takes control of the merged facility, that makes the church the owner, and thus the entire merged facility comes under Catholic direction. If the Catholic hospital is taken over by a public entity, then it will operate according to that entity’s rules. What Boston is saying here essentially is that if a public hospital merges with a Catholic one, it still in his view has to operate according to the public hospital’s standards, even though the church will be footing the bills. In other words, secular standards always trump religious ones, no matter who is actually in charge.

The Ethical and Religious Directives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ban all abortions, for any reason. They ban the distribution of birth control. Sterilizing operations are forbidden, and a patient’s end-of-life decisions can be overridden if they conflict with church doctrine.

All true. Heaven forbid that Catholic hospitals should operate according to Catholic moral standards. The arrogance! The nerve of these mackeral-snappers!

Yesterday, this controversy hit home for many of us at Americans United. The Maryland Health Care Commission voted unanimously to allow a Catholic hospital called Holy Cross to build a new facility in northern Montgomery County. The commission made this vote even though another hospital run by a group affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventists had proposed building a facility that would offer the full range of reproductive care.

I don’t know anything about how the commission decided between the two, but commission chair Marilyn Moon summarized it this way, according to the Washington Post:

In a memo summarizing her decision, Moon said the Holy Cross approach would do a better job of improving access to hospital services for residents of upper Montgomery and providing adequate bed capacity for the future “that is both reasonable in its cost and located [in] the area of the county that will experience the highest levels of population growth.” She also said Holy Cross’s parent organization, Trinity Health, a Catholic hospital system based in Michigan, is financially well positioned to undertake the project.

But none of this matters to abortion absolutists, for whom the notion of a hospital not offering abortion is as incomprehensible as spoken Urdu to a deaf person using American sign language. Boston even says as much:

Several people on the AU staff (me among them) live in Montgomery County. We were shocked by this decision. Our county, which is largely affluent, progressive and well educated, will be given a new hospital that doesn’t provide complete reproductive health care.

There are lots of hospitals that don’t perform lots of different medical procedures (heart transplants, for instance), but abortion is the one procedure that every hospital, and every medical practitioner, should be required to perform. Or else:

AU Field Director Beth Corbin was at the commission meeting yesterday. For months, Beth has worked with women’s groups and the reproductive rights community to persuade the commission to back the Adventist option.

After the vote, Corbin told The Washington Post that the fight isn’t over. Legal action is being considered.

Of course it is. Because AU is nothing if not a legal bully, seeking to impose its policy preferences on religious organizations, regardless of the consequences. It doesn’t matter that there are five other hospitals in Montgomery County, and at least five abortion clinics. Abortion being the lodestone of the authoritarian left, this Catholic hospital must either be brought into line with the culture of death or stopped in its tracks.

In addition to the religious liberty issue, there’s another probably hasn’t occurred to pro-aborts such as Boston. Imagine that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, having seen AU and its allies get their way in court, decide that rather than violate their consciences and allow Catholic institutions to engage in the mass killing of the unborn, simply shut down the Catholic health care system. It isn’t actually that hard to imagine, giving the church’s willingness, for instance, to close adoption agencies rather than adopt children out to gay couples. Picture this, then, using figures from the National Catholic Reporter:

Catholic health care facilities form the largest not-for-profit health service sector in the United States, caring for nearly one-sixth of all U.S. hospital patients each year.

The 620 Catholic hospitals across the country make up 12.4 percent of the nation’s 5,010 community hospitals.

They provide 15 percent of the hospital beds and in 2008 accounted for more than 5.6 million — 15.8 percent — of the 35.8 million patients admitted to those hospitals that year.

In addition to inpatient hospital stays, Catholic hospitals handled more than 98 million outpatient visits, 15.7 percent of the national total.

Catholic hospitals handle more than 30 percent of all admissions in Alaska, Iowa, Oregon, South Dakota and Wisconsin. They handle between 20 and 30 percent of admissions in another 17 states, mainly across the Midwest and Northwest.

The Catholic Health Association, using data from the American Hospital Association, reported earlier this year that Catholic hospitals were ahead of other hospitals in a wide range of public health and specialty services traditionally considered “unprofitable.”

These included the percentage of Catholic hospitals offering alcohol and drug abuse treatment, birthing rooms, breast cancer screening, child and adolescent psychiatric services, child wellness programs, community outreach, crisis prevention, dental services, geriatric services, HIV/AIDS services, neonatal intensive care units, nutrition programs, obstetrics, pain management programs, and various social work services. [Emphasis added for irony.]

In these and several other areas, other not-for-profit hospitals lagged just slightly behind Catholic hospitals. Hospitals owned by state or local governments consistently came in third, and investor-owned for-profit hospitals came in fourth — in many cases a distant fourth.

Breast cancer screening and mammogram services, for example, were offered by more than three-fourths of Catholic and other nonprofit hospitals, by two-thirds of government-owned facilities and by only two-fifths of the for-profits.

In three of the areas — alcohol/drug abuse treatment, psychiatric services for children and adolescents, and teen outreach — 20 percent or more of Catholic hospitals had programs, compared to 15-17 percent of other nonprofits, 10 percent or fewer of government-owned hospitals, and only 2-3 percent of the for-profit institutions.

I think it’s clear on the basis of these numbers that the closing of Catholic hospitals nationwide would result in a public health crisis of catastrophic proportions. That’s what AU is apparently willing to see happen in its effort to get the Catholic Church to dole out the sacrament of abortion alongside the bread and wine.

The grand jury report on Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s chamber of horrors is getting more coverage, and the more that comes out, the more apparent it is that there was something demonic going on in the state bureaucracy. The Associated Press reports:

Regulators ignored report after report of horrific conditions at a squalid abortion clinic, prosecutors said, leaving a trail of missed chances over the years to stop a doctor from performing illegal, late-term abortions that killed at least two patients and hundreds of newborns.

The officials’ failure to follow up on complaints against Dr. Kermit Gosnell came amid a “live and let die” political climate that effectively ended inspections of all abortion clinics in Pennsylvania, according to the grand jury that indicted Gosnell.

Nearly a decade ago, according to legal documents, a former Gosnell employee gave the state’s Board of Medicine a complaint that “laid out the whole scope of his operation: the unclean, unsterile conditions; the unlicensed workers; the unsupervised sedation; the underage abortion patients; even the over-prescribing of pain pills with high resale value on the street.”

Nothing was done.

Why was that? The grand jury offers this opinion:

“We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities and because the subject was the political football of abortion,” the grand jury wrote.

I don’t know about the first, the second is certainly true, and as for the third, I suspect they are letting them off easy. Something tells me that they didn’t act, not because abortion is a political football, but because they were ideologically predisposed to ignore health violations that might actually shut down an abortion mill. As I documented yesterday, NARAL thinks that Pennsylvania abortion clinics are over-regulated, and I don’t doubt that the people overseeing clinics during this period were of a basically NARAL mindset. At least one has had the good grace to admit failure:

Former Health Department official Janice Staloski personally inspected the clinic in 1992, but “let Gosnell slide on the violations that were already evident then,” the grand jury said. A decade later, when she headed the division that was supposed to regulate abortion providers, Staloski failed to order an investigation of the clinic despite having received several complaints about Gosnell, the report said.

Staloski, who retired last year, declined to comment Thursday. Her lawyer, Arthur Donato, said Staloski acknowledged to the grand jury that she made mistakes.

“I think the grand jury report speaks to an institutional and systemic problem, and I think a lot of people were responsible for the fact that these clinics were not surveyed annually,” he said. “She did receive some complaints (about Gosnell) and she did not cause a survey or an inspection to occur, and I think she testified truthfully that she should have.”

Yes, well. There’s still the question of why, and aside from putting this creep behind bars, an answer to that question may be the most important thing that comes out of this shameful episode. Perhaps it will get people thinking about whether pro-choice ideologues, or even just those who think of abortion as just one more medical procedure, should ever be in charge of enforcing regulations, and whether, contra NARAL, clinics should be more stringently regulated than they are.

Oh, can’t forget this. Evidently not everyone who appeared before the grand jury expressed the same contrition as Ms. Staloski:

Complaints about Gosnell to state regulators went nowhere, even though 46 lawsuits — including one over the death of a 22-year-old woman in 2000 — had been filed against him.

In its report, the grand jury said the department’s chief counsel, Christine Dutton, defended the department’s indifference. “People die,” she said.

Just the attitude you’d want in your state regulators.

By the way, not a peep yet out of the abortion industry’s religious left enablers.

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