A liturgy for Thurgood Marshall

I don't know why I didn't think to put this on the blog sooner.

The Diocese of Washington has passed a resolution petitioning the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to include Thurgood Marshall, whose wife, Cissy, still worships at St. Augustine's parish in our diocese on our calendar of lesser feasts and fasts.

We are proposing that May 17 be designated as his feast day because that is the day on which the U. S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the decision the began the long (and still incomplete) process of desegregating America's public schools. Marshall was lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

All this is a long way of letting you know why we're so pleased that Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Il., held a Eucharist to honor Marshall just two weeks ago (on this May 17th.) Click the keep reading line to find the order of service.

(And my thanks to John Hartman of S-W.)

And by the way, if you are an Episcopalian, and you know who your deputies are, please feel free to lobby on behalf of Justice Marshall.

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Child Protective Blogging 2

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have apparently named their child Shiloh. This is a better choice than, say, Vicksburg or Cold Harbor, but perhaps not as sonorous as First Manassas. Meanwhile, comedian/magician Penn Teller has named his second child Zoltan. The first is named Moxie Crimefighter.

These developments confirm that celebrities cannot be trusted to name their own offspring. Society must step in. I propose the following legislation:

Anyone who has appeared in a) more than one top twenty television show; b) more than two motion pictures or c) the Billboard Top 40 will be required to submit the name they wish to bestow on their newborn to a panel composed entirely of people named Kathy and Bill. The panel will decide whether the name will inflict undue hardship on the child.

If the panel decides in the negative, the ruling may be appealed to a panel composed entirely of people named Jane and Doug. Its decision will be final.

However, the name will be held in escrow until the child's 15th birthday at which point he or she may adopt it of their own volition.

All in favor signify by writing to Us magazine.

You're no Hank Aaron

This weekend, Barry Bonds surpassed Babe Ruth by hitting his 715th career home run. He is now 40 homers behind Hank Aaron, baseball home run king. I've got nothing new to say about Bonds. But I thought I could chip in a bit about Aaron.

Nineteen years ago I had a chance to spend a few hours talking with him and following him around for The Washington Post. To see the story, a long one, click on the "keep reading" link.

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2 articles on N. T. Wright

We have two articles on Bishop N. T. Wright in our June issue of Washington Window, which will be online and in mailboxes soon. Below is a piece on his new book Simply Christian. At the end of that piece, you can click on the "keep reading" link to see a much shorter piece containing his comments about the Episcopal Church and its impending response to the Windsor Report.

The first article starts here:

Bishop N.T. Wright spends a good deal of time explaining to admirers that they misunderstand him.

To those impressed by his rigorous, evangelically-inclined biblical scholarship, he must explain that “conservative” convictions regarding the interpretation of Scripture do not, in his case, translate into support for the foreign policy of President George W. Bush.

“I often meet people in this country who tell me, ‘I love your books on Jesus. I really enjoy your work on Paul. But how can you criticize our president because God has raised him up to bring justice to the world?’ ” says Wright, the prolific author who is also the Bishop of Durham.

To liberals Christians who cheer his opposition to the war in Iraq and his advocacy of greenhouse gas restrictions, he must break the news that he parts company with them on issues such as gay marriage, and wonders whether their politics shapes their faith, rather than their faith shaping their politics.

“I think, for example, that some people oppose the idea of a bodily resurrection because it is part of a ‘center-right’ package in this country,” Wright said. “And if you believe in a bodily resurrection you are in with people who believe other things that you don’t believe. Part of my job is to constantly uncouple these assumptions. I think we just have to start with first principles on each issue.”

In his most recent book, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, Wright is dealing with Christianity at its most elemental.

“My publishers (Harper San Francisco in the United States and the Society for the Propogation of Christian Knowledge in the U. K.) perceived the need to do something for the 21st century like C. S. Lewis did with Mere Christianity,” Wright said before a recent lecture at Washington National Cathedral. “This book puts rather simply things that in other books, including some of my own, are put rather more complicatedly.”

In Simply Christian, Wright identifies four essential human longings: for justice, relationships, spiritual sustenance and beauty.

“I didn’t set out to create a definitive set of categories,” he says. “I knew I wanted to start where Lewis started, with justice, fairness, and that I wanted to end with beauty. But when I looked at the four of them, I though, ‘Yeah, that covers the bases.’”

The problem of evil is addressed “across the categories” Wright says, and humanity’s yearning for truth is addressed in the book’s final chapter.

Throughout the book, Wright refers to the Incarnation as a divine “rescue mission.”

“Salvation has become, ironically, a dead metaphor for most people,” Wright said. “I wanted to give it a more dynamic edge.”

In addition, he wanted to correct what he feels is a self-centered view of salvation that permeates modern Christianity. “The New Testament is not particularly interested in one’s immediate post-mortem location,” he says. “Salvation is not about going to heaven. It is about the creation of a new heaven and a new earth. We are beneficiaries, but we are also agents of this new creation.”

The book has received copious praise, and, as is often the case with Wright’s work, some of it comes from unexpected quarters. Anne Rice, the queen of vampire fiction, who shared the stage with Wright during his appearance at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, says Simply Christian is an improvement on Lewis’ classic. Wright demurs. He says his primer on Christianity resembles Lewis’ in the way that his golf game resembles Tiger Woods’.

During his book tour, Wright has been exposed again to what he considers a peculiarly American intellectual dynamic. “The left/right split in American does not correspond to the rest of the world,” he says.

“There is this assumption, among liberals, that if you believe that the Bible contains historical truths you are a crypto-creationist,” he said. But he was told after a recent speech at a conservative think tank that he “lost half the audience” when he mentioned Charles Darwin.

Wright says his book contains challenges for liberals and conservatives alike.

“Some people want to lurch back to a social gospel: that we’ve got to build the kingdom ourselves,” Wright says. “A lot of people did a lot of good work doing that,” he adds, but the 20th century is the story of how various utopian schemes not only failed, but inspired violence and repressions.

“We can’t build the Kingdom ourselves,” he says. “When it comes, it will be a gift of grace.”

But neither should Christians “remove themselves” from society until “God acts and all things are put right.”

The proper attitude is that of a stone mason working on a grand cathedral, he says.

“He may not know how what he is carving will be used, but he trusts the architect.”

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How moral was your dinner?

Most of the animal-loving kids I know have tried, at one point or another, to eat a vegetarian diet. Only one of our two sons fits this category, and as he hates vegetables, the experiment was extremely short-lived. Still, kids see clearly that eating animals requires violence against the animal, and they understand that there is a certain dissonance between eating a few strips of bacon for dinner and then cuddling up at bedtime with your favorite stuffed pig.

The impulse to think morally about what we eat doesn’t end in childhood, nor is it confined to the question of killing animals. Both The New Yorker and Slate, have probing pieces about our food supply, and what it takes to get dinner from the fields and slaughterhouses onto our plates.

I have to admit that this isn't an issue I've thought very hard about. I try not to waste food, but I don't think hard about the environmental impact of agribusiness, and I am willing to excuse a raft of sins against creation if it puts food in front of hungry people. That some creatures eat other creatures seems to me a fact of creation, but having said that, I don't think about the lives led by the animals I eat or the way in which they were killed.

Anyway, have a look at these very smart articles.

Belated X Men blogging

As I mentioned in the entry just below this one, my wife, younger son and I saw the new X Men movie on Friday night at a packed theater in Silver Spring, Md. We'd been planning this for awhile, but an obstacle to my attendance arose earlier in the week when the son in question (he's 11) told my wife that he had "a very strong opinion" that I should not be allowed to see X Men III until I had seen X Men I and II, or at least I.

So, for the sake of family unity, I spent a few hours in front of the TV viewing the earlier installments, and, to my surprise, I liked them. I was actually eager to get to the theater on Friday night.

I don't want to give too much away, but let me give a quick summary for those of you who know as little about the X Men as I did a week ago. The X Men are mutants--good mutants. There are also bad mutants--bent on world domination, or course. In this installment, the non-mutant world discovers a "cure" for mutancy, thus confronting the mutants with a choice about whether to take the cure or not. The non-mutant world also has a choice: does it simply offer the cure, or does it impose it?

Some of the mutants are glad to get rid of whatever special characteristics their mutancy gave them. Some are unwilling to sacrifice what they regard as the essence of their identity. If you've followed the controversy over homosexuality in our Church, the parallels here are obvious.

For further ethical reflection, there is also a subplot involving a mutant whose powers are so great she may not be able to control them. Should she be liberated to do with her powers as she pleases? Should she be controlled so that her powers can be managed? Or does she present such a great threat to the world that she must be killed?

I am not a fan of special-effect-heavy set-piece battles, but the one that ends this film is a doozy. My favorite scene, though, is a brief, heartbreaking moment toward the beginning of the movie when a young boy is locked in the family bathroom trying to scrape away the physical symptoms of his mutancy. The look of desperation on his face as he struggles against these changes in his body will put you in mind of every adolescent you've ever known who suddenly felt betrayed by their bodies--including yourself.

X Men III

A couple of weeks ago, poster Widening Gyre and I agreed that we would take a pass on The DaVinci Code, but not on X Men III: The Last Stand. If the crowds in Silver Spring tonight, where the movie was showing on four screens, are any indication, it will be the top-grossing film of the weekend. My 11-year-old, not given to understatement, has proclaimed it the "greatest movie ever."

It is better than the reviews led me to believe. More tomorrow.

Child Protective Blogging

I have taken an interest recently in the welfare of two children whom I know only through the media. One is the offspring of Brittney Spears. I can’t believe that having the paparazzi following his mom around all the time attempting to document her maternal failings is going to be good for young Sean Preston in the long run. Who is in charge of making them stop?

I don’t know the other child’s name, but I know that his father’s cancer was cured by a drug manufactured by a major pharmaceutical company. In a radio commercial I have heard at least a dozen times, this father says that now that he has his life back, he can realize his dream of teaching his 4-year-old son to play baseball. So far so good. Then he says that he believes he is coaching a future major leaguer.

I am deputizing readers of this blog to find this man and sit him down for a long talk.

Tell him as gently as possible that the counter-example of Earl Woods notwithstanding, there are few surer ways to blight his son’s life than by aiming him at athletic stardom at an early age. And let him know that there are men who make their living figuring out who has got the stuff to play major league baseball. These men have several significant advantages over him. They evaluate young men at a much later stage in their physical development, and they bring professional expertise to the task. . Nonetheless, they are wrong more often than they are right. (I covered the New York Mets in the mid-1980s when two nice young guys named Sean Abner and Kyle Hartshorn were thought by some of the best mind’s in the game to be the future of the franchise. They weren’t.)

Tell him not to ruin baseball for his son by making every swing of the bat another step in a lifelong journey toward a destination his son may have neither the desire nor ability to reach.

Faith-based diplomacy

Beliefnet uses the term "faith-based diplomacy" to describe the ideas Madeline Albright advances in this interview. She's talking about the importance of political leaders understanding the role of religious faith in the lives of the world's population.

We used the phrase in a different way in a op-ed piece I contributed to in September 2005. We were hoping to promote a conference at Washington National Cathedral. Our focus was on the role that religious leaders could play in immeliorating global conflcit and some of the conditions that gave rise to this conflict. (The 35 religious leaders who attended that conference produced this statement.)

The piece never saw the light of day, but I have always been fond of it, so I thought I would pass it on. Here's an excerpt:

In the multi-ethinic West, we may identify ourselves primarily as citizens of a country, but on much of our violence-ridden and poverty-wracked planet, people understand themselves principally as adherents of a faith. While ideals like freedom and democracy inform the diplomacy of the West, equally strong ideals of submission to the Divine often inform the aspirations and actions of humanity in other corners of the globe.

The developing world is undergoing a religious revival that will only enhance the role of local religious leaders in shaping national destinies. Whether we look at the exponentially growing Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in sub-Saharan Africa or the continuing trend toward religiously Islamist states in North Africa and the Middle East, it is clear that faith leaders enjoy almost unprecedented influence in the lives of their nations. Moreover, faith leaders, unlike their government counterparts, have the power to speak across national boundaries and connect with people on the deepest of levels: the level of their core beliefs.

Power such as this can be used for good or for ill. Parts of the world where the destabilizing forces of poverty and disease create a climate of hopelessness are ripe for exploitation by religious extremists seeking to motivate terror and conflict. The response of faith leaders committed to peacemaking must go beyond offering a moral vision that directly counters the dark vision of terrorists; we must wage a war against the forces that make their communities targets for exploitation in the first place: poverty, pandemic disease, a lack of basic education, government corruption, and inadequate resources for development. As President Bush observed in 2002: “Poverty doesn’t [itself] cause terrorism…yet persistent poverty and oppression can lead to hopelessness and despair. And when governments fail to meet the most basic needs of their people, these failed states can become havens of terror.”

Click below to read it all.

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7 percent

I am a fan of Religion News Service, but this story, which ran on Beliefnet puzzles me.

It begins: Just weeks before their church's General Convention meeting, some 900 Episcopal clergy have signed a petition urging church bishops not to approve gay bishops or bless same-sex unions."

And it quotes the Rev. David Roseberry, rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas as saying: "It is our hope to demonstrate to the House of Bishops with absolute clarity that the clergy of this church want to return to our historical, biblical roots."

Here's the math: The 2006 Clergy "Red Book" of the Episcopal Church lists 17,209 clergy. Of those about 300 are bishops and 2,200 are deacons. That leaves somewhere in the vicinty of 14,700 priests.

So putting aside for the moment the difficulty fo verifying the authenticity of internet signatures, and allowing for the fact that the peition might garner more names by its May 31 deadline, we are looking at a document which in a best-case scenario would be signed by about 7 percent of Episcopal priests.

The RNS story says: The petition, which will be presented to the Episcopal House of Bishops before the June 13-21 legislative session, further exposes the rift between liberals and conservatives over homosexuality in the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church. (emphasiz mine.)

I'd say what the story exposes is that while the Episcopal right has spent millions of dollars over the last three or four years fomenting rebellion in our Church, they have rallied an anemic level of support.

My teammate's keeper?

The blog has been “all Anglican, all the time” lately, and I’d like to change the pace a bit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about teens and alcohol recently, in part because I have a son who will be entering high school in September. I’d previously thought of alcohol consumption as a personal matter, as long as you didn’t get behind the wheel of a car. But the issue presented itself to me in a new light in the context of youth sports.

Championships in a few of the scholastic leagues that I follow were influenced by the suspension of players who had shown up to school functions drunk. Because my son is a serious baseball player, it was easy for me to imagine him as the teammate of one of these players, and to imagine how he would feel having his season damaged by a star player’s drinking.

And that got me thinking about the whole array of alcohol-related concerns he will have to handle in the coming years. First, he has his own choices to make about consuming alcohol. Obviously I hope he chooses not to drink, or delays drinking until, well, until he is of legal age. But suppose he makes the right choice and some of his friends don’t?

Does he discuss it with them? If discussion doesn’t help, does he remain friends with them? If so, does he do anything about the fact that he thinks his friends need to stop drinking? A few words with an authority figure? How likely is he to take this step? What would be the consequences in his peer group?

Now suppose a teammate who is not a close friend is drinking? Suppose it is clear that if this person gets caught, they will be thrown off the team? And that without this player the team will suffer—that kids who may have scholarships on the line and kids who are playing their very last season of organized sports, will be deprived of something dear to them? What would a good teammate do in that situation?

For some reason, adding “team”—you could substitute the word “community”—to the equation made me take another look at the ways in which self-destructive behavior extend beyond the self. I feel myself being nudged toward becoming what a few days ago I would have thought of as a more meddlesome person. As an introvert, I am having a hard time figuring out how to respond to this.

Getting back, briefly, to the presenting issue, I don’t have problems talking about this sort of thing with my own children. It isn’t parenting tips I am after. But I’d be interested in hearing people’s thoughts on the individual’s duty to intervene in other’s lives, and how one acts on that without alienating, oh, everyone.

Asking pointed questions

The Witness, an online magazine, has just published some probing interviews with the candidates for Presiding Bishop by longtime Church activist Louie Crew. Have a look. We need an informed electorate.

Oops. Forgot for a moment that only other bishops get to vote for presiding bishop.

The sooner we change that canon, the better.

The latest on the Middle East

From the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

The unfolding humanitarian crisis among the Palestinian people is endangering the fragile hope that still remains for a two–state solution. President Bush and his administration need flexibility to conduct the required foreign policy involved in Israeli-Palestinian issues – but Congress is refusing to give the President the flexibility needed.

Legislation pending in the Senate (S 2370) needs to be amended in order to allow the President the flexibility to deal with the humanitarian crisis and be able to pursue avenues that might open for negotiations toward a two-state solution – the solution we believe to be in the best interest of Israelis, Palestinians, and the United States. Please write your Senators today asking them to help amend S 2370.

Existing law already prohibits aid going to a terrorist organization or directly to the Palestinian Authority. HR 4681, a far more restrictive and punitive bill than S 2370, passed overwhelmingly despite the fact that the Bush Administration said the bill was "unnecessary ... and constrains the Executive's flexibility to use sanctions, if appropriate, as tools to address rapidly changing situations." If the Senate does not amend its bill, the final legislation that comes out of a joint House-Senate conference committee would do long-term damage to prospects for peace.

Here Comes Everybody

One of our very own parishes, the Church of the Epiphany near Metro Center in downtown DC, is among the congregations featured in the Web cast Here Comes Everybody, from Trinity Church, Wall Street, tonight at 8 p. m.

You can watch it here.

Here's your TV Guide type blurb:
Three prominent advocates for progressive discipleship gather for a discussion on how to build new kinds of Christian communities. This telecast is for lay and clergy leaders who want to learn how to strengthen their faith communities through the renewal of basic practices such as hospitality, discernment of the church's calling, personal testimony, observing the Sabbath, and open conversation.

And here's our hometown pitch:
One of the three advocates is Diana Butler Bass, a parishioner at Epiphany and senior research fellow and director of the Project on Congregations of Intentional Practice at Virginia Theological Seminary. If you are even remotely involved in attempting to build up your congregation's membership, its spiritual offerings or it social outreach programs, you will be interested in Diana's book Practicing Congregations and her Web site.

You can learn more about Epiphany here, and you can watch a lovely little film clip about their Sunday morning Eucharist and feeding for the homeless by visiting here and clicking on Part 2.

And if this doesn't work, there's always exorcism

CNN aired a piece yesterday on reparative therapy. This purports to be a process through which gays and lesbians become ex-gays and ex-lesbians. Most psychiatrists and psychologists believe it is ineffectual at best and destructive at worst. But it is among the straws most frequently grasped at by those who insist that homosexuality is "curable."

Have a look and draw your own conclusions about the intellectual credibility of this position.

Dr. Jenny Te Paa on the Episcopal Church's proposed response to the Windsor Report

Dr. Jenny Te Paa, Principal of College of Saint John the Evangelist, Auckland, New Zealand (in the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia)
was a member of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, which produced the Windsor Report. SHe'll be joining us in Columbus as a guest preacher at one of the Eucharists during General Convention.

We asked her recently what she though of One Baptism, One Hope in God's Call, the document which contains the 11 resolutions proposed by the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion in response to the Windsor Report.

She responded in thoughtful detail, and we're happy to have the opportunity to share her response with you.

Click below to read it all.

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What should General Convention 2006 Do?

Lionel Deimel of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh has written an extremely thoughtful analysis of the 11 resolutions formulated by the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which will be considered at our General Convention next month. I think I am more partial to the resolutions than Lionel is, but his analysis is so careful and thorough that I recommend giving it a read. He and the other PEP members do an excellent--and I am sure at times lonely--job of witnessing on behalf of our Church is "Guerilla Bob" Duncan's diocese.

Bishop Wright goes to Washington

The Rt. Rev. N. T. "Tom" Wright, biblical scholar, Bishop of Durham, and member of the commission that wrote the Windsor Report visited Washington recently on a tour supporting his most recent book Simply Christian.

You can watch the lecture he gave at Washington National Cathedral online.

We will have a story about the book and a brief sidebar about his comments on the Windsor Report in the upcoming issue of our diocesan newspaper, Washington Window, which goes to press today, and will be online by the end of next week.

Let your yes mean yes. Bishop Duncan, this means you.

The 11 diocesan bishops and assorted other bishops of the Anglican Communion Network have released a statement in which they reaffirm their rejection of the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and "unanimously support the recommendations of the Windsor Report as the basis on which our divisions may begin to be mended."

There is great political capital to be made in some corners of the Communion--not least in Lambeth Palace--in affirming the recommendations of the Windsor Report. But it would seem to me that for your affirmation to be credible, you would have to have evinced some respect for the report's recommendations up to this point.

Bishop Robert Duncan, the moderator of the Network, has not done so. He has hosted a gathering at which bishops from other countries ordained priests and deacons to work in Episcopal dioceses. This violates the Windsor recommendation against such boundary crossings. He has also put a priest of his diocese under the authority of the Church of Nigeria, so that priest could go into another Episcopal bishop's diocese and conduct services for Archbishop Peter Akinola's fledgling Nigerian convocation.

Like many of his allies among the Anglican primates, Duncan behaves as though the parts of the Windsor Report that request changes in the policies of the Episcopal Church are Holy Writ, and the parts that require he and his allies to stay out of other bishops' dioceses are of no consequence.

So when I come to this paragraph...

"We, the Network Bishops, are prepared to be part of the efforts to reverse the situation, precisely because we are committed both to the Anglican Communion and the Constitution of the Episcopal Church, and because we long to be instruments of healing and reconciliation in the face of division."

...I have a hard time taking Bishop Duncan at his word, especially because I've read some of the documents that informed the second part of our story Following the money: Donors and activists on the Anglican right .

These documents, which predate the Windsor Report, came to light in Calvary v. Duncan. They make it clear that the bishop and his allies are set on replacing the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion with a more conservative entity. (Have a look at this one and note the commitment to "guerilla warfare." How these comfortable men in their comfortable jobs like to beat their chests and imagine themselves as warriors.)

Since General Convention 2003, Guerilla Bob has done everything he can to undermine his brother and sister bishops and marginalize the Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion. There is little reason to believe that he will not continue to do so.

The signers of this letter--Some of whom have also had pretty cozy relationships with boundary crossing primates like Orombi of Uganda and Venables of the Southern Cone.--want to have things both ways. They would like the Church and the Communion to take their endorsement of the Windsor Report seriously while the moderator of their network and their allies among the primates violate it with impunity.

Gentleman, consider the possibility that we aren't as dumb as you think we are.

A (tepid and highly qualified) defense of President Bush

I am a garden-variety lefty on many political issues, but I am not so sure that I agree with what former secretary of state Madeline Albright is saying in this Reuters story from CNN's Web site.

Here's Albright: "I worked for two presidents who were men of faith, and they did not make their religious views part of American policy..."

Well, she knows these guys and I don't, but I find it very difficult to believe that if they were people of strong faith (and even his most ardent critics would concede this about Carter) that this faith didn't inform their religious views. If you have real faith, it can't be compartmentalized. It isn't part of your worldview. It is the font of your worldview.

Albright again: "President Bush's certitude about what he believes in, and the division between good and evil, is, I think, different. The absolute truth is what makes Bush so worrying to some of us."

I'd agree the Bush is disastrously stubborn; he's fact-resistant. That said, there are things about which faith bestows certain convictions. The real struggle is in deciding which of your convictions arise from your faith, and which arise from self-interest or personal preference and then get classified as matters of faith so as to make them non-negotiable.

Albright seems to be saying that Bush's religious views make him rigid, which I take as a knock on religion. Don't believe in Jesus too hard boys and girls or you'll become rigid. I'd say that in Bush's case, the need for what I guess you could call a rigid creed (although, if you were being charitable you could call a firm creed) preceded the embrace of a particular strain of Christianity. But the same can be said about anybody who believes anything.

In embracing the Christian faith, we don't escape our own subjectivity. But we do hope to temper it through membership in a community that holds us accountable to a vision that is larger than our own.

I am no fan of the President's policies. And I think he has granted influence to people with theocratic tendencies. But I think he has done so for political reasons--They are his base.--not religious ones. I wish people would refrain from criticizing his faith. It isn't fair to him, and it isn't fair to God--who doesn't deserve the wrap for what is happening in Iraq.

The Good, Good Pig

There's no sense in having a blog if you can't call attention to your friends when they've done something wonderful. At this Web site you can read about the forthcoming book The Good, Good Pig by Sy Montgomery. The book is a memoir of a pig named Christopher Hogwood and the people who loved him--particularly Sy (who has written a number of wonderful books about animals, and the way humans perceive them) and her husband Howard Mansfield, whose own books In the Memory House and The Bones of the Earth (to name just two) are meditations on the importance of place, the manipulation of history and the old Faulknerian dictum: "The past is never over. It isn't even past."

I went to college with Sy and Howard, worked on the campus newspaper (The Daily Orange) with them, and lived just a mile from them in New Hampshire twenty years ago when I was writing my first book. My family and I still visit them in New Hampshire about once every other year or so, so I had a chance to know the pig in question, and I can testify to his good-goodness.

Christopher Hogwood was named after the classical music conductor who, at the time of the pig's birth was, I believe, the leader of the Hayden and Handel (or vice versa) Society. He is just a cute piglet in the pictures on the Web site, but each year, in the photos that almost always graced Sy and Howard's Christmas cards, you could see him growing toward his full magnificence. At top weight, he was about 650 pounds, I think, but that pig could dance like Fred Astaire. Okay, I exaggerate, but he could move like Barry Sanders in the open field. He was a muse, and a pal for Howard and Sy, who also sheltered a border collie named Tess who'd been abused as a puppy and had once bad leg, but could really soar for a frisbee. (She's featured in the slide show on the Web site.) Like a lot of border collies, she was also given to trying to "herd" small children, which was kind of comic when my sons were younger.

Tess and Chris died within a few months of each other, and that was a sad time. I'm eager to read the book, and renew my acquaintance.

Read an interview with Sy here. The interviewer never asked her if she made stupendous pies. So I would just like to put that on the record.

An excellent sermon

The Rev. Tobias S. Haller preached this sermon not long ago. It includes the following nugget, and is definitely worth your attention if you are confused about the role of the Bible in the Anglican tradition--and even if you are not:

"So, Anglicans found themselves poised in the middle of this triangle of extreme views. In particular, we found a middle point between the Roman tendency to require belief in things you couldn’t find in Scripture, and the Puritan tendency to forbid anything that couldn’t be proved by Scripture.

We came up with the wonderful word sufficient: the belief that God has a purpose for Scripture — and that purpose is salvation. That is what Scripture is for: to lead us into God’s way, God’s truth, and ultimately, God’s life. The most important teachings in Scripture aren’t the things that you could find out by common sense, and without the church’s help, such as that theft and murder are wrong. The truly important supernatural teaching of Scripture is that God created us, and in Christ has redeemed us, and that we are capable of becoming children of God through the grace of God.

So the Anglicans denied the church power to require anything to be believed as essential to salvation if it could not be proved from the Scripture. And at the same time held that the church did have the authority to allow things about which Scripture was silent, as long as they worked for the good of the church and the people ..."

More elevated discourse from the Episcopal right

Have a look at this cartoon, which has been posted on the blog of a general convention deputy who will no doubt wonder why people have a hard time taking him seriously when he arrives in Columbus.

Gay rights: bad. Global warming: not our fault

Sebastian Mallaby of The Washington Post has written a column today on Al Gore's new movie about global warming. It says in part:

"Republican dishonesty reaches its extreme on the issue of global warming. Yes, climate science is complex, and nobody can forecast the earth's temperature with complete confidence. But the fact that scientists don't know everything isn't a license to ignore what they do know: that the earth is warming, glaciers are melting and sea levels are rising at an accelerating pace -- and that these changes are driven at least partly by fossil-fuel consumption. The U.S. National Academies have confirmed this; their foreign counterparts have confirmed this; and so has the world's top authority on the subject, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change . None of this is controversial.

"Except among Republicans. Candidate Bush acknowledged that climate change was a problem; once elected he denied it; then he denied the denial but refused to let his administration do anything about climate. Lately he has talked about ridding the nation of its oil addiction, but that's because oil finances Arab extremism. Bush has been silent on the link between oil and global warming."

I mention this not because I am a crusading environmentalist. (It is on my list, but not on the first page.) But because it gives me a chance to point out something that won't be news to people who have read our series "Following the money: Donors and activists on the Anglican right." One of the major financial backers of the disinformation campaign on global warming is Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., a major backer of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the American Anglican Council and various British groups working to expel the Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion for ordaining an openly gay bishop and allow its priests to bless same-sex relationships.

Covenants, tiers, etc.

If you read my earlier entry "Against Anxiety," you may be interested to know that the "blueprint" for a two-tiered covenant that Jonathan Petre of the Daily Telegraph in London rather too mysteriously referred to in his story on recent developments in the Communion is now online.

And Geoffrey Cameron, deputy secretary general of the communion has written a letter to the editor responding to Petre's story which includes this nugget:

"The potential for a covenant arrangement to entail a difference between those who might wish to sign and those who might not is recognised as a complication, and consideration of this challenge will have to form part of that exploration.

That is a long way indeed from saying that the Communion is preparing for a two-tier approach and further still from saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury backs it."

I haven't read "The Proposal for an Anglican Covenant," yet, so I've got nothing to say about it. But I encourage knowledgeable readers to weigh in.

Visibility

This Washington Post story is a classic example of the chicken and egg game that reporters and media relations folks like myself play all the time. The headline says the religious left is gaining "visibility." But visibility is largely the media's to bestow or withhold. So today the religious left is more visible in Washington than it was yesterday in large measure because the Washington Post has said so. So the headline could easily read: We write about religious left.

Don't get me wrong. I am delighted that they have written this story.

(I think that in leaving out the role that the leaders of the mainline Protestant denominations played in the campaign that almost derailed last year's morally repugnant and profoundly anti-Christian federal budget, they missed the one instance so far in which religious leaders with the ability to speak directly to people in the pews--as opposed to those who can only get their message out through the media--actually came close to accomplishing something. But that is another story. Or, actually, a non-story, since stories aren't stories until they are written. Which brings me full circle.)

Where was I? Oh, yeah. I am delighted that they wrote this story, but it is a prime example of those peculiar cases in which it is hard to tell whether they media is discerning a trend, or creating one. It wouldn't be at all surprising if, on the heels of this Post story leaders of the religious left found themselves receiving more invitations to appear on talk shows, ahd an easier time getting op-eds published, etc. This wouldn't be because the religious left was measurably more visible in our society--the folks who book talk shows don't have the time to do that sort of reporting--it would be because the religious left was more visible in the media. (The religious right has benefitted from this dynamic for two decades. It also benefits from the media's perception that the religious right has the power ot make things happen --Washington journalism is always in some way about power-- whereas the religious left does not.)

Anyway, as the religious left gains more "visibility" I think we can expect conservatives to attempt to diminish whatever influence the left might gain by decrying the intrusion of sectarian values into our political life. Sort of like decrying gluttony after you've spent twenty years as the only person at the banquet.

Partners in Prejudice

This searing attack on Dr. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, appeared today on The Guardian's blog site.

Peter Tatchell writes:

"With the full blessing of the Anglican Church of Nigeria and its leader, Archbishop Peter Akinola, the Nigerian government has begun legislating one of the world's most repressive anti-gay laws.

"The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, leader of the global Anglican communion, has declined to criticise this church-endorsed homophobic persecution. Instead he embraces Akinola and the Nigerian church, appeasing their prejudice in the name of Anglican unity."

and:

"Dr Williams would not appease a racist or anti-semitic cleric. Why is he appeasing a boastful homophobe like Archbishop Akinola?

"The leader of the Anglican communion wants church unity at any price, apparently even at the price of betraying gay people. He would, it seems, rather unite with a self-proclaimed persecutor than with the victims of homophobic persecution.

"When it comes to the fate of queers, the sermon on the mount cuts little ice with the archbishop: he prefers to curry favour with modern-day pharisees. For gays and lesbians, especially gay and lesbian Christians, Dr Williams is a huge disappointment. He is a good man who has lost his conscience."

and:

"In contrast to Dr Williams's sad abandonment of gay people, Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane of Washington DC has courageously spoken out against the victimisation of lesbians and gay men by the Nigerian government and condemned the cruel sermonising of Akinola and the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

Bishop Chane's support for the human rights of gay Nigerians accords with a gospel of love and compassion, while Akinola's homophobia embodies only hatred and ignorance."

Against anxiety

A potentially anxiety-producing story has appeared in today Daily Telegraph in London and is now whizzing about on the internet.

(Friday afternoon update: the estimable Steve Waring, news editor of the Living Church has a story that, demystifies the Telegraph, piece, and makes it look rather shoddy in the process. Steve accomplished through solid reporting what I labored to do below. And he used far fewer words!)

The Telegraph piece begins:

“An audacious plan to save the worldwide Anglican Church by allowing it to divide into two tracks, one fast and the other slow, is being backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

The proposals, which have parallels with the idea of a two-speed European Union, could permit liberals from North America to push ahead with divisive reforms such as homosexual bishops without destroying the Church.

But they could also allow conservatives from Africa and Asia to form an influential inner core that would edge out the liberals from positions of power and reduce them to a second-class status.

The blueprint, which has been seen by The Daily Telegraph, was drawn up by senior advisers and approved by Dr Williams and Church leaders at a private meeting in March.”

Obviously, we don’t relish the idea of becoming second class citizens in the Communion. And it would, of course, be a matter of interest whether, were we to become second class citizens, we would still be expected (and willing) to pay 30 percent of the Communion’s bills while first-class citizens continue to contribute percentages in the low whole numbers. But let’s put that aside for the moment and look if we can at the story within the story, and then at the story behind the story.

The story within the story:

The “blueprint”, Jonathan Petre writes, “is expected to form the basis of a ‘covenant’ aimed at averting future crises.”

Okay. But we’ve known since the publication of the Windsor Report that proposals for a covenant would be coming down the pike. This is one of them. Petre says that the archbishop “backs” it. But the story quotes no sources, not even anonymous ones. (Say what you will about the mainstream U. S. media, but I can’t remember the last time I read an article that contained no attribution whatsoever.) So it is very difficult to know whether Williams’ “backing” consists of his thinking it is among the ideas worth considering, thinking it is worth floating as a trial balloon or thinking that at last he has found the one and only way forward.

We’d do well to keep our anxiety on a short leash, until the archbishop’s attitude is clearer.

According to Petre the blueprint was “drawn up by senior advisers and approved by Dr Williams and Church leaders at a private meeting in March.” This is a peculiar bit of phrasing, and it oversells the significance of the story. The Archbishop of Canterbury has no power to “approve” anything on behalf of the Anglican Communion. (Nor does he claim to have it.) Neither do he and the unnamed “Church leaders” have the authority to accept the blueprint on behalf of the Church of England. So what is portrayed here as, at the very least, a quasi-official action was, at the very most, a group of high ranking church folks saying that the plan they just looked at was worth further effort.

Another curious thing about the story is that while it predicts the marginalization of liberals unwilling to sign the covenant, it gives no hint of what is actually in the covenant. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that may be because the covenant does not exist.

I think this story tells us two things that anybody who has been following our saga already knew: 1) that the development of an Anglican covenant will force the Churches that make up the Communion to decide whether they will sign it or not; 2) that Churches that do not sign will face some kind of diminishment in their relationship with Churches that do.

These facts will be with us for as long as it takes to draft and approve this covenant, or until the effort is abandoned.

Now for the story behind the story:

I’ve got no inside information on how this article ended up in the paper. But I can offer a few thoughts on how to read stories like this one in the lead-up to our General Convention next month, and to the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

Leaders facing situations like the one Rowan Williams faces now frequently find it helpful to float trial balloons as a means of gauging public reaction. Trial balloons are either floated by anonymous sources, or by surrogates. If the trial balloon sails smoothly, the leader embraces it. If it hits heavy weather, the story quickly disappears, and only a small amount of harm is done. I initially thought this story was a trial balloon, but since it doesn’t actually offer much in the way of news, I am no longer certain about that. What exactly is being tested?

In this instance, it may make more sense to focus on Petre rather than Williams. He’s seen a document that Ruth Gledhill of The Times and Stephen Bates of The Guardian, the other pillars of the religion beat in the U. K. may not have seen. It does provide some new information about what a post-covenant Communion might look like, and that’s worth putting out there. But if you write a story that says: here is a potentially interesting development in the Windsor process, that isn’t going to play as well as a story that implies that Rowan Williams has endorsed a plan under which Western liberals will reduce themselves to second-class citizenship in the Communion.

In addition, writing the story in this way makes Western liberals nervous. I am not implying that is Petre’s intent. But every story and every quote in every story about our Church and Communion these days has to be read with the intent of the writer or speaker, or (in this instance) leaker in mind.

So, for example, if I were a conservative Episcopal media relations person, and I hoped that the Church would further alienate itself from the Communion, my twin goals would be: a) to paint the Episcopal Church as unreasonable to the rest of the Communion (a gay bishop from California would have been enormously helpful in this regard) and b) to persuade Episcopalians—especially liberal Episcopalians—that no matter how our Church responds to the Windsor Report (short of a big fat hug and a kiss on the cheek—which is not within the realm of possibility) the Communion will find it wanting, and make its future membership in the Communion a series of slights and humiliations. Stories like today’s offering in the Telegraph do this nicely. (This isn’t to say it was planted for this purpose. I don’t know that. But if it was planted, it was nice work.)

I’d pursue the second of these goals because if I were interested in marginalizing the Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion, the greatest gift that General Convention could give me is the rejection of the Special Commission’s resolutions made in response to the Windsor Report. And the surest way to sink those resolutions is to persuade liberals that remaining within the Communion isn’t worth the cost.

(Please note: I am not expressing an opinion on the merits of the Special Commission resolutions, or, for that matter, on the merits of membership in the Communion. I’m just trying to help people interpret the various ways that people of my dubious ilk attempt to influence the debate in which we are now engaged.)

I’ve gone on longer about this than I had planned. But I sensed a lot of anxiety out there this morning, and I am not sure it is well-founded.

A lay Catholic magazine looks in on our "crisis"

I have yet to read this essay in Commonweal, a lay Catholic magazine, but it has been recommended to me by a number of people whose opinions I value. The author, Barry Jay Seltser, belongs to an Episcopal parish in this area, but I must admit that his name was new to me.

Here's a taste:

One of the most attractive and intriguing aspects of the Episcopal Church is its faith that a democratic religious community that locates control in the individual or the parish can still remain faithful to an ancient tradition of creedal orthodoxy and discipleship. It is not surprising that such a community is likely to be more contentious, disordered, and ambiguous than one with clearer lines of authority or arbiters of orthodoxy. Whether democracy and creedal orthodoxy are compatible is now being sorely tested, and there is much at stake for other religious communities in the outcome.

Archbishop Ndungane to retire in 2008

The Anglican Communion News Service has the story. He is a close friend of our diocese, and while we will miss his leadership, this may mean we will get to see a bit more of him. Some of our earlier conversations about the archbishop are here.

Here's another take on the archbishop from the libertarian Cato Institute.

Panty waist. One word, or two?

The Associated Press moved a story last night by Rachel Zoll about the "tone" of the debate in the Episcopal Church over human sexuality, and whether new communications technology has contributed to a general decline in civility. You can find it here.

A few excerpts:

"Kendall Harmon has to monitor his blog these days, so he can delete insults and offensive language from the comments section.

His topic: the Episcopal Church, a member of the worldwide Anglican communion.

As a critical church meeting nears over homosexuality, the debate online and in public comments has grown so intense that one publication has dubbed it ``blood sport.''

'I think people are dreading possible outcomes and when you're dealing with the unknown, fear kicks in in a big way,'' said Harmon, a minister and conservative leader in the diocese of South Carolina. 'And I do think things are more polarized now.' " ...

Here is my favorite part:

'A conservative group called Lay Episcopalians for the Anglican Communion is pressing for a church trial of Robinson and the dozens of bishops who consecrated him. A spokesman for the advocates, James Ince, said his group was engaged in 'a fight to the death of our church.' ' The debate is becoming more direct and truthful, not harsh, he said.

``You can expect the liberals not to appreciate the clear, straight language from lay organizations because they're used to this goody goody two-shoes pantywaist stuff,'' Ince said.

(I want to thank Mr. Ince for making folks on his side of the debate in our Church sound more extreme than I could ever hope to.)

And finally:

"Perhaps the most inflammatory commentary can be found on the website virtueonline, where founder David Virtue offers his own and others' traditionalist views in ways that even some fellow conservatives find offensive. For example, Virtue refers to one of the church's first openly gay priests as the `irst Sodomite.' Virtue caused an uproar at the 2003 general convention when he published last-minute claims of impropriety against Robinson that bishops quickly deemed baseless."

One last editorial comment: I don't think, and the story doesn't imply, that Kendall Harmon indulges in the rheotrical self-indulgence dear to Ince, Virtue and lately, Dean Paul Zahl of the Trinity School of Ministry, whom one assumed would know better. Few people work as hard as he does to keep the debate civil.

I guess while I am on this topic I should say that I think argument--vigorous, respectful argument--is an essential tool in finding our way forward as a Church. I don't think we should shy away from that sort of "fight" for lack of a better word. I just wish there was a referee who could help us keep it clean. I should also mention that I am also quoted in this story, but if you visit the blog much you already know what I think, so I didn't reproduce those parts.

The Da Vinci Exception

My resolve regarding The Da Vinci Code is faltering. I was going to refrain from writing about it--partly on the grounds that I wasn't that interested in it, and partly because the world already knows way too much about it. But who can resist a story like this one from The Boston Globe?

It includes this nugget:

Michael McGowan, an albino who heads the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation, said "The Da Vinci Code" will be the 68th movie since 1960 to feature an evil albino.

"Is Teen Sex Bad?"

Why, yes. Yes it is.

The Washington Post poses the question quoted above in what I found to be a disappointingly superficial special issue of its health section. It isn't so much what is in the issue that bothers me. It's what isn't.

Reporter Elizabeth Agnvall surveys the public health data, she compares attitudes toward teen sexuality in several deveoped nations, and she provides decent tips for parents. She righfully points out that American teens receive mixed messages about sex: "No, no, no," from many churches. "Yes, yes, yes," or at least "Wink, wink, nudge, nudge," from the culture at large. And she suggests, perhaps plausibly, that the resulting confusion may have something to do with the fact that while "levels of teen sexual activity look remarkably similar here and abroad," the U. S. has among the highest rates of "teen pregnancy, childbirth, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases" among industrialized nations.

So far, so good. But there is little discussion about the emotional impact of teen sexual activity, nothing said about the effect of such activity on one's attitudes towards one's self, one's partner or one's future partners. There is no discussion of whether one can diminish or damage the gift of one's sexuality through precocious experience. There's also nothing that deals with moral issues of when, with whom and under what circumstances the profound, complex act of mutual self-giving --with all its generative and destructive potential--should take place.

These are not strictly health section issues, but the headline asks "Is Teen Sex Bad?" not "Is Teen Sex Healthy?" I hope the Post takes another pass at this issue, perhaps on its religion pages where the conversation might have greater depth.

Robin Hood in Reverse

From the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

Did you know that just two months ago the President and Congress cut $39 billion dollars from education, health care for senior citizens and those with disabilities, child support and support for the working poor from last year's federal budget?

Now, leaders in the House of Representatives want to cut an additional $10 Billion from programs serving the working poor, children, and the elderly as well as environmental protections from the fiscal year 2007 budget. These cuts will not be used for deficit reduction but to offset a portion of the tax cuts recently passed and defense spending increases.

In March, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and other Christian leaders wrote to the House Budget Committee their concerns regarding the President's FY 07 federal budget: "As people of faith we must speak with and for the most vulnerable as their voices are least often heard in the corridors of Washington ... We call upon our government to eliminate the inequities in its federal budget and instead act to pass a budget that meets the moral test of serving 'the common good.'"

Your help is needed TODAY! Please e-mail your Representative and urge him/her to oppose the FY 2007 Budget Resolution. Congress may consider this budget this week!

"T-Bomb" Zahl goes boom again

Perhaps you remember the diplomatic and understated commentary that Dean Paul Zahl of the Trinity Episcopal School of Ministry offered on the eve of the episcopal election in California when he likened the possible election of a gay candidate to the detonation of a terrorist bomb.

I thought maybe he was just having a bad day, had let a remark slip that he later came to regret (if privately.) Anyone who speaks regularly to the press has had this happen.

But, no.

In his latest missive to the Trinity community he describes those with whom he is in theolgoical disagreement as "Brown shirts" and warns against "this menace over our heads, which is the gay-agenda steamroller."

This is a reckless way to talk. If one's opponents really are terrorists and facists, then one is justified in employing fairly drastic, even lethal measures against them. T-bomb needs to curb his violent tongue before someone gets hurt.

Blogging the Bible

Regular visitors to this blog will remember that during Lent we made our way through the Gospel of Mark. Well, Slate is going us one better with a new feature called Blogging the Bible: What happens when an ignoramus reads the Good Book.

The author, David Plotz, writes:

"My goal is pretty simple. I want to find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based. I think I'm in the same position as many other lazy but faithful people (Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus). I love Judaism; I love (most of) the lessons it has taught me about how to live in the world; and yet I realized I am fundamentally ignorant about its foundation, its essential document. So, what will happen if I approach my Bible empty, unmediated by teachers or rabbis or parents? What will delight and horrify me? How will the Bible relate to the religion I practice, and the lessons I thought I learned in synagogue and Hebrew School?

I'll spend the next few weeks (or months) finding out. I'll begin with "in the beginning" and see how far I get. My wife, struck by my new Biblical obsession, gave me a wonderful Torah translation and commentary for Hannukah, the Etz Hayim, which was prepared by conservative Jewish scholars. I'll read that and dip into the King James and other translations on occasion. (But I'll avoid most commentary, since the whole point is to read the Bible fresh.) I'm sure I'll repeat obvious points made by thousands of Biblical commentators before; I'll misunderstand some passages and distort others—hey, that'll be part of the fun. I hope you'll tell me how I've screwed up by e-mailing me at plotzd@slate.com."

I encourage you to join in the conversation if you are so moved.

Air America takes on the campaign against mainline Churches

One of the frustration of people whose generally liberal political views are shaped by their faith, is the the difficulty we have had in getting secular liberals to understand what we were up to and to collaborate with us when the issues permit.

I am glad to say that Air America, the liberal radio network, has begun a program devoted to progressive faith communities, and gladder to say that this Sunday, the program will be exploring an issue that has been a hot topic in the Diocese of Washington, and on this blog. (If you haven't read the Following the Money series, give it a look.)

Here's the release:

This Sunday, May 21, on the national radio show State of Belief, Rev. Welton Gaddy exposes the coordinated effort to undermine mainline Protestantism -- and render America's largest denomination incapable of standing up to right wing politics.

In conjunction with the website Talk to Action, State of Belief takes an unprecedented look into the takeover of America’s churches, revealing the ugly truths, personal experiences, and exhaustive research of four leaders:

Dr. Bruce Prescott, Executive Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, is, like Welton, a veteran of the purges that marked the conservative takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. The strategy, says Prescott, is to keep mainstream denominations in turmoil over wedge issues such as gay marriage, so that conservative leaders can be free to achieve their political and religious goals.

Dr. John Dorhauer, minister for the St. Louis Association of the United Churches of Christ, has seen congregations around him descend into in-fighting, provoked by right-wing propaganda. Dorhauer explains, “What the politically motivated achieve is the silence of the religious conscience voice that has historically led this country....If you take out the 45 million people that are represented by the National Council of Churches, you are going to hollow out one of the cores of our nation's democracy.”

Dr. Andrew Weaver, a United Methodist pastor and research psychologist, has traced the campaign against mainline Protestantism largely to the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a think-tank funded by uber-conservative industrialists such as Richard Mellon Scaife and the Adolph Coors family. Weaver says that the IRD and so-called religious “renewal” groups are funneling money in "a systematic effort to undermine mainline churches that still have democratic, transparent processes." The problem in countering these efforts, he says, is that "All of these traditions have niceness at the core; while we've been thinking it's touch football, they've been playing tackle."

Welton offers listeners a wake-up call: "The Southern Baptist Convention was lost not because of those trying to take it over, but because of people arguing that it wasn't a big deal."

This issue has never before been discussed on national radio, and continues State of Belief’s focus on how religion is being manipulated for partisan political purposes. It may stun listeners – and it is sure to inspire Protestant congregations to reclaim their role as a positive and much needed healing force in our nation. State of Belief: religion and radio, done differently.

State of Belief is heard nationwide on Air America Radio on Sundays from 5 to 6 PM EST. Information about affiliates, listening live via the internet, or podcasting can be found at www.StateofBelief.com.

Much more information on this issue, including the research and writings of Welton’s three guests, can be found at the website Talk to Action.

Da Vinci Defecit

A couple of months ago, I was intensely interested in how the Da Vinci Code was being marketed, and the various strategic maneuvers of Opus Dei, which is portrayed negatively in the film, and Sony, which was trying to co-opt possible Christian opposition, by offering people a public forum in which to debunk the book.

But as the release date (Friday) approaches, I find that I just don't care enough about the movie, or whatever reaction it will inspire. The case against this silly, disingenuous story has been made so often and so well that I don't feel that I have anything additional to contribute. And my hunch is that there is very little danger that any thinking person will leave the theater and say, "That's it. I am leaving the Church."

I would be really tickled, though, if the new X Men (X Characters?) movie, which my 11-year-old is anticipating with Christmas-Morning/Birthday-party caliber delight, were to beat it out at the box office.

If you need a Da Vinci fix that I haven't provided, visit religionheadlines.org where you will find no fewer than 9 stories from various papers, magazines and television shows.

If an alarm bell rings in the forest...

I rise today to testify that it is awfully difficult to get Episcopalians excited about evangelism. We are, after all, a Church that in 2003 allocated $750,000 for a national ad campaign. That's about 1/10th of what would be required to do the job well. And, to demonstrate our cluelessness, we've decided to increase the amount requested in 2006 by a smidegen, but devote the increase to studying the effectiveness of the hilariously underfunded initial effort.

Because our Church is struggling to hold itself together due to our differences over the role of gay Christians, we sometimes have trouble admitting and addressing problems that don't stem entirely from the current controversy. Our gradual loss of membership is one such problem. (Yes, some people have left the Church because of the current controversy, but that's a small part of the story.)

I was delighted, then, to visit Anglicans Online today and find them talking good sense. As follows:

Every province of the Anglican Communion will differ in how well it attracts and retains young people, but it's obvious that first-world countries are losing the battle. Statistics drawn from the Anglican Church in Australia, the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church in the USA we suspect would be much the same and the differences likely to be uninteresting. Whilst we in the church continue our global and often embarrassing bun fights about sexuality, how much creative energy and thought have we spent looking hard at the issue of handing down to our children the Communion we're so desperately fighting for?

"It's easy to see, based on numbers alone, that in a generation the church as we have known it won't be able to exist as it has. The buildings and the budgets, the salaries and stipends simply won't be supportable, balanced, and paid. The people who remain in the pews won't be able to carry on the infrastructure; it will be financially impossible. This isn't a speculative doom-and-gloom forecast; it's simply looking at the numbers and projecting forward. Of course there will be some young people who come into the church once they're married and have children of their own. But these, we suspect, will mostly be those who had some connection with the church in their childhood.

There is no doubt much good thinking about this critical issue, whether in individual parishes or dioceses. But we're not aware of any Anglican Communion summit-level activity tackling this issue, which we might crudely call 'passing on the brand'. If we believe that Anglican Christianity is the fullest expression of Christianity — and if we don't, why are we Anglican? — we must do better at bringing our children into it."

Have a look at the whole piece, and then come on back to talk about it.

The Deadwood Promos on HBO

Have all you "Soparanos" fans out there seen the new commercials for Deadwood? What do you make of them?

For those who don't watch HBO on Sunday nights, these ads feature the various characters of the gold rush boom town of Deadwood, South Dakota reciting verses of Scripture as they go about their business or turn dramatically toward the camera. The first of these commercials took the Beatitudes as its text; the second took 1 Corinthians 12 on the unity of the body.

I gather that if you watch the show, you get a deeper appreciatiion of why character X is reciting verse Y. But I don't watch it, and I still think the commercials are pretty compelling. The shots are perfectly framed, and each character reads with quiet intensity.

These spots have led me to wonder why we in the Church haven't attempted to present the Bible to the world in similiarly innovative ways.

I've hunted around a bit for a link to these spots, but come up empty. If anybody has one, please let me know.

A friend in South Africa

Say it this way:

Njohn-gone-coo-lou. In-dun-gone-ay

Njongonkulu Ndungane.

He is the prophetic Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of the Church of South Africa. I've been lucky enough to spend some time with him on his visits to our dicoese and to Virginia Theological Seminary. The Religion News Service provides the most recent account of his leadership, and that gives me the opportunity to point you toward some of our own stories about the special relationship between him and Bishop John Chane, and between his province and the Diocese of Washington. Many of our parishes have immersed themselves in this work, and we've been able to accomplish some good things together.

To find out more, visit edow.org and type Ndungane or "South Africa" into the search function.

Miss Manners for Episcopalians

Jeff Weiss, of The Dallas Morning News, one of the top religion reporters in the country, has some pereceptive things to say in his weekly newsletter about the episcopal election last week in the Diocese of California.

The diocese, as you probably know elected a HETEROSEXUAL MALE as its next bishop. Weiss focuses on the response of the American Anglican Council:

So the Californians overwhelmingly approve Rev. Mark Andrus. How did the conservative American Anglican Council respond? Would you guess that the group’s statement:

A) Graciously congratulated the Californians on a wise selection, suggesting it might indicate a way to bring the various factions together.

B) Gloated a bit about how the Californians took the conservatives’ advice and offered some additional pointed suggestions.

C) Condemned the Californians for not being conservative enough and hinted that this election could result in further splintering.

Exactly. Here are some key quotes:

“How will activists respond to the fact that a diocese which has for years been a bastion of amorphous Christianity and aggressive revisionism chose a white, heterosexual, Southern male as bishop? Did the diocese succumb to reported pressure from the national Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), including Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, to avoid electing a partnered homosexual? Is such pressure in fact part of a coordinated strategy intended to mislead the Communion?

“…Moving slowly with caution is not stopping, and ECUSA is practicing a theology contrary to Scripture, Anglican doctrine, and 2,000 years of Christian teaching. The life and practice of ECUSA clearly illustrates its commitment to a new gospel despite claims and protestations to the contrary.”

Sez I: The only thing worse than a bad loser is a bad winner.

I’ll grant that the California election was hardly a slam-dunk for the conservatives. The Rev. Andrus agreed with the consecration of Bishop Robinson. But surely there was way for the AAC to find a hint of graciousness? Whether or not it’s good theology, it’s good manners .

Fight cuts in anti-poverty funding

Have a look at this letter from the Episcopal Public Polcy Network, and if it moves you to take action, consider becoming a member.

Dear Jim,

The US international affairs budget line funds critical poverty-focused development assistance including critical programs such as basic education, HIV/AIDS relief, emergency-food assistance and long term economic-development initiatives like micro-credit.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee announced that it plans to slash the President’s already insufficient budget request for international affairs by more than 10 percent. We need your help to make sure the Senate doesn’t cut this crucial budget as well.

A 10% cut would mean deep reductions in poverty-focused development assistance and life-saving programs. These programs are vital if the world is to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

It’s not too late to make a difference. The Senate is still considering its allocations for international affairs. A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sens. Mike DeWine (R-OH), Rick Santorum (R-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is working to insure that support for poverty-focused development assistance is maintained at least at the level proposed in President Bush’s budget. Please e-mail your Senators today and urge them to hold the line on funding for poverty-related development assistance.

EPPN
110 Maryland Ave., N.E. #309, Washington, D.C. 20002
1-800-228-0515, (202) 547-7300,
On the Web: www.episcopalchurch.org/eppn
Email: eppn@episcopalchurch.org

In the case of Darfur v. Cruise, Jocko and the Runaway Bride

... the television networks find for the celebrities.

Just in case you were wondering whether television news executives thought you were a shallow individual obsessed by trivial concerns, The St. Petersburg Times provides decisive evidence: They do.

Reporter Susan Taylor Martin's story begins:

As a measure of what the broadcast and cable news networks consider important, here’s how many segments they devoted last June to the runaway bride, Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise: 8,303.

Here’s how many they devoted to the crisis in Darfur, Sudan, that has killed at least 180,000 people: 126.

''There is a discounting of African lives that is complex, but what it comes down to is that the people of Darfur are poor, black, Muslim and don’t sit over any valuable natural resources,’’ said Eric Reeves, a Smith College expert on Sudan. “You can’t get any poorer than that geopolitically.’’

To the paper's credit, the story doesn't remain fixated on the imbecility of television news (fish in a barrel) but explains why it is in American's self-interest to be concerned about crises in distant lands.

Says Edward Kissi of the University of Soth Flordia: “It is very imperative — and practical — for the American people to do what they can to encourage their government and Arab governments to stem a tide of what is likely to be a very serous refugee inflow to the United States or other parts of the world.’’

After Somalia, another country in Africa’s eastern “horn,’’ descended into civil war and chaos in 1991, Minnesota, Maine and other states absorbed an estimated 40,000 Somali refugees. Critics say they have put a serious strain on schools, housing and social services.

(My thanks to FaithStreams for pointing this one out.)

Our friend Walter

Walter P. Calahan, who shot the moving Labyrinth photo essay in the spirituality section of our Web site has a new home page on which he displays some top notch work. Take a look when you can spend some time.

An injection of prayer

This Washington Post headline sure conjures up an odd image:
House Injects Prayer Into Defense Bill
The story concerns language in a defense authorization bill that was amended to include language that would allow chaplains to use Jesus' name prayers offered at public military ceremonies.

"Focus on the Family, the Christian Coalition and other evangelical Christian groups have lobbied vigorously against the Air Force and Navy rules, urging President Bush to issue an executive order guaranteeing the right of chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus under any circumstances. Because the White House has not acted, sympathetic members of Congress stepped in.

"We felt there needed to be a clarification" of the rules "because there is political correctness creeping into the chaplains corps," said Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.). "I don't understand anyone being opposed to a chaplain having the freedom to pray to God in the way his conscience calls him to pray."

Among the provision's opponents is the chief of Navy chaplains, Rear Adm. Louis V. Iasiello, a Roman Catholic priest.

"The language ignores and negates the primary duties of the chaplain to support the religious needs of the entire crew" and "will, in the end, marginalize chaplains and degrade their use and effectiveness," Iasiello wrote in a letter to a committee member."

The National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces and the Anti-Defamation League don't care for the language either.

The Diocese of Washington is home to the National Cathedral, which functions both as an Episcopal Church and what its charter refers to as a "great church for national purposes," we deal with the issue of public prayer in interfaith settings on a fairly regular basis. It can be done well, but it can't be done easily. The three monotheistic faiths have a common ancestor (Abraham), and were born in the same part of the world, so there is some language available that e is inclusive (for lack of a better word) without being so generic, as to render the prayer meaningless. But when you move beyond monotheism to other faith traditions, the sledding gets tougher, and the destination becomes increasingly ambiguous.

So I have some sympathy with people who say "If I can't name my God in my prayer, it isn't worth praying." But that doesn't lead me to argue for faith specific public prayer--which I think is unconstitutional. Rather, it leads me to ask whether it is worth offering communal prayer in multi-faith settings.

Apostle of Prosperity

The Interreligious Theological Center, a consortium of six predominantly black seminaries in Georgia, has chosen a controversial commencement speaker according to John Blake's story in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

Bishop Eddie Long "preaches what is known as prosperity gospel, that God rewards the faithful with financial success. He declared in a 2005 interview that Jesus wasn't poor. In 2003 Long told a meeting of civil rights veterans in Atlanta that blacks must "forget racism" because they had already reached the promised land," Blake writes.

"In 2004 Long led a march — while carrying a torch lit at King's crypt — where he called for a constitutional ban on gay marriage."

His invitation has caused theologian James Cone, who was to receive an honorary degree, to boycott the ceremony.

"Cone is a King scholar whose influential books argue that Jesus identified with the poor and the oppressed, not the prosperous," Blake writes. "A professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, he is considered the intellectual mentor for a generation of black pastors who came of age in the post-civil rights era.

He won't attend the commencement, he said, because he doesn't want to appear to condone Long's ministry.

"King devoted his life to the least of these," Cone said. "King could have been just like Bishop Long with all the millions he has, but he chose to die poor. He would not use his own message or his own movement to promote himself."

In a written statement, Long said he was a "firm supporter" of the seminary's mission and was honored by the invitation.

"Free speech, spirited debate and dialogue are the hallmarks of all great institutions of higher learning," Long said in the statement.

Leaving aside the political issues that undergird this dust-up, let me ask if anybody out there, liberal or conservative, thinks the "prosperity gospel" has an ounce of legitimacy.

Virtual Apocalypse

Here is an LA Times story that really gives me the willies. The video gaming industry has found God.

Dawn C. Chmielewski reports from the Electronic Entertainment Expo that the creators of video games are trying to reach a Christian audience by giving gamers an opportunity to do all the horrible stuff you can do in Grand Theft Auto, but do it in the name of God.

"One game, "Left Behind: Eternal Forces," which debuts today at the expo, features plenty of biblical smiting, albeit with high-tech weaponry as players battle the forces of the Antichrist in a smoldering world approaching Armageddon.

The creators hope the game packs enough action to appeal to a generation of kids reared on such titles as "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and subtly coax them to consider their own spirituality....

The game is based on the best-selling series of "Left Behind" books, which offer an account of the end times as predicted in the biblical book of Revelation. One of the series' authors, Tim LaHaye, said the game had the potential to communicate ideas such as salvation to people who might not think of themselves as particularly interested.

'We hope teenagers like the game,' LaHaye said. "Our real goal is to have no one left behind."

But critics counter that, in an effort to make Christian games appealing, developers such as Lyndon and Frichner are doing little more than putting a religious veneer on the same violent fare."

A valid criticism. But what bothers me more is the possibility that kids who play these games might abosrb the warped theology of LeHaye, and begin thinking that they are competent to pass judgement and mete out punishment on God's behalf.

Non-religious parents who take their kids to church

From the Health section of The Washington Post comes this story of non-religious parents who expose their children to religion(s) in search of potential psychological benefits.

Reporter Stacy Weiner writes:

"Such parents may seek the sense of community or emotional security they hope religion will provide their kids; they may want a sense of purpose or tradition; and they may be looking for ethical or spiritual influences to mold their children's lives. For some, a religious education simply means giving their kids a better shot at understanding a cultural force that they consider both powerful and pervasive.

Whatever the reasons, nonreligious parents may face a number of humbling questions. Are they willing to trade sleepy Sundays for 10 a.m. services? Is it a good idea to start down a spiritual path when their hearts aren't in it? And what should they say if their 4-year-old looks up at them wide-eyed and asks if there really is a God?"

I am ambivalent about the enterprise she describes. Our churches are open to everyone from the devout to the uncertain to the unbeliever with kids in tow. If you feel attracted to our communities, maybe you will gradually become interested in the things we believe and the God that we worship. And as the communications director for the diocese, part of my job is to get people through the door. So I am happy to see them, no matter why they have come.

That said, I am not sure you get any "benefits" at all out of religion unless you actually believe in something deeply enough that it informs everything about you, including the functioning of your autonomic nervous system. And I admit to a low level of irritation with people who regard the church as just another facet of the personal services industry, or another of the many "resources" they can deploy in their creation of the perfectly balanced child. The point I think these folks miss is that faith is not about self-improvement. It is about self-transcendence.

But please, if you are vaguely interested in the Episcopal Church, for you or your children, visit the Diocese of Washington's Find a Church page or the Find a Church page of the Episcopal Church

Archbishop Eames to retire

Robin Eames is retiring. He chaired the commission that produced the WIndsor Report, and a previous commission tht dealt with fissures in the Communion over women's ordination. He is an extremely skillful diplomat, and I am not sure that the Communion has anyone of his skill or stature waiting in the wings to fulfill his essential role as mediator and facilitator.

Press Releases from the Church of Ireland

The Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland and Metropolitan, the Most Revd Dr Robin Eames, has announced his intention to retire later this year.

His intentions have been conveyed to the General Synod of the Church of Ireland. The decision will take effect on 31 December 2006.

Dr Eames, who is 69, has been a bishop for 31 years and was appointed as Archbishop of Armagh in 1986. He is also today the senior primate in the Anglican Communion.

Dr Eames will continue to carry out all the duties and responsibilities of the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland as normal until December 31st.

The impending anti-climax?

The election of Bishop Mark Andrus, whose heterosexuality was worthy of headlines on Reuters and in The Los Angeles Times raises an interesting possibility. It may be, that just maybe, our General Convention in Columbus next month will be anti-climactic.

We won't be voting on the confirmation of a gay bishop. So the media will focus on our response to the Windsor Report. (If the Presiding Bishop announced that he had discovered a cure for cancer, the media would focus on the Windsor Report. In fact, at this point, if Frank Griswold does discover a cure for cancer, it will still be the second thing mentioned about him in his obituary.) A special commission, formed by the PB and Dean George Werner, president of the House of Deputies, has put forth 11 resolutions that embody this response. I think these will be vigorously debated, and perhaps amended. And while I think some people will vote for them with an utter lack of enthusiasm, I think it is at least possible that they will pass more or less as offered.

And then, having gone as far as we can go in good conscience, we will wait and see whether the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leaders of other key provinces in the Anglican Communion think that we have gone far enough.

Having said this, I should add that it is entirely possible that there is so much free-floating anxiety in our Church and in the Communion right now that it will have to attach itself to something, and that some issue or bit of phrasing, currently hiding in plain sight, will become the focal point for a clash of great passion but little inherent significance.

The news from California: it's Andrus

The Diocese of California hasn't elected a bishop yet, but I think it is safe to say that it will not choose one of the gay candidates. On the first ballot, Mark Andrus the suffrgan bishop of Alabama got 45 percent of the clergy vote and 24 percent of the lay vote. Eugene Sutton, canon pastor of Washington National Cathedral got 40 percent of the lay vote and 16 percent of the clergy vote. No one else is close.


Update: The Rt. Rev. Mark Andrus, suffragan bishop of Alabama, has been elected the next bishop of California on the third ballot.

Meet your next Presiding Bishop

You can listen to taped interviews with the candidates for Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church here, thanks to the communications ministry of Trinity Church, Wall Street. Give a listen, then let your diocesan deputation to the General Convention know what you think.

An election today

The Diocese of California will elect its next bishop today. I am not in a position to make a prediction, but I can pass on what I have heard from several observers with no horse in the race, dog in the fight, etc.

During the public forums, Mark Andrus, the suffragan bishop of Alabama and Eugene Sutton, canon pastor at Washington National Cathedral seemed to perform best. Or so I am told. For what it is worth, etc.

Neither of these gentleman is gay. I don't think leaders of gay organizations like the Rev. John Kirkley of Oasis California and the Rev. Susan Russell of Integrity were kidding when they said that they hope the voters in California will elect the candidate who seems the best fit for their diocese.

It may be that after all is said and done the sexual orientation of the candidates will have played an extremely small role in the outcome of this election.

The restult of the first ballot should be online by about 10:45 Pacific time. You can follow the returns (if you are a serious church junkie!) here.

A piece of the action

I don't know if this is a sign of the impending apocalypse or just highly amusing, but there is an online gambling site accepting bets on the outcome of the episcopal election in California. You can bet on individual candidates, but you can also wager on whether the winner will be gay or straight. My firewall keeps blocking access to the site here at work, so I am not going to give out the address for fear it will cause you computer problems. But I thought this little moment in our Church's history should not pass without comment.

Oh, Canada!

The Anglican Communion is increasingly defined not as those who are in communion with Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, but those who are cowed by Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria. Even Time Magazine, is under Akinola's sway. They've recently named him one of hte world's 100 most influential people. I don't quarrel with the choice, I quarrel with the accompanying article, which fails to mention that Akinola is currently supporting legislation in Nigeria that curtails basic civil rights of gays and lesbians. The law has been criticized by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. Even the raving leftwingers of the U. S. State Department have expressed concern. But thus far, from within the Anglican Communion, we've heard almost nothing, beyond Bishop Chane's Feb. 26, op-ed piece in The Washington Post.

Now, finally, some Anglican bishops have spoken up. The Anglican Communion News Service has the story.

"Niagara Falls, Ont., May 4, 2006 - Canada's Anglican bishops unanimously endorsed a motion expressing "grave concern" about proposed legislation in Nigeria that "would prohibit or severely restrict the freedom of speech, association, expression and assembly of gay and lesbian persons." Their motion also called criticized the (Anglican) Church of Nigeria for its support of the legislation.

The legislation is inconsistent with the United Nations' International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the bishops said in their motion, which was passed at their spring meeting held April 22-27. They said they were "especially grieved" by the support for the legislation given by the Church of Nigeria, noting that the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops called upon churches to "listen to the experience of homosexual persons."

The proposed laws, said the bishops, "criminalize civil and religious same-sex marriage as well as the public and private expression of same-sex affection, all public affiliation between gay persons and even publicity, public support and media reporting of the same." The proposals "would make the very act of listening to homosexual persons impossible."

In unusually strong language, the bishops said they "disassociate" themselves from the actions of the Church of Nigeria and called upon Anglicans around the world to listen to and respect the human rights of gay people."

Paul Zahl, terrorist

The headline you've just read is irresponsible. Terrorism, as we know, takes lives. It shatters bodies, families and societies. When you call someone a terrorist you are, effectively, calling that person a mass murderer. When you use a phrase like "terrorist bomb," you conjure up images of torn limbs, devastated bodies, blood, lots of blood. It is not a metaphor one should use lightly.

Consider then, the conversation that Zahl, dean of the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry near Pittsburgh had recenlty with Associated Press reporter Kim Curtis about the upcoming episcopal election in Califormia. In this conversation, he likened the possible election of a gay bishop to "a terrorist bomb, which is timed to destroy a peace process."

Why do you suppose he thinks it is okay to talk this way?

Update 5/5 The Human Rights Campaign has called on Zahl to apolgize. The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, has done likewise:

"Paul Zahl's comments comparing the election of a gay bishop to a 'terrorist bomb’ is hate speech that has no place in any faith-based discourse. Such language does nothing to advance our public discourse, does everything to further polarize and alienate and is antithetical to the love God calls us all to offer each other. I call for Dean Zahl to apologize for this incendiary rhetoric that attacks not only gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people but the very fabric of our historic faith in the Jesus who called us be peacemakers and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”

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