"A Gospel of Intolerance"

Updates on Feb. 27. see below.

Bishop Chane has an op-ed piece appearing in The Washington Post. It is online here.

Here is some of what it says:

Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, primate of the Church of Nigeria and leader of the conservative wing of the communion, recently threw his prestige and resources behind a new law that criminalizes same-sex marriage in his country and denies gay citizens the freedoms to assemble and petition their government. The law also infringes upon press and religious freedom by authorizing Nigeria's government to prosecute newspapers that publicize same-sex associations and religious organizations that permit same-sex unions.

Were Archbishop Akinola a solitary figure and Nigeria an isolated church, his support for institutionalized bigotry would be significant only within his own country. But the archbishop is perhaps the most powerful member of a global alliance of conservative bishops and theologians, generously supported by foundations and individual donors in the United States, who seek to dominate the Anglican Communion and expel those who oppose them, particularly the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. Failing that, the archbishop and his allies have talked of forming their own purified communion -- possibly with Archbishop Akinola at its head.

Because the conflict over homosexuality is not unique to Anglicanism, civil libertarians in this country, and other people as well, should also be aware of the archbishop and his movement. Gifts from such wealthy donors as Howard Ahmanson Jr. and the Bradley, Coors and Scaife families, or their foundations, allow the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy to sponsor so-called "renewal" movements that fight the inclusion of gays and lesbians within the Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches and in the United Church of Christ. Should the institute succeed in "renewing" these churches, what we see in Nigeria today may well be on the agenda of the Christian right tomorrow.

Updates: Some readers have questioned whether the Archbishop actually supported the law. Here is this from Voice of America:

“The Anglican Church in Nigeria Thursday said it welcomes government decision to push for legislation to outlaw homosexuality. The government said it will introduce legislation to punish homosexuality by up to five years in jail and ban same-sex marriages. A spokesman for Nigeria's Anglican Church described homosexuality as an abomination.

The spokesman for the Anglican church in Nigeria, Reverend Tunde Popoola, says the proposed ban is appropriate. The Anglican community in Nigeria has long waged a vigorous campaign against homosexuals, as Reverend Popoola explains.

"The Anglican church in Nigeria has been in the forefront of condemning the attitude because the church sees it as an aberration, in other words, we see it as against the norm. We see it as an abomination," he said.”

Others have asked whether the law does what the bishop says. Here it is as a pdf.

Here are the sections that I think should give pause to anyone, regardless of their views on same sex marriage:

6. Prohibition of celebration of same sex marriage in a place of worship

(1) Same sex marriage shall not be celebrated in any place of worship by any recognized cleric of a Mosque,
Church, denomination or body to which such place of worship belongs.

This provision gives the government power to dictate what religions can and can't do. It violates freedom of religion.

7. Prohibition of Registration of Gay Clubs and Societies and Publicity of same sex sexual relationship.

(1) Registration of Gay Clubs, Societies and organizations by whatever name they are called in institutions from Secondary to the tertiary level or other institutions in particular and, in Nigeria generally, by government agencies is hereby prohibited.

This provision infringes freedom of association.

(2) Publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationship through the electronic or print media
physically, directly, indirectly or otherwise are prohibited in Nigeria.

Infringes freedom of the press.

(3) Any person who is involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public show of same sex amorous relationship directly or indirectly in public and in private is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.

Freedom of association again.

8. Offences and Penalties.

(1) Any person goes through the ceremony of marriage with a person of the same sex is guilty of an offence and
liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.

(2) Any person performs, witnesses, aids or abets the ceremony of same sex marriage is guilty of an offence
and liable on conviction to a term of 5 years imprisonment.

Why the need to criminalize that which the state has already declared invalid?

The role of faith in fighting poverty

I am not a huge fan of The Nation, largely because so many of its leading lights are glib yet ignorant on the subject of religion. But I recommend this blog entry by editor Katrina vanden Heuvel on poverty and inequality in the United States.

"These are times when the gap between the haves and have-nots in America has widened, when 37 million of our fellow citizens live in poverty (that's 12.7% of population--the highest percentage in the developed world), and each year more are added to the poverty rolls. (Under Bush, an additional 5.4 million have slipped below the poverty line.)

Yet, poverty is, for all essential purposes, off the radar of America's political landscape. Maybe it's because there "are too many outrages to wake up to every morning? Maybe it's because the poor have no lobbyists and don't have the money to make campaign donations?"

What should people of faith be doing about the facts that she and the writers she reference present?

Thinking theologically about animals

There is an interesting debate going on, both within the Church and in society at large, about the ethical treatment of animals. This is not a debate I have followed closely, and so I have asked a member of our diocese, Lois Wye for the following contribution:

Martha C. Nussbaum, in her article “The Moral Status of Animals” published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, has said, “The fact that humans act in ways that deny other animals a dignified existence appears to be an issue of justice, and an urgent one.” Likewise, Mathew Scully, in “Fear Factories – The Case For Compassionate Conservatism – For Animals,” published in The American Conservative, has written that he has “come to view the abuses of industrial farming as a serious moral problem, a truly rotten business for good reason passed over in polite conversation.”

How is it that we humans have so abdicated our responsibilities to our fellow creatures that the matter has become an “urgent” issue of “justice” and a “serious moral problem”? Why is it so easy for us to overlook, ignore, or discount, the suffering of non-humans?

There are several possibilities. The Scriptures, of course, tell us that God gave us “dominion” over animals, and it has been convenient to interpret that to mean “the right to do as we please.” Little consideration has been given historically to other lessons Scripture may have to tell us about obligations that may come with that “dominion,” and whether “dominion” might be the same as “stewardship.” We are, simply, used to thinking of animals as property.

In addition, it is easy to discount the suffering of those who are “other” – and what could be more “other” than something that is not even human? To recognize the God-given dignity in animals would impose upon us obligations and require us to make sacrifices that perhaps we don’t want to make.

Domesticated animals have provided countless services to us – in work, at play, and in war – with little regard on our part for their safety. Non-domesticated animals have been a threat, or a nuisance, or have lived in places we want to live, and we have done our best to eradicate them and to make their habitat our own. Farm animals have provided an inexpensive and ready food source – and factory farms make the food even more inexpensive and ready – if only we will close our eyes to the conditions the animals confined in them must endure and the methods used to bring them to our tables.

For some people, it is difficult to take seriously the suffering of animals when there is so much human suffering in the world. This, however, presents a false dichotomy. As Matthew Scully explains: “[J]ustice is not a finite commodity, nor are kindness and love. Where we find wrongs done to animals, it is no excuse to say that more important wrongs are done to human beings, and let us concentrate on those. A wrong is a wrong, and often the little ones, when they are shrugged off as nothing, spread and do the gravest harm to ourselves and others.”

Still others are put off by the language of “animal rights,” and the views of some that animals are “equal” in creation to humans. We do not need to resolve this issue, however, to recognize our obligations. If animals are our equals in creation, then we owe them that respect; if not, then we own them mercy in the face of their powerlessness.

But perhaps the greatest reason that many people have a hard time thinking theologically about animals is that the opportunity has never been presented to them. The issue is rarely raised as one needing serious attention. Happily, the Episcopal Church has recognized officially the inherent dignity of animals and our obligations towards them. Our General Convention in 2003 passed a resolution recognizing “that responsible care of animals falls within the stewardship of creation” and encouraging “members to ensure that husbandry methods for captive and domestic animals would prohibit suffering in such conditions as puppy mills, and factory-farms.” In addition, the Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare, is working to raise awareness of the importance of animals to our own spiritual growth and our need to treat all animals responsibly. With continued efforts like these, perhaps we can become a strong voice for “the least of these,” a strong witness of the love of God for His creation, and an effective instrument of justice. These seem like appropriate goals for a church.

Top English Bishop says "Close Guantanamo"

"The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has launched a passionate attack on President George Bush, saying his administration's refusal to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay camp reflected "a society that is heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm".

So reports the British newspaper the Independent.

"Dr Sentamu, the Church of England's second in command, urged the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) to take legal action against the US - through the US courts or the International Court of Justice at The Hague - should it fail to respond to a report, by five UN inspectors, advising that Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay should be shut immediately because prisoners there are being tortured," write Ian Herbert and Ben Russell.

"The US should try all 500 detainees at Guantanamo, who still include eight British residents, or free them without further delay," Sentamu said. To hold someone for up to four years without charge clearly indicates a society that is heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm."

Morality on ice (and snow)

One of the reasons people watch sports is to feel morally superior to the athletes.

Every one of us sitting at home on the couch knows with absolute certainty that if we were competing in, say, the Winter Olympics that we would be trying harder than contestants themselves. We know we would reach every loose puck first due to the quality of our desire--not like the U. S. Men's Hockey team that was tied by lowly Lativa, or the women's team that was denied a place in the finals by upstart Sweden. We know we would never engage in ostentatious celebration after or on the brink of victory--like Lindsey Jacobellis, the snowboarder. And we are certain that were we to lose (unthinkable, of course due to the "quality of desire" clause just mentioned) that we would behave with such absolute and appealing dignity, that our loss would be remembered only as the necessary precedent of a transcendent display of grace. In other words, we would never blame it on, say, a bus driver, as U. S. figure skater Johnny Weir did, or seem not to care--like U. S. skier Bode Miller.

This, at least, is the impression I am drawing from the torrent of moral hand wringing unleashed by the lackluster performance of the U. S. team at the Winter Olympics. And I didn't even mention the me-first attitude of that selfish Michelle Kwan, who, from what I can ascertain, inconvenienced almost no one by waiting until the Games were near at hand before deciding that her injury hadn't healed sufficiently to allow her to participate.

Now I must confess that I am a card-carrying member of the "sports build moral character" caucus. Well, actually, I am a t-shirt-wearing member. The Positive Coaching Alliance, of which I am a charter member, doesn't give out cards. But it does proselytize, and I have done my share of evangelization, trying to persuade organizations and individuals to train "double goal" coaches, people who focus not only on winning games, but on teaching kids to honor the game. So I am as likely, maybe more likely, than the next person to criticize athletes for character flaws which, unfortunately, are broadcast for all the world to see.

That said, as a former sportswriter I also know that sometimes athletes just lose because they couldn't harness all of the mysterious elements that go into producing a top performance on that particular day, or because their opponents had exploited a previously undetected weakness, or because the opponent the other guys or gals were just plain better than anybody thought they were.

The unpredictable nature of athletic performance plays a larger role in competitions such as the Olympics which, from the public's point of view, is pretty much a one-shot deal. There is no regular season over which an athlete establishes excellence in the public's mind. There is just one win-or- lose moment, much as there is during the NCAA’s March Madness, or other single-elimination tournaments. This is part of the charm of these events. You sense that something is at stake, a feeling you don't get watching a mid-season doubleheader between, say, the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

And because so much is at stake, we assume that the athletes will therefore be at their best, because surely, the ability to summon a top performance for a momentous event is the mark of a champion.

Or so I read. And so, I assume, we feel justified in drawing large lessons about a person’s character from what they achieve, or fail to achieve, sliding down a mountain or standing at the free throw line on some random afternoon. But this is where we go astray. Events like the Olympics and March Madness don’t teach us lessons about athletic excellence of human character, they obscure them, the way that fundamentalists who focus on a few verses of Scripture obscure—distort might be a better word—the larger meaning of the text. The best team doesn’t win every game. The best horse doesn’t win every race. Individuals, whether they are athletes or not, very rarely reveal themselves in a single moment, except in fiction.

The temptation to which we succumb in watching sports is to read real life as though it were a novel or a film, to assume that the athletes are characters, not people—that they exist only on the screen, on the page, in the moment that we encounter them, and in no other. This isn’t fair to them, but, to be honest, I can’t usually get too worked up about that. They have been extravagantly blessed in their physical gifts. In most instances, they have been extravagantly compensated for what they do. What annoys and troubles me is the torrent of lazy moralizing that flows forth when athletes don’t perform in the ways we expect them to perform. The speed and certainty with which we pass judgment on them, and on other public figures, for that matter, says more about our character than it does about the characters of those we judge. It suggests intolerance of complexity and ambiguity, and a need to be fed fairy tales with easily digestible morals.

Every year, the Most Valuable Player of the Super Bowl is captured on film as he walks off the field shouting, “I’m going to Disney World.” We hate it, though, when athletes remind us through their failures that we aren’t already living in the Magic Kingdom.

Father James Alison

I'd like to commend to everyone the work of a n English Catholic theologian, the Rev. James Alison . He recently gave this talk at the “Anatomy of Reconciliation” conference at Trinity Institute in New York City, January 30--February 1. To promote the conference, Trinity produced this brief documentary on him.

His book, Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay is receiving widespread attention.

I'd like to focus our attention on an essay called "Good Faith Learning and the Fear of God", which strikes me as perhaps the most faithful, rigorous discussion of same-sex affections from a Christian anthropological perspective that I have ever read.

a sample:

...it seems that there exist some people, a minority which occurs more or less regularly in all societies and cultures, as well as in the groupings of other animals, who just are “like that”. This doesn’t appear to be an individual aberration, but it just appears to be the case that there is a class of people with the common and recognisable
characteristic of a lasting and stable emotional and erotic attraction towards the members of their own sex. At the same time, it seems to be the case that if you remove from the psychological profiles of a hundred people only the detail concerning each one’s sexual orientation, there is absolutely nothing in the profiles which would allow you to indicate in a regular and accurate way what the orientation corresponding to the profile in fact is. That is to say, the presence of an orientation towards a person of the same sex does not appear to bring along with it any emotional
or psychological configuration, even less any deformation, which is not found equally among people of the majority orientation.

The conflict between the two elements of Christian teaching raises its head, then, because while the discussion was about acts and not being, it was thought possible to say to someone at the same time “Don’t do that!” and “Flourish, brother!” because it was thought that the acts didn’t flow from what the brother was. However, it has
become ever more problematic to bring together in the same phrase “Don’t do that!” and “Flourish brother!”, since if it is understood that someone is just “like that” then in part, at least, his flourishing will be discovered starting from what he is.

Now this conflict is by no means a merely academic matter. It is lived, very intensely, by many young people for whom working out whether it is a matter of “I’m just like this, and so I must be this in the richest way possible” or whether it is rather a matter of “I’m not like this, but I suffer from very grave temptations which in some way I
must overcome” is a gravely tortured experience. Evidence suggests that more and more young people are overcoming this conflict by working out that they just are “like that”, and it is starting from this that they are going to risk constructing a life.

Click for another excerpt

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Blasphemy isn't what it used to be

An uninsightful piece in the Style section of today's Washington Post spends a great deal of ink estabilishing the more-or-less uncontested assertion that free speech leaves Americans room to make fun of one another's religions. Under the common heading of blasphemy, the article lumps both serious theological efforts to re-imagine the life of Christ and lame-brained attempts to offend Christians for the sake of having done so. In running through the catalog of contretemps between the (self-proclaimed) artistic avant garde and the (self-annointed) guardians of traditional values, the author, Neely Tucker, overlooks the fact that the parties in these skirmishes are frequently using one to mutual advantage. Both sides have a base they hope to mobilize, and it is the opposition of the other that helps them do so.

In the midst of the piece however, sits this perceptive nugget :

To Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today, the American willingness to offend Christianity, but extend deference to Islam regarding the current batch of Muhammad cartoons, can be understood through a series of cultural and political differences.

First, he notes, Christians worship a man who was persecuted, beaten and killed. The sense that people might persecute Christ's followers is an inherent part of the Christian ethos, he says, so Christians are inherently likely to tolerate offense. Muhammad, a prophet who died after an illness, did not leave behind a religion with that mindset, he says.

The second factor, he theorizes, is that American society assigns different rules of social conduct for majority and minority cultures, in which the dominant culture isn't supposed to ridicule smaller ones. It's done, of course, but it's seen as bad form.

"Christianity is fair game for mocking because it's an established presence here, it's always been a majority, and there's no sense of followers being a persecuted minority," he says. "When people can be publicly mocked in this country, it means you're a player, and you're going to take your lumps with everyone else. There's not that sense with Muslims. People are more cautious."

Christians in Palestine

Episcopal News Service has an interview with the Rt. Rev. Riah Abu El-Assal, Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem on Hamas' victory in the recent Palestinian elections, and on its potential impact on the Middle East peace process and the lives of Christians in the region.

You can listen here, or have a look at the transcript below. Keep in mind that the interview was conducted before The New York Times broke the news that Israel and the United States are discussing ways to destabilize the Hamas government. (The Times' editorial on this initiative is here.)

ENS: Turning to the recent Palestinian elections, how do you feel about Hamas' victory?

EL-ASSAL: Well in the first place let me say that this vote was a vote against and not a vote for, and what I mean by this is that it was a vote against the American Administration, the Government of Israel and partly the corruption of some of the leaders of the previous leadership in Palestine.

ENS: How will this impact the Christian community in the Holy Land?

EL-ASSAL: In my opinion -- and this is my personal opinion -- it will not make a big difference. On the contrary, now that the ball is in their court, it's much easier to challenge them. This was a democratic election. The international community, including also Israel and the American Administration, insisted on elections, and these are the results. Either we accept the results of democracy or stop talking about democratizing the Palestinian community or the Middle East at large. It will not affect our institutions. Perhaps we will have an easier way to them now to challenge them that we are here to serve the community at large, and the community in its majority is of the Muslim community. We may find it easier to speak to them about issues of common interest for the Palestinian people. Certainly, we will ask them also and encourage them, now that they have won the election, to invest their victory in promoting all that would serve the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people and on top of this agenda should be the question of peace and justice and freedom, and security for all.

Click for more.

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The last "Daniel"

The final episode of The Book of Daniel is available on NBC's site unitl Friday.

$1 worth of good

What is the greatest amount of good you can do with a single dollar?

This probing piece on Slate examines that quesiton and concludes "that the best way to spend a little money helping the world's poorest citizens is not to spend the money at all, but to lend it. A variety of nonprofit (read: tax-deductible) organizations, such as Acción International, make small loans—perhaps $100—to individuals in Third World countries who use the money to start or expand tiny, often home-based businesses."

I have been a micro-lending fan since the early 1990s when a parish I belonged to started a village bank with our companion parish in El Salvador. I love this sort of program in part because the amounts of money involved ar so small that almost any community, no matter how small, can afford to give it a try.

I wrote a column about micro-lending (among other things) during my Beliefnet days.

Feel free to weigh in here on the Slate piece, the column, or the effectivenss of micro-lending.

The campaign against mainline denominations

If you are a regular visitor to this site, you know that we are working on a story about the role of secular right-wing foundations in financing the conservative backlash within the Episcopal Church on issues including the ordination of women and the blessing of same-sex unions.

The reach of the foundations is such that most mainline denominations are similarly embroiled. Now, the Web site talk2action.org is rolling out a series of articles on how this issue is playing out in the United Church of Christ.

Talk2Action describes itself as "an online publication, and a forum for discussion, that is focused with unparalleled intensity on the rise of the Christian right as a social and political force - and on what those who are opposed to that movement can do to counter it."

Here's their pitch for the stories on the UCC:

"John Dorhauer's new weekly series on Talk To Action may be unprecedented : Dorhauer's series concerns an over two decade long campaign, by the far-right wing financed Institute For Religion and Democracy and so called "renewal" groups advocating literal interpretations of the Bible and far right social and political views, to destroy mainstream Protestant Christianity in America. Operating from within mainline Protestant denominations "renewal" groups work to sow dissension via wedge issues such as gay marriage, incite schisms, and so break apart mainstream and liberal denominations and neutralize them as an effective force in American politics.

Before now this campaign has seldom been discussed so publicly, and with John Dorhauer's series we have an ongoing chronicle from the heart of one embattled denomination, the United Churches of Christ.

There are more Christians on the left/liberal side of politics than on the right, observed George Lakoff, but they are not organized to even remotely the same degree as the Christian right."

The first two stories are here and here.

My initial take is that while this "here's how it happened" style of narrative is a good storytelling strategy, you need documents on the public record, such as Internal Revenue Service 990 forms, to demonstrate that foundations on the right are indeed mounting an attack on denominations whose leadership doesn't toe a Republican line, or fight on the conservative side of the culture wars. Those documents are easily accesible, and perhaps the author has got them, but we haven't seen them yet.

Padre Mambo's sermon on Evolution Sunday

Our friend Padre Mambo stepped up to the challenge of Evolution Sunday with this sermon.

Preaching Darwin

Yesterday, for those of you who missed it--and that would include me--was Evolution Sunday, a day on which "ministers at several hundred churches around the country preached ... against recent efforts to undermine the theory of evolution," according to this story in The New York Times.

Evolution Sunday evolved (sorry) from the Clergy Letter Project, which was initiated last year by clergy and academics in Wisconsin in response to efforts to discredit the teaching of evolutionary theory in public schools.

"There was a growing need to demonstrate that the loud, shrill voices of fundamentalists claiming that Christians had to choose between modern science and religion were presenting a false dichotomy," Michael Zimmerman, dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and the major organizer of the letter project, told the Times.

"Mr. Zimmerman said more than 10,000 ministers had signed the letter, which states, in part, that the theory of evolution is 'a foundational scientific truth.' To reject it, the letter continues, 'is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children.' "

I accept the theory fo evolution. Denying it seems akin to denying the theory of gravity. But I can't really see the point in preaching on evolution any more than I can see the point of preaching on gravity. I accept that God uses evolution for divine purposes, but I don't pretend to understand why or what this tells us about the nature of God.

Come to think of it, then, I guess I'd love to hear a sermon that took that issue seriously, but I'd be a lot less interested in hearing another critique of the Intelligent Design movement.

Speaking of which, Shankar Vedantam of The Washington Post Magazine has written an excellent cover story about what is at stake theologically in the debate over Darwin's work. He also fielded questions in an online chat.

The Song of Songs

Maybe this is simplay a matter of religion writers hunting for a fresh angle on Valentine's Day. Or maybe it is that most-beloved of journalistic conventions: A TREND. Whatever the case, the Song of Songs, easily the most erotically-charged book in the Bible is enjoying a bit of a renaissance. The Washington Post has the story here, via Adelle Banks of Religion News Service.

My favorite quote: "When you start talking about a man and a woman's accountability to God in the home, and especially in the areas of sexuality and tenderness, you're about to get a real quiet church service," Nelson said.

Some of the people in Banks' story also turn up in this piece by Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times.

My favorite quote: "It's not to get you horny," Bickel insists. "It's to put romantic thoughts into your head and make you see your spouse in a different light."

Mary Magdalene

The DaVinci Code may spark renewed interest in Mary Magdalene—considering that the film claims that she and Jesus married, had children and that their descendents are still alive today.

This won’t be the first time Magdalene’s story has been distorted. The original distorters were pillars of the early Church who found the fact that Jesus included women in his inner circle an obstacle to institutionalizing Christianity in a hostile world. Her marginalization was accomplished by conflating her character with that of the woman who bathed Jesus feet with her tears. This transformed the woman who supported Jesus’ ministry financially, followed him to the foot of the cross, and was—according to John—the first witness to the Resurrection, into a prostitute.

Joan Accocella has a solid summary of the mess that the Church has made of the Magdalene’s background, and the uneven attempts by recent scholars to redeem her, in this week’s issue of The New Yorker.

My concern about the next wave of interest in Mary Magdalene is that it will be made up of those following Dan Brown’s flights of fancy, rather than those interested in relocating her where she and many other women of her time truly lived—at the center of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Sony's cagey, counterintuitive stroke

How's this for clever? Knowing that its upcoming film The Da Vinci Code is going to be started with criticism for the bizarre historical distortions in Dan Brown's book, Sony has made a brilliant counterintuitive move by handing its critics a megaphone.

The New York Times has the story of Sony's plan to launch a Web site at which scores of evangelical leaders will weigh in with their criticisms.

Sony deserves credit for bringing the film's critics under its own roof to state their cases. The move seems likely to defuse more strident forms of protest. But one thing worries me abut the way the Da Vinci business is playing out. If conforms to the usual secular Hollywood liberals v. conservative evangelicals, when that shouldn't be the case.

Sure The Da Vince Code is going to upset some people, but that's no crime. The real outrage is that the Code treats solid historical and Scriptural scholarship the way Oliver Stone treated the facts of the Kennedy assassination in making JFK. Film makers don't have an obligation to avoid giving offense; there is no way to handle controversial material without doing that. But they do have an obligation not to perpetuate fraud, and Brown's attempts to pass his story off as informed by fact is fraudulent.

To divest or to "positively engage"?

The Church of England, meeting in its General Synod, voted this week "to disinvest church funds from companies profiting from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory," as Stephen Bates put it in The Guardian.

"The main target of the plan will be the US earth-moving equipment company Caterpillar which has supplied vehicles used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes," Bates wrote.

The New York Times story is here.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, backed the move, while his predecessor, George Carey, strongly opposed it. Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans has a round-up of reaction. (Scroll down past the word Update.)

The vote will reignite the heated debate about what response Christians should make to the violent stalemate in the Middle East.

Several mainline Protestant denominations have flirted with a resolution similar to the one passed this week by the Church of England. Boston College's Center for Christian-Jewish Learning has an excellent resource page that provides a solid recounting.

The Episcopal Church has been deeply involved in the efforts to develop a "socially responsible investment policy" in the Middle East, but our efforts have frequently been misportrayed or misunderstood. The Church's current policy, approved at a meeting of our Executive Council in October 2005, is to encourage companies in which the Church has investments to adopt practices that advance changes in Israeli government policy that would end the occupation of the West Bank, as well as urging the Palestinian Authority to oppose violence as a means of resistance.

Episcopal News Service provided one story when the Social Responsibility in Investment Committee offered its report--available here as a pdf.-- and another when the report was accepted.

For a detailed look at the tangled history of the divestment debate within the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, click below.

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Episcopal Public Policy Network

I am a member of the Episcopal Public Policy Network, which is participating in Ecumenical Advocacy Days, March 10-13 here in D. C.

Here is the latest: "Ecumenical Advocacy Days – March 10-13 in Washington, DC - is a great opportunity for education and fellowship with other advocates for peace and justice from across the country. The conference has a broad spectrum of issue based tracks and a stellar line-up of speakers. Time will also be set aside so that Episcopalians attending can meet one another. Registration deadlines are quickly approaching, so check out the website and register soon!

UPDATE: FY'06 Budget & TANF Reauthorization
Thank you to all of you who have been steadfast advocates during the last year calling out together for a national budget that reflects our moral values as a nation – a budget that nurtures children, aids the sick, and protects the elderly. We had several moments of success in this long hard fought cause: removing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and maintaining funding levels for the crucial Food Stamps Program. Unfortunately, yesterday in a very close vote in the House of Representatives (216-214), Congress chose to ignore our pleas and passed the FY'06 Budget with its severe cuts to many important programs including TANF. Click here to see how your member voted.

This struggle is not over. Our work continues as does Congress's. They will soon begin consideration of the FY'07 Budget and a number of new initiatives that we all heard about in the President's State of the Union Address earlier this week. During the coming year, we will persevere in our baptismal vow to "strive for justice and peace and the dignity of human kind" and we hope, "with God's help" you will join us also.

We are starting a new feature on the EPPN website called "Everyday Advocacy." Periodically, reflections will be posted that share the day to day experiences of "striving for justice and peace," from our staff, clergy and advocates like you from across the country. The first installment, "Everyday Advocacy: Finding the Small Victories Even in the Larger Loss" is available on our website now, click here to read more. We look forward to hearing your comments and thoughts.

Steve Saint and the End of the Spear

"Steve Saint was only 5 when his father, Nate, a Christian missionary working in Ecuador, was killed by a group of Waodani tribesmen, who speared him and his four colleagues as the Americans prepared to bring the message of Jesus to the inhabitants of the remote Amazon jungle, whose endless cycle of revenge killings had brought them to the brink of extinction. It was 50 years ago this month, but despite his youth, he remembers it vividly."

So begins Michael O'Sullivan's story on Saint, and the saga of forgiveness that inspired the movie End of the Spear.

"I had no way of knowing," Saint says during a phone interview with O'Sullivan, "that the feeling, the yearning I had for my dad -- that bond that was yanked out of my heart -- that those same feelings I had for my dad I would one day have for the man who's half asleep here on the other bed in my hotel room: Mincaye, who is the man who killed my father."

I have to admit that I can't comprehend forgiveness for a loss of such depth. If I am honest with myself, I must admit that I am not even sure that I admire it. No doubt this indicates unflattering things about my character, but I ask you, could you do what the Saints have done?

Not about free speech?

One of our regular commenters, AJ, has an extended post on the cartoon riots available just one click away. Here is an excerpt to whet your appetites:

I think we need to be careful not to lump together all Muslims in all countries who respond to the controversy because the political and social contexts may vary. Nevertheless, I think there may be one common thread in all this – namely, that the cartoons seem to be viewed as some kind of rallying cry, a way for Muslims everywhere to shout something like “We ain’t going to take it anymore!” And in that respect, it really does not matter to them who wins or loses the debate we imagine on the proper bounds of freedom of speech or what we think of their reasoning. It only matters that Muslims find themselves united around the Danish cartoons, which they may see as a potent symbol of the double standard they believe the West applies to them.

Click to read the rest.

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Evangelicals v. global warming

Laurie Goodstein has another good story this morning on evangelical leaders, including Rick Warren, author of The Purpose-Driven Life calling for action to slow global warming.

Coupled with growing evangelical interest in issues of global and domestic poverty, this development suggests the potential for a potent political alliance of evangelical and mainline Protestant denominations on behalf of the poor and the environment. Whether differences over the interpretation of Scripture, or the fact that we tend to take differnet sides in the culture wars will choke off the alliance before it can blosson, I can't say. But if people are willing to put those differences aside, the possibility is there.

The story begins:

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors."

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."

"For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority," the statement said. "Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough."

That Rowan Williams, he can preach

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave this sermon at the General Synod of the Church of England which is meeting in London. This paragraph caught my eye.

Devotion to principle in itself is not an excuse for tearing up relationships any more than exact keeping of the law is an excuse for not giving your heart to God. Jesus, in other words is not going to make things easy for us and that is no surprise and entirely in character. We're reminded of just how easily all of us fall off that particular narrow point of balance on which, it seems, Jesus alone stands with complete confidence. That point where he stands making of his whole being in every relationship, in every particular a peacemaking gift to God in life and death, serving his Father in small particulars. Well, we are going to fall off; we are going to get this wrong; we are not going, of ourselves, to make a perfect offering acceptable to the Father, whether by attention to large hearted generous devotion or attention to particulars. But we are called to stand for a bit here, where Jesus stands; to stand in his company at his table and to keep our eyes on him sufficiently, for just a bit, not to fall off. We come to the Holy Communion so that he can look us in the eye and hold us steady, just for a moment; steady with his steadiness, that steadiness which makes of his being a complete offering to his Father.

A False Equation

According to the Associated Press an Iranian newspaper is sponsoring a contest for cartoons about the Holocaust. Are they really arguing that making fun of Mohammed is morally equivalent to making fun of the murder of 6 million Jews? And why draw Jewish people into this? It wasn't a Jewish newspaper that printed the objectionable cartoons.

From the article:

"'Does the West extend freedom of expression to the crimes committed by the United States and Israel, or an event such as the Holocaust? Or is its freedom only for insulting religious sanctities?" Hamshahri wrote, referring to the Prophet Muhammad cartoons.'"

Anyone who has ever watched The Daily Show knows that the West extends freedom of expression to crimes committee by the United States and Israel, and to insulting religious sanctities. This freedom isn't always used well, but lucrative careers have been built on it.

Meanwhile, Time checks in with a piece on why the "cartoon clash" is escalating.

Opus Dei does good PR

Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times has a solid story today about the efforts of Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic group that figures negatively in The Da Vinci Code, to take the edges of its cultish image before the film is released in May. She writes that the group is "promoting a blog by an Opus Dei priest in Rome, revamping its Web site and even arranging interviews with a member said to be the only "real Silas" in Opus Dei — a Nigerian-born stockbroker who lives in Brooklyn."

A word on that bit about Silas: there is an evil monk by that name in the film.

I am no fan of Opus Dei's. But I admire their efforts to get out in front of the negative publicity that is surely coming their way, perhaps even turning it to their advantage. I wish my Church had done something similar in the midst of the controversy surrounding the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The Church's decision to consecrate a gay bishop who lived openly with his parnter alienated a lot of people--some of them Episcopalians. But +Gene's consecration also impressed a lot of people. Unfortunately, we've made little effort to draw members of that second group into our Church. This June, when our General Convention convenes in Columbus, Ohio, our Church's stance on human sexuality will be in the news once again. This time, I hope we take better advantage of the opportunity to reach out to people of all denominations who believe that treating gay people differently than straight people is simply wrong.

How seriously do you take Bono?

He spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast last week. CNN has this story. I am more or less in the tank for the guy. I think he has done a tremendous amount of good. But I am not quite certain where he goes from here. I admire his willingness to work with the people who have the power to make things happen, even though he finds the ideology that some of those people embrace distasteful. I think that speaks to a seriousness that too few crusading liberal celebrities possess. But how long can he continue to make nice with unresponsive governments before he begins to lose credibility?

Rules of the Road

Hi folks,

I hope to be retolling the blog soon to include an "About Us" feature, some rules for posting and links to other blogs I like. But, as the discussions on the Muslim cartoon riots have elicted some unhelpful behavior, I am going to post the new rules and guidelines now. Please read them before your post again.


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Audio meditations

As regular visitors know, we feature a printed daily meditation on our spirituality site . Today we are adding to our offerings, thanks to our friends at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. Their president, Bishop Steven Charleston, offers a brief audio meditation on the Gospel readng from the daily lectionary in a feature called Stepping Stones. Listen here, then come back and tell us what you think.

Interfaith Dialog

In the wake of Muslim rioting sparked by cartoons of the prophet Mohammed that appeared n Euopean newspapers, and as an antitdote to some of the polarizing rhetoric we've been hearing since the riots began, I thought it would be worth highlighting some of the productive interfaith work that has taken place here in my own backyard.

My boss, Bishop John Chane, appears regularly on panels with Rabbi M. Bruce Lustig of the Washington Hebrew Congregation and Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistaini diplomant who is Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University. Here is a bit of an introduction to some of their work, which included appearances on C-Span, and a unity walk down Embassy Row here in D. C.

The bishop, Prof. Ahmed and Prof. Judea Pearl, whose son Daniel, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was murdered by terrorists in Pakistan, also participated in an online interfaith conversation following the London bombings last July. You can find it on Beliefnet.

I also recommend this sermon by Bishop Ted Eastman, who served, just before retirement, as Bishop Chane's vicar at Washington National Cathedral.

Virginia Theological Seminary recently hosted a lecture called "How to Speak to your Muslim Neighbor", and we hope to have the story on that event from our diocesan newspaper Washington Window online soon.

Imams and Islamic scholars have participated in almost every major event held at Washington National Cathedral in recent years, including the installation of the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, as dean of the cathedral, and "Hunger No More," an interfaith service sponosred in conjunction with Bread for the World to draw attention to issues of global poverty.

We don't share the notion, experessed in some places, that Islam is the enemy of the cross.

Super Bowl commercials

I have been seized by the need to blog about the Super Bowl commericals and other SB ephemera. But I tuned in just for the game, so any cultural atrocities committed before 6 pm will go unremarked upon.

First of all, where is the American Family Association when you really need them? The Jessica Simpson Pizza Hut commerical was awful--pizza-wielding sexpot reprising Nancy Sinatra's "Boots are Made for Walking" stuffs a piece of some PH product into a teenager mouth. He passes out.

Whose idea was it to have Roger Staubach participate in the Dr. Seuss reading? He's the anti-Seuss. Stiff, self-righteous, the opposite in life of what he was on the field.

The Busby Berkley Burger King commercial--with female dancers dressed as lettuce, tomoato, onions, etc.,--made you think about how much money they spent to such little affect. Which I don't think was their aim.

The Sierra Mist ad asked the question: are we ready for airport security humor? And if so, should it be funny?

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Dressing for church

Here's a Sunday afternoon sort of topic: do you dress up for church?

When I was a kid, and complained about getting dressed up to go to church, my parents told me that putting on our best clothes was a way of showing honor to God. I think this is where the phrase "Sunday best" comes from. Now that I have children of my own, I frequently have to urge the younger one to revisit his bedroom and upgrade his sartorial selection before we set out for church. My concern, I must admit, has less to do with giving honor to God--whom I am not sure cares--than about dressing to the standards of the community.

This has become more of an issue in the last few months as we've changed churches, and belong to a community in which the standard of dress (and the standard of living) are higher than at our previous church. Now, I find that I, too, wake up on some Sundays feeling disinclined to dress as well as seems appropriate.

Maybe this is just a preference for blue jeans, sneakers and a flannel shirt. Maybe it is something that maturity is supposed to get you past. But I am wondering if anybody else thinks there is more to it than that. When I get dressed up for church on a typical Sunday, I sometimes feel I am covering my true self, or my true condition in garments that make me seem other than I am--better than I am; more pulled together than I am. I feel as though I am disguising the very weaknesses and brokeness that I need to bring before God. Sure God can see it anyway, but it introduces artificiality when I should be at my most authentic. "Ah, yes," I can hear God saying, "another penitent by way of Men Warehouse."

As I say, I could just be wrapping a preference to as though I am at my ease in theo-babble. But thinking back, I realize that in all of the religious communities that have meant the most to me in my lifetime--beginning when I was a life guard at a Catholic summer camp--were strictly come as you are. In dress, and in other ways, too.

"Daniel" of February 3

This is an open thread to discuss the episode that is now available here.

If you haven't seen the show yet, you might want to avoid this thread so that we don't have to clot it up with spoiler alerts every time someone wants to talk about a key plot development.

Barak Obama on the Democrats religion problem

Jodi Enda's profile of Barak Obama in this month's issue of The American Prospect features this eye-catching quote from Obama:

"I do think that there’s a strain of the Democratic Party -- it’s not uniform -- that is somewhat patronizing towards people who go to church,” says Obama, who attends the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which is Congregationalist, and keeps a Bible in his car. “If you go to a black evangelical church, there may be traditions that secular humanists might be uncomfortable with -- hoopin’ and hollerin’, wavin’ and dancin’,” he says, purposefully slipping into the vernacular. But, he says, the preachers and the parishioners are talking about the same things that Democratic leaders are: “They’re talking about health care and looking after our seniors and trying to salvage young men from going into the prison system. So there’s nothing alien about it. And yet sometimes, the Democratic Party, I think, just assumes that as long as people are in church that somehow we can’t reach them, that we have nothing in common. That’s simply not true and certainly hasn’t been true historically.”

This reminds me of the experience of a friend of mine who was being romanced to take a high level position in Howard Dean's presidential campaign. His contact with the campaign wanted to meet on a Sunday. But my friend, who taught the Rite 13 class that my older son was in, explained that he had a commitment at church.

The response of his contact? "How quaint."

Poor dumb Democrats.

Progressive Christians and the issue of obedience

I came across this post on the blog of Hugo Schwyzer, and thought I shoudl share it. It is the tail end of a meditation on Christian obedience.

"When progressives endorse same-sex marriage in the church, our conservative opponents accuse us of "disobedience" to Scripture, tradition, and so forth. Over and over again, we are told that we have capitulated to modern secular culture and abandoned the teachings of God and His Son. According to traditionalists, by endorsing same-sex marriage, we progressive Christians are encouraging people to follow their own selfish desires rather than obey God. And the most frustrating thing is, most of the time we progressives don't fight back against this argument. We concede too easily, often because we're so reluctant to talk about obedience.

"But when we welcome gays and lesbians and marry them, we ARE being obedient. Indeed, when we risk schism and international opprobrium, we do so because of a fundamental belief that we are obeying the Gospel. Straight folks make up the majority of liberal Protestants in this country; permitting gay marriage doesn't give us any new or special privileges. Why then are so many of us in the Episcopal Church willing to argue, debate, and possibly get thrown out of the Anglican Communion all so that our GLBTQ brothers and sisters might feel completely included? Secular liberal conviction isn't enough to bring most progressives to the precipice of schism -- what brings us there is a quiet conviction that to love radically, fearlessly, and inclusively is to obey the will of Christ. We know, just as our conservative brothers and sisters know, that obedience has a cost. And we know as believers we have to be willing to pay it."

Rage against the cartoons

Update on Moday 10 am. If you are following this converation, stay with it long enough to read Daniel Robinson, who writes with firsthand knowledge of the Muslim world.

ls Here is a story--courtesy of The Washington Post--that has been brewing for awhile.

"PARIS, Feb. 2 -- Protests against European newspapers' publication of cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad gained momentum across the Islamic world Thursday as Pakistani schoolchildren burned French and Danish flags and Muslim presidents denounced the drawings. At the same time, more European news organizations printed or broadcast the caricatures, citing a need to defend freedom of expression.

In another day of confrontation between the largely secular nations of Europe and Muslim countries where religion remains a strong force in daily life, Islamic activists threatened more widespread protests and boycotts of European businesses. While some European officials sought to defuse the crisis, many journalists insisted that despite Islamic outrage, religious sensibilities should not result in censorship.

"We would have done exactly the same thing if it had been a pope, rabbi or priest caricature," wrote Editor in Chief Serge Faubert in Thursday's editions of France Soir, one of the newspapers that printed the cartoons."

The eagle-eyed Kat called my attention to this issue about a week ago, and, frankly, I was hesitant to post an entry about it. In the earliest days of this blog, many of the most vitriolic anti-Daniel posts that we received we even more vitriolicly anti-Muslim. Most were deleted on reception. Their gist, to the extent that it can be rendered without obscenity-laced jingoism was that Christians are morally superior to Muslims because Christians only launch boycotts when their religion is insulted, while Muslims launch jihads.

I didn't want to sit at my computer all day on bigotry patrol, so I decided to keep an eye on the issue before deciding whether to post something. I put this entry up now because a) the issue isn't going away, and b) I think most people on the blog have gotten used to each other and this has allowed us to establish some level of civility.

I often conclude these entries by pitching in my own two cents. But my knees are too wobbly on this one ot take a stand. So I am in the market for a persuasive opinion.

By the way, this is a very hot blogging topic according to Slate. And the World Council of Churches has this to say.

A gay actor in an evangelical film

Neela Banerjee of The New York Times has an intriguing story about the controversy over End of the Spear. The film was made by an evangelical film company, but features a gay actor. (Who, ias it turns out, is an Episcopalian.)

Here's a taste:

Christian ministers were enthusiastic at the early private screenings of "End of the Spear," made by Every Tribe Entertainment, an evangelical film company. But days before the film's premiere, a controversy erupted over the casting of a gay actor that has all but eclipsed the movie and revealed fault lines among evangelicals.

The film relates the true story of five American missionaries who were killed in 1956 by an indigenous tribe in Ecuador. The missionaries' families ultimately converted the tribe to Christianity, and forgave and befriended the killers. The tale inspired evangelicals 40 years ago with its message of redemption and grace, and the film company expected a similar reception.

On Jan. 12, though, the Rev. Jason Janz took the filmmakers to task for casting Chad Allen, an openly gay man and an activist, in the movie's lead role as one of the slain missionaries, and later, his grown son. ...

The executives at Every Tribe stood by Mr. Allen. Jim Hanon, the director, said he was by far the best actor for the role. "If we make films according to what the Bible says is true, it's incumbent upon us to live that," he said. "We disagree with Chad about homosexuality, but we love him and worked with him, and we feel that's a Biblical position."

St. Jack and the bullies

The Washington Post has a profile of John Danforth, an Episcopal priest, former Republican U. S. Senator from Missouri, defender of Clarence Thomas and former ambassador to the UN. His Republican credentials seem to have given his critique of the Religious Right credibility in the eyes of the media. What follow is an excerpt, but you can read it all.

"A man of God and the GOP, he is speaking out for moderation -- in religion, politics, science and government. The lanky figure once dubbed "St. Jack," not always warmly, for the perch he seemed to occupy on Washington's moral high ground, expects people will sour on the assertive brand of Christianity so closely branded Republican.

"I'm counting on nausea," he says."

And here's a particularly picquaint quote:

"With confidence that it is the mouthpiece for God, it endorses candidates, supports constitutional amendments and mobilizes campaigns to keep poor souls hooked up to feeding tubes," Danforth says. "It calls its opponents 'enemies of the people of faith.' Today that is the style and, I think, the sin of the Christian right."

Daniel's current Web cast

Several of you have mentioned catching one or two of the Web casts of the unaired episodes of Daniel. I am home sick today, and finally had a chance to view the current show. It is easily the best one yet, with almost every character struggling with a serious, utterly uncaricatured, moral dilemma, and struggling quite nobly. There is some real truth-tellling between characters in conflict, and some wonderfully tender scenes of reconciliation. The only thing that seemed gratuitous was the relationship that is developing between Judith's sister and one of the mob contractors. I have to admit that I was skeptical when Jack Kenny said that the best work they'd done had never seen the light of day, but after watching this episode, I am persuaded.

God & Man on the Gridiron

Those of you who will be admitted first to heaven no doubt are aware that pitchers and catchers report to spring training in 16 days and two hours, as I write. But some of you probably watch football.

The Super Bowl will be played this Sunday. If the game follows form, some athlete, at some point, will thank his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for his success. Or he will score a touchdown and point to the sky.

What do we make of this? How involved is God in the Super Bowl? Is victory a sign of God's favor? If so, what is the significance of defeat?

As a former sports writer who travelled with a few teams, I can tell you that the good guys don't always win and that surly misanthropes and unrepentant serial adulterers are quite capable of publc piety.

All this has made me wish that athletes and other celebs would keep their prayers private. But perhaps there is value in celebrity witness? If so, is what you see on the Super Bowl the kind of witness we are looking for?

God and Man on TV

Here is the conclusion of "God and Man on Television", a piece by Hanna Rosin on Slate.com. You can read the whole thing. She didn't care much for Daniel.

"If we are lucky, The Book of Daniel will put an end to Hollywood's strained efforts to reach the silent majority, or at least it will make those efforts a little more interesting. Christians don't necessarily like to watch shows about other Christians, any more than I want to watch programs about thirtysomething Jewish journalists. For the last six months, I've been spending a lot of time with young, conservative evangelical college students; what they like and don't like often surprises me. They like Pixar movies for their clean irony. They liked Cinderella Man, because the hero fought for his family. They liked Mr. and Mrs. Smith because the marriage was saved. They love violence if it serves a patriotic function, so 24 is a big hit. After winter break, I checked in with the crowd in the TV lounge to see what they were watching. None of them had even heard of The Book of Daniel."

I think Rosin makes some decent points, but she's wrong to paint Daniel as an attempt to reach the silent majority. Liberal Episcopal priest, gay son, easy-going Jesus. Not the checklist I'd be working off of if the SM were my target audience. Rosin ends the essay by pointing out that an audience that was unlikely to care much about the show--young Evangelicals--didn't care about the show. She seems to be under the impression that this proves something.

Confessing sin

We have been talking about wrath on the blog today--God's wrath. I had this on my mind as I was reading Evening Prayer and came, as always, to the Confession of Sin. We confess our sins, at least in part, to avoid the very wrath we have been talking about today. But how does this confessing get done? Here are the words Episcopalians use, taken from Rite II of the Book of Common Prayer:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

I am wondering how people in other denominations confess their sins, to whom they confess them and how they reckon regarding absolution. And I am wondering if my fellow Episcopalians feel "forgiven" after they read the words above.

Candlemas Eve

As regular visitors to the blog know, I frequently invite people to have a look at our diocese's spirituality site. We feature daily meditations, chosen from spiritual writings. Today's meditation is from the works of Jean Vanier and closes with this verse:

Blessed are you because you have allowed
your own conscience to develop;
you have not been swayed by what people might say about you
and you have acted as a free individual;
you have accepted persecution;
you have not been afraid to proclaim the truth.

The site also has flash meditations on scripture. I mention that because one of them is called "Candlemas" which Episcopalians, Catholics and the Orthodox churches (anybody else?) celebrate tomorrow, Feb. 2. It is referred to by some as the feast of The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, and by others as the feast of The Purification of the Virgin, but both titles refer to the event which inspired the scriptural passage that those who say the Liturgy of Hours know as the Nunc Dimits :

"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people, To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel."

If you are intereted in the Liturgy of the Hours, also referred to as the Daily Office, visit the meditations and readings page of the spirituality site and click on the daily office link of the appropriate day.

So a Southern Baptist and an Episcopalian walk into a bar...

Belinda posted this comment last night under the Coretta Scott King entry, and I wanted to give it wider circulation. She wrote:

"I am interested (genuinely) in hearing what the more liberal Christians have to say about this. On Dr. Albert Mohler's radio show today he talked about an LA Times story that seemed to indicate that liberal Christians: don't view God as static, do not believe in a wrathful God, believe the Bible is open ended, and basically go for the "love" aspect of God without the judgment of God.

"'Romans 1:18 says, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth of their wickedness.'

"None of us wants to go to a church that is hell, fire, and brimstone all the time. But do you believe the wrath of God ought to be preached? Do you believe the things the LA Times says you believe? Why, or why not?"

I'd love to have a link to the LA Times story she refers to, and will add it if someone caan provide it. Director Guy comes through. Here it is. But registration with the LA Times is required.

Some people have already posted answers under the CS King entry, but if we could continue the conversation here, I would appreciate it.

My own response is that I do believe in a final judgment--although that may be something different than what Dr. Mohler means by the wrath of God. I don't think God punishes people in this life for their sins, or maybe what I don't believe is that we can discern when this is happening. I am not saying some sorts of sin don't have obvious consequences. But I think the Ray Nagin/Pat Robertson line of reasoning on this is dangerous as it equates misfortune with sin and equates being victimized with sinning. My guess is that the real differnce I would have with Mr. Mohler is that we may not agree on the nature of God's punishment, or on the sort of things that deserve punishment.

So let's talk about wrath and judgment with an eye firmly on Belinda's original question. And as a matter of Christian hospitality, no personal comments on either Mohler, Belinda,(or me, for that matter.)

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