Presbyterians restore gay man to ordained status

In the news this morning is an article reporting on actions of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities:

"Minnesota Presbyterians have voted to restore the ordination of an openly gay man who has refused to pledge celibacy, the latest test of revamped pastoral guidelines in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Paul Capetz, a seminary professor, asked to be removed from ministry in 2000 after the PCUSA voted to require that ministers be married to a member of the opposite sex or remain celibate.

But changes made in 2006 to the Presbyterians' Book of Order allow candidates for ordination to declare a conscientious objection to church rules. Local presbyteries, or governing bodies, then must decide whether the objection 'constitutes a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity.'

On Saturday (Jan. 26), the Presbytery of the Twin Cities voted that Capetz' objection, or 'scruple,' did not violate the 'essentials' and restored his ordination as a minister of word and sacrament.

...Capetz told the Minnesota presbytery that he would follow the pastoral guidelines on sex if the church allowed gay and lesbian couples to marry, saying 'if that were the case, I would have no difficulty abiding by the standard of chastity in singles and fidelity and marriage.'"

Read the rest here.

NFL says no big screen Superbowl parties in churches

The NFL has moved this year to stop church congregations from showing the game in their sanctuaries. The Washington Post has an article that describes the effect the enforcement is having in local congregations.

From the article:

"The Super Bowl, the most secular of American holidays, has long been popular among churches. With parties, prayer and Christian DVDs replacing the occasionally racy halftime shows, churches use the event as a way to reach members, and potential new members, in a non-churchlike atmosphere.

'It takes people who are not coming frequently, or who have fallen away, and shows them that the church can still have some fun,' said the Rev. Thomas Omholt, senior pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in the District. Omholt has hosted a Super Bowl party for young adults in his home for 20 years. 'We can be a little less formal.'

The NFL said, however, that the copyright law on its games is long-standing and the language read at the end of each game is well known: 'This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited.'

The league bans public exhibitions of its games on TV sets or screens larger than 55 inches because smaller sets limit the audience size. The section of federal copyright law giving the NFL protection over the content of its programming exempts sports bars, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

[...]Large Super Bowl gatherings around big-screen sets outside of homes shrink TV ratings and can affect advertising revenue, McCarthy said. "We have no objection to churches and others hosting Super Bowl parties as long as they . . . show the game on a television of the type commonly used at home," he said. "It is a matter of copyright law."

The same policy applies to all NFL games and to movie theaters, large halls and other venues with big-screen TVs, he said."

Read the rest here.

Carter supports reconciliation

Former President Jimmy Carter has enthusiastically embraced the goals of an upcoming "New Baptist Covenant" conference in Atlanta which has the goal of reconciling various branches of baptist congregations. The conference is intended to be a unified response to the removal from the Southern Baptist Convention of many of the groups over recent years.

According to the report:

"[Carter] believes it reflects a desire for unity across racial, theological and political lines and an end to their internal divisions.

'For the first time in more than 160 years, we are convening a major gathering of Baptists throughout an entire continent, without any threat to our unity caused by differences of our race or politics or geography or the legalistic interpretation of Scripture,' declared Carter.

Up to 20,000 Baptists are registered for the gathering, called the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, in Atlanta, Georgia. There are representatives of some 30 organisations representing 20 million believers in the Baptist tradition.

'We do a bold and glorious thing: we attempt to express the oneness which was our Lord's desire for his people,' declared William Shaw, president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, one of the four prominent African-American Baptists conventions participating in the meeting."

Read the rest here.

Anglicans take Kunonga to court

Updated Friday evening

There are new reports from Zimbabwe on the developing controversy in the Diocese of Harare:

"The High Court of Zimbabwe will tomorrow hear an application by the Anglican church authorities over the ‘unbecoming’ behaviour of ousted bishop for Harare Diocese, Nolbert Kunonga who is alleged to be defying a High Court ruling ordering him not to interfere with church services.

The application, which comes two weeks after High Court Judge Rita Makarau ordered Kunonga not to interfere with church services conducted by acting bishop Sebastian Bakare at the church’s Cathedral of Saint Mary and All Saints in Harare, was filed by the church secretary, Reverend Christopher Tapera on behalf of the church.

Squabbles in the Harare Diocese of the Anglican Church started in September last year when Kunonga unilaterally attempted to withdraw the Harare Diocese from the Central Africa Province on allegations that the province did not openly criticize the appointment of gays into priesthood.

Court papers indicate that on January 20 Kunonga, who was in the company of one Reverend Munyanyi, disrupted services at the cathedral in flagrant violation of Makarau’s order."

Read the rest here.

For more background on the situation you can see previous stories on the Lead here and here.

The ordination of Kunonga's successor and rival Sebastian Bakare is scheduled for this weekend according to news reports.

Friday evening update

The High Court has ruled that Kunonga's diocese "does not exist." As reported by the Zimbabwe Independent

"Applicant (Kunonga's Harare Diocese) cannot exist outside the constitution of first respondent (CPCA [Church of the Province of Central Africa]). It has no separate constitution of its own. It, therefore, has no structures of its own other than those set out in the constitution," Hungwe ruled. "The assets under contention are assets which respondent lays claim to. The question of ownership of these assets is not presently before me."

Hungwe said it was clear to him that Kunonga's diocese was nowhere "near demonstrating that it has placed itself within the purview of those who confess to be Anglicans and who abide by the constitution" of their church.

"There is no claim that there was resolution of the synod of the diocese adopting this alleged breakaway (by Kunonga)," the judge ruled. He said Kunonga by breaking away from the CPCA violated the constitution of the church.

Read it all.

New chaplain for Her Majesty

Queen Elizabeth II has appointed a number of royal chaplains during her reign. Her recent appointment of the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin is slightly different though than many of her previous choices:

"Jamaica-born, Rose, as she is know to her parishioners, regards her recent appointment to the roster of scarlet-robed royal chaplains serving the monarch as a great honor for the people of her parish and herself, but says she will not be changing her style of preaching.

'One of the things I am passionate about is that we belong to one another and that we should not allow cultural differences to become a hindrance to finding a way to connect. I shall want to bring an awareness to others of the lives of the people I serve at Holy Trinity, Dalston and All Saints, Haggerston [in the district of Hackney],' Hudson-Wilkin told Ecumenical News International.

..On the issue of homosexuality, she is typically forthright. 'We are playing games to our detriment,' she said. 'There are much more important problems to be concerned about than homosexuality. Look at what is happening in Kenya and Zimbabwe and with child soldiers and AIDS. This is where our prayers should be and our attention directed to what we can do.'"

Read the rest here.

Super Fun Stoles!

It's Friday night and fans everywhere are getting ready for the big event this weekend. While most of us understand that event to be the Last Sunday in Epiphany, some people here in the United States seem to think that there's a football game that might overshadow our Sunday worship.

But, not be willing to give ground, some of our clergy have taken matters into their own hands and have tried to find a way to make via media statement of their own this weekend.

Ann Fontaine's blog has more information, and some interesting reasons for these particular vestments.

Religious right not on the march

Writing in Prospect magazine, Michael Lind sets out to debunk "three ubiquitous myths" of American decline:

Anyone who reads the serious press about the condition of the US might be excused for believing that the country is headed towards a series of deep crises. This impression is exacerbated by economic slowdown and by the presidential primaries, in which candidates announce bold plans to rescue the country from disaster. But even in more normal times there are three ubiquitous myths about America that make the country seem weaker and more chaotic than it really is. The first myth, which is mainly a conservative one, is that racial and ethnic rivalries are tearing America apart. The second myth, which is mainly a liberal one, is that America will soon be overwhelmed by religious fundamentalists. The third myth, an economic one beloved of centrists, is that the retirement of the baby boomers will bankrupt the country because of runaway social security entitlement costs.

America does, of course, have many problems, such as spiralling healthcare costs and a decline in social mobility. Yet the truth is that apart from the temporary frictions caused by current immigration from Latin America, the US is more integrated than ever. Racial and cultural diversity is in long-term decline, as a result of the success of the melting pot in merging groups through assimilation and intermarriage—and many of the country's infamous social pathologies, from violent crime to teenage drug use, are also seeing improvements. Americans are far more religious than Europeans, but the "religious right" is concentrated among white southern Protestants. And there is no genuine long-term entitlement problem in the US. The US suffers from healthcare cost inflation, a problem that will be solved one way or another in the near future, long before it cripples the economy as a whole. And the long-term costs of social security, America's public pension programme, could be met by moderate benefit cuts or a moderate growth in the US government share of GDP. With a linguistically united, increasingly racially mixed supermajority and a solvent system of middle-class entitlements, the US will remain first among equals for generations to come, even in a multipolar world with several great powers.

Read it all.

Sydney's six are skipping Lambeth

Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney has released the following statement:

‘With regret, the Archbishop and Bishops of the Diocese of Sydney have decided not to attend the Lambeth Conference in July. They remain fully committed to the Anglican Communion, to which they continue to belong, but sense that attending the Conference at this time will not help heal its divisions. They continue to pray for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference.’

There are six bishops in the diocese including Jensen.

Jensen and his allies have attempted to create the impression, that Jensen speaks for more bishops than he does, a pretense that was helpfully punctured by the Bishop of Newcastle. In disassociating himself from a rival conference (GAFCON) which Jensen is organizing, the Rt. Rev. Brian Farran, said:

It needs to be understood that Dr. Jensen is an organizer of this conference in his own personal capacity or possibly in his capacity as the Bishop of the Diocese of Sydney. It must be seen that Dr. Jensen has no authorization to do this as the Metropolitan of the Anglican Province of New South Wales. (Editor's note: there are seven dioceses in the province.) I am not suggesting that Dr.Jensen would act in this way as the Metropolitan of New South Wales but public perception might not be discriminating in this regard. As the Bishop of Newcastle I wish to dissociate myself from any movement such as GAFCON that might damage or lessen the moral authority of the 2008 Lambeth Conference.

(Emphasis added.)

Farran's statement is here.

Is "Lost" spiritual?

The folks at Beliefnet have created a gallery to Lost's twelve most "spiritual" moments. But does the show have an identifiable spiritual stance, or do its writers, in true post-modern fashion, use whatever motifs are out there to keep their narrative humming along? The character John Locke, for instance, is frequently described as a man of faith. But what exactly is it that he believes in?

It is possible to be a fan of the show without buying into its New Age-y spiritual vibe.

Meanwhile, for those who haven't followed the show in the past, but are roaming the television wasteland during the writers' strike, Entertainment Weekly proves quick summaries of previous episodes.

New bishop for Rochester

[ENS] The Rev. Dr. Prince Singh was elected February 2 to be the next bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester (http://www.rochesterepiscopaldiocese.org).

Singh, 45, rector of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Oakland/Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, in the Diocese of Newark, was elected on the second ballot from a slate of five candidates. An election on that ballot required 75 votes in the lay order and 33 votes in the clergy order. Singh was elected with 77 lay votes and 35 clergy votes.

Singh will succeed Bishop Jack McKelvey, who has spent the past eight years as bishop of Rochester. Prior to being called to Rochester, McKelvey had spent eight years as bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Newark. McKelvey will retire in this spring and Singh is due to be
consecrated May 31 at the Eastman Theater at the University of Rochester.

Singh was ordained a priest in the Church of South India (http://www.csichurch.com) (CSI) in 1990. CSI was inaugurated in 1947 by the union of the South India United Church (itself a union of Congregational and Presbyterian/Reformed traditions), the southern Anglican diocese of the Church of India, Burma, Ceylon, and the Methodist Church in South India. It is one of the four United Churches in the Anglican Communion.

After serving congregations in rural south India, in the Diocese of New Jersey and elsewhere in the Diocese of Newark, Singh was called to St. Alban's in 2000.

Post-partisan Episcopalians?

In a recent column, Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post raised a question about the Democratic Party that is also relevant to liberal Episcopalians:

One of the most interesting contrasts between last year's State of the Union address and this year's has nothing to do with President Bush. It involves the transformed tone of the Democratic response, from partisan lion to post-partisan lamb.

And this, in turn, reflects a schism in Democratic thinking -- to what extent to be the party of fighters and to what extent the party of Kumbaya -- that is being played out most prominently in the presidential race.

Last year's Democratic response came from Jim Webb, the newly elected, perennially pugnacious senator from Virginia. A former Reagan administration official turned populist, antiwar Democrat, Webb's most recent book, about the Scottish-Irish influence on America, was "Born Fighting." His speech lived up to type.

Webb invoked the memory of Teddy Roosevelt taking on the robber barons and Dwight Eisenhower ending the Korean War: "These presidents took the right kind of action, for the benefit of the American people and for the health of our relations around the world. Tonight we are calling on this president to take similar action, in both areas. If he does, we will join him. If he does not, we will be showing him the way."

Flash forward to Monday night. For a brash male senator speaking from Washington, substitute a soothing female governor, Kansan Kathleen Sebelius, speaking from the heartland. Both Webb and Sebelius were new faces, from purple (Virginia) and red (Kansas) states, but their messages could not have been more different.

Seated in front of a flickering fire, with a colorful spray of flowers beside her, Sebelius was assertively post-partisan -- so much so that some Democratic lawmakers grumbled afterward that there was not enough mention of their accomplishments.

"I'm a Democrat, but tonight, it really doesn't matter whether you think of yourself as a Democrat or a Republican or an independent. Or none of the above," Sebelius began. "In this time, normally reserved for the partisan response, I hope to offer you something more -- an American response." Instead of Webb's bellicose challenge to lead or step aside, Sebelius's message was more accommodating: "Join us, Mr. President." Americans, she said, "aren't afraid to face difficult choices. But we have no more patience for divisive politics."

(The rest is here.)

How should liberals respond to the facts that the long-predicted global schism seems to be shrinking, and that key conservative priests in the dioceses of San Joaquin and Pittsburgh are deserting their schismatic bishops is an open quesiton. One can simultaneously delight in the fact that increasing numbers of conservative Episcopalians are choosing to remain in the Church, while worrying that in certain dioceses, this might mean that gays and women will continue to be marginalized, and diocesan leaders will continue to work with groups such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy to destabilize the church.

A new Evangelical agenda?

Sarah Posner writes The Fundamentalist for The American Prospect's Web site. In her most recent dispatch, she tackled a hot recent topic: are the political goals of the evangelical movement in flux?

Last week, Beliefnet released the results of its new online poll which showed that although evangelical voters remain largely conservative, issues at the top of their agenda are increasingly aligned with those at the top of the progressive agenda. Although the poll was not scientific, its results reflect what many see as the changing face of the evangelical movement.

While a majority of self-described evangelicals said they remain committed to the Christian right leadership, they're recognizing the need to address issues like global warming, poverty, and torture. Most Christian right leaders have resisted this change, but they've yet to see a significant backlash from their constituents. The religious right leadership remains well-funded, well-organized, and committed to the same core issues from which they will not budge. And even evangelicals touted as "new" or "less conservative" remain committed to some of those core issues as well.

Read it all.

PBS on Wilberforce

February 23, 2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the British Parliment's vote to ban the slave trade. But the recognition of William Wilberforce, who lead an often lonely campaign to end the slave trade is not over. This month PBS stations will air The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce.

Christianity Today gives it a favorable review:

A year ago, February 23, 2007, marked the 200th anniversary of the short Parliamentarian's tall triumph, with the passage of a bill banning the slave trade. That same day, the film Amazing Grace released to theaters, and there has been no shortage of Wilberforce-ian resources in the past year.

What has been missing is that middle-ground vehicle: the public television documentary. A biopic like Amazing Grace is an excellent medium to give audiences access to the emotions of great people and the most dramatic moments of their history. . . . But such films almost demand that the filmmakers play down the complexity of the history and rearrange the details in order to maximize the drama.

For those not yet ready to invest their time in reading a full-length biography, an hour-long documentary, airing throughout February on public television, is just the right bridge to better understanding.

The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce does well what television documentaries do. It presents the basic facts of Wilberforce's dramatic life in a calm and orderly fashion, illustrates them with historical images, fleshes out the story with interviews with experts, and grounds it with a basso profundo narration (provided by Avery Brooks, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Captain Benjamin Sisko).

The interviews feature the authors of popular Wilberforce biographies—Kevin Belmonte, Eric Metaxas, John Pollock—and other founts of Wilberforce lore, including Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and David Isherwood, rector of the church in Clapham where Wilberforce and his friends found spiritual sustenance.

Unlike many accounts, this documentary emphasizes the importance of Wilberforce's circle of friends--and his Christian faith--in this battle:

Wilberforce's network of friends illustrates the complexity of his story. When people speak reverently of Wilberforce's legendary persistence, they create an image of a solitary hero standing against insuperable odds. But WW's perseverance and his multitude of other achievements were due in large part to his circle of intimates. The Better Hour points out his particular talent was for networking, an ability commonly found in effective politicians. Wilberforce's theater was the House of Commons, where he provided leadership to a group of about 30 members. There he acted his very public part in the drama of suppressing the slave trade. His friends were no less gifted, but many displayed their talents on other stages: Hannah More, the gifted playwright and poet, being a prime example.

. . .

Likewise, little reform would have happened without faith in God. The Better Hour makes this clear in many ways, from the role faith played in launching Wilberforce into the long struggle, to the supportive role it played for him and his network of friends, to the sustaining power of faith for the slaves themselves. This is one story in which religion—Christian faith—plays a natural and positive role throughout.

Read the full review here. The official website for the documentary is here.

New translation of Psalms

In The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary Robert Alter has published a new translation of the Book of Psalms that attempts to offer a translation that is truer to the original Hebrew. Why do we need a new translation? As Adam Kirch argues in a New Republic book review, most English translations of the Psalms take a distinctively Christian point of view that distorts the original meaning of the Psalms:

This assumption was crucial to the way King James's committee of scholars, and subsequent Christian translators, turned the Psalms into English. It guided their decisions about how to render many Hebrew terms: if the Psalms were essentially a Christian text, then it was not just legitimate but imperative to employ the Christian theological vocabulary of sin and soul and salvation. And that vocabulary, which for English readers became the very language of the Psalms, itself sanctioned the belief that the Psalmist thought in Christian concepts. Take Psalm 2, verse 7, which reads, in the King James Version: "I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." Elsewhere in the Psalm it is clear that the speaker of this line is a king of Israel, and that the divine power he claims is simply the ability to defeat his foes in battle: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Yet the text virtually insists that we take the "Son" to be Jesus Christ: not only is the noun capitalized, so is the pronoun, and the word "begotten" comes straight out of the Nicene Creed ("I believe ... in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God").

The translators' work of Christianizing the Psalms was not always so blatant. In Psalm 23, possibly the best known of all the King James versions, the third verse begins, "He restoreth my soul." Inevitably the phrase makes us think of resurrection, and it retroactively turns the Psalmist's imagery of "green pastures" and "still waters" into metaphors for heaven. By the time we reach the end of the poem--"and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever"--it is impossible to read "for ever" as meaning anything but "eternally," in the time-without-end of the redeemed soul.

One of the tasks that Robert Alter undertakes in his extraordinary new translation of the Psalms is to undo this Christian orientation. As he writes in his introduction, he has deliberately set out to evacuate the covert theological assumptions of the Authorized Version: "the pointed absence of 'soul' and 'salvation,'" as Alter notes, are only the most obvious signs of this program. It extends even to capitalization, as can be seen in Alter's version of Psalm 2. Where the King James Version has "Thou art my Son," leaving no doubt that the second person belongs to the Second Person of the Trinity, Alter has "You are My son," restricting the honorific capital to the speaker, God. Again, in Psalm 23, in place of "He restoreth my soul," Alter's version reads "My life He brings back": "the Hebrew nefesh," Alter explains of the noun at issue, "does not mean 'soul' but 'life breath' or 'life.'" In the same poem, Alter's Psalmist concludes by asking to live in the house of the Lord not "for ever" but "for many long days"--the true meaning of the Hebrew l'orech yamim. "The viewpoint of the poem," his note explains, "is in and of the here and now and is in no way eschatological."

The combined effect of these changes is to remove the Psalms from the Christian drama of sin and redemption, and to situate them firmly in this world. This does not mean that Alter's Psalms automatically become a more Jewish text--a point worth emphasizing, because the equation of Christianity with the transcendent and Judaism with the immanent is an old and frequently unpleasant trope of Christian apologetics.

The result of his new transaltion, according to Alter, is that the Psalms better reflect the "warrior culture" prevalent throughtout the Psalms:

It is good to have an English version of the Psalms that is liberated from this sort of interpretation. For the fact is that Alter's systematic return to the original Hebrew text leaves his Psalms estranged from the ethical language of both Judaism and Christianity. "We are all accustomed to think of Psalms, justifiably, as a religious book," he writes, "but its religious character is not the same as that of the Christian and Jewish traditions that variously evolved over the centuries after the Bible." Instead of looking forward to their "fulfillment" in some messianic antitype, Alter's Psalms look backward--to the warrior culture that produced them, obsessed with honor, shame, and revenge; and even to the polytheistic Canaanite mythology that lurked in the background of Israelite religion.

Read the entire review here.

Love Life Live Lent

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York are using Facebook, MySpace and other social networking websites as a means of making Lent meaningful for the faithful. Ruth Gledhill of the Times gives the details:

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have joined forces to tell Anglicans to get down on their knees – and polish their neighbour’s shoes.

Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu are backing a church Facebook group urging members to find time in their busy lives to complete 50 actions over the seven weeks of Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday next week. The aim is “to help you become a better neighbour and transform your world for the better”. Actions include polishing someone’s shoes on Maundy Thursday, a reference to Jesus’s washing of the feet of His Disciples; making someone laugh; and leaving a thank-you note for the postman.

Most are deemed “appropriate for those of all faiths or none”.

The Facebook group, Love Life Live Lent, appears today along with sites on MySpace and the photo-sharing website Flickr, in the Church of England’s first significant entry into online social networking. It is hoped that members of the networks will upload photos of themselves doing the Lent actions.

Bloggers will help to spread the word through cyberspace. They include the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, and Dave Walker, of the CartoonChurch website and blog.

Dr Sentamu, who will be giving up all alcohol for Lent when he adopts a 40-day vegan diet, told The Times: “Lent is a time for sober reflection but that doesn’t mean being dour. These actions help people to think globally and act locally, to broaden their world-view and to be good neighbours.

Read it all here. the Facebook group can be found here. The offical website for the project is here.

Gomez cites covenant progress

Ruth Gledhill writes:

The Anglican archbishop in charge of drawing up the document intended to reunite his warring church said he believes that schism can still be averted in spite of divisions over the issue of homosexuals.

The Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Rev Drexel Gomez, said that a new formula had been found that would allow the disciplining of errant churches while respecting the traditional autonomy of the 38 worldwide Anglican provinces. Urging all Anglican bishops to attend the Lambeth Conference this year, he said that it would be a “tremendous tragedy” if the Church fell apart.

A new document to be published this week would form “a basic way of holding each other accountable as a Communion”, he said. But he indicated that the Episcopal Church of the United States was unlikely to face discipline or any form of exclusion from the Anglican Communion as a result of consecrating Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Read it all.

Separation of church and politics

Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Jeff E. Schapiro has some pointed observations about the intervention of the Virginia Attorney General's office into the property dispute between the Diocese of Virginia and churches from CANA:

McDonnell's entry in the church case, intentionally or not, may have a political dimension: He is a devout Catholic, highly regarded by religious conservatives on whom his Republican gubernatorial ambitions could depend.

Perhaps that is making for closer scrutiny of McDonnell's arguments.

For example, the Episcopal Church's lawyers, in their response to his motion to intervene, noted that the attorney general's office under his predecessor, a fellow Republican, questioned the constitutionality of the church-division law and urged caution in state action.

That was three years ago, when the General Assembly was considering revising protocols for dividing church property if a congregation secedes.

Mainstream churches branded it a breach of the separation of church and state. The bill died quietly. But its demise would augur a discomfiting aspect of the current struggle: that religion can be taken very personally, no matter what one does.

The senator who wrote the controversial 2005 measure is now McDonnell's chief deputy.

Bill Mims also was a member of a breakaway Episcopal parish in Loudoun County, though it is not a direct party to the Fairfax suit. Since moving here, Mims, a prospect for the Virginia Supreme Court, has joined a Presbyterian church.

The suspicions of Episcopal Church lawyers notwithstanding, Mims is steering clear of the Fairfax case. You will not find his name on the paperwork. He has had no contact with lawyers on either side. Mims also is not commenting.


Read it all here.

Chicago consecration sends clear message on gay clergy

The Chicago Tribune reports Chicago's new bishop, Jeffrey Lee, and the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori sent a clear message about where they stand on gay clergy and on the issues facing the Episcopal Church.

Wrapping up a five-day tour in honor of Jeffrey Lee, the new Chicago bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori declared that the American church will not stand alone in its support of gay clergy during an international meeting in July in Lambeth, England.

"Many more [bishops] than you might expect are sympathetic," Jefferts Schori, the presiding Episcopal bishop, told parishioners at St. Nicholas Church in Elk Grove Village. "They are not, however, the loudest voices."

At his installation at the Cathedral, Lee reminded the congregation of their call to ministry by virtue of their baptism, not their liberal or conservative interpretations of Scripture.

That's one of the tragedies afflicting the church right now," he said. "So many of us seem to think that salvation depends on our theological correctness.

The Rev. Alex Seabrook, 82, who was ordained in 1954 and attended the service at St. Nicholas to watch the presiding bishop baptize twins said:

I've seen the church of the past. The whole service today was the church of the future.

Read it all here.

Tent city praised

Camp Quixote, a tent city for homeless residents that began illegally on city property but now is celebrated by city leaders, marked its first anniversary Friday, February 1, according to The Olympian.

The camp is a "safe place to stay after losing a 23-year marriage," said Ani Otto, one of three residents who were part of the original camp.

It started on a city lot near State and Columbia streets as a protest of the city's then-new Pedestrian Interference Ordinance, which prohibits sitting on portions of downtown sidewalks.

Olympia police evicted the camp, and it moved to property owned by Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation, followed by United Churches of Olympia, St. John's Episcopal Church, First United Methodist Church and First Christian.


Read it all here.

For more on the Tent City movement read here and how to get involved here.

In other news of churches reaching out to the homeless comes this story of a Whittier, California Coalition and the development of a shelter and programs:

Gilbert said the inspiration for the shelter came when he and other students were sitting in a Quaker meeting on the Whittier College campus, and a homeless man burst in on the meeting asking for help.

"That just got me thinking," Gilbert said. "That really affected me profoundly."

So, Gilbert and his friends found support in the Whittier Area Ecumenical Council, and several churches agreed to help host a

shelter during winter months.

The churches decided that the shelter would rotate to different locations on a weekly basis, and a few supervisors would always be on hand for safety's sake.

Bea Comini, a parishioner at St. Matthias Episcopal Church, was one of the first church volunteers to sign on to the project

"What a testament to the spirit of this town, that they're willing to put church buildings and church volunteers into use in such a way," Gilbert said. "It's hard and it's basically thankless, but it's also important and critical."

In the years since Gilbert and his friends helped start the shelter and staff it overnight, many changes have been made. Now, churches in the area partner with the local mosque and synagogue.

Read it here.

Millennials: Losing my religion?

In USA Today Stephen Prothero writes:

For the past two years, I have asked students in my introductory religion courses at Boston University to get together in groups and invent their own religions. They present their religious creations to their classmates, and then everyone votes (with fake money in a makeshift offering plate) for the new religions they like best. This assignment encourages students to reflect on what separates "winners" and "losers" in America's freewheeling spiritual marketplace. It also yields intriguing data regarding what sort of religious beliefs and practices young people love and hate.

... my students' "dogma aversion" (as one put it) goes liberal Protestantism one further. These young people aren't just allergic to dogma. They are allergic to divinity and even heaven. In the religions of their imagining, God is an afterthought at best. And the afterlife is, as one of my students told me, "on the back burner."

What about established religion and tradition?

In their final exam this past semester, I asked my students to reflect on whether young Americans are the canaries in the mines of more traditional religions. Study after study has shown that American college students are fleeing from organized religion to mix-and-match spirituality. So what will happen to what one of my students referred to as the "religions of discipline" when this millennial generation (born in the late 1970s through the 1990s ) grows up? What will today's youth do with religions whose ethical injunctions arrive as strict commandments rather than friendly suggestions? Will they be able to abide religions that divide the human family into the saved and the damned, that present as absolute truth what they suspect is mere speculation?

My students' projects suggest that traditional religions are in trouble. Of course, these young people might eventually see the light. Who cares about heaven or hell when there is a party to go to and a hot young thing eager to meet you there? But after college, after your children are born and your parents die and your body grows old, traditional religions might look more appealing.

Read it all here.

Making the case

Tobias Haller continues to do heavy lifting in graceful prose. His case for a positive view of same-sex relationships, informed by Scripture, tradition and reason, has now grown to nine parts, the most recent of which are here, and here.

The ninth part concludes:

The legal code of Deuteronomy is book-ended with citations that indicate its contents derive from God: These are the statutes and ordinances that you must diligently observe in the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has given you to occupy all the days that you live on the earth... Moses and the elders of Israel charged all the people as follows: Keep the entire commandment that I am commanding you today. (Deuteronomy 12:1; 27:1) The same sort of general description applies in Leviticus, which often takes of the refrain of the need to keep all of the statutes and ordinances delivered by Moses. (Lev 20:22, 25:18)

Yet Jesus clearly distinguished between these collections of Law and the commandments of the Decalogue: when the young man asked him how he might inherit eternal life, Jesus cited only Decalogue commandments. (Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20 — though in Matthew’s version at 19:19 he added the Law on love of neighbor from Leviticus 19:18).

I by no means wish to suggest that because Jesus emphasized the Decalogue over the other laws, and set aside a number of the latter laws explicitly (more on this below) that all of these laws are no longer to be observed. I am merely observing here that this places these laws in a category in which we are able to review them for their applicability, in keeping with the general principle which Jesus affirmed as his own touchstone for moral action: loving one’s neighbor as oneself. This is the explicit conclusion reached in Jesus’ discussion with the lawyers concerning what is most important in the Law. (Luke 10:27-28; Mark 12:33-34)

As a bonus, have a look at Tobias' take on recent developments regarding the proposed Anglican covenant, which may see the light of day on Ash Wednesday.

Diocese of Northern California files lawsuit to regain church property

The Diocese of Northern California and Bishop Barry Beisner have filed a lawsuit to regain church property in Petaluma, California. In a press release issued February 4, the bishop states that although the diocese has been negotiating with the breakaway parish the former leaders have filed name and status changes leaving the diocese with no other option:

"Please let me underline that the former leaders of the parish took the first steps in bringing this into the legal system by filing to change the name and status of the parish with the State of California. We are calling upon legitimate civil authority to assist us in undoing the effect of a legal action already taken by fellow Christians, and taken in disregard for this Church's willingness to seek reconciliation, with the help of God."

HT to Susan Russell.

The complete press release follows:

Read more »

Thanks a million

Some time along about noon yesterday, the Episcopal Café received its one millionth visit since opening for business in late April, 2007. Just a day earlier, we reached 2.5 million “page views.” Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who visits the site, especially those of you who drop by daily to keep up with the news here on The Lead, read the essays on Daily Episcopalian appreciate the art and perhaps spend a little time in meditation.

We hope you will journey with us through Lent.

Special thanks to our contributors and our partners, Episcopal Church in the Visual Arts and Trinity Television and New Media which supplies our weekly video clip. And congratulations to our Facebook group, which reached 300 members yesterday.

You can support the work of the Café by contributing to the Diocese of Washington's annual Bishop's Appeal.

Bishop of Liverpool apologizes for opposing gay priest

The Guardian, UK reports Bishop James Jones apologizes for his role in objecting to the appointment of gay cleric Jeffrey Johns as a bishop. His essay published today also is a plea for making space to hold the conversations with gays and lesbians around issues of homosexuality requested by the last Lambeth Conference. Riazat Butt writing for The Guardian says:

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev James Jones, a conservative evangelical, expressed the views in a book, A Fallible Church, in which he apologised for objecting to the appointment of the gay cleric Dr Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading. He was one of nine bishops to sign a public letter criticising the proposed consecration.

The bishop also apologised for his conduct and its effect on John, who eventually withdrew his acceptance of the post after bowing to pressure.

Jones said: 'I deeply regret this episode in our common life. I still believe it was unwise to try to take us to a place that evidently did not command the broad support of the Church of England but I am sorry for the way I opposed it and I am sorry too for adding to the pain and distress of Dr John and his partner.'

He called for Anglicans to 'acknowledge the authoritative biblical examples of love between two people of the same gender most notably in the relationship of Jesus and his beloved [John] and David and Jonathan'.

He believes these cross-cultural discussions take place best between those who have already established working relationships. Describing the Anglican Communion relationships like a plate of spaghetti rather than an organizational chart in his essay he writes:

It is better to deal with difficult ethical and doctrinal questions – in this case, sexuality – in a conversation between people who already know, trust and respect each other than through megaphone diplomacy between strangers across the oceans. The historic partnerships within the Anglican Communion can offer a different context for the debate about homosexuality where there can be a genuine dialogue between people whose mutual trust and affection protect them from jumping too soon to conclusions and keep them in conversation because a long time ago they learned to think the best and not the worst of each other.

Urging others to engage one another and refrain from lobbing sound bytes at one another Bishop Jones writes:

The description in John’s Gospel of Jesus “full of grace and truth” presents us with a person who created space around himself for others to “see the Kingdom of God”. He was neither truthless in his grace, nor graceless in his truth. I fear that in our debates with each other and with the world especially on the subject of homosexuality we have come over as graceless.

The bishop's change of heart has come through conversation with Anglican partnerships in the United States and Africa and through a report The Theology of Friendship. This report looks at same-sex relationships in the Bible such as David and Jonathan and Jesus and John. It delves into the Hebrew and Greek words used to describe these relationships and their intimacy. Jones writes:

The Theology of Friendship Report took me in particular to the relationship between David and Jonathan. Their friendship was emotional, spiritual and even physical. Jonathan loved David “as his own soul”. David found Jonathan’s love for him, “passing the love of women”. There was between them a deep emotional bond that left David grief-stricken when Jonathan died. But not only were they emotionally bound to each other they expressed their love physically. Jonathan stripped off his clothes and dressed David in his own robe and armour. With the candour of the Eastern World that exposes the reserve of Western culture they kissed each other and wept openly with each other. The fact that they were both married did not inhibit them in emotional and physical displays of love for each other. This intimate relationship was sealed before God. It was not just a spiritual bond it became covenantal for “Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:3). Here is the Bible bearing witness to love between two people of the same gender.

Read the entire essay here.

Australian bishops oppose Bishop Jensen's boycott of Lambeth

The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that almost all church leaders in Australia are opposed to Bishop Peter Jensen's boycott of the Lambeth Conference.

The Anglican Primate of Australia, Phillip Aspinall, said yesterday that it was difficult to understand the decision by the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, to boycott this year's Lambeth Conference, as virtually all Australian bishops declined to support Dr Jensen.
...
The Bishop of Armidale, Peter Brain, whose diocese has been traditionally allied to Sydney, said he did not think boycotting Lambeth would help

Read the article here.

Valentines for clean air

Grace Episcopal Church in St. George, Utah is hosting groups opposing the proposed coal fired power plant in nearby Nevada. Among those speaking out is The Rt. Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. The Salt Lake City Tribune reports:

Clean-air activists and others plan to send hundreds of heart-shaped valentines to the governors of Utah and Nevada urging them to oppose plans for a $1.3 billion coal-fired power plant near Mesquite, Nev.

Students wearing T-shirts emblazoned with "Love your air, stop Toquop" will pass out 250 of the handcrafted valentines at a rally Tuesday at St. George's Grace Episcopal Church.

Attendees then will jot down their objections to the planned 750-megawatt Toquop plant. Half the hearts will go to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.; half will go to Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Plant foe Lin Alder, executive director of Citizens for Dixie's Future, said former Utah Gov. Olene Walker and Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish, head of Utah's Episcopal Diocese, are expected to address the rally.

According to St. George newspaper The Spectrum and Daily News,

The plant is planned for 14 miles northeast of Mesquite, Nev., in Lincoln County, Nev., and has been proposed by Sithe Global Power, LLC Sithe Global Power, LLC, an international development company engaged in the development, construction, acquisition and operation of electric generation facilities in attractive markets around the world.

More on how Utah faith groups are working together on environmental issues here.

Interfaith dialogue resource announced

The Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns NIFCON has released its treatise on interfaith relations, Generous Love: the truth of the Gospel and the call to dialogue. It is a culmination of four years work on developing an distinctively Anglican theology of interfaith relations.

Generous Love is being sent to every Anglican diocesan bishop and to all NIFCON contacts. It is intended both for those already engaged inter faith relations and those who are considering how and whether they might begin such engagement Recipients are being asked to disseminate the document as widely as possible

The entire press release follows:

Read more »

Civil courts grant injunction for Diocese of Lake Malawi

Received by email from anglican-information.org:

At last some common sense emerges in the Diocese of Lake Malawi:

Unfortunately, it is not as a result of wise episcopal leadership, but as a result of a Court Injunction granted earlier today. The Injunction stops the forced elections for a Bishop of Lake Malawi Diocese, hastily called by acting Dean of the Province of Central Africa, Bishop Albert Chama and scheduled to take place in far-off Malosa in the Diocese of Upper Shire on 16th February.

It is ironic that it is a civil court that has insisted that the elections be halted and that all parties come together to sort out their differences before proceeding any further. ANGLICAN-INFORMATION has reported the grave concerns in the Diocese of Lake Malawi regarding Bishop Chama's attempts to circumvent synodical processes and to sneak in a preferred new candidate, Henry M'baya (who has been lobbying vigorously, to the annoyance of the clergy) as bishop. This forced election has now rightly been stopped before enormous and permanent damage is done.

Sensibly, the people of Lake Malawi have, as a last resort, appealed to the civil courts and been granted an Injunction. This means that Bishop Chama will now have to enter into meaningful dialogue and not act as he did, for example, at the last diocesan Standing Committee when he ordered members not to speak.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION respectfully says that there is a lesson here for Bishop Chama in the way in which traditional African chiefs conduct business on behalf of the people. Tradition determines that their role is to allow everybody to speak and give their views. Only then do they speak last, summing up the majority decision and thereafter enabling it. A good example of this process at work was undertaken by the then Dean of the Province, Bishop Trevor Mwamba of Botswana who succeeded last year in getting all parties to agree to a synodical process and a subsequent referral to an independent Provincial Court.

Upper Shire Diocese
Meanwhile it is thought that the also hastily arranged elections, scheduled for the same 16th February, for a new Bishop of Upper Shire (former Archbishop Malango's see) will still take place. However, things are not going according to the intended plan of selection for a preferred candidate, as no less than three frontrunners have now emerged who are respectively, an English priest, an American Episcopalian and a local priest.

Diocese of Harare, Zimbabwe
Sunday, 3rd February saw a tremendous and well-organised 'enthronement' of Bishop Sebastian Bakare held in the City Sports Centre. Thousands joyfully celebrated this mass affirmation of the diocese as part of the Central African Province, as opposed to those few who have followed dissident Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, who has declared independence.

Unfortunately, it was not possible to enthrone Bishop Bakare upon the Cathedral 'cathedra' as Nolbert Kunonga had camped overnight in the building with a gang of thugs to prevent access. Two brave souls who tried to enter were roughed up. This is all despite the fact that the High Court had ruled that the swearing-in of Bishop Sebastian Bakare, should go ahead and Bakare's followers should be allowed to worship in the Cathedral.

ANGLICAN-INFORMATION observes that support of the authentic diocese by the people is most encouraging. Nevertheless, until legal possession of the diocese is obtained and the accounts, keys, property and vehicles are back with the Province the problem has not been resolved. Kunonga remains a dangerous man - prayers please for Bishop Bakare.

Covenant Design Group issues communiqué and draft

Updated 2008-02-06 5:45 PM

The most recent draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant was released today in London. You can find a copy of the Saint Andrews draft here, an important appendix here and the accompanying communiqué here. The group also issued commentary to the draft here.

We will be updating this story throughout the day, and would be grateful for your evaluation of the document, particularly the conflict resolution process outlined in the appendix.

The Episcopal News Service story is here.

Mark Harris at Preludium "On first read. A snippet: "Several questions arise from all this: Do we really want something out there that begins to look like constitution and canons? What is the process by which Draft II and its ancillary documents will be considered by the member churches of the communion? I would suggest that at least Draft II and its Appendix ought to be considered as separate and unequal documents."

From the other side of the aisle, Peter Ould writes, "Do you know what - if the last bit of the appendix had the decision making going to the Primates meeting, we might have something pretty powerful here. At present though, it looks like a carefully planned fudge.So howabout all the Primates (and attendent bishops) go along to Canterbury in July, amend the appendix so everything is ending up at the Primates, and pass the Covenant like that?"

A statement from the evangelical Church Society - "A number of liberal dominated provinces, including the Church of England, produced submissions which would have severely weakened the initial Covenant and at least this new draft does not seem to have given too much ground in that direction. However, the whole thing still remains entirely inadequate to meet the needs of the hour."

Ruth Gledhill sees a link to the past - "Even though Melitius lived and preached back in the fourth century, the parallels between then and now are obvious. Melitius broke clear rules already in place about not interfering in the provinces of others by ordaining pastors for himself in St Peter of Alexandria's patch of ecclesiastical territory. But Melitius would have argued that Peter's liberal theology made his actions necessary."

The Pluralist speaks - "Why can't there just be open processes of consultation to begin with? Matters that are crucially different across cultures, such as inclusivity, are going to end up in the dreaded state of "relinquishes the force and meaning of the purposes of the Covenant" and trying to get a Church back in to that force and meaning."

Ephraim Radner, a member of the design group, has commented here (and scroll down for more) - He asserts the covenant "is to go to the bishops at the Lambeth Conference, where it will receive quite explicit and concrete comment and response, which will inform the 3rd draft later this year. It should by now be clear where the direction of the Covenant is oriented."

Anglican Journal has quotes from Eileen Scully who represented the Canadian church in the meeting of the group - 'The latest draft of the covenant “really reflects a movement away from creating new structures,” said Ms. Scully.'

Christian traditions converging

Across the America today you can find local newspaper articles on churches in sacrament-oriented denominations celebrating Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent.

More in the realm of news, however, is that churches in other denominations are, too:

Lent is not typically observed in evangelical churches.

"Easter is huge in evangelical churches," but they do not observe "Lent as Lent," noted the Rev. Sam Shaw of Hope Church in Tupelo, Mo., according to the Daily Journal.

Still, "Easter must have preparation," Shaw said. And some non-liturgical churches are embracing Lenten disciplines.

"There is a trend ... toward more sacramental forms and it is not surprising to see the recovery of imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday," said the Rev. Daniel K. Dunlap, vice president of Houston Graduate School of Theology and a liturgy expert, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The Rev. Jeremy Rutledge, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Houston, said he will administer ashes at a service Wednesday night, as reported by the local Chronicle.

Most Baptists do not observe Lent. Many of them prepare for Easter by contemplating on the Word rather than through ritual, said the Rev. Kermit McGregor of Calvary Baptist Church in Missouri, as reported by the Daily Journal.

Read it here in the Christian Post.

Global South developing a catechism

From the Global South Anglican website:

The Global South Anglican Theological Formation and Education Task Force submitted their Interim Report to the Global South Primates Steering Committee on 6 January 2008.

We commend the Interim Report for careful study and feedback.

Read the ACIO Interim Report (PDF) here


The entire post is here.

If you've not seen them, you might want to take a look at two other items that have emerged in recent weeks from the Global South.

Stephen Noll, The Global Anglican Communion and the Anglican Orthodoxy, written for the GAFCON Theology Resources Team.

Peter Akinola, writes a pastoral letter on a revised Book of Common Prayer for the Church of Nigeria.

Adrian Worsfold speaks about the first here. Mark Harris has provided analyses of the first of these here and the second here.

We hope these two gentlemen take a look at the catechism as well.

How the media sees the draft covenant

The first media reports have appeared that interpret the St. Andrew's draft of an Anglican Covenant.

The Telegraph

Anglican Church sets up peacemaker court By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent

An international "court of appeal", with the Archbishop of Canterbury at its centre, is to be created to avert the collapse of worldwide Anglicanism, it has been announced.

Dr Rowan Williams will hold a key position in the new system that will exercise the "judgment of Solomon" between warring factions over divisive issues such as homosexuality.


Look for a roundup of media takes in another post on Thursday morning.

Lent online

If you are looking for Lenten experiences online, please visit our multimedia meditations and scroll down to the Stations of the Cross. Anglicans Online has a robust listing of resources, and our old friend Raspberry Rabbit calls your attention to this moving little video.

Meanwhile, the inimitable Phyllis Tickle is blogging about Lent on Beliefnet.

The whole world ain't watching

The mainstream media greeted the release of the St. Andrew's Draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant with a yawn. Coverage in the United Kingdom was light, coverage in the United States nonexistant.

The Telegraph and The Bahama Journal, hometown paper of Covenant Design Team leader Archbishop Drexel Gomez, seem to be the only mainstream outlets with stories available through various Web feeds, and the T'graph story runs a whopping 221 words.

The media's lack of interest in the ongoing struggle for control of the Anglican Communion has both an upside and a downside for the Episcopal Church.

The upside is that those attempting to force the Church out of the Communion or undermine its legitimacy depend on maintaining an atmosphere of crisis to justify their actions and achieve their ends. In the absence of a steady drumbeat of stories proclaiming the Church's imminent expulsion from the Communion or destruction through infighting, the claims of crisis begin to lose their legitimacy, as do the actions taken in response to the alleged crisis. Additionally, media reports are often simultaneously predictive as well as descriptive. Reports on a given trend have the potential to accelerate that trend. ("Hey, everybody's going to the Latin Mass now. I better check that out.") When the media stops telling the world that you are on the march, your parade can slow down in a hurry. If you doubt this consider how fiercely surrogates for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama argued to have their candidate declared the "winner" of the dead heat on Super Tuesday.

The downside of the media's loss of interest in Anglican infighting is that reporters may never get around to some necessary self-correction. The Episcopal Church does not face imminent expulsion from the Communion. Rather, all but one of its bishops have been invited to the Lambeth Conference and two of its members serve on the Covenant Design Team. Yet the impression lingers from earlier coverage that our membership in the Communion is tenuous.

The schism that was once predicted to tear the Communion in two now appears of interest to only four or five provinces, two of which are quite small. Yet the impression lingers from earlier coverage that north-south split is in the offing persist from earlier coverage.

Even if every dioceses and every parish that is rumored to be considering leaving the Episcopal Church were to do so, the Church would be unlikely to lose more than a tenth of its current membership. And many of those dioceses and parishes previously rumored to be on their way out the door have recently changed their minds. Yet the impression lingers from earlier coverage that the Church is being torn in half.

Much of the American reporting on the struggle within the Communion assumed that the story would end with either the break-up of the Episcopal Church or its expulsion from the Communion. There is no other way to explain the level attention paid to a Church with only 2.2 million members. The struggle isn't over, but these outcomes are less likely today than they were when the story began. Indeed, those outcomes are less likely than a variety of less newsworthy alternative scenarios--including the possibility that the Communion will muddle on in more or less its current fashion or endure a possibly short-lived Nigerian-led schism that will have limited effect in the United States.

Perhaps, at some point, the media will embrace one of those scenarios as the master narrative and the nature of its coverage will change. Or perhaps the story will simply fade away.

Archbishop Williams backs sharia law for British Muslims

Updated Thursday afternoon

David Batty of the Guardian writes: The Archbishop of Canterbury said today sharia law should be introduced in the UK for Muslims. Rowan Williams told BBC Radio 4's World at One the introduction of the controversial system of Islamic justice in the UK was "unavoidable".

Read the interview.

Batty continues:

Williams said his proposal would only work if sharia law was properly understood, rather than seen through the eyes of biased media reports.

He said he was not proposing the adoption of extreme interpretations of sharia law practiced in some repressive regimes.

"Nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states," he said.

The BBC's own coverage includes this:

"There's a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law."

Dr Williams adds: "What we don't want either, is I think, a stand-off, where the law squares up to people's religious consciences."

"We don't either want a situation where, because there's no way of legally monitoring what communities do... people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes another way of intensifying oppression inside a community."

The Times of London features a column on whether the teachings of Islam can be reconciled to the existing laws of the United Kingdom.

Thursday afternoon update

The lecture is here.

Ruth Gledhill asks "Has the Archbishop gone bonkers?"

Why are Jews wary of Evangelicals?

James Q. Wilson writes:

In the United States, the two groups that most ardently support Israel are Jews and evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. Jewish support is easy to explain, but why should certain Christians, most of them politically quite conservative, be so devoted to Israel? There is a second puzzle: despite their support for a Jewish state, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are disliked by many Jews. And a third: a large fraction of African-Americans are hostile to Israel and critical of Jews, yet Jewish voters regard blacks as their natural allies.

Wilson examines the differences that many American Jews have with Evangelicals over issues including abortion, school prayer, and gay marriage, but cites a deeper reason for what he characterizes as "Jewish dislike of Christian fundamentalists."

Though evangelical Protestants are supportive of Israel and tolerant of Jews, in the eyes of their liberal critics they are hostile to the essential elements of a democratic regime. They believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and worry about the decay of morality; they must wish, therefore, to impose a conservative moral code, alter the direction of the country so that it conforms to God’s will, require public schools to teach Christian beliefs, and crush the rights of minorities.

Read it all at City Journal. (Hat tip Arts and Letters Daily.)

Savvy evangelism or sign of the Apocalypse?

(It isn't every day that we get to link to pages with headlines like: Another day, another showstopping hairstyle from chameleon Kylie Minogue.)

From the Daily Mail:

Given that they have been marrying people for centuries, the clergy ought to know a thing or two about weddings.

So it may come as a surprise to learn the Scottish Episcopal Church will be represented for the first time at the country's biggest wedding show.

In an age when couples seek bizarre places to tie the knot, the church wants to remind people of the original venue where generations have said their vows.

Read it all.

New draft of Covenant analyzed

The Church Times has published an analysis of the changes between the Nassau and St. Andrew's drafts of the proposed Anglican Covenant. They highlight the differences in an article here.

The explicit reference to the 39 articles has been removed at the suggestion of provinces which do not recognize them as normative for their lives.

Churches are expected to commit themselves to "upholding and proclaiming 'a pattern of Christian theological and moral reasoning and discipline that is rooted in and answerable to the teaching of holy scripture and the catholic tradition and reflects the renewal of humanity and the whole created order..."

There is an apparent deprecation of the role of the Primates meeting as the primary decision making body of the Communion and instead a new emphasis on the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) as the new body of final arbitration.

Specifically from the article:

"In section three, ‘Our Unity and Common Life’, much concern had been expressed about the perceived growing influence of the Primates, and the over-importance accorded to Primates’ Meetings in decision-making. The Archbishop of Canterbury is ‘accorded a primacy of honour and respect as first among equals’ and as ‘a focus and means of unity’. He exercises his ministry ‘collegially with his brother primates’.

The Primates’ Meeting — called for ‘mutual support, prayer and counsel’ — now comes fourth in a chronological list of the Instruments of Communion, after the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, and the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC).

The meat of the changes between the drafts seems to be in the section that discusses the details of conflict resolution. According to the Church Times article this section is "completely rewritten". The new section explicitly lays out the suggested process and mediation model.

‘While the Instruments of Communion have no legislative, executive or judicial authority in our provinces, except where provided in their own laws, we recognise them as those bodies by which our common life in Christ is articulated and sustained, and which therefore carry a moral authority which commands our respect.’

‘Any such request would not be binding on a Church unless recognised as such by that Church. However, commitment to the Covenant entails an acknowledgement that in the most extreme circumstance, where a Church chooses not to adopt the request of the Instruments of Communion, that decision may be understood by the Church itself, or by the resolution of the Instruments of Communion, as relinquishment by that Church of the force and meaning of the Covenant’s purpose, until they re-establish their covenant relationship with other member Churches.’

Finally the article points out what a number of other readers have noted, the new draft makes explicit changes to strengthen the language which lays out the principle of autonomy that a number of Anglican provinces felt was being encroached upon in the first draft:

The appendix says that no process shall affect the autonomy of any Church of the Communion. No process shall exceed five years from the date of consultation. Any matter ‘involving relinquishment by a Church of the force and meaning of Covenant purposes’ is to be decided solely by that Church or the ACC."

Read the rest here.

Reactions to Rowan on Sharia Law

There have been many articles and posts over the evening on Rowan Williams' suggestion that some form of British accomadation for Muslim Sharia law was inevitable. We've tried to collect a number of those here.

The New York Times article summarizes the responses of various government voices:

The 57-year-old archbishop, an Oxford-educated theologian, was met with immediate repudiation from political and legal leaders.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking anonymously in the tradition of Downing Street, told reporters that Mr. Brown did not “welcome or support” the proposals, and added that Mr. Brown “believes that British laws should be based on British values.”

Spokesmen for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties, the main opposition groups, issued similar responses.

Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, a 36-year-old lawyer who is a rising star in the Conservative Party and one of its most influential Muslim figures, issued a statement calling the archbishop’s remarks “unhelpful.”

“Of course the important principle is one of equality, and we must ensure that people of all backgrounds and religions are treated equally before the law,” she said. “But let’s be absolutely clear: All British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through Parliament and the courts.”

The folks over at the Telegraph think that these remarks may very well end the Archbishop's ability to serve:

What will the Archbishop of Canterbury's fatuous remarks about Sharia do to his authority as head of the Anglican Communion? Pretty well finish it off, I should think.

[...]Anglicans in parts of Nigeria live under what is, in effect, totalitarian Sharia. It goes without saying Williams does not defend the stoning of adulterous women and other charming Islamic practices. But, in his interview with the BBC, his condemnation of "bad" Sharia is deeply buried in acres of Vichyite waffle about the need to see Sharia "case by case within an overall framework of the principles laid down in the Koran and the Hadith".

For the Archbishop of Canterbury to propose an extension of British Sharia in the same week that we learned of the extent to which the Sharia authorities cover up "honour crimes" reveals a degree of ineptitude that even George Carey never managed.

And, talking of George, watch this space. Lord Carey of Clifton is no fan of his successor, but a very big fan of African Anglicans persecuted by Sharia. I would be very surprised if he can resist intervening in this dispute.

Thinking Anglicans of course has their typically exhaustive coverage of British reactions.

Paul Vallely, in particular, makes an interesting point:

Rowan Williams bridles when anyone suggests that he is the Anglican church’s equivalent of the Pope. But he has made the same mistake in discussing sharia law that Pope Benedict XVI made in his ill-fated foray on the subject of Islam at the University of Regensburg two years ago, which sparked protests around the world, the murder of a nun and much else.

The error is assuming that the leader of a major church has the same intellectual freedom that he had when he was merely an eminent theologian. The cold fact is that the semiotics are entirely different. An academic may call for a nuanced renegotiation of society’s attitudes to the internal laws of religious communities. But when the Archbishop of Canterbury does that the headline follows, as night follows day: “Sharia law in UK is unavoidable, says Archbishop.”

This is not what he was saying, and yet it is. News has little room for the subtleties of academic gavottes around delicate subjects. A canny religious leader – or at any rate his press office – ought to know that.

(hat tip to Jody Howard for drawing attention to this)

We'll be updating this post throughout the day. You can find more links (like this one to Dave Walker's blog) below.

Read more »

God moves left

Giles Fraser writes in today's Guardian of his experience with some Episcopal Church leaders in England:


I had known and admired most of these Virgin Atlantic pilgrims by reputation for a while, but had been in denial about one basic fact: that they were Yanks. Yes, I admit it. I suffered from that chronic prejudice of the left, an instinctive distrust of Americans with Bibles. Theologically speaking, what could the home of McDonald's offer a culture that painted the Sistine chapel? How can anyone who thinks the word "Jesus" has three syllables lead a progressive movement in the church? I knew it: I had to take on the source of all this prejudice and make a pilgrimage of my own. I needed to find out for myself: was there really such a thing as the Christian left in America?

Read it all.

Bishop Wright on Heaven

Bishop NT Wright, of the Diocese of Durham is interviewed this week in Time Magazine on the topic of the Christian view of heaven. Wright takes issue with much of the imagery used to describe the location and experience of heaven in popular culture.

From the article:

"TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a 'distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope.'

Wright: It really is. I've often heard people say, 'I'm going to heaven soon, and I won't need this stupid body there, thank goodness.' That's a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.

Wright: There are several important respects in which it's unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, 'Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.' It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation."

Wright points out the way that popular literature and ideas over the ages has influenced our expectation of the heavenly reality.

He takes on the question of the Rapture and Armageddon later on in the interview, pointing out the slim scriptural support for these ideas.

Read the rest here.

For the beauty of the Earth

The Episcopal Public Policy Network posted its Lenten Resource series online. The resources are arranged by week and available in a number of different formats and from a wide variety of theological, cultural and scientific sources.

According to the description of the program:

"During Lent we will explore our responsibility to the environment and what steps we can take as a community and as individuals to maintain God’s amazing creation. The climate is changing and that affects all aspects of life around the world. This Lenten Series will look at opportunities for advocacy and personal conservation as well as share stories about what Episcopalians across the country do to honor creation.

Additional resources will be added throughout Lent so visit these pages often. If you have ideas, resources, tips, sermons, or stories, share them with us so that we can post them so that others can share in your success."

Read the rest here.

The Church Awakens: an online exhibit

The Archives of the Episcopal Church announces an electronic publication and online exhibit entitled, The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice. The multimedia exhibit, covers the period of enslavement to the present, with emphasis on the Civil Rights era.

Figures such as Absalom Jones, George Bragg, Pauli Murray, Jonathan Daniels, and Charles Lawrence are featured along with Church organizations such as the American Church Institute, the Conference of Church Workers, and the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity. Audio recordings include interviews with figures as diverse as Langston Hughes and Jackie Robinson.

Read more »

Davis Mac-Iyalla visits US, plans for Lambeth Conference

Davis Mac-Iyalla, a prominent critic of Nigeria’s Archbishop Peter Akinola, is returning to the United States this month to raise awareness about the lives of gay Africans and to raise money in support of a gay African presence at this summer’s Lambeth Conference. Learn how you can support his efforts. His schedule to date:

February 17th, 10:15 a. m., St. Luke in the Fields, New York City

February 17, 1 p. m., The Riverside Church, New York City, Maranatha LGBT Monthly Forum.

February 21-24, World Pride Power Conference, Los Angeles. Davis describes the conference as “an international gathering for GLBT people of African Descent and their allies.”

He will also be speaking at the rector’s forum at All Saints Church, Pasadena on February 24.

Davis, director of Changing Attitude, Nigeria, has developed a funding proposal for the Lambeth Conference in cooperation with the Rev. Colin Coward of Changing Attitude England. To read the proposal click on read more.

To make a donation visit the Changing Attitude Web site.

Find our previous coverage of Davis' activites here, here, here, here, here and here.

Read more »

Church tat

Café essayist Heidi Shott of the Diocese of Maine wonders whether she has sited the first-ever "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" tattoo. If so, the Canadian's beat us to it.

Neuroscience and the Christian community

Perhaps you were unaware the neurology plays an essential role in congregational development, especially during times to transition. In this presentation to the annual Convention of the Diocese of Washington, Peter Steinke explains to you why individuals and communities resist change, no matter how obvious the need for such change might be. And he will make you laugh as he does so.

Yes, but what is it for?

Tobias Haller offers a skillful dissection of the Saint Andrew's draft of the proposed Anglican Covenant which prompts two questions:

What does the covenant add to the life of the Communion other than a means of expelling members?

And, why would parties with no interest in expelling other members consent to the creation of a club that they will never wield, but may well be wielded against them?

The New Sanctuary movement

Writing in The Nation, Sasha Abramsky reports on The New Sanctuary Movement:

While many admire the sense of moral purpose demonstrated by New Sanctuary Movement leaders, some progressive immigration reformers are skeptical of their modus operandi.

"It's a highly laudable cause in many ways, and you can appreciate why they're doing what they're doing," says Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute at New York University's School of Law. "But it touches such an incredibly minuscule part of the population. It's more symbolic than meaningful in the lives of immigrants."

Chishti believes, moreover, that it's problematic that New Sanctuary advocates fail to distinguish between civil and criminal immigration cases, embracing individuals who have willfully ignored final deportation orders and who have ended up with criminal cases against them. "There are people who have final notices, know they have final notices, and then they're taking refuge. It gets you in the harboring problem."

It also gets into what is in many ways an even thornier issue: progressives don't like faith-based infringements on the secular political and legal system when conducted by conservatives. How, therefore, does it make sense to claim sacred privilege from the left? "Our legal system," Chishti notes, "does not recognize a church-based sanctuary. We have a separation of church and state."

Yet for all the flaws in New Sanctuary philosophy, its practitioners are highlighting something important: America is a country of immigrants, but in recent years more and more of those immigrants have entered illegally. They have done so not out of a desire to live on the margins and at perpetual risk of deportation but because the current immigration process makes it extremely hard for large numbers of people to migrate legally from countries like Mexico and Guatemala--or, for that matter, from countries such as the one the San Diego sisters came from--while at the same time economic and political factors, such as the way NAFTA has played out, make it extremely hard not to embark on a migration journey.

Read it all. Hat Tip: The Revealer

And check out this essay on immigration reform at Episcopal Life Online.

The most influential black spiritual leaders

In recognition of Black History Month, Beliefnet has prepared its list of the most influential black spiritual leaders. As it explains:

In black communities, religious leaders have historically occupied a powerful position as gurus, advocates, stewards and preachers. Whether inspiring their congregations to stand up against social injustice or urging a focus on God-centered family values, black religious leaders are a crucial component of a rich and diverse spiritual landscape. In honor of Black History Month, Beliefnet has compiled a list of some of the nation's most influential black spiritual leaders in 2008. While by no means comprehensive, the list includes some of today's most prominent--and controversial--spiritual figures, some up-and-coming figures of note, and several individuals whose lifelong efforts have earned them a place in history.

The list is a diverse one, and includes both a rabbi and an imam. What is curious about the list--which purports to list this nation's spiritual leaders--is that it includes Archbishop Peter Akinola:

Peter Akinola is the Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria, but he has become a major player in the division in the U.S. Episcopal Church, as well as a catalyst for change in the worldwide Anglican Communion of which the Episcopal Church is a part. He is a leader among those opposed to the ordination of homosexuals in the 77-million member Anglican Communion. In the U.S., when a small group of churches voted to split from the Episcopal Church over this and other issues, they asked Akinola to be their archbishop. He has become a force within his own tradition, but his prominence is also symbolic of an overall global shift, as many Christian churches see a rise in both numbers and influence of what some call the Global South-Africa, Asia, and South America.

Read it all here. Beliefnet also has a "Black Spiritual History" quiz here.

This is a very short list. Who is missing?

Innovation in fighting world poverty

The Economist has a fascinating new approach to fighting poverty that has worked well in Latin America and now is being used in New York:

MENTION globalisation and most people think of goods heading across the world from East to West and dollars moving in the other direction. Yet globalisation works for ideas too. Take Brazil's Bolsa Família (“Family Fund”) anti-poverty scheme, the largest of its kind in the world. Known in development jargon as a “conditional cash transfer” programme, it was modelled partly on a similar scheme in Mexico. After being tested on a vast scale in several Latin American countries, a refined version was recently implemented in New York City in an attempt to improve opportunities for children from poor families. Brazilian officials were in Cairo this week to help Egyptian officials set up a similar scheme. “Governments all over the world are looking at this programme,” says Kathy Lindert of the World Bank's office in Brasília, who is about to begin work on similar schemes for Eastern Europe.

Bolsa Família works as follows. Where a family earns less than 120 reais ($68) per head per month, mothers are paid a benefit of up to 95 reais on condition that their children go to school and take part in government vaccination programmes. Municipal governments do much of the collection of data on eligibility and compliance, but payments are made by the federal government. Each beneficiary receives a debit card which is charged up every month, unless the recipient has not met the necessary conditions, in which case (and after a couple of warnings) the payment is suspended. Some 11m families now receive the benefit, equivalent to a quarter of Brazil's population.

In the north-eastern state of Alagoas, one of Brazil's poorest, over half of families get Bolsa Família. Most of the rest receive a state pension. “It's like Sweden with sunshine,” says Cícero Péricles de Carvalho, an economist at the Federal University of Alagoas. Up to a point. Some 70% of the population in Alagoas is either illiterate or did not complete first grade at school. Life expectancy at birth is 66, six years below the average for Brazil. “In terms of human development,” says Sérgio Moreira, the planning minister in the state government, “Alagoas is closer to Mozambique than to parts of Brazil.”

. . .

As well as providing immediate help to the poor, Bolsa Família aims in the long run to break this culture of dependency by ensuring that children get a better education than their parents. There are some encouraging signs. School attendance has risen in Alagoas, as it has across the country, thanks in part to Bolsa Família and to an earlier programme called Bolsa Escola.

The scheme has also helped to push the rate of economic growth in the poor north-east above the national average. This has helped to reduce income inequality in Brazil. Although only 30% of Alagoas's labour force of 1.3m has a formal job, more than 1.5m of its people had a mobile phone last year. “The poor are living Chinese rates of growth,” says Aloizio Mercadante, a senator for São Paulo state, repeating a proud boast of the governing Workers' Party.

Look hard enough and it is also possible to find businesses spawned by this consumption boom among the poor. Pedro dos Santos and his wife Dayse started a soap factory with 20 reais at their home in an improvised neighbourhood on the edge of Maceió, the state capital. With the help of a microcredit bank, they have increased daily output to 2,000 bars of crumbly soap the colour of Dijon mustard. Nearby, another beneficiary of a microfinance scheme has opened a shop selling beer, crisps (potato chips) and sweets.

Read it all here.

What do you think?

Adam Smith and Evangelicals

The March issue of The Atlantic is devoted to the topic "Which Religion Will Win", with a wide ranging series of articles and comments on religion in America and across the world. It begins with a comment by Walter Russell Mead about the apparant moderation of American evanglicals, in which Mead borrows some analysis from Adam Smith:

Smith saw what we see: the progress of modernity, he noted, was not undermining religion in the Britain of his day. Instead, religious revivals were blooming. These new religious movements often rejected the liberal values of a free society. They favored absolute moral codes, conservative interpretations of religious doctrines, and political activism to enact their values into law.

Smith observed a relationship between these revivals and the process that we now call urbanization. Young people, arriving in cities in search of work, faced new opportunities and temptations without the structure that village life—with its communities of relatives and others that watched and guided young people—had provided. “A single week’s thoughtlessness and dissipation is often sufficient to undo a poor workman forever,” wrote Smith about life in London. But the city’s small sectarian religious congregations gave rural immigrants a social-support network and a moral code that could keep them on the straight and narrow as they built new lives. These movements were a response to the dislocations of modernity; there was no reason to expect them to fade away.

Yet in the teeming religious marketplace of Britain’s cities, Smith also saw pressures that would limit the political impact of religious beliefs and prevent theocracy. With so many competing denominations, he noted, religious leaders could acquire political influence only by finding allies outside their own version of the faith—and the process of forming those alliances would drive them toward agendas that could appeal to a wider, multi-faith audience. To be politically significant, he wrote, religious extremists had to move toward broader and necessarily more-moderate coalitions. Their entry into politics would, itself, moderate them.

The symbiotic relationship between alienating, amoral modernity and fervent religion can still be seen in the United States today. In a rapidly changing world, strong religious movements and convictions help many Americans cope—and not just the uprooted or the poor. In the coming years, we may well see religious devotion increase among society’s elite: admission to top colleges has broadened beyond the handful of feeder schools and legacy families who dominated the process in past generations; the intense competition for top university spots favors adolescents with steady homework habits, harmonious relations with school authorities, and the ability to please adults. A variety of surveys and anecdotes suggest that the freshmen entering colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and Brown these days are more likely to have strong religious convictions than their wilder, less conformist predecessors of decades past. Evangelicals (as well as devout kids from other backgrounds) are entering the halls where America’s future leaders often sit.

Yet American religious movements are also still following a path toward pluralism and moderation, along the lines that Smith described in 1776.

Read it all here.

What was said and what was heard

Last week, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams found himself at the center of controversy over a lecture and interview about the relationship between Muslim religious law and British civil law. Most of the reaction against the Archbishop's words have assumed that he came out in favor of the inclusion of sharia law into British civil law, including the notion that there would be some parallel jurisdiction that would separate Muslims from the rest of British society.

Now that the dust has settled, here is a summary of what the Archbishop actually said, some of the analysis of the speech and some of the reactions to it.

Francis Gibb of the Times of London summarizes his speech:

Dr Williams said that it “seems unavoidable” that some aspects of Sharia would be adopted in Britain. He urged that the law do more to accommodate the religious convictions and practices of other faith groups....

Sharia is controversial in the West because – as the Archbishop put it – it calls up “all the darkest images of Islam”. He added: “What most people think they know of Sharia is that it is repressive towards women and wedded to archaic and brutal physical punishments,” such as stoning, flogging and amputation.

Timing is another factor: his comments come during heightened tensions over fundamentalist Islam’s link with terrorism, along with growing concern that English law, influenced by political correctness, is bending over to favour or accommodate minority ethnic beliefs, practices and sensitivities in a way that it would not for mainstream Christian ones.

The complaints with the Archbishop's words boil down to three main types of arguments: there are those who are troubled by the Archbishop's words because of the human rights issues implicit in the application of sharia law in some cultures, particularly for women. Others are concerned that these proposals will not promote cohesion in the culture but instead exacerbate separations already perceived in British culture. Still others believe that the ideas (further) undermine the essential "Britishness" of the culture.

The Archbishop said in his lecture:

To recognise sharia is to recognise a method of jurisprudence governed by revealed texts rather than a single system. In a discussion based on a paper from Mona Siddiqui at a conference last year at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, the point was made by one or two Muslim scholars that an excessively narrow understanding sharia as simply codified rules can have the effect of actually undermining the universal claims of the Qur'an....

He says that individuals should be free to “choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters”, which may include “aspects of marital law, the regulation of financial transactions and authorised structures of mediation and conflict resolution”. He cites areas of Orthodox Jewish practice, which is the best example for what he seems to have in mind. The Beth Din is a Jewish court that mediates on a range of disputes within the Orthodox community. Sharia councils do the same but they are not formalised or recognised as the Beth Din is. Nor could decisions be taken without regard to the laws of the land. Dr Williams accepts this: people opting into such a forum for the resolution of their dispute cannot be denied the wider rights claimed by others in society, regardless of faith, or punish its members for claiming those rights....

Reactions and analysis may be found at Thinking Anglicans here, here , here ,here and finally here. Previous stories on the Lead are found here and here.

So what happened between the Archbishop's words and the reaction?

The Archbishop himself anticipates the problem:

Among the manifold anxieties that haunt the discussion of the place of Muslims in British society, one of the strongest, reinforced from time to time by the sensational reporting of opinion polls, is that Muslim communities in this country seek the freedom to live under sharia law. And what most people think they know of sharia is that it is repressive towards women and wedded to archaic and brutal physical punishments; just a few days ago, it was reported that a 'forced marriage' involving a young woman with learning difficulties had been 'sanctioned under sharia law' – the kind of story that, in its assumption that we all 'really' know what is involved in the practice of sharia, powerfully reinforces the image of – at best – a pre-modern system in which human rights have no role. The problem is freely admitted by Muslim scholars. 'In the West', writes Tariq Ramadan in his groundbreaking Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, 'the idea of Sharia calls up all the darkest images of Islam...It has reached the extent that many Muslim intellectuals do not dare even to refer to the concept for fear of frightening people or arousing suspicion of all their work by the mere mention of the word' (p.31).

And, as the Economist summarizes, the Williams observations about public perception came true--in response to the Archbishop's own words:

“What a burkha” declared the Sun newspaper, alongside a picture of a head-covered figure making a rude gesture. To judge by the tone of the British press (and not only the tabloid press), the Archbishop—who is also the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, numbering 80m people—might have been advocating the mandatory covering of every female British head, plus the instant introduction of amputation, whipping and stoning for the most trivial misdemeanours.

Outside of the immediate negative reaction to the speech or reports of it, it seems that the conventional wisdom is that the Archbishop, while making important points and proposing an interesting approach, was insensitive to the nuances of communicating complex ideas in the current media climate. The Economist continues:

How could one speech have united against him the liberals, the conservatives, most Muslims, most Christians, all secularists, all the political parties, everyone who only read the headlines, and almost everyone who read beyond the headlines of the lecture he gave? Could any common idiot have written it?

There are people at Lambeth Palace who could have told Williams what the headlines were going to say this morning. My understanding is that some of them did, but he thought he knew better.

Andrew Brown of the Guardian says:

It is all very well for the archbishop to explain that he does not want the term "sharia" to refer to criminal punishments, but for most people that's what the word means: something atavistic, misogynistic, cruel and foreign. It is the Death of a Princess, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, the hangings in Iran and the stonings in Afghanistan. It is the law which locks up middle-aged primary teachers for allowing their classes to name a teddy bear Muhammad. To the British media a demand for sharia is a demand to "behead those who insult Islam". A failure to understand this simple matter of modern English usage should cost someone his job.

And Gibb of the Times wrote:

Another reason is that Dr Williams, a highly erudite man, expresses his thoughts in nuanced and complex language that is not easily accessible and open to widespread misunderstanding. Many commentators are unclear exactly what he said, and even those who attended his lecture agreed that they would have to go away to digest its contents.

Ruth Gledhill of the Times offers an analysis that says the intellectual climate inside Lambeth contributes to a situation where they see the reaction to speech not as a crisis but as a misunderstanding.

Dr Williams was advised before his speech on Thursday evening that the content could prove controversial. He heeded the warnings but went ahead anyway. He was “taken aback” by just how controversial it then proved but remains “chirpy” and unrepentant about his comments because he believes that they needed to be made.

Although he is a holy and spiritual man, danger lies in the appearance of the kind of intellectual arrogance common to many of Britain’s liberal elite. It is an arrogance that affords no credibility or respect to the popular voice. And although this arrogance, with the assumed superiority of the Oxbridge rationalist, is not shared by his staff at Lambeth Palace, it is by some of those outside Lambeth from whom he regularly seeks counsel.

Neither the Archbishop nor his staff regard his speech as mistaken. They are merely concerned that it has been misunderstood.

The BBC , the Telegraph and the Times all report that some people want Williams to step down either because they disagree with what he said or believe that he has irrevocably damaged his ability to lead.

Others, including Williams' predecessor Lord Carey (writing, strangely enough, in the News of the World) don't believe he should resign even as they say that the speech was problematic.

There has been a call in other quarters for people to calm down and actually read the Archbishop's words. Cartoonist and Blogger Dave Walker started a Facebook group called "The Archbishop of Canterbury is a good man." Walker writes:

If like me you believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury has been treated remarkably unfairly by certain sections of the media in the last few days then why not, if you are on Facebook, join this group, entitled ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury is a good man’.

Joining the group affirms that you believe:
1) The media has misinterpreted the spirit of what Dr Williams was talking about in his lecture
2) As an intellectual, and a spiritual leader, Dr Williams should feel free to express a carefully considered opinion.
3) That Dr Williams is one of the most gifted minds in Britain, and his views should be given careful consideration.

As of this writing, the group has already attracted 300 members.

This week, Archbishop Williams will face General Synod to further clarify his speech and try to get back to work to leading the Church of England and unifying the Anglican Communion.

Some Pittsburgh laity make a statement

A group styling itself as "Pittsburgh Laity" has written a statement signed by over 100 lay leaders of the Diocese of Pittsburgh supporting their Bishop in the proposition that the diocese is an independent entity and can be moved at will from the Episcopal Church. The letter also castigates twelve conservative rectors for together writing a letter in January urging the Bishop to not attempt to separate the diocese from the Church.

Lionel Deimel, a lay member of the Diocese of Pittsburgh and past-president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, points out that many of the signers have close ties to Bishop Duncan or close ties to Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry or to parishes whose rectors make continued, impassioned arguments for separation. He says:

The new letter is endorsed by approximately 175 people (and counting, I’m sure they would assure me). It is interesting to see how the signers have identified themselves. (Or not. Peter Frank, who is Communications Director for the diocese, fails to note the fact, perhaps out of modesty.) Nineteen people hold significant official positions in the diocese. (I discounted many minor offices. All these counts are approximate, by the way.) Three are former office holders or staff members. Eight seem to be paid staff members in their respective parishes; one is the spouse of a staff member; three are relatives of conservative clergy. Six are associated with Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. Two are from “Anglican” congregations in the diocese but already out of The Episcopal Church. One lists himself as being in New York. Forty-eight are from Church of the Ascension, a large church led by the Rev. Jonathan Millard, an insurgent rector who has argued passionately for leaving The Episcopal Church and taking Ascension’s property with him. (Millard made his case for this at a workshop at the November convention and had a letter published in the Post-Gazette on the subject on Friday.) Several very small congregations are represented by ten or more members.
He reminds us that the lay of the land is more complicated than it appears:
...there are three significant parties in the Pittsburgh diocese—the insurgents, the enthusiastic loyalists, and the reluctant loyalists. The Episcopal Church is certainly more liberal than most Pittsburgh Episcopalians, and the loyalist camp that has just come out of the closet knows that its members are destined to feel somewhat uncomfortable and marginalized in their chosen church for the foreseeable future, no matter how “inclusive” that church is. Such is the fate of minorities, and no one has figured out how to change it. When the Pittsburgh schism actually arrives, I suspect that additional revolutionaries will get cold feet and join the reluctant loyalists, albeit reluctantly.

Deimel believes the document is designed to keep the separatist camp in Pittsburgh unified. The language is written not to change minds or attract new adherents to their cause but rather to unify people who have also signed on. He also punctures the impression that this group represents "the many Pittsburgh Episcopalians who attend church regularly in the vain hope that their church—their diocese, at any rate—will not self-destruct in the near future."

Read Lionel Deimel's blog entry here.

Here is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette write up of the petition and the letter by the twelve Pittsburgh clergy.

This is the new blog "Pittsburgh Laity".

Here and here are the past Cafe posts on the situation.

Jesus the samurai stranger

For Ajinbayo Akinsiku, aka Siku, Jesus is the samurai stranger come to town to shake things up.

Siku is an Anglican who grew up in England and Nigeria in a family of Nigerian descent who is studying for ordination in the priesthood. He has published a Bible in the style Japanese graphic novels called Manga. Intended as a "first taste" to the Bible for young adults and teenagers, the rendition is long on action and drama.

Manga uses a strong visual style with a cinematic flair to tell stories that are once dramatic and action oriented and highly textured. These books are popular with teenagers and young adults.

Neela Banerjee writes for the New York Times that:

While younger adults and teenagers are the most avid consumers of manga, Mr. Akinsiku said he had heard from grandmothers who picked up the book as a gift for their grandchildren. The book is meant to be a first taste of the Bible, which many feel too intimidated to read, Mr. Akinsiku said. Every few pages, a small tab refers to the biblical verses the action covers.

“For the unchurched, the book is to show that this thing, the Bible, is still relevant,” he said, “because it talks about what human beings do when they encounter God.”

And...

Mr. Akinsiku says his Son of God is “a samurai stranger who’s come to town, in silhouette,” here to shake things up in a new, much-abridged version of the Bible rooted in manga, the Japanese form of graphic novels.

“We present things in a very brazen way,” said Mr. Akinsiku, who hopes to become an Anglican priest and who is the author of “The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation.” “Christ is a hard guy, seeking revolution and revolt, a tough guy.”

The Art Blog of the Episcopal Cafe has much more including details of the four volumes (The Manga Bible - Raw, The Manga Bible - Extreme, The Manga Bible - NT Raw and The Manga Bible - NT Extreme) and how you can buy them. The Extreme Editions include both the graphic novels and full-text Bibles in the New International Version.

A link to purchase The Manga Bible is available here with the convenience of one-click purchase through the Amazon.com Associates program. All purchases referred from visio-divina.com support Episcopal Cafe Art Blog, Episcopal Church and Visual Arts, and Visio Divina programming.

Read: The New York Times: The Bible as Graphic Novel, With a Samurai Stranger Called Christ

See also: The Art Blog: The Manga Bible (and check out the artwork above!)

This is Siku's web site
.

Communion is more than housekeeping

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams was met with a standing ovation before he addressed the opening of the General Synod of the Church of England. He spoke about the recent controversy following his speech at Temple Church, and also about Lambeth, the situation in Zimbabwe and about the underlying importance of Communion.

He said:

...our mutuality in the Communion – and in communion itself – is not a matter of ecclesiastical housekeeping: it's also about helping one another to be the Church in any given place; that is, to be a community whose loyalties are to the Kingdom, not to any kind of cultural or political partisanship.

On the Sharia law speech:

Some of what has been heard is a very long way indeed from what was actually said in the Royal Courts of Justice last Thursday. But I must of course take responsibility for any unclarity in either that text or in the radio interview, and for any misleading choice of words that has helped to cause distress or misunderstanding among the public at large and especially among my fellow Christians . It's Lent, and one of the great penitential phrases of the Psalms will be in all our minds – 'Who can tell how oft he offendeth? Cleanse thou me from my secret faults'...But I believe quite strongly that it is not inappropriate for a pastor of the Church of England to address issues around the perceived concerns of other religious communities and to try and bring them into better public focus.

The Archbishop reiterated that he did not advocate a separate, parallel legal system for Muslims. The issue for him is to maintain the integrity of religious bodies in an increasingly secular age. The Archbishop summarized the issues behind his speech in this way:

...while there is no dispute about our common allegiance to the law of the land, that law still recognises that religious communities form the consciences of believers and has not pressed for universal compliance with aspects of civil law where conscientious matters are in question. However, there are signs that this cannot necessarily be taken quite so easily for granted as the assumptions of our society become more secular. I think we ought to keep an eye on this trend; and if we do, we shall have to do more thinking about the models of society and law we work with. It's an area where Christians and people of other faiths ought to be doing some reflecting together.

On Lambeth:

Williams held out the central role of the Lambeth Conference is to build Communion through building relationships among the Bishops.

The challenge has been to devise a structure for our time together that manages both to address the major issues and to refresh and inspire those who will attend. The twofold focus is equipping bishops for leadership and strengthening the identity and confidence of the communion. That's why there is less emphasis on subject-oriented large groups: the primary need will be to get to know each other sufficiently well to confront the divisive matters that are around, and so there will be a larger number of slightly smaller groups. Taking a leaf from the South African book, we're calling these extended indaba groups – the word used for community consultation and decision-making. And there will also be, as always, the Bible study groups, which have been in many previous conferences the most important element of all; their focus will be the Gospel of John – assisted by the commentary of one of the members of this Synod, Dr Richard Burridge, which has been printed in a special edition for the use of the conference. The hope is that many others in the Communion will share in meditation on this text in the months leading up to Lambeth.

He talked about the need to ground this process in prayer:

Some critics have complained that Lambeth is too focused on prayer and reflection and not enough on decision-making; but I am bound to say that I regard this as an extraordinary thing to say about any Christian gathering – as if we could make any decision worthy of the gospel without the utmost attention to listening together to God. I partly understand that some feel there may be an attempt to appeal to the need for prayer and reflection as an alibi for not grasping the nettles; but I would gently but firmly say that it is also possible to use a rhetoric about needing decisive action as an alibi for waiting on God.

In this context, the Covenant process will part of the discussion:

There will of course be extended discussion of the proposals around the Covenant which we shall be discussing in this Synod also. We shall have the opportunity of several plenary sessions but we are planning fewer resolutions; and we have invited a number of high-profile speakers from public life as well as from other Christian communions to address us.

He addressed the issue of some choosing not to attend because the disagree with others:

I respect the consciences of those who have said they do not feel able to attend because there will be those present who have in their view acted against the disciplinary and doctrinal consensus of the communion. Needless to say, I regret such a decision, since I believe we should be seeking God's mind for the Communion in prayer and study together; but it simply reminds us that even the most 'successful' Lambeth Conference leaves us with work still to be done in rebuilding relationships.

Finally, he spoke about the situation in Zimbabwe:

A history scarred by exploitation and deep racial injustice can all too easily be used, as it has been there, to turn aside every criticism and even to refuse any proper help when a local regime has fallen victim to its own incompetence, corruption and self-delusion. It has been that much harder for many in this country to know how to respond to the needs of Zimbabwe for fear of simply reinforcing stereotypes of colonial patronage or misunderstanding. We have tried to take our cues from those on the ground locally who are seeking justice and change.

In many circumstances, the local Church would be the first group we'd turn to in this attempt to listen and understand. But as we're well aware, this has not been straightforward in Zimbabwe: we have had some in leadership positions who have been uncritically supportive of a violent and lawless administration. But one of the most welcome developments of recent months has been that the Anglican Church has rallied very remarkably to repudiate the excesses of the former Bishop of Harare, and has installed a deeply respected and courageous elder statesman of the Zimbabwean Church, Bishop Sebastian Bakare, as chief pastor in Harare. The Province's efforts to cleanse and renew the situation have been met by the expected levels of intimidatory behaviour on the part of some of Bishop Kunonga's supporters, but the process of reconstruction has gone forward, with, happily, some support from the courts.

Read the whole address here.

Clean up your computer

Ekklesia reports that electronics workers in Mexico are regularly subjected to denial of labour rights and dignity by companies - practices which needed to be challenged and changed, says a new report from the England and Wales Catholic development agency, CAFOD.

The report from the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, which operates autonnomously but is recognised by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, says workers are exposed to toxic materials.

It also claims that safety rules are ignored, contributing to the alarming incidence of accidents, and it says workers are denied other rights, including being banned from joining trade unions or trade unions being taken over and controlled by companies.

CAFOD's 'Clean Up Your Computer' campaign in 2004 persuaded leading electronics manufacturers like Dell and IBM to sign up to Codes of Conduct aimed at improving conditions for workers across their supply chain.


Interviews were conducted with almost 2,000 workers within the supply chains of electronics companies, including Hitachi, Hewlett Packard, Nokia, Philips, Dell, Motorola, Lenovo and Intel. 236 cases of alleged abuse were documented.

AFOD's partner in Mexico, CEREAL who wrote the report, found disturbing cases including a woman whose hands were severed by a company machine because of a fault with the machine Other workers described how they were still worried about exposure to toxic materials and requests to switch roles were turned down.

One woman worker died after being hit by a car in the work car park. Her family were asked to withdraw their compensation claim against the transportation company but after CEREAL's intervention the transportation company relented and have paid compensation to her family.

Electronics equipment is Mexico's main export and the industry employs 400,000 workers who earning on average 100 pesos (US$ 9.25) a day. The industry was worth US$46 billion in 2006 and Mexico is the tenth largest exporter of electronics equipment in the world.

The report also reveals that some workers were forced to stand during the whole of their twelve hour shifts and requests for chairs were denied. Even a six-month pregnant woman was forced to stand for the whole of a seven hour shift. The report also highlights other bizarre rights abuses including employees being asked in interviews if they had tattoos and another worker described how she was asked about her sex life during an interview.

Read it all here.

Younger Evangelicals come of age politically

A younger generation of evangelical Christians is coming of age -- and as they head to the polls, they are breaking from their parents and focusing on a broader range of issues than just abortion and gay marriage according to ABC News.

This weekend at a concert and a rally in New York City, a huge gathering of Christian youth came together to decry the coarsening of culture.

"What should be done to stop glamorizing the things that are destroying my friends, your friends -- like drugs, alcohol and sex?" cried a young evangelical.

The top three issues these young evangelical Christians said they most want the presidential candidates to address are Internet pornography, media glamorization of sex and drugs, and children orphaned by AIDS. Abortion and gay marriage were not at the top of their list.


Read it all here.

Archbishop of Canterbury appoints Windsor Continuation Group‏

From Anglican Communion News Service:

The Archbishop of Canterbury announced the formation of the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG), as proposed in his Advent Letter The WCG will address outstanding questions arising from the Windsor Report and the various formal responses from provinces and instruments of the Anglican Communion.

The members of the group are:

The Most Revd Clive Handford, former Primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East (chair)
The Most Revd John Chew, Primate of South East Asia
The Right Revd Gary Lillibridge, Bishop of West Texas
The Right Revd Victoria Matthews, former Bishop of Edmonton
The Very Revd John Moses, former dean of St Paul's, London
The Most Revd Donald Mtetemela, Primate of Tanzania

They will be joined as a consultant by: Dame Mary Tanner, Co-president of the World Council of Churches and assisted by: Canon Andrew Norman of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Staff and Canon Gregory Cameron of the Anglican Communion Office

Bishop Clive Handford, who will be chairing the group, said: "We are conscious as we undertake this work that the Archbishop has given us an important responsibility to assist the Communion to move forward. A significant element of our work will be face-to-face conversation with those who have key roles in shaping the future of our common life. I believe in the Anglican Communion, and hope that our work will help it to find healing and new strength."

The group will be working intensively in the period running up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference, where its initial work will contribute to the shared discernment of the bishops in strengthening the life and identity of the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury commented: "I am deeply grateful to those who have accepted the invitation to carry forward the important work in our Communion's life that I indicated in my Advent Letter. This is a demanding assignment. I trust they can count on our prayers throughout the Communion as they bring their combined wisdom and attentiveness to the strengthening of our common life through the Windsor Process."

Controversy continues over Williams' sharia remarks

Rowan Williams clarified his thinking and showed contrition for his clumsiness, but he declined to apologise and many commentators and public figures are writing that he is not off the hook. Also heard are calls for disestablishment of the Church of England according to the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

Alex Kirby, who has been a leading religion correspondent, writes on the BBC's website: "If Rowan Williams ever imagined his explanation could get him off the hook, he is wrong. The damage is done, and it will take more than his elegant mea culpa to undo it."

Kirby continued: "The archbishop was wrong to accept in his BBC radio interview that there could be anything inevitable about any part of Sharia ever holding sway in the UK. He was also pretty certainly wrong not to ask someone to rewrite his speech so he would not have to apologise, as he has, for its 'unclarity' and his own 'clumsiness'.

"And he should have had some idea of how the very word Sharia is enough to drive reason from many minds. All that said, though, the damage he has caused is minuscule by comparison both with what his critics are doing and with the good he himself has done," concluded Kirby.

Emphasis added.

In a news release Ekklesia argues that Dr Williams' speech "highlights the need for disestablishment and a level-playing field for faith communities with other groups in civil society, distinct from the legislature, executive and judiciary."

Also from Ekklesia reports on Archbishop Williams' speech to the General Synod clarifying his remarks on Sharia Law in the UK.

"There is no dispute about our common allegiance to the law of the land" Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod of the Church of England - and a watching world on TV and the internet - this afternoon, following the recent furore about his BBC interview and lecture on Sharia and English civil law last week.

Dr Williams' speech came after the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, while affirming his leadership of the established Church of England, asked for clarification of his views, which he said he believed had been "misrepresented" in a debate which rapidly became extremely over-heated.

The Washington Post reports:

Commentators called Monday the most important day of the archbishop's five years in office, following a weekend of often harsh rejoinders that recognizing sharia would undermine British values and laws, notably concerning the rights of women. There were scattered calls for his resignation.

The furor underlined the unease that many Britons of Christian heritage feel concerning the creed of the approximately 2 million Muslims who live in the country.

Sharia already figures in the lives of many Muslims here. Informal neighborhood councils provide rulings on family issues such as divorce; banks such as HSBC market mortgages compliant with sharia rules of lending.


Thinking Anglicans has an extensive listing of the latest articles on the continuing controversy.

Some of the latest editorial opinion:

From Anne Applebaum:

Every time police shrug their shoulders when a Muslim woman complains that she has been forced to marry against her will, every time a Western doctor tries not to notice the female circumcisions being carried out in his hospital, they are acting in the spirit of the archbishop of Canterbury. So is the social worker who dismisses the plight of an illiterate, house-bound woman, removed from her village and sent across the world to marry a man she has never met, on the grounds that her religion prohibits interference. That's why -- if there is to be war between the British tabloids and the archbishop -- I'm on the side of the Sun.

From The Wall Street Journal:
There are discomforting surveys showing that up to 40% of British Muslims want Shariah in the U.K. But even if those numbers are accurate, some 60%must not want to live under Shariah. Many Muslims have fled to Britain precisely to escape a legal system that chops off the hands of thieves, asin Saudi Arabia, or hangs homosexuals and stones adulterers, as in Iran. Mr. Williams appears to be suggesting some form of "Shariah lite," as if one could pick the bits of Islamic jurisprudence that might be acceptable in Western democracies and reject the rest. That's an awfully slippery slope.The best guarantee for social cohesion and religious freedom is the primacy of secular law that's blind to anyone's faith.

Meanwhile Dave Walker at Cartoon Church started a new Facebook site The Archbishop of Canterbury is a good man. The group grew by over 1000 members in less than 24 hours.

From beyond the grave: Kant opposes Covenant

Immanuel Kant (1704-1824) on Religious Covenants. From "What is Enlightenment?" (l784)

"But should not a society of clergymen, for example an ecclesiastical synod or a venerable presbytery (as the Dutch call it), be entitled to commit itself by oath to a certain unalterable set of doctrines, in order to secure for a time a constant guardianship over each of its members, and through them over the people? I reply that this is quite impossible. A contract of this kind, concluded with a view to preventing all further enlightenment of mankind for ever, is absolutely null and void, even it is is ratified by the supreme power, by Imperial Diets and the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot enter into an alliance on oath to put the next age in a position where it would be impossible for it to extend and correct its knowledge, particularly on such important matters, or to make any progress whatsoever in enlightenment. This would be a crime against human nature, whose original destiny lies precisely in such progress. Later generations are thus perfectly entitled to dismiss these agreements as unauthorized and criminal."

Hat tip Fred Quinn and Prof. Frank M. Turner, John Hay Whitney Professor of History
Director, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Queen anxious

The controversy stirred up by the Archbishop of Canterbury - in his remark that Islamic law has a place - shows no signs of abating. The Telegraph is reporting this has the Queen worried:

The Queen is distressed by the row over Islamic law which she fears threatens to undermine the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and damage the Church of England.

According to a royal source, the Queen has not expressed any view on whether Dr Rowan Williams was unwise to say it was "unavoidable" that aspects of the sharia legal system could be incorporated into English law.

But as Supreme Governor of the Church of England she has been dismayed by the controversy that the remarks have generated at such a difficult period in the history of the Established Church, which faces possible schism over the issue of homosexual clergy.

The Queen, who approved the appointment of Dr Williams on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, takes her role as Supreme Governor very seriously.

One royal source said: "I have no idea what her view is on what the Archbishop said about sharia law. But the Queen is worried, coming at such a difficult time in the Church's history, that the fallout may sap the authority of the Church."
...
According to a royal source, the Queen has not expressed any view on whether Dr Rowan Williams was unwise to say it was "unavoidable" that aspects of the sharia legal system could be incorporated into English law.

But as Supreme Governor of the Church of England she has been dismayed by the controversy that the remarks have generated at such a difficult period in the history of the Established Church, which faces possible schism over the issue of homosexual clergy.

The Queen, who approved the appointment of Dr Williams on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, takes her role as Supreme Governor very seriously.

One royal source said: "I have no idea what her view is on what the Archbishop said about sharia law. But the Queen is worried, coming at such a difficult time in the Church's history, that the fallout may sap the authority of the Church."

Meanwhile, Simon Barrow has something very interesting to say:
What he is saying is that the UK is becoming a ‘unitary secular state’, that this poses problems for communities of religious conviction in certain areas, that historic Anglican privilege which has afforded wider protection for religion per se can no longer be justified on its own terms, and that the solution is therefore a broader set of exemptions within the law for all faith groups.

The example he cites is conscience opt-outs within the medical service over abortion, but what lies behind this is the desire of Catholic agencies to refuse gay adoptions, and a raft of exemptions from equalities legislation in employment and public service provision.

Personally, I find it rather offensive that the head of my Church is telling me that to be a Christian is to require opt-outs from fairness and justice, when the message of the Gospel would seem to many of us to point in exactly the opposite direction. But that objection, and the feelings of anger that the non-religious may equally feel, miss the point. The Archbishop is contending, as a matter of liberality and pluralism, that special treatment is required for religion.

Where does this argument come from? The backdrop is that an Anglican settlement (rooted in the authorisation and subjection of an Established Church to the Crown) is beginning to give way to a more diverse ‘multi-faith’ one in the minds of those who wish to defend their position, but who are running out of excuses in a plural society.

Emphasis added. Read it all.

San Joaquin roundup

Episcopal Life Online reported on February 11th on the formation of a steering committee representing a "broad theological spectrum" which would "begin to reconstitute the Fresno-based Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin." A listening tour is scheduled, beginning February 19th.

The article goes on to provide a review of recent events. In particular,

On January 25, [the Presiding Bishop] wrote to members of the standing committee who, along with Schofield, had in December 2007 voted to realign the Central California diocese with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone....Unconfirmed reports circulated the same week that Schofield had, himself, fired six of the eight-member standing committee who, although supportive of disaffiliation with TEC, questioned the move to the Southern Cone. Because of their doubts, Schofield in a statement on the diocesan website, had allegedly determined they were unable to serve.
Tobias Haller wonders
The question comes down to, and has been posed as: does casting an improper vote or failing to exercise due diligence in preventing improper actions by others cause one automatically to abdicate an elected office? I would say not, for there are canonical procedures in place to address these failings; there is no mere ipso facto deposition absent an action by those with the authority to impose such a sentence. Even if the charge is abandonment of the communion of this Church (which is well appropriate if one voted to leave it and join Cono Sur) this should properly be addressed by the use of the canon next after the one already applied to the errant Bishop.

The situation is complicated by the fact that it is the Standing Committee itself that normally brings charges in such a case. As the old Latin tag has it, Qui custodet ipsos custodes — who will guard the guardians?

What is your opinion?

About the Southern Cone, see also Katie Sherrod's latest on the Diocese of Fort Worth.

British Columbia bishops warn parishes against separation

Updated Wednesday 3:20PM
The Anglican Journal reports,

At the time of year that Anglican churches usually hold their vestries, or annual general meetings, two bishops in British Columbia have warned parishes that they may not legally separate from their diocese or the Anglican Church of Canada.

Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster, wrote on Feb. 6 to four parishes that are members of the Anglican Network in Canada, a group of churches that are considering separation from the denomination.

Bishop James Cowan of the Victoria-based diocese of British Columbia (which includes Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands) in his letter dated Jan. 30 addressed all clergy, wardens and members of parish councils in his diocese.

Bishop Ingham wrote that “no parish or congregation in the diocese … has any legal existence except as part of the diocese, and any attempt by any person to remove a parish from the jurisdiction of the bishop and synod would be schismatic,” (promoting a split in the church). Excerpts of the letter were published on the diocesan Web site.

He addressed the clergy, wardens and trustees of the four parishes, saying they have a “fiduciary responsibility” to “preserve and protect the assets of the church” within the diocese and the national church.

“Any attempt to betray that trust through schismatic action is a ground for immediate termination of licence or removal from office and may well subject those same individuals to civil proceedings also,” he wrote.

He added, “I strongly urge you to take no action that would force me or the diocese to seek relief in the civil courts to ensure your compliance with the responsibilities to which you are subject.”

Canwest News Service reports that tonight, "Members of St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church, a neo-Gothic landmark in the heart of the city's wealthiest neighbourhood, are gathering for an expected vote on breaking with Vancouver-area Bishop Michael Ingham over the issue of same-sex blessings and trying to take the church property with them."

Update Head of the Canadian Church urges parishes to remain within the Anglican Church. Extract:

Archbishop Fred Hiltz said he very much aware of the possibility that at Annual Meetings some congregations might vote to leave and join the Anglican Church in another country.

“I am very concerned that there are a few parishes that may be considering a motion to withdraw from the fellowship of the Anglican Church of Canada, and to place themselves under the jurisdiction of another Province of the Anglican Communion,” he wrote, urging reconsideration.

“It is not necessary for any parish to consider such action. The House of Bishops has designed a model for Shared Episcopal Ministry.

Hiltz's full letter is here.

Time table set out

Today the General Synod House of Bishops of the Church of England "took note of the report" on the Anglican Communion Covenant.

The report included details of a "time table set out"

5. In terms of the process thereafter in the Anglican Communion, Canon Gregory Cameron (Secretary to the Covenant Design Group) has confirmed that this is as follows:
“(a) to receive such comments on draft version 1 [as circulated to the July 2007 Synod] as submitted to inform redrafting to be done at a meeting of the CDG at the end of January 2008.
(b) to submit revised draft (version 2 – ie following the January 2008 CDG meeting) to Lambeth for bishops to add commentary. We don't want the bishops to vote a text - or any part of it - up or down, but to make their views clear on the development of the text, and to catalyse the discussion at Provincial level, informing the development of the third draft, so the next phase is
(c) to send version 2 and Lambeth commentary to Provinces for consultation and ask for formal submissions on draft in light of commentary
(d) to prepare third draft (version 3) for submission to ACC-14 in 2009.”

6. The process thereafter would depend on decisions taken by the ACC. The time table set out by Canon Cameron means that there will be further opportunity for provincial comments – including some discussion in General Synod - in the period between Lambeth 2008 and leading into ACC-14 in 2009.

Read the two page report here. Audio of this afternoon's debate is here.

Palestinians airing views in pews of Pasadena

The Jewish Daily Forward reports:

An influential Episcopal church in Pasadena with long-standing ties to the Jewish community is coming under fire from local Jews for hosting a Palestinian Christian activist group’s conference.

The conference, “From Occupation to Liberation: Voices We Need To Hear” slated for February 15 and 16 at All Saints Church, a 3,500-member church in the San Gabriel Valley, caught the attention of members of Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center last month, after a Boston-based media watchdog group sent out alerts that the conference’s sponsor promoted an anti-Israel agenda.

The conference is sponsored by the American arm of Sabeel, a Jerusalem-based organization that promotes itself as seeking a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

All Saints received another mention in the news of the day:
Southern Baptist pastor Wiley Drake said Wednesday that he is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service for endorsing GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee in a press release written on church stationery.
...
Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a complaint with the IRS. The group says Wiley lashed out against them with a press release on Aug. 14.

“I commend the IRS for investigating Pastor Drake's flagrant abuse of church resources,” Barry Lynn, executive director for Americans United, said in a prepared statement.

“Americans go to church to grow spiritually, not be lectured on which political candidate to vote for,” he said.

Drake defended the release and his comments on the talk show, saying that he was only offering his personal endorsement of Huckabee – not the church's.

“I think I'm perfectly within my rights and I am upset,” he said in an interview.
...
In September, the IRS closed a lengthy investigation of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena without revoking its tax-exempt status.

In a sermon just days before the 2004 presidential election, All Saints' former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, was critical of the Iraq war and President Bush's tax cuts, although he did not urge parishioners to support Bush or his Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

From beyond the grave II: John Locke weighs in

John Locke, for "A Letter Concerning Toleration" (1690):

". . .I esteem that Toleration [mutually among Christians] to be the chief Characteristical Mark of the True Church. For whatsoever some People boast of the Antiquity of Places and Names, or of the Pomp of their Outward Worship; Others, of the Reformation of their Discipline; All, of the Orthodoxy of their Faith; (for every one is Orthodox to himself). These things, and all others of this nature, are much rather Marks of Men striving for Power and Empire over one another, than of the Church of Christ. Let any one have never so true a Claim to all these things, yet if he be destitute of Charity, Meekness, and Good-will in general towards all Mankind, even to those that are not Christians, he is certainly yet short of being a true Christian himself."

""It is not the diversity of Opinions, (which cannot be avoided) but the refusal of Toleration to those that are of different Opinions, (which might have been granted) that has produced all the Bustles and Wars, that have been in the Christian World upon account of Religion."

(Hat tip again, to Turner and Quinn)

Part I, here.

Building walls or raising sails?

Archbishop of York John Sentamu kicked off debate about the Anglican Covenant with the comment that he doesn't feel the covenant is creating walls of exclusion but rather is "sails to empower the boat of Communion to sail again unafraid of the storms," according to a story in Episcopal Life Online. The story includes comments from several delegates to the synod, which reflect a wide range of reactions and emotions, including weariness, admiration, reservation, and excitement. Several offered specific criticisms they hoped would improve the document, but it is clear that there remain two distinct interpretations of what the covenant is meant to offer: one of achieving unity and the other of legitimizing exclusivity:

Sentamu told Synod February 13 that the covenant is not intended as "a new creed or Anglican-wide Canon law, nor an 11th commandment chiseled on Mount Kilamanjaro by the Anglican Primates."

"The whole intention of the covenant is 'to identify the fundamentals that we have in common and to state the common basis on which our mutual trust can be rebuilt,'" Sentamu said, citing the words of Gomez during his address to the Synod in July 2007.

The Rev. Brian Lewis of the Diocese of Chelmsford told Synod he disagrees with the idea of a covenant saying he feels it is "a mistake to introduce a formalized mechanism of exclusion into the life of the Communion. When you have an institutionalized method of division is it much more difficult to come back together again."

Lewis said he regrets that the Church of England was not more directly involved in the early stages of developing the covenant. "We might have got somewhere better," he said, questioning whether a covenant that "institutionalizes a method of exclusion" would receive the necessary two thirds majority from Synod.

The rest of the comments are definitely worth a read, and you can find them here.


Additional coverage from the Church of England General Synod ishere.

Great moments in Biblical exegesis

... or is it hermeneutics? A preacher who sounds remarkably like the character Jack on Lost explores Biblical mandates regarding the male urinary posture. Elizabeth Kaeton, bless her heart, unearthed this gem on You Tube. And, as Dave Barry would say, she is not making this up.

Watch with an empty mouth.

Speaking of stand-up comedy

Over at the Christian Century blog Theolog, John Dart made an observation about the value of humor when it comes to the art of preaching and our own relationship with faith. Being able to connect with people's ability to laugh, he says, is a gift that helps diffuse tension:

One night last month Jay Leno, acting as both performer and writer while the writers guild strike dragged on, recruited a priest, a rabbi and a minister, each to tell a favorite joke on stage. The clerics told their tales smoothly and got laughs.

It made me long for more exposure to clergy who routinely touch funny bones with great one-liners and funny-yet-wise stories. Comedy is a difficult art in any venue, no less in church settings. But it can work in certain situations, such as with a pastor known for wry humor and congregants who expect and react to the humor.

Some evangelical churches have had success with special evening performances by Christian comics, one troupe calling itself “Clean Comedians” to reassure congregations of its family-friendly values. Robert G. Lee, performing at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, imagined meeting Moses in heaven and hearing him grumbling about the flock wandering with him through the desert for 40 years. “Every day people would come up to me and say, ‘Are we there yet?’”

He then wonders where we can go for religious humor these days. Pay a visit if you'd like to weigh in.

God, gays, and eschatology

The Right Rev. Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, addressing what Ruth Gledhill calls "a fringe meeting of the General Synod" that marked the release of God, Gays and the Church, tossed off a remark that was probably meant to be witty and seems to be coming round as something else. At the very least, it seems that Bishop Dow did not intend for his remarks to go outside of the audience:

... Dow told a fringe meeting of the General Synod that the Government was like a demonic beast imposing its morality on the nation.

“It has become a Revelation 13 Government rather than a Romans 13 Government,” he said.

Revelation 13 is one of the most quoted chapters of the Bible by those prophesying apocalypse. By contrast, Romans 13 advocates respect for the law, God and authority.

Bishop Dow was speaking at the release of God, Gays and the Church, a book intended to put the conservative evangelical side in the debate on gay rights.

In her blog, Gledhill adds:

Not many bishops have yet met Riazat Butt, the Guardian's new religious affairs correspondent, so the Bishop can perhaps be forgiven, when she went up to him afterwards to find out if he really meant that Gordon Brown's Government was demonic, for asking 'Are the press here?'

Martha Linden of the Press Association, who was with Riazat, asked him if he really meant what he had just said. He asked her not to report his quotes, although it was a public meeting to which the press were invited. But he told Martha: 'I didn't mean to say the Government was demonic. The point I want to make is the change from a positive evaluation in Romans 13 to a negative one in Revelation.'

Gledhill also reports that:


Bishop Dow, a devout evangelical and one of the Church's authorised specialists in "deliverance" ministry, was told that many church members feel helpless in the face of the gay rights agenda and was asked what they could do to counter the trend. He responded: "The challenge is to be brave and bolder than we have been, keeping the issue in the public domain, not falling into the trap of being aggressive. We will be called homophobic consantly."
[sic].


The BBC notes that this isn't the first time that Bishop Dow has apparently sounded curiously like certain famous American personalities who link everything from the AIDS epidemic to various natural disasters to God's wrath and End Times.

Last year, he reportedly said the flooding in the UK was partly God's judgment on society's moral decadence.

Ruth Gledhill's news story is here, and her blog post is here.

HT to Thinking Anglicans, which has the BBC link and others.

Faith and the election, frontrunner edition

Now that the field has been winnowed down, Time is taking another look at the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, recounting the mistakes made in 2004 and how today's candidates seem to have learned from them in a sidebar to coverage of Super Tuesday.

Backstage at the Target Center in Minneapolis before a rally earlier this month, Barack Obama engaged in one of his pregame rituals: the presidential candidate joined a circle of young campaign supporters and staff, clasped hands with those on either side of him and prayed.

Hillary Clinton, his rival for the Democratic nomination, has talked on the campaign trail about the "prayer warriors" who support her, and her campaign has made sure that primary voters know that Clinton used to host church picnics at the governor's mansion in Arkansas.

If the Democratic ticket in November is able to capture a greater share of religious voters than in previous elections, it will be because both Obama and Clinton have rejected their party's traditional fight- or-flight reaction to religion. For decades, the men and women who ran the Democratic Party and its campaigns bought into the conservative spin that the faithful were pro-life, right-wing and most certainly not Democratic voters. Armed with this mind-set, political professionals gave themselves permission to ignore religion and the religious. And in 2004, John Kerry paid the price for that decision.

That's here, and adapted from Amy Sullivan's forthcoming book, The Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats Are Closing the God Gap.

What makes this even more notable is that on the Republican side, McCain's emergence as the frontrunner has prompted Bob Fischer, a South Dakota businessman and anti-abortion activist, to announce that he will be "working in other ways to see that we have additional choices as conservatives," according to an Associated Press story:

He declined to elaborate, but held out hope that Mike Huckabee might mount an improbable comeback, or that another "good conservative, Godly, Christian pro-life" GOP candidate somehow emerge to supplant McCain. The Arizona lawmaker has opposed abortion during his four terms in the Senate.

Fischer also volunteered an alternative scenario: supporting the nominee of the fledgling Constitution Party.

...

Last fall, Fischer called a meeting in Salt Lake City as Christian conservative leaders attended a separate gathering of the ultra-secretive Council for National Policy, an umbrella group for the movement.

Most attendees of Fischer's meeting, including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, agreed to support a minor-party candidate if Giuliani emerged as the Republican nominee, according to Dobson and others in attendance. Another group suggested creating a new party, but no consensus emerged, Dobson wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times.

Several Christian conservative leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Fischer has invited them to a follow-up meeting next month in New Orleans coinciding with another Council for National Policy meeting.

Fischer would not confirm nor deny a meeting, but said, "If I told you we were, I think the success of that meeting would be greatly compromised."

That's from here.

Central Ecuador a model for San Joaquin

At the end of their meeting this week in Quito, members of the Executive Council sent a message saying that the Diocese of Central Ecuador may provide a model for the reconstitution of the Diocese of San Joaquin, in addition to reviewing the financial health of the Episcopal Church (which ended the year with a $1 million surplus).

The Living Church provides some background on the Ecuador situation and some notes on the announcement from the Executive Council:

The previous Bishop of Central Ecuador was deposed in 2006 for failure to provide adequate financial information over the course of a number of years. Subsequently the diocese learned that title to many of its assets–including the cathedral, the diocesan office building and a school‑were listed as personal property of the former bishop. During the meeting in Ecuador council members toured a number of diocesan outreach ministry projects and congregations. “We are gratified to see the rebirth of hope for the people of this diocese, which has emerged revitalized from the necessary inhibition and deposition of its bishop and a restructuring of the diocese under the leadership of Bishop Wilfredo Ramos-Orench, appointed by the House of Bishops as provisional Bishop,” council said. “This is a new and unfamiliar landscape for all of us,” council members said in a section of the letter referring to Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin. “We stand with you and commit ourselves to provide pastoral care, to aid in reorganization, and to support legal actions necessary to retain the assets of the diocese for ministry. We will hold clergy leaders accountable to their vows to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of this church, and lay leadership accountable to the fiduciary responsibilities of the offices they hold. Up to $500,000 of income from trust funds will be made available in the calendar year 2008 to support the mission work of the Diocese of San Joaquin and similarly situated dioceses.”

The whole thing, including a link to a PDF file of the letter from the Council, is here.

Uganda announces Lambeth boycott

News broke yesterday that the Anglican Church of Uganda has decided to join Rwanda and Nigeria in their decision to boycott this summer's Lambeth Conference.

From online reports:

"The African Province announced its intention in a statement issued last night by the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Rev Henry Orombi, pictured, on the same day the Church of England’s General Synod discussed the content of a Covenant which is being drawn up to try and keep the worldwide Communion together.

The boycott revolves around the Church’s long-running row over homosexuality, which came to the fore after the consecration of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, by the Episcopal Church (TEC) of the USA in 2003. In the statement Bishop Orombi writes that Bishop Robinson’s consecration and the TEC’s continued practice of blessing same-sex couples is ‘in flagrant disregard’ of a resolution passed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference which described homosexual practice as ‘incompatible with Scripture’."

The article points out that the Ugandan bishops are particularly concerned that the bishops of the Episcopal Church were invited, and would be present as full participants at Lambeth.

Read the rest of this report here.

Thinking Anglicans has an excellent round up of reports and reactions as well as the announcement itself.


Executive Council wraps up work

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has ended its meeting in Ecuador and issued a statement to the Episcopal Church. In the letter, the Executive Council discusses the situation in the Diocese of San Joaquin in particular.

"The Executive Council issued a letter to the Episcopal Church February 14 during the final day of its four-day meeting here praising the transformation of the Diocese of Ecuador Central and saying it gives the members hope in light of the attempt of the leadership of the Diocese of San Joaquin to transfer their diocese to another province in the Anglican Communion.
'We are deeply concerned for those who want to continue as members of The Episcopal Church but now find themselves in parishes or dioceses attempting to depart,' the letter. 'To the members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, know we stand with you. Your struggles and needs inform our prayers, deliberations, and plans.

'This is a new and unfamiliar landscape for all of us. We stand with you and commit ourselves to provide pastoral care, to aid in re-organization, and to support legal actions necessary to retain the assets of the diocese for ministry. We will hold clergy leaders accountable to their vows to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church, and lay leadership accountable to the fiduciary responsibilities of the offices they hold.'

The letter also summarizes the Council's time in Quito, commends Ecuador Central for its mission and ministry, and briefly discusses the financial state of the Episcopal Church."

In other news released at the meeting, the Episcopal Church's national budget is going to show a surplus due to larger than anticipated contributions by many dioceses to its common work. Council also heard reports on the ongoing process in the Communion to define a broadly acceptable Covenant.

Read the rest of the news report here.

The text of the letter (in pdf format) issued by the Executive Council can be read here.

New Primate in the Sudan

The Episcopal Church of the Sudan elected a new primate yesterday. The Rt. Rev. Daniel Deng Bul of the Diocese of Renk will succeed Archbishop Marona as the next leader of Anglicans in the Sudan.

According to the Episcopal News Service:

"Deng was elected February 14 on the first ballot out of a field of three nominees during an emergency General Synod at All Saints Cathedral in Juba, Sudan.

'It is a big day filled with exitement in Juba,' said Emmanuel Sserwadda, the Episcopal Church's partnership officer for Africa who is attending the February 13-15 Synod.

The 75 voting delegates included bishops, clergy and laity, and a two-thirds majority of 50 votes was required to elect the new archbishop. The other candidates were Bishop Ezekiel Kondo of Khartoum and Bishop Francis Loyo of Rokoni.

Deng recieved 39 votes, Loyo 21 and Kondo 15. Kondo was eliminated and before the Synod could proceed to the second ballot, Loyo withdrew and asked all delegates to support Deng.

Deng's enthronement will be held at All Saints Cathedral in Juba on April 20."

Later in the article it is reported that:

According to the Diocese of Chicago's Commission on Global Ministry, Deng received a Theology Certificate from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1997, and returned to guide the Diocese of Renk in a direction of self-sufficiency by starting schools at all levels, training programs for women, agriculture, fishing, and poultry projects. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and several U.S. Episcopalians from Chicago and Virginia traveled to Renk on February 28, 2006 for the historic consecration of the diocese's new cathedral.

"Archbishop-elect Deng has promised to work with all partners that are willing to support the Episcopal Church of the Sudan," said Sserwadda.

Read the rest here.

Now there are five.

According to the ENS, five primates have now announced that they will boycott Lambeth in protest to the inclusion of the bishops the Episcopal Church amongst the assembled. Today Archbishop Nzimbi of Kenya joined four others who had previously indicated their concerns.

From the ENS article written by Matthew Davies:

"Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, Henry Orombi of Uganda, and Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone -- who make up five of the 38 Anglican Primates -- told the 21 English bishops that they would not attend Lambeth in protest to the invitations extended by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Episcopal Church's bishops. Akinola, Kolini and Orombi had all previously announced that they intended to boycott the conference.

Neva Rae Fox, the Episcopal Church's public affairs officer, noted that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is saddened by the primates' decision not to attend Lambeth.

'The gathering will be diminished by their absence, and I imagine that they themselves will miss a gift they might have otherwise received,' the Presiding Bishop said. 'None of us is called to 'feel at home' except in the full and immediate presence of God. It is our searching, especially with those we find most 'other,' that is likely to lead us into the fuller experience of the body of Christ. Fear of the other is an invitation to seek the face of God, not a threat to be avoided.'

The five primates acknowledged in their letter that some of them 'have not been able to take communion with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church since February 2005' because of the 2003 consecration of Robinson, an openly gay partnered man, as bishop of New Hampshire. 'The consecrators of Gene Robinson have all been invited to Lambeth, contrary to the statement of the Windsor Report (para 134) that members of the Episcopal Church should 'consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion,'' the primates said."

Read the rest here.

Tobias Haller has some thoughts about the situation here.

Peer review for creationists

Bonnie Goldstein at Slate writes:

Scholars submit new discoveries to academic journals, which, in turn, solicit independent experts to assess the reliability of the work. Answers Research Journal, a new "professional, peer-reviewed technical" publication of "interdisciplinary scientific … research," has streamlined this process by inviting the submitting scholars to suggest who should review their work (Page 5). Here the goal is not to ensure that research meets academic standards of scientific inquiry, but rather to ensure that the scholar's conclusions conform to a literal interpretation of the Bible.

The journal is published by Answers in Genesis, "an apologetics (i.e., Christianity-defending) ministry" that also runs the Creation Museum. The editor-in-chief of Answers Research Journal, geologist and creationist Andrew Snelling, wants "to ensure that the Creation and Flood model is given the best possible development."

Read it all.

Woman to celebrate Eucharist in San Joaquin

The Bakersfield Californian reports that a woman will preside at the Eucharist in the Diocese of San Joaquin for the first time.

... a visiting female priest from Los Angeles will celebrate Communion toward the end of the Mass.

"In this diocese that IS a big deal," Vivian wrote to The Californian in an e-mail.

The Rev. Elizabeth Davenport, of St. John's Episcopal Church, who has also been the senior associate dean of religious life at USC for the last five years, said the San Joaquin Diocese under seceding bishop the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield did not allow women priests, including visiting priests, to celebrate Communion.

But because Schofield's duties are currently constrained or "inhibited" by Jefferts Schori during a 60-day waiting period before a possible ecclesiastical trial, the Episcopal remnant within the local diocese is at liberty to employ the services of female priests, whom Jefferts Schori supports.

Read it all here.

Saving the world while staying at home

Allison Schrager writes:

Regardless of how you feel about why we are in Afghanistan, many of us would hope to improve the daily lives of those who live there. But how can we help the citizens of a country so far away? How do we even know what they might need? I could join the military or find work with an NGO there. But really, I am far too selfish to do either of these things. I have endless admiration for those who are willing to disrupt their lives and put them on the line. I, however, want to be able to offer help from the comfort of my own home.

and

But it is hard to deny that aid can do harm when given too enthusiastically to countries in need. However, putting the ever-sceptical economist in me aside, the fact remains that I do want to help people in Afghanistan. How can I do this effectively, and without offending my professional sensibilities?

The best way is to find an organisation that has local knowledge of the country and a thorough understanding of its economic needs. Also, target individuals and leave the big macro-development projects to the government and large aid organisations. I find the Global Partnership for Afghanistan (GPFA) appealing. It is a New York-based charity, founded by Afghan-Americans and Americans, which offers micro-loans to Afghan land owners to plant fruit and nut orchards. It also provides agricultural training and support to the Afghan farmers, particularly women. The group's goal is to spur economic development by empowering individual farmers with a source of income and food.

I usually recoil at talk of agricultural subsidies. But in this case the farmers receive micro-loans, which require some discipline and accountability. Micro-loans, when administered properly, provide an institution that developing countries generally lack.

Read it all and More Intelligent Life.

The dawn of the Evangelical Democrat

Over at The Revealer, Jeff Sharlett writes:

Smart religion writers have been complaining for awhile that exit polls don't ask Democratic voters about their religious affiliations. Now "Faith in Public Life," a center-left outfit, has done something about it. Robert P. Jones reports at Religion Dispatches. The implications are huge: In Missouri and Tennessee, one-third of white evangelical voters voted in Democratic primaries. And, more surprising, in both states they favored Hillary over Obama by overwhelming margins: MO: 54% to 37%; TN: 78% to 12%. That blows a hole in the conventional wisdom that Obama represents a "third way" a lot of white evangelicals will follow, but it may confirm an argument about Hillary's long, slow outreach to Christian conservatives that Kathryn Joyce and I made in Mother Jones last fall.

The survey also finds that a majority of evangelicals want an agenda that goes beyond abortion and homosexuality. Faith in Public Life, and partners like center-leftist Jim Wallis and center-rightist Randy Brinson, announce that finding like it's news. Not to anyone who's spent time with ordinary evangelicals and knows that they care as much about poverty and suffering as anyone. The difference was never a matter of what people cared about; it's an issue of how you want to respond, and on that score, these new numbers may reveal a growing evangelical comfort with big government.

Read it all.

The Angriest Man in Television

Mark Bowden, one of the best narrative journalists at work today, offers an insightful profile of David Simon, the man behind The Wire, the best show on television.

He writes:

[Simon] has done something that many reporters only dream about. He has created his own Baltimore. With the help of his chief collaborator, Ed Burns, a former Baltimore cop and schoolteacher; a stable of novelists and playwrights with a feel for urban drama (including George Pelecanos, Richard Price, and Dennis Lehane); a huge cast of master actors; and a small army of film professionals shooting on location—in the city’s blighted row-house neighborhoods and housing projects, in City Hall, nightclubs, police headquarters, in the suburbs, the snazzy Inner Harbor, the working docks—he has, over four seasons, conjured the city onscreen with a verisimilitude that’s astonishing. Marylanders scrutinize the plot for its allusions to real people and real events. Parallels with recent local political history abound, and the details of life in housing projects and on street corners seem spookily authentic. (A New York City narcotics detective who loves the show told me a few years ago that street gangs in Brooklyn were watching it to learn tactics for avoiding cell-phone intercepts.)

Read it all.

Fastest declining faith in America?

The National Council of Churches has published its 2008 Yearbook of Canadian and American Churches. It reports that the fastest growing denomination in the United States and Canada is Jehovah's Witnesses. The denomination with the sharpest decline was the Episcopal Church. The Religion News Services offered this report:

Jehovah's Witnesses are the fastest-growing church body in the U.S. and Canada, now with more than 1 million members, according to new figures that track church membership in the U.S. and Canada.

Although Jehovah's Witnesses ranked 24th on the list of 25 largest churches, they reported the largest growth rate -- 2.25 percent -- of all churches. The badly divided Episcopal Church, meanwhile, reported the largest drop, at 4.15 percent.

The 2008 Yearbook of Canadian and American Churches, produced by the New York-based National Council of Churches, recorded growth trends in 224 national church bodies, with a combined membership of 147 million Americans.

The 2008 Yearbook is based on self-reported membership figures for 2006, the most recent year available.

The Roman Catholic Church, with 67.5 million members, remains the largest U.S. church body, with a 2006 increase of 0.87 percent. The second largest church, the Southern Baptist Convention (16.3 million) has more than twice the number of members as the United Methodist Church, the third largest, which documented 7.9 million U.S. members.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at 5.7 million U.S. members (1.56 percent increase) and the Church of God in Christ, with a steady 5.5 million, round out the top five.

Only the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Catholic Church, Southern Baptists, Mormons, the Assemblies of God (2.8 million) and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (1.4 million) reported increases; all others either posted declines or flat membership from 2005.

Read it all here.

Civilians in War

Hugo Slim, chief scholar at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Switzerland, has published,Killing Civilians: Method, Madness and Morality in War , a very timely book on the history of the treatment of civilians in wartime. The Economist offer this review:

THE idea of a limited war, in which certain groups of people should be protected, is not new. In the fourth century St Augustine was already advocating the doctrine of a “just war”, based on civilian protection, proportionality and restraint. The same principles were enshrined in the 1949 Geneva Conventions and in the mandates of the various international tribunals set up over the past 15 years. Yet the moral ideal of civilian protection remains very much a minority view.

As Hugo Slim explains in “Killing Civilians”, marking out a special category of people called “civilians” from the wider enemy group in war “is a distinction that is not, and never has been, either clear, meaningful or right” for many perpetrators of war—nor even for many civilians themselves. A former humanitarian field-worker, Mr Slim is now chief scholar at the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue in Switzerland. In this book he begins by examining in great and gory detail the appalling ways in which civilians have suffered in wars down the ages—by rape, massacre, torture, mutilation, famine, disease, trauma and so on. He goes on to look at why unarmed, supposedly harmless civilians so often turn out to be the victims in war.

The reasons, he suggests, include a desire to exterminate an entire group of purportedly inferior beings (genocide); a lust for power and domination (Genghis Khan); a thirst for revenge (as in so many of today's African wars); necessity (claimed by Palestinian suicide-bombers in their “asymmetrical” war against Israel); or plunder (common in the past, but rarer today). Civilians may also be killed or wounded through calculated recklessness (as when Israeli bulldozers raze Palestinian homes) or the inevitable accidents that are associated with inaccurate weapons (“collateral damage”).

But who qualifies as a civilian? International law provides only a negative description: someone who is not a member of the armed forces, who does not carry a weapon, who does not take part in hostilities. This is clearly inadequate. An estimated 60% of the world's weapons-bearers are civilians (hunters, for example). On the other hand, many of those who do not carry arms (or wear uniforms) may be very much part of the war effort—ammunition workers, porters, victuallers and the like. And what of the ideologues whose hate-filled doctrines fuel the conflict, the newspaper editors who disseminate the propaganda or the taxpayers who pay for the war? Should they be afforded special protection when the unwilling teenage conscript is not?

As Mr Slim himself concedes, there are rarely totally innocent bystanders in wartime. Osama bin Laden deems all the citizens of any democracy that goes to war to be “non-innocent”—and therefore legitimate targets—because their political systems allow them to choose their leaders and thus to choose their wars. Although Mr Slim would not go that far, he agrees that it is a “fallacy” to suggest that all civilians are equally harmless in wartime. But, he argues (not totally convincingly), “it is a necessary fallacy if we are to try to limit the killing in war.”

Read it all here.

Faith and Values Movie Awards

Earlier this week, Hollywood held its 16th annual "Faith and Values Gala." The Gala, a project of Movieguide®, with the support of The John Templeton Foundation, aims to recognize "films and television with a positive values message."

The winners were:

Epiphany Prize for Film: Amazing Grace (Nominees had been Amazing Grace, Bella, I am Legend, In the Shadow of the Moon, Spider-Man 3, The Ten Commandments, The Ultimate Gift)

Epiphany Prize for Television: The Valley of Light (Nominees had been Friends and Heroes “False Heroes” (BBC), Lost Holiday: The Jim & Suzanne Shemwell Story (Lifetime), Saving Sarah Cain (Lifetime), The Valley of Light (CBS) )

Top Family Film of the Year: Ratatouille (nominees had been Alvin and The Chipmunks, Bella, Bridge to Terabithia, Enchanted, The Game Plan, In The Shadow Of The Moon, Nancy Drew, Ratatouille, Shrek the Third, The Ultimate Gift )

Top Movie for Mature Audiences: Amazing Grace (nominees had been Amazing Grace, The Astronaut Farmer, August Rush, The Great Debaters, I am Legend, Live Free Or Die Hard, Pride, Spider-Man 3, Strike, The Transformers)

For more information about the Gala and the awards go here. Hat to to Sam Hodges at the Dallas Morning News Religion Blog.

Amazing Grace was certainly a worthy choice, but what happened to Juno? Was it not even worthy of a nomination?

Theo Hobson on the Archbishop of Canterbury

Theo Hobson offers a provocative assessment of Rowan Williams in respose to the sharia controversy in the Tablet, a British Catholic weekly. First, be observes that the Archbishop has chosen a very different style of leadership than is often expected for those in his position:

When Dr Rowan Williams was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002, there was delight that the Church of England had found a leader with a brilliant, critical mind, someone who was principled and reformist. This was a spiritual leader who could also be liberal; someone who had a track record in supporting gay rights and women's ordination. But had he got the political nous to be Archbishop of Canterbury?

The problem with this question is that it pretends to know what the job essentially is. It presupposes that he ought to be a politician in fancy dress; that his job is to say the sort of things that make the majority feel comfy, safe, flattered. Maybe instead his role is to raise the most awkward questions. But surely, some will reply, his core role is to defend Britain's Christian tradition, to be a figurehead for it. But he's not the Queen, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

His job, as he understands it, is also to interpret the tradition that he represents, and to sharpen its capacity for truthfulness. In this view, the religious leader has more in common with the court jester than the king. His role is not to project an image of strength that will unite the faithful, and please the nation at large, but to challenge all tendencies to ideological surety, in both Church and nation.

Second, Hobson observes that many have been misled by the Archbishop's theological writings to expect a liberal--when, in fact, the Archbishop is an Anglo-Catholic with strong suspicion of liberal secularism:

His advocacy of the rights of gay Christians during the 1990s was misleading: it made him seem the liberal he never really was. He was always an Anglo-Catholic above all. He sought to develop and update the open, liberal side of this tradition, but not in a way that might jeopardise its integrity.

Above all, he refused to combine Anglo-Catholicism with a general liberal agenda. Indeed he revived the Anglo-Catholic suspicion of secular liberalism that dates back to Newman. The liberal state, in this view, offers itself as an alternative community of salvation; it tempts us into supposing that we can dispense with the Church, or at least water it down, and develop a more progressive form of Christianity. This leads to weak forms of Christianity that are unable to resist dangerous ideologies: most obviously, the liberal Protestants of Germany embraced Nazism. It is Williams' anti-liberal ecclesiology that is the root cause of the present controversy. In a sense it's not really about sharia law, or Islam: it's about the relationship between a Catholic conception of the Church and liberalism.

For Williams, authentic Christianity occurs within a clearly defined social body, an "ethical community" as he has sometimes put it. Without this, Christian culture will be dispersed by the cold winds of secularism. There is a need for strong resistance to the various negative spirits of the age: consumerism, celebrity, hedonism and so on, and this resistance can only occur within an alternative social world, walled off from mainstream culture.

Only from within a religious subculture can secular modernity be seen for what it is: dehumanising. He has referred to secularism's "unspoken violence", and to modernity as "an atmosphere in which people become increasingly formless, cut off from what could give their lives ... some kind of lasting intelligibility". He sees secular liberalism as a quietly nihilistic force that robs human life of full significance, as a demonically subtle tyranny that looks and feels like freedom.

. . .

He sees his role, then, as defender of the various subcultural spaces that resist the logic of secularism, the enclaves within our culture where fully human meaning is made. And of course these are not only Christian. In a curious way his vision echoes Prince Charles' declaration that he would like to be the defender of faith rather than the faith. He wants to be the defender of the endangered cultural space that insists on the priority of God. If the Muslim form of such space is tied up with sharia law, we must try to accommodate this.

Finally, Hobson argues that the furor over the Archbishop's sharia comments are largely linked to the fact that the Archbishop's concept of the church is at variance with a liberal, secular Great Britain:

The problem with this idea of his role is that he heads an institution with a logic that is at variance with it. The Church of England cannot really be described as a subcultural space in which secular liberalism is resisted. Because it is the established Church of a society that is liberal, and largely secular, it is strange for its leader to speak of secular liberalism as the enemy. Whether he likes it or not, Williams does not just represent the card-carrying members of faith communities: he also represents the huge amount of Britons who are semi-Christian or post-Christian; people who see Christianity and liberalism as complementary.

Such people (most of the nation) are sympathetic to Christianity but sceptical of religious institutions. They want a liberal form of Christianity to lurk in the background of national identity - in order to bless liberalism rather than contest it. It is rash to dismiss this desire as muddled or hypocritical, for it is rooted in British history: our liberalism and our version of Protestantism developed side by side. Liberal Protestantism is basic to our national identity, although people don't tend to think of it as "liberal Protestantism" but as "our Christian heritage" and "our liberal tradition".

This is what Williams seems not to grasp, or chooses not to. It sets him apart from the figures I likened him to earlier, Temple, Ramsey and Runcie. For these Anglo-Catholics had an instinctive understanding that the British people will only tolerate an established Church that is sympathetic to liberalism; they saw the necessity of working with this national religious instinct, rather than seeking to antagonise and deconstruct it.

The anger that Williams has unleashed is not just down to Islamophobia. It is also a lament for the liberal Anglican culture that has been slowly collapsing for a decade or two, and has all but been lost. Such is my regard for Williams' intellect that I suspect that he knew that he was drawing attention to this, initiating a new debate about whether a liberal established Church is still meaningful. He is saying, in his deep, gentle voice: "Perhaps it's time to consider whether the old religious set-up is still what most of us really want."

Read it all here.

Disestablishment on the radar screen again

The controversy after the Archbishop of Canterbury's "sharia speech" has become a discussion over the status of the Church of England itself and the question of disestablishement seems to be on the radar screen.

The Economist editorializes that 'religions should have a smaller official role in England, not a greater one.'

...the archbishop proposes to expand the privileges of all religions. It would be better instead to curtail the entitlements of his one. It makes no sense in a pluralistic society to give one church special status. Nor does it make sense, in a largely secular country, to give special status to all faiths. The point of democracies is that the public arena is open to all groups—religious, humanist or football fans. The quality of the argument, not the quality of the access to power, is what matters. And citizens, not theocrats, choose.

Ekklesia writes:

Pressures from several directions are putting the disestablishment of the Church of England back on the agenda, say reports following the General Synod and concerns about the long term impact of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Sharia speech.

A survey of the Church's governing body found up to 63 per cent of members now believe the Church will be disestablished within a generation, says the Sunday Telegraph.

Labour MPs recently tabled a parliamentary Early Day Motion on the subject, a Home Office report some months back is reported to have expressed concern over the impact of Establishment on other sections of society, and there were some calls for the cutting of the Church-Crown link following the row about Dr Williams' comments on religious and civil law.

Now the Sunday Telegraph newspaper claims that senior Anglican bishops now fear that the Church of England's special link with the state is under threat following moves to end the prime minister's involvement in key clerical appointments.

Read: The Economist: Church and state- Sever them.

Also: Ekklesia: Disestablishment may be back on the agenda as church feels pressure.

HT to Thinking Anglicans. Firestorm: The Economist weighs in.

Has the covenant already sunk?

Simon Sarmiento, keeper of Thinking Anglicans, has written as essay asking the question "Has the covenant already sunk?" The article appears in the LGCM Anglican Matters newsletter, a paid advertising supplement to the Church Times.

In the essay he outlines how two trends show significant strains on the concept of an Anglican covenant as a means to hold the Anglican Communion together. On the one hand, the so-called Global South churches have gone out of their way to establish competing bishoprics in the USA against the words and intent of the Windsor Report. They are also planning a substitute conference for bishops not going to Lambeth, including on their invitation list breakaway bishops who would not be invited by Canterbury anyway.

On the other side, is the lukewarm to negative response to the first draft of the Covenant in the Anglican Churches of Canada, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, as well as the USA.

Here is Simon Sarmiento's list of books and useful links to get a quick background on the controversy to date:

Sarmiento’s Selection

There are three books that are indispensable for a study of Anglican events in the past decade:

A Church at War by Stephen Bates, published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2005, which contains significant additional material to that in the original hardback version.

Last year, Anglican in Communion in Crisis by Miranda K. Hassett was published by Princeton University Press. This deals primarily with the earlier period from before 1998 until about 2003, from the perspective of a professional anthropologist. The original doctoral thesis is available online here.

Another key document is Following the Money by Jim Naughton, available only electronically, which deals exhaustively with the financial support that conservative Anglicans have received from wealthy American donors.

Read: LGCM Anglican Matters newsletter

See the essay in HTML version here.

Locked out of church

2/19 UPDATE: the rest of the story -- the Diocese of Texas has cancelled services - which these people knew - until the safety of the priest and lay leaders can be assured. See more above.

If you have ever wondered what a protracted church fight, sometimes called a Level IV conflict does to a parish and what kind of witness this is to the community, here is a perfect example.

Worshipers at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas came to church yesterday to find a note taped to the locked gate telling them that services were canceled. The press was called, the priest who locked the gates was not at home and charges and counter charges abound.

Mark Garay of KTRK-TV/DT of Houston reported:

People went to their church for Sunday services and they were locked out. Now, they're left wondering if they'll have to find a new place to pray.

It all stems from an ongoing dispute with their church pastor. The St. Joseph's Episcopal Church is about 400 members strong. They're praying this will all get resolved and they'll be able to stay at the church and keep the congregation together.

They gathered to sing and pray on the outside drive, locked out by steel gates, where inside they have celebrated god every Sunday for years.

"We haven't seen anything like this before," said church member Paul Chukwujekwu.

The problems began at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church about a year ago. Members began complaining to local publications that the Rev. Nogozi Ehmehkah Agimm was ignoring his pastoral duties,; not helping troubled families, refusing to offer communion to hospitalized church members and neglecting visits and prayers for one 74-year-old church goer who was dying of cancer.

"This priest has never visited him or called his house to pray for him. And word just came to us that this man died last week," said church member Michael Onuogu.

Complaint letters went out to the Governing Bishop Don Wimberly. But members say Agimm then accused his own congregation of stealing money, and last week set off a burglar alarm during Sunday service before leaving with his family.

"His intentions were of course to for the fire marshals and the police to come here and arrest everyone. But of course, it didn't happen," said Chukwujekwu.

Last Wednesday, the congregation says he wrote a letter telling church members they were no longer welcome, and threatened to have them arrested.

"My faith has been tampered with," said church member Innocent Ohalete. "The church is a place of worship, where we come to seek salvation."

We went to Rev. Agimm's house for his side, but there but there was no answer. In fact, church members say their last contact from him was a note left on the front gate this morning.

Church members are hoping to arrive next Sunday and see the gates open. But they admit if they don't hear anything soon, they may have to find another place to worship.

Church members deny anyone has stolen from St. Joseph's. But they do say there have been at least two other break-ins at churches nearby.

Eyewitness News tried calling the Episcopal Diocese of Houston for a comment, but a taped message said the office was closed until Tuesday.

Here is the video.

Religious and civil courts in the US

Two recent stories in the New York Times describe how conflicts in religious law and civil law are being handled in the USA, especially in family law.

There are differences between the American situation and the British, but the separation of church and state do not necessarily make the issues simple or easy to adjudicate.

Adam Liptak writes:

The larger question, legal experts in the United States said, is whether government courts should ever defer to religious ones. The answer may depend on whether the people involved authentically consented to religious adjudication, whether they are allowed to change their minds and whether the decisions of those tribunals are offensive to fundamental conceptions of justice.

All of that, said John Witte Jr., a law professor at Emory University, “is the big frontier question for religious liberty.”

But judges are hesitant to bring in religious questions when deciding on issues of child custody and divorce, even when the religious difference is at the heart of the dispute.

Neela Banerjee wrote:

Across the country, child-custody disputes in which religion is the flash point are increasing, part of a broader rise in custody conflicts over the last 30 years, lawyers, judges and mediators say.

“There has definitely been an increase in conflict over religious issues,” said Ronald William Nelson, a Kansas family lawyer who is chairman of the custody committee of the American Bar Association’s family law section. “Part of that is there has been an increase of conflicts between parents across the board, and with parents looking for reasons to justify their own actions.” Another factor, he said, is the rise of intermarriage and greater willingness by Americans to convert.

Nobody keeps track of who wins in these religious disputes, but lawyers say that judges are just as likely to rule in favor of the more religiously engaged parent as the other way around. That is because, for constitutional reasons, judges are reluctant to base their rulings primarily on the religious preferences of parents.

Judges do not want to take on custody disputes rooted in religion, said lawyers like Gaetano Ferro, who until recently served as president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Mr. Ferro said, “How will a judge say in any rational fashion that Islam is better than Buddhism, Catholicism better than Judaism, or Methodism better than Pentecostalism?”

As a result, more and more states have tried to keep custody disputes out of court by mandating mediation. But the effect has been piecemeal, and religious disputes have proven to be among the most difficult to resolve, lawyers said.

Some of the chief questions that remains unanswered relate to the competing interests of the particular faith community and societies interest in protecting individual liberty. For example, if a person may frelly choose to join and leave a religious group, should the decisions of a religious tribunal be enforced upon a person who has left the religious body? Another question is how to balance religious laws, that are based on customs and norms of a culture and time far removed from our own, against legitimate societal interests today. Which societal interest takes precedence: the cultural and religious integrity of a faith group, or issues of gender equality, not to mention the safety of women and children?

Almost no one suggests that criminal law should take into account the defendant’s religion in meting out punishment. At the other extreme, few people object to allowing purely commercial disputes between sophisticated businesspeople to be adjudicated through private arbitrations. The hard questions...arise in the area of family law, where the agreement to arbitrate may be uninformed or obtained by duress. State courts have occasionally refused to enforce separation agreements reached through bet din arbitrations on the ground that the woman involved had been pressured into participating.

Once consent is given, moreover, questions arise about whether and when it may be withdrawn. “People have a right in Western systems to change religions,” said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Michigan. “Can they opt out after the dispute arises or after the judgment is given?”

Most fundamentally, some judgments from religious tribunals may be at odds with constitutional protections, human rights and basic notions of fairness.

In an article to be published shortly in The Washington and Lee Law Review, Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at Washington and Lee University, wrote that Muslim women who decide to seek a divorce can face harsh financial consequences under Islamic law. “Threatened with the prospect of certain poverty,” she wrote, “some women will surely be forced to stay in an abusive relationship.”

Professor Wilson said in an interview that government courts should refuse to enforce any ruling from a religious tribunal that leaves a woman worse off than she would have been in a conventional divorce.

“Society has a stake in the outcome,” she said. “Some religions are tilted against women.”

Read the rest: New York Times: When God and the Law Don't Square

See also: New York Times: Religion joins custody cases, to judges unease.

A fractured faith: Is schism inevitable?

Stephen Bates, former religion correspondent for the Guardian, wrote "A Fractured Faith: Do divisions over homosexuality make schism inevitable?" which appeared in the LGCM Anglican Matters newsletter.

Of all the issues that might divide worldwide Anglicanism, the world’s third largest Christian denomination, in the early years of the 21st Century that of homosexuality ought to be the most inconsequential. It is, after all, an attraction that affects only a small minority of the small minority of people who choose to be practising Anglicans in the western world, though they are human beings who wish to express their allegiance to their faith, despite all the disapproval that it shows them.

Those singled out for particular anathema, furthermore, are precisely gay men and women who wish to serve their faith more directly by becoming ordained – often to work in the most difficult circumstances – but also to register publicly their abiding commitment to another human being. Despite all the hostility and periodic persecution that religious and secular societies have directed towards homosexuals over prolonged periods – although, despite some claims, official attitudes have fluctuated and been by no means uniformly condemnatory during the last 2,000 years – the proportion of the population who experience same sex attraction has apparently remained stubbornly much the same.

Gays have refused to go away, though many of them have tried to sublimate their affections, or to bury them deep underground, forcing them so far into the closet, as the saying goes, that they are almost in Narnia. Very often, that enforced unhappiness and personal diminishment has seemed organised religion’s preference, a sort of institutional hypocrisy.

So if such policies have endured, why is it now that conservative factions are threatening to split the church? They blame the gays for being increasingly aggressively assertive, murmering darkly about a gay conspiracy, though there is precious little evidence for that – indeed, it could be argued that in the Church of England at least gays are under more attack now than they were 20 years ago. It should be noted that those who wish to exclude others, who claim the church is split and who insist they are out of communion with other parts of the worldwide communion are exclusively conservative. By verbal gymnastics, they also claim that they themselves are somehow being persecuted and excluded by malign though ill-defined liberal forces.

The causes of the current controversies were exacerbated by several largely unconnected and accidental events: the appointment of an Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, known in his previous, academic, incarnations to be sympathetic to gays, followed within a year by the appointment to the suffragan bishopric of Reading of the canon theologian of Southwark, Jeffrey John, who had argued in favour of more accepting attitudes towards gays and who, under media and evangelical pressure, was forced to disclose that he himself was gay; and thirdly, the election – by democratic vote of his diocese - of the openly gay, partnered, cleric Gene Robinson.

All three men faced ruthless campaigns against them by evangelicals, who were none too scrupulous about the tactics they used and the untruths they spread. The three events in close conjunction convinced them that a concerted push was under way for gays and the appointments signified a seachange within the Anglican Church. Even so, their response, far from being entirely rational, bordered on the hysterical. Dr Williams was harangued, berated and denounced as a heretic, Gene Robinson, his partner and the US presiding bishop had to wear bullet-proof clothing at his consecration and Dr John was forced to relinquish his appointment by a disconcerted Archbishop of Canterbury, following protests from evangelicals. What suprised the conservatives, at least in England, was the paucity of outside support they received, especially from the media: an isolation they took as confirmation of the depravity of the world and a confirmation of their own rectitude.

Perhaps, in the developed world, such a clash was inevitable as secular attitudes to homosexuality changed, no thanks to the Church. Almost for the first time, religious morality has not prevailed in secular law. In Britain at least, measures to allow civil partnerships and to legislate against discrimination have been widely accepted, no political party has any intention of reversing them and there is no prospect of turning back the clock.

This has inevitably made some in the churches, but particularly the Church of England, with its establishment status and its uneasy historical alliance of low-church evangelicals and high-church Anglo-Catholics (a declining part of the church since the ordination of women), nervous and insecure. There is a sense among some conservative evangelicals that any accommodation with such measures will undermine Biblical belief and authority and that if they are allowed to stand within the church, all will be lost and anything will go. They may be aware that the British Social Attitudes Survey of 2000 showed that whereas older Anglicans are more likely to regard homosexuality as wrong than the general public, younger Anglicans, around the age of 18, are less likely to have such views then their contemporaries. So there is nothing less than a struggle for the future soul of the church going on. Evangelicals tend to say that, as a rising force in the CofE, their views should prevail.

In North America the situation is somewhat different. Historically, the US Episcopal Church has been liberal in social attitudes. It led the way to women’s ordination in the 1970s and has now been more openly welcoming towards gays than ever before. These developments have perturbed and disenchanted conservatives for many years and have already split some of them off. They tend to say that, as a minority, their views should have respect.

But on both sides of the Atlantic, these factions have identified homosexuality as an issue which can united their constituencies in a way that the earlier debate over women’s ordination could not – after all, many evangelicals have met women and some have even married them. It is evident from their remarks that, although they disavow any prejudice, many of them have a visceral dislike of what they take to be homosexual practice and a prurient interest in its mechanics – and they expect their followers do too. One leading evangelical said to me that gays were the “presenting issue” and that something else could have been chosen to assert their influence over the church, such as ecumenical services, or divorce – these are issues to which they may return.

While there are interesting differences in liturgical practice between the main conservative groups on both sides of the Atlantic – some English conservative evangelicals would have nose-bleeds at the High Churchmanship of many American conservatives (and indeed the various American groups are split over tactics and personalities) – both have found it expedient to make common cause in their fights against their hierarchies. For English conservatives the battle is to assert control for their highly congregationalist, distinctly non-traditional brand of Anglicanism as against other brands of evangelicalism, let alone the wider, less ideologically-driven Church of England, as has been seen in the takeover of Wycliffe Hall, the Oxford theological training college. For Americans, it is perhaps a more overtly political struggle, about claiming a “purer” and less socially and theologically liberal version of orthodoxy as pursued by the overwhelming majority in a church with which they have felt disenchanted for decades.

Isolated and on their own – as they have been for many years – such factions would have had limited influence but together and particularly by calling in the Third World to redress the balance of the Old, they have formed a formidable and effective alliance. The support of the equatorial African church has been crucial in the campaign and it has been mobilised – indeed regularly juiced up to outrage – through the instant communication offered by the Internet. Whereas the concept of the Worldwide Anglican Communion was little heard even two decades ago, except as a warm, fuzzy feeling of international brotherhood, in the last 10 years it has been held up as an iconic symbol of unique authority. African primates need no longer feel they are patronised and ignored by white men in clerical garb and have become more assertive and outspoken in their condemnation of homosexuality, which they see as a white decadence, so much so that some of their remarks have combined abusiveness, bigotry and ignorance as well as being deeply unChristian. Meanwhile, white bishops have been afraid of confronting them, partly because of liberal post-colonial guilt, partly to avoid upsetting local conservatives and partly out of a sense that the Africans are a rising force within the Church. The conservatives have naturally done nothing to disabuse them of these notions. Actually what has happened is that the Africans have swapped one client status for another. After all, as one conservative evangelical once wrote, rather a black African leader than a white, gay, one, even if the former looks like the church janitor.

Thus, gatherings of Anglican leaders have become highly politicised events. What were once opportunities for prayer, reflection and an opportunity to meet, have become international gatherings reported by media and surrounded by lobbyists. Third world bishops are given mobile phones so conservatives can keep track of them, even if they are sequestered in private, and leaders such as Peter Akinola, the primate of Nigeria, slip out for regular consultations. In the February 2007 primates’ meeting in Tanzania, such furtive meetings could not be hidden and the archbishop, inconspicuous in full tribal costume, could regularly be seen to be making his way to an upper room to take advice from the conservative lobbyists gathered there. One senior Anglican engaged in the primates’ talks said that it was noticeable how much firmer and less willing to compromise the archbishop always was on his return. Two of those he was consulting: Martyn Minns, evangelical, British-born rector of one of the breakaway churches in Virginia, and David Anderson of the American Anglican Council, have become bishops in the African church. When the rest of the world’s archbishops gathered in Zanzibar for Sunday eucharist in the cathedral, built on the old slave market, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, Akinola and his contacts stayed away.

Such an insurgency could not have been achieved without money and there is some evidence that the American conservative factions and, through them, the Africans, have been supported financially by wealthy American conservatives, who have also supported other campaigns against what they see as the wicked forces of liberalism. The amount of international travel the conservative lobbyists and their primatial contacts are able to undertake is quite considerable: Akinola seems to pop up almost as regularly in America as Abuja. British conservative organisations, such as Anglican Mainstream receive American money and the Rev. Anderson of the AAC was formerly the vicar of Howard Ahmanson, the Californian Real Estate heir, and his wife Roberta, who have funded a number of fundamentalist causes and organised courses for conservatives.

Now is the hour, they believe. If the opportunity is missed it may never come again. They see a conjunction of a cause and an opportunity and they believe they have an Archbishop of Canterbury in Rowan Williams who can be subverted or bypassed – “he’ll do as we tell him,” as one African primate was overheard telling his colleagues at a meeting in Dromantine in 2005. In England, the majority of congregations has not yet woken up to the push to create a very different church to the one they are used to. In America, there are signs that the Episcopal Church leadership is tiring both of the insurgents and of the worldwide communion. Whatever emerges in the coming year, it is unlikely that Anglicanism will ever be the same again. The bonds of affection are broken, the curtain is torn, can some form of divorce be indefinitely postponed?

Stephen Bates was the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent from 2000- 2007. He is the author of A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality and God's Own Country, Religion and Politics in the USA.

Usury prevalent in Christian conservative states

A new study from a University of Utah law professor shows a high correlation between concentrations of pay day lenders, notorious for high interest rates, and the political dominance of Christian conservatives.

Payday lenders, creditors that charge interest rates averaging about 450 percent, are more prevalent in Conservative Christian states, according to a new study coauthored by University of Utah law professor Christopher Peterson. The study, which is based on the most comprehensive database of payday lender locations yet compiled, maps a surprising relationship between populations of Christian conservatives and the proliferation of payday lenders.

“We started this project hoping to find out more about the spatial location of payday lenders and were surprised when a pattern reflecting a correlation with the American Bible Belt and Mormon Mountain West emerged,” said Peterson, who conducted the research and coauthored the article with Steven M. Graves, an associate professor of geography at California State University, Northridge. “The natural hypothesis would be to assume that given Biblical condemnation of usury there would be aggressive regulation and less demand for payday loans in these states, but ironically, the numbers show the opposite is true. It’s sad that states with a pious and honorable religious heritage now disproportionately host predatory lenders.”

Read it all here.

Church of Uganda still part of Anglican Communion

The Anglican Communion News Service is carrying a correction of recent news reports from the Church of Uganda.

“The Church of Uganda is not seceding from the Anglican Communion,” said Revd Canon Aaron Mwesigye, church spokesperson. “Some press stories have misrepresented our position.”

“The plain fact is that we are simply not attending the Lambeth Conference in July 2008, but we are still very much a part of the Anglican Communion.”

The Church of Uganda broke communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States of America in 2003 after they elected and consecrated as Bishop Gene Robinson, a divorced man living in a same-sex relationship. But, the Church of Uganda has remained a consistently active member of the Anglican Communion.

Read the press release here.

Not locked out of church

More news on our story from yesterday about the church that allegedly locked out members. New information now comes from the diocese about these events. The priest and members of the church cancelled services because of safety concerns. The group who got the television out there evidently faxed its intention to gather in front of the gates to all stations and news organizations in the Houston area. They were aware that the bishop's committee had voted to not hold services until they could get a security service to be at the church and keep these people out. They have threatened the treasurer at work and sent letters to his employer, they have threatened the vicar and his family. There is video from the previous week of these folks bodily throwing the vicar out of the pulpit.

Clarification of the situation comes from the diocesan news director, Carol Barnwell:

I'd like to offer some clarification for you and those to whom you have forwarded e-mails about St. Joseph's, Houston.

We have been dealing with this for some time now, had many meetings and are still working through it. Below is the response I sent to the news director at the television station yesterday. The news station was really played by this group of people. They were aware there was no service, called the station and then gathered in front of the church to make a scene. They also went way out of their way to send the link to everyone they could think of. All this after meeting with the bishop and refusing to have background checks. They walked out of that meeting (we had to have a guard at the office during it). They are very good at disseminating the bad news. What a wonderful thing it would be if they could share the Good News with such enthusiasm.

[The Rev.] Emeka [Agim] is one of the most kind people I have ever met, he has refused to allow us to put restraining orders on the people who have threatened him and his family with bodily harm because he doesn't want that kind of action associated with his church. The sheriff told him last week that he needed to have the orders in place so they could protect him. This group is out of control and I would love to not be part of the machine that further spreads their ugly story.

Below is the message I sent to the news director but it doesn't make as good a visual as a group chanting in front of the locked gates...it would be better to have the story first and pass around the true information before helping several dozen people bully a priest, his family and the treasurer.

When this group bodily ousted Emeka from the altar during a church service on Feb. 10, there were more than 150 people in the church worshipping. It was after this altercation that the bishop's committee voted to not hold services again until the church could be secure.

Letter to the television station:

I became aware of a story reported by Mark Garay on Sunday regarding St. Joseph's Episcopal Church and wanted to clarify a few things. The vicar, Emeka Agim, with the support of Bishop Don Wimberly, put in place a transparent system of accountability for finances of the church and had asked members of the bishop's committee to have background checks, which they refused to allow.

After a meeting with the bishop last month, some of the members of the bishop's committee still refused to have background checks and resigned from the governance committee of the congregation. They placed very negative stories about Agim and the church in the African newspaper, heckled him from the back of the church on several occasions during services and last week, the 10th of Feb., came in and accosted both him and the treasurer. It was this altercation that preceded Agim pulling the fire alarm to summon help.

Following a meeting with our multicultural ministry staff person, the sherriff, our diocesan chancellor and Agim last week the current bishop's committee voted to not hold worship services until we can secure the church because this group of people is out of control. Agim sent letters to former bishop's committee members and the church members who sided with them, asking them to not come back to the church or else a restraining order would be filed.

The Rev. Agim and his family have been physically and emotionally threatened by these folks to the point that we had to install an alarm system in the Agim's home. They have small children and his wife is pregnant with twins.

Our annual diocesan meeting was held in Galvleston this weekend and our offices are closed today because of this and the holiday. Your story only served to empower a group of people who have absolutely terrorized their own congregation and sought to maintain power and control where there are church canons to the contrary. The vicar has the bishop's full support in the matter.

I think it speaks to a larger story of trying to do multicultural ministry in a city with 80,000 Nigerians and the difficulty that exists in maneuvering other cultures own prejudices and notions of what is acceptable behavior in Church.

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas regrets the disorder of a few members who have threatened the priest and the treasurer and disrupted services on a number of occasions at St. Joseph's Episcopal Church, Houston. As soon as security can be provided for the church, it will reopen.

Is Fairtrade fair?

Ekklesia reports that consumers worldwide spent £1.1 billion on Fairtrade products last year, a 42% increase since 2006. Is this positive news and does it really make a difference or is it just a way for the affluent to soothe their consciences? A panel has been assembled to discuss these issues.

Does the Fairtrade initiative to put more money in the pockets of farmers in developing countries really make a difference when it comes to challenging prevailing international trading structures?

To mark Fairtrade Fortnight, JustShare, a coalition of churches and other development agencies seeking to engage with the City of London on issues of global and economic injustice, and Fairtrade educational charity Trading Visions, are hosting a special debate on the matter.

A panel of Fairtrade farmers, business and Church leaders will question whether Fairtrade is more a niche ethical sector, soothing the consciences of rich consumers and raising supermarket bank balances, than it is a real catalyst for change.

Read it all here.

GAFCON re-arranged

The pre Lambeth conference sponsored by Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) has been re-arranged in response to the Archbishop of the Middle East and the Bishop of Jerusalem.

After consultation with a number of church leaders in Jerusalem, and around the world, the pilgrimage of the Global Anglican Future Conference will now take place from June 22nd through June 29th. An important Consultation in Jordan from 18-22 June will include the conference leadership, theological resource group, those bishops serving in majority Islamic settings and other key leaders. The Jerusalem pilgrimage will focus on worship, prayer, discussions and Bible Study, shaped by the context of the Holy Land.

"We are very grateful for the feedback that we have received on the many complex issues that confront us," said Archbishop Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney and a member of the leadership team. "The emphasis of our time together will be our future in the Anglican Communion and the reformation and renewal of our common life rooted in the Holy Scriptures and our common faith in Jesus Christ."

Participants will include bishops and their wives, key clergy and laity.


Read it all here. Brochure of the events available a web site.

HT to Dave Walker at Cartoon Church.

Which path will we walk?

The Rt. Rev. Mauricio de Andrade, primate of Brazil reflects on the Communion, Lambeth and those threatening a boycott.

Which path will we walk?
Who will hear us?
How will we bear witness?

These days I wonder which path we will walk. At the last meeting of Anglican primates, in Tanzania, 12 primates besides me were participating at the gathering for the first time. It was an experience of patience and hope: patience, because nothing happens when we want it to and, hope, because the new primates, including one woman, indicated the possibility of taking new paths.

The primate discusses his attempts at reconciliation with Bishop Venables of the Southern Cone around the difficulties in the Diocese of Recife and Bishop Venables' public agreement to work on reconciliation along with continued actions that are counter to Venable's statements. Archbishop de Andrade recommends using Lent as a time for conversion to God in all our actions:

This is the season of Lent, a time for seeking conversion to God in all our actions; it is a time for prayer and meditation and a time for forgiveness and reconciliation.

I think we need to take a hard look in the mirror and see what we are doing with the Anglican Communion; I think it is time to remember that we are a “communion” and not simply a “federation” of churches and that, therefore, we do not need a “pact.” What we do need is to deepen the communion beyond the search for power, domination, and control.

Who will hear us? Who can hear the message we have to proclaim, which some want to envelop in the concept of “orthodoxy,” when it is in fact the message of God through Jesus Christ, whose love reconciles us with life, and life in abundance? Our words have been words of division. Yet, in Brazil we sing: “The Word was not made to divide anyone; the Word is the bridge over which love comes and goes. The Word was not made to dominate; the destination of the Word is dialogue.” Who will hear the archbishops/primates, bishops, and priests of the Church?

Read it all at the Anglican Communion news site here.

Clergy at two Canadian Anglican churches suspended

Unnati Ghandi reporting in the Toronto Globe & Mail:

The clergy of two Anglican churches in Ontario have been suspended with pay in the wake of several congregations voting last weekend to put themselves under the authority of a South American archbishop over theological issues that include the blessing of same-sex unions.

The diocese of Niagara yesterday informed St. Hilda's Anglican Church in Oakville and St. George's Anglican Church in Lowville that it was appointing new administrators to the parishes.

Archdeacon Michael Patterson could not be reached for comment, but in an open letter to the parishes, Bishop Michael Bird said both church buildings belong to the diocese, and that new clergy and wardens "loyal to the Anglican Church of Canada" will be placed in the churches.

"People are free to leave the Church, and we are saddened by that, but congregations are not free to break away. The patrimony of this church belongs to the generations before and the generations to come who wish to remain within the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Church of Canada," Bishop Bird said in a statement.

From Diocese of Niagra press release:
The dividing issue is the blessing of same sex unions. While the Anglican Church of Canada does not sanction or perform same sex marriages, the issue of blessing same sex relationships is still under debate by the Church. A small, ultra conservative group of Anglicans, represented by the two parishes, decided behind closed doors to leave the Diocese. The leaders of the group have aligned themselves with the conservative religious group called The Network.

The priest of St. George’s Church refused the entry of its Archdeacon on the day of the vote, leaving an appeal from the Bishop unread and unheard by parishioners. The appeal offered the congregation the opportunity to remain in the Diocese, under alternative leadership. The vote to join the Network was not sanctioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams; the Primate of Canada, Frederick Hiltz; or the Bishop of Niagara, Ralph Spence. This effectively means that the break-away parishes have defied the Canon Law of the Church, and are no longer considered officially Anglican.

Emphasis added.

As reported in The Anglican Journal:

Six churches in five dioceses, voting at their general meetings on the weekend of Feb. 16-17, decided to leave the Anglican Church of Canada due to disputes over theological issues, including homosexuality, and join a South American Anglican church.

A seventh congregation, which is not a member of the Canadian church, also voted to come under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Province of the Southern Cone, which covers the southern part of South America. Such jurisdiction is to be administered through retired Canadian bishop Donald Harvey, leader of a breakaway group called the Anglican Network in Canada.
...
The split was prompted by moves by the majority of the Canadian church toward greater acceptance of homosexuality, but conservatives say the differences are more profound. “All of these churches have acted because they are concerned about what is happening in the Anglican Church of Canada. They are determined to stay true to historic Christian teaching but see the (Canadian church) changing its teaching on fundamental, historic Christian teaching such as the authority of the Bible and salvation through Jesus Christ alone,” read a statement from the network.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate, or national archbishop, of the Canadian church, in an interview with the Anglican Journal, said he does not agree. “The issue is very much focused on issues of sexuality. The Anglican Church of Canada is not in a crisis when it comes to matters of faith such as the divinity of Christ, the incarnation or the resurrection. I don’t know a bishop or a member of the clergy who week by week doesn’t confess their faith in Christ as redeemer and as our savior,” said Archbishop Hiltz.

He said he regrets the churches’ decision to leave, especially since Canadian bishops have agreed to allow conservative Canadian bishops to minister to disaffected congregations in their dioceses.

The National Post allowed the presiding bishop of the Southern Cone, Gregory Venables, to tell the story from his point of view:

The battle taking place inside the Anglican Church of Canada is a microcosm of a larger problem that could see the worldwide Anglican Communion end in division, said the South American archbishop who has been taking dissident churches under his wing.
...
ArchbishopVenables, speaking from Buenos Aires, said he is not happy about the potential for a global division, or what is happening in Canada, but he believes the worldwide Anglican Church has been on this course for more than 100 years, and he is becoming less hopeful for a resolution.

"It ends up you have two versions of Christianity," he said. "There are two positions that have moved apart over the last century: the Bible-based orthodox Christianity that goes back to the early years of the Church and a post-modern Christianity that believes everybody can find their own truth. And those two things cannot work together."

Anglican websites avoid the issues too

Do you work for a fractured organisation that is busy avoiding the difficult issues? Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, does which is why I have been looking at anglican websites this week. And guess what – they are fractured and busy avoiding the issues too.
So begins an article in today's Financial Times by website effectiveness consultant David Bowen. He takes a look at Anglican websites – north and south, and on both sides of the Atlantic. Check out his conclusions here.

Readers, which websites – official or not – do you rely upon as hubs for information on the Anglican communion?

International group to prepare Bible studies for Lambeth

ACNS reports:

At the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Professor Gerald West (University KwaZulu-Natal, Southern Africa) has convened an international group to prepare Bible studies for the Lambeth Conference. Members of the group came from DR Congo, USA, UK, Tanzania, and India.

Bishops and spouses will pursue the same studies, though in their own separate groups at the July Lambeth Conference. The focus is on the ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus in John’s gospel.


Read it all here.

Usury flourishing where conservative Christians exercise political power

As reported yesterday in The Lead there's a new study out that finds payday lending is prevalent in the Bible Belt.

Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has an editorial in today's Ethics Daily. He writes specifically of Baptist efforts at reform of state law in Virginia:

Given the clarity of the biblical witness and the crippling reality of payday lenders, some Baptists are addressing the issue.

Religious Herald editor Jim White encouraged Virginia Baptists last fall to urge state legislators to place a cap on the interest rate payday lenders can charge. White called payday lending a "great injustice" and called a cap on interest charged "the least we can do."

White returned to payday lending in a January editorial, beseeching readers to contact their representatives supporting specific pieces of legislation that would cap payday lending. He wrote that these bills "will not eliminate the suffering of the poor. But, it will end one way the oppressed are being further impoverished."

The Baptist General Association of Virginia spoke out against payday lending in a November 2007 resolution, denouncing "the payday lending industry and its practice of further impoverishing the poor."

BGAV's Christian Life Committee members have contacted their own legislators, supporting reforms in payday lending. The committee is now preparing a report to present to Virginia Baptists that will identify the negative impacts on families of predatory lending and offer steps for advocacy.

The committee is also interfacing with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, which has a campaign to combat payday lenders, including a pledge for action designed to lobby state legislators.

BGAV is clearly the moral exception among Baptist state conventions. Most appear so morally malnourished that payday lenders flourish and impoverish the poor.


Ouch.

A visit to the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is recommended.

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia passed its own resolution at its January 2008 council:

R-6 Payday Lending
Adopted.

Whereas, God calls us to compassion; to alleviate the suffering of the poor; to speak up for those who have no voice; and to protect those who live closest to the edge; and

Whereas, our faith compels us to connect our values with the moral issues of the day, leading us to abhor usury, to turn away from greed, and to reject profiting from another's vulnerability; and

Whereas, we believe that reducing or eliminating poverty is a faithful mandate, that creating opportunity for all people is an achievable goal, and that predatory payday lending undermines our values and our mission; and

Whereas, the 2002 Payday Loan Act provides a special exemption for this one industry from Virginia's usury cap law; be it therefore

Resolved, that the 213th Annual Council of The Diocese of Virginia expresses its deep dismay at the usurious practices of the payday lending industry and the exemption granted this industry by Virginia's General Assembly, and be it further

Resolved, that this 213th Annual Council calls upon the people of this Diocese to contact their senators and representatives in the Virginia General Assembly and urge them to cap these small loans at thirty-six (36) percent.

Here's some background on how payday lending works and how it compares to alternatives -- like a late fee on a credit card or a bounced check.

Here are some questions. If payday lending is removed as an alternative, would those "closest to the edge" be better off? How so -- in a paternalistic way that it forces them to better live within their means or borrow from lenders who ask more invasive questions?

Women bishops “highly unlikely” for another five years

In a press release today the Church of England group Women and the Church (WATCH) reports:

At the recent meeting of General Synod, members were told by the Chair of the Legislative Drafting Group that it was “highly unlikely” that the vote on women bishops would be taken by July 2010.
It goes on to quote Professor Anthony Berry, a member of General Synod, from Chester diocese:
“It is inconceivable that the process of legislation to put into effect the decision of General Synod to proceed to Women Bishops should take more than a year and a half. Certainly the legislative process could easily be completed by July 2010. It would be negligent of the General Synod to permit the matter to drag on into the next decade. The business managers of Synod should already be considering having additional meetings of Synod to ensure that this business is accomplished.”
The press release is here [link to pdf broken]. Hat tip to Thinking Anglicans where further extracts from the press release can be found.

Can businesspeople be counted on to foster virtue?

Adam Smith explained his concept of the invisible hand thusly:

[Each individual] neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. [He] intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.
In short, self-interest promotes the public good.

Other economists have argued that economic integration between countries fosters peaceful relations; with broken relations comes the loss of mutually beneficial exchange. And other economists argue that for similar reasons a competitive market economy fosters social cohesion in ethnically or culturally diverse societies. Milton Friedman: "The great virtue of a free market is that it enables people who hate each other, or who are from vastly different religious or ethnic backgrounds, to cooperate economically. Government intervention can’t do that. Politics exacerbates and magnifies differences."

But can business human resource practices foster public virtue? A report in the Boston Globe suggests the answer could be yes. It reports on a study by Gretchen Spreitzer, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business:

Her analysis, based on surveys taken between 1981 and 2001, shows that empowered, satisfied employees tend to live in open, peaceful societies -- and that improvements in workplace empowerment often precede social changes. Employees, it seems, can take lessons learned in the workplace and apply them to social and political life.
...
She took measures of employee satisfaction from the World Values Survey at the University of Michigan, which collected data in 65 countries, from Argentina to Slovenia to Venezuela, for 20 years beginning in 1981. The survey consisted of some 200 questions such as "How free are you to make decisions in your job?" and "Do you follow a superior's instructions only when you feel they are correct?"

She then compared this with data collected by the Economist Intelligence Unit on levels of corruption and violent conflict. Spreitzer found that countries where workers reported having little voice in decision-making had higher levels of unrest, and that as measures of workplace satisfaction improved, over time, indications of contentment with civic life rose, too.

The question of causation remains open:
Spreitzer uses indirect evidence of empowering practices -- measures of job satisfaction, not tallies of the number of companies that have adopted specific practices. And there are other questions to consider: Do participatory management practices result in open societies, or are the businesses that use them simply more abundant in healthy, peaceable communities? And do positive changes in society reflect enlightened business practice or the impact of politically motivated changes induced by organized labor and other social movements?
And, to put a sharper point on one of those questions, Is it in the interest of business to adopt an empowered and participatory workplace if the wider community is not healthy and peaceable? Perhaps it is business practice that adapts to the culture that exists.

Religion, modernity, and the coming era of religious peace

The Atlantic devotes its March 2008 issue to religion. Alan Wolf argues,

A common worry is that intense competition for souls could produce another era in which religious conflict leads to religious war—only this time with nuclear weapons. If we are really in for anything like the kind of zeal that accompanied earlier periods of religious expansion, we might as well say goodbye to the Enlightenment and its principles of tolerance.

Yet breathless warnings about rising religious fervor and conflicts to come ignore two basic facts. First, many areas of the world are experiencing a decline in religious belief and practice. Second, where religions are flourishing, they are also generally evolving—very often in ways that allow them to fit more easily into secular societies, and that weaken them as politically disruptive forces. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once famously showed that it would be irrational to bet against the existence of God. It would be equally foolish, in the long run, to bet against the power of the Enlightenment. The answer to the question of which religion will dominate the future, at least politically, may well be: None of the above.

The exception, he thinks, might be Africa:
We are left, finally, with Africa. Religiosity there is widely regarded as high, perhaps higher than in the Middle East, but it differs in character. It is in Africa where the predictions of an old-fashioned, broad-based religious revival, with all its attendant conflicts, may come closest to the mark. Much of the commentary on religion’s muscle in Africa, and the consequent potential for clashing civilizations, centers on Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country and one in which, Pew found, most of those who perceive a struggle between modernizers and fundamentalists put themselves in the latter camp. In recent years, 12 states in northern Nigeria have adopted sharia, or Islamic law, and created special morality police to enforce its tenets. Eliza Griswold explores Africa’s religious revival, and in particular the subtleties of the contest between Christianity and Islam in Nigeria, elsewhere in this issue. Here, suffice it to say that Africa is indeed in the throes of a great awakening.
Read it all here. (Aside: Dubai, Mr. Wolf, is not "one of the richest Muslim countries." It is located in one of the richest Muslim countries: the United Arab Emirates.)

Mr. Wolf recently discussed his ideas with Martin Marty, Daniel Philpott and guest host Jane Clayson on NPR's On Point. Follow this link for two listening options.

Schofield tells pastoral visitors to stay out

John-David Schofield has written a letter to the Rev. Canon Brian Cox and the Rev. Canon Robert Moore, warning them that they are not to meddle in the affairs of the diocese. He paints them into a rhetorical corner, saying that if the argument was San Joaquin couldn't remove itself from the Episcopal Church, that he and the diocese are still in TEC and that the canons' presence was intrusive--but if they had legitimately left the diocese, then they were still intruding into another province's diocese:


In either case, at present, The Episcopal Church has begun attacking both me and this diocese. Your coming here is unconscionable in that you are meddling in the affairs of San Joaquin with neither the courtesy of requesting my permission as bishop nor even troubling to inform me of your plans. Such actions are hardly those of men with honorable intentions.

Even though you have already taken it upon yourself to be in contact with clergy and parishes, under no circumstances are you welcome to hold meetings in this diocese or to ask permission of clergy or other leaders to do so.

If indeed your proposal is to seek reconciliation with the goal to reduce the “threat of law suits” you are approaching the wrong persons. Why do you not come directly to me with your concerns and offers, for such lawsuits – presumably – would be lodged against me?

Should you choose to deal directly with me concerning the above mentioned proposals I would be willing to set aside time to meet with you in my office in Fresno. Apart from this, I ask you to desist from entering this diocese.

It bears noting that if the first assertion is true, that San Joaquin is still in TEC, then Schofield also needs to remember he's been inhibited.

The letter is here.

No to disestablishment!

Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian newspaper, sees something of where England might be headed, should the present cries for disestablishment be heeded.

These cries for the disestablishment of the Church of England are especially strong at the moment, given the recent dustup over the Archbishop of Canterbury's remarks on proper role of Sharia law in English society.

"It is time to look at the damage he has done to others, and not just himself; one of the things that his flameout has illuminated is just how dangerous disestablishment might prove. The last thought-provoking thing that I heard him say was at a radio award ceremony where he had to present himself, or at least his producer, with a third place prize for religious radio. He said that it was not true that religion must always lead to conflict, but almost always true that in any sufficiently serious conflict you would find religion.

I wish he had developed and made more explicit that line of thought, because it provides the beginning of a justification for the existence of the Church of England. The defenders of a place for religion in public life do not have to suppose that religious belief is true, and many of them don't - in fact all of them suppose that most religious dogma must be false. The question is not whether irrationality is irrational; it is how it can best be managed.

Irrationality won't be abolished just because life would be simpler without it. Whether you prefer to think we live in a fallen world or a Darwinian one, it isn't rational. There are some conflicts that can be resolved only by force and many where real interests are at stake and it is crucial to win. Humans, being the animals we are, tell ourselves that the reasons for which we are prepared to fight -to die or to kill- are the most important causes in the world; so naturally our stories about them will get attached to other tales of the same sort. That means religion. We have watched this happening even in the secular 20th century."

Brown then argues that the level of hysteria surrounding the rhetoric calling for the Archbishop's removal reveals a fundamental intolerance in the broadest part of the English public, especially toward "foreign" faiths and practices. To Brown's way of thinking, it's the Church of England with its broad practice of tolerance based on the Elizabethan Settlement and its sense of duty toward all that has kept England free of the worst sort of religious based jingoism; such as one finds, according to Brown, here in the USA.

One of the things that has emerged from the debacle is that there is a very strong body of opinion in this country which holds that you can't be truly Muslim and truly British. This isn't just the belief of the Islamist nutters, though they make it their central claim. It also animates an astonishing number of people writing in or to the media who would describe themselves as Christians. It is as if three quarters of the country had risen to sing "Land of hope and glory" at the Last Night of the Proms.

It is at moments like that that we need an established church, precisely because it dampens zeal down. The undemocratic privileges of the Church of England are much better for everyone than democratically won privilege would be. Bishops in the Lords are infinitely preferable to priests who tell people how to vote.

If, say, the Economist got its way and the Church of England were disestablished, and replaced by the American model of a confusion of sects all competing for votes, what could stop them responding to the popular demand for a condemnation of Islam? What could give them anything of the Church of England's woolly, incoherent but essential belief that it has a duty to everyone in this country, no matter what their beliefs are. Can any sane person want a hundred English Paisleys competing against each other for the nationalist Christian congregations, and their money, and at last their votes? Because that is the spectre that rose from the debacle caused by Williams' speech and interview

Read the full essay here.

Seabury-Western ceases residential MDiv program

Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, one of 11 accredited seminaries in the Episcopal Church, has decided to stop offering a residential Masters of Divinity degree, and to enter a period of discernment about its future.

The letter sent by the Very Rev. Gary R. Hall, Ph. D, dean of Seabury-Western, follows.

Read more »

From sunlight to Sonlight

St. Paul's in Walnut Creek, Calif. took an interesting route away from carbon power. The chair of the environment committee there started a business called Sonlight Solar, LLC, to provide backing to a project that would convert the church to solar power. Inspired by an October 2006 viewing of An Inconvenient Truth, parishioners found themselves searching for a way to make the solar conversion happen.


Sonlight Solar LLC, as it came to be called, can also take advantage of state incentives and other tax benefits. Initially the church will pay Sonlight for the power generated. Sonlight, from benefits and income, will pay for about half the initial system cost.

The rest of the principal needed was raised by taking bids for loans from parishioners and friends of the parish. Those wishing to bid completed a form stating how much they would like to loan, when they wanted it repaid, and the rate of interest they would like.

"We averaged around 5% on the bids we accepted," says Mattern. "That's better for our investors than they would get on a savings account, but less that the 7.75% we were offered by the Episcopal Church Foundation at the time."

"The parish should begin saving money on the cost of energy in 10 years or less," said Vasquez.

The congregation is implementing composting and other other green practices as well while examining the theological implications of going green.

Read the whole thing here.

Odds on Replacement

An Irish bookie, believing that the Archbishop of Canterbury's days are now numbered because of his comments on Sharia Law, has opened betting on who William's successor will be.

The Church Times web edition has the details of the betting so far:

"The 2/1 favourite is the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu. Among Dr Williams’s critics was the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who has been given an 8/1 chance of succeeding him. More highly favoured is the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, at 3/1, and the Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Kenneth Stevenson, at 5/1.

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Price, is at 6/1; the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd James Jones, is at 13/2; and the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, is at 8/1.
The remaining contenders include the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, who has been given a 9/1 chance. The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, is a 14/1 outsider; while the Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, is lagging behind at an unlikely 25/1.

More than 100 bets were placed with Paddy Power in the first 48 hours. ‘We expect it will heat up further if Williams gets more bad press,’ said Sharon McHugh, a spokeswoman for the bookmaker. ‘It’s a very interesting market to us, as the next Archbishop of Canterbury is appointed by Downing Street. This makes for interesting betting.’"

So, a new way to spark interest in the ongoing Anglican saga?

Read the rest here.

Victoria Matthews elected bishop in New Zealand

Bishop Victoria Matthews, a Canadian bishop, commonly thought of as a moderate to conservative voice has been elected the bishop of Christ Church in New Zealand.

Stephen Bate's report in his Guardian "People" column appears below:

"Interesting times beckon in Antipodean Anglicanism, where the former Canadian bishop Victoria Matthews - narrowly beaten to become Canada's primate last summer - has been elected Bishop of Christchurch, New Zealand, a place she has never visited. She is a theological conservative who nevertheless voted that gay partnerships do not violate core church doctrines, which should bring her into interesting relations with the arch-conservative Archbishop of Sydney across the Tasman Sea, Peter Jensen, who does not believe that women should be put in charge of anything, least of all a church. The defeated candidate for Christchurch was the combative dean of Southwark cathedral, Colin Slee, who will thus remain a thorn in the flesh of C-of-E conservatives."

From here.

"Episcopal Life" newspaper to function without editor

Episcopal Life, the Episcopal Church's monthly newspaper, which circulates 250,000 copies, is going to attempt to operate without an editor, a decision that was apparently reached without consulting the paper's board of governors, its numerous diocesan printing partners, or anyone who has ever edited a newspaper.

Jim DeLa, director of communications in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, and President of Episcopal Communicators, is urging reconsideration, and wrote this letter to his membership.

Dear Communicators:

Through sources that shall remain confidential, I’ve learned there will be no search for a new editor for Episcopal Life. A memo from Linda Watt, the COO of the church, informed the Episcopal Life Board of Governors in a memo, which they were planning to make public today.

It is shocking and incomprehensible to think that the 815 management team believes Episcopal Life can be edited effectively by committee as it has been since Jerry Hames’ retirement. The quality of editing and reporting has slipped below what we should expect from our national newspaper. The Board of Governors, whose job it is to serve as advisors and ombudsmen for the paper, was never consulted before the decision was made.

At a time when we need more voices and perspectives on the issues of the day, it is disappointing to see that the management of the Episcopal Church is doing all it can to limit that conversation and dilute what was once a journalistic endeavor to be proud of.

I encourage everyone with similar concerns to write to Ms. Watt at lwatt@episcopalchurch.org and voice them to her.

Sincerely,
Jim DeLa
President
Episcopal Communicators

The memo announcing the decision was forwarded to the paper's board of governor's last night by an administrative assistant at Episcopal Church Center. It was the first time that most of the board learned that suspending the search for an editor was a possibility.

Read Linda Watt's memo by clicking Read more.

Two cents from a diocesan communications officer:

Throughout the church, communications people are frequently treated not as professionals with hard-won expertise, but as clerks with software skills who can cobble together a passable sentence. This is true in many dioceses, and it is true on the national level as well. The leadership of our Church repeatedly makes important decisions about communications--a field in which few of them have expertise--without consulting anyone with a background in the field. Then they get together and wonder why they are having such a hard time getting the Church's message out.

The disrespectful manner in which the Episcopal Life board of governors was treated in this situation sends a clear message that the Church's leadership does not value the work nor the opinion of diocesan communicators. I say this as someone whose bishop treats him well, and whose diocesan newspaper is not printed in partnership with Episcopal Life. I'm unaffected by the decision not to name a new editor, but I am tired of watching hardworking, underappreciated colleagues in other dioceses treated as though they haven't got a thought in their heads worth hearing.

Jim Naughton

For two more cents, read this letter by Herb Gunn, editor of The Record in the Diocese of Michigan.

Update at 4:40 pm: the news is buried in the sixth paragraph of this article from ELO. Note the language:

In order to operate within the 2008 budget approved in mid-February by Executive Council, ELM has agreed to a request to suspend at this time the current search for a full-time editor for the Episcopal Life monthly newspaper, Williams said.

(Emphasis added) A request from whom? This is a "mistakes were made" kind of construction, and deserves the same sort of skeptical response.

It does raise a question, though: Was the money for an editor in the budget and got cut out? Or was it never in there in the first place?

Update: 5:25 pm.

Melodie Woerman of the Diocese of Kansas has this response to the story:

[C] ontrary to the implication in the third graf of this news story, the Board of Governors had no part in this decision. We were informed of it in an e-mail only late yesterday. We did discuss a number of items at our December meeting, but nothing like this was part of it. We stressed the need for an editor search to proceed in a timely fashion. Frankly, I'm appalled and embarrassed that the Board was included in this story as if we'd been involved. That implication is entirely false.

Melodie Woerman

Province 7 representative, Episcopal Life Board of Governors

UPDATE: February 26
From Scott Gunn, of the Board of Governors, Governors Attempt to Govern"

Statement from the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media
February 26, 2008

As was recently announced via Episcopal Life Online, the search for a full-time editor for Episcopal Life has been suspended. The Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media consulted yesterday with Linda Watt, Chief Operating Officer, and Bob Williams, Director of Communications, to discuss this decision. While there will always be tension between mission and budgetary constraints, as a Board we are committed to maintaining excellence in church communications and journalistic integrity.

Despite the changing nature of communications – between print and online platforms – we believe an independent editor is critical to effective church communications. We will continue to work with the staff at the Episcopal Church Center to craft a solution that both meets the church's budgetary needs and addresses continued commitment to communications.

The Rev. Scott Gunn, Province I
The Rev. Timothy Schenck, Province II
Sharon Tillman, Province III
Eugene Willard, Province IV
Martha Wright, Province V
The Rev. Jamie Parsley, Province VI
Melodie Woerman, Province VII
The Rev. Richard Snyder, Province VIII

Read more »

What to do when things go wrong?

There are numerous misconceptions about the way society at large, and relief agencies in specific, ought to respond to large-scale disasters. The mistakes are outlined in a lecture by Michael VanRooyen, the director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.

From an article in the Harvard Public Health "NOW" online:

"Providers of humanitarian relief often make incorrect assumptions about the vulnerabilities of disaster victims and how they may behave in an emergency, VanRooyen said during a December 17 lecture in Snyder Auditorium as part of the 2007-2008 Public Health Preparedness Speaker Series sponsored by the Center for Public Health Preparedness.

'We propagate [many incorrect] public perceptions by sending inappropriate services, clothing, and food,' he said. Responders need to take a clearer and more self-critical look at the aid provided and be willing to challenge the humanitarian aid 'industry' and to find better ways to serve people, he added."

Citing specifics, the article leads up to the example of the international Tsunami relief effort in late 2004 and early 2005 by pointing out:

While the public perception is that disasters bring out the worst in people, the opposite is usually true, he said. "Looting is the exception, not the rule," said VanRooyen. "People usually reach out to help their neighbors"

And while many believe that local people are helpless, the truth is that local people usually are the real heroes, doing most of the rescue work long before foreign aid workers arrive on the scene, he said.

VanRooyen was especially critical of efforts to send clothing, food shipments, and medical equipment to disaster-hit areas. Most clothing, for example, is often inappropriate, unneeded, and may end up being sold in the marketplace, reducing demand for locally produced clothing, forcing factories to close, and putting people out of work. "Giving things that are not asked for is a big problem," he said.

A sidebar to the article lists twelve myths and/or common misconceptions about disaster relief.

The bottom line seems to that the best strategy is to provide the financial resources to allow people on the scene to respond as appropriately to the specifics of the situation as possible.

Read the full article here, plus the sidebar list here.

Walter Burghardt, RIP: the best preacher I ever heard

The Rev. Walter J. Burghardt, a Jesuit theologian who was the best preacher I ever heard, died this week at the age of 93. He preached frequently at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown in the 1980s and 90s, celebrated at the marriage of a friend or two, and sat for an interview when I was writing a book called Catholics in Crisis.

The New York Times' obit is here, The Washington Post's is here and America magazine's is here. Oddly, the Post gives a better sense of the man than does America, which is published by the Jesuits.

Here's some of what the Post has to say:

Father Burghardt often criticized the restrained preaching style of his fellow priests, saying that "imagination seems to be a vestigial organ that many a Catholic priest was trained to leave in the seminary."

The flavor of his personal theology and rhetorical style can be found in his words from a 1991 interview in the Los Angeles Times.

"I agonize because in this land of milk and honey, one of every five children grows up beneath the poverty line -- and our pulpits are silent.

"I agonize because in this land of the free, blacks and Hispanics are still shackled as second-class citizens . . . and we preachers have nothing to say to their hungers.

"I agonize because thousands upon thousands of women are battered by the men who vowed to respect them, untold children are abused by the barbarians who brought them into being -- and we mouth mealy platitudes about a God who cares for everyone."

A new plan emerges

There have been a number of reports in the last 24 hours that a new plan is being developed to manage the conflict within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Bishop John Howe, in response to what he describes as "inaccurate" presentations of the details, has written a public letter laying out the details of plan as it now stands.

According to Bishop Howe, the details of the plan are at present:

"Communion Partners

In the context of the Episcopal Visitors concept announced by the Presiding Bishop at the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans, a number of us have reflected a need for a larger gathering which we are calling Communion Partners. We believe such a gathering will afford us the opportunity for mutual support, accountability and fellowship; and present an important sign of our connectedness in and vision for the Anglican Communion as it moves through this time of stress and renewal.

Purpose:

  • To provide a visible link for those concerned to the Anglican Communion

    Many within our dioceses and in congregations in other dioceses seek to be assured of their connection to the Anglican Communion. Traditionally, this has been understood in terms of bishop-to-bishop relationships. Communion Partners fleshes out this connection in a significant and symbolic way.

  • To provide fellowship, support and a forum for mutual concerns between bishops

    The Bishops who have been designated Episcopal Visitors together with others who might well consider being included in this number share many concerns about the Anglican Communion and its future, and look to work together with Primates and Bishops from the Global South. In addition, we believe we all have need of mutual encouragement, prayer, and reassurance. The Communion Partners will be a forum for these kinds of relationships.

  • To provide a partnership to work toward the Anglican Covenant and according to Windsor principles

    The Bishops will work together according to the principles outlined in the Windsor Report and seek a comprehensive Anglican Covenant at the Lambeth Conference and beyond."

The reports to which Bishop Howe is responding can be found linked at Thinking Anglicans.

You can read the full text of the letter below:

Read more »

Clinton leads among highly religious white Democrats

The Gallup organization is reporting that Hillary Clinton enjoys a significant edge in support over Barack Obama among white Democrats who are highly religious. All in all, 57% of white, non-Hispanic Democratic voters who attend church support Clinton, while only 29% support Obama. Among those who attend church less frequently or never, Clinton's support drops while Obama's climbs.

Read it all.

Local girl makes good

Former Cafe contributor Susan Daughtry Fawcett is featured in Sunday's Washington Post. The subject is funerals. Yours.

Planning your last affairs is not necessarily a happy task to think about, but sometimes circumstances throw your mortality into sharp relief. In the summer of 2004, Susan Daughtry Fawcett, then 23, was working as a chaplain in the emergency ward of Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg. It was a hard summer punctuated by tragedies, despair and the grace required to work through both. Because of that experience, she sat down and planned her funeral, picked hymns and readings, and left a list of songs that should be put on CDs for close friends. Now she regularly sees her parishioners dealing with the loose ends that unfurl upon a loved one's death.

"Having thought about these things ahead of time is incredibly helpful," says Fawcett, an Episcopal priest in Vienna. "It's a huge gift to your family." More important, she says, we all might benefit from a little more understanding of our own mortality, since the idea of death is normally confined to hospital rooms and nursing homes.

Read it.

Brazilian priests not keen on celibacy

AGI is reporting:

Brazilian priests have spoken directly to Pope Benedict XVI to ask him for a revision of the canonical law obliging celibacy for those carrying out priestly functions.

The story mentions a report in a Spanish paper, in which an unnamed bishop is quoted saying that

married laymen have long been ordained in Brazil. "Rome is aware of the fact, but does not want it to be made public." Brazilian priests have also asked for the appointing of priests to be made more democratic, and for those who have divorced to have a right to the sacraments as well.

Read it all. (Hat tip: Religion News Service.)

The miracle of melancholia

In April of 1819, right around the time that he began to suffer the first symptoms of tuberculosis -- the disease that had already killed his mother and his beloved brother, Tom -- the poet John Keats sat down and wrote, in a letter to his brother, George, the following question: "Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?"

So writes Eric Wilson, in an op-ed article for The Los Angeles Times, which is a bite-sized version of a longer essay from The Chronicle Review, that we featured last month.

Because you can never have enough melancholia.

The best children's books of all time

Booktrust, the British reading charity, conducted a survey of 4000 in Great Britain, to determine the best children’s books of all time. Leading the list is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Princeby J.K. Rowling, placed sixth.

Here are the top ten:

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
Famous Five, Enid Blyton
Winnie the Pooh, A.A. Milne
The BFG, Roald Dahl
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling
The Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson

The Booktrust press release makes the following observations:

“At Booktrust we want everyone to enjoy reading, whether it be returning to old favourites or encouraging people to try something new. The final 50 are a fascinating mix of classic and contemporary titles which offers something for everyone. ”


The best loved author in the poll is Roald Dahl – who has an astonishing SIX books listed in the top 50 best.

Enid Blyton has five books in the top 50, whilst Julia Donaldson has four.

The poll cited that four out of five parents read their children a bedtime story every night, for an average of 22 minutes a time.

And just over half of parents questioned said they started reading books to their children when they were six months old – whilst 18 per cent read stories to their baby bump before the child was born.

Read the entire list of 50 books here.

The Guardian blog "Comment is Free" is having an interesting discussion of the list here.

Would the list be different in the United States? What do you think belongs onthe list?

Will evangelical centrists elect the next President?

David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, and author of The Future of Faith in American Politics argues that "evangelical centrists" will be the swing vote that will determine the next President.

According to Gushee, there is an evangelical center:

[B]esides the widely recognized evangelical right, symbolized by figures such as James Dobson and the late Jerry Falwell, and the evangelical left, symbolized by activists such as Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, today there is emerging a visible and increasingly powerful evangelical center, whose most influential figures are probably the megachurch pastor Rick Warren and the lobbyist Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. . . .

The evangelical center shares with the right its deep opposition to abortion, concern about the decline of marriage and the eroding well-being of children in our society, worries about the moral content of mass media, and rejection of the morality of sex outside of heterosexual marriage. It rejects, however, the right’s entanglement with and loyalty to the Republican Party, its relatively narrow focus on issues primarily related to sexuality, and its mood of angry nostalgia and aggrieved entitlement about the Christian role in American society.

The evangelical center, in turn, shares with the evangelical left a strong emphasis on the plight of the poor, attention to racism as a moral and policy issue, opposition to the routine resort to war by the United States, a high priority to creation care and acceptance of the seriousness of climate change, commitment to finding a humane solution to the immigration issue, and conviction that human-rights commitments require wholehearted opposition to torture in the U.S. war on terror. It tends to differ from the left in its more careful commitment to political independence, its stronger and more thorough attention to issues of abortion, family, and sexuality, and its willingness to support the moral legitimacy of some (though not all) U.S. military actions.

Gushee then argues that the evangelical centrist--which he estimates to be as high as a third of all evangelicals--could be attracted by the Democratic nominee:

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both offer policy stances rooted in moral commitments sometimes openly traced to Christian values. Their positions on such issues as torture, poverty, health care, immigration, war and climate reflect stances held by both the evangelical center and left. To the extent that either or both offer clear statements on the moral tragedy of abortion and concrete policies to reduce the number of abortions, they may well succeed in gaining the support of many centrist evangelical voters who are genuine independents and could consider supporting a candidate of either party. It is not clear whether the homosexuality issue will prove as salient to evangelicals, especially centrists, as it did in 2004.

It is quite possible that the votes of centrist evangelicals—perhaps representing as many as one-third of our nation’s massive evangelical community—will decide the election this fall.

I believe that the emerging evangelical center represents a maturing of the Christian public voice in American life. This is a more peaceable, forward-looking, holistic and independent approach to politics than what has come to carry the evangelical label. Its emergence is good for our nation and for evangelicals. Centrist evangelicals bear watching in this election and beyond.

Read it all here.

And the award for best picture goes to . . .

The editors of the Lead include several movie fans and we are eagerly awaiting tonight's Academy Awards. In the meantime, we thought that you would enjoy the winners of the Beliefnet Film Awards.

For each category, separate awards were given for the "Judges' Award" and the "People's Award"

Best Spiritual Film: Amazing Grace was the choice of both the Judges and the People

Best Spiritual Performance: Emile Hersch for Into the Wild (Judges' Award); Will Smith for I am Legend (People's Award)

Best Spirtual Documentary: Into Great Silence (Judges' Award); For the Bible Tells Me So (People's Award)

You can learn more here, which includes the list of all the nominees, comments from the judges, and even film clips!

Making economics relevant again

David Leonhardt, who writes a column on economics for the New York Times just conducted an interesting exercise. He surveyed economists and "asked which economists were managing to do influential work on the crucial questions facing modern society. Who, in other words, was using economics to make the world a better place?"

Leonhardt's survey revealed a "runaway winner": the "group of economists who work at the Jameel Poverty Action Lab at M.I.T., led by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, were mentioned far more often than anyone else." Here is his explanation of what the Lab is all about:

Ms. Duflo, Mr. Banerjee and their colleagues have a simple, if radical, goal. They want to overhaul development aid so that more of it is spent on programs that actually make a difference. And they are trying to do so in a way that skirts the long-running ideological debate between aid groups and their critics.

“Surely the most important societal question economics can help answer is why so many people are crushingly poor and what can be done about it,” David Romer, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said. The macro issues (like how to build a democracy) remain maddeningly complex, Mr. Romer noted. But thanks in part to the poverty lab, we now know much more about how to improve daily life in the world’s poorest countries.

The basic idea behind the lab is to rely on randomized trials — similar to the ones used in medical research — to study antipoverty programs. This helps avoid the classic problem with the evaluation of aid programs: it’s often impossible to separate cause and effect. If aid workers start supplying textbooks to schools in one town and the students there start doing better, it could be because of the textbooks. Or it could be that the town also happened to hire a new school administrator.

In a randomized trial, researchers would choose a set of schools and then separate into them two groups. The groups would be similar in every respect except for the fact that one would receive new textbooks and one wouldn’t. With a test like this, as Vinod Thomas, the head of independent evaluation at the World Bank, says, “You can be much more accurate and much more clear about the effect of a program.”

The approach can sound cruel, because researchers knowingly deny help to some of the people they’re studying. But what, really, is the alternative? It’s not as if someone has offered to buy new textbooks for every child in the world. With a randomized study, you at least learn whether your aid money is well spent.

. . .

Mr. Kremer and two other economists, in fact, did the textbook experiment — and found that textbooks didn’t improve test scores or graduation rates in rural western Kenya. (The students were probably too diverse, in terms of preparation and even language, to be helped by a single curriculum.) On the other hand, another randomized trial in the same part of Kenya found that treating children for intestinal worms did lift school performance. That study has led to an expansion of deworming programs and, as Alan Krueger of Princeton says, is “probably improving millions of lives.”

Mr. Banerjee estimates, very conservatively, that $11 billion a year — out of roughly $100 billion in annual development aid worldwide — could be spent on programs that have been proved to work. Unfortunately, nowhere near $11 billion is being spent on such programs. “Right now, we don’t have a lot of things that have been taken up by the policy world,” he said. “But the policy lag is usually substantial. Now that we have a lot more results, I expect that in the next 10 years we will have a lot more impact.”

Mr. Banerjee and Ms. Duflo may not be a modern-day Keynes or Friedman. But they have still managed to do something rather profound. They have brought together the best of the new economics and the best of the old.

Read it all here. The Lab wesite can be found here.

Risking one's soul in the voting booth

Journalist Joe Feuerherd says that according to many Roman Catholic Bishops, he may have put his soul at risk when he voted in a recent presidential primary.

Like most Maryland Democrats, I voted for Sen. Barack Obama in the recent Potomac Primary. By doing so, according to the leaders of my church, I put my soul at risk. That's right, says the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops -- tap the touch screen for a pro-abortion-rights candidate, and you're probably punching your ticket to Hell.

For a church that "thinks in centuries," things sure are moving quickly. Back in 2004, as Washington correspondent for the independent National Catholic Reporter, I covered what Comedy Central's Jon Stewart dubbed the "wafer wars." A handful of conservative bishops warned Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, a pro-abortion rights Catholic, that they would deny him Communion should he attempt to receive the church's most sacred sacrament.

Now the bishops have raised the stakes: It's not only lawmakers and candidates who risk damnation, 98 percent of the U.S. bishops agreed last November, but the voters who put them in office.

He concludes:

Why should non-Catholic Americans care about the bishops' right-wing lurch?

Because the bishops can influence a good number of the faithful, many of whom happen to be concentrated in large, electoral-vote-rich states. In the key swing state of Ohio in 2004, for example, bishops vigorously supported an anti-same-sex marriage amendment to the state constitution, which helped drive Republican voters to the polls. Bush won 55 percent of the Catholic vote in the Buckeye State, up from 50 percent in 2000 and enough to provide his margin of victory.

There's little hope, unfortunately, that the bishops will adopt a more pragmatic approach to achieving their aims anytime soon. Younger American priests, the pool from which future bishops will be chosen, overwhelmingly embrace the agenda enunciated by John Paul II.

So what's a pro-life, pro-family, antiwar, pro-immigrant, pro-economic-justice Catholic like me supposed to do in November? That's an easy one. True to my faith, I'll vote for the candidate who offers the best hope of ending an unjust war, who promotes human dignity through universal health care and immigration reform, and whose policies strengthen families and provide alternatives to those in desperate situations.

Read: The Washington Post: I Voted for Obama. Will I Go Straight to. . . ?.

Mr. Feuerherd covered the U.S. bishops and the 2004 presidential race as Washington correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

Bexley Hall closes Rochester campus

The Living Church reports that Bexley Hall, one of the eleven accredited Episcopal seminaries in the US, is closing their Rochester, NY, campus and concentrating their M.Div. program at their site in Columbus, Ohio.

The class of seminary students graduating in May will be the last for Bexley Hall Seminary’s Rochester, N.Y., campus which will be closed. Bexley Hall remains committed to a three-year residential seminary program at its Columbus, Ohio campus, according to the Very Rev. John R. Kevern, dean of Bexley Hall.

The decision to close the Rochester campus was based in part on changing demographics, Dean Kevern told The Living Church. Another factor was the more stringent standards the Rochester campus would have to meet when its accreditation from the Association of Theological Schools came up for renewal in 2012.

Read: The Living Church: Bexley Hall to Close Rochester Campus

2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches

The National Council of Churches will publish it's 2008 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches both in hardcopy and on-line in March.

This has become an essential reference to understand the trends and patterns of religious life in these two countries. The NCCC says the Yearbook is "the most up-to-date compilation of contacts, facts and figures on US and Canadian churches and church agencies."

WNET's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly provided brief highlights of the membership figures:

...meanwhile, new figures on American church membership. in the national council of churches annual survey, Jehovah's Witness's reported more than one million members and a growth of 2.25% in 2006-- the largest percentage increase of any denomination. the Episcopal Church had the largest percentage decrease, more than 4% to roughly 2.1 million members. The largest denominations remain the Catholic Church with 67.5 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention with more than 16 million, and the United Methodist Church with close to eight million.

Meanwhile, a major new survey on religious membership is expected from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life some time this week. "Based on interviews conducted in English and Spanish with a representative sample of over 35,000 adults, the survey includes detailed information on religious affiliation and provides estimates of the size of religious groups that are as small as three-tenths of 1 percent of the adult population."

Parsing and interpreting this new data should keep bloggers, pundits, journalists and denominational executives busy for a while. When the Survey is released, we'll tell you about it here.

Massive new study on Religion in American released

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has released a landmark survey this morning. The survey represents the largest study ever done on denominational demographics in the United States. Over 35,000 people participated in the study and it apparently is able to see groups and affiliations down to 0.3%

From the summary of the report:

"While those Americans who are unaffiliated with any particular religion have seen the greatest growth in numbers as a result of changes in affiliation, Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes. While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration. The Landscape Survey finds that among the foreign-born adult population, Catholics outnumber Protestants by nearly a two-to-one margin (46% Catholic vs. 24% Protestant); among native-born Americans, on the other hand, Protestants outnumber Catholics by an even larger margin (55% Protestant vs. 21% Catholic). Immigrants are also disproportionately represented among several world religions in the U.S., including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Although there are about half as many Catholics in the U.S. as Protestants, the number of Catholics nearly rivals the number of members of evangelical Protestant churches and far exceeds the number of members of both mainline Protestant churches and historically black Protestant churches. The U.S. also includes a significant number of members of the third major branch of global Christianity - Orthodoxy - whose adherents now account for 0.6% of the U.S. adult population. American Christianity also includes sizeable numbers of Mormons (1.7% of the adult population), Jehovah's Witnesses (0.7%) and other Christian groups (0.3%).

Like the other major groups, people who are unaffiliated with any particular religion (16.1%) also exhibit remarkable internal diversity. Although one-quarter of this group consists of those who describe themselves as either atheist or agnostic (1.6% and 2.4% of the adult population overall, respectively), the majority of the unaffiliated population (12.1% of the adult population overall) is made up of people who simply describe their religion as 'nothing in particular.' This group, in turn, is fairly evenly divided between the 'secular unaffiliated,' that is, those who say that religion is not important in their lives (6.3% of the adult population), and the 'religious unaffiliated,' that is, those who say that religion is either somewhat important or very important in their lives (5.8% of the overall adult population)."

Read the report here.

Just a couple of quick impressions, the report distinguishes between Episcopalians, Anglican (CoE) and Anglicans in the Mainline tradition. It's unclear what the distinctions mean in practice, though they are detailed in Appendix 2. Glancing at the data table the strongest difference seems to be the age distribution with "Anglican" skewing to the older age groups and Episcopalians to somewhat younger demographic groups.

The New York Times article on the Study is here.

The Washington Post's coverage is here. Their lede:

Forty-four percent of Americans have either switched their religious affiliation since childhood or dropped out of any formal religious group, according to the largest recent survey on American religious identification.

USA Today coverage is here.

TIME here. Christian Science Monitor here. For AFP the highlight is that Protestants are verging on becoming a minority. For the Washington Times the highlight is that Evangelicals outnumber Catholics. For Jewish Telegraphic Agency it's that Jews are wealthy, educated, and old.

What do you find most interesting in the study?

(We'll be adding to this post as we make our way through the information, but there's enough data in this study to launch a flotilla of Masters theses and Doctoral dissertations so it will probably be a while before all the implications are recognized.)

A visit to the Congo

Bishop Pierre Whalon, of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, has just returned from a visit to the Province de L'Eglise Anglicane Du Congo. He describes his visit on his blog.

I had the great privilege to visit Congo-Kinshasa (the former Belgian colony) and Congo-Brazzaville (the former French colony), from February 6 (Ash Wednesday) to the 15th. What struck me most powerfully were the contrast between the extraordinary wealth of the countries and its people’s extraordinary poverty; and the faithfulness and joyousness of the people and clergy, with their bishops, of the Anglican Province of the Congo (which spans both countries). In particular, this province, which lies in the largest French-speaking country in the world, has spread from one solitary Ugandan missionary, Apollo Kivebulaya, in Boga, to well over 500,000 Anglicans in both Congoes—with very little help from outside. Unlike the Nigerian, Ugandan, or Kenyan provinces, which inherited mission structures from their missionaries, the Congolese began at square one—with one man. And with everything done in French! They receive help from the Congo Church Association, and from other friends, but overall they have grown by their own efforts.

I went to bring the funds for Abp. Diropka’s car, as well as another vehicle for Henri Isingoma, Bishop of Boga, who now has a Toyota LandCruiser. I also went as vice-president of the Francophone Network of the Anglican Communion, in order to stir up interest in the July meeting of the Réseau in England. The four million francophone Anglicans need to gather resources for education and evangelism—we have virtually nothing in French other than the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible. Finally, I went looking for a possible “companion diocese” for the Convocation. A “companion (or “link” in the Church of England) diocese” is a relationship between two disparate dioceses in the Communion, who covenant to be partners in learning about each other, exchanging ideas and visits, and sharing resources for mission.

Read more here.

Life with Bishop Paul Moore

The New Yorker has posted an interview with Honor Moore, daughter of the late Paul Moore, famed bishop of the Diocese of New York.

This week in the magazine, in an excerpt from her book “The Bishop’s Daughter,” Honor Moore writes about her father, the Episcopal bishop Paul Moore, his faith, and his secret. Here Moore talks about her father’s public service and private life.

Moore was a leader in moving the church to act on behalf of those without power in the world.

Mark Harris at his blog Preludium comments on Honor Moore's tender and compassionate interview.

The Paul Moore story will be out there and I wager that there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in some parts of Anglican Land., but he will deserve better.

Perhaps there will be a time when we will finally give up on the idea that being heterosexual or homosexual is not an either/ or even a both / and sort of thing. It may be common to say a person is heterosexual or homosexual, but it may be more to the point to say that we are all sexual and sensual and that is about who we are, as a whole person, and being beat up about that or ostracized or shamed does not help anyone get a better grip on being a fully whole human being, saved or obedient to the Word of God.


Elizabeth Kaeton at her blog Telling Secrets reflects on the book:
There will be rending of garments and much wailing and moaning and gnashing of teeth on both sides of the aisle about this book and her revelation.

Some will cry that many LGBT people could have been helped and the church's journey to greater social justice advanced years sooner "if only he had told the truth."

Others will cry that the church and his legacy is soiled by this truth that should have remained secret - that nothing good can come of any of this.

There will be those who will laugh and scorn the Body of Christ in its incarnation as The Episcopal Church and say this is but one more piece of evidence of its 'internal decay' which provides them with one more reason to leave 'this apostate church.'

Still others will say, "I told you so!" and smirk, "See, Gene Robinson is not the first gay bishop. He's the first honestly gay bishop."

Hear the interview here.

Article on The Rt. Rev. Paul Moore at the time of his death here.

Which church will the next president choose to attend?

Which church will the next president choose to attend? Bush chose the Episcopal Church. The current candidates represent various denominations The next person who moves into the White House will have a lot of decisions to make, but one will have to be made on faith: which local church to attend writes Lisa Zagaroli for the Charlotte Observer.

President Bush worshiped at various congregations before settling on St. John's Episcopal Church across the street from the White House, the same place his parents attended when his father was president.

Bush has been a Methodist since he married Laura. He previously attended Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. At home in Dallas, the couple attended Highland Park United Methodist.

Vice President Cheney belongs to the Methodist Church but occasionally attends St. John's Episcopal Church in Jackson, Wyoming when he is at home.

Hillary Clinton currently attends the Methodist Church, Barack Obama belongs to a United Church of Christ congregation, John McCain used to be an Episcopalian but attends a Baptist Church, while Mike Huckabee is a Southern Baptist minister

Read it all here.

South Indian bishop backs equal rights to resources

Bishop George Ninan tends to divide people into two groups: those who have political freedom and economic opportunity and those who have had their God-given rights taken away.

Since he's an Anglican bishop from South India, one might think he would see people as Christian or Hindu or Muslim. Or that he might see those from South India as being distinct from other Indians or even other Asians.

But Ninan's world view has been shaped by speaking out on behalf of oppressed people of many faiths and cultures - and by being threatened by several governments.

"In a just society, people are not only created equal, but have equal rights to resources," he said.

After a career fighting injustice across Asia, the 73-year-old Ninan is spending his "retirement" in Rockland County, serving as priest-in-charge for two congregations that meet at All Saints Episcopal Church in Valley Cottage.

Read it all here.

HT to Kendall Harmon of T:19

Kenyan priest builds community in Boston area

Accounts of violence in Kenya are more than just news stories to The Rev. Joseph Ngotho; they are the latest news about the fate of his homeland and his dispossessed family according to a Lynn, Masschusetts news source.

"We've been struggling for years because of poor leadership." Ngotho received a traditional Anglican religious education in Kenya. He continued his education after moving to the United States 12 years ago and has ministered to his countrymen at St. Stephen's for five years.

The debate in the last several years over openly gay Episcopal Church leaders prompted some Kenyans to endorse a rift between the Anglican and Episcopal Church.

Ngotho has tried to help his St. Stephens parishioners understand that more issues unite than divide them, including struggles to overcome poverty and racial and gender injustices.

Read it all here.

Pew survey on religion in US: UPDATE

As reported on The Lead yesterday with commentary and links, the survey on Religion in the US by the Pew Forum continues to engage churches and media with its results and possible meaning for the future of religion and its role in the US.

The Wall Street Journal comments:

America's shifting religious landscape could affect voting patterns, scholars say. Pew has found, for example, that when Latinos leave Catholicism for evangelical churches, they often become more politically conservative. The changes also could have financial implications for religious schools and social services -- homeless shelters, food pantries and clinics -- that rely on donations from religious denominations.

NPR is featuring the report on Morning Edition today.

Steve Inskeep discusses the report's findings with Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

One of the major findings, Lugo says, is that immigration trends are affecting religion demographics in America — tilting the Christian balance in the U.S. toward Catholicism and diversifying the range of choices that are nontraditional to the U.S.

According to the study, more than one-quarter of American adults (28 percent) have left the faith in which they were raised in favor of another religion — or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, 44 percent of adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

Listen live here.

The Boston Globe has some interpretive graphics to go with their report:

The new study is filled with findings about a remarkably diverse nation, with a population that is shaped by affiliation with a vast and shifting array of religious groups and sects. Every religious family - Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists - is represented by a number of subgroups. Scholars believe, for example, that the Muslim population of the United States - which is made up of African-Americans, whites, and immigrants from both south Asia and the Arab world - is more diverse than anywhere else.

For more read here.

Tracey Lind to lead invocation at tonight's debate

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland, will lead the invocation at tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Press release from Trinity Cathedral:

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, will give the invocation at tonight’s Democratic Presidential Debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, Ohio. Dean Lind was invited to give the invocation by Cleveland State University President Michael Schwartz.

The university and the cathedral are across the street from one another on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland’s main street, and have a long history of collaboration. Each fall, the two institutions offer the President’s and Dean’s Lecture; recent speakers have included education advocate Jonathan Kozol and public radio host Diane Rehm.

The debate begins this evening at 9 pm EST and will be televised by NBC News. The Dean’s invocation is not expected to be televised.

MSNBC will telecast the debate from 9-10:30 p.m. ET. NBC’s Brian Williams will moderate and be joined by "Meet the Press" moderator and NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert. It will be streamed live.

Dean Lind was one of the final nominees for Bishop of Chicago as reported here and here

House of Bishops to hear oversight plan

The Lead reported last week on proposals by some conservative bishops for alternative oversight. Now The Living Church updates the story with news that it has been referred to the House of Bishops March meeting for further discussion.

The plan builds upon the “Episcopal Visitor” concept announced last fall by Bishop Jefferts Schori, according to the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida, who was one of the group that met with the Presiding Bishop. The existence of the plan was reported Feb. 22 by the British Telegraph newspaper. Bishop Howe subsequently released a summary of the plan and a partial correction of the Telegraph article. The actual plan has not been released.

“Our purpose in meeting with Bishop Jefferts Schori yesterday was to apprize her of this plan, seek her counsel, and assure her that we remain committed to working within the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church, and that the primates involved in this discussion are not involved in ‘border crossing,’ nor would we be,” Bishop Howe wrote. “We will visit no congregation without the diocesan bishop’s invitation and permission.”

Discussion of the plan will be included on the agenda for the spring House of Bishops’ meeting, according to Neva Rae Fox, public affairs officer for Episcopal Life Media.

It will be interesting to hear the reaction of the House of Bishops which has been very cool to dismissive of these sorts of ideas especially if they involve bishops from other Provinces.

Read the article here.

Youth need safe gathering places

Writing in The Guardian UK today, Archbishop Rowan Williams comments on a report from the Good Childhood inquiry on children and youth and public space. He begins:

The sight of young people gathering on streets and in shopping centres is one of the things that can create alarm or suspicion in adults, who think such groups are going to be abusive or extreme in their behaviour. But today's report from the Good Childhood inquiry ought to challenge many popular misconceptions about young people and our shared public space.

Set up by the Children's Society in 2006, the inquiry has so far reported on children's attitudes to friends, family and learning. What may come as a surprise in today's findings is that many young people themselves feel that they are not safe or welcome in public places, sometimes because of aggressive gangs colonising these places, but also sometimes because of unfriendly adults. Hanging around in groups is often a way for many youngsters to feel secure, rather than a way of menacing anyone else. And the discouragement of games in public places intensifies the problem.

The inquiry's earlier reports had few surprises - children value their friends, want stable, loving families with a proper parental presence and expect schools to be supportive and free from bullying.

Read all Williams comments here

Other reports can be found at The Telegraph commenting on materialism in children, The Guardian on the Archbishop's remarks but unable to resist bringing up the sharia law controversy and The Daily Mail with comments on the report as well as Williams' comments.

Raspberry Rabbit comments on his blog.

The Good Childhood Inquiry will publish its final report and recommendations early next year.

A prayer for the Democratic debate

A Prayer for the Nation
Invocation for the Democratic Presidential Debate
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Cleveland
February 26, 2008


Shalom, Salaam, Peace be with you. Let us pray.

Gracious and loving God: we call you by many names and come to you by many paths, yet you have brought us together to this time and place. We join our voices in praising you for the majesty and beauty of this land, for the people of our nation, for the state of Ohio and its citizens, and for the city of Cleveland and those who live, work and study here. May we always be mindful stewards of your bountiful creation.

As we come together this evening, we thank you, O God, for the great diversity of our nation and its people who, throughout our history, have embodied the principles and ideals of a democratic society. We pray especially this night for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. We give thanks for their willingness to stand before us and offer themselves to serve as our nation’s president. We pray that as they debate, they will exhibit the courage of their convictions, hunger for the truth, a vision of compassion, justice for all people, and civility toward one another.

And as we, your faithful people, listen, discern and cast our ballots, may we remember that this nation is too important for anything but truth, that this world is too vulnerable for anything but peace, and that your creation is too precious for anything but love.

Amen.


--with thanks to the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

Southern Cone constitution includes impediments

The Living Church has examined a newly available English translation of the constitution and canons of the Southern Cone and sees impediments:

The situation seems especially complicated for the Diocese of San Joaquin which already approved the switch at its annual convention last December. Article two of the Southern Cone constitution limits membership in the province to dioceses “that exist or which may be formed in the Republics of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay and which voluntary declare themselves as integral diocesan members of the province.” Article four of the constitution requires that amendments “be submitted to the Anglican Consultative Council for consideration and then to each diocesan synod for approval.”
...
Another complication involves a Southern Cone canon on bishops which states they “should definitely retire by 68 years of age.” In a recent interview with TLC, Bishop John-David Schofield, who will turn 70 in October, said he had been previously been informed by the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone that the primate could waive the mandatory retirement age requirement on a year-to-year basis, but there is nothing in the constitution or canons to suggest the possibility of such an exception.

The Rev. Van McCalister, public relations officer for the Diocese of San Joaquin, said Bishop Schofield and the delegates to the diocesan convention operated in good faith.

“From our perspective we were invited to join unanimously by the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone,” he said. “We proceeded under the assumption that they had the authority to invite us and that they knew what they were doing.”

Read it here.

Pew religion survey interpreted

Following major news media reporting, others are beginning to weigh in,

The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, 11th President of Chicago Theological Seminary, concludes the U.S. is post-denominational:

Protestant churches cannot count on their members knowing anything about the history and faith commitments of their particular tradition. These folks who are migrating from Catholic to Protestant or from liberal to evangelical or evangelical to progressive or whatever the pattern know more what they don’t want in a church than what they do want or believe.
...
[W]hile the Pew study indicates that the “United States is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country,” these trends toward self-direction in faith is the distinctly, even uniquely Protestant ethos. We may be declining in numbers, we Protestants, but sociologically speaking, in the U.S. we won.

Chester Gillis, Amaturo Chair of Catholic Studies at Georgetown University, says Americans are seekers and shoppers:

Such fluidity has implications for those who administer churches and denominations, of course, who can no longer count on lifelong loyalty of their members. They must be aware that many Americans (probably more than they thought) change their religious afflation/identity. They must be open and welcoming to those who are inclined to switch. They should also be prepared to part with a significant portion of their adherents on a regular basis. They should also take comfort in the fact that Americans are more religiously identified than their European counterparts and that they have more religious flexibility than most of the world. Nevertheless, America remains one of the most religious of the developed nations.

Last night's PBS Newshour included a segment with two analysts. Listen here. One theme: the more things change, the more they stay the same. America has had a fluid religious marketplace since its creation.
Our earlier roundups of the Pew survey on religion in the US are here and here.

Spokesperson for U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responds

On Monday The Lead covered the op-ed by Joe Feuerherd appearing in the Sunday edition of the Washington Post.

Today the Post has run a response by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The bishops never align themselves with any party or any candidate, yet Feuerherd presumptuously declares them for Sen. John McCain. He puts the bishops in the Republican Party despite that fact that on many of their positions, such as immigration and health care, they could be considered in the Democratic camp. He describes Pope John Paul as conservative, despite the fact that the media who heard him in Newark in 1995 said he sounded more liberal than the most liberal Democrat. In 1999, in St. Louis, Pope John Paul personally -- and successfully -- called upon the governor of Missouri to commute the sentence of a man on death row.

The current campaign shows that politics is too often a contest of powerful interests, partisan attacks, sound bites and media hype. In "Faithful Citizenship," the Church calls for a different kind of political engagement: one shaped by moral convictions of well-formed consciences and focused on the dignity of every human being, the pursuit of the common good, and the protection of the weak and vulnerable. It stresses that Catholics need to be guided more by their moral convictions than by attachment to a political party or interest group. Catholic participation should help transform the party to which they belong; they should not let the party transform them in such a way that they neglect or deny basic moral truths.
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His final salvo, damning the bishops, is unworthy of both Feuerherd and The Post. It's hard to imagine The Post giving its pages to a writer suggesting the outright damnation of the leaders of any other religious body. Feuerherd's vitriol might be understandable if the bishops were concerned, like a typical special-interest group, only with what benefits them. However, the bishops' defense of the right to life of the unborn is a principled commitment in justice to the good of others who are vulnerable and with no voice of their own.

A group calling itself the Catholic News Agency suggests Feuerherd could be subject to sanction by the church:
While describing himself as an opponent of liberal abortion laws, Feuerherd criticized Republicans and pledged his support for the Democrats. “Sounds like I'll be voting for the Democrat -- and the bishops be damned,” his essay concluded.

Canon lawyer Dr. Edward Peters vigorously condemned the curse. “To wish damnation on an individual or a group is to wish on them the absolutely worst fate conceivable: separation from God forever,” Peters wrote. “Catholics possessed of even a rudimentary catechesis know that one cannot invoke upon a human being any greater calamity than damnation, and that it is never licit, for any reason, to wish that another person be damned.”

Peters said Feuerherd’s “words of contempt” were not made in the heat of the moment. “Feuerherd's curse, ‘the bishops be damned’, was expressed in cold, deliberate, prose intended for maximum effect in a prominent national publication.”

Peters noted that Canon 1369 canon law mandates the imposition of a “just penalty” for a person who in published writing “expresses insults or excites hatred or contempt against religion or the Church.” Another canon, 1373, commends “an interdict or other just penalties” to be imposed on a person who publicly incites animosities or hatred against an episcopal ordinary “because of some act of power or ecclesiastical ministry.”

“I believe Feuerherd has gravely violated both of these canons,” Peters said. He stated that by virtue of their office, bishops should impose canonical punishments upon Feuerherd.

Venables to visit Fort Worth

Following on earlier news that the constitution and canons of the Southern Cone pose impediments to those who would propose to create US-based affiliates, the Diocese of Fort Worth today announces that the Presiding Bishop of the Southern Cone will visit the diocese in May:

On Friday, May 2, Archbishop Venables will meet with all the clergy of the Diocese at the Church of the Holy Apostles, and then on Saturday, May 3, he will address a specially-called Convocation of the 2008 convention delegates at St. Vincent’s Cathedral. The purpose of the convocation is to provide information: Archbishop Venables will answer questions from the delegates, but no legislation will be considered.
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The Diocese of Fort Worth is considering aligning with the Province of the Southern Cone, and this visit will help clarify the practicalities, benefits, and possible drawbacks of such a move.

Read the full announcement here.

Church investigated by IRS over Obama speech

The United Church of Christ is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service over a speech Senator Obama gave at a church conference in June:

The IRS has notified the UCC that it has opened an investigation into Obama's address at the UCC's 2007 General Synod in Hartford, Conn., the UCC said yesterday.

According to a copy of an IRS letter that the church received Monday, the IRS is launching the inquiry "because reasonable belief exists that the United Church of Christ has engaged in political activities that could jeopardize its tax-exempt status."

Under federal law, churches are barred from becoming directly or indirectly involved in campaigns of political candidates.

According to a text of the speech posted on the church's Web site, Obama promised to sign a universal health care bill in his first term as president, and he denounced the Iraq war.

Read it at The Trail a political blog of the Washington Post.

The UCC has issued a press release announcing the creation of a legal defense fund:

In a Feb. 27 letter to members and supporters, General Minister and President John H. Thomas said the fund was necessary "to ensure that money given for mission will not be needed to pay legal bills, instead of ministry needs."

"In order to adequately defend ourselves as well as protect the broader principle of the freedom of religious communities to entertain questions of faith and public life, we will need to secure expert legal counsel, and the cost of this defense, we are told, could approach or exceed six figures," Thomas wrote. "This is troubling news."

From the church's own reporting of the investigation:

In an introduction before Obama's speech, Thomas said Obama was invited as "one of ours" to provide reflections on "how personal faith can be lived out in the public square, how personal faith and piety is reflected in the life of public service."

Thomas said the IRS's investigation implies that Obama, a UCC member, is not free to speak openly to fellow UCC members about his faith.

In its reporting on the speech at the time the AP wrote

“But somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart. Faith got hijacked, partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us,” the Democratic presidential candidate said in a 30-minute speech before a national meeting of the United Church of Christ.

More San Joaquin congregations opt to remain

Updated

Episcopal Life reports:

A growing number of Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin are opting to remain within the Episcopal Church (TEC), as the Fresno-based diocese prepares for an anticipated March 29 special convention that would elect a provisional bishop.
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The Presiding Bishop appointed [the Rev. Canon Bob] Moore, and later the Rev. Canon Brian Cox, as an interim pastoral presence to continuing Episcopalians after 42 of 47 diocesan congregations voted in December to leave TEC and to realign with the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.

In the absence of ecclesiastical authority, the Rev. Mark Hall, rector of St. Anne's Church in Stockton and the senior active priest in San Joaquin, is also serving as temporary diocesan administrator.
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Membership in the continuing diocese is growing with 17 congregations remaining with TEC and the possibility of more coming on board. "Some are start-up and some are continuing congregations," Hall said. About five others are also considering continuing with TEC, added Hall, who is a steering committee member.

Delegates to the anticipated March 29 convention will, in addition to electing a provisional bishop, also elect the standing committee, deputies to General Convention, provincial representatives and diocesan officers.

Michael Glass, a San Rafael attorney who represents many of the continuing Episcopalians, said Title III. Canon 13, Section 1 provides for the election of the provisional bishop "in consultation with the Presiding Bishop."

Glass predicted additional congregations will also "come out of the woodwork" and decide to remain with TEC after the election.
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Getting the word out has been a significant challenge, said St. Anne's Hall. "Because of the nature of how things have been … people were kept from talking to each other and … we've been marginalized." He said that Episcopal Life's monthly newspaper and other church-wide publications were unavailable within most of the diocese for at least a decade.

See also this earlier post today on the Southern Cone.

Thursday morning update

Remain Episcopal page on the March 29 convention here.

The Living Church has a story here.

Dear New Hampshire: Send your money, not your bishop.

Lambeth Palace has been careful to avoid sending Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire any of the mail that goes out to bishops invited to the Lambeth Conference, and it has made sure that his partner, Mark Andrew, has not received any of the correspondence sent to spouses. Somehow, though, a request for $7,000 to support the conference has found its way to the bishop's desk.

New primate for Tanzania

Bishop Valentino L. Mokiwa of the Diocese of Dar es Salaam has been elected primate of Tanzania, according to Episcopal News Service.

Mokiwa will succeed Archbishop Donald Leo Mtetemela, who has served as primate since 1998 and will retire on May 25.

The election took place in Dodoma on February 28 during a special session of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Tanzania. Synod members came from Tanzania's 21 Anglican dioceses, with each diocese being asked to send five delegates -- a diocesan bishop, two clergy and two lay persons. Two dioceses -- Zanzibar and South West Tanganyika -- that are currently without a bishop sent only clergy and lay delegates.

Archbishop-elect Mokiwa will be installed in Dodoma on May 25.

The ENS story is here.

Manga Bible author discusses work

A couple of weeks ago, we featured the work of Siku, the creator of the Manga Bible, on the Art Blog and gave him coverage here on the Lead. (If you missed it, the coverage is here

This week, he was featured in a 13-minute long segment of the NPR program Faith Matters in which he discusses why he chose the stories he did, the challenges of interpreting narrative style within graphic novels, how his family reacted to his "calling," the Archbishop of Canterbury's feedback, the difference between manga and comics (manga is "cinematic," among other things) and much more.

In one part, Siku talks about how he hopes to make the narratives of the Bible accessible to a new generation of people and provide churchgoers with a fresh interpretation:

You can see this in two ways. In the West, especially in Western Europe, Biblical narratives are no longer the narratives we actually use. Lots of kids don't know what the Moses story is about. It's a way of making those grand narratives familiar again ... That's one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that it gives Christians who think they know the Bible a spin on how to see the Bible differently.

There's a short write-up here, but be sure to click on the "Listen Now" link to tune in to the segment.

A walk in the wilderness

First in a new series from the L.A. Times on sacred spaces is a profile on The Rev. Brad Karelius, rector of Santa Ana's Episcopal Church of the Messiah. After experiencing an incredible sense of peace and holiness while exploring the mountain wilderness that lies north of L.A., Karelius went on to study how retreating to such raw places often acts as a portal to spirital awakening, according to the article. For him, that first visit evoked such "serenity" that he has made it a regular practice to return to the area whenever he needs to "detox" from the hustle and bustle of daily living.

Karelius was talking about his first visit to the cave at Rose Spring -- a dusty gash in the Coso Mountains at the southern end of the Owens Valley, about 120 miles north of Los Angeles. He stumbled across the cave in 1997, a few weeks after his then 14-year-old son, Erik, nearly died after a series of epileptic seizures.

What happened to him there continues to provide spiritual direction for his sermons at the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana.

With his son's crying echoing in his mind, he explored the ruins of a stagecoach stop that burned down in 1870, admired the massive grinding stones of an ancient Native American village and took in the desert hills marked by the spicy scents of wild rose and sagebrush. Then he climbed into the cave, startling a great horned owl out of a dark corner.

Karelius spent several hours in the cave, just listening to the stirring and penetrating sounds of wind in the sage and marveling at the unspoiled views -- not much different from when Paiutes went there to grind meal and to chip tools out of volcanic glass.

"I was overwhelmed by the power of a place with so many stories of struggle to tell," he said. "There was a palpable sense of danger and awe. It was the one moment I felt closest to the holy."

The whole thing is here.

Church unity in Canada

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church has made a statement about the departure of several parishes from Anglican Church of Canada (hot on the heels of talks breaking down in Ontario)--and made it available through a videocast on the web. In it, he states that the Canadian Church is still "vibrant and united in its witness to the Gospel message," according to a release that accompanied the video. And while some people decide to leave, many many more remain committed to the Church live in the Anglican tradition of worshiping and living "together gracefully with difference."

The video is also available with the accompanying release here.

Theologian J.I. Packer may be suspended

Earlier this month it was announced that the largest congregation in the Anglican Church of Canada had voted to leave the ACC to to become affiliated with the Canadian equivalent of the Episcopal Church's Network (which is now known as the Common Cause Partnership). We have a post with a video statement regarding the situation by the Canadian Archbishop just below this one.

There are implications to the decision though that were not immediately recognized. An article posted on Anglican Planet describes the situation:

"St. John’s was part of New Westminster until 2002 when the Diocese approved the blessing of same-sex unions and departed from what the evangelical congregation considered ‘biblical faithfulness.’ With several other like-minded churches they formed the Anglican Communion in New Westminster, which was still part of the national body. Now St. John’s has left the ACC as well.

The rector, the Rev. David Short, and the assistant priest, the Rev. Dan Gifford, along with retired honorary assistant, Dr. James I. Packer, are expected to relinquish their ACC licences and receive new ones from Bishop Don Harvey to minister in the Anglican Network in Canada. Dr. Packer is a world-renowned theologian and prolific author probably best known for the Christian classic Knowing God."

J.I. Packers' teaching and writing is not commonly encountered the Episcopal Church, it is widely known and respected by Evangelicals in the Anglican Communion. The possible suspension of Packer may create a bit of a problem for both the Archbishop of Canada and the Archbishop of Canterbury given the reaction that could be expected from many parts of the Communion.

The full article from Anglican Planet is here.

General Synod reports posted

Thinking Anglicans has put together an omnibus post of all the document presented at the Church of England's General Synod earlier this month.

Of particular interest may be the full text of the Presidential Address by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the report of the Church of England's reaction to the second draft of the Anglican Covenant.

Read them here.

Bishop Kelshaw received by the Church of Uganda

An article in the Religious Intelligence (a website published in the United Kingdom) reports that the retired bishop of the Rio Grande, Terrence Kelshaw, has been received into the Anglican province of the Church of Uganda.

The article has the details of his move:

"Bishop Kelshaw was until his retirement a Bishop with The Episcopal Church USA, and was among those who were against liberal moves within the Anglican Communion. ‘I have requested and been received into the province of the Church of Uganda. I sense security and unity with that decision,’ Bishop Kelshaw told Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor.

The retired bishop was called to serve as an interim pastor to one of the Churches in California, according to the Rev Alison Barfoot, assistant to Archbishop Orombi, in charge of international relations.

Bishop Kelshaw becomes the second bishop to join the Anglican Church of Uganda after the Rt Rev John Guernsey, who was anointed a Ugandan Bishop for the American flocks who have left the Episcopal Church.

The article then continues with a list of charges brought against the Episcopal Church by a former Episcopal priest who now serves on Archbishop Orombi's staff in Kenya. The charges are apparently the reasoning behind the move made by Bishop Kelshaw:

The Daily Monitor of Uganda dated Feb 26, 2006, said: ‘The Episcopal Church USA is known for having consecrated a gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2005, an action that is against the teachings of the Anglican Church.’

‘The gay argument is just simplistic. There are so many differences between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church,’ Dr Barfoot told the paper.

She claimed the Episcopal Church does believe that the Bible has authority, ‘they don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and its bishops don’t believe in the Virgin Mary while some do not believe that Jesus was born.’

It is such differences of theological interpretation that has prompted the Anglican Church of Uganda and others within the worldwide Anglican Communion to announce that they would boycott this year’s Lambeth Conference slated for July-August, in the UK."

Read the rest here.

Friday review

Simon Sarmiento, speaking at a conference in Northern Wales, has an excellent review of the events that have led up to the present situation in the Anglican Communion. The conference is call the "Rebuilding Communion Course" and is being covered by Walking with Integrity, Integrity USA's official blog.

From "Walking with Integrity":

"About 25 people gathered yesterday afternoon at St Deiniol's Library in Northern Wales for the start of the Rebuilding Communion Course. Several authors are presenting draft papers during the conference and listening to the responses of participants. The final papers will be published in book form around May 1 by Monad Press.

Peter Francis, Warden of St. Deiniol's, welcomed participants. He said the library was founded by William Gladstone--who was prime minister of Great Britain four times during the late 19th century, to house his extensive private collection. Peter noted that Gladstone became ever more socially progressive throughout his lifetime and no doubt would approve of his library hosting a conference on lesbian and gay issues within the Anglican Communion.

The first paper, 'Lambeth from 1998 to 2008,' was presented by Simon Sarmiento--editor of the Thinking Anglicans blog."

Read the rest here and take the chance to review as well.

Bishop Sisk responds to New Yorker's story on Paul Moore

Bishop Mark Sisk of New York has written to members of his diocese about a story in The New Yorker magazine by Honor Moore in which she revealed that her father, the late Bishop Paul Moore, had an affair with a man during his marraige. To read the letter click "Read more."

The key paragraph follows:

But there is more. It appears as well that Bishop Moore violated his ordination vows in another respect. The long term extra-marital relationship that his daughter describes was begun, according to her account, with a young man who had come to the Bishop for counseling. That inappropriate relationship is a fundamental violation of an ordained person’s vow to minister to the needs of those entrusted to his or her care; never is this more so than when working with the vulnerable who have come seeking pastoral care. Sadly the violation of trust that Ms Moore reports is consistent with behavior recorded in complaints about Bishop Moore’s exploitative behavior received by the office of the Bishop of New York. As Canon Law required, the concerns of those complainants (who wished their identities held in confidence) were duly conveyed to the then Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning for disposition.

Read more »

Archbishop kidnapped in Iraq

A Chaldean Catholic archbishop was kidnapped in Mosul earlier today. According to reports gunman killed three people in abduction of the archbishop, who was taken after celebrating a Mass at a local church.

According to the Associated Press report:

"An aide to Iraq's Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, leader of the church, said he did not know who was behind the kidnapping of the 65-year-old archbishop.

'We pray for his release as soon as possible,' said Archbishop Andreos Abouna. 'This act of abduction against a Christian clergy member will increase our fears and worries about the situation of Christians in Iraq.'

Last year's International Religious Freedom Report from the U.S. State Department noted that Chaldean Catholics comprise a tiny minority of the Iraqi population, but are the largest group among the less than 1 million Christians in mostly Muslim Iraq.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Iraqi Christians have been targeted by Islamic extremists who label them 'crusaders' loyal to U.S. troops."

Read the rest here.

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