The wisdom of the combat weary

The Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl, new rector of All Saints Church in Chevy Chase, Md., was once a partisan in the struggle for the control of the Episcopal Church. No more. In his installation sermon, "Love Among the Ruins: A Vision for Our Future," he draws on the lyrics of Crosby, Stills and Nash and Brian Wilson (Midnight's Another Day) before concluding that the only way forward lies in "walking away from anything else but the question: What is love?"

Church sets date for Bennison trial

The Episcopal Church USA has set a June 9 trial date for Bishop Charles E. Bennison, the suspended head of its Diocese of Pennsylvania, on charges that he concealed his brother's sexual abuse of a minor decades ago.

Bennison, 64, was pastor of a California parish in the early 1970s when he hired his brother, John Bennison, as its youth minister. John Bennison soon began a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl that lasted several years.

Last year, the girl's family complained that Charles Bennison knew of the abuse but did not act to prevent it, and failed to inform his superiors when John Bennison sought ordination. John Bennison resigned from the priesthood in 2006 after a Los Angeles TV station reported the abuse.

Read it all in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Archbishop Akinola owes the world some answers

Father Jake has beaten us to the punch with an essay on Eliza Griswold's cover story in this month's Atlantic Monthly in which Archbishop Peter Akinola declines to distance himself from a retributive rampage in Yelwa, Nigeria, in which more than 650 Muslims were killed by Christians.

What follows are the relevant passages of Griswold's story. (You can read it all, here. And yes, she is the daughter of the former Presiding Bishop.) It began with a Muslim attack on Christians:

One Tuesday at 7 a.m. in Yelwa, about 70 people were praying their morning devotions at the Church of Christ in Nigeria (founded by none other than the fiery Kumm himself). It was in February 2004, about a year after the elders had issued their edict that no Christian woman was to be seen with a Muslim man. As the worshippers finished their prayers, they heard gunshots and a call from the loudspeakers of the mosque next door: “Allahu Akhbar, let us go for jihad.” “We were terrified,” recalled Pastor Sunday, who had been standing outside the gate as the churchyard swarmed with strangers. He stayed near the church gate, but many other people fled toward the road behind the church. There, men dressed in military fatigues reassured them that they were safe and herded them back to the church. Then the men opened fire.

Pastor Sunday fled; that’s why he survived. The attackers—who were not, in fact, Nigerian soldiers—set the church on fire and killed everyone who tried to escape. They chased the head of the church, Pastor Sampson Bukar, to his house next door and ran him through with cutlasses. They set fire to the nursery school and the pastor’s house. During my first visit to Yelwa in the summer of 2006, his burned Peugeot was still outside. The church had been rebuilt and painted salmon pink. Boys were playing soccer, each wearing only one shoe so that everyone could kick the ball. “Seven in my family were killed,” said Sunday as we sat in the churchyard. “We call them martyrs.” He pointed to a mound of earth not far from where we were sitting. On top was a small wooden cross: it marked the mass grave for the 78 people killed that day.

Then came the Christians retribution:

Two months after the church was razed, Christian men and boys surrounded Yelwa. Many were bare-chested; others wore shirts on which they’d reportedly pinned white name tags identifying them as members of the Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella organization founded in the 1970s to give Christians a collective and unified voice as strong as that of Muslims. Each tag had a number instead of a name: a code, it seemed, for identification. They attacked the town. According to Human Rights Watch, 660 Muslims were massacred over the course of the next two days, including the patients in the Al-Amin clinic. Twelve mosques and 300 houses went up in flames. Young girls were marched to a nearby Christian town and forced to eat pork and drink alcohol. Many were raped, and 50 were killed.

Griswold was introduced to two young women, Hamamatu Danladi and Yasira Ibrahim, who had survived the incident.

During the Christian attack, the two young women took shelter in an elder’s guarded home. On the second day, the Christian militia arrived at the house. They were covered in red and blue paint and were wearing those numbered white name tags. The Christians first killed the guards, then chose among the women. With others, the two young women were marched toward the Christian village. “They were killing children on the road,” Danladi said. Outside the elementary school, her abductor grabbed hold of two Muslim boys she knew, 9 and 10 years old. Along with other men, he took a machete to them until they were in pieces, then wrapped the pieces in a rubber tire and set it on fire.

When Danladi and Ibrahim reached their captors’ village, they were forced to drink alcohol and to eat pork and dog meat. Although she was obviously pregnant, Danladi’s abductor repeatedly raped her during the next four days. After a month, the police fetched Danladi and Ibrahim from the Christian village and took them to the camp where most of the town’s Muslim residents had fled. There, the two young women were reunited with their husbands. They never discussed what happened in the bush.


Later, Griswold interviewed Archbishop Akinola.

At the time of the massacre, Archbishop Peter Akinola was the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, whose membership was implicated in the killings. He has since lost his bid for another term but, as primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, he is still the leader of 18 million Anglicans. He is a colleague of my father, who was the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America from 1997 to 2006. But the American Episcopals’ election of an openly homosexual bishop in 2003, which Archbishop Akinola denounced as “satanic,” created distance between them. ....

“My views on Islam are well known: I have nothing more to say,” he said, as we sat down. Archbishop Akinola has repeatedly spoken critically about Islam and liberal Western Protestants, and he was understandably wary of my motives for asking his thoughts. For Akinola, the relationship between liberal Protestants and Islam is straightforward: if Western Christians abandon conservative morals, then the global Church will be weakened in its struggle against Islam. “When you have this attack on Christians in Yelwa, and there are no arrests, Christians become dhimmi, the vocabulary within Islam that allows Christians and Jews to be seen as second-class citizens. You are subject to the Muslims. You have no rights.”

When asked if those wearing name tags that read “Christian Association of Nigeria” had been sent to the Muslim part of Yelwa, the archbishop grinned. “No comment,” he said. “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet.” He went on, “I’m not out to combat anybody. I’m only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I’m living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”

(emphasis ours.)

Human Rights Watch also investigated the massacre at Yelwa. (Here are the report, and an accompanying news release.) Here are a few excerpts from its report:

Despite claims by some Christian leaders that it was “spontaneous,” on the basis of the testimonies of eye-witnesses and residents of Yelwa, it would appear that the attack was carefully coordinated and involved not only Christian residents of the immediate area, but also Christians from other local government areas.

Large groups of attackers surrounded the town from different directions and blocked all the main roads leading out of Yelwa. Witnesses estimated that they numbered several thousand and described them as an “army of men.” A man who saw the attackers as they entered the town said: “I could see them on the outskirts. It was as if they were a cloud, so dark, so many of them.

The attackers were operating in different groups and their mode of operation indicated a high level of coordination. A witness said that on May 3, “the attackers came and retreated. They had a system: one group attacked and retreated, then another group attacked.”

One witness said that at about 6.30 p.m., they heard the sound of whistles and the attackers withdrew. Just before they withdrew, some of them were seen dancing and shouting “we are retrieving our town today!” There was no fighting during the night. The following morning, on May 3, at around 7 a.m., they returned and attacked again. The killings continued until about 11 a.m. Several witnesses confirmed that the violence was worse on the second day, and that the attackers seemed even more numerous, better organized and better armed.

Muslim residents of Yelwa estimate that around 660 Muslims were killed on May 2 and 3. On the basis of its own research and detailed testimonies from residents, including some who buried the bodies and others who were present as the bodies were counted, Human Rights Watch believes this figure to be credible, and that the real figure may be closer to seven hundred.

Human Rights Watch spoke to a Christian Gamai, who was formerly in the army, who claimed to have mobilized and trained large numbers of Christians in the area in the period leading up to May 2. He had not been living in the area during the events of June 2002 and February 2004, but decided to return at the end of March 2004, specifically for the purpose of organizing Christians to defend themselves against Muslim attacks, “because Christians were being massacred and slaughtered like rams.” He boasted about how he had mobilized “all the Gamai in Gamai land” (the area in and around Shendam) and trained them in military skills. He made no secret of how they had prepared themselves and how he had “encouraged Gamai youths to protect Gamai land in case there was any attack.” He complained about the arrest of 39 Christians by soldiers following the attack of May 2-3 in Yelwa. When Human Rights Watch researchers asked him whether those arrested had participated in the violence, he said: “Even if they did, it was war. Now it is peace. They shouldn’t be arrested.” In a sign of the intransigence which persists among some sectors even since the situation has calmed down, he said: “Before there is peace, there must be a village head in Yelwa who is a Gamai man.”

Even the Anglican Primate of Nigeria and national president of CAN, Archbishop Peter Akinola, told Human Rights Watch: “I don’t have records of Christian groups going out deliberately to attack. The church says turn the other cheek, but now there is no other cheek to turn. Some Christians are struggling for survival in their land.” (Emphasis ours.)

In addition to the widespread killings, the attackers abducted scores of Muslim women and children and took them away from Yelwa, to private homes in a variety of villages in the surrounding area, some situated at quite a distance from Yelwa. Some witnesses estimated that at least two or three hundred were abducted; some quoted even higher figures. A police official referred to a list of more than 370 people who had been abducted. Many of the women and children were taken from the area in Angwan Galadima where the attackers had cornered the population on May 3. The attackers threatened to kill them if they refused to go with them.

The attackers gradually released the women and children over the following days and weeks. Many were released in the days immediately following the attack; others were kept for several weeks. When Human Rights Watch researchers visited Yelwa in July, some had still not been released. The army and the police were trying to trace their whereabouts and had managed to free some of them from their captors.

A number of women who were abducted were raped by their captors. They were distributed among them as “wives” and were kept in houses, in different locations, where they were repeatedly raped, some by several men. They were not allowed to go out of the houses, except to accompany the men to farms where they were made to work. Some said that during their period in captivity they were fed pork and locally brewed alcohol—both of which are prohibited in Islam.

Residents of Yelwa told Human Rights Watch about other women who had also been raped. One woman was reportedly sexually abused by five men during her abduction. In another case, three men had argued over a woman whom each of them wanted as his “wife”. A fourth man said that as they couldn’t agree on who would take her, he would kill her. According to other women who were present at the time, he then shot her dead.

It is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the Archbishop's unwillingness to comment on the situation in Yelwa when Griswold asked him about it two years later. It doesn't prove he was involved in organizing the men who went to Yelwa, or even that he knew that an attack was being planned. But it doesn't foreclose those possibilities, and neither does his curiously constructed response of Human Rights Watch--"I don't have records...." Given the enormity of the crimes that took place, the apparent involvement of CAN and the fact that the archbishop was its president at the time of the massacare, he would seem to owe the people of Nigeria and the Anglican Communion some answers.

It would be worth knowing, too, why even two years after the incident he could not bring himself to condemn the murder, maiming and rape visited upon the Muslims of Yelwa, and why he never publicly denined that CAN played a role in the massacre. The leaders of CAN repudiated the archbishop when he stood for re-election as president, going so far as to waive the by-law under which he would have been awarded the vice presidency. Unsurprisingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates of the Anglican Communion and Akinola's American surrogates, Bishops Martin Minns and David Anderson, have done nothing to distance themselves from him since Griswold's report became public several weeks ago.

It is sometimes said that in electing Gene Robinson its bishop, the people of New Hampshire "exported" the American argument over homosexuality to the rest of the Anglican Communion. It is fair to ask whether, through organizations such as Minns' and Anderson's Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) and initiatives such as the the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), scheduled to be held in Jordan and Jersualem this summer, the archbishop and his financial backers are attempting to export his approach to Christian-Muslim relations to the wider world.

More from Griswold:

“People are thinking that Islam is an issue in Africa and Asia, but you in the West are sitting on explosives.” What people in the West don’t understand, he said, “is that what Islam failed to accomplish by the sword in the eighth century, it’s trying to do by immigration so that Muslims become citizens and demand their rights.”

The culture warriors who funded the Anglican right's campaign against the Episcopal Church may be preparing to graft an anti-Muslim branch onto anti-gay roots. They may well employ Akinola and a few other bishops to persuade the world that millions of impoverished Africans think precisely what militant American conservatives need them to think. It worked once. At least for a while.

Long-term Church growth strategy

From The St. Petersburg Times:

This latest challenge is not about losing weight, saving money or eating more vegetables.

It's about having sex. Lots of it. Every day, if you're married. Or not at all, if you're single.

An openly edgy Christian church in Tampa has launched a 30-Day Sex Challenge to help members improve their relationships and rediscover themselves. Single folks are to abstain from sex for 30 days, even if they are in a committed relationship. Married folks, on the other hand, are supposed to have sex every day for 30 days.

Leaders at Relevant Church launched the campaign the Sunday after Valentine's Day.

''Of course, all the guys say it's genius,'' said Pastor Paul Wirth. ``The married women think we're out of our minds.''

Read it all. Then visit the Relevant Church Web site.

Poor bear brunt of sub-prime crisis

From Religion News Service:

Washington - The poorest counties in the U.S. are among the hardest hit by the subprime mortgage crisis, according to a study released Wednesday (Feb. 27) by the Christian anti-hunger advocacy group Bread for the World.

The report, titled "Home Ownership, Subprime Loans and Poverty," found a strong correlation between poverty rates and percentages of mortgages that are subprime.

In eight of the country's 15 poorest counties, which have poverty rates exceeding 40 percent, the percentage of homeowners holding subprime mortgages is even higher -- up to 60 percent, according to the study. Data in the study were compiled from a variety of sources, including the Corporation for Enterprise Development and the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council.

The Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said the inequity reflects an ignorance of the biblical condemnation against usury.

"The principle underlying the biblical warning against usury was that financial contracts, as important as they are, are still less important than basic human needs," he said. "If you were lending money to a really poor person, you couldn't take his coat as security for the loan."

Read it all.

Catholic bishop targets breast cancer charity

From Associated Press:

The Diocese of Little Rock is urging its members not to donate to a breast cancer foundation known for its fundraising races across the globe because the group supports Planned Parenthood.

The diocese says the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, which has invested about $1 billion in cancer outreach and research, gives money to Planned Parenthood to hold breast exams and offer education to women in its clinics.

"Donors cannot control how an organization designates its funds," a diocese statement reads. "Therefore, money donated for a specific service ... directly frees up funds to support other areas of an organization's agenda."

Marianne Linane, director of the diocese's "respect life" office, said those other agendas includes abortions and contraceptive services. The Catholic church's policy is that abortion is wrong in every instance.

Rebecca Gibson, a spokeswoman for the Komen foundation, said the group invested $69.6 million in more than 1,600 community-based education and screening programs during 2007. Planned Parenthood received less than 1 percent of that money, she said.

"It's insignificant in relation to all of the funding we do," Gibson said. "I think it's just really unfortunate undue attention is being shed on organizations that are providing vital services in those communities."

The diocese's decision comes as northwest Arkansas prepares for its running of the Race for the Cure on April 19.

Officials estimated Little Rock's running last year brought out more than 43,000 participants and raised more than $1.65 million.

Read it all.

New biography of John Milton

There is perhaps no more important religious literature in the English language than Paradise Lost, but its author remains a deep mystery. Anna Beer has just written a new biography, Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, and Patriot . The Economist offers this review:

PEOPLE quail slightly at the thought of John Milton: the Latin, the theology, the school memories of “Paradise Lost”—there is something inhospitable about it all. A scholar himself, Milton seems to belong to scholars and teachers. Very little is known about his private life. There is a haunting sonnet to a dead wife, but he wrote nothing else about any of his three wives, two of whom died soon after giving birth, nor about his three daughters, nor even about his dead infant son. Anna Beer, in this fair-minded and scholarly biography, cannot disguise her frustration. Could he even have erased them from the record, she wonders, as “beneath his notice”?

Milton, who was born 400 years ago this year, saw himself as a man set apart. Born into an upwardly mobile family, Cambridge educated, trained to dispute in Latin, he seemed cut out for academia, the church or the law. Instead, he saved himself for poetry, with a reading programme and an eye on immortality. He wanted to be the national voice of England, no less. But it wasn't until he was blind and in his 50s that he embarked on “Paradise Lost”, his great epic about the fall of man, about good and evil, reason, free will and authority, which would indeed immortalise him.

What happened in between was England's own fall—its descent, in the 1640s, into civil war and a kind of politics driven by just those philosophical and moral questions. This is the heart of Ms Beer's book, the aspect that brings the reader closest to the man. The bitter dispute between king and parliament about the nature of good government exploded in a storm of ephemeral pamphlets furiously arguing and counter-arguing.

With the fate of the nation at stake, this was Milton's moment. He piled in with pamphlets of his own; tracts expressed in a vivid, word-coining, muscular English, at times high-flown, at others colloquial, sometimes downright rude, but always engaged. What fires him is the whole principle of debate, the battle of wits: “Who ever knew Truth put to the worse”, he wrote, “in a free and open encounter.”

Read it all here.

Pope to issue new Encyclical during Holy Week

The Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, confirmed on Thursday that Pope Benedict XVI is about to finish his Encyclical on social issues, which will focus on the developing world. The Catholic News Agency has this report:

"Yes, the Pope is working on a social encyclical, which will have, I believe, a significant impact on the great social and economic problems in the contemporary world," said Cardinal Bertone during an interview published today by the Italian daily "La Repubblica."

Pope Benedict, according to Cardinal Bertone, "will address issues particularly related to the third and the fourth world."

The concept "fourth world" was coined by Pope John Paul II in his social encyclical “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis”, in reference to the poor and marginalized living in developed countries, especially in inner cities.

The Secretary of State gave no clue as to when the document will be released, but unnamed sources from the Vatican quoted previously by the daily "Il Messaggero," said the third encyclical of Pope Benedict would be signed on the feast of St. Joseph –March 19th - and released during Easter.

"The encyclical will focus on international social problems, with special attention to developing countries," Cardinal Bertone told "La Repubblica."

Read it all here.

Hat tip to Vox Nova.

Michael Gerson on politics and evangelicals

Michael Gerson offered an interesting take this week on the changing nature of the concerns of evangelicals--and the polical implications:

I have seen the future of evangelical Christianity, and it is pierced. And sometimes tattooed. And often has one of those annoying, wispy chin beards.

Those who think of evangelical youths as the training cadre of the religious right would have been shocked at Jubilee 2008, a recent conference of 2,000 college students in Pittsburgh sponsored by the Coalition for Christian Outreach. I was struck by the students' aggressive idealism -- there were booths promoting causes from women's rights to the fight against modern slavery to environmental protection. Judging from the questions I was pounded with, the students are generally pro-life -- but also concerned about poverty and deeply opposed to capital punishment and torture. More than a few came up to me between sessions in anguished uncertainty, unable to consider themselves Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative -- homeless in the stark partisanship of American politics.

Many observers have detected a shift -- a broadening or maturation -- of evangelical social concerns beyond the traditional agenda of the religious right. But does this have political implications?

Perhaps. Recent Zogby polls in Missouri and Tennessee found that about a third of white evangelicals who showed up on primary day voted Democratic. The sample sizes were small. Yet John Green, a senior fellow with the Pew Forum, finds the results interesting. "These results are higher than usual. Typically these numbers would be about a quarter."

. . .

Republicans should take note, because they have growing problems among the post-religious-right generation of evangelicals. An analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of white evangelicals ages 18 to 29 identified themselves as Republican in 2001. By 2007, that figure had dropped to 40 percent. This generation is not turning into liberal Democrats -- it is more pro-life, for example, than an older generation of evangelicals -- but it has become more loosely moored to the GOP.

These trends highlight a simple fact: Many evangelicals are center-right voters who respond to a message of social justice and community values, not only to a message of rugged individualism and unrestricted markets. Over the years, religious conservatives have made common cause with movement conservatives within the Republican Party -- but they are not identical to movement conservatives.

Sometimes religious conservatives are understandably more sympathetic to one party than to another. For Northern abolitionist evangelicals in the 1850s, the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln was a more natural home. For my Nazarene preacher grandfather in Kentucky, the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt stood for God and the common man. Since the 1980s, evangelicals have returned to the Republican fold, largely because Democrats embraced abortion on demand, moral relativism and intrusive, bureaucratic government.

But there is something essentially countercultural about Christianity that should make evangelicals restless in any political coalition. Christianity indicts oppressive government -- but also the soul-destroying excesses that sometimes come in free markets and consumerism. It teaches enduring moral rules -- and an emphasis on justice for the least and the lost. It is often hard where liberalism is soft, and soft where conservatism is hard.

If evangelical Christianity were identical to any political movement, something would be badly wrong. It is supposed to look toward a kingdom not of this world, one without borders, flags or end. And by this standard, homelessness is a natural state.

Read it all here.

Tithing revisited

Since 1982, the tithe has been the minimum standard of giving in the Episcopal Church. We are not alone in that teaching. Americans donate $295 billion a year to charity, with just under a third of it - $97 billion - to religious organizations. But the typical American Christian gives about 2.5% of their income to church.

Now some Christians are beginning to question the centrality of the tithe. In an era when contributions to religious groups are growing more slowly than other charitable giving, and as Congress takes a closer look at the finances of some televangelists, CBS Eye on Religion Reporter Martha Teichner examines the controversy over tithing, and meets some inspiring people who strongly believe in the power of generosity.

From his home near Marietta, Georgia, Russell Kelly wages war against preachers who use the Bible to justify tithing. His Web site, shouldthechurchteachtithing, argues against the supporters of tithing.

"We believe if you look at those texts they quote," he says, "they are out of context."

But that's not his only objection.

"Almost every person I contact on the Internet, they tell me the same story, where they go to their pastor - no matter what kind of church it is, Baptist, Charismatic, Methodist, you name it - and start asking questions about tithing, they are told to shut up, to be quiet, to leave the church."

It happened to his own wife, when her first husband was dying.

"I had a $5 an hour job, a small child to raise, and my husband kept getting, sicker and sicker," Janice Kelly told Teichner. "It came to the point whether I buy insulin for him or whether I pay my tithes, so I went to the preacher."

Janice Kelly didn't expect his response.

"He just ... told me I would be cursed."

Americans have been trying to figure out how to support their churches ever since they severed themselves from the taxing power of the state and stopped charing pew rents and other forms of membership dues.

"Protestants, both mainline and evangelical, have since the 1870s, fixed upon the tithe and on this Malachi passage as a kind of law that has never been repealed," explains James Hudnut-Beumler, dean of the divinity school at Vanderbilt University.

Yes, only since the 1870s, as a way of making up lost revenue. The First Amendment in effect privatized religion in the United States, cutting off the tax money that once supported it in colonial America. The weekly collection didn't even exist until the middle of the 19th century, when churches gave up selling or renting pews.

"I'm somewhat suspicious of people who want to turn giving ten percent into virtually the only law that applies to people who are under a covenant of grace," says Hudnut-Beumler, "where God saves freely, not for ten percent down."

He says he's reminded of Martin Luther, father of the Protestant movement, who broke away from the Catholic church because it was selling indulgences: Promises of a quicker road to heaven in exchange for cash.

"Stripped down to its basics," he says, "I don't think it's different than indulgences. What we see today, though, is a return to 'this-for-that religion,' give God this and God will give you that."

Of course, the lavish lifestyles of some televangelists and other religious leaders has given the tithe a "black eye" according to some Christian financial planners, and has caused some to ask if donors are being exploited.

Iowa Senator Charles Grassley wants to know how God happened to give the trappings of a billionaire lifestyle to certain televangelists and whether donors, many of them tithers, are being exploited.

Grassley, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has requested financial records from six highflying ministers' accounts of their spending on everything from houses to jets.

One evangelical Christian who works as financial planner says he advises his high-income clients to start with 10% as the minimum level of giving.

"Tithing is a matter of obedience," says financial planner Bruce Williams. "To start with, it is commanded by the Bible."

Williams counsels his clients to start at ten percent.

"I would say 75 percent of the people I work with are already tithing or well beyond that. They are a generous lot."

Williams manages the Nashville office of Ronald Blue & Co., a kind of faith-based Merrill Lynch, with fifteen offices around the U.S., that urges high net-worth believers to build giving into their financial planning, but with this caveat:

"Any giving should be done cheerfully and not under compulsion," says Williams. "It's a matter of the heart."

Read: CBS Sunday Morning: To tithe or not to tithe

See what the Episcopal Church has had to say about the tithe. Here is a list of General Convention actions since 1982 concerning stewardship and, specifically, the tithe.

WWID?

Stuart Laidlaw, religion reporter for the Toronto Star, remembers how Ignatius of Antioch advised early Christians to gather around no other communion table except with their bishop. Ignatius wrote at the end of the first and early second century. Now some congregations in Canada want to strike out on their own. What would Ignatius do?

On his way to Rome to be executed for spreading Christianity, St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote letters to leaders of a still-small church emerging around the ideas of Jesus Christ, crucified only decades before.

His letters spelled out what it meant to be Christian and formed the basis of the Catholic Church and, later, the Anglican Church. too. This week, some 1,900 years later, Ignatius's words are echoing in a legal battle over church property.

At issue is what it means to be an Anglican; at stake is who can claim title to three conservative churches that have voted to break away from the Anglican Church of Canada in a dispute essentially over the blessing of same-sex marriages.

For the Anglican Church of Canada, Ignatius's emphasis on loyalty to the local bishop as a defining characteristic of church membership is as important today as it was in the 2nd Century.

"He pushes hard for unity centred around the bishop," Anglican canon law expert Rev. Alan Perry says.

"Ignatius says to the people not to gather at another table for the Eucharist, but gather with your bishop as a symbol of unity."

Yet some self-professed conservative Canadian congregations are implicitly taking issue with Ignatius, leaving the mother church and hoping to take parish property with them.

In all, there are 10 breakaway churches, members of the Anglican Network in Canada, who say the national church has become too liberal and can no longer call itself truly Anglican because it doesn't follow the tenets of the faith found in the church's historic Book of Common Prayer.

"The Canadian church doesn't want to go along with the faith. They want to set their own rules and their own faith," says Cheryl Chang, lawyer for the Network. "They want us to leave the buildings and say we are no longer Anglican."

Tension among Anglican factions spilled over into a Hamilton courtroom yesterday. A court rejected an attempt by the Anglican Diocese of Niagara to seek joint custody of churches run by two breakaway southwestern Ontario parishes.

In Ignatius's time, the fledgling church was also struggling to survive as the apostles died off and a new generation of leaders took their place, says Perry, a Montreal priest. In response, the story goes, Ignatius proposed the office of bishop as a way to organize the church after the apostles, with membership in the church contingent on loyalty to the local bishop.

That principle holds to this day, says Perry.

"The bishops have pretty much always been understood to be the successors to the apostles."

To be Anglican, then, requires being a member of the national church and loyal to its bishops. As such, Perry says, the 10 congregations in Ontario and British Columbia that have broken ties with the Anglican Church of Canada are no longer Anglican.

"There is no such thing as an Anglican church which isn't part of a diocese," Perry says.

For breakaway Anglicans, however, it's not so simple.

Rev. James Packer, a leading conservative Anglican theologian, says the principle of episcopal loyalty is generally sound, but tends to fall apart when congregations find themselves at odds with their local bishop.

" In both Vancouver and Niagara, where the majority of congregations that have left the national church are located, a handful of parishes that are among the most conservative in the country find themselves headed by very liberal local bishops, he says

In such a situation, Packer says, the strict geographic definition of Anglicanism doesn't work, and may have outlived its usefulness.

While he agrees that faithfulness to the bishop is a key component of being Anglican, Packer questions why it has to be the local bishop.

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports:

The Anglican Diocese of Niagara for the first time has been denied access to two of its local churches - albeit temporarily - after a growing divide crept into an Ontario courtroom yesterday.

An Ontario Superior Court judge rejected a bid by the diocese to hold two separate services this Sunday and next at St. George's Anglican Church in Lowville, Ont., and St. Hilda's Anglican Church in Oakville, Ont., until the courts decide who owns the properties.

Yesterday's ruling that effectively gives the congregations exclusive use of their church facilities will be in place until the parishes and diocese return to court later this month for a hearing on a longer-term arrangement for Sunday services. The bigger legal issue of who owns the properties will likely take some time to be sorted out.

The two congregations are among a growing number of parishes across the country that have voted to break ranks with the Anglican Church of Canada in a dispute over theological issues that include the blessing of same-sex unions, which they oppose. So far, 15 parishes have left the national church and sought to place themselves under the authority of a conservative South American archbishop, a move that could lead to more legal battles over church buildings, which some congregations want to retain.

A statement from the Diocese of Niagara synod negotiating team says:

From Tuesday to Thursday morning, we entered into good faith negotiations to work out a sharing agreement that would have allowed the breakaway congregations and the diocesan worshiping community to worship on Sundays, to use the buildings at different times during the week, and to split the costs of running the parishes. We sought a fair interim solution until such time as the larger issue of the ownership of the facilities was resolved. It was a generous compromise that sought a time of reasonable accommodation, where both the breakaway congregations, and the faithful diocesan communities, could share the facilities for their respective missions. We were trying to build on the agreement of the previous week in which we agreed to work on four things, joint administration of the parishes, full disclosure of parish assets, a non disparagement agreement and shared services in the buildings at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. for diocesan and network respectively. From our point of view, this arrangement of services had worked reasonably well last Sunday.

Any sharing agreement that involves both parties having access to the buildings for services on Sunday, at different times, has been categorically rejected by the Network. Instead they seek an indefinite period during which time they continue with business as usual and we do nothing to inconvenience their sole occupancy of our church buildings. It feels like we are not really negotiating with our former brothers and sisters, with whom we may be able to find common ground, but with The Anglican Network in Canada. This organization is not only a few congregations who seek to break with the Anglican Church of Canada; it is also an organization that has a self proclaimed mission, to create a new “diocese” and religious organization in Canada with charitable tax status. This stated mission, the fact that the Network claims to have a one million dollar defence fund, and the fact that they are claiming properties belonging to legitimate dioceses within the Anglican Church of Canada, seem to be factors that make a reasonable compromise impossible.

Today Charlie Masters, listed by the Network as a “key resource”, is quoted as saying that, “they would rather abandon the buildings than share with the diocese”. This attitude that somehow our presence, even at a different time, would taint or distress them, is troubling. In all our efforts we have been mindful of those who have been left orphaned by this takeover of their churches, who do not agree with this course of action, and our wider diocesan family who rightly expect us to be good stewards of all the resources of our Diocesan Church.

Toronto Star: At core of Anglican conflict, a 1,900-year-old tradition

Toronto Globe and Mail: Breakaway Anglicans make gain

Diocese of Niagara: Message to the Clergy and People of the Diocese from the Synod Negotiating Team February 29, 2008.

When is a sermon just a sermon?

Updated

New York Episcopalians reflected on the paradoxes of blindness and sight coming from the Gospel of the Day, a task made more poignant in light of the revelation that the late Bishop of New York lived a secret life.

The New York Times reports:

As is customary during Lent, the sermon at St. John the Divine Cathedral on Sunday touched on the themes of seen and unseen truths, knowing and not knowing what is before one’s very eyes.

It was not intended as a veiled reference to the disclosure this week that Paul Moore Jr., the late, revered Episcopal bishop who became a national figure of liberal Christian activism from the cathedral’s pulpit in the 1970s and ’80s, had lived a secret gay life.

“I’m an old English major, and I can overlay meanings on anything, but in this case it was just the Sunday sermon,” said the Rev. James A. Kowalski, who delivered the words.

In an elegiac article in the March 3 issue of The New Yorker magazine titled “The Bishop’s Daughter,” the poet Honor Moore describes her father, Bishop Moore, who died in 2003 at 83, as alternately passionate and elusive, capable of deep “religious emotion,” yet just beyond her emotional reach. It was only after he died, she said, that she fully realized that he had had gay relationships during his two marriages, the first of which produced his nine children.

Read: The New York Times: A Bishop Unveiled God’s Secrets While Keeping His Own

See also Life with Bishop Paul Moore and Bishop Sisk responds to New Yorker's story in the Cafe.

Monday afternoon update
- Episcopal Life has Bishop Sisk responds to revelations about predecessor.

Monday evening update - Honor Moore's article in New Yorker is now available here.

Retired bishop Otis Charles, who came out as a gay man a few years ago, writes to Bishop Sisk here.

A dynamic religious landscape

The Wall Street Journal takes a closer look at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey of the religious landscape in the USA. Amidst all the trends and changes between and within religious traditions, they note a much bigger trend. They see "a country filled with dozens of minority religions, expressing diverse beliefs, and doing so free of coercion."

Some 60% of Americans say religion is "very important" to them. That's compared with 12% for the French and 25% for the Italians. The study describes a "competitive religious marketplace" in which 84% of Americans claim one of hundreds of religious affiliations -- from Pentecostalism and Judaism to Islam and Mormonism.

While they note the 44% of folks who have switched to another religious affiliation from the one they grew up with, the WSJ also notes that:

There are reasons to find this statistic troubling. People who leave one denomination for another may be more concerned with fulfilling their boutique church-going desires than with meeting the moral obligations of a religious group or the demands of a doctrine. That almost a third of respondents also said they were married to someone of a different faith suggests religion has become more a matter of individual conscience than of continuity and tradition.

Yet there is something remarkable about so much religious diversity. Elsewhere in the world, religious difference is often a cause for violence and ostracism. America so honors the principle of religious tolerance that it has brought it into the home. Pew's statistic about church-switching may be less a sign of spiritual flakiness than an emblem of freedom.

It should be noted that a third of the survey's "converts" have gone from one Protestant congregation to another. In short, America is not, on the whole, giving up serious worship for the sake of New Age platitudes. Half of Americans who grew up without any religious affiliation adopted one in adulthood. Clearly Americans are still convinced there is a such a thing as religious truth -- and it's worth their time to search for it. Sorry, Mr. Hitchens.

Read: The Wall Street Journal: God's Country.

See previous coverage in the Cafehere and here.

Editor sought for Episcopal Life

Updated. Episcopal Life media is seeking an editor for Episcopal Life monthly. A restructured job posting appeared on the Episcopal Church website today. Earlier past presidents of Episcopal Communicators wrote an appeal to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies president Bonnie Anderson addressing what they called "a crisis in confidence" regarding the Episcopal Church's communications operations.

Six former presidents of the Episcopal Communicators issued an urgent appeal to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, on Monday, March 3, requesting that an editor for Episcopal Life be sought and that the two church leaders work with the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication and the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church to address “a crisis in confidence” regarding the Episcopal Church’s communications operation. In their letter to the leaders of the two houses of General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the former presidents called for deeper collaboration with the principal networks of Episcopal Church communications, including the Standing Commission and also the Episcopal Communicators organization, the Episcopal Life Board of Governors and the 36 Episcopal Life printing partners.

“Episcopal Life requires an editor who can balance the differing needs of both the Episcopal Church Center management and the publication’s readers, and present news and information ‘without fear or favor’—which has been an historic quality of the newspaper since its founding 18 years ago,” the former presidents said in their request. The six former presidents of the Episcopal Communicators are: Laurie Wozniak (2004-2007) from the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York; Carol Barnwell (2001-2004) from the Episcopal Diocese of Texas; Herb Gunn (1998-2001) from the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan; Sarah Moore (1995-98) presently living in the Diocese of Southwest Florida,; James Thrall (1992-95), presently living in the Diocese of North Carolina; and Mary Lee Simpson (1989-1992), presently living in the Diocese of North Carolina.

The Episcopal Communicators is an organization of communicators across the Episcopal Church that was founded 35 years ago as a way to promote and encourage broad-based communication, a clear distinction between church promotion and religious journalism, and a significant role for diocesan and church communicators to impact the communication strategy of the Episcopal Church.

Episcopal Life Online writes:

"The Board of Governors of Episcopal Life Media is both pleased and energized that the search for an ELM editor has been re-opened," said board chairman Eugene Willard. "We look forward to continuing good cooperation and consultation in our church's multi-layered communications system."

"The restructured position will serve the Episcopal Church in a far more comprehensive way in developing and shaping content across print and electronic platforms," said Robert Williams, Episcopal Church communication director. "We at ELM are grateful for the strong support of the Board of Governors and Church Center senior staff officers who have assisted in making this strengthened position possible."

In this restructured role, the editor will produce the Episcopal Life Monthly newspaper and guide coverage and content integration supporting the Episcopal Life Online website, its daily email editions, and the Episcopal Life Weekly parish-leaflet inserts, working collaboratively with current online and print editorial staff.

Job posting for the Editor of Episcopal Life Monthly is found here.

ELD: Editor sought for Episcopal Life.

Scott Gunn, a member of the Board of Governors of Episcopal Life, has a blog post here.

The poverty and justice Bible

England's Bible Society has released an edition of the Bible that highlights the more than 2,000 passages that reveal God’s sorrow over poverty and injustice, and His command to believers to act to eradicate them.

The Poverty and Justice Bible was developed after some major evangelical leaders, including Rick Warren, admitted that they had overlooked the Bible's overwhelming message of care and compassion for the poor.

According to the website: "Almost every page of the Bible speaks of God's heart for the poor. His concern for the marginalised. His compassion for the oppressed. His call for justice."

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Tom Wright, bishop of Durham and Bible Society’s president, said, “Poverty and injustice are two of the biggest issues of our day, challenging the minds of politicians and social activists around the world.

“The imbalance of global wealth, famine, water shortages, exploitation and corruption are all issues that invoke outrage – and demand attention. But The Poverty and Justice Bible shows that, in speaking out on these issues, God got there first.”

Far from being irrelevant, the Poverty and Injustice Bible demonstrates that God’s Word has “something to say about issues that resonate today”, the bishop added.

“This Bible connects with the very fabric of today’s world, with all its problems and messiness – and has something powerful to say,” he said.

Bible Society was inspired to develop the new Bible after Pastor Rick Warren, author of bestselling The Purpose Driven Life, admitted that had missed more than 2,000 verses that speak of God’s heart for the poor despite studying theology and being a pastor for decades. He claimed that Christians risked losing their credibility if they failed to speak out against poverty and injustice.

Christian leader and commentator Tony Campolo added, “Here’s proof that faith without commitment to justice for the poor is a sham, because it ignores the most explicit of all the social concerns of Scripture.”

Bible Society staff and experts spent months debating and sifting through the Contemporary English Version (CEV) Bible to pull out the verses that say something about God’s attitude to poverty and justice. The result was more than 2,000 sections, with almost every page from Genesis to Revelation emphasizing just and fair behavior.

The Poverty and Justice Bible includes a 32 page study guide and fifty Bible studies "highlight how concern for the poor and the oppressed form part of the DNA of our faith."

Read: The Christian Post New Bible Reveals God's Heart Towards Poverty, Injustice

Faith in Public Life: New Bible Reveals God's Heart Towards Poverty, Injustice

Here is the website for the Poverty and Justice Bible.

Giving up carbon for Lent

Some people give up chocolate. Some people take on an excercise program. Some people set aside time for prayer. This year, Nina Scott is giving up carbon.

The Boston Globe reports:

The retired University of Massachusetts at Amherst professor is hanging wet laundry on a clothesline in her basement to prevent emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from using the dryer. She is carpooling as much as she can and turning off lights more often.

These actions will do little to slow global warming - at most, Scott will probably reduce her "carbon footprint" by 1 or 2 percent during Lent - but she says it's important to do nonetheless.

"For me, it's that connection between protecting nature and faith," said Scott, who is one of about a dozen parishioners at Amherst's Grace Episcopal Church who are following a Lenten carbon "diet" until Easter and, hopefully, beyond. Across New England, a small but growing number of Christians are pledging to reduce energy usage as part of the 40 days of sacrifice and charitable deeds leading up to Easter. These Lenten environmentalists say they have come to realize they are morally bound to help protect God's creation from the threat of human-made global warming, and Lent's season of reflection is an ideal time to start making changes.

Sue Butler of Cambridge stopped eating meat after learning how energy intensive its production can be. Lucy Robinson of Amherst installed a low-flow showerhead to cut her use of hot water. The First Church of Christ in Longmeadow will give out "eco-palms" - plants grown and harvested without harming the environment - on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. Leftover palms are burned and used for Ash Wednesday the following year, so in some churches, even the ashes that will be smeared on foreheads next year will be eco-friendly.

The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts is circulating green Lent ideas to its churches, suggesting, for example, that worshipers use candles instead of lights on Sundays and eat only locally grown foods to avoid the energy used to transport food long distances. "If we do our share, there is hope for the earth," said Massachusetts Episcopal Bishop Roy F. "Bud" Cederholm Jr.

Religious environmentalism - slowly growing since the 1990s - has exploded along with awareness of human-made climate change. Many faith communities now see the release of heat-trapping gases from power plants and vehicles as the destruction of a precious gift from God.

Read The Boston Globe: Going green for Lent

Presiding Bishop visits South Carolina

Episcopal Life Online reports on the Presiding Bishop's visit to the Diocese of South Carolina:

The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina welcomed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during her short visit in February through open forums, open houses, and open hearts.

The Presiding Bishop had not been invited to the January consecration of diocesan Bishop Mark Lawrence, and the February 24-25 visit was an opportunity for Jefferts Schori and the people of the diocese to explore their common areas as well as their points of disagreement.

Through a series of public events and private gatherings, the Presiding Bishop was able to meet and speak with diocesan officials, clergy and lay people, deans, elected Standing Committee and Council members.

Accompanied by her husband, Dr. Richard Schori, and the Rev. Canon Dr. Charles Robertson, canon to the Presiding Bishop, Jefferts Schori expressed enthusiasm about the visit. "It's wonderful to meet and talk to people face-to-face," Jefferts Schori said about her visit. "That's how we learn to know each other and learn about each other."


The Presiding Bishop was present for Evensong and the following day for Morning Prayer. The overflow crowds came to see and hear the Presiding Bishop and many stayed to have her sign her book A Wing and a Prayer. Clergy were invited to a private meeting with the Presiding Bishop:
The private conversation for active clergy at St. Andrew's, called Charity and Clarity, drew nearly 100 active priests and deacons from all areas of the diocese. After a presentation by Lawrence and an invitation to conversation from the Presiding Bishop, Jefferts Schori and the clergy engaged in an open, honest and frank discussion, ranging from biblical interpretation and church politics to congregational growth.

Read it all here.

UPDATE: Tuesday evening - Links to the audio of the Presiding Bishop's visit are here.

Doing church differently

Simon Barrow, one of the editors of Ekklesia writes on his discovery of a new book by James F. Hopewell, Congregation: Stories and Structures, available online here.

Along with the World Council of Churches' conversations about "the missionary structure of the congregation" back in the 1960s; Bonhoeffer's reflections on church, discipleship and ethics; the work of the Alban Institute; the Christian community movement; and base ecclesial communities (BECs) in Latin America and elsewhere, Hopewell is really one of the pioneers of all the change-agency based explorations of practical ecclesiology which have come so much into vogue in recent years
According to Barrow:
At the time of his death in 1984, James F. Hopewell was Professor of Religion and the Church and Director of the Rollins Center for Church Ministries at the Candler School of theology, Emory University. Published by Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1987, his book 'Congregations' was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.

It would be interesting to know what Hopewell would have made of all the current talk of deep church, emerging church, liquid church, new ways of being church, fresh expressions of church - and the like, I expect he would have said that linguistic inflation is not a substitute for the hard slog of doing church as a conserving and emancipatory expression of the Gospel in action.

Barrow also discusses Communities of Liberating Conviction at his blog, Faith in Society.

So what can and should the church-as-witness be, in different ways and in different places? The answer is a vulnerable but hopeful group of people narrated together in the story and life of Jesus, in such a way that we find ourselves linking worship (the right designation of worth-ship), prayer (seeking the grace to live beyond our means), eucharist (the celebration of God in the fleshly and the material), common life (people-at-odds who surprisingly find each other in the face of Christ) and politics (re-rendering power in terms of giving rather than claiming).

Dean of Episcopal Divinity School to resign

UPDATE: Tuesday evening

The Living Church reports that The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, dean and president of Episcopal Divinity School, in Cambridge, MA will resign the end of May.

“For me, the good news is that I have helped to bring EDS to place where I can say my work here is done,” Bishop Charleston said in a letter sent to alumni on Feb. 25. “EDS is a strong spiritual community rooted firmly in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It trains some of the best and brightest leaders for the church who consistently offer what the church needs most: ministers who know how to work in the real world.”

Read more about the resignation and other plans for EDS here.

Episcopal Life Online offers more coverage of the seminary changes at Seabury Western and Bexley Hall here.

Spirituality of skiing at 90

Turning 90 means taking a run down the slopes of Massanutten Ski Resort near Harrisonburg, VA, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports:

For his birthday, Bill Egelhoff pulled on his helmet, goggles and jacket, stepped into his skis and glided down a mountain.

Not a bad way to celebrate turning 90.

"There's really something spiritual about skiing," said Egelhoff, a retired Episcopal minister, among other jobs he's held. "It's hard to identify and hard to explain, but it's a feeling of being with nature and, in a sense, being with God.

"Getting up on top of the mountain is almost like being in heaven and looking down on Earth. It's just a wonderful feeling."

Read Egelhoff's tips for a long life and see a slideshow of him here.

What's the point of the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Here's a fascinating program on BBC 4 discussing the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury in today's UK. Quentin Letts takes a humor-filled but thought-provoking look at an institution with a history that goes back centuries to when Augustine was sent to Britain.

To hear What's the Point of... (March 4) Listen again here (30 minutes).

Canon 32 explained for the Diocese of Fort Worth

Bishop Iker and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Fort Worth have released guidelines for churches to leave the diocese in the midst of the diocese's attempt to leave The Episcopal Church for the Province of the Southern Cone. While these are very detailed and specific they seem to overlook the fact the the diocese is a creation of General Convention of the Episcopal Church and churches do not have to do anything to stay in the Diocese with the Episcopal Church. Dioceses cannot transfer congregations to other dioceses without the approval of General Convention. The arrangement between the Diocese of Dallas and the Diocese of Fort Worth is an impossibility without that approval. Katie Sherrod comments on all this from within the diocese at her blog Desert's Child.

Canon32Land is a place where a bishop who is leading a schismatic movement expresses his concern for "the unity of the church."

It is a place where Episcopal parishes which already are part of The Episcopal Church must apply to "return" to The Episcopal Church and jump through multiple hoops to do so.
....
It is a place where a canon developed in the Diocese of Dallas to deal with parishes wanting to leave a diocese of The Episcopal Church has been twisted to apply to parishes who want to stay in The Episcopal Church while the diocesan leadership tries to take the diocese out of The Episcopal Church.

The letter from Bishop Iker follows:

GUIDELINES FROM THE BISHOP AND STANDING COMMITTEE FOR THE POSSIBILITY OF SEPARATION UNDER CANON 32 OF THE DIOCESE OF FORT WORTH

Introduction

The Apostle Paul urges Christian believers to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and it is his words that we recall at the beginning of every service of baptism and confirmation: “There is one body and one Spirit… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all.” (Ephesians 4: 3-6)

Striving to maintain the unity of the church is of particular concern to a Bishop in his ministry, for he is charged at his consecration “to guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church.” Whenever the peace and unity of the Church are imperiled, it is the Bishop’s special vocation to address it as pastor and chief shepherd of the diocese.

In the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, a “basic conviction of catholic theology” is that “the organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese.” It is in the context of life together in the Diocese that tensions or estrangement from one another over faith and order first come to the surface. In such cases, all are obligated to work for reconciliation and healing. Separation comes as a last resort when such efforts have failed, and if it must come, it must be agreed upon in a respectful and non-litigious manner.

It is the responsibility of the Bishop to deal pastorally with any parish that feels estranged from the Diocese, as a focus and instrument of unity. If reconciliation is not possible, he should act in the best interest of both the Diocese and the parish in question, in so far as possible.

The following guidelines (as called for in Canon 32.3) are offered as a way forward in addressing the prospect of a parish seeking to separate from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. They are guiding principles rather than hard-and-fast rules. It is expected that all parties will comply with them in a spirit of love and respect, dealing with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ in a time of conflict and estrangement.

The Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker
Bishop of Fort Worth
March 3, 2008

Episcopal Life Online reports more here.

The Lead reported on Fort Worth here.

Andrew Plus comments here.

Jake comments here.

For more information from the Diocese of Fort Worth check the diocesan website here and Fort Worth Via Media here.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has sent Bishop Iker two letters warning him of the implications of such actions.

See a copy of the Guidelines for Canon 32 below:

Read more »

Reply from Nigeria

In response to various reports of the alleged role of Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria in the 2004 Yelwa massacre, Canon Akin Tunde Popoola has written on behalf of the Archbishop:

Dear Sirs,

Eliza Griswold's recent attempt to demonise the Archbishop of the Church of Nigeria by publishing an article raising issues of religious violence (reported in CT last week) is most unhelpful. As CAN president, one of the challenges the Archbishop faced was that of persuading youthful Christians to stop revenge attacks.

While the very sad ethnic/religious Yelwa incident took place in 2004, his statement about no religion having a monopoly of violence was made in 2006 when Nigerian Christians were being slaughtered because of some cartoons published in Denmark.

About Ms Griswold's article, Archbishop Akinola has commented: "It is a pity that I have again been quoted out of context by the Atlantic Monthly two years after the event and the interview. The incident of the Danish Cartoons started off a crisis in Northern Nigeria. As president of the Christian Association of Nigeria I had to prevail on Christians not to retaliate. If we had not done that there would have been chaos. It was in the context of prevailing on Christian youth not to retaliate that I said what I said"

His statement was made not to encourage violent retaliation from Christian youth, but to recognise the reality of the possibility of such retaliation in the context of extreme provocation.

What is not reported so well, or known so widely is the many efforts that were initiated for peace-making. In February 2007 for example, Abp. Akinola (along with many Anglican bishops) was in the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto, Nigeria's overall Islamic leader on a friendly visit.( http://www.anglican-nig.org/sokoto_surprise.htm ) Abp. Akinola has not and does not encourage violence but continues to maintain peaceful cordial relationships with every peace loving Nigerian irrespective of tribe, creed or gender.

The Western press should learn from the Danish cartoons saga that articles they publish, whatever the motive might be, can be responsible for the death of many innocent lives hundred of miles away.

Yours sincerely

AkinTunde Popoola
4th March, 2008

Terry Martin at Fr Jake Stops the World notes the shift from the action in question to a later statement. Read it all here.

South Carolina visit in audio and video

Audio and (some) video of the visit of the Presiding Bishop to the Diocese of South Carolina is now on YouTube. They are framed as "Charity and Clarity."

Check them out here.

Rwandan bishop visits Charlotte

Bishop John Rucyahana, who serves in the largest Anglican diocese in Rwanda, is in Charlotte for the Echo Foundation's weeklong focus on genocide in Africa. Check out the Charlotte Observor's story here.

The bishop's book, The Bishop of Rwanda,is about the role of churches in the genocide.

GAFCON will send 'wrong signals'

The Melbourne Anglican news is reporting that Bishop Suheil Dawani, bishop of Jerusalem will attend the meeting he tried to block from happening in the Diocese of Jerusalem.

“It’s happening, they are coming,” said Bishop Suheil Dawani during a visit to Australia in February. “I will be there. I cannot ignore such a gathering. But I’ll give them our message of unity, of how the church must also be united, and of the importance of our ministry in Jerusalem and all over the world.”

Bishop Dawani told TMA that he is nervous about the impact of such a controversial conference in an area which is already beset by violent disputes and hardship. The Diocese of Jerusalem, made up of twenty-nine parishes, covers five countries – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, all of which are familiar with division and hostility. Thirty-four institutions of the Anglican Church provide vital health care, education, aged care and disability care to the region, as well as care and hope to people who are traumatised by the uncertainty and violence around them, particularly in Palestine.


Read it all here.

Organizers of GAFCON did not consult with Dawani about the conference and he has expressed concerns about the locale sent learning about it. Organizers recently "rearranged" the conference so a portion is in Jordan and the remainder in Jerusalem.

The Canberra Times provides additional background.

Joint Standing Committee meets

The Joint Standing Committee of the Primates/Anglican Consultative Council met in London February 29 - March 4. Episcopal Life reports on the meeting. Some excerpts:

The committee acknowledged that five primates have said their bishops will not be attending the Lambeth Conference, "but recognized that some bishops from those provinces are expected to attend," Jefferts Schori said. "The hope is that more will certainly decide to attend."

The bishops are invited to Lambeth on an individual basis and not on behalf of or through their primates, Sue Parks, Lambeth Conference manager, told ENS.
...
The committee met briefly with the Windsor Continuation Group, whose formation was announced February 12 by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. That group, which was addressed by Williams on March 4 and is meeting through March 7, has been charged with tackling outstanding questions arising from the Windsor Report and reviewing the various formal responses received from provinces and instruments of the Anglican Communion.
...
The committee, which meets annually, is the interim body that oversees the day-to-day operations of the Anglican Communion Office and the programs and ministries of the four Instruments of Communion: the Lambeth Conference; the Anglican Consultative Council; the Primates' Meeting; and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Primates Standing Committee includes Archbishop Rowan Williams of England (chair), Archbishop Philip Aspinall of Australia, President Bishop Mouneer Anis of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Archbishop Henry Orombi of Uganda, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the United States, and Archbishop Barry Morgan of Wales.

The ACC Standing Committee includes Bishop John Paterson of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (chair), Professor George Koshy of South India (vice chair), Philippa Amable of West Africa, Jolly Babirukamu of Uganda, Robert Fordham of Australia, Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe of Ceylon, Canon Elizabeth Paver of England, Bishop James Tengatenga of Central Africa, and Nomfundo Walaza of Southern Africa.

Illangasinghe, Orombi, and Walaza were unable to attend the meeting.

John-David Schofield writes Katharine Jefferts Schori

And his fellow bishops. Read it all here (pdf). [For the moment available here in html.]

It doesn't start off well:

The Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori....
That would be Katharine, not Katherine.

John-David tenders his resignation from the House of Bishops. (Didn't he already do that?). Does that end the need for action by the House of Bishop's? Does it close the case on the charge of abandonment of communion? We don't think so. (Afterall, the inhibition came after his earlier resignation.)

Readers, let us know what you think.

Read more »

Students become more spiritual, liberal in college

A new study from UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute finds "that while attendance at religious services decreased dramatically for most students between their freshman and junior years, the students’ overall level of spirituality, as defined by the researchers, increases. On hot-button social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, the study finds that students become increasingly liberal."

Read an interview with one of the princiapl investigators, Alexander Astin, Allan M. Cartter Professor Emeritus of Higher Education at the University of California, who says:

It's important to realize that we don't equate religiousness with spirituality; there are students who are highly spiritual but not necessarily religious. The finding surprised us, however, because the two measures are related: Spiritual people tend to be religious and visa versa. If one declines, you'd expect the other to decline as well, but that didn't happen. We're looking for explanations of the apparent contradictions in the college experience and we've settled on two likely possibilities.

One is the fact that many of these students are away from home for the first time, and we suspect that, for some students, religious observance before college is influenced by the presence of the family. The second explanation has to do with the academic demands of the college experience: A greater deal of time is invested in studies during college than before college.

A fresh look at the unchurched

As new ways of connecting and engaging with faith community emerge, defining what is "unchurched" becomes a good deal more complicated, as noted in a new Barna Group research study:

Popular measures such as the percentage of people who are "unchurched" - based on attendance at a conventional church service - are out of date. Various new forms of faith community and experience, such as house churches, marketplace ministries and cyberchurches, must be figured into the mix - and make calculating the percentage of Americans who can be counted as "unchurched" more complicated. The fact that millions of people are now involved in multiple faith communities - for instance, attending a conventional church one week, a house church the next, and interacting with an online faith community in-between - has rendered the standard measures of "churched" and "unchurched" much less precise.

Trying to accommodate these variables, Barna developed new categories. The traditional categories of "churched" and "unchurched" have been redefined as "conventional" and "unattached," and in between are new descriptions:

  • Intermittents, or the "underchurched"
  • Homebodies, who are more likely to attend house churches
  • Blenders, who go back and forth between house churches and conventional churches.
  • The study (which, it should be noted, also asserted that unchurched folks are more likely to be stressed out, liberal, pessimistic, and not willing to assert the accuracy of the bible, among other things) also noted that churchgoers are more likely to interact with faith community in new ways, such as through web sites or special ministry events.

    You can read about it here.

EDS partners with Lesley University

Episcopal Divinity School has announced a new partnership with Lesley University and made an official announcement about the resignation of Dean Steven Charleston (which we covered here).

The partnership includes the sale of buildings to Lesley University, academic program enhancements, and shared facilities for such uses a library, student dining and services, and campus maintenance. EDS will retain ownership of 13 buildings on its eight acre campus. This partnership is part of a larger strategic plan developed by EDS designed to ensure the long-term viability of the seminary.

Episcopal Divinity School President and Dean Steven Charleston and Lesley University President Joseph B. Moore hailed the agreement as one that supports the missions of both schools – providing needed facilities for planned growth at Lesley University and a strong financial foundation for EDS.

....

The partnership announcement follows last week’s announcement by Charleston of his planned resignation on June 30, 2008. Last summer, he spoke with trustees about his interest in making plans to leave EDS, wanting to time his departure so that it would dovetail with EDS’ plans for the future. With the Lesley partnership and the strategic plan in place, Charleston determined that the end of the current academic year presented a good opportunity for a change in leadership. In a February 28, 2008 letter to the EDS community and alumni/ae, Charleston wrote, “The time has come for me to say farewell to EDS and let others carry on with both the hard work and exciting times to come. After almost a decade at EDS, I see that our school has become one of the brightest lights in the Episcopal Church. Now I need to bring my tenure at EDS to a close so new leadership can carry out the next phase of growth for our school.”

Complete releases and additional information here.

Stations of the MDGs

Controversy over a liturgy to bring the Millennium Development Goals into focus during this Lenten season has caught the attention of Christianity Today. The liturgy, which was developed in 2007 by Mike Angell for a young adult conference; Angell notes in the piece that he did not intend it to replace the traditional stations of the cross.


Angell, who initially wrote the liturgy, agrees that it should not replace traditional Lenten worship. "Unless we see [the MDGs] as a way to participate in God's saving action, they don't accomplish anything," he said. "That's why the idea of them being a substitute for the Stations of the Cross would be beyond heretical and idolatrous."

"The real point of this liturgy was to allow people to prayerfully enter into the MDGs," said Angell, campus missioner at the University of California , San Diego. "Lent is a good time to explore the poverty in our world and the way in which our actions can either prolong that suffering or — through repentance and following the Jesus who calls us to be mindful of the poor — alleviate that suffering."

The article notes the critical (and, at times, condemnatory) response from Anglican blogs:

Several critics at Anglican blogs, including [Kendall] Harmon's TitusOneNine, have accused the liturgy of conflating Jesus' death on the Cross and human suffering. That's not a problem for Mike Kinman, executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, an independent organization that is promoting the Stations service.

"I look at the 30,000 children who die every day of preventable, treatable causes. If every one of those children is in the image of God, then there's a level at which those are 30,000 crucifixions," Kinman said. "That is not to cheapen what Christ did on the Cross — in some ways it makes it more meaningful."

The whole thing is here.

The New Yorker story that's all the buzz

If you read last week the letter from Bishop Sisk giving advance warning of a forthcoming story from the New Yorker in which Honor Moore recounts details of her father's private life--an excerpt from the late Bishop Paul Moore's daughter's forthcoming autobiographical work--you might be wondering, so, ok, there's the cart, but where's the horse?

The story is now available online at the New Yorker site. Whatever you may have inferred from the letter itself, it's difficult to frame any criticism without reading the original.

You can read it here.

And if you missed Bishop Sisk's response, we covered it here, and pointed to other coverage on Monday here.

Gunman kills 8 at Jerusalem seminary

A gunman entered a Jewish yeshiva library in Gaza tonight and opened fire, killing at least eight and wounding several more. News reports are all over the place (some say two gunmen, and casualty counts vary), but according to the New York Times relating information from the Israeli police, a lone gunman was killed by a part-time student and some passing security guards.

The gunman, who has not yet been identified, was thought to be either a Palestinian or an Israeli Arab living inside Jerusalem. The dead were all thought to be between 20 and 30 years of age.

It was the deadliest attack on Israeli civilians in nearly two years and the first attack inside Jerusalem in four. It occurred at the start of the Hebrew month in which the Purim holiday occurs, and many of the witnesses at first thought the gunfire was firecrackers in celebration.

The story is breaking across all news outlets; world leaders are condemning the attack even has Hamas praises it, without taking responsibility for it.

New York Times story is here.

Archbishops on blogs and blogging

Maggie Dawn, an English priest, theologian and blogger had a chance to sit down with the Archbishops of York and Canterbury. During the opening of the discussion the question of the emerging role of the blogger was broached.

According to the report on her blog:

"‘[Blogs] are clearly part of the whole knowledge economy’, said Archbishop Rowan. ‘They have encouraged people not to take in passively what’s produced – it has opened up a more interactive environment for the sharing of knowledge – a democratisation of knowledge. And clearly that is bound to affect the Church at every level.’

Is the democratisation of knowledge always a good thing, though, I asked him? Does it flatten a desirable level of expertise?

‘It can certainly flatten expertise,’ he replied. ‘But perhaps the more worrying issue is that in can in some ways encourage unreflective expression – it’s possible simply to think it, and say it, without any thought.  When that happens in personal conversation, there is a humanising effect. But on the screen, it’s less human.’

The conversation continues:

[...]the Archbishop of York chipped in: ‘On the other hand, people have found real friendships through blogs, who would never have otherwise met each other – it’s a worldwide connection, people really do ‘meet’ you on your blog.  When I cut up my collar the response online was enormous – that’s when I realised just how many boundaries can be crossed with blogs.’

He thought for a minute, and then added, ‘But you know, when people write without thinking, it can get very difficult; it can be offensive and troublesome.  The best of what’s there on the blogs is from those who take a little time to reflect before they publish. But there is no choice about whether we engage with this new media. It’s the world we are in – the Church has to engage with it!’"

Read the full interview here. It's the first in a series of posts, so check back every now and then.

Kearon on the Communion

In a wide ranging talk give late last month, Canon Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion discussed the present state of the Communion and gave his thoughts on the controversies confronting it.

The Washington Window, has an article by Lucy Chumbley that reports on the meeting which took place at Virginia Theological Seminary.

According to Kearon:

"‘The Lambeth Conference was born out of controversy, therefore throughout its history it has not been a stranger to controversy,’ Kearon told a group of about 30 Episcopalians who had braved an ice storm to come and hear him speak.

Bishop Gene Robinson, who in 2003 became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, has not been invited, Kearon said, as he was consecrated against the advice of the Anglican Communion.

‘He is a duly elected and consecrated bishop in the Episcopal Church, no one is doubting that, but his ministry is not accepted in the Anglican Communion so he could not be invited based on that,’ Kearon said.

Likewise the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) bishops, who were consecrated in Nigeria as ‘missionary bishops’ to the  United States, have not received invitations.

‘CANA is not a recognized body of the Anglican Communion,’ Kearon said. ‘There are resolutions dating back to 1888 that expressly forbid the setting up of bodies within existing dioceses.’

It is possible, however, that Robinson will be invited to bear witness as part of the listening process set up by the 1998 Lambeth Conference, he added.

Kearon stressed the importance of regularly consecrated bishops to the Anglican Communion, explaining that they are seen as guardians of the faith and symbols of unity."

Speaking to the specific issue of the question of same-sex unions, Kearon says:

The Anglican Church’s formal position on gays and lesbians is expressed in 1998’s Lambeth Resolution 110, he said. This resolution “upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage.” It also states that all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.

“Statements from Primates Meetings and the Anglican Consultative Council have always affirmed the place of gays and lesbians in the life of the church,” Kearon said. “The issue is, what can the church bless – and that’s where we are now.

In order for the Anglican Communion to change its position on these issues, they must be worked through the system properly, Kearon said.

The process should begin at local synods and be taken up at conventions, he said, “then you begin to work it up through the church. Set up a commission, work it through…. If someone has a new idea for the way things should go, we should test it as a community of faith… We as a church should be very wary if people cannot express and test new issues in the life of the community.”

Kearon responded to criticism about the way the Anglican Communion has handled these issues by pointing out that the Communion is one of the few bodies that is openly addressing them. He also noted that the Communion came under similar fire when it changed its position on contraception in the 1950s (after voting against it in the 1920s and 30s) and on the ordination of women in the 1970s.

You may read the full article here.

House of Bishops spring meeting begins

The House of Bishops begins its spring meeting today with a number of items on the agenda. A primary focus of the meeting will be faith-based reconciliation training as part of the preparations for this summer's Lambeth Conference. The reconciliation workshops will be led by Canon Brian Cox, a nationally known figure in reconciliation work, and one of the two priests appointed as interim pastoral presence in the Diocese San Joaquin.

According to Cox, quoted in an Episcopal News Service article:

"'We hope to stimulate a conversation in the House of Bishops about the place of reconciliation in the culture of the Episcopal Church,' said Cox, who has engaged faith-based reconciliation training and seminars in the Middle East, the Sudan, Kashmir, Burundi and Korea."

Additionally the House of Bishops will make decisions on whether or not Bishop Schofield has "abandoned the communion" of this church, a canonically determined action that, if he is found to have done, will lead to his formal removal from the ministry of the Episcopal Church.

According to the ENS article:

If a majority of bishops decide that Schofield has abandoned the communion, the Presiding Bishop will be canonically required to declare the see vacant and appoint a provisional bishop.

It is the last step expected in a process that began with the December 8 convention vote of the Central California diocese to leave TEC and realign with the Province of the Southern Cone. A series of developments followed: a Title IV Review Committee determined that Schofield had abandoned the communion; the Presiding Bishop informed the standing committee elected in December that they were no longer recognized as that body; a steering committee was appointed to organize an anticipated March 29 special convention to elect a provisional bishop.

[...]Schofield sent a letter, dated March 1, to Jefferts Schori, resigning from TEC's House of Bishops. It was unclear if the letter would have any effect on the House of Bishops' deliberations.

Bishop Schofield's letter to the House can be view here.

Read the rest of the ENS report here.

Bishop of Swaziland speaks truth to power

Bishop Meshack Mabuza, of the Diocese of Swaziland, has come out strongly in opposition to the "new" government in his country. Mabuza is critical in particular of the new constitution put in place by King Mswati III, the last absolute ruler in Africa. The Diocese of Swaziland is part of the Anglican Province of South Africa.

According to an article in Religious Intelligence by Canon George Conger:

"On Feb 6, 2006 a new constitution went into effect granting parliamentary government. However, it forbad candidates from forming political parties, effectively giving the King the sole authority to appointment ministers and squelching organized dissent.

The new constitution was being used by royalists as a ‘fig-leaf to cover the international shame of 33 years of rule by decree’ by the King, Bishop Mabuza charged. It was a ‘piece of paper that is not being promoted or even defended by the government,’ he said, and its guarantees of the rule of law had been ignored.

‘This year has seen defenceless suspects killed by the police, public meetings broken up or prevented from happening, union members harassed, property taken without due court processes, newspaper editors intimidated, journalists threatened by government. The people of Swaziland are in the dark about the constitution and their rights and the government seems more than happy to keep them that way,’ Bishop Mabuza said.

The Swazi people were no longer ‘subjects’ of the King, but ‘citizens’ of a constitutional democracy, the bishop said. ‘The difference is profound,’ he noted as ‘citizens cede their power to politicians and then call them to account for their stewardship. Subjects do as they are told.’"

In the article the leadership shown by Bishop Mabuza is called "a fine example of 'the holistic mission that defines the Anglican Communion at its best'".

There has been evidence of a rising level of political violence of late, so this public position by Swaziland's Anglican bishop carries with it some real concern for his safety.

Read the rest here.

Reconciliation in Louisiana

Charles Jenkins, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, has been searching for a different way of trying to reconcile the people of New Orleans who's racial and economic divisions have been increasing since the Hurricane.

Jenkins is particularly interested in the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission model.

According to the an article by Bruce Nolan carried by the Religious News Service:

"Jenkins said he has been quietly discussing the idea among colleagues since last fall. And although he said he thinks New Orleans badly needs to repair its social fabric, he is not yet committed to a particular plan of action.   'An issue for me is that I don't want to do something that's going to do more harm than good, and I acknowledge that's a possibility,' Jenkins said before the meeting.   He described the reception his idea has received in private conversations as less than lukewarm. 'Cool' was more accurate, he said.   Still, he said, 'We have worked on race relations in the city for years, and there's not a whole lot of change. I don't think we can continue doing the same things and expect different results.'   Jenkins said he has been quietly talking for months with clergy friends and activists about the idea. He brought the Seokas from South Africa to his diocese's annual convention, where Seoka preached about reconciliation before several hundred Episcopalian clergy and lay people"

Read the rest here.

A media briefing from the House of Bishops meeting

This media briefing comes courtesy of Neva Rae Fox of the Church's communications office. The briefing officers were: the Rt. Rev Richard Chang, vice president of the House of Bishops and retired bishop of Hawai'i and Bishop Robert O'Neill of Colorado:

The first session of the House of Bishops began at 3 pm with prayer, songful praise, and announcements.

- Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori welcomed the House and introduced new bishops: Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino; Dan Edwards of Nevada; Kee Sloan, Suffragan Bishop of Alabama; Mark Lawrence of South Carolina; Jeff Lee of Chicago; and Steve Lane, Bishop-Elect of Maine (whose consents have been received). Prince Singh has been elected bishop of Rochester but his consent process has not been completed.

- Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori shared her hopes for the upcoming Lambeth Conference: "that we go with a sacrificial attitude open to one another, expecting divine encounters," that "we are willing to embrace the pain of difference as a sign of hope" and that "we avoid pre- judgments."

"I hope we build bridges for greater mission engagement," she said.

- Ed Little of Northern Indiana, chair of the HOB Planning Committee, noted, "Our agenda during this meeting will weave in and out of discussions about the Lambeth Conference."

- There was a presentation on the historical perspective of Lambeth by the Rev. Paula D. Nesbitt, Ph.D. of the diocese of California; and an update on current plans by the Rt. Rev. Miguel Tamayo of Cuba and a member of the Lambeth Planning Committee.

In his presentation, Tamayo said that the stated goals of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Design Committee for the Lambeth Conference are "to equip bishops to be more effective leaders in God's mission and to strengthen the Anglican Communion."

- Eucharist was celebrated following the afternoon session.

- After dinner, the evening session will be devoted to a Lambeth discussion with the afternoon speakers along with Don Wimberly of Texas, John Chane of Washington (DC), Leo Frade of Southeast Florida, and Robert O'Neill of Colorado. The session will begin with a discussion of the question posed by Nesbitt in the afternoon: Have we reached a 'tipping point' toward a new way of striving toward social change?

Daily briefings will appear at Episcopal Life Online here.

Barack Obama is a Christian. Now please behave.

The Café doesn't endorse candidates, and we haven't had much to say about the presidential election thus far. But as Episcopalians we know how painful it is to be told we aren't real Christians. In our case, it is because we don't exclude the proper people. In Barack Obama's case the reason seems to be mere political expediency. In both cases the charges are not simply erroneous, they are sinful, in the first instance because they make an idol of one faction's limited understanding of Divine revelation, and in the second because they attempt to tap anti-Islamic sentiment for political gain and personal aggrandizement.

When the "Obama is a Muslim" campaign has played out, don't be surprised if conservative Christians step up their efforts to brand the United Church of Christ a heterodox denomination. If that happens, let's hope that Senator John McCain will be more forthright than Senator Hillary Clinton has been in accepting that Senator Obama believes what he says he believes.

For some solid factual background, see this FAQ about Obama's faith from Beliefnet.

Abraham's Curse

Author Bruce Chilton, an Episcopal priest and chaplain at Bard College, writes of human sacrifice in an excerpt from his new book, Abraham's Curse:

As Judaism has praised the sacrifice of Abraham, and Islam the offering of Ibrahim, Christianity since the first century has contended that Jesus accomplished in action the offering that Isaac only symbolized. The key Christian belief in Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God reinterprets and recasts the image of Isaac in Genesis.

Abraham's story has never been ours more than it is now. Naming the compulsion to take innocent life in the belief that sacrifice is noble goes beyond the incidents of any single crime, and takes us into the foundations of human culture and of how people understand the divine.

The Christian soldier, the Israeli conscript, and the Muslim jihadist are all poised for conflict and prepared for death, armed by their training and motivated by an ethos that is thousands of years old. The impulse to praise martyrdom, and therefore to encourage susceptible adolescents to become martyrs, is embedded in our cultural DNA.

We live on the edge of a prolonged sacrificial commitment, in a war on terror whose end is as obscure as its purposes and whose methods are ill defined. Understanding what it is we're talking about when we speak of human death as a "sacrifice" has become crucial to us.

Read it all.
(Our thanks to The Chronicle Review for taking this piece out from behinds its subscription wall.)

GAFCON seeks funding

Thinking Anglicans has a letter from the organizers of the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem this June. It is interesting to note how many of those planning this event cannot, geographically, claim to represent the Global South. Interesting, too, that all talk of a meeting in Jordan has been dropped for the purposes of this appeal. Just as well, given Archbishop Akinola's comments about Islam in this month's Atlantic, he was likely to be a problematic guest.

Boldly going where no theologian has gone before

Follow the adventures of Bosco Peters as he essays the brave new field of virtual sacraments:

Baptism, immersion into the Christian community, the body of Christ, and hence into the nature of God the Holy Trinity may have some internet equivalents – for example, being welcomed into a moderated group. But my own current position would be to shy away from, for example, having a virtual baptism of a second life avatar. Similarly, I would currently steer away from eucharist and other sacraments in the virtual world. Sacraments are outward and visible signs – the virtual world is still very much at the inner and invisible level.

I do not, however, agree with those who deprecate the experience of community that the web engenders. It appears to me that the internet can model an understanding of community that is beyond the physically present-and-visible precisely in a way that Christians have been verbalising for centuries. Christians can experience support and challenge online in a way not possible previously. The Carthusian model, of separate individuals (hermits) experiencing community whilst being physically separate, provides an understanding and a precedent for what many Christians are experiencing.

Prayerful support, the daily recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours (Daily Prayer), even lighting virtual candles are amongst the positive experiences available and whilst not sacraments, provide a framework and experience that complements and enhances the sacramental experience of the physically gathered Christian community.


Read it all.

Farewell to The Wire; Welcome back FNL

The Wire, television's best drama, concludes a five-year run tomorrow night on HBO. Some of its writers have marked the occassion with an op-ed piece, in Time, arguing that the war on drugs is so counter productive, that juries should simply refuse to convict defendants of drug offenses.

In lighter news, our other favorite television show, Friday Night Lights has been renewed despite low ratings.

Voices from the Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral is compiling an excellect collection of videotaped Lenten reflections. The Cathedral's Sunday Forum collection is also worth a listen if you've got the time.

House of Bishops media notes - March 8

Read the Daily Account from the House of Bishops for Saturday, March 8 at ENS here.

Media briefers for Saturday, March 8, 2008 were: The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, Bishop of Lexington, and The Rt. Rev. Geralyn Wolf, Bishop of Rhode Island.

Bishop Epting has some reflections from the retreat.

Andrew Brown on Akinola and The Atlantic

Andrew Brown's article on the recent Atlantic cover story about religion in Nigeria is now out from behind the subscription wall at The Church Times. He writes:

I HAVE never been able to understand the attraction of Nigeria for English Anglicans: if this really is the future of religion, we can give up any attempt at defending Christianity on the basis that it promotes civilised values.

A long report in the magazine The Atlantic this month by Eliza Griswold (daughter of the previous Presiding Bishop in the US) casts some light on the situation in the belt where Muslims meet Christians, and the part played in this encounter by the Nigerian Primate, the Most Revd Peter Akinola.

Ms Griswold got to interview him after she had visited the town of Yelwa, the scene of some pretty vigorous interfaith exchanges that left 800 people dead in 2004.

Read it all.

California Conservative rabbis support same-sex marriage

As evidence of significant change in the attitudes of Conservative Judiasm, over a dozen Conservative rabbis have signed a statement supporting same sex marriage. As Forward explains, this reflects a sea change that began when the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards decided in December to allow gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex commitment ceremonies:

In 2005, when a Jewish gay-marriage activist first pressed California rabbis to sign a statement supporting full marriage equality for gays and lesbians, only a handful of Conservative rabbis lent their names. Over the course of the past two months, however, more than a dozen Conservative rabbis here have signed on to a growing list of clergy who support gay marriage in the civil realm.

What changed in between was the December 2006 decision, or teshuvah, by the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to allow gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex commitment ceremonies — a decision made after 15 years of rancorous argument about the issue. As a result of that long-simmering debate, observers note, Conservative rabbis, many of whom were previously uninformed on issues of gay rights in the civil sphere, did their homework and read up on the issues. Others who may have already supported gay marriage finally felt freed up to express their views publicly.

“Conservative rabbis might have been privately supportive of same-sex marriage, but they hadn’t been willing to step out,” said Denise Eger, rabbi of the gay and lesbian Reform synagogue Congregation Kol Ami, located in West Hollywood. “The teshuvah, for people who have held their own private opinions, especially West Coast rabbis, has empowered them to be able to speak more publicly.”

. . .

As of yet, Jews for Marriage Equality has corralled 92 rabbis to sign its clergy statement; 22 of them affiliated with the Conservative movement. The statement, a lengthy document affirming the right to same-sex civil marriage, calls on Jewish leaders to embrace gay and lesbian rights.

“Efforts to prevent civil marriage for gays and lesbians through legal means, such as state or federal Constitutional amendments that deprive them of the benefits and dreams others enjoy, are unjust and discriminatory…” the statement reads. “We as rabbis, cantors and community leaders committed to Jewish tradition urge all Jews to remember our heritage of justice and to recommit ourselves to not wavering on this holy principle.”

In Massachusetts, an anti same-sex marriage amendment was roundly defeated in 2005, and again in 2007 at the state legislative level. Rabbi Menachem Creditor, a former Bay State Conservative rabbi who in June of last year became rabbi of Berkeley synagogue Congregation Netivot Shalom, helped organize rabbinic efforts to defeat the Massachusetts bill. Three years ago, 97 Massachusetts rabbis signed a public advertisement opposing the proposed legislation. But according to Creditor — who founded Keshet Rabbis, an organization of Conservative rabbis who support gay and lesbian equality — only seven of those signatories were Conservative. Following passage of the law committee decision in December 2006, Creditor said, many more Conservative rabbis signed their names.

Read it all here.

Pope Benedict XVI will rehabilitate Martin Luther

Pope Benedict XVI has decided that Martin Luther was not so bad after all. Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo, but the current Pope will announce that Martin Luther was misunderstood. The Times has the report:

Pope Benedict XVI is to rehabilitate Martin Luther, arguing that he did not intend to split Christianity but only to purge the Church of corrupt practices.

Pope Benedict will issue his findings on Luther (1483-1546) in September after discussing him at his annual seminar of 40 fellow theologians — known as the Ratzinger Schülerkreis — at Castelgandolfo, the papal summer residence. According to Vatican insiders the Pope will argue that Luther, who was excommunicated and condemned for heresy, was not a heretic.

Cardinal Walter Kasper, the head of the pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the move would help to promote ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Protestants. It is also designed to counteract the impact of July's papal statement describing the Protestant and Orthodox faiths as defective and “not proper Churches”.

The move to re-evaluate Luther is part of a drive to soften Pope Benedict's image as an arch conservative hardliner as he approaches the third anniversary of his election next month. This week it emerged that the Vatican is planning to erect a statue of Galileo, who also faced a heresy trial, to mark the 400th anniversary next year of his discovery of the telescope.

Read it all here.

Founding Faith

Steven Waldman, the editor-in-chief of Beliefnet, has a new book, Founding Faith, which discusses public life and faith at the beginning of our Republic. Jon Meacham finds Waldman's discussion on John Madison of particular interest:

Steven Waldman's enlightening new book, "Founding Faith," is wise and engaging on many levels, but Waldman has done a particular service in detailing Madison's role in creating a culture of religious freedom that has served America so well for so long. "As a child, James Madison needed only to look across the dinner table to see the Anglican establishment," writes Waldman, the editor in chief of Beliefnet and a former NEWSWEEK colleague. Madison's father, James Sr., was a vestry-man of Brick Church in Orange County, Va. "The church lay leaders (the vestry) had not only religious powers but also the authority to collect taxes and enforce moral laws," Waldman writes. "It was they who would declare punishments for those who rode on horseback on the Sabbath or drank too much or cursed."

A child of the established church, of a world in which one's civil and political rights were linked to one's religious observances and professions, Madison was deeply affected by what he called the "diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution" at work in his native county in the early and mid-1770s. Dissenters—Baptists in those days were dissenters—were being jailed, beaten and harassed (one preacher was nearly drowned by a mob in a mud puddle) by the Anglican establishment, and Madison was horrified. "I must beg you to pity me," he wrote a friend, "and pray for liberty of conscience to all." Madison ultimately became a kind of Adam Smith of church and state: he believed that the marketplace, if left to its own devices without government interference, would produce stronger religious belief, not weaker.

He was right: once the federal government declined to establish a church and the states moved to disestablish (Massachusetts was the last, in 1833), religious belief grew. "No doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change," Madison wrote. "This proves rather more … that the law is not necessary to the support of religion."

In addition to the discussion of Madison, Meacham gives the book high marks:

"Founding Faith" is an excellent book about an important subject: the inescapable—but manageable—intersection of religious belief and public life. With a grasp of history and an understanding of the exigencies of the moment, Waldman finds a middle ground between those who think of the Founders as apostles in powdered wigs and those who assert, equally inaccurately, that the Founders believed religion had no place in politics. Along the way he does justice not only to Madison but to John Leland and Isaac Backus, two Baptists who fought for the separation of church and state on the grounds, to borrow a phrase of Roger Williams, that the "wilderness of the world" was bad for the "garden of Christ's church."

Read it all here.

Michael Dirda has a review of the book in the Washington Post Book World here.

Why do people give?

The New York Times Magazine today is devoted to "Money", and it includes an article that should be read by every parish stewardship chair or nonprofit fundraiser. Written by the New York Times economic columnist, David Leonhardt, it focuses on the efforts by two economists to discover why people give, and what works in fundraising:

Not long after the 2004 presidential election, John List and Dean Karlan formed an unusual partnership, with the idea of teaching a little-known liberal group how to raise more money. Karlan, an economics professor at Yale who spent much of his time studying global poverty, was himself a liberal and disheartened by President Bush’s re-election. He had given money to this particular group in the past.

List, however, was a political iconoclast who, if anything, tilted to the right. He taught economics at the University of Chicago, which can fairly be described as the center of conservative economic philosophy, and he had recently finished a stint as the environmental expert on President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. When he and I were talking on the phone last month, he referred to Karlan, who is a friend of his, as “a left-wing nut” and then let out a laugh.

But List’s interest — and, in truth, Karlan’s main interest — wasn’t to help the liberal group get more money. It was to try to find an answer to a gnawing question: What makes people give their money away?

List and Karlan considered the usual answers (to make the world a better place, to see your name printed in the back of an annual report and the like) too pat, too simple — and sometimes just wrong. Over the years, whenever one of them asked fund-raisers why they did what they did, the responses were vague and unimpressive. There didn’t seem to be much empirical evidence to support the strategies employed by most fund-raisers. So the two economists wondered whether charities were wasting a lot of effort.

Among their findings: challenge grants and "matches" work to motivate givers, but only to a point:

When Karlan and List got their results, however, they realized that the conventional wisdom about matches was only partly right. The existence of a matching gift did very much matter. In their experiment, 2.2 percent of people who received the match offer made a donation, compared with only 1.8 percent of the control group. That may not seem like a big difference, but it is — more than a 20 percent gap between the two response rates, which is certainly large enough to justify making the effort to solicit a hefty matching gift.

But the size of the match in the experiment didn’t have any effect on giving. Donors who received the offer of a one-to-one match gave just as often, and just as much, as those responding to the three-to-one offer. That was surprising, because a larger match is effectively a deeper discount on a person’s gift. Yet in this case, the deeper discount didn’t make an impact. It was as if Starbucks had cut the price of a latte to $2 and sales didn’t increase.

But the ultimate issue is what these two are really interested in, why do people give:

The results of the matching-gift experiment provided List and Karlan with precisely the sort of subtlety that they hoped to uncover. It also spoke to that fundamental question about philanthropy: Why do people give? Is it really to make the world a better place, to give back to the community as a token of gratitude? Or is giving instead about something less grand, like seeing your name on a building, responding to peer pressure or simply feeling good about yourself? To put it bluntly, is charitable giving a high-minded form of consumption?

In the late 1980s, an economist named James Andreoni argued that the internal motives for giving were indeed more important than many people had acknowledged. He came up with a name for his idea — the “warm glow” theory — and it stuck. In the warm-glow view of philanthropy, people aren’t giving money merely to save the whales; they’re also giving money to feel the glow that comes with being the kind of person who’s helping to save the whales.

. . .

Andreoni’s argument was a merely theoretical one, but the experiment by List and Karlan suggested that it was correct. Donors did not, in fact, seem to do a rational analysis of how they could best help promote liberalism. And there was one more layer to their results that made the findings even more striking. In blue states — defined as those that voted for John Kerry — even the existence of a matching gift had only a minor effect. It lifted the response rate by about 5 percent. In red states, though, a matching gift increased donations by about 60 percent. For isolated liberals living in states that had just voted for Bush’s re-election, the glow that came from joining up with another liberal seemed to be much stronger. “Giving is not about a calculation of what you are buying,” Karlan said. “It is about participating in a fight.” It is about you as much as it about the effect of your gift. As much as fund-raisers say that they understand these mixed motivations, charities often continue to behave as if donors were automatons. Thus the existence of big matching gifts.

Along similar lines, Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has conducted a mischievous experiment on the relationship between religious giving and religious observance. . . .

To see how typical his father was, Gruber dug into surveys that ask people about how they spend their money and their time. Sure enough, his dad was typical. When the tax code changed in the early 1990s and made the deduction for charitable giving more valuable, the average churchgoer gave more money — and attended services less often. Gruber called his research paper “Pay or Pray.”

Read it all here.

San Joaquin bishop candidate walkabout scheduled

Living Church:

A single candidate chosen to be the provisional Bishop of San Joaquin will participate in a two-day walkabout visitation to the diocese immediately after the House of Bishops’ meeting concludes at Camp Allen in Texas on March 12.

The bishops are scheduled to vote on whether to depose the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin during a “business session” after Morning Prayer on that day

.
Read the entire Living Church article here.

Remain Episcopal's announcement of the walkabout is here.

House of Bishops media notes - March 9

From Episcopal Life Online:

The members of the House of Bishops gathered for Eucharist on Sunday morning. The celebrant and preacher was the Rev. Brian Cox, who used today's lesson from the 11th chapter of the Gospel of John, the raising of Lazarus, to challenge the bishops to see how new life can be raised in the midst of chaos.

The faith-based reconciliation presentation which had begun on Saturday continued this evening, led by the Rev. Canon Brian Cox of the Diocese of Los Angeles and the Hon. Joanne O'Donnell of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

O'Donnell reviewed one of the core values of faith-based reconciliation, which is submission to God, the principle of sovereignty.

Acknowledging God's sovereignty is the single-most important element of faith-based reconciliation, she noted. The basis of unity in the sovereignty of God is harmony, diversity and community.

"Unity is not uniformity," O'Donnell said.

Facing the difficulties in the Episcopal Church, she said. "We find unity in the person of Jesus Christ." Pointing out that she and Cox are quite different - he a conservative priest and she a liberal layperson -- she noted, "Despite our differences, Jesus unites us."

Read the rest at Episcopal Life Online: Daily Account from the House of Bishops for Sunday, March 9

An Open Letter to the House of Bishops from the Rev. Susan Russel, President of Integrity may be found here.

Bishop Epting reflects on Reconciliation and the Transformation of Human Hearts here.

Conversation about the Anglican Covenant

Bishop Marc Andrus writes on his blog about a conversation he arranged about the St. Andrew's Draft of the Anglican Communion Covenant.

EpiscoPod has a new episode featuring a conversation that I had with a church historian, a sociologist, and a theologian shortly after the release of the St. Andrew's Draft of the Anglican Communion Covenant.

On February 14, 2008, I sat down in the faculty lounge at Church Divinity School of the Pacific with Dr. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, Assistant Professor of Church History at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley; the Rev. Dr. Paula Nesbitt, Visiting Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley; and the Rev. Dr. Jay Johnson, Adjunct Faculty in Theology at Pacific School of Religion and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, to discuss the newest draft of the Anglican Communion Covenant. The conversation covered a range of issues raised by the Covenant draft, and delved into some deeper consideration of the nature of covenant, and what it means to be Anglican.

I invited several theologically trained members of the Diocese of California to join in the conversation. Not all of them were able to make it, but I have received some written responses and others have told me that they would send theirs and I plan to post those here. Following is a written response by the Rev. Dr. John Kater, who is an emeritus faculty member at CDSP. Then following that is the written response by Jay Johnson who is a part of the podcast.

Read the rest here.


Rebuilding Communion

Thinking Anglicans reports that St Deiniols Library is publishing a book called Rebuilding Communion.

The aim of this book is threefold: firstly, to provide a brief Who’s Who and What’s What on the recent history of sexual orientation and Anglicanism; secondly, to give voice to gay and lesbian people from around the Anglican world; thirdly, to reflect on the present crisis and offer new possibilities for learning from areas such as human rights legislation, the African concept of ubuntu and conflict resolution in Bosnia.

Read a fuller description of the book here, and there is a list of contributors.

Greener palms for Palm Sunday

USA Today says that in many churches Palm Sunday is going green by using palms harvested using an environmentally friendly method.

This year, more than 2,130 congregations across the USA, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, will use "eco-palms" that are harvested in a more environmentally friendly way, says Dean Current, program director at the Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management at the University of Minnesota.

The number of churches using eco-palms on Palm Sunday — which, in the Christian faith, marks Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem before his death and resurrection — has grown from a pilot program of 5,000 in 2005 to the 600,000 eco-palms ordered for this year's March 16 celebration, Current says. He estimates that is about 1.5% of the 35 million to 40 million palms sold annually for Palm Sunday services in the USA but says he expects the growth to continue.

What makes the eco-palms different is the way that they are harvested, says RaeLynn Jones Loss, a research specialist at the University of Minnesota.

More than 50% of the palms are wasted by traditional methods, Jones Loss says. Harvesters in the eco-palm program are trained to be more selective. They cut only the best fronds, which results in only 5% to 10% waste.

USA Today: Churches go 'green' for Palm Sunday.

United Church of Christ investigated by IRS

The IRS has granted a three-week extension for the United Church of Christ to respond to an investigation the agency has begun because presidential candidate Barack Obama spoke at the denomination's 50th anniversary conference in Hartford, Connecticut, last summer.

The original IRS letter of Feb. 20 set a 15-day response window, however, the UCC was granted the extension on Feb. 28, according to attorney Donald C. Clark, the UCC's Nationwide Special Counsel.

"Given the extensive amount of information documenting the steps taken by the UCC to be in compliance with permissible restrictions on those addressing the gathering of the faithful at General Synod, we obtained a three-week extension of time to respond to the IRS inquiry," Clark told United Church News.

Even as the IRS continues its investigation, the Rev. John H. Thomas said the UCC will not shirk from its longstanding tradition of advocating for justice as a fundamental tenet of UCC faith and witness.

The Hartford Courant reports on the investigation:

The UCC is being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, which wrote the Cleveland-ba)sed denomination saying that it might have jeopardized its tax-exempt status when it allowed Obama to speak before about 10,000 church members at its 50th anniversary celebration last summer.

The church has denied any violations, and the IRS refused to discuss the matter Wednesday. But the question at the heart of the investigation is whether any aspects of Obama's visit — from the words he used, to the presence of campaign workers outside the building — violated IRS rules governing the appearance of political figures at religious events.

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly reports:

...as a young community organizer, he visited Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and became deeply influenced by its pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

Sen. OBAMA (at UCC speech): He introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ, and I learned that my sins could be redeemed.

LAWTON: Obama has been a member of Trinity UCC for more than 20 years.

Dr. ALLEN HERTZKE (Professor of Political Science and Director of Religious Studies University of Oklahoma): I think what's interesting is Barack Obama is a quintessential mainline Protestant, because he comes out of the United Church of Christ.

LAWTON: But that, too, has been a point of controversy. In June 2007, Obama, an announced presidential candidate, addressed the UCC's 50th anniversary General Synod meeting. On Monday (February 25), UCC leaders received notice of an IRS investigation into whether that speech was a violation of tax regulations that could jeopardize the denomination's tax-exempt status. UCC officials insist they did nothing improper and noted that Obama campaign tables were kept outside the arena on a public sidewalk.

Meanwhile, for the past year, the 9,000-member Trinity UCC has come under fire from conservative bloggers and pundits who raise concerns about Pastor Wright's politics. Wright is retiring as Trinity's head pastor. He's been an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq and a strong critic of Israeli policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank.

The Hartford Courant editorializes:

The church went to great pains to keep campaign workers, buttons and banners outside the center. But the UCC couldn't stop Mr. Obama from a little campaigning in an eloquent but innocuous speech on the role of faith in public life. His few "my first term as president"-type slips were not great enough to warrant the IRS threat that followed eight months later.

A letter sent this week to the church questioned whether "political activities" at the conference "could jeopardize" the UCC's tax exemption. Isn't that a bit excessive? The IRS should be policing nonprofits suspected of funneling money from donors skirting contribution limits, not stifling speech at houses of worship.

The inquiry's timing is curious, coming months after the event but at the moment when the senator is emerging as the front-runner.



All Saint's Episcopal Church in Pasedena, California
, was similarly investigated by the IRS starting in 2005 until the charges were dropped in 2007.

The United Church of Christ has an extensive list of the multiple news stories that the investigation has generated.

The UCC news release may be found here.

Praying for the "lost"

Rabbi Jacob Nuesner says that Catholics and other Christians have a right to pray for the conversion of the Jews, as much as Jews have a right to pray for the righteousness of Christians and Muslims.

Writing an op-ed piece in Forward: The Jewish Daily, he writes:

Israel prays for gentiles, so the other monotheists, the Catholic Church included, have the right to do the same — and no one should feel offended, as many have by Pope Benedict XVI’s recent revision of the Tridentine Mass.

Any other policy toward gentiles would deny their access to the one God whom Israel knows in the Torah. And the Catholic prayer expresses the same generous spirit that characterizes Judaism at worship.

God’s kingdom opens its gates to all humanity and when at worship, the Israelites ask for the speedy advent of God’s kingdom. They express the same liberality of spirit that characterizes the pope’s text for the prayer for the Jews on Good Friday.

Martin Marty, in his e-newsletter "Sightings" provides some background as to why this his view is so surprising:

A week from Friday is Good Friday, a most solemn day for Christians. It is also a problem day for Jews, and for the evident Christian majority which is (or wants to be) sensitive to the sensibilities of Jews. For centuries the most painful element in the Roman Catholic liturgy came from the Good Friday litany in the Latin Rite, which began: "Let us pray for the perfidious Jews: That Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord..." There was also reference to "Jewish faithlessness" and "blindness." In 1960 an offended and thoughtful Pope John XXIII deleted "faithless" (perfidis); in 1970 the prayer was radically altered. So far, so good.

Last summer Pope Benedict XVI allowed for reversion to the world and words of pre-1970, to a 1962 Missal version of the liturgy. This act was received ambiguously by American Jewish leadership. The American Jewish Committee expressed "appreciation" for some of the papal steps forward, but the Anti-Defamation League called the pope's action "a theological setback" and a "body blow" to Catholic-Jewish relations. On February 6 the Vatican announced an emendation of the 1962 Missal. Tradition-hungry Catholics will now pray this revision: "Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men…grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved…"

Neusner believes that...

The proselytizing prayers of Judaism and Christianity share an eschatological focus and mean to keep the door to salvation open for all peoples. Holy Israel should object to the Catholic prayer no more than Christianity and Islam should take umbrage at the Israelite one. Both “It is our duty” and “Let us also pray for the Jews” realize the logic of monotheism and its eschatological hope.

Read: Forward-The Jewish Daily: Catholics Have a Right to Pray for Us.

See also: The Martin Marty Center of the University of Chicago "Sightings" (This web-site usually posts the e-newsletter a few days after it has been sent to subscribers.)

Full invitation for Robinson "not possible"

Episcopal News Service:

The House of Bishops was informed March 10 that full invitation is "not possible" from the Archbishop of Canterbury to include Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as a participant in this summer's Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops.

Robinson, addressing the House, urged the other bishops of the Episcopal Church to participate fully in the conference, and thanked all who are willing to "stay at the table." (A link to Robinson's remarks will follow.)

Robinson told the House that he respectfully declined an invitation to be present in the conference's "Marketplace" exhibit section.

Robinson confirmed for ENS that he plans to be in Canterbury during the July 16-August 3 once-a-decade gathering, but not as an official conference participant or observer.

Read it all here.

More:

Report from Bishops Ed Little, Bruce Caldwell and Tom Ely to the House of Bishops regarding conversations about Bishop Gene Robinson's participation at the Lambeth Conference
March 10, 2008

Following the September 2007 meeting of the House of Bishops in New Orleans, the Presiding Bishop appointed Bishops Little, Caldwell and Ely to serve as the team to be in conversation with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office to discuss the possibilities of +Gene's participation in the Lambeth Conference. This was in response to the hope expressed in our New Orleans communiqu in which we said that it is "our fervent hope that a way can be found for his (Gene's) full participation." We have tried to be faithful servants of the House of Bishops and to reflect in our own way some measure of the diversity within the House.

Over the past few months the three of us have been negotiating with Mr. Chris Smith from the Archbishop's staff and the Reverend Canon Kenneth Kearon from the Anglican Communion Office hoping to arrive at a substantial invitation for +Gene's participation in the Lambeth Conference. To date we have held five conference calls and have had several internal conversations among the three of us. We have kept the Presiding Bishop and Bishop Robinson informed about our process along the way. Each side of the conversation has participated in good faith throughout.

We began the conversation by sharing several hopes which were developed in consultation with +Gene. Those hopes are:

1. That +Gene have the opportunity to pray with other bishops at Lambeth.

2. That +Gene have time with and access to other bishops from around the Anglican Communion in order to build relationships.

3. That +Gene have a voice at the table regarding the Listening Process and the discussions on human sexuality.

Early on, our colleagues from "across the pond" expressed the understanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury intends to respect the Windsor Report's recommendation with respect to "exercising extreme caution" regarding +Gene's participation in the Councils of the Church. Throughout our conversation they referenced the "optics" involved in all of this, meaning the inter-communion perceptions and perspectives attached to +Gene's participation.

After exploring various categories of participation (i.e. observer, guest, etc.) the three of us felt that the least derogatory, apart from a full invitation, was a consulting role. With that in mind, as well as the hopes earlier expressed, we offered a proposal that included:

1. An invitation to attend the Retreat and worship.

2. An invitation to attend/observe any plenary sessions.

3. An invitation to offer a workshop on several days as one of the self select groups, focused on listening to the voices of gay and lesbian persons.

4. An invitation to participate in some way in the July 31st Indaba groups when the theme is human sexuality.

In response we heard:

1. A restatement that full invitation is not possible.

2. The Retreat session is a closed session at Canterbury Cathedral (i.e. no media, no ecumenical guests) and it would present the Archbishop of Canterbury with a problem for +Gene to attend something so intimate. The same would be true of the Bible Study/Indaba groups.

3. There is really no concept of "observer" built into the conference structure.

The following proposal for limited participation was then offered and we agreed to bring this to +Gene:

1. That if +Gene still wishes to be present throughout the conference that the location best suited for that is the Marketplace where he could be hosted by one of the groups.

2. That +Gene participate in a "high profile" event (yet to be determined) on July 31st (Listening Process day) - something like an interview with a major media interviewer from England.

After consultation with +Gene he respectfully declined the offer, believing that it does not rise to the level of a meaningful and substantial invitation. In declining this invitation +Gene was clear that he is available to serve as a resource to the Lambeth Conference and plans to be available to any variety of groups who are interested in pursuing conversations that would include him. In a moment +Gene will speak more about this and his own thoughts about the nature of his presence in England during the Lambeth Conference.

With this report, we think our assignment is complete and we are grateful for the confidence expressed in us by the Presiding Bishop, Bishop Robinson and the members of the House of Bishops, who we know have been holding us and our conversations in your thoughts and prayers. We hope we have served the House faithfully in this matter and request now to be discharged.

Faithfully submitted,

Ed, Bruce and Tom


Bishop Gene Robinson responds

UPDATED noon March 11.

Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire responded to the Archbishop of Canterbury's decision not to invite him to the Lambeth Conference Monday at the House of Bishops meeting.

The story was reported in the previous article in The Lead:

I first want to thank Ed and Bruce and Tom. [Bishops Little, Caldwell and Ely, respectively, who corresponded with the Archbishop of Canterbury's staff regarding Robinson's participation.] They have been so true to what they were asked to do by the Presiding Bishop. They have been in close communication with me. I have felt very supported by them. They have represented me extremely well.

I want to be clear than I am not here to whine. I learned of the result of this negotiation on Friday evening. I have been in considerable pain every since.

But I want to acknowledge that I am not the first or last person to be in pain at a House of Bishops meeting.

My own pain was sufficient enough that for 36 hours I felt the compelling urge to run, to flee. My inspiration for staying came from my conservative brothers in this house. I have seen John Howe and Ed Salmon and others show up for years when there was a lot of pain for them. I see Bill Love and Mark Lawrence, and I know it is a very difficult thing for them to be here right now. For me, the worst sin is leaving the table. And that is what I was on the verge of doing. But, largely because of you, I stayed. Thank you for that.

I want to tell you why I declined the invitation as it was proposed. I really had high hopes that something might work out. I have been talking with the Anglican Communion Office for almost a year now. I got my first phone call four days before the invitations to Lambeth went out. I thought something would work out.

The offer to be hosted at the Marketplace is a non-offer. That is already available to me. One workshop on one afternoon and being interviewed by the secular press was not anything I was seeking. I wasn't going to Lambeth to have another interview with the secular press. If interviewed at all, I want to talk with a theologian. I want to talk about the love of Christ. I want to talk about the God who saved me and redeemed me and continues to live in my life. I want to talk about the Jesus I know in my life.

But my mind boggles at the misperception that this is just about gay rights. It might be in another context, but in this context it is about God's love of all of God's children. It's a theological discussion, it's not a media show. I have been most disappointed in that my desire was to participate in Bible study and small groups, and that is not being offered. It makes me wonder: if we can't sit around a table and study the Bible together, what kind of communion do we have and what are we trying to save?

I am dismayed and sickhearted that we can't sit around a table, as brothers and sisters in Christ, and study scripture together.

It has been a very difficult 48 hours sitting here and hearing your plans for Lambeth.

In my most difficult moments, it feels as if, instead of leaving the 99 sheep in search of the one, my chief pastor and shepherd, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has cut me out of the herd.

I ask two things of you. Some of you have indicated that if I am not invited, you won't go either. I want to say loud and clear - you must go. You must find your voice. And somehow you have to find my voice and the voices of all the gay and lesbian people in your diocese who, for now, don't have a voice in this setting. I'd much rather be talked to than talked about. But you must go and tell the stories of your people, faithful members of your flock who happen to be lesbian and gay.

For God's sake, don't stay away.

And second, please don't let them separate me from you. Please don't let that happen. It will be difficult, and we will have to be intentional. I know that the last thing you will need at the end of the day is another meeting just so I can catch up with you. But I hope you will be willing to stay in touch with me.

From the day I have walked into this House I have been treated with respect and welcome, even, and perhaps especially, by those of you who voted no on my consent.

I can never thank you enough for that. I will always and every moment treasure your welcome and your hospitality.

Don't let them cut me off from you.

All this is really sad for me and for my diocese. I won't have the experiences you will have, to share with them. But I will be there in the marketplace, willing to talk with anyone who wants to talk, especially with those who disagree with me. If you know me at all, you know that that's true.

Now, my focus has to change. Maybe this is what God has in mind. I had hoped to focus on the community of bishops at Lambeth, making my own contribution to its deliberations. But now, I think I will go to Lambeth thinking about gay and lesbian people around the world who will be watching what happens there. I will go to Lambeth remembering the 100 or so twenty-something's I met in Hong Kong this fall, who meet every Sunday afternoon to worship and sing God's praise in a secret catacomb of safety - because they can't be gay AND Christian in their own churches. I will be taking them to Lambeth with me. They told me that the Episcopal Church was their hope for a different, welcoming church. They told me they were counting on us. Yes, the things we do in the Episcopal Church have ramifications far, far away - and sometimes those ramifications are good.

I hope we can talk about the ways we can stay in touch in Lambeth. I will be praying for you, all the time. I know it will seem very strange, being separated from you. But we can do it if we want to. I have nothing but respect and sympathy for the Archbishop of Canterbury and the difficult place he is in. I was trying to help him, and it just didn't work.

Pray for me. I will need that. A lot.

UPDATE noon Monday: AP is reporting the story here.

The LA Times' story is here.

Dave Walker of The Cartoon Church comments in the Church Times here.

Global South Anglicans at crossroad

Michael Nai Chiu Poon, of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia in Singapore charts the emergence of of "Global South Anglican" and places its rise within the broader historical developments of churches in the Southern Hemisphere. He challenges the interpretations of Philip Jenkins and conservative bloggers and the purposes of GAFCON. Poon encourages a greater involvement in future of Anglicanism by Christian intellectuals who live day to day in the Southern Hemisphere and not leaving it to a few primates and their northern allies. His article ends with some broader questions for the future of the Communion.

GAFCON holds before the Communion a new and unfamiliar utopia that is post-modern to its core. Webmasters and web bloggers render synodical processes irrelevant. They preside over web blogs in the virtual worlds of their own fabrication. Its power in shaping public opinion on ecclesiastical authorities simply cannot be ignored. A communion that is no longer dependent on patient face-to-face encounters and governed by geographical proximity: it is a Gnostic gospel that renders the Cross in vain.
...

Jenkins attributed the biblical and theological conservative and supernaturalist character of global South Christians as congenial to the social and political realities in which they find themselves. For Jenkins, this “lived Christianity” is more authentic than the “liberal” and Northern style gender theologies that are also present in the global South. Yet, is this all that is to “lived Christianity”? More importantly, must our homes in the Southern Hemisphere continue to be at the mercy of repressive regimes and natural disasters, and are consigned to poverty and power traps? What contribution should Anglicans in the South make towards world Christianity and their societies? Jenkins had no answer.
...

“Global South Anglican” introduces a new geopolitical grammar to the discussions on the present Communion crisis. It provides a new vision for the Communion. The Communion as a whole and the Global South Anglican leadership in particular needs to be alert to this. Greater vigilance should be given against hasty adoption of new IT-driven definitions and entities. Two central issues follow.

In the first place, how do Anglican churches across the oceans order themselves as part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Jesus Christ?

Secondly, Anglican churches in the South need to reconnect their “lived Christianity” with the spiritual and intellectual traditions in their parts of the world.
...

To end, global South Anglicans are at a crossroad in 2008. Whither it goes should not be left to the primates. It is a matter of prime concern for all Anglicans in the Southern Hemisphere. Our homes are at stake; our Communion is at stake.


Read it all here.

More reasons to go to confession

The Vatican announced a new list of additional sins that should be added to the traditional reasons for confession. According to a report by Reuters:

Thou shall not pollute the Earth. Thou shall beware genetic manipulation. Modern times bring with them modern sins. So the Vatican has told the faithful that they should be aware of "new" sins such as causing environmental blight.
....

The guidance came at the weekend when Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti, the Vatican's number two man in the sometimes murky area of sins and penance, spoke of modern evils.Girotti, who is number two in the Vatican "Apostolic Penitentiary," which deals with matter of conscience, also listed drug trafficking and social and economic injustices as modern sins.

But Girotti also bemoaned that fewer and fewer Catholics go to confession at all.

He pointed to a study by Milan's Catholic University that showed that up to 60 percent of Catholic faithful in Italy stopped going to confession.

In the sacrament of Penance, Catholics confess their sins to a priest who absolves them in God's name.

But the same study by the Catholic University showed that 30 percent of Italian Catholics believed that there was no need for a priest to be God's intermediary and 20 percent felt uncomfortable talking about their sins to another person.

Read more here.

Sustaining unity in times of disagreement

The Anglican Communion News Service reports the release of: Communion, Conflict and Hope: the Kuala Lumpur Report focusing on the nature of the Communion and on questions about how the Church's unity can be sustained during times of intense disagreement.

The third Inter-Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, appointed after 1998 and chaired by Bishop Stephen Sykes, had these questions as part of its mandate and Communion, Conflict and Hope is the outcome of its deliberations.

The Kuala Lumpur Report demonstrates the underlying foundations upon which Anglican identity is built - attention to the Bible, the vocation towards holiness, respect for local cultures, the gifts of discernment and diversity, mutual accountability and the development of appropriate competencies to articulate the mind of the Church. These principles are themselves the subjects of current debate; the contention of this report is that clarifying such issues not only maintains communion, but actually enriches the sense of common life and purpose that the Communion seeks. Written within a strong narrative framework, the report invites readers to participate in just that process.

Read the entire report here.

The conclusion follows below:

Read more »

Buttons for bishops at Lambeth

With the announcement that Bishop Gene Robinson will not be invited to Lambeth 2008, suggestions for buttons for bishops who are invited are being discussed on the blogs.

A sample is available at CafePress.

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Other suggestions?

Daily Report from the House of Bishops, March 11

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

- The bishops began their day with Morning Prayer and small group Bible study.

- Bishop Jim Curry of Connecticut, convener of Bishops Working for a Just World, spoke about the group which is a coalition of active and retired bishops gathered to support each other and other members of HOB to claim a public voice, leadership and advocacy for the church and the world. The Bishops meet for training, legislative processes, and trying to demystify the process. They work with the church's Office of Government Relations. A "go to" group when legislation is at a critical point such as issues on the Farm Bill.

Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana advocated contacting legislators. "They may not like to hear from us, but if we don't, someone else will do it for us. It is not unexpected or unwelcome."

The bishops were briefed by the staff of the church's Office of Government Relations (OGR) on the MDGs, the Farm Bill and the Jubilee Act for Debt Consolidation. OGR's Maureen Shea announced there are approximately 22,000 members of the Episcopal Policy Network. She presented questions for small group discussion: What are the public policy issues (local, national, and international) most important in your diocese? What obstacles do you face in being involved with public policy issues? What could the Office of Government Relations do to help you get past those obstacles?

John Johnson of OGR spoke of healthcare, and the millions who are uninsured "and don't know it." Healthcare could be an important issue in the next Congress, and for the HOB - what does the HOB want to say about healthcare?

John also reported that the climate change legislation - the Warner Lieberman Bill -- is moving in the House "for the first time, ever." A key benchmark in order to avoid the most catastrophic changes, he said, is that "our nation and other nations have to reduce carbon emissions 15-20 % by the year 2020." The bill, he added, is headed for debate and "we endorse."

- The bishops gathered for Eucharist at 11:45 am.

- Following lunch, the bishops heard a presentation on "Title IV: Of Accountability and Ecclesiastical Discipline: An Overview of Disciplinary Structures and Proceedings," presented by members of the Title IV Task Force: Steve Hutchinson, Duncan Bayne and Bishop Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina. They outlined the process and a theology for keeping the church safe.

The presenters stressed this plan was not final; rather they were seeking comments from the bishops on the draft.

- Linda Watt, Chief Executive Officer of the Church Center, presented an overview of the reorganization of the Church Center.

- Bishop Bruce Caldwell of Wyoming addressed Theological Education, calling the current times an opportunity. He said the Presiding Bishop appointed a steering committee to serve HOB in this area and to dialog with seminaries. Serving on the committee with Bruce Caldwell are Bishops: Neil Alexander of Atlanta, David Alvarez of Puerto Rico, Tom Briedenthal of Southern Ohio, Joseph Burnett of Nebraska, Tom Ely of Vermont, Bill Gregg of North Carolina, Todd Ousley of Eastern Michigan, John Rabb of Maryland, Carolyn Irish of Utah, Bud Shand of Easton, Pierre Whalon of Europe. The bishops' input was invited to be shared later with seminary leaders.

- A comprehensive update on the Healthcare Coverage Feasibility Study was presented by members of the Church Pension Group: the Rev. Canon Pat Coller, Jim Morrison and Tom Vanover.

- Bishop Gary Lillibridge of West Texas reported on the Windsor Continuation Group, formed after the Advent Letter of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He and six members from other provinces of the Anglican Communion met for the first time last week in London. They will meet two more times prior to The Lambeth Conference. He said that one of the challenges is the status of the Windsor Report which is "understood differently in other parts of the Anglican Communion." The committee will consult with as many as possible.

- Following Evening Prayer and dinner, the bishops will participate in a conversation about The Lambeth Conference.
_________________

The 2008 Spring Retreat of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church is being held from Friday, March 7 to Wednesday, March 12 at Camp Allen, in Texas.

Media briefers for Tuesday, March 11, 2008
- The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles
- The Rt. Rev. Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr., Bishop of Michigan

Update: The ELO link to this report is now available.

Canadian Anglicans and abuse in Indian schools

The Anglican Journal of Canada reports on the progress of the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission as it attempts to offer healing to those abused over the past century in the Indian residential schools.

In a soaring glass hall at the Museum of Anthropology, under the watchful eyes of a dozen huge totem poles, church, native and government leaders on March 5 pledged that the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission will lead to healing as it hears the painful stories of Indian residential schools in Canada.

The event, which included a walk to the museum led by native drummers, was part of a four-city tour by the leaders that was called Remembering the Children and was designed to draw attention to the commission and its work.

Established as part of a settlement agreement that limited liability for churches and distributed compensation to former residential school students, the commission in its five-year mandate will hear stories of former students and use church and government archives to create an extensive historical record of the school system. The date of the commencement of the commission’s work and its composition has yet to be announced by the federal government.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, the Anglican primate (national archbishop), reiterated the church’s 1993 apology for its role in the system, which operated across Canada from the mid-nineteenth century into the 1970s.

“I represent a church that was complicit in a system that took children far from home and family, took their clothing, cut off their hair and punished them when they spoke their own language. Some of our staff abused children. The Anglican church has so much for which to be so sorry,” he said.

The US church also ran schools but has yet to address the issues arising from that history.

Read more here.

Episcopal seminaries under stress

The webzine, Inside Higher Ed has an extensive story on the financial difficulties facing Episcopal seminaries. The story follows up on recent announcements of adjustments at EDS, Bexley Hall and Seabury-Western, but looks at the bigger picture and relies on interviews with several in the business including the Rev. Canon John L.C. Mitman, executive director of The Society for the Increase of the Ministry, the Very Rev. Ian Markham, dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary, and others.

Read it all here.

An extract:

[A typical seminarian starts] with $63,000 or so in average debt upon entering a profession where $45,500 is the average beginning compensation.

Contributing to the costs are the reality that many of the Episcopal seminaries are located in exceptionally expensive places to live: Manhattan, Berkeley, Calif., and Cambridge, Mass., for instance.

“There’s still the residential seminary point of view — and I have some sympathy with it because that’s what I came out of certainly, in my own background — that you lose that Christian formation piece that comes in living in community with the same people for three years,” said Reverend Mitman. With the advent of “virtual communities,” he said, “Much of the church is concerned that we’re losing a lot of the substance of theological education training and formation. But a big driver behind all of this is the whole problem of indebtedness.”

The Very Rev. Ian Markham, dean and president of Virginia Theological Seminary (the largest of the Episcopal seminaries), offered another combination of drivers at work. Among the challenges to the residential M.Div. model, he said, are an increasing number of individuals coming to the ministry as a second career — who face practical difficulties when it comes to relocating — and an increasing reliance on training at more ecumenical divinity schools as opposed to the 11 Episcopal seminaries. Thirdly, in many small towns with small congregations, church leaders can’t leave town for training; their town, Reverend Markham said, simply can’t spare them.

An earlier report on the seminary consolidation and cooperation is here.

Episcopal News Service looks towards Nigeria

In recent days ENS has run two stories that bring unwelcome attention for the Province of Nigeria and may reflect a new willingness by ENS to engage controversial topics. One, run under the headline "NIGERIA: Province criticizes article implicating Akinola in 2004 massacre". The article in question - written by Eliza Griswold, daughter of the former presiding bishop - appeared in this month's Atlantic Monthly and has been highlighted at The Lead and elsewhere.

The other ENS report is on the Islamic response in Nigeria to the Archbishop Bishop of Canterbury's recent remarks about Sharia law. It opens,

Mauled by the media for suggesting aspects of Sharia Law should be incorporated into the British legal system, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has become something of a hero -- even a Christian legend -- in Muslim-dominated northern Nigeria.
At the time of his remarks in early February, Williams was "mauled" not just by the media. Nigeria's Archbishop Akinola issued this statement:
We have received news of what the Archbishop of Canterbury allegedly said. If it is true that this statement about the inevitability of the introduction of Sharia law into the UK credited to Rowan Williams was actually said by him, it is most disturbing and most unfortunate. With what Christians are going through in Muslim lands around the world, it is unbelievable that any Christian leader - not to talk of an Archbishop - would make such a statement under whatever guise. This matter will be discussed at the next meeting of our House of Bishops.
Some context for Akinola's reaction to Williams can be found in the first of the ENS reports listed above:
Griswold quotes Akinola as saying. "No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naive to sweep this issue of Islam under the carpet."

She quotes him as continuing: "I'm not out to combat anybody. I'm only doing what the Holy Spirit tells me to do. I'm living my faith, practicing and preaching that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to God, and they respect me for it. They know where we stand. I've said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence."

Akinola is a key organizer of GAFCON which will be held in Jerusalem in June prior to Lambeth. The Bishop of Jerusalem has said the conference could have "serious consequences for our ongoing ministry of reconciliation in this divided land. Indeed, it could further inflame tensions here."

Archbishops writing forwards for books by homosexuals

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has written the forward for a new edition of the poetry of WH Auden. The former Archbishop of South Africa, Desmond Tutu, wrote the preface for Bishop Gene Robinson's In the Eye of the Storm soon to be printed in the UK by Canterbury Press.

About Auden, Williams writes,

The early poetry is full of what was to him the uniquely "authoritative" landscape of Pennine limestone, isolated communities, cold skies and deep-rooted, revengeful violence. This serves not as a backcloth for regional mythmaking, but as a set of framing metaphors for the social and political tragedy of the era. And, perhaps more importantly, for the sense of doubleness and loneliness, being suspicious and creating suspicion, that was bound up at this point in his life with Auden's homosexuality. The convoluted political context, with its rhetoric of covert operations, espionage and treachery, is inextricably connected with a muted but intensely felt sexual politics - of a very different kind from what we associate with the phrase in more recent decades. The poetic voice is often that of someone working as a kind of double agent or negotiating difficult border country.

Tutu writes,

Apartheid, crassly racist, sought to penalise people for something about which they could do nothing – their ethnicity, their skin colour. Most of the world agreed that was unacceptable, that it was unjust.

I joined the many who campaigned against an injustice that the Church tolerated in its ranks when women were not allowed to be ordained. They were being penalised for something about which they could do nothing, their gender. Mercifully that is no longer the case in our Province of the Anglican Communion and how enriched we have been by this move.

I could not stand by whilst people were being penalised again for something about which they could do nothing – their sexual orientation. I am humbled and honoured to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who seek to end this egregious wrong inflicted on God’s children.

Earlier this week it was learned that Gene Robinson would not be receiving a "full invitation" to Lambeth from the Archbishop of Canterbury. See The Lead's coverage here, and Gene Robinson's response to the news here.

Schofield deposed

Updated

ENS reports:

The House of Bishops voted March 12 to consent to the deposition from the ordained ministry of the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, and the Rt. Rev. William Jackson Cox, bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Maryland, resigned.

Members of the House of Bishops are preparing a statement regarding these actions and for release after a March 12 afternoon session.

The process used to work through these resolutions took into account the importance of prayer and careful reflection before each vote was taken.

Specifically, in both cases the House was first led in prayer by a chaplain, followed by small-group discussion, and then plenary discussion. After this, voting commenced. Each vote was cast clearly in the majority, with some nay votes, and some abstentions.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori asked the bishops assembled "to continue to reach out" in pastoral care to both Schofield and Cox.

"Abandoning the Communion of this Church does not meet we abandon a person as a member of the Body of Christ," Jefferts Schori said.

Full texts of the resolutions follow. Each resolution was considered and voted upon separately. The resolution pertaining to Schofield was acted upon first.

RESOLUTION

RESOLVED, that pursuant to Canon IV.9.2 of the Episcopal Church, the House of Bishops hereby consents to the Deposition from the ordained ministry of the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin.

EXPLANATION: On January 9, 2008, the Title IV Review Committee certified to the Presiding Bishop, pursuant to Canon IV.9.1, that the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield, Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, has repudiated the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church and has abandoned the Communion of the Church by, inter alia, departing from the Episcopal Church and purporting to take his Diocese with him into affiliation with the Province of the Southern Cone. In the intervening two months since the Presiding Bishop gave notice to Bishop Schofield of the foregoing certification, Bishop Schofield has failed to submit to the Presiding Bishop sufficient retraction or denial of the actions found by the Title IV Review Committee. Accordingly, the Presiding Bishop has presented the matter to the House of Bishops and requested consent to Bishop Schofield's Deposition.

RESOLUTION

RESOLVED, that pursuant to Canon IV.9.2 of the Episcopal Church, the House of Bishops hereby consents to the Deposition from the ordained ministry of the Rt. Rev. William Jackson Cox, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Maryland, resigned.

EXPLANATION: On May 29, 2007, the Title IV Review Committee certified to the Presiding Bishop, pursuant to Canon IV.9.1, that the Rt. Rev. William Jackson Cox, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Maryland, resigned, has repudiated the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church and has abandoned the Communion of the Church by, inter alia, departing from the Episcopal Church and stating his intention to continue to perform episcopal acts solely under the oversight and jurisdiction of a bishop outside the Episcopal Church without conforming to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. In the intervening two months since the Presiding Bishop gave notice to Bishop Cox of the foregoing certification, Bishop Cox has failed to submit to the Presiding Bishop sufficient retraction or denial of the actions found by the Title IV Review Committee. Accordingly, the Presiding Bishop has presented the matter to the House of Bishops and requested consent to Bishop Cox's Deposition.
_____

A link to the ENS article is now available.

Monday afternoon update

A press release for Schofield is available here. “I am still an active Anglican bishop, and I continue to be the bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin,” Schofield said.

The Anglican Communion Network reacts, asserting "there is no question that both Bishop Cox and Bishop Schofield remain bishops in the Anglican Communion and will continue in ministry."

The House of Bishop's Statement:

Calling on the reconciling love of our Lord Jesus Christ and mindful of our call to be servants of one another and of the mission and ministry of the whole church, we have taken the action of consenting to the deposition of our two brother bishops, John-David Schofield and William Cox. This outcome was is the painful culmination of a lengthy process of conciliation and review led by two Presiding Bishops. While earnest voices were raised asking if there were other alternatives at this time, the conclusion of the House of Bishops is that this action is based on the facts presented to us and is necessary for the ongoing integrity of The Episcopal Church. We seek also to respond to the needs of the people of the Diocese of San Joaquin. We are saddened by what we believe to be this necessary action and we have taken it only after deep prayer and serious conversation. We also wish to express our continuing commitment to work for reconciliation with our brothers and the People of God who have been the recipients of their pastoral leadership and care through the years.

Life-long Episcopalian, "Great Debater," dies at 96

The New York Times reports:

Henrietta Bell Wells, the only woman, the only freshman and the last surviving member of the 1930 Wiley College debate team that participated in the first interracial collegiate debate in the United States, died on Feb. 27 in Baytown, Tex. She was 96.
...
Other debates with white schools followed, culminating with Wiley’s 1935 victory over the national champion, the University of Southern California.

Read it all here.

Back in January, Carol E. Barnwell wrote in the Daily Episcopalian:

"I told Denzel Washington he should play the part," Henrietta Bell Wells said, when we spoke recently at the Houston facility where the 95-year old now resides. Wells, a longtime member of St. James’ Episcopal Church, Houston, was seated in her wheelchair, wrapped in a soft white sweater, the same snow white as her perfectly coiffed hair. Her manicured hands rest in her lap and periodically dance to punctuate a vivid memory of Wiley College debate coach Melvin B. Tolson, a character in the Christmas release, The Great Debaters.
...
Wells was born in Houston’s Fourth Ward in 1912. "Church has always been a large part of my life," she said. Her maternal grandfather was a "strong Episcopalian" in the West Indies and her mother Octavia made sure it was part of their life in Houston. In 1923, Wells was the first African American child baptized at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church (re-chartered as St. Luke the Evangelist in 1927) by Bishop Clinton Quin and was later confirmed at Trinity, Houston.

Afternoon actions of the House of Bishops

Updated

Episcopal News Service reports on several actions taken by the House of Bishops in its Wednesday afternoon business session:

House of Bishops statement on the Lambeth Conference
House of Bishops resolution on 'waterboarding'

These actions are in addition to the depositions of John-David Schofield and William Cox, and the bishops' statement about them reported here.

Updated Wednesday evening

Rebuilding a strong and vital Episcopal Church in California's Central Valley

The Presiding Bishop, during a telephone press conference after the conclusion of the March 7-12 Camp Allen meeting in Navasota, Texas, said she will personally convene the special convention in San Joaquin.

Secular media file reports on the actions of the House of Bishops

Updated as reports are filed

Episcopal Church Ousts Fresno Bishop - AP
Breakaway Episcopal Bishop Defrocked - AP (newer, longer story)

Episcopal Church ousts San Joaquin bishop in fight over homesexuality - San Jose Mercury News

Leaders of Episcopal Church oust California bishop - Dallas Morning News

US Episcopal church deposes two dissident bishops - Reuters

Episcopal Church throws out Fresno bishop - Modesto Bee

Episcopal Church leaders out Fresno bishop in fight over Bible - San Diego Union Tribune

Episcopal Church Leaders Want Schofield Out! - CBS 47 (video of Schofield)

Episcopal Church Votes to Oust Bishop Who Seceded - New York Times

Integrity responds to Robinson's exclusion from Lambeth

Integrity Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 12, 2008

Integrity expresses its profound disappointment and anger that the Archbishop of Canterbury has failed to find a way for the Rt. Rev. Gene Robison to meaningfully participate in the Lambeth Conference. The Rev. Susan Russell, President of Integrity, said, "Bishop Robinson's marginalization is symbolic of the discrimination experienced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender faithful daily throughout the Anglican Communion. It runs completely contrary to the promise made at the last Lambeth Conference 'to listen to the experience of homosexual persons' (see Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10.) making a travesty of the so-called 'Listening Process.'"

Russell added, "Integrity completely supports Bishop Robinson's call for other U.S. bishops to attend the Lambeth Conference despite his exclusion-and we challenge them to speak not only for him, but for the LGBT faithful throughout the Anglican Communion who will have no voice in Canterbury. Integrity will be consulting with a number of progressive bishops on how to best offer that witness."

Russell concluded by saying, "Integrity continues to prepare for our Lambeth Conference witness with our global Anglican allies. We will be there in numbers and we look forward to the opportunity to claim God's justice and proclaim Christ's love."

(See www.integrityusa.org/CanterburyCampaign for more information.)

Jerry Lamb to be Provisional Bishop of San Joaquin

Episcopal Life is reporting that Bishop Jerry A. Lamb, retired bishop of Northern California and most recently interim bishop of Nevada, has been recommended by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to serve as provisional bishop of the Central California Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. Lamb can begin work in this capacity after ratification by the diocese's convention, set to meet March 29 in Lodi, California.

Lamb is prepared to visit the San Joaquin diocese in mid-March, and to attend the March 29 convention.

Looking ahead to the possibility of his service in San Joaquin, Lamb told ENS that he sees his role as bringing "support for the leadership already there, offering direction, and helping to renew those in the area who remain part of the Episcopal Church.

"I'm really excited and very much humbled by the opportunity of being with that group of folks who are seeking a way to remain faithful to the Episcopal Church, and working to continue the life of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin."

Lamb said this work represents "a wonderful opportunity to rebuild, though I am so sorry it's come about in the way it has."

Lamb said he looks forward to working closely with the steering committee appointed for the diocese by the Presiding Bishop, and with local groups including Remain Episcopal and new faith communities.

Read it all here. The presiding bishop will open the March 29th convention.

An examination of philanthropy

Who gives how much to whom? Why? And to what end? The New York Times Magazine published an in-depth exploration of the world of philanthropy on Sunday and still somehow managed to get a beautiful young actress on the cover.

We looked at one of these articles on Sunday. Today we call your attention to two pieces by Jim Holt--one on whether philanthropy is genetically rooted, and the other on the role of celebrities in putting charities on the map, are especially good. The second of these focuses on micro-finance.

If you only have time for one report on San Joaquin...

...Rebecca Trounson's article in The Los Angeles Times is probably the one to read. She notes that while an overwhelming majority of delegates to San Joaquin's convention in December approved the break with the Episcopal Church, at least 2,300 of an estimated 8,800 parishioners in the diocese have chosen to remain with the national church.

The Stockton Record provides some coverage of actual members of the diocese, as does the Associated Press.

No one seems to have contacted Lambeth Palace about the status of former bishop John-David Schofield's invitation to the Lambeth Conference yet.

Kidnapped Chaldean archbishop murdered

CNN reports:

A Christian archbishop kidnapped in northern Iraq last month has been found dead, according to a Nineveh province official.

Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paul Faraj Rahho's body was found Thursday near the town of Mosul, where he and three companions were ambushed by gunmen on February 29.

The kidnapping had been condemned by the Vatican, Jordan's Prince Hassan, and the United Nations, among others. The archbishop was abducted during a push by Iraqi and U.S. troops against al Qaeda in Iraq insurgents in Mosul.

Christians are a tiny fraction of Iraq's population, but insurgents have targeted their religious sites and leaders in recent years.

Chaldean is a form of Aramaic, spoken at the time of Jesus. The Chaldeans converted to Christianity in the first century A.D., and the Chaldean branch of Christianity has been in Iraq since then. It is part of the Roman Catholic Church.

Read it all. Other stories are here.

Undoing a demon

Christopher at Thanksgiving in All Things has this sensible bit of advice:

Bishop Robinson should jolly well go to merry England. But let him be joined by Archbishop emeritus Tutu and others not at Lambeth, but in the gay districts and the economically depressed districts of major English cities.

Let’s finally get on with God’s Mission, shall we?

Where are the gay districts throughout England? They need to hear the Word of God’s love for them in Christ. Celebrate Morning Prayer. Share the Supper in which God feeds us his very self. Do bible studies. And then ask ourselves a question, having gathered and been fed on Christ:

Where are the poor and economically struggling? They need some bread for food and a bit of wine for merriment. They need a Word of God’s hope in Christ. Celebrate Morning Prayer. Share the Supper in which God feeds us his very self. Do bible studies.

In reading again the account of Sodom and Gomorrah, of Lot’s wife, I pause to remember the wisdom that sometimes the only way to undo a demon is to turn away from it, to starve it of attention, to let it wear itself out, rather than press to fight it in some way, any way. Rather instead proclaim Jesus Christ and do the work he is calling us to do. That is the new social reality.

Hooray for the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin

It has a new Web site! Including a Church finder.

Hat tip: Father Jake.

How Americans define sin

A study by Ellison Research says more Americans consider adultery (81 percent) and racism (74 percent) sin, than homosexual activity (52 percent--the same as cheating on your taxes) or getting drunk (41 percent.)

According to the survey:

Protestants are more likely than Roman Catholics to include most of the thirty different behaviors as sin – sometimes dramatically so. The biggest differences include gambling (50% of Protestant churchgoers define this as sinful, compared to just 15% of Catholics), failing to tithe 10% or more of one’s income (32% to 9%), getting drunk (63% to 28%), gossip (70% to 45%), and homosexual activity or sex (72% to 49%). Catholics and Protestants are equally likely (or unlikely) to list as sin having an abortion, spanking, and making a lot of money, while Catholics are more likely than Protestants to believe that failing to attend church is a sin (39% to 23%).

Evangelical Christians are far more likely than almost any other group to include numerous behaviors under the definition of sin, and the difference between evangelicals and other Americans is often quite large.

Have a look.

Lutherans to confront sexuality issues

Two big stories from the Lutheran Church:

A task force drafting a statement on sexuality for the nation's largest Lutheran group said Thursday that the church should continue defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

However, the panel did not condemn same-gender relationships. The committee expressed regret that historic Lutheran teachings have been used to hurt gays and lesbians, and acknowledged that some congregations already accept same-sex couples.

Rachel Zoll of AP has it here.

The Draft Statement is here in pdf.

For background on the statement from ELCA click here.

Meanwhile:

Facing a likely vote on the ordination of gays at the 2009 national convention, which will be held in Minneapolis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) issued a draft Thursday of its Statement on Human Sexuality. Seven years in the making, the report does not take a specific stand on gay ordination -- that will come in a position paper expected to be released about a year from now -- but it does lay the groundwork for the impending debate.

Jeff Strickler of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has the story.

Ignoring moderate Muslims

Ebo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. He was recently a guest on a radio call-in show:

One caller said, “I was raised a Catholic and we were taught love and acceptance. You were raised a Muslim … and you were taught hatred which leads to violence.”

The producer said there were several other callers from different religious backgrounds with basically the same format question.

I answered each question pretty directly. I effectively said there are many moderate Muslim voices. You just heard one of them – mine – speak for about thirty minutes. Instead of continuing to ask that question, please tell your friends about me. I cited several other such voices.

I expanded on many of the points that I had made in the initial conversation with Marty Moss-Coane – that the dominant ethos of Islam tends towards compassion and pluralism, values that Islam shares with other traditions.

But I admit, there was a little voice inside my head that wanted to say to some of these callers, “Don’t you feel a little embarrassed revealing that level of ignorance and bigotry on Public Radio? Do you know nothing more about the religion of one-fifth of humankind for over 1000 years but the violent bits? Isn’t that a little like knowing nothing more about the United States Constitution than the clause which states black people only count as three-fifths of a human being”.

Read it all.

Bridging science and theology

Polish theologian, cosmologist, and philosopher Michael Heller, who lived through both Nazi and communist rule and has long sought to reconcile science and religion, has won the 2008 Templeton Prize.

The £820,000 prize (more than $1.6 million) is awarded "for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities."

"He's one of the key contributors in the international scholarly community dedicated to the creative dialogue on science, theology, and philosophy," says Robert John Russell, founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, Calif. "He's a great example of someone who bridges these fields."

The Christian Science Monitor has it all.

Bishop death threats

According to an article in Ekkleisia, the Anglican bishop of Oxford has been receiving death threats after coming out in support of the public call for Muslim prayer in the city of Oxford.

"In January the Rt Rev John Pritchard, who also studied at Oxford University, backed the Muslim loudspeaker call, Adhan, which would take place every Friday in Oxford.

[...]He told the Daily Telegraph: 'I received extraordinary mail. One said, 'resign' six times in a large font. One called for me to be beheaded and another said: 'I wish I lived closer so I could spit on you.' The dark underbelly of British society was coming out.'

The Telegraph claims that a spokesman for the representatives from Oxford's Central Mosque has repeatedly stated their wish to be able to play the muezzin's (caller's) traditional message to the Muslim faithful from speakers on a minaret. But the Anglo-Asian Association for Friendship in East Oxford told Ekklesia that 'this is the total opposite of what the two authorised representatives of the Central Mosque said at the meeting [to discuss the issue]'."

Read the rest here.

The President's Faith

Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, writes about George W. Bush's faith in his book The Bush Tragedy:

His religion has often been best described as evangelical, but in various respects it appears not to conform to the definition. Unlike most other evangelicals, Bush blithely uses profanity and as governor would play poker. He doesn't tithe. He didn't try to convert others—one of the central obligations in most evangelical denominations—even before he resumed a political career. He didn't raise his daughters in his faith. On issues that divide evangelical Christians from nonevangelical Christians—and varieties of evangelicals from each other—Bush does not need to feign ecumenical neutrality. He isn't hiding his beliefs; he simply doesn't have many of them.

A better term for Bush's faith is Self-Help Methodism.

Read it all.

Prof. Tony Blair?

Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, will serve a one year fellowship appointment at Yale University where he will be helping lead a course of study on faith and globalization.

According to the Ecumenical News Service,

"Blair will serve as the Howland Distinguished Fellow during the 2008-09 academic year, the university announced on 7 March. Blair will work with the faculties of the Yale Divinity School and the Yale School of Management.

Yale President Richard C. Levin said: 'As the world continues to become increasingly inter-dependent, it is essential that we explore how religious values can be channelled toward reconciliation rather than polarisation. Mr Blair has demonstrated outstanding leadership in these areas.'

Concurrent with his Yale position, Blair - who was an Anglican but in 2007 converted to Roman Catholicism - is expected to launch later in 2008, the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. This 'will promote understanding between the major faiths and increase understanding of the role of faith in the modern world', the university, based at New Haven, Connecticut, said in its announcement.

The appointment was not lauded by all however. Ian Gibson, a former MP who served in the Commons during Blair's time as prime minster said of the news:

'It is a pity that Mr Blair did not think more deeply about issues of religious strife before he went and bombed Baghdad,' Gibson told the London-based Guardian newspaper in 2007. 'Now he wants to be vicar to the world? It is ridiculous.'"

Read the rest here.

Bishops report

Two bishops have posted their reflections on the House of Bishops most recent meeting in Texas. Bishop Chris Epting writes of the reaction of the House to the news that Bishop Gene Robinson would not be invited to attend the Lambeth Conference. Bishop Kirk Smith writes additionally of the action to depose two other bishops during the meeting.

Bishop Epting's report which speaks of the controversy regarding Robinson's invitation also includes his reflections on the Covenant process in the Anglican Communion:

"The most painful session was learning that our brother Gene Robinson’s (and our) request for him to be included in the Lambeth Conference in some official way has been rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Even his request simply to pray with his brother and sister bishops during the retreat and during Bible studies. Unbelievable! We will surely make a statement expressing our dismay and sadness at this decision. And we will find ways to stay connected with him during the Conference.

Heard reports on theological education, a proposed new medical insurance program, reorganization at the Church Center, and work on the Title IV disciplinary canons for clergy.  Last night we spent some time discussing the new draft of a ‘Proposed Anglican Covenant.’

There are the usual concerns about the constitutional and legal implications of signing on to an international set of ‘canons’ which might jeopardize our ability to say legitimately that we are ‘autonomous’ (make our own laws/canons). And concerns about ‘power to the Primates’ on doctrinal and other issues. Concerns about too much emphasis on ‘Church of England formularies’ (i.e. 1662 Prayer Book, 39 Articles, their Ordinal) rather than referring more broadly to ‘Anglican formularies.’

Personally, I think we can deal with all those matters. Draft 2 is clearly moving in the right direction. We are to work with it more at Lambeth, the writing team will then prepare a 3rd Draft which will go to the Anglican Consultative Council. If they reject it, it will go back for more work. If they accept it, we will begin the process of having it voted on in the 38 Provinces.

I think there is time for us to improve the document still further. It is clear to me that some kind of Anglican Covenant will be put forth and ultimately signed. The only question is…will we be part of it?"

Read the rest of Bishop Epting's post here.

Bishop Smith also highlights the emotional reactions to the news that Bishop Robinson would not be invited. Smith goes on to speak about the votes to depose Bishops John David Schofield and William Cox:

The other sad moment in our time together came when we took action to depose two bishops of the church who had violated their ordination vows by working to take parishes out of the Episcopal Church, Bishop John-David Scofield of San Joaquin, and Bishop William Cox, retired Suffragan of Maryland. This action was taken after long moments of prayer and silence reflection on the floor of the house. All of us wished to be as charitable and forgiving as possible, but the fact remains that both bishops have worked for many years to separate themselves from our church and in doing so have cause great harm to their dioceses. We consider our action to be a recognition of an existing situation, and not a punitive action.

Many of the presentations we heard focused, appropriately enough, on reconciliation and on our need to go to the Lambeth conference in as open, humble, and cooperative way as possible. We spent an entire learning about “faith-based reconciliation” and how it has been successfully practiced in our own church in around the world. We also renewed our commitment to anti-racism training.

As always, there were a number of practical items. We can expect, for example, some changes in our clergy medical insurance program that should result in considerable savings. We also received some training in dealing with media which will come in handy when we are interviewed by reporters this summer.

You can read Bishop Smith's full reflection here.

UPDATE: Bishop Tom Breidenthal and Bishop Ken Price of the Diocese of Southern Ohio have their reflections posted here.

Online Confessional

Just in time for Holy Week, there's an article on CNN today that discusses the increasingly common practice of unburdening one's soul online rather than in a face-to-face meeting with a spiritual confessor.

Most of the confessions are being anonymously posted to sites that are set up for just that purpose. The sites make the confessions publicly available for others to read, and in many cases to comment upon. It's the voyeuristic attraction of readers of the sites among other issues that raise concerns.

According to the article:

"Confession 2.0 is a place where anonymity is a substitute for privacy and the intimacy traditionally experienced by talking to a priest, therapist or friend is replaced by a virtual community of strangers. Among the Web site managers CNN spoke with, none has professional counselors monitoring confessions.

'This is a new genre of confession,' said Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle, who has researched cyber relationships and interviewed people who post confessions online.

'They have said to me, 'This is where hope is for me.' They think they can find on these sites some kind of goodness that eludes them in real life.'

But people who seek something more than their words on a Web site are often disappointed, said Turkle, who's also a psychologist. Most sites do not invite or allow responses to messages, although grouphug.com allows posters to vote 'hug' or 'shrug' in response to confessions.

'Some responses are empathetic and kind; others aren't so nice,' Turkle said. 'The expectation of what you can get out of these sites far exceeds what some ultimately get, and that, in its own way, can be harmful.'

'What these sites say to me is what are we are increasingly missing in our lives: a sense of community and real, tangible connection with other people,' Turkle said."

Additionally the sites do not offer sacramental absolution for those persons seeking it; and there's no chance for the penitent to receive helpful counsel from his or her confessor.

Read the rest here.

Questions raised about deposition vote earlier this week

Update: The presiding bishop's chancellor responds here.
_____

There is a report that the House of Bishops may have acted in violation of the Episcopal Church canons when announcing the result of their vote to depose Bishops Schofield and Cox. The concerns focus on whether or not there was a quorum of eligible bishops present needed to take such action, and on whether or not the canonical procedure was followed in Bishop Cox's case.

According to an article on the website of the Living Church:

"Slightly more than one-third of all bishops eligible voted to depose  bishops John-David Schofield and William J. Cox during the House of Bishops’ spring retreat, far fewer than the 51 percent required by the canons.

The exact number is impossible to know, because both resolutions were approved by voice vote. Only 131 bishops registered for the meeting March 7-12 at Camp Allen, and at least 15 of them left before the business session began on Wednesday. There were 294 members of the House of Bishops entitled to vote on March 12.
 
[...]Both bishops were charged with abandonment of communion. The procedure for deposing a bishop under this charge is specified in Title IV, canon 9, sections 1-2. The canon stipulates that the vote requires ‘a majority of the whole number of bishops entitled to vote,’ not merely a majority of those present. At least a dozen bishops voted either not to depose Bishop Schofield or to abstain, according to several bishops. The number voting in favor of deposing Bishop Cox was reportedly slightly larger than the number in favor of deposing Bishop Schofield.

Later in the report it is asserted that the Presiding Bishop has not properly sought the consent of the three senior bishops of the House before proceeding with the action against Bishop Cox:

Bishop Jefferts Schori clarified and extended her remarks, saying she had been ‘unable to get the consent of the three senior bishops last spring. That’s why we didn’t bring it to the September meeting’ of the House of Bishops. One of the three senior bishops with jurisdiction confirmed to The Living Church that his consent to inhibit Bishop Cox was never sought.

The canon that seems to be operative in the question of determining a quorum would be Article I.1.2

Sec. 2. Each Bishop of this Church having jurisdiction, every Bishop Coadjutor, every Suffragan Bishop, every Assistant Bishop, and every Bishop who by reason of advanced age or bodily infirmity, or who, under an election to an office created by the General Convention, or for reasons of mission strategy determined by action of the General Convention or the House of Bishops, has resigned a jurisdiction, shall have a seat and a vote in the House of Bishops. A majority of all Bishops entitled to vote, exclusive of Bishops who have resigned their jurisdiction or positions, shall be necessary to constitute a quorum for the transaction of business.

The issue would appear to center on the question of the status of retired bishops, most of whom "resign" their jurisdiction with consent of their house before they retire or, mandatorily, by the age of 72 according to Article II, section 9.

Read the rest here.

New Orleans: The Jeremiah Project

For years a group of committed community activists in New Orleans have been working cooperatively with local residents to better their neighborhoods and city. But after Hurricane Katrina devastated large swaths of the city, the focus of the organization has changed to focus on the rebuilding effort and its unintended effects.

From an article by Greg Allen posted on the NPR website:

"The group was founded nearly 15 years ago as part of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a national group started by community organizer Saul Alinsky.

Jeremiah Group member Nell Bolton, who's with the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, says the organization took its name from a passage in the Bible.

'The prophet Jeremiah is telling the Israelites, who are in exile in Babylon, to 'seek the welfare of the city, for in its welfare you will find your own.' And that's the motto of the Jeremiah group locally,' Bolton says.

[...]after Katrina, the Jeremiah Group found a new focus as people returned to New Orleans and tried to pick up their lives, says Jaime Oviedo of Christ Temple Church.

"We started to hear that rent was doubling and tripling in some cases. And we started to hear this, and there was nobody fighting against it. And we started to have public meetings, and we started to hear this cry of 'the rent, the rent, the rent,'" Oviedo says. "And we said we need to get into the fight."

Renters, in large part, have been all but forgotten in the rebuilding process. The LRA does have a small program to help landlords rebuild. But after the storm, rents in New Orleans have shot up — in some cases nearly doubling.

In small house meetings across the city, Jeremiah Group leaders heard from residents who felt that the government had let them down. Group member Janet Barnwell says for many, it was natural that they turned to their churches and to people they trusted to share their stories.

"When Jeremiah was available to churches and to community organizations, people spoke up. And perhaps people who had never spoken before, who'd never wanted to be political activists, spoke up," Barnwell says.

Out of those stories, the Jeremiah Group developed a plan."

The plan creates soft mortgages and provides the financial resources for people who have been renting to buy their own homes at affordable monthly payments.

Read the details and additional background here.

House of Bishops' votes valid, chancellor confirms

Episcopal News Service
March 15, 2008

House of Bishops' votes valid, chancellor confirms [Episcopal News Service]

The Presiding Bishop's chancellor has confirmed the validity of votes taken in the House of Bishops on March 12, correcting an erroneous report published online March 14 by The Living Church News Service. Chancellor David Booth Beers said votes consenting to the deposition of bishops John-David Schofield and William Cox conformed to the canons. "In consultation with the House of Bishops' parliamentarian prior to the vote," Beers said, "we both agreed that the canon meant a majority of all those present and entitled to vote, because it is clear from the canon that the vote had to be taken at a meeting, unlike the situation where you poll the whole House of Bishops by mail. Therefore, it is our position that the vote was in order." A quorum had been determined at the meeting by the House of Bishops' secretary, Kenneth Price, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Southern Ohio.

Obama rebukes former pastor; Wright out of campaign

Barack Obama credits the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. with having a profound influence on his return to faith and credits him with the now-famous tagline "audacity of hope" that Obama titled his book with. The minister also was celebrant at the Obama wedding and baptized their daughters. But Wright has drawn a lot of criticism for making inflammatory statements and incendiary sermons, and as of yesterday is no longer affiliated with the Obama campaign.

Wright had held a "largely ceremonial" post in Obama's African American Religious Leadership Committee, according to a Washington Post writeup noting Obama's strong denouncement of Wright's controversial pronouncements on the Huffington Post yesterday afternoon and in a later interview with MSNBC:

Obama went further than he has previously gone to distance himself from Wright's comments, while urging voters to judge him "on the basis of who I am and what I believe in."

"All of the statements that have been the subject of controversy are ones that I vehemently condemn," Obama wrote. "They in no way reflect my attitudes and directly contradict my profound love for this country."

Obama said in the MSNBC interview that he did not "repudiate the man."

"I have known him 17 years," Obama said. "He helped bring me to Jesus and helped bring me to church. He and I have a relationship -- he's like an uncle who talked to me, not about political things and social views, but faith and God and family. He's somebody who is widely respected throughout Chicago and throughout the country for many of the things he's done not only as a pastor but a preacher."

You can read the piece here.

Southern Baptist leaders back climate change resolution

Earlier this week, the Pope announced that pollution was a sin. Amid the fanfare regarding that announcement was a related headline: a group of 44 Southern Baptist leaders have signed a document that acknowledges the recklessness of ignoring the mounting evidence for climate change. Jonathan Merritt, spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, was quoted in the New York Times as having had an epiphany in which he realized " when we destroy God’s creation, it’s similar to ripping pages from the Bible.”

Forty-four church leaders signed the document, including the president of the Southern Baptist Convention and two past presidents. It's considered a departure for the denomination, and many other Southern Baptists leaders elected not to sign on.

But Merritt's initiative may signal the growing influence of younger members of the church, according to the story:

A 2007 resolution passed by the convention hewed to a more skeptical view of global warming.

In contrast, the new declaration ... states, “Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless and ill-informed.”

The document also urges ministers to preach more about the environment and for all Baptists to keep an open mind about considering environmental policy.

Jonathan Merritt, the spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative and a seminarian at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., said the declaration was a call to Christians to return to a biblical mandate to guard the world God created.

The Southern Baptist signatories join a growing community of evangelicals pushing for more action among believers, industry and politicians. Experts on the Southern Baptist Convention noted the initiative marked the growing influence of younger leaders on the discussions in the Southern Baptist Convention.

While those younger Baptists remain committed to fight abortion, for instance, the environment is now a top priority, too.

The complete story is here.

Best friends

This month's Washingtonian has a feature with vignettes exploring the bonds of friendship between several pairs of best friends, among them retired Washington Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon and WAMU talk-show host Diane Rehm, who have been friends since meeting at church 40 years ago. When Rehm got word of an "Expanding Horizons for Women" adult-ed course at George Washington University in the 1970s, she nudged Dixon to join her. The two have been learning from each other and staying in touch ever since:

Rehm credits Dixon with teaching her interviewing skills: “Her Southern style has always been something I’ve been drawn to—there is such warmth and willingness to be open. She has taught me a lot about how to hear other people—to listen with an open heart.”

Dixon says Rehm’s insistence on going back to school together led her to her true path. “That push from her back in the ’70s, that support, gave me the confidence to explore my call to ordination and become a priest,” she says.

Says Rehm: “I joke that she better not die first so she can do my funeral. She’s got to be there.”

The complete article is here.

San Joaquin Episcopalians greet bishop recommended for provisional role‏

Episcopal News Service:

Continuing Episcopalians filled Fresno's Holy Family Church on March 14 for a get-acquainted meeting with Bishop Jerry Lamb in preparation for the March 29 special convention where they will be asked to confirm him as their provisional bishop.

Click more for the entire report.

Later: The story is now posted at ENS.

Read more »

Church of Baseball, redux, rebuked

The Cafe has an eclectic mix of categories in its compendium of all things interesting about the church today, but one that stands out in particular is "Baseball." Periodically throughout last season, we'd make note of various "Faith Night" events and reflections from the outfield. And now, preseason pundits have taken note yet again of the phenomenon. Murray Chass, writing in the New York Times, is quite frank about his feelings on the matter, and pulls no punches: "It's time ... for baseball’s constitution to dictate separation of church and baseball," noting the connection between "faith night" events and ... marketing.

The idea has caught on in baseball because clubs want to sell tickets. That’s why Major League Baseball will never halt faith nights. Anything for a few dollars more. But it has no place in baseball. Baseball crowds are made up of people of all faiths and no faith. No segment should be singled out.

Third Coast’s Web site says, “Third Coast Sports has partnered with dozens of sports teams to organize, promote and execute successful events that seek to provide churches with opportunities for outreach and churchwide fellowship.”

Does that sound inclusive? Outreach to whom? What its events do is give the company a foothold in baseball marketing.

Just what baseball needs — peanuts, popcorn and proselytizing.

You can see some of the events we covered last year here, and read Chass' entire column here.

John Gray on Atheism's proselytizers

Maggi Dawn points us to a piece in the Guardian Review in which British author and philospopher John N. Gray examines the popularity of the "New Atheists" —same as the old atheists, he adds, examining the motivations of "secular fundamentalists."

An atmosphere of moral panic surrounds religion. Viewed not so long ago as a relic of superstition whose role in society was steadily declining, it is now demonised as the cause of many of the world's worst evils. As a result, there has been a sudden explosion in the literature of proselytising atheism. A few years ago, it was difficult to persuade commercial publishers even to think of bringing out books on religion. Today, tracts against religion can be enormous money-spinners, with Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great selling in the hundreds of thousands. For the first time in generations, scientists and philosophers, high-profile novelists and journalists are debating whether religion has a future. The intellectual traffic is not all one-way. There have been counterblasts for believers, such as The Dawkins Delusion? by the British theologian Alister McGrath and The Secular Age by the Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor. On the whole, however, the anti-God squad has dominated the sales charts, and it is worth asking why.

...

Zealous atheism renews some of the worst features of Christianity and Islam. Just as much as these religions, it is a project of universal conversion. Evangelical atheists never doubt that human life can be transformed if everyone accepts their view of things, and they are certain that one way of living - their own, suitably embellished - is right for everybody. To be sure, atheism need not be a missionary creed of this kind. It is entirely reasonable to have no religious beliefs, and yet be friendly to religion. It is a funny sort of humanism that condemns an impulse that is peculiarly human. Yet that is what evangelical atheists do when they demonise religion.

There's more—Gray scrutinizes the positions of authors such as Dawkins and Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Martin Amis, Michel Onfray, Philip Pullman and other authors, and provides some historical perspective on what exactly tends to happen when religion is actively suppressed. Read the whole thing here.

Lincoln and the will of God

Andrew Ferguson has an interesting essay on Lincoln's faith in the Wall Street Journal this week. He begins by noting that every faith and belief tries to claim Lincoln as one of their own:

A booster of spiritualism, Nettie considered it vitally important to enlist Lincoln in her cause, even if only posthumously. In other contexts, the Lincoln biographer David Donald has called this ambition "getting right with Lincoln," and since April 1865 it has been pursued by Americans of every imaginable persuasion: Leninists and vivisectionists, pacifists and vegans, gold bugs and free-marketers, imperialists and one-worlders, even Democrats and Republicans--all have tried, at different times and with varying degrees of plausibility, to claim Lincoln as one of their own. For generations, Americans have liked to say they wanted their children to be like Lincoln: principled, resolute, patient, kind. But what we've really wanted is for Lincoln to be like us, whoever we are.

Nowhere has the appropriation been as relentless as in the matters of religion and Lincoln's spiritual life. Mary Baker Eddy claimed the martyred president as an early proponent of Christian Science, though her discovery of Divine Healing came a year after his death. In the early 1900s, the California guru Paramahansa Yogananda announced that Lincoln had once been a yogi in the Himalayas.

Closer to earth, the evangelizing atheist Robert Ingersoll tagged him as a model of the freethinking skeptic, and the founders of the Ethical Culture Society agreed. In the 1920s, Cardinal Mundelein of Chicago asserted that Lincoln--who was reared by Baptists, married by an Episcopalian, and subjected in his adulthood to endless hours sitting in straight-backed pews being preached at by Presbyterians--was nevertheless a man of closeted Catholic faith, who delighted in laying out an altar for Mass whenever his Catholic aunt came to visit.

Fergusen then explores the sad fact that Lincoln's faith has always been difficult to ascertain, and notes that following his death several ministers claimed that Lincoln was an orthodox Christian:

When it comes to a larger and historically more important subject like Lincoln's religion, the problems only ramify. We know that Lincoln attended a Baptist church with his parents as a boy in Kentucky and Indiana, because some church records survive. But from there his religious identity fragments in the conflicting testimony of those who knew him.

One view satisfied the hunger, widespread in the country after his martyrdom, to believe that the president had been a devout and orthodox Christian. Though it was widely known that he never joined a church--he sometimes appeared at the Springfield Presbyterian church where his wife was a member--at least two respected clergymen stepped forward to claim that he was ready to become a member of their congregations before the assassin's bullet interfered with his plans. One particularly influential source was Noah Brooks, a journalist who had befriended Lincoln in Illinois during the 1850s, followed him to Washington, visited with him frequently at the White House, and had been appointed Lincoln's secretary shortly before the assassination. In a best-selling memoir, Brooks confirmed what many wanted to believe: Lincoln, he said, "talked always of Christ, his cross, his atonement" and drew comfort from--and these words, Brooks said, were Lincoln's own--"the hope of blessed immortality through Jesus Christ."

Another clergyman who knew the Lincoln family confirmed Brooks's account of Lincoln's orthodox Christianity and added a piquant detail: his last words to Mary Lincoln that night at Ford's Theater, which the clergyman heard from Mrs. Lincoln herself. Lincoln had reportedly said that, as soon as his presidency was over, "we will visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footsteps of the Savior." There was, he told his wife (according to the clergyman), "no city on earth he so much desired to see as Jerusalem." Then the bullet hit him. The thought that Lincoln's last word was "Jerusalem" was greatly reassuring to his devout countrymen.

The thought would be much more plausible, however, were such devout sentiments not allegedly spoken while Lincoln was spending the evening of Good Friday watching a trashy play at a slightly disreputable theater.

Fergusen ends with a discussion of Lincoln's own "Reflections on the Divine Will" written during the most disheartening moments of the Civil War:

From 15 years later, we have another, much better known fragment. Like the Niagara note, Lincoln wrote this to himself and stashed it away. It too reveals Lincoln's religious sense but in a different, more profound phase. From an awed appreciation of the physical world, it had deepened into a much darker apprehension of a Providence that haunts human affairs. The catalyst for this change, of course, was the Civil War--the torrent of suffering and blood that threatened to destroy the country and that Lincoln himself had played a part in unleashing. His secretaries, who found the scrap among his private papers, dated it September 1862, though it could have been written later. They called it "Meditation on the Divine Will."

It is written with a logician's care, in the categories of a lawyer. "The will of God prevails," it begins. "In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time."

Yet the bloody back-and-forth of the war gives no hint as to which of the two parties God has chosen to side with. That very inconclusiveness raises the terrible possibility that God is on neither side--or, rather, that God is simply in favor of the war itself for reasons unknowable. "I am almost ready to say this is probably true--that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet." The will of God, after all, prevails; his sovereignty, Lincoln has come to believe, is the necessary condition of human affairs. "He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds."

Note the bloodless phrasing: "I am almost ready to say this is probably true." Almost . . . probably. It is the expression of a cautious, legalistic mind being shaken up--confronting something too large to fit the intellectual compartments he has used to understand experience. But he is also being led, or leading himself, to a definite conclusion: This is no ordinary war, because this is no ordinary country.

The question of why Providence should have willed such a calamity is foreshadowed in one final fragment to consider, written (most likely) in the early days of the war. In it Lincoln plays with the figure from Proverbs 25:11: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver."

. . .

Read together, the fragments show Lincoln's mind as it matures toward his two greatest utterances, the fullest expressions of his most fundamental ideas. These are, of course, the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural. They are not merely works of statecraft but homilies in a civil religion of his own devising, steeped in the cadences and rhetoric of the King James Bible. They were the consequence of Lincoln's deepest contemplation and belief, arrived at with some care and (we may suppose) discomfort. At Gettysburg, Lincoln explained why the country--the Union--was worth preserving. It was not any Union that was being preserved, it was a particular kind of Union: a Union dedicated to a timeless proposition that existed before the Union was even conceived.

Read it all here.


Teens, computers and TV

A recent study presented at American Heart Association's 48th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention confirms what many parents already know:. Teens are spending a lot of time online and in front of the television:

While most teenagers (60 percent) spend on average 20 hours per week in front of television and computer screens, a third spend closer to 40 hours per week, and about 7 percent are exposed to more than 50 hours of 'screen-time' per week, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association's 48th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

. . .

"Boys and those whose parents had lower educational attainment were much more likely to be in the 'high-screen time' group," said Tracie A. Barnett, Ph.D., lead author of the study. "Teens with high levels of screen time may be at increased risk of obesity."

Read it all here.

How should the Church respond?

New books on resurrection

A Catholic scholar, a Jewish rabbi and an Anglican Bishop have all turned their attention to the concepts of resurrection, and all three come to remarkably similar conclusions. Peter Steinfels wrote about their thinking in yesterday's New York Times:

As Christians in most of the world approach the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection, it is startling to find three distinguished scholars, all known for scrupulous attention to theological tradition and biblical sources, agreeing that the very idea of resurrection is widely and badly misunderstood.

Misunderstood not just by those whose contemporary sensibilities restrain them from saying much more about resurrection than that it symbolizes some vague (and probably temporary) victory of life over death. But also misunderstood by many devout believers who consider themselves thoroughly faithful to traditional religious teachings.

Kevin J. Madigan is a Roman Catholic who teaches Christian history at Harvard Divinity School. Jon D. Levenson, a colleague at Harvard, is a Jew who teaches Jewish studies. Together they have written “Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews.”

The book, which will be published next month by Yale University Press, argues that the idea that God will raise the dead to life at the end of time is central to both Jewish and Christian traditions.

N. T. Wright is a noted New Testament scholar who has continued to churn out academic and popular works, even after moving from Oxford in 2003 to become the Anglican bishop of Durham. Last month he published “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” (HarperOne).

So what is it these three diverse scholars have to say about the resurrection? Steinfels explains:

Resurrection, they maintain, does not simply mean going to heaven or life after death.

Resurrection is not a belief that divides an other-worldly Christianity from a this-worldly Judaism.

Nor is resurrection something that refers only — or even primarily — to the individual’s survival after death.

Instead, both books emphasize that in classic Jewish and Christian teachings, resurrection refers to a collective resurrection of people and renewal of all creation at the end of time.

Resurrection was linked to the expectation of judgment and a final triumph of justice. This was the idea of resurrection that had evolved as Jews returned from exile and struggled under foreign domination in the period before Jesus. It was this idea of resurrection that Christians had in mind when they declared that what occurred on Easter was the “first fruits” of what was to come.

If there is a key to the convergence among these authors, it lies, first of all, in their insistence on the bodily and communal character of resurrection, a view that has long competed with a Hellenistic philosophical and especially Platonic dualism, in which an individual disembodied intellect or spirit could be saved from its corruptible and corrupting body.

Read it all here.


Still more on Sharia

Rowan Williams' comments on Sharia, or traditional Islamic law, has caused a firestorm. Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard University and an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, offers a very interesting tutorial on Sharia that makes the point that through most of its history, Sharia was actually a progressive counterpoint to despotic rule:

Last month, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, gave a nuanced, scholarly lecture in London about whether the British legal system should allow non-Christian courts to decide certain matters of family law. Britain has no constitutional separation of church and state. The archbishop noted that “the law of the Church of England is the law of the land” there; indeed, ecclesiastical courts that once handled marriage and divorce are still integrated into the British legal system, deciding matters of church property and doctrine. His tentative suggestion was that, subject to the agreement of all parties and the strict requirement of protecting equal rights for women, it might be a good idea to consider allowing Islamic and Orthodox Jewish courts to handle marriage and divorce.

Then all hell broke loose. From politicians across the spectrum to senior church figures and the ubiquitous British tabloids came calls for the leader of the world’s second largest Christian denomination to issue a retraction or even resign. Williams has spent the last couple of years trying to hold together the global Anglican Communion in the face of continuing controversies about ordaining gay priests and recognizing same-sex marriages. Yet little in that contentious battle subjected him to the kind of outcry that his reference to religious courts unleashed. Needless to say, the outrage was not occasioned by Williams’s mention of Orthodox Jewish law. For the purposes of public discussion, it was the word “Shariah” that was radioactive.

In some sense, the outrage about according a degree of official status to Shariah in a Western country should come as no surprise. No legal system has ever had worse press. To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes.

In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses, we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act. The extremes of our own legal system — like life sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, in some cases — are routinely ignored. We neglect to mention the recent vintage of our tentative improvements in family law. It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good.

Read it all here (and it is well worth a full read).

Society cannot handle science

The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury says in an interview with the Telegraph that society is ill-prepared to handle scientific breakthroughs because it lacks understanding of human life. He also speaks out about intellectual sloppiness and muddy thinking in interpreting and critiquing the Bible.

"The problem is with our own inability as a society to know what to do with discoveries of science," he said.

"Man playing God is not a problem about science. It's a problem about our decisions about the results of science and we shouldn't be so much afraid of science as we should about our own inability to have a clear moral perspective on these matters."

The archbishop will use a series of high-profile lectures this week to renew his call for people to pay more attention to the historical evidence supporting the Bible, rather than "ludicrous" conspiracy theories.

"People get away with extraordinary assertions about Christian origins, which they have picked up from here and there, yet there is a mountain of research which is increasingly friendly towards the Gospels being reliable documents," he said.

"The Judas Gospel is a cardinal case and the sort of ludicrous, persistent Jesus-was-married-to-Mary-Magdalene sort of thing which keeps coming back in spite of the fact there is just nothing to go on it.

"Sometimes it is because, yes, what is presented can be so uncomfortable that it's much more convenient to believe that it is all the 'wicked' Church's conspiracy.

"The conspiracy theory is always attractive because it is dramatic, but look hard at what's there. I think that any Christian will say we are quite prepared to argue this in public as long as you like and as hard as you like."

Read: The Telegraph: Rowan Williams: Society can't handle science

Hat tip to Entangled States.

March Gladness

The brackets are set, the NCAA tournament bids are out -- this year Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation invites you to add a little purpose to your picking. We call it March Gladness.

March Gladness combines two of our favorite things -- Making Poverty History and the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Here's how it works:

Like your regular NCAA pool, you fill out your tournament bracket -- picking each game in the field of 65 right up to the championship game. Like your regular pool it costs a little to get in. Like your regular pool, the people who do the best picking the games win the pot.

Here's where Madness turns to Gladness:

*Instead of an entry fee, there is a small donation ($10).

*Along with your bracket(s) you designate a nonprofit (must be an official 501(c)3 whose work contributes to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals that you will be picking for.

*Instead of the winners taking home the pot, all money raised will be given to the designated MDG-related organizations.

Everyone has fun and it's all for a great cause -- God's mission of global reconciliation and making poverty history!

Entries close at tip-off of the first game on Thursday, March 20 (the play-in game is not included). You can enter as many times as you like, but entries will only count if an entry donation is received for each bracket.

Finally, this is about having fun while raising money to help people who need it the most. The more the merrier! Forward this to everyone you know ... let's see how much money and awareness we can raise for Making Poverty History!

For more information on the Millennium Development Goals and the movement for God's mission of global reconciliation, check out the EGR website at www.e4gr.org.

United Methodists join effort to form local free clinics

The United Methodist Church's General Board of Global Ministries is exploring a partnership with Volunteers in Medicine, a nonprofit organization that has helped to create 61 community-based and volunteer-staffed free medical clinics in the United States in an 11-year period.

The role of the mission agency will be to work with congregations and other community-based organizations to build incentive and capacity for the free clinics that are marked by a "culture of caring." Many of the volunteer doctors, nurses, and technicians are retired.

Bishop May said that a pilot partnership clinic project will likely be in Texas, the state with the highest percentage of uninsured people—some 25.2 percent.

Volunteers in Medicine was founded in 1994 by Dr. Jack B. McConnell, the son of a Methodist pastor, after his own retirement. The first clinic was opened on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, serving uninsured persons, many African Americans, who work in the local tourist industries.

Read about it here.

See also: Ekklesia: US church urged to put justice in healthcare before charity.

Duncan hires an attorney

Updated Monday evening

The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, disputes the charge that he has abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church and has retained an attorney to answer the charges.

According to a news release from the Diocese of Pittsburgh:

In his response, Bishop Duncan rejected the claim that he had abandoned communion. “I state that I consider myself ‘fully subject to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church,’” he wrote. He went on to say. “I have striven to follow the Lord Jesus with all my heart and mind and soul and strength, all the while relying on God’s grace to accomplish what my sinfulness and brokenness otherwise prevent.” And “I have kept my ordination vows – all of them – to the best of my ability, including the vow I made on 28 October 1972 to ‘banish and drive away all strange and erroneous doctrines contrary to God’s Word.’”

Here is a PDF of Bishop Duncan's letter to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Here is the letter from Duncan's lawyer to the Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop.

Lionel Deimel responds to Bishop Duncan's letter here.

Here is our report of the original finding of the Episcopal Church's Title IV Review Committee.

Updated Monday evening 3/17/08

ENS has a report here. An excerpt:

Duncan's response lists eight ways he says show that he is "fully subject to the doctrine, discipline and worship of this Church." Among them is the statement that he has "made no submission to any other authority or jurisdiction."

Duncan, who is moderator of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, also noted that he has "gathered Anglican fragments together from one hundred and thirty-five years of Episcopal Church division, vastly increasing understanding and cooperation, though preserving the jurisdictional independence of all."

In late September, Duncan chaired a meeting of a related organization, the Common Cause Council of Bishops during which the group said it would spend what was then the next 15 months developing "an Anglican union," which they anticipate will be recognized by some Anglican Communion Primates and provinces. Information about the actions taken at this meeting was included in the material submitted to the Title IV Review Committee, the committee of bishops, priests and laity that considers allegations of abandonment of communion.


Lionel Deimel has written a commentary on Bishop Duncan's letter here.

He writes:

5. I have made no submission to any other authority or jurisdiction.

Again, doing so might bolster the abandonment case, but no one has suggested that Duncan did what he here asserts here he did not do. What he has been doing, however, is working to create a new jurisdiction. His actions suggest that he intends to lead such a jurisdiction, one that is either parallel to The Episcopal Church or a replacement, in the Anglican Communion, for The Episcopal Church.

6. I have gathered Anglican fragments together from one hundred and thirty-five years of Episcopal Church division, vastly increasing understanding and cooperation, though preserving the jurisdictional independence of all.

Finally, in this item, Duncan comes close to addressing the actual charges against him. Ironically, he construes his infractions as virtues. It is not his job, of course, to unite the various “continuing” Episcopal churches, but doing so is not clearly a bad thing. The actual allegation, however, is that Duncan is uniting the various splinter churches to form a jurisdictional rival of The Episcopal Church. Item 6 is actually a partial admission of guilt. Duncan fails to note that the unity he is working to create does not include unity with The Episcopal Church.

Trinity's "third sacred space" survey

Trinity Church, Wall Street is undertaking a survey to evaluate and improve their web-site, which they call their "third sacred space."

Trinity Church and St. Paul's Chapel in New York City are well-known for their history – George Washington prayed at St. Paul's and Alexander Hamilton rests in Trinity's churchyard. Both churches survived September 11. We also have a ground-breaking "third sacred space" – our website. We broadcast weekly worship services and concerts online to thousands of people around the world, and provide on-demand videos of conversations with today's leading thinkers, and many other events. We even have a blogging priest! We need your help to keep our website revolutionary. Visit our website, look around a bit, and then take a quick online survey. In appreciation, we'll make a charitable donation. See what the revolution is about and tell us how to keep it going at www.trinitywallstreet.org.

Presiding Bishop preaches in Jerusalem

Marking the annual Palm Sunday celebrations and the start of a week-long visit to the Holy Land, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached March 16 at St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem at the invitation of Bishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

Here is an excerpt:

In this land called holy, we still wait for that prince of peace. We still seek a Lord who will work a reconciled peace with justice, here and around the globe. No wonder that, as the gospel says, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole town was in turmoil. Who is this prophet? He promises another kind of kingdom, another realm where there will be no longer be any hungry or sick or imprisoned ones, no unemployed, none who are segregated from their neighbors and treated with a different justice because of ethnicity or religion.

The turmoil Jesus stirred up ended in his execution as an enemy of the state. Prophets tend to do that -- stir things up and end up dead. That is part of the invitation Jesus offers each of us, to pick up our cross, to die to self, to proclaim the word of God in human flesh and that divine dream of peace, and to be willing to die to everything else. Stir things up, for this world certainly hasn't yet reached that divine dream of salaam and shalom. And, yes, recognize that death will be involved. There is no possibility of new life, of resurrection, without death. We will never know a healed world unless the systems that depend on violence or armed guards to maintain them die.

And...

We share the great hope of Jesus the anointed one, because we are made of the same mortal flesh, and we, too, have been anointed to preach peace to the poor and deliverance to the captives. We died with Jesus in the waters of baptism, and we rise with him as well. We have been invited into this journey with him, this blood-red and passionate journey of sacrifice, making holy this yet unhealed world. His road into the eternal city of peace leads past the cross. It includes turmoil and threat, but it is meant to be answered by the methods of peace -- palm branches and donkeys, truth-telling and the unexpected wind of the spirit.

Read the sermon here.

Here is an audio file.

See also this accompanying story of her visit. One portion:

On behalf of the Jerusalem diocese, Dawani expressed his appreciation to the Presiding Bishop for her pastoral visit, noting that they "will work together with all Anglicans to promote peace, justice and reconciliation in the land of the holy one.

"I am sure it is really a joint effort," he said.

The Rev. Canon Hosam Naoum, acting dean of St. George's, described the Presiding Bishop's visit as a historic moment. "With all the differences in the Anglican Communion today, I see her as a uniting figure who brings beliefs and understandings and cultures of other people around the world," he said.

Episcopal Life has a video update of the Presiding Bishop's visit to the Holy Land here.

The perils of moral certainty

Anthony Robinson of the Seattle Times expounds on the perils of believing in one's own moral certainty.

A Cardinal Rule for a columnist, as for a preacher, is "Have only one subject, focus on one topic." I have a problem. I have three topics.

Topic 1: The revelations regarding Eliot Spitzer's little problem, a topic that has preoccupied front pages, talk shows, blogs and coffee-pot conversation all week long.

Topic 2: The anniversary (seems like the wrong word somehow) of the Iraq war. On Wednesday, it'll be five years since George W. Bush gleefully announced the "initiation of hostilities."

Topic 3: A new book about religion and politics by Washington Post journalist E. J. Dionne, who was in town this week, and with whom I spoke.

A trinity of topics, but one theme. The New York governor's fall, five years of war and Dionne's book all make clear how intoxicating, how politically useful, but how perilous it is to be absolutely certain that you are right.

All three point out the perils of moral certainty and the dangers of being sure of our own unassailable virtue. What a dangerous high is to be had by concentrating the mind on the evil of others, while being clueless about our own. If smugness isn't a sin, it should be.

Read the rest here.

Holy Week at the monastery

The Society of St. John the Evangelist has a web site with readings, videos and resources that takes the reader along the "The Road to Resurrection."

Every year Christians throughout the world join in retracing the steps of Jesus' final week. Join the Brothers of SSJE as they walk the road to resurrection, from Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem to the Last Supper and anguish of Gethsemane, from the agony of the cross to the glory of the empty tomb. Each day will feature a sermon or reflection (or both!), as well as portions of the major liturgies.

Join the Monastery each day of Holy Week.

Being on the side of the crucified

Savitri Hensman of Ekklesia, in her latest essay, discusses complicity by clergy in human rights violations and violence and asks how church communities can offer hope in the midst of human rights abuses by the governments where they are based.

When governments are responsible for human rights abuses, how members of faith communities respond may be influenced by various factors.

How highly do we prioritise the preservation of the current order and protection of existing patterns of wealth and privilege, which may benefit us individually and institutionally? In providing pastoral care to the privileged and powerful, are we able to remain detached from their outlook and encourage them to seek a higher good? Do we tend to adopt society’s values, dismissing as unimportant the hardship and injustice endured by the poor and marginalised, or are we bearers of good news even in bleak situations?

When conflict escalates, can we resist the ‘militarization of the mind’? How willing are we to be transformed by a God of love, to look with unflinching compassion on those who suffer and seek to identify and address the causes?

And how willing are we to risk losing what we have in order to gain what is incomparably better? Even when destruction and death seem to hold sway, can we trust in the new life which is to come and be heralds of hope?

Read it all here.

Savitri Hensman was born in Sri Lanka. She works in the voluntary sector in community care and equalities and is a respected and widely published writer on Christianity and social justice.

Putting Obama's pastor's preaching in perspective

Diana Butler Bass comments on the media's lack of understanding of preaching in a congregation and especially the nature of black preaching. At God's Politics a blog by Jim Wallis and friends on Beliefnet she writes:

The current media flap over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, strikes me as nothing short of strange. Anyone who attends church on a regular basis knows how frequently congregants disagree with their ministers. To sit in a pew is not necessarily assent to a message preached on a particular day. Being a church member is not some sort of mindless cult, where individuals believe every word preached. Rather, being a church member means being part of a community of faith—a gathered people, always diverse and sometimes at odds, who constitute Christ's body in the world.

But the attack on Rev. Wright reveals something beyond ignorance of basic dynamics of Christian community. It demonstrates the level of misunderstanding that still divides white and black Christians in the United States. Many white people find the traditions of African-American preaching offensive, especially when it comes to politics.

I know because I am one of those white people.

Read it all here.

Church Executive Magazine has more here.

The Daily News of Los Angeles carries this commentary with the note "Well I guess on the bright side of things, there should be no more questions about whether or not Sen. Barack Obama is a Christian."

The fact is that Wright isn't the first or the last preacher or black to call out America for her racist history - a history that for some reason we are always being encouraged to forget because today Americans are "transcending" race.

Is that why black men and women are being imprisoned almost as fast as their mothers can give birth to them? Is that why a man who called a group of young black women "nappy-headed hos" is still on the radio? And were we rising above race when it was joked that Tiger Woods should be lynched?

Previous story in The Lead here.

The Washington Post reports Wright's congregation's defense of their retired pastor:

To his supporters, the message Wright wove through more than 4,000 sermons is now disseminated in a handful of grainy, two-minute video clips that tell only part of his story. Yes, they acknowledge, he was sometimes overcome at the pulpit by a righteous rage about racism and social injustice. But he was a radical who also inspired women to preach, gays to marry and predominantly white youth groups to visit his services. Until he retired last month, Wright, 66, implored all comers at Trinity to "get happy" -- to shout, to sing, to dance in the aisles while he preached the gospel.

"The world is only seeing this tiny piece of him," Moss said. "Right now, we are all being vilified. This isn't just about Trinity, isn't just about [Wright]. This is an attack on the African American church tradition, and that's the way we see it. This is an attempt to silence our voice."

Read the story here.

Barack Obama responds to criticism of pastor

Updated: 12:14 p.m.

Barack Obama is speaking today in Philadelphia and responds to critics of his former pastor and his church. Excerpts from his speech (transcript here) include:

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love

Full text here. Scripting News has a complete MP3 of the speech here.

NPR is reporting here.

Andrew Sullivan:

...this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history.
...
He addressed the intimate, painful love he has for an imperfect and sometimes embittered man. And how that love enables him to see that man's faults and pain as well as his promise. This is what my faith is about. It is what the Gospels are about. This is a candidate who does not merely speak as a Christian. He acts like a Christian.

BBC and The Passion

Dave Walker in Church Times blog reports on the BBC production of The Passion.
The program began Sunday 16th March 2008, 20:00, on BBC One and will continue for 4 episodes. It will be available on DVD later. BBC describes the series:

...the story is rooted in the chaotic world in which it took place - the city of Jerusalem during Passover week. Set in the political and religious context of the time, it combines both narrative tension and thematic power to convey the events that took place that week.

The Passion places the audience at the heart of the action by telling the story from three points of view - the religious authorities, the Romans and Jesus. For the first time, all the key players are intimately characterised, with Jesus (Joseph Mawle) at the centre. The drama begins with Jesus' prophetic entrance through the East Gate, following him to his crucifixion and its startling aftermath


Church Times reports on The Passion here.

Giles Fraser reviews The Passion here.

rejesus has lots of background links here.

Dave Walker's blog is here.

Holy Land video update from the Presiding Bishop

Episcopal Life Online is offering video updates from the Presiding Bishop during her visit to the Holy Land:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offers an update from her visit to the Holy Land that has included the Palm Sunday celebrations in Jerusalem, meetings with religious leaders and Israeli and Palestinian human rights advocates; and a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Presiding Bishop also met with Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb of the International Center in Bethlehem.

Watch it here.

Punk photographer Easter message

According to The Press Association, The Diocese of London has asked a punk photographer best known for photographing Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols to create images to help explain Easter.

Dennis Morris, whose subjects have also included The Prodigy and Oasis, asked teenagers to play the role of Christ in the photographs.

The photographs will be used by Church of England parishes in London to tell the Easter story to primary school children.

Morris worked with teenagers from St Stephen's and St Mary's Islington in north London to produce the shots, designed to tell the story of Easter in a contemporary urban setting.

Read the story here.

HT to OCICBW and to see more photographs click here.

Outspoken religious leader dies

ENS reports:

Robert Rae Spears Jr., 89, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester from 1970 to 1984, died March 18.

"Bishop Spears made the diocese a healthy and vibrant place, though somewhat divided because of his determination to stand for justice and on the side of those who need advocacy," the current Bishop of Rochester, Jack McKelvey, said....

More:

He ... participated in a group led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others in a non-violent protest for voting rights in Selma, Alabama.

Spears also worked on behalf of the Visitors’ Center at the state prison in Attica, New York, his home town. He was active in the anti-war movement during the Viet Nam war and led a delegation from Rochester to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to stand in solidarity with Jesuit poet and peace activist the Rev. Daniel Berrigan.
...
Given his passion for issues of human rights and freedoms, the Diocese of Rochester found itself at the forefront of the efforts for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church....Spears was a strong advocate for the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life of the church....Spears' commitment to ecumenical endeavors produced a covenant between the Rochester Roman Catholic Diocese and the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester in the early 1980s.

Read it all here.

The world also lost lay Catholic movement leader Chiara Lubich recently. She founded Focolare. According to Christianity Today,

At the age of 23, she said she experienced a religious awakening and felt a call to alleviate human suffering.

She went on to found one of Catholicism's so-called "new lay movements", centred around the belief that one did not have to become a priest or nun to live a full Christian life.

She won numerous awards, including the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion and the Unesco peace prize.

Lubich, who was influential with, and admired by, several popes, was born in the northern Italian city of Trento in 1920 and founded the movement there in 1943.

She promoted the philosophy that the Church could be built from the grass roots and not just be centred around the hierarchy.


Reports from the Global South: Lambeth acceptances confirmed

Bishop Mouneer Anis of Egypt has issued a statement on the meeting of the Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council held February 29 - March 4. A report from the Synod of the Province of South East Asia that met February 27 -28 has also just been made available.

Bishop Anis reveals in his statement that

Several friends discouraged me to attend the JSC meeting but I insisted to go as I don’t believe in withdrawal. Jesus is our best example in this regard. He spoke the truth boldly everywhere He went. Some accepted the truth, some refused and some wanted to murder Him, but He never stopped speaking the truth and meeting His friends as well as His enemies.
About the Anglican covenant he writes,
I was shocked when the time line of the covenant process was presented. The plan that it would be enacted in 2015 gives the impression that we are NOT in a state of crisis and that there is no desire to move towards a solution. In my opinion, if we wait until 2015 or even 2012 the Communion will be fragmented.
He is determined to attend Lambeth:
I realise that the forthcoming Lambeth Conference may add to my disappointment but I am determined to go, to listen and share with an open heart and firm stand.
South East Asian bishops in the synod statement also announced their determination to attend Lambeth. The synod said it
9. WAS ENCOURAGED by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s emphasis in his Advent Letter (12 Dec 2007) that “acceptance of the invitation (to Lambeth Conference 2008) must be taken as implying willingness to work with those aspects of the Conference’s agenda that relate to implementing the recommendations of Windsor, including the development of a covenant”;

10. CONSIDERED the need to provide strong active participation in the discussion and debate on the acceptance and adoption of the proposed Anglican Covenant at Lambeth 2008, and thereafter, to expeditiously and definitively conclude the task of defining and explicating publicly the common standard of faith and order, proper accountability and discipline within the Anglican Communion

Who's afraid of schism?

Check out Paul Gibson's essay, "Why I am not afraid of schism." The Rev. Dr. Paul Gibson was liturgical officer with the Anglican Church of Canada and is now coordinator of liturgy for the Anglican Communion.

He writes:

If my convictions lead someone else to declare that they have excommunicated me--that they refuse to share a place with me at the Lord 's Table--and that there is therefore a schism, I have to live with that or give up my belief in what is right. I am not afraid of schism if it is caused by what some believe to be right.
...
I am not afraid of schism. I am afraid of a church in which some leaders voted to commit themselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ (from the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in 1998, Resolution I.10.c), but show little evidence of having acted on that promise.

I am afraid of a church in which righteousness is understood to be the enforcement of a small number of prejudicially selected biblical texts to the exclusion of many others, some of greater clarity, forgetting that in the bible righteousness is realized in the practice of justice. There are at the most seven references to homosexuality in the bible (some of them are disputed and all require contextual interpretation) but the word "justice" (or its negative "injustice") appears 194 times.

The essay appeared in Stories of Faith from the General Synod of the Anglican Communion of Canada. Go read it all here. Thanks to Mad Priest for the pointer.

Some snippet from a related post at Stories of Faith by Kawuki Mukasa:

There is nothing wrong with listening for guidance or waiting for the wisdom to understand the will of God on the issues before us. But for anyone out there projecting “neutrality” simply out of fear of offending others I say, it is time to step down. This kind of “neutrality” is counterproductive. What is needed is for us to explain as best as we can why and how we are grounded where we are.

Whose morality comes first; the doctor's or the patient's?

From a press release by The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:

"In Good Conscience -Guidelines for the Ethical Provision of Health Care in a Pluralistic Society," which was released in 2007, was conducted with Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim clergy, ethicists, theologians, healthcare providers, and healthcare advocates. A major finding was that American religious and secular values hold that medical professionals have a responsibility to provide timely and adequate medical care and that, while an individual's conscientious objection must be protected, it cannot be at the cost of good patient care and it cannot control or restrict the legal and moral decisions of the patient.

ACOG's [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists'] principled and sensible policy would leave untouched a physician's right to refuse to provide abortions--a right that has been spelled out in law since 1973--but would ensure that the patient received the services she needed and wanted. [HHS] Secretary Leavitt's dogmatic indifference to the patient is bad medicine, misguided ethics, and political pandering. A great nation must make room for diverse beliefs--especially a nation founded on the principle of religious freedom.

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice includes the Episcopal Church, United Church of Christ, three bodies of the Presbyterian Church (USA), two agencies of the United Methodist Church, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist Judaism, Unitarian Universalism, Catholics for Choice, and other groups.

Read it all here.

African Anglican bishop speaks out for striking workers

IRIN reports:

In a statement, the Swaziland Coalition of Concerned Civic Organisations (SCCCO) condemned the "continued abuse of the Royal Swazi Police and Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force [the Swazi army] to achieve partisan and politically motivated actions".

The SCCCO noted with particular concern the use of teargas and rubber bullets on "unarmed" women textile workers. "Police officers have been heard telling the women to ‘get back to work.’ What is their role here – protection of law and order or politically motivated strikebreaking?" read the statement, signed by Anglican Bishop Meshack Mabuza, the coalition chairman.


More thoughts on that Pew survey of religious affiliation

At least two more good essays have appeared since the initial reactions in blogs and in the media to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life's first set of findings from its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey 2008.

From the Alban Institute comes an article by James P. Wind, president of the Alban Institute. Wind crunches the numbers. One of the things he notices:

At first glance, American Catholicism looks relatively stable, making up 23.9 percent of the adult population, a figure very similar to the 25 percent regularly reported over the past several decades—except, as the researchers remind us, for the stunning fact that actually American Catholicism has suffered the greatest losses of any faith community. Almost one-third of the survey respondents who claimed to have been raised as Catholics no longer label themselves that way.
The Alban Institute's interest is in congregations. Wind draws this conclusion about the churning found by the Pew survey:
In every worship service, board meeting, Sunday school class, social event, and rite of passage, all the churn that the Landscape Survey points to “out there” in the national environment is going on “in here”—in the lives of individual members and the small faith communities they belong to. Once upon a time religious leaders represented very distinct religious communities that were clearly differentiated from the ones down the street or across town. Now our leaders work in a sea of religious vagueness and search for ways to help people surrounded by a growing tide of “nothing in particular” find something in particular to build a life upon.

Alan Wolf, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, observes that the survey informs the public of much of the scholarly community already knew. But then he goes on:

Yet other findings in the study shed new light on issues around which there has been no scholarly consensus. Three in particular are worthy of attention: the size and composition of minority faiths, the winners and losers in the religious marketplace, and the potential prospects of the religious right.
First:
The lowest estimate usually cited of the Muslim population, it turns out, is too high....It is not just that Buddhists, who do not trace their roots to Abraham, may outnumber Muslims, who do. It is that the combined percentage of those who identify themselves as either Hindu (0.4 percent) or from "other world religions" (0.3 percent) does so as well.
Second:
For many years now, it has been received wisdom that mainline, politically liberal Protestant churches have been the losers and conservative evangelical churches have been winning. That assumption, too, will have to be rethought.

The biggest losers among American religions turns out to be Catholics....Nor is it quite the case that conservative Protestant churches are the winners.

Third:
whatever the case in the past, there is no strong evidence of strict churches attracting a disproportionate share of members now. Political scientists interested in American religion, such as John C. Green, Clyde Wilcox, and Kenneth D. Wald, believe that the influence of the religious right may have peaked. The Pew survey provides strong evidence that they are right.

The war in Iraq and the ministry of The Episcopal Church

Episcopal News Service observes the fifth anniversay of the war in Iraq by looking at the many ways in which The Episcopal Church remains active "ministering to those involved in the fighting and their families, ministering to those who have come home, and continuing its call for peace in Iraq and the entire Middle East."

Read the article here.

The meaning of maundy

News permitting, today will be a quiet day on The Lead. To help cultivate contemplation, pay a visit to the Holy Week online offerings of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, or read the essay on Daily Episcopalian by Luiz Coelho.

For the meaning of maundy, have a look here.

A shoe shine from the bishop

From the BBC:

Bishops are getting down on their knees this Maundy Thursday to shine the shoes of office workers and shoppers in towns and cities across the country. The free act is inspired by the night of the Last Supper when Jesus washed his disciples' feet before his trial and crucifixion on Good Friday.

Bishop of Birmingham the Rt Revd David Urquhart said it showed the clergy were prepared to serve their communities.

Church figures in Northampton, Coventry and Leicester are also taking part.

Read it all.

Generally we are in favor of innovative means of taking the church's message and practices into the streets. But physical intimacy is an essential ingredient in the the foot-washing ceremony, and that's lost here.

Race, faith and the campaign

Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes:

Out of the 207,000 minutes that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached while building Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, a handful of fiery sound bites have fueled a media frenzy and been used to inject race into the center of our 2008 presidential race.

Wright's words have been dubbed "hate speech" by pundits and preachers of the political right, themselves masters at twisting the truth to arouse resentment.

In a Philadelphia speech Tuesday, Sen. Barack Obama tried to a) put some distance between himself and his former pastor's rhetoric, b) hold onto his self-respect while c) seeking to honestly evaluate the roots of racial anger in America.

Read it all, including quotes by Bishop Greg Rickel.

Meanwhile, in the Newark Star Ledger, Jeff Diamant pursues a similar story:

Obama's speech has sparked discussions throughout the country, inspiring many pastors to ponder ways to broaden discussion of race relations from the pulpit. For some pastors, race remains a political, not a religious, issue.

The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, said her church is likely to hold a discussion forum after Easter on Obama's speech, and that his words may become discussion fodder at future church observances of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"When I was listening to Obama's speech, I thought: 'Oh my goodness. This is a speech that political science students are going to be studying ... for generations to come,'" Kaeton said.

Read it all.

See, too, the comments of our own Chuck Blanchard, and those of Brian McLaren.

And to keep up with how John McCain's campaign is handling religious issues, have a look here.

Music of the season on the Web

Saint Thomas' Church on Fifth Avenue in New York City is Web casting audio files of its Holy Week services.

Hat tip to bls at Topmost Apple, who also found some other wonderful music.

Honoring the dead

Clergy representing Catholics, Protestants, and Jews gathered in Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco yesterday to offer prayers on the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Throughout the week, people from churches and synagogues throughout the Bay Area brought hundreds of pairs of boots and shoes to honor American and Iraqi casualties of the war.

The American Friends Service Committee’s “Eyes Wide Open” exhibit, a display of 425 pairs of military boots, representing Californians who have died in the Iraq War, formed the centerpiece of the event. To “complement this exhibit,” said an announcement on its web site, Grace Cathedral invited “faith communities and individuals to collect shoes to represent the more than 88,800 Iraqi civilian causalities.” After the exhibition, the shoes would be donated to Episcopal Charities and other organizations serving the needy.

It's all here.

Crossmas?

Why is it that there is such a difference in the way the secular world celebrates the two major Christian holidays of Easter and Christmas? Christmas is so universally observed among people that preachers frequently worry about the secular elements creeping into the celebration. The Triduum (and Easter in particular) have resisted this secular appropriation. Why?

James Martin, writing online in Slate, believes that the reason is that, unlike the Nativity, the Triduum invites us to journey to the very limits of our comfort zones:

"[W]hat enables Easter to maintain its religious purity and not devolve into the consumerist nightmare that is Christmas? Well, for one thing, it's hard to make a palatable consumerist holiday out of Easter when its back story is, at least in part, so gruesome. Christmas is cuddly. Easter, despite the bunnies, is not.

[...A] card bearing the image of a near-naked man being stripped, beaten, tortured, and nailed through his hands and feet onto a wooden crucifix is a markedly less pleasant piece of mail [than your typical Christmas card].

The Easter story is relentlessly disconcerting and, in a way, is the antithesis of the Christmas story. No matter how much you try to water down its particulars, Easter retains some of the shock it had for those who first participated in the events during the first century. The man who spent the final three years of his life preaching a message of love and forgiveness (and, along the way, healing the sick and raising the dead) is betrayed by one of his closest friends, turned over to the representatives of a brutal occupying power, and is tortured, mocked, and executed in the manner that Rome reserved for the worst of its criminals.

We may even sense resonances with some painful political issues still before us. Jesus of Nazareth was not only physically brutalized but also casually humiliated during his torture, echoing the abuses at Abu Ghraib. In 21st-century Iraq, some American soldiers posed prisoners with women's underwear on their heads as a way of scorning their manhood. In first-century Palestine, some Roman soldiers pressed down a crown of thorns onto Jesus' head and clothed him in a purple robe to scorn the kingship his followers claimed for him. After this, Jesus suffered the most degrading of all Roman deaths: crucifixion. Jesus remains the world's most famous victim of capital punishment."

Read the rest of his essayhere.

A Good Friday meditation

Matt Gunter, reflecting on the image of a Soviet sub's nuclear powerplant gone critical reflects on the parallels between the contamination caused by the leaking radiation and the way our sinful natures contaminate our relationships with the people who surround us in our lives.

"We are contaminated. What’s even harder for us to admit is that many of our actions and thoughts contribute to the contamination. The leaking reactor at the heart of the world contaminates everything. The reactor of our own hearts is contaminated. Like the crew on the K-19 we are trapped – unable to escape the toxic contamination.

Into this world comes one who is not contaminated. Jesus enters into the world and acts as a sort of holy Geiger counter setting off a click, click, click as he encounters the contamination radiating from Sin and Death.
Judas, a trusted friend and disciple, comes to him in the darkness. Perhaps it was greed. Perhaps it was disillusionment. Perhaps it as an impatient attempt to force Jesus’ hand and bring about the kingdom as Judas envisioned it. In any event, Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss.  And with that lip service, the Geiger counter goes click, click, click, click.

By most standards the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas, were probably decent enough men, trying to maintain as much independence for their nation as they could while appeasing the occupying Romans and forestalling the wrath of the empire.  But Caiaphas was the one who had counseled that it was ‘better to have one person die for the people.’ Jesus was just ‘collateral damage’ in the struggle to preserve the nation’s precarious security.  There is a logic to his thinking.  It is reasoning with which we have become familiar.  But the thinking is contaminated.  And again we hear, click, click, click, click.

Peter, the ‘Rock’, cracks under pressure and lies to avoid being associated with the one who had called him and whom he had followed. He denies Jesus not once but thrice and upon the third denial hears the rooster crow click, click, click, click.

Pilate cynically asks the one who is Truth, ‘What is truth?’ Unable or unwilling to accept the truth and the changes that must follow, Pilate, who claims the power to free or to crucify, hands an innocent man over to be crucified while seeking to remain free of the guilt. But he cannot escape the click, click, click, click measuring the contamination of his actions.
One way or another, each of the characters that Jesus encounters in the passion narrative (excepting only Mary and the other women, along with the disciple Jesus loved) demonstrates his contamination by the radiation of Sin and Death. Each alone and all together act out of fear, pride, and disbelief leading to betrayal, denial, desertion, deceit, collaboration, and the justification of violence."

Read the rest of the essay here.

Good Friday fast or feast

Michael Kinman, the executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, has written a reflection on Christ's self-giving of himself for the world and posted it this Good Friday:

"Poverty and privilege have at least one thing in common -- they are both about choice, or lack of the same.

This first struck me most powerfully during my first trip to Ghana several years ago. I only had to be there a few days when I realized that my most valuable possession wasn't my laptop or my camera ... but my American passport. With it I had the choice whether to stay or to go. Whether to make a life there or leave and make a life elsewhere.

The privilege of choice that my wealth and education and other aspects of my (white) American life bring infuses every corner of my life. I can choose where to send my children to school. I can choose what kind of car to drive, what neighborhood to live in. I have chosen what kind of education I wanted and have chosen and continue to choose what kind of career I want.

My whole life has been and continues to be an embarrassment of riches of choice. Even the everyday choices ('Do you want fries with that?') when cast against a world where nearly 1,000,000,000 people go to bed hungry every night speak to the extreme privilege of choice I take for granted.

So I have the privilege of choice. I cannot escape it. Do I feel guilty about it? What now?

What word does Christ speak to me?

That word comes crashing through in the Christ hymn of Philippians 2 -- one of the most beautiful lyrics ever written. And it speaks of the events of today -- Good Friday -- in just these terms. Christ, the second person of the holy and undivided Trinity, was in the position of the most extreme privilege. Christ had the power of divinity -- talk about extreme choice! Christ could do anything.

And look at what Christ did.

Christ let go.

Christ let go of the privilege of choice. He saw that privilege not as something to be grasped, but emptied himself -- and even after emptying himself into human form, he continued to give up the privilege of choice and became obedient to the point of death ... even death on a cross."

Read the rest here.

Presiding Bishop's pilgrimage

Matthew Davies, writing for the Episcopal News Service, filed this story about the Presiding Bishop's visit to the Holy Land this week:

"Good Friday in Jerusalem was a day filled with many blessings and a solemn reminder of Jesus' painful journey to his crucifixion as Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and an Episcopal Church delegation joined pilgrims and Christians in the Holy Land to share in Christ's Passion.

Shortly after sunrise, a crowd representing Anglican, Lutheran and Presbyterian Churches gathered at St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem before embarking on Jesus' passage along the Via Dolorosa -- a Good Friday devotion known as the Stations of the Cross.

The Presiding Bishop and Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church's ecumenical and interfaith officer, offered readings and prayers at some of the 14 stations that represent chief scenes of Christ's suffering and death.

'Our morning journey through the Old City was interrupted by shopkeepers opening their shuttered shops, small tractors chugging through the narrow lanes, and other pilgrim groups taking their equivalent journeys, singing and praying in a variety of languages,' said Jefferts Schori.

In addition to readings and prayers alternating in English, Arabic and German, the crowd sang familiar hymns telling of Jesus' final hours and crucifixion.

The journey culminated at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, where representatives of the Churches, including Holy Land Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan, led the final prayers."

Read the rest here.

Experiencing Good Friday

The faithful flocked to Jerusalem to retrace the steps of Jesus on Good Friday along the Via Dolorosa. The route, which was extrapolated by Franciscan monks in the 14th century, ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre--the church believed to be on the site of Jesus' death and burial, and owned by Muslims.

Reports on the pilgrimage are here:
Agence France-Presse
Voice of America
Additional coverage
Associated Press, via USA Today

BBC has a photo essay of Good Friday around the world here

A green Purim

While Christians are gearing up for Easter, this weekend also marks the festival of Purim in the Jewish faith, as noted in this story from the LA Times' "Babylon and Beyond" blog:

Jews in Israel and around the world are celebrating Purim, the holiday marking the escape of the Persian Jews from a plot to exterminate them devised by Haman, vizier to King Ahasuerus who ruled Persia in the 5th century BC.

The Book of Esther tells the story of the plot and the reversal of fate by which the community was saved. Among the good deeds Jews are obliged to fulfill during the holiday is "mishloah manot"- the sending of portions [of food], and "matanot la'evyonim"- gifts, charity to the poor.

(The customary masquerading, mostly by children, is another prominent if relatively modern tradition -- and is becoming more modern by the minute. Among secular kids, Queen Esther is out; SpongeBob Squarepants, sadly, is in.)

This year, Israelis went all-out with holiday spirit. They showered love, giving and gifts on the town of Sderot that has suffered rocket attacks for the past seven years. The southern town and its environs have been worn thin by years of fear, financial losses and government promises, and thousands have abandoned it in recent years. The rockets that started out crude and with more bark than bite have evolved into lethal weapons; fired from Gaza, they take a fleeting 15 seconds to land in Sderot, where mundane activities have become dangerous gambles.

That story is here.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post has published Sviva Israel's list of ten tips for an environmentally friendly Purim. Many of the tips are practices we can incorporate in our own gift-giving rituals, such as:

1. Trash the baskets - What can you do with so many straw baskets and gift bags? Package your Mishloah Manot in useful, reusable containers such as storage containers, glasses, mugs and pasta drainers for year-round usability.

2. Wrap it up - For the more creative, wrap up your food items in a pretty hand towel, apron, cloth table napkins, oven mitts or other useful fabric item.

3. Sustainable stuffing - Instead of padding out your package with shredded cellophane or colored paper, use banana chips, sunflower seeds or popcorn (only for recipients over three years old).

4. Bag it - Follow the fashion trend and give your gifts in eco-friendly cloth bags that your friends can reuse for shopping.

The complete list is here.

Easter music central to celebration

The "great triumph of God over death" conveyed in music is the focus of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly's Easter feature, with commentary by Canon Victoria Sirota of Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, author of Preaching to the Choir: Claiming the Role of Sacred Musician.. The piece features excerpts from raditional hymns, African-American spirituals, and contemporary praise music, and context to help people understand the motifs of the music and how they tie into the Holy Week experience.

LAWTON: Many of the crucifixion songs focus on the blood of Christ, which Christians believe atoned for the sins of the world.

Canon SIROTA: The truth of the reality that we are dealing with life and death issues; the idea of blood, which is so horrifying. And when you bleed you are terrified that you are going to die. But to use that as a symbol then of new life, it reminds us that the story doesn't end there, that we end in resurrection.

LAWTON: And so comes the great transition to Easter Sunday, from mourning to resurrection.

Canon SIROTA: We hear the joy, we hear the triumph. We sing fast music. We sing it joyously. It's in a major key and it helps us to feel that this is "the day the Lord has made."

LAWTON: Many Easter songs incorporate the words, "Alleluia" or "Hallelujah."

CHOIR #2 (singing): Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Choir

Canon SIROTA: Alleluia is the Latin form of "praise to God." Hallelujah is the Hebrew form of "praise to God." So they're both ecstatic. And I think the sound of it is why we haven't translated them. Hallelujah -- just that sense of almost moving into the non-verbal. Not a translation of praise to God, but "Hallelujah" -- that sheer joy, sheer ecstasy. Not only do we use them especially at Easter, but we don't say them in the Christian Church during Lent. We bury the Alleluias and return them on Easter Sunday.

Transcript and video here.

The historical crucifixion

Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air interviewed John Dominic Crossan a few years back to explore the historicity of the crucifixion. Originally airing in 2004, the conversation winds around the notion of, as guest host David Bianculli explains in the intro, crucifixion as state-sanctioned terrorism that "existed for centuries, before it became infamous under the Romans."

Crossan likens crucifixion in the Roman period to slave executions, "as a warning not to flee, not to commit a crime." These very public executions were not so much about punishment or suffering of any one individual so much as making an example of those who violated the norms of the day--"hung up like a poster, saying don't do what this person did or you'll end up as this person did." Capital punishment forms such as crucifixion, being burned alive or being "fed to the lions" were meant to be a form of annihilation, so that there was no body left behind for mourners to bury and grieve over. He notes that the crucifixion itself only is special to Christianity put in the context of the resurrection.

Gross inquires after some of the practices that are described in the Gospels, such as mocking and scourging, about how the cross came to become a symbol of Christianity, and about the validity of a metaphorical understanding of Scripture.

The Passion of the Christ was a hot topic at the time of the interview; Crossan offers the critique that the film doesn't provide any context for why he was arrested/, that it tries to distill the perspectives of four gospels into one narrative, that it focuses excessively on the suffering and not enough on the resurrection, and that it ignores the popularity of Jesus that is apparent from a reading of all the gospels. He draws a parallel to the Passion plays of medieval times, noting that the suffering of Jesus was something that people would really connect to. But, he continues, this was not what emerged from 1st century.

There's lots more in this 20 minute interview. You can listen to it here.

Mega Good Friday

Turns out yesterday was a convergence of matters holy. In addition to Good Friday and Purim, other notable Holy Days from around the world that took place on March 21. Among them, Eid--the birth of the Prophet, among some Muslims. More remarkable is the fact that such a convergence is incredibly rare, due to the fact that none of the major occasions marked on Friday is keyed to the same calendar date or event. You've probably seen the reports that Easter is unusually early this year, making the scramble for flowers more pressing, and that the last time it was this early was nearly a century ago.

But Time notes the significance of this year's Good Friday:

But unlike some holy days — say, Christmas, which some non-Christians in the U.S. observe informally by going to a movie and ordering Chinese food — on this particular Friday, March 21, it seems almost no believer of any sort will be left without his or her own holiday. In what is statistically, at least, a once-in-a-millennium combination, the following will all occur on the 21st:
  • Good Friday
  • Purim, a Jewish festival celebrating the biblical book of Esther
  • Narouz, the Persian New Year, which is observed with Islamic elaboration in Iran and all the "stan" countries, as well as by Zoroastrians and Baha'is.
  • Eid Milad an Nabi, the Birth of the Prophet, which is celebrated by some but not all Sunni Muslims and, though officially beginning on Thursday, is often marked on Friday.
  • Small Holi, Hindu, an Indian festival of bonfires, to be followed on Saturday by Holi, a kind of Mardi Gras.
  • Magha Puja, a celebration of the Buddha's first group of followers, marked primarily in Thailand.

"Half the world's population is going to be celebrating something," says Raymond Clothey, Professor Emeritus of Religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. "My goodness," says Delton Krueger, owner of www.interfaithcalendar.org, who follows "14 major religions and six others." He counts 20 holidays altogether (including some religious double-dips, like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) between the 20th (which is also quite crowded) and the 21st. He marvels: "There is no other time in 2008 when there is this kind of concentration."

And in fact for quite a bit longer than that. Ed Reingold and Nachum Dershowitz, co-authors of the books Calendrical Calculations and Calendrical Tabulations, determined how often in the period between 1600 and 2400 A.D. Good Friday, Purim, Narouz and the Eid would occur in the same week. The answer is nine times in 800 years. Then they tackled the odds that they would converge on a two-day period. And the total is ... only once: tomorrow. And that's not even counting Magha Puja and Small Holi.

Unless you are mathematically inclined, however, you may not see the logic in all this. If it's the 21st of March, you may ask, shouldn't all the religions of the world celebrate the same holiday on that date each year?

No. There are a sprinkling of major holidays (Western Christmas is one) that fall each year on the same day of the Gregorian calendar, a fairly standard non-religious system and the one Americans are most familiar with.

But almost none of tomorrow's holidays actually follows that calendar.

The story is here. HT to ePisco Sours.

Christianity Today Book Awards

Christianity Today has announced the winners of its 2008 Book awards. Some of the books may raise a few eyebrows. The winners include:

Anthony Flew, There Is A God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (for Apologetics/Evangelism)

Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd , The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition (for Bibical Studies)

D. Michael Lindsay, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite (for Christinaity and Culture)

Virginia Stem Owens, Caring for Mother: A Daughter's Long Goodbye (for Christian Living)

Read the full list, including comments by judges, here.

Re-Judaizing Jesus

Time magazine had an interesting essay on the renewed focus by many Christians on the fact that Jesus was a Jew:

Recently a popular blogger — let's call him Rabbi Ben — zinged the scholarship of a man we shall call Rabbi Rob. R. Ben claimed R. Rob did not "understand the difference between Judaism prior to the two Jewish wars in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. and later Mishnaic and Talmudic Judaism." He helpfully provided a syllabus.

Actually, neither man is a rabbi. (Sorry.) Ben Witherington is a Methodist New Testament scholar, and Rob Bell a rising Michigan megapastor. Yet each regards sources like the Mishnah and Rabbi Akiva as vital to understanding history's best-known Jew: Jesus.

This is seismic. For centuries, the discipline of Christian "Hebraics" consisted primarily of Christians cherry-picking Jewish texts to support the traditionally assumed contradiction between the Jews — whose alleged dry legalism contributed to their fumbling their ancient tribal covenant with God — and Jesus, who personally embodied God's new covenant of love. But today seminaries across the Christian spectrum teach, as Vanderbilt University New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine says, that "if you get the [Jewish] context wrong, you will certainly get Jesus wrong."

. . .

What does this mean, practically? At times the resulting adjustment seems simple. For example, Bell thinks he knows the mysterious words Jesus wrote in the dust while defending the adulteress ("He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone," etc.). By Bell's calculation, that showdown occurred at the same time as religious Jews' yearly reading of the prophet Jeremiah's warning that "those who turn from [God] will be written in the dust because they have forsaken [him]." Thus Jesus wrote the crowd's names to warn that their lack of compassion alienated their (and his) God.

A trickier revision for readers involves Paul's Letter to the Romans, forever a key Christian text on sin and Christ's salvific grace. Yet this reading necessitates skipping over what seems like extraneous material in Chapters 9 through 11, which are about the Jews. Increasingly, says Jason Byassee, an editor at the Christian Century, scholars now read Romans through those chapters, as a musing by a lifelong Jew on how God can fulfill his biblical covenant with Israel even if it does not accept His son. Byassee the theologian agrees. But as a Methodist pastor, he frets that Romans "is no longer really about Gentile Christians. How do you preach it?"

That's not a frivolous query. Ideally, the reassessment should increase both Jewish-Christian amity and gospel clarity, things that won't happen if regular Christians feel that in rediscovering Jesus the Jew, they have lost Christ. Yet Bell finds this particular genie so logically powerful that he has no wish to rebottle it. Once in, he says, "you're in deep. You're hooked. 'Cause you can't ever read it the same way again."

Read it all here.

The curious idea of the resurrection

Larry Hurtado has an interesting essay on Slate this week noting that from the very early days of the Church Christians and non-Christians alike have grappled with how to understand the resurrection:

Easter Sunday represents the foundational claim of Christian faith, the highest day of the Christian year as celebration of Jesus' resurrection. But many Christians are unsure what the claim that Jesus had been raised to new life after being crucified actually means—while non-Christians often find the whole idea of resurrection bemusing and even ridiculous.

These differences over what Jesus' resurrection represents and discomfort with the whole idea are nothing new, however: Christians in the first few centuries also had difficulty embracing the idea of a real, bodily resurrection. Then, as now, resurrection was not the favored post-death existence—people much preferred to think that after dying, souls headed to some ethereal realm of light and tranquillity. During the Roman period, many regarded the body as a pitiful thing at best and at worst a real drag upon the soul, even a kind of prison from which the soul was liberated at death. So, it's not surprising that there were Christians who simply found bodily resurrection stupid and repugnant. To make the idea palatable, they instead interpreted all references to Jesus' resurrection in strictly spiritual terms. Some thought of Jesus as having shed his earthly body in his death, assuming a purely spiritual state, and returning to his original status in the divine realm. In other cases, Jesus' earthly body and his death were even seen as illusory, the divine Christ merely appearing to have a normal body (rather like Clark Kent!).

. . .

Historically, then, how Christians have understood Jesus' "resurrection" says a lot about how they have understood themselves, whether they have a holistic view of the human person, whether they see bodily existence as trivial or crucial, and how they imagine full salvation to be manifested. Does salvation comprise a deliverance from the body into some sort of immediate and permanent postmortem bliss (which is actually much closer to popular Christian piety down the centuries), or does salvation require a new embodiment of some sort, a more robust reaffirmation of persons? This sort of question originally was integral to early Jewish and Christian belief in the resurrection. In all the varieties of early Christianity, and in all the various understandings of what his "resurrection" meant, Jesus was typically the model, the crucial paradigm for believers, what had happened to him seen as prototypical of what believers were to hope for themselves.


Read it all here.

Archbishop Williams' Easter sermon

The Archbishop of Canterbury preached the Easter sermon at Canterbury Cathedral. It is based on First Corinthians 15:26 "The last enemy to be overcome is death."

Here is an excerpt:

The vital significance of the Church in this society, in any human society, is its twofold challenge - first, challenging human reluctance to accept death, and then challenging any human acceptance of death without hope, of death as the end of all meaning. Death is real; death is overcome. We are mortal, and that is basic to who and what we are as humans. But equally we are creatures made so as to hear the call of God, a call that no power in heaven or earth can silence. That conviction is the foundation of all we say about human dignities and rights, and it is the heart of our Easter hope.

Read the rest here.

Here is what the Guardian writes.

Hat tip to Thinking Anglicans.

With a Bishop on Easter in New Hampshire

The Guardian sent Riazat Butt to spend Easter weekend in New Hampshire with Bishop Gene Robinson. She writes about him doing what Bishops do: visiting parishes, preaching in an ecumenical Good Friday service, and visiting a prison. She gives a glimpse of what it is like both at home and in the home diocese for a bishop, his partner and the people of his diocese.

The small state of New Hampshire remains largely untouched by international disputes. "I wish people could see me for a bishop. It is tiring, I must say," he sighed, referring to the squabbling between rival camps. "On the one hand I would like to be known as Bishop Gene Robinson but it's an accident of history that I'm the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican communion. I've learned to live with that."

His parishioners are unfazed about receiving communion from one of the most controversial clerics in the world, with some admitting that they paid scant attention to what was happening in the Anglican communion.

At All Saints Church, Littleton, Heather McIntire, who had baked brownies for the Maundy Thursday supper, said her main concern was going to a church that was welcoming and friendly. "I happen to be divorced and some churches don't like that. In a small town, people see you on your own and rumours fly. This church is non-judgmental, it's inclusive, and I feel like I belong here," she said.

The following day in Colebrook, a depressed rural town with a population of several thousand, Robinson shared the pulpit with preachers from other denominations, including Methodist, Roman Catholic and Protestant. There were no rainbow flags or protesters to welcome him.

New Hampshire does not, as one resident pointed out, have a "big, gay liberal agenda". It has problems with unemployment, poverty and spousal abuse. Its people are mostly white and, in the more remote areas of the state, they are working class with traditional values.

Marlyn Neary, vicar of St Stephen's, left Roman Catholicism 40 years ago to join the Episcopal Church. She has five cousins who are gay or lesbian. "I didn't see a lot [of homosexuality] until after Gene was elected. I was very much on the fence as to what caused people to be homosexual. I became more aware after 2003 [when Robinson became bishop]. It's made my relationship with them a little better."

Robinson is the only Bishop to be excluded from the Lambeth conference, although he will still go as a member of the public and has some events planned. He and Archbishop Rowan Williams have only met once, and he cannot talk about where or what was said.

"I don't know if it was Rowan's intention to divide the US house of bishops but he's done the very thing he was trying to avoid through his action or lack of action. It mystifies me that he has never commented on statements Akinola [the Archbishop of Nigeria] has made about homosexuality," he said.

Robinson has met Williams only once, although he has had three one-to-one encounters with the US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. For two years after he was elected, Robinson tried to meet the archbishop, who finally relented but would not receive Robinson at his official residence. "He wanted to meet in a secret location and I was not told where until after I got on the plane from the US."

Both men agreed to keep the contents of the meeting private and Robinson would only describe the atmosphere as cordial. "I felt sad for him. He was caught in a difficult situation and didn't know how to lead the church through it. But I don't think we need an archbishop in a role of leadership. We need an archbishop to symbolise unity," he said.

See: The Guardian: Gay bishop's mission to unite.

See also Thinking Anglicans Easter in New Hampshire.

Presiding Bishop celebrates Easter in Holy Land

Episcopal News Service reports:

On Easter Sunday at St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, local Christians and pilgrims of many nationalities shared in the joyful Eucharistic celebration of Jesus' resurrection following the Paschal mystery of his suffering and death.

Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani, who had invited the Presiding Bishop to spend Holy Week in his diocese, preached in Arabic and English about the need "to live our lives more fully and minister more faithfully."

The congregation included United States Members of Congress, Episcopal missionaries and a delegation from the Christian Association of Nigeria, including His Royal Majesty Ogidiga Ifite Ogwari of Anambra State.

The Presiding Bishop gave thanks for the ministry of the local Church and "its wonderful leadership," the hospitality she and her delegation had received, and the friendships formed throughout her March 16-24 pastoral visit. "We take you home with us in our hearts and we will never be the same," she said, emphasizing the need to build a kingdom of God -- of peace -- around the world.

Read it here.

Reviewing the mass

Mick LaSalle is the film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. His blog is called "Maximum Strength Mick." Here is what he says about going to church on Easter.

Every time I go to church, which isn't often, and I'm not bragging, I always come away frustrated at the way the mass is handled these days -- with lots of acoustic guitars and folk-style singing. Sometimes I actually end up developing a feeling of hostility toward the ensemble leader, which kind of negates the whole point of going to church right there. But even when I feel in sympathy with these people, who after all are devoting hours and hours and hours of practice to these Sunday performances, I usually get the sense that they're enjoying themselves a lot more than the Congregation is.

Usually the priest just stands there befuddled, as if thinking, well, if this is what people like, if this is what brings them in, fine with me. But I don't think this is what's bringing them in. I think the congregation in most cases is merely tolerating it. In some cases, it may be keeping people away.

I was talking to a former Episcopal pastor yesterday, and he told me that if he were to do it all over again, he'd go entirely the other way. Bring in organ music. Incense. Choirs. Maybe choirs singing in foreign languages. Things to make people feel that they've entered another world -- a mysterious place where God dwells. Instead what you get in church these days feels 30 years out of date, a throwback to the 1970s, and completely devoid of mystery or emotional power. There's nothing visceral about it, and this is what this priest was saying: You have to make church a visceral experience -- reach them through the emotions -- and then, with the sermon, start trying to reach them through the mind.

Advertising a product doesn't mean you're cynical about the product. It could mean that you believe you have something worth buying and want to figure out the smartest way to make people want it. I don't think it would hurt if churches looked into hiring theatrical consultants -- or asking for volunteers. Just get some people in who know stage craft. And get rid of the acoustic guitars and the folk music.

I know. This is how critics get in trouble. I went to church and now I'm reviewing the mass.

See: SFGate: Church on Easter.

Preaching green

The Arizona Republic reports "that church leaders and their congregations are increasingly becoming God's green soldiers" by bringing together spirituality and ecology.

"There is something inside us that responds to the Earth coming alive this time of year," said Doug Bland, chairman of the Earth Care Commission with the Arizona Ecumenical Council. "It's also a time when we face our own failings and sins. And as we look around us, we can see our role in the destruction of the planet."

Parishioners are being asked to embrace environmentalism in a variety of ways. Members of Community Christian Church in Tempe are encouraged to go outside and reflect on Scripture surrounded by nature. Churches in Arizona's Episcopal Diocese have formed green teams that conduct energy audits of individual churches. At First United Methodist Church in Tempe, the most recent adult Bible-study topic was "Taking Care of God's Earth."

Jeff Rossini, 24, of Phoenix, bikes 16 miles to and from work four days a week as a way of practicing his faith.

"One person not driving isn't going to save the world," he said. "But it boils down to me believing that I should be a good steward of the Earth to the best of my abilities and that I am to protect God's creation."

The Diocese of Arizona has a Nature and Spirituality Ministry. They describe their vision and mission as follows:

Our Vision: God, Nature & humanity are all one family in The Kingdom of Green, peacefully coexisting together at home here on Earth.

Our Goals:

* Restore enjoyment, reverence, and kinship to our spiritual relationship with Nature.
* Empower faith communities to bring both hope and action to the climate change issue.
* Identify lifestyle changes that reduce our use of fossil fuels, disposable items, water, and toxins.
* Educate people about the connection between social justice and the care of Nature.

The Arizona Republic writes:

The Episcopal Church has a 30-year history of environmental stewardship, so many of the country's dioceses already have a commission devoted to the cause.

Valley Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith said many churches have rediscovered their role as caretakers of the Earth.

"As a friend of mine says, 'If God was our landlord, we wouldn't be getting our deposit back,' " said Smith, who recently bought a Toyota Camry Hybrid as a nod to gas conservation.

Two years ago, the Episcopal Diocese founded the Arizona Nature and Spirituality program. Led by Phyllis Strupp, the program helps churches form "green teams." The teams look at what the churches can do to be more environmentally friendly, such as arranging energy audits and replacing incandescent lightbulbs with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs.

The program also presents environmental-education programs to non-Episcopal churches. Although some churches across the country are encouraging things such as a "carbon fast," or abstaining from driving during Lent, Strupp wants her group to be about celebrating nature, not self-denial.

"We're trying to build this sense of hope that springs from a place of appreciation and joy," she said. "We want to raise the awareness that human beings and nature cannot be separate and then encourage action."

Read: Arizona Republic: Churches preaching green.

See also: The Diocese of Arizona Nature and Spirituality Ministry.

Easter baptisms outdoors

Archbishop of York John Sentamu baptized twenty people by full immersion outside of a church in the city of York on Easter Sunday. This is the third year in a row that Sentamu has baptized anyone who wanted it taking "as long as it takes" as part of the Easter festivities of a coalition of churches from different denominations in the city.

The BBC reports:

The Archbishop of York has totally immersed 20 people in a tank of water as part of an Easter baptism ceremony.

Archbishop John Sentamu baptised the new worshippers using a large pool outside the Church of St Michael-le-Belfrey in York.

Hundreds of people watched as Dr Sentamu stood in the water to immerse each of the adults involved.

The outdoor baptism ceremony first took place in 2006 and involves a network of churches across the city.

Church officials said the total immersion during the service represents a person's death of their old life.

By emerging from the water, the service is meant to be symbolic of being reunited with Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, the day his resurrection is celebrated.

The (York) Press wrote in advance of the event:

The baptisms, organised by One Voice York - an inter-denominational network of Christian churches in the city - first took place in 2006 and last year's event, which was shown on news bulletins around the world, attracted more than 1,000 people to either be baptised or watch the ceremony.

A spokesman for the Archbishop said: "It is all about attempting to revive the tradition of full-immersion and baptism.

"Anybody who wishes to be baptised by the archbishop should contact their local Anglican church or One Voice York.

"He will baptise as many people as want to be baptised and will be there for as long as it takes."

Graham Hutchinson, joint chairman of One Voice York, which organized the event, told the BBC: "New life in Jesus Christ is open to everyone, always, but Easter is a great time for people to make that public commitment.

"The open-air baptisms in the centre of York are a sign that Jesus is alive and with us."

Read: BBC: Archbishop lead outdoor baptisms.

Read: The Press: Archbishop to perform full-body immersions.

Learn about One Voice York here.

Chaplains honor each of the 4000 fallen

As we cross the 4000 mark of deaths of US service men and women and nearly 90,000 Iraqis killed in the war, Newsweek reports on the difficult work of being a chaplain and offering hope in the midst of death.

Chaplain Kevin Wainwright was preparing his Easter Sunday sermon in Iraq when there was a knock on his door.

The news was grim: 1st Lt. Phillip Neel was dead. The young officer and fellow West Point grad had been a regular at the chaplain's Sunday church services. Wainwright knew and admired him. Now he had to find the right words to honor him.

Wainwright chose the legend of Sir Galahad, King Arthur's noble knight, and the poetry of Alfred, Lord Tennyson to salute Neel in a memorial.

He spoke of his compassion, his devotion to his soldiers. But in trying to understand Neel's death, the chaplain also posed an agonizing question: "Why does it seem that the good guys are the first ones to fall?"

On Easter night, the sad milestone of 4,000 American deaths in the Iraq war was reached with an announcement by the U.S. military that four U.S. soldiers had been killed in a roadside bombing in Baghdad.


Read it all here.

Read about reaching 4000 US deaths in the New York Times here.

Other new stories here and a roundup of news stories here.

The Office of the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies and news of military chaplains of the Episcopal Church here.

Bishop for Chaplaincies The Rt. Rev. George Packard's blog is here.

UPDATED at 11 a.m. 3/25
More on activities marking this day here.

Putting an end to scapegoating

Giles Fraser writes at Ekklesia on the meaning of the cross in a modern setting:

Somewhere in the Middle East, Jesus Christ is strapped to a bench, his head wrapped in clingfilm. He furiously sucks against the plastic. A hole is pierced, but only so that a filthy rag can be stuffed back into his mouth. He is turned upside down and water slowly poured into the rag. The torturer whispers religious abuse. If you are God, save yourself you fucking idiot. Fighting to pull in oxygen through the increasingly saturated rag, his lungs start to fill up with water. Someone punches him in the stomach.

Perhaps this is how we ought to be re-telling the story of Christ's passion. For ever since the cross became a piece of jewellery, it has been drained of its power to sicken. Even before this the Romans had taken their hated instrument of torture and turned it into the logo of a new religion. Few makeovers can have been so historically significant. The very secular cross was transformed into a sort of club badge for Christians, something to be proud of.


Citing the work of Rene Girard, Fraser continues:
The crucifixion turns this world on its head. For it is the story of a God who deliberately takes the place of the despised and rejected so as to expose the moral degeneracy of a society that purchases its own togetherness at the cost of innocent suffering. The new society he called forth - something he dubbed the kingdom of God - was to be a society without scapegoating, without the blood of the victim. The task of all Christians is to further this kingdom, "on earth as it is in heaven".

Read it all here.

San Joaquin diocesan convention scheduled

Updated Wednesday morning

The Lodi News reports on the upcoming Convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin. The Rt Rev. Jerry Lamb will be confirmed as provisional bishop and new committees will be elected and appointed as the diocese organizes itself in the aftermath of the departure of Bishop Schofield and other leaders who have chosen to move to the Province of the Southern Cone and leave the Episcopal Church.

The San Joaquin Episcopal Diocese will conduct what its leaders consider a historic convention to appoint a new bishop, reorganize as a diocese and begin the healing process of a divisive split within the diocese.

The convention, to be held next weekend in Lodi, will consist of the 18 of parishes and missions that chose to remain in the diocese, which extends from Lodi to Bakersfield and east to the Nevada state line.There were 47 parishes and missions in the diocese until a majority of delegates, through the leadership of Bishop John-David Schofield, voted to leave Episcopal Church USA for the more socially conservative-leaning Southern Cone of the Anglican Church, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The schedule of the convention is planned as follows:

Friday March 28
5 to 6:30 p.m. — Reception for Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson at St. Anne's Episcopal Church, 1020 W. Lincoln Road, Stockton.

6:30 to 7:15 p.m. — A service of healing and forgiveness.

7:15 p.m. — Question-and-answer session with the presiding bishop.

Saturday March 29
8 a.m. — Registration at St. John's Episcopal Church, 1055 S. Lower Sacramento Road, Lodi.

9 a.m. — Business meeting. Highlights include:

Presiding bishop leading prayer and giving remarks.
Convention delegates considering appointment of officers.
Delegates considering resolution to adopt constitution.
Confirmation of Jerry Lamb as provisional bishop for the diocese.
Appoint new delegates for the 2009 national Episcopal convention.

Afternoon session: Eucharist and seating of the provisional bishop.

Read it all here.

Wednesday morning update - The Record has a report on the upcoming convention.

Finding home

Jeanne was a typical stay at home mom until a series of events in her family's life changed everything. Now she is homeless and trying to find her way back to a home. Through the help of a women's shelter begun by the Methodist Church and an Episcopal program to help women get back their lives she is moving off the streets towards a home of her own.

When she wasn’t transporting Kevin to his mini-football practices where he played the defensive position of nose guard, she was running Marisa to Girl Scout meetings and helping sell cookies every year or taking her youngest child, Daniel, to his Head Start classes.

But, that was a lifetime ago.

Jeanne now lives in a homeless shelter – one of tens of thousands of women across the nation seeking shelter on a nightly basis.

During a January 2007 count conducted by Reach, Inc., 188 people in Luzerne County (Pennsylvania) were classified as homeless. These are the most recent numbers available.

The exact numbers of homeless women locally is not known because some stay at Ruth’s Place in downtown Wilkes-Barre for a few days. Others stay for weeks at a time. On the coldest nights of the year, as many as 30 women seek a warm spot to sleep at the shelter. Other times there might be only a few women looking for a place to sleep.

But, one thing’s for sure, say advocates for the homeless: The number of women using the shelter has steadily increased by 50 percent annually.

Every woman living on the streets has a different story, but many of those are similar to Jeanne’s.


Stefanie Wolownik, director of Reach, at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, says that,
People don’t just decide to become homeless one day, she said. Usually, it is a series of traumatic events, mental illness or drug abuse, which eventually results in people losing their homes and being out on the streets.

“Life on the street is hard,” she said. “Women have a commodity that men typically don’t have. So they make terrible decisions, both morally and legally in order to keep a roof over their head.”


The worsening economy and housing shortage deepens this problem across the U.S.
Transitional housing allows people to live in a facility with their own private room for up to two years as they attempt to obtain their own apartment.

Emergency shelters offer women or men, depending on the facility, a place to sleep in a dormitory-style environment.

98 percent of homeless women in the Wyoming Valley are from Luzerne County – Stefanie Wolownik, executive director of Reach.

During the Jan. 25, 2007, count of homeless people, local advocates found:

Families with children: Nine families with a total of 24 people were in emergency shelters, 19 families with a total of 46 people were in transitional housing.

Families without children: 53 families with a total of 73 people were in emergency shelters, 22 individuals were in transitional housing, 23 individuals were sleeping on the streets.

A total of 188 people were classified as homeless during the one night of this study.

Of the homeless adults: 16 were chronically homeless, meaning they’ve been without a permanent home for more than a year; 25 suffered from severe mental illnesses; 44 suffered from substance abuse issues, 14 were veterans and 27 were victims of domestic violence.

“In no state does a full-time minimum wage job cover the costs of a one-bedroom unit at Fair Market Rent, and in 45 states and the District of Columbia, families would need to earn at least double the minimum wage in order to afford a two-bedroom unit at Fair Market Rent.” - Out of Reach: Can America Pay the Rent?, via the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“It is estimated that 760,000 people are homeless on any given night, and 1.2 (million) to 2 million people experience homelessness during one year.”- National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, via the National Coalition for the Homeless.

“Two trends are largely responsible for the rise in homelessness over the past 15 to 20 years: a growing shortage of affordable rental housing and a simultaneous increase in poverty.” - The National Coalition for the Homeless.

A quarter to 50 percent of homeless women have suffered from physical, mental or psychological abuse, NCH Executive Director Michael Stoops said.

Single women with no children account for 10 percent of the total homeless population, Stoops said.

Read it all here at the northeast Pennsylvania Times-Leader.

Ronald H. Haines, 7th bishop of Washington, dies at 73

Ronald H. Haines, the seventh Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, died on Good Friday, March 21, at his home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania according to Episcopal Life Online.

Haines, 73, was the bishop of Washington from 1990 until he retired in 2000. Prior to becoming the diocesan bishop, he was elected suffragan bishop in 1986 and served in that role until the sudden death of Bishop John Walker. He was elected diocesan bishop in July 1990.

He was a tireless advocate for the ordination of women priests and defender of gender equality in the church. Regarding racism as one of the greatest sins of modern America, he confronted it with passion. He listened as a pastor to those who disagreed with him, believing that people of good will and shared faith may differ but remain in communion with each other.

Read it all here.

Episcopal Diocese of Washington (DC) article is here.

UPDATE: 11 a.m. ET, 3/26
Obituaries and news stories

The Washington Post

Bishop Haines ordained the Rev. Elizabeth L. Carl, an open lesbian who was pastor at Church of the Epiphany in Washington. The move sparked a period of protests and internal examination, and the matter still has not been fully resolved within the church.
...
"The ordination of one whose life style involves sexual relations outside of marriage troubles me greatly," Bishop Haines said in a statement at the time. But he determined that Carl's character and priestly commitment, as well as the support of her congregation, outweighed the voices of opposition.

"He listened to both sides, always, and he didn't turn away from anyone," the Rev. Erica Brown Wood, who was ordained by Bishop Haines, said yesterday. "He did all of that with a great deal of courage and strength. He was deeply, deeply appreciated for his sense of inclusion."

According to a 1992 article in The Washington Post, one of the bishop's most vocal critics was his wife, Mary, an antiabortion activist who was vice president of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life. She even favored her husband's censure, which he narrowly avoided, at a national gathering of bishops.
...
Bishop Haines told The Post that his mind had been opened by the diverse backgrounds of church members in the 42,000-strong Washington diocese and by his experience in raising a gay son.

"I saw the pain and the anguish that comes with secret-keeping," he said.

Delaware News Journal
He was well known as a friend and mentor of many area lay and ordained leaders of the church. In his retirement, the Bishop also became an avid runner, participating in many local races and half-marathons as well as a biker who traveled throughout the roads of Lancaster County and the South of France.

The Living Church
Bishop Haines is survived by his wife, who has been in residential Alzheimer’s care for several years, as well as six children: Jennifer Haines Tozier of Advance, Pa., Alicia Haines Pearson and Ronald Gregory Haines, both of Tacoma, Wash., Thomas Jeffrey Haines of Kittery Point, Maine, Jonathan Andrew Haines of Portland, Ore., and Peter Joshua Haines of Rockville, Md.; 16 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

What is a Bible worth?

The Anglican Journal asks the question "what is a Bible worth?" To the owner the worth comes from faith and association with family. On the market rarely do Bibles have the monetary value that matches the emotional value. Patti Desjardins explores the question of Bibles and their worth.

In recognition of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, our municipality gave them the Bible. The gift was befitting because they were known in this close-knit farming community as regular churchgoers. They were touched by the tribute and placed the Bible prominently in their home.

The Bible is a modest copy: the title on the white cover is brassy, the paper coarse, and the colour photographs pallid. Yet my parents deemed it of value because it was the means by which their community saluted their long marriage of fidelity and affection. That civic officials chose to use a religious book shows Bibles are in a category all their own.

Ironically, most Bibles hold little monetary value, yet many people assume that they are worth a lot of money. Janet Carlile, an accredited antique appraiser, regularly assesses items at fund-raising events for charitable organizations such as public libraries and local museums. Bibles come up frequently.

Her conclusion is:

For Christian faith communities, a Bible is a collection of sacred writings. The content between the covers is the source of value, not the trappings. This leads to an answer to my original question: a Bible has an incalculable worth.

Read it all here.

Or go to eBay and check out the prices antique Bibles are going for.

The meetings will continue...

...until there is an improvement in morale.

We've not kept up with the various meeting announcements from the Global South steering committee, The Network and elsewhere. Here's your roundup of some of these.

1) On Easter Monday the Global South Anglican website posted Statement from the Global South Primates Steering Committee, London, Mar 13-15, 2008 saying in part, "Through our conversations together and clarifications made, we are led to understand and appreciate the principled reasons for participation in GAFCON (June 2008) and Lambeth Conference (Jul 2008). Even if there are different perspectives on these, they do not and should not be allowed to disrupt the common vision, unity and trust within the Global South." One member of the steering committee at the meeting, Archbishop Mouneer Anis, recently made it clear he would be attending Lambeth.

2) Also on Easter Monday the Anglican Communion Network was prepared to announce Network Bishops to Meet April 24:

“I have called this meeting because we need to talk frankly and openly about the future and how we as Network bishops can help the Network best fulfill its mission to build a biblical, missionary and united Anglican witness in the years ahead,” said Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator of the Network. “It is clear that the Network has a continuing mission to unite orthodox Anglicans, especially as increasing numbers of Network parishes and now dioceses are exiting The Episcopal Church. We will be talking about how we can work together to accomplish this goal even as we bless the several paths we have chosen as bishops and dioceses,” he added.
3) Tuesday the Presiding Bishop wrote to the House of Bishops, "We had mentioned the possibility of a one-day May meeting. I am not sure there was adequate desire for it on the part of the House at this point, and so this will be determined after a poll in April." That meeting would be for the House to consider consent to the deposition of Bishop Duncan.

UPDATE - See "Who is 'in' the Network"" posted March 27 on the ACN website.

Reality of intolerance continued

Last week we avoided stories of the continuing unpleasantness in the Anglican Communion. One of the stories well held back on was a March 21 report of an attack on a leader of Changing Attitudes Nigeria:

The violent attack occurred at the funeral ceremony held yesterday for the sister of Davis Mac-Iyalla, attended by six members of the Port Harcourt group on Thursday 20 March 2008.

Attacked was the CAN Port Harcourt leader who is not being named.

“I am in total shock and living in fear while feeling the pains,” the victim said.

“I suffered in the hands of a mob group that attacked me at the Service of Songs for Davis’s late sister. While hymn singing was going on a muscular man walked up to me and asked me for a word outside the compound.

“The next thing I saw was a mob group who were there to attack me.

“They started slapping and punching me, kicked me on the ground and spat on me.

“I have never known fear like I knew when they were brutalizing me. I thought they were going to kill me there and then.

While beating me they were shouting: ‘You notorious homosexual, you think can run away from us for your notorious group to cause more abomination in our land?’

“Those who attacked me were well informed about us so I suspect an insider or one of the leaders of our Anglican church have hands in this attack,” he added.

Father Jake takes up the story and reminds us that Archbishop Akinola has not condemned violence in the name of the church.

In the US, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network has set April 25th as a Day of Silence for Safer Schools:

This year’s National Day of Silence on April 25 will be held in memory of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old California student who was shot and killed at school in February by a 14-year-old classmate because of King’s sexual orientation and gender expression.

The Day of Silence is held by students every year to bring attention to anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) name-calling, bullying and harassment. The senseless tragedy at E.O. Green Junior High in Oxnard, Calif., brings even more meaning to a day that has brought hope to millions of students.

Hundreds of thousands of students are expected to participate by taking some form of a vow of silence for the entire day or part of it.

The effort has been ridiculed, and characterized as having a hidden agenda, by some conservative "Anglican" blogs in the US. Efforts are underway to expose schools that participating to pressure them to withdraw.

Diocese of Los Angeles partners with former Broadcom exec

Orange County Business Journal

Henry Nicholas, cofounder and former chief executive of Irvine chipmaker Broadcom Corp., is set to give $10 million to start after-school programs for low-income students.

The money is slated to build and operate the Nicholas Academic Center at 412 W. Fourth St. in Santa Ana. The center will serve 60 students from Santa Ana Unified School District high schools.

The center will provide transportation to and from area high schools, be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and be staffed by teachers and counselors.

Nicholas’ foundation is finalizing plans with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles to open similar centers in San Juan Capistrano and the Echo Park section of Los Angeles.
...
In addition to the academic centers, Nicholas’ foundation in partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles plans to open “entrepreneurial centers” to provide inner-city businesses in the food services industry with facilities, accounting expertise, training and distribution channels.

The Security and Exchange Commission is reportedly continuing to build a case against Nicholas and others over backdating of options at Broadcom. Read an earlier report on Broadcom here.

The God-o-Meter project

Beliefnet, in partnership with TIME, has created a God-o-Meter (pronounced gah-DOM-meter) for presidential candidates. Said to be a "scientific measure of God-talk in the election", the meter ranges from 0 (secularist) to 10 (theocrat).

Some current scores:

Hillary Clinton 8 (previous reading 9)

Barack Obama 8 (previous reading 8)

John McCain 3 (previous reading 3)

In the most recent post, on Hillary Clinton, the God-o-Meter reading of 8 at this statement by Clinton concerning Obama's former pastor: "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend." She criticized the Rev. Wright for what she called "hate speech."

Clinton's score hit 9 on Monday when Clinton operative Jim Carville called Governor Richardson "Judas" after he endorsed Obama. Carville has not backed off.

Act of Settlement under review

And it was thereby further enacted That all and every Person and Persons that then were or afterwards should be reconciled to or shall hold Communion with the See or Church of Rome or should professe the Popish Religion or marry a Papist should be excluded and are by that Act made for ever [X1 incapable] to inherit possess or enjoy the Crown and Government of this Realm and Ireland and the Dominions thereunto belonging or any part of the same or to have use or exercise any regall Power Authority or Jurisdiction within the same And in all and every such Case and Cases the People of these Realms shall be and are thereby absolved of their Allegiance And that the said Crown and Government shall from time to time descend to and be enjoyed by such Person or Persons being Protestants as should have inherited and enjoyed the same in case the said Person or Persons so reconciled holding Communion professing or marrying as aforesaid were naturally dead - from the Act of Settlement 1701 (1700)
Prime Minister Gordon Brown is considering changes:
All recent attempts to get the 1701 act repealed have failed. In 2001, Tony Blair - now a Catholic - promised to re-examine the 300-year-old piece of legislation but did nothing about it.

Jack Straw, Westminster's Justice Secretary, gave hope to those wanting a change in the law that the Prime Minister could grasp the constitutional nettle and repeal a law which discriminates against one section of society.

MP for Livingston Jim Devine, one of 13 Scottish Labour members who are Catholics, raised the issue during the Commons debate on the White Paper, when he asked the Secretary of State to include it in the abolition of the act, which discriminated against Roman Catholics. He said: "It is legalised sectarianism that has no role in the 21st century."

Mr Straw replied: "Because of the position Her Majesty occupies as head of the Anglican Church, it is rather more complicated than maybe anticipated. But we are certainly ready to consider this. I fully understand that to my honourable friend and many on both sides of the House, it is seen as something which is antiquated."

Last summer, Alex Salmond, the First Minister, after gaining power at Holyrood made a point that he would raise the issue of abolishing the Act of Settlement.

Last night, a spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "There is no doubt that this piece of discrimination has no place in modern society. While Jack Straw's remarks are welcome in indicating that the UK Government is moving in the right direction, it will be important to see what the UK Government will propose. We will be seeking clarification as to what Mr Straw precisely meant."

One of the main stumbling blocks to repealing all parts of the act is that it could in theory mean a Catholic could become head of the Anglican Church.

During the debate, this issue was raised by David Hamilton, Labour MP for Midlothian, who said: "Could I make an alternative point of view and that is not to encourage the Catholic Church to come in nor indeed the Church of Scotland, which is also excluded, but use this (reform) taking us into the 21st century to separate state from church and therefore take churches out of state business."

Mr Straw insisted the Established Church played a "very important role" in the constitution.

Court rules for diocese

ENS:

The Supreme Court of Queens County, New York, recently ruled that the property of St. James' Episcopal Church, Elmhurst, is held in trust for the Diocese of Long Island and the Episcopal Church.
...
The dissidents relied heavily on the fact that the parish was originally established as a part of the Church of England, arguing that the parish predated the Episcopal Church and they were therefore independent of the church and free to leave. St. James Church was founded in 1704 and officially chartered in 1761 by King George III. It was the first parish in Elmhurst, called Newtown in colonial times.
...
The court rejected the dissidents' claim and ruled that St. James became an Episcopal parish after the American Revolution, and has existed as a part of the Episcopal Church, subject to its authority, since that time. The court noted that St. James, along with other New York parishes of similar status, petitioned the New York state legislature in 1793 to be allowed to incorporate as a parish of the Episcopal Church.

The court also said that the vestry members became ineligible to continue on the vestry or act on the parish's behalf after disaffiliating from the Episcopal Church. Following earlier New York cases, including the most recent decision involving the Diocese of Rochester, the court explicitly rejected the dissidents' arguments in this case that the Episcopal Church is not really hierarchical. The term hierarchical, in this sense, means that parishes are subject to the constitution, canons, rules and decisions of their dioceses and of the Episcopal Church as a whole.

It also rejected the dissidents' claim that Canon I.7(4), which states that all parish property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church and the diocese, constituted a new policy.

Read it all here.

Michael Gerson's pastor problem

One good thing about keeping a blog is that you can make sure that your letters to the editor see the light of day one way or another:

Michael Gerson hasn’t learned that people who live in glass churches shouldn’t throw stones. In a recent column in The Washington Post, he took Barack Obama to task for his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, while retaining his membership in the Anglican Church of Nigeria, which is led by the flamboyantly bigoted Archbishop Peter Akinola.

Akinola is well known to international human rights advocates for supporting a Nigerian bill that would have deprived gays and lesbians of basic rights of speech, religion and association and mandated jail time for displays of affection “direct or indirect,” “public or private.” He also was president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in 2004 when a para-militia associated with CAN carried out a retributive massacre of more than 650 Muslims in the town of Yelwa. Asked by a reporter from The Atlantic whether the massacre had been planned, Akinola declined comment.

Wright's rhetorical excesses pale in comparison to Akinola’s deeds. Yet Gerson strains after the gnat in Obama’s eye while ignoring the beam in his own.

(Here is an instance of Gerson carrying water for the archbishop, and a response. )

"Renewal or Ruin?" now available for free online

Steven D. Martin's film on the Institute on Religion and Democracy--Renewal or Ruin--is now available online at talk2.action.org. It's an easy way to understand this organization, its donors and their campaign against mainline Protestantism.

Talking heads include: Jim Winkler of the General Board of Church and Society of the Methodist Church, Columbia University Professor Randall Balmer, author and pastor Andrew Weaver and someone named Naughton.

A transcript is also available, and it includes this from Frederick Clarkson of talk2action.org:

Every single major denomination is racked from within over a host of issues. Though some of these kinds of things are normal in any institution, particularly democratic institutions where people disagree and agree to disagree. But what if there were an outside agency that was created for the sole purpose of fanning those flames and creating divisions—creating mutual distrust and suspicions and hatreds to the point of people leaving each other, breaking their communions, breaking their covenants apart rather than trying to reconcile their differences or finding ways to live constructively with their differences. If you have an outside organizing agency whose sole purpose is to foment distrust and suspicion and to break organizations apart, well you have the kinds of things that we see in the Presbyterian church and the Episcopal church and the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist church every single day.

The IRD has responded, and Clarkson has analyzed the response. Daily Kos is running an article as well.

Bizarre bedfellows

Students of the current Anglican controversy may recall that Richard Mellon Scaife, who spent millions on dollars to bring down Bill Clinton also spent hunderds of thousands of dollars to bring down the Episcopal Church. (Newcomers can read all about it in Following the Money, Part One, or click on Read more to find the relevant section of that article.)

How odd, then, to see him seated beside Hillary Clinton, as she criticized Barack Obama for his handling of the Jeremiah Wright affair.

Tim Noah of Slate writes:

She is free, of course, to associate with whomever she pleases. But she is not free, while paddling the sewers with Scaife, to judge Obama publicly for belonging to Wright's church. Compared with Scaife, Wright is St. Francis of Assisi. The only possible reason why any Pennsylvanian might judge Wright more harshly than Scaife is that Scaife is white and Wright is black. That must be obvious even to Hillary as she cozies up to this repulsive billionaire.

Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News has tracked down the transcript of the Wright sermon that has sparked much of the controversy.

Read more »

Dean Lind on News Hour tonight

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, will take part in a panel discussion about race, religion and politics on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer tonight. The program is broadcast at 6 pm EDT; the panel discussion is expected to air about 6:30 pm.

The panel discussion, titled “Race, Religion and Politics,” is expected to discuss how issues of race and religion are intersecting with the 2008 presidential race.

Lind was also quoted in a March 23 New York Times story titled “Obama’s Talk Fuels Easter Sermons.”

For more information on Trinity Cathedral and its programs, please call 216-771-3630 or visit www.trinitycleveland.org.

Is Bishop Wright a ranter?

Café contributor Adrian Worsfold, known online as Pluralist wonders whether Bishop N. T. Wright actually deserves his reputation as a scholar.

It isn't necessary to embrace Worsfold's entire critique to believe that the bishop is so frequently lauded for his Biblical scholarship, that it obscures the hackneyed anti-modernism that mars much of his political and social commentary. Nor to lament the fact that if the Anglican Communion succeeds in institutionalizing its homophobia, via the proposed Covenant, Wright will have been among the primary archtects of this structural sin.

The bishop beings a book tour of the United States in late April, and one wonders whether those who attend his appearances will ask him why he has worked so hard to exclude gay and lesbian Christians from the sacraments of the Church. One also wonders whether Episcopal churches will continue to sponsor events to benefit a man who has worked so hard to disenfranchise them in the councils of the Anglican Communion.

The Keiskamma Altarpiece

The Chicago Tribune's photo essay on the Keiskamma Altarpiece is worth a visit.

Grace Cathedral offers a panel by panel view of this monumental artwork.

Female bishops in Church of Wales?

The governing body of the Church in Wales meets next Wednesday to discuss a bill to enable women to be ordained as bishops. Backed by the six diocesan bishops of the Church in Wales, the bill states that henceforth men and women may be ordained as Bishops, but that pastoral care and support will be provided for those who in conscience object to the ordination of women as Bishops. The Bill will be debated in committee before being voted on and may be amended.

Read it all.

The BBC adds, "If the bill is passed, England will be the sole UK region where the Anglican Church does not allow female bishops."

EDS honors Bishop Chane, UN observer and former NBA star

Episcopal Divinity School announces its 2008 Commencement Ceremony on May 15, 2008 at the First Church in Cambridge, Congregational, 11 Garden Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, at 2:00 pm. EDS will present honorary doctor of divinity degrees to five individuals for their social justice work: The Rt. Rev. John Chane, Kevin Johnson, Cynthia Shattuck, Katie Sherrod, and Hellen Wangusa. The Commencement address will be delivered by Hellen Wangusa, Anglican Observer to the United Nations.

“The honorary degrees committee spends a great deal of time crafting a ‘class’ of honorary degree recipients each year that reflect the values of the school: justice, compassion, and reconciliation,” said The Rev. Dr. Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook, Academic Dean. “We look not only to the church, and lay and ordained people who work for the church as candidates, but each year hope to also honor people who consistently ‘give back’ to their communities, as well as young and unsung advocates for justice. This year, each of the people we are honoring, in a number of ways, represents excellence in their fields and ministries of justice and peace locally as well as throughout the world.”

The Rt. Rev. John Chane, Bishop of Washington, is a peace maker who has traveled twice to Iran at the invitation of President Khatami, and has invited the Iranian leader to speak at the National Cathedral. He was recently appointed to serve on a Global Anglican Task Force investigating human rights violations in the Kingdom of Swaziland, Africa. Prior to attending Seminary, Bishop Chane worked as an urban community organizer in Boston’s South End, and Roxbury.

To read the entire release, click Read more.

Read more »

Religious response to credit shortage

Patrick Hynes, writing at Ekklesia, reports on some of the ways that groups in Britain are attempting to respond to the turmoil in the international financial sector:

"The much publicised ‘credit crunch’ refers to the way loans and other forms of credit are becoming difficult or more expensive to obtain. This crisis may bring harder times for us all, individuals and businesses alike. But access to credit has always been a daily problem for people who are poor, as they are often denied fair finance due to a lack of collateral. The notion of collateral, where property is used to secure a loan, ensures the poor will always be poor.

With no collateral there is no chance of a loan, the means to self-employment and therefore to own something as basic as a shelter. Someone needs simply to break through this vicious cycle of poverty, and thus enable people to earn a dignified living for themselves and their families."

As a result of the conditions described above, over the past decades, an international movement called "micro-finance" has developed to make small loans to individuals in the developing world who might not otherwise have access to the credit they need to start small businesses. After giving examples of how micro-finance works, and describing the challenges facing the movement at the moment, he reports on an organization that is attempting to respond:

Oikocredit is a simple solution to a big problem, but turning faith into hope for others is a tough challenge. The scripture guidance is simple enough: “To do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” . However a recent study found that people, even with deeply held convictions, find it hard to put their money where their values are.

“When it comes to choosing where to save most ethical consumers don’t live up to their principles”. The report’s author, Professor Alex Gardner said: “While they regularly recycle and are happy to pay more for ethical products, like Fairtrade coffee and organic food, they ignore their basic values when it comes to their banking choices.” Professor Gardener identified several main reasons: partly the complexity of money matters and apathy, but also that we are very attached to financial returns when we are privileged to have savings.

The question of how to make best use of resources is clearly challenging to us all. One possible danger is that we leave it to others, perhaps even to institutions to act collectively on our behalf.

Read the rest here and if you're interested, follow the links to find more information on these sorts of programs.

Interfaith Dry Cleaning

The blogger Aaron Orear has posted a lovely story of interfaith religious cooperation at his local cleaners. It's a reminder that while there are certainly tensions between christians and muslims, there are still plenty of hopeful signs all around us that we can live and work in harmony with each other.

"I took one of my copes to the dry cleaners today. It was a bit on the dingy side...fine for the Great Vigil, seen by candlelight, but not quite up to the full light of a Sunday morning. (Mind you, I wore it anyhow.) So it was off to the cleaners to see if they could brighten it up.

The fellow behind the counter took a look, noted a couple stains and areas of particular wear and griminess. Then he asked, 'This is for church?' I said it was, happy not to have been asked, 'So, it's a dress?' What sort of dresses do dry cleaners see, anyhow? 'No charge for this,' he said.

When I protested that it was going to be a pricey item (I was figuring $50 would be on the cheap end) and that I ought to pay something he said, 'We like to do this. We're sister religions. I'm Muslim. You're using this in God's name and God's service? No fee.'

Considering how much bad press Muslim-Christian relations have gotten lately, I thought that deserved a mention. It was a small gesture, but then relationships are made up of small gestures. It was just the sort of act that reminds me that religious caricatures are just that."

Read the rest of his story here.

Racism and Religion in America

(UPDATED - see bottom of article)

There have been a number of essays posted in the secular media over the past two weeks which have attempted to put the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright's sermons about racism in the United States into some sort of broader context. But there have also been a few helpful essays written from within the religious community.

One of the first of these essays to appear was written by Craig Uffman and posted on the Covenant-Communion website:

"Much has been made in the U.S. political campaign on the issue of race. The harsh anti-American rhetoric of Barack Obama’s former pastor, attributed by some to liberation theology, has been used by both sides of the aisle as an opportunity to gain political points in support of the three surviving campaigns.

I was particularly disappointed this morning to read William Kristol’s column in the New York Times entitled ‘Let’s Not, and Say We Did.’ In particular, I shuddered in reading his view that ‘The last thing we need now is a heated national conversation about race.’ He goes on to explain:

Racial progress has in fact continued in America. A new national conversation about race isn’t necessary to end what Obama calls the ‘racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years’ — because we’re not stuck in such a stalemate.

While I recognize the pragmatic point he strives to make with his rhetoric, I disagree. You can see one reason why I disagree by downloading this alarming statistical perspective of the economic gap between blacks and whites that is the current reality in the U.S. Yet racial injustice is not merely an American concern. Independently of the U.S. political campaigns, the Church needs to wrestle seriously to achieve and teach a theological account of race.

This is a serious issue that demands serious dialogue. To that end, I share below extensive excerpts from an important essay (published in Theology Today) from theologian, J. Kameron Carter, whose recent opinion piece in response to the debate over Dr. Wright’s sermons I posted recently. Those who know the work of Rowan Williams on race will recognize deep resonances in Carter’s penetrating discussion of race and the meaning of baptism. Note that he is responding to a theologian whose account of race, like Dr. Wright’s, is rooted in liberation theology. So you find here a theological account of race that contrasts sharply with that which funds Dr. Wright’s sermons, at least as far as I can tell from those published in recent days by our media"

Read the rest of his essay here.

Mark Harris wrote an initial response to Craig's piece and wonders if Craig has correctly described a connection between Liberation Theology and the theological underpinnings of Wright's sermons.

Rosemary Ruether has also posted an essay on the topic, in which she points out that those decrying the criticism of America found in Wright's sermon are forgetting (perhaps conveniently) the similar statements made by people on the religious right immediately following the events of 9/11

Few of the pundits who were so outraged by such language from Obama’s pastor bothered to note that Christian fundamentalists are in the habit of regularly opining that God is punishing America for some sins. Only their list of sins for which America deserves punishment is different from those of Wright. In the words of Christian fundamentalist Jerry Falwell, “I really believe the pagans, the abortionists, the feminists, the gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make an alternative life style, the ACLU, the People for the American Way, all of them who tried to secularize America, I point the finger at them and say you helped 9/11 happen.”

Similarly Pat Robertson attributed the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 to divine vengeance brought about because of the Supreme Court forbidding Bible reading and prayer in the schools. “We have insulted God at the highest level of government and then we say why is it happening. Well, it is happening because God almighty is lifting his protection from us.” Both Robertson and Christian conservative John Hagee claimed that hurricane Katrina was a punishment of God for the sins of New Orleans. Hagee said, “All hurricanes are acts of God. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God (citing a planned gay parade in the city). I believe the Bible teaches that when you violate the law of God, God brings punishment sometimes before the day of judgment and I believe that hurricane Katrina was in fact the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans.”

Although some Americans may claim to be shocked by Wright’s words, while ignoring those of Falwell, Robertson and Hagee, such damning is indeed typical of Biblical prophetic thought. The prophet Jeremiah, for whom Jeremiah Wright is aptly named, filled his book with condemnation of Israel for its sins, both sexual and social, proclaiming God’s intention to pour out divine wrath against it. “Let my wrath go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your doing.” “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins, a lair of jackals, and I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without an inhabitant.” (Jer. 4:4; 9:11).

You can read the rest of Ruether's essay here.

(UPDATE) The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent overview of the whole controversy here.

What do you think? Were Wright's comments "out of bounds"? Were they firmly within the ancient prophetic tradition? How should they be heard within the context of a contested political race?


This weekend in San Joaquin

Episcopal News Service has posted an article that details what folks might expect to happen this weekend in the Diocese of San Joaquin:

Members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin are gathering in Stockton, California, March 28 to take two major steps in reorganizing the diocese. The first step will be a "service for healing and forgiveness" at the Episcopal Church of St. Anne in Stockton, the temporary home of the diocese. House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson will preside at the service and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will lead the litany for healing. The Presiding Bishop and a number of other clergy will be available to anoint people during the service.

Prior to the service, St. Anne's will host a reception for Jefferts Schori and Anderson. After the service, the Presiding Bishop will engage members of the diocese in a question-and-answer session at the church.

The Rev. Mark Hall, St. Anne's rector and acting diocesan administrator, told ENS that interest in the healing service is keen. Based on registrations, he estimates about 350 people will attend -- a number that will stretch the seating capacity of St. Anne's.

"We have people we haven't heard from in years calling and saying they want to be part of it," he said.

Hall said that while there is a "lot of joy" in the diocese at the moment and some people may be feeling "somewhat vindicated," the healing service is important.

Following the service:

The second reorganizing step will come the following day, March 29, at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist in Lodi when the diocese gathers for a special one-day convention.

“As the faithful people of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin gather this weekend, it marks a sign of hope for the future," the Rev. Dr. Charles Robertson, canon to the Presiding Bishop, told ENS. "As specified in Canon III.13.1, the Presiding Bishop will be present to consult with the Convention about a provisional bishop.

"However, her presence and that of the President of the House of Deputies is also a reminder of the larger Church which stands with, prays for, and supports the people of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin as they move forward in mission and ministry."

Canon III.13.1 states in part that "a Diocese without a Bishop may, by an act of its Convention, and in consultation with the Presiding Bishop, be placed under the provisional charge and authority of a Bishop of another Diocese or of a resigned Bishop."

Delegates to the special convention will be asked to consent to the Presiding Bishop's recommendation of Bishop Jerry Lamb as provisional bishop of the diocese. Lamb, 67, retired as bishop of the Diocese of Northern California in 2007 and most recently served as interim bishop in the Diocese of Nevada.

The rest of the article is here.

Earth Hour

Many people around the world are planning on observing an hour of "darkness" tomorrow night as a way of participating in a global earth hour. The event was created by the World Wildlife Fund in 2007.

From the Earth Hour Website:

"Earth Hour was created by WWF in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and in one year has grown from an event in one city to a global movement. In 2008, millions of people, businesses, governments and civic organizations in nearly 200 cities around the globe will turn out for Earth Hour. More than 100 cities across North America will participate, including the US flagships–Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco and Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

We invite everyone throughout North America and around the world to turn off the lights for an hour starting at 8 p.m. (your own local time)–whether at home or at work, with friends and family or solo, in a big city or a small town."

Get the full story on Earth Hour here.

The Christian Science Monitor has the "local" angle from Chicago here:

"Chicago is Earth Hour's US flagship city, with Atlanta, San Francisco, Phoenix, and a dozen more joining in.

In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley has long been on a quest to make the city the greenest in the nation, and officials say this event can help individuals and businesses engage. Local McDonald's restaurants will dim their golden arches, theaters will darken their marquees, and Chicagoans have planned events from ghost stories in the dark to a candlelight bachelorette party.

"We've improved a lot of our own practices," says Sadhu Johnston, Chicago's chief environmental officer, noting that the city has switched to greener power sources and was the first in the world to join the Climate Exchange. "But ultimately we need homeowners and businesses and Chicago residents to take the lead on this."

The Diocese of Arizona's Nature and Spirituality Program is calling on the people of Phoenix and the state to observe the Hour in their own way. (The Arizona Republic has their version of the "local" angle too.)

Any religious organizations you know of planning on doing something to mark the event?

Dean of Seattle Cathedral resigns

Amid mixed feelings about his leadership, the Very Rev. Robert Taylor resigned as dean of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle yesterday. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's blogstaff posted the story under the category "Seattle politics," noting details such as a generous severance package and controversy over Taylor's 9-year tenure in leadership at the cathedral, particularly in the past year:

The cathedral became a vortex for controversy just before Easter of 2007.

Citing budget problems, Taylor laid off two women priests as well as the director of one of the church's programs. One of the priests, St. Mark's director of faith formation, was preparing a class of converts to be received into the church at Easter Vigil.

The layoffs sparked controversy, especially at revelation that Taylor had received a substantial salary increase while he was under consideration to become Bishop of California.

Noting his "swan song" sermon of Palm Sunday, the PI blog also listed some of Taylor's accomplishments with regard to social justice, particularly in leading the charge against homelessness.

And as Eastertide came round, Bishop Greg Rickel stepped up to help smooth the transition during Holy Week:

Recently installed Episcopal Bishop Greg Rickel, who has mediated ongoing internal disputes at St. Mark's, filled in for the absent dean. Rickel presided as this year's class of converts was welcomed into the St. Mark's community.

"The man (Rickel) has made this church his cathedral in a manner not seen around here in 40 years: This man has been our pastor, and he loves us," said Rev. John Huston, a retired priest who spent years on the staff at St. Mark's.

After filling in for Taylor, and helping negotiate his departure, Bishop Rickel sent a letter to St. Mark's parishoners "written with a heavy heart and an indescribable mix of emotions."

Whole story here.

At home in Charlottesville

Author Jan Karon made an appearance at the Virginia Festival of the Book, whose lineup reads like a SXSW for English majors. The sold-out "high tea" with Karon happened Thursday afternoon in Charlottesville, VA, and got a slightly irreverent writeup on the blog of the local weekly paper, The Hook:


Albemarle resident Karon created the wholesome Mitford series and published the first of nine books about Episcopalian priest Father Tim and his flock in 1994. “When I started writing the Mitford books, I thought he was a little boring,” she said.

Her relationship with the pudgy priest changed over the years, and in her most recent book, she leaves Mitford, set in her native North Carolina mountains, and follows Father Tim to his new fictional locale, Holly Springs, Mississippi. She compares the launch of the Father Tim series to “giving birth on Sunday and getting pregnant on Monday.”

And does she miss Mitford, the setting that sold more than 20 million books? “No,” she says firmly.

Karon also confesses that she writes as she drives, and warns, “Multiply that by the number of writers living in Albemarle County– and order your groceries in.”

Her faith is an integral part of her fiction. “What I write about is redemption,” she told the Book Fest crowd. “We need it, we’re starved for it. I write about God’s love.”

From here, with an additional punch line of how to find, um, sex scenes in her books?

Maryland elects new bishop

The Episcopal Diocese of Maryland today elected the Rev. Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton, canon pastor at the Washington National Cathedral, to be its 14th bishop on the first ballot.

From Episcopal Life Online:

Sutton has served parishes in the dioceses of New Jersey and Washington. He has also taught homiletics and liturgics at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and General Theological Seminary. He’s also served as assistant to the bishop in the Diocese of New Jersey. Sutton is a frequent leader of retreats and conferences on prayer, preaching, spirituality and mission. Married to Sonya Subbayya Sutton, their family includes four children and stepchildren.

...

"I am both honored and humbled to be elected your bishop in the wonderful Diocese of Maryland. I, Sonya and our family look forward to being among you as fellow travelers in this exciting journey," Sutton said following the election. "I would like to express my hopes and dreams for our new ministry together in the form of a prayer. We continually give thanks to God, who in Christ makes "a new creation…the old has passed away, behold, all things have become new.'"

Sutton's complete address to the diocese is here. The ELO article is here.

Updates on San Joaquin

Updated 9:15 p.m.

Some notes from around the internet/blogosphere on the special convention for San Joaquin, starting with some words from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

... Remember that you are not alone. This part of the Body of Christ is only one limb. The rest of the Episcopal Church is with you, and will continue to be with you. A few people have joined you here today as incarnate evidence of the love of Christ, known in community. We stand with you in the firm and constant hope that this body will grow and flourish and bless the central valley of California in ways you have not yet dreamed of. And we will celebrate with you as that becomes reality.

Episcopal Life online has her full address here and also has coverage of last night's events.
Aghaveagh recaps the Q&A and promises more today.
Father Jake has posted some of the comments he's received from participants.
Thinking Anglicans has links to some of the other reactions in the blogosphere.

We may update this post as more comes in this evening/tomorrow, so check back.

First update: 6:30 p.m., also from Episcopal Life (story here):

The members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin ... chose their provisional bishop and other officers, and passed organizing resolutions during a convention filled with cheers and applause, and rooted in the message of resurrection.

"I am awed by the opportunity" that the Diocese of San Joaquin has to transform itself, said Nancy Key, a member of the steering committee that worked towards the convening of the special convention, during a lunch break. The diocese has "a lot of momentum" that can now be channeled into concrete action, she added.

Second Update, 9:15 p.m.
Lamb installed as provisional bishop, according to Episcopal Life Online:


"What you have been about and what I have been about these last months, weeks, days, even hours is not really about building a new diocesan structure," Lamb said during his sermon. "As I understand it, what we are about is the proclamation of the Good News that Jesus is the Christ and that we do this from within the base of our Episcopal and Anglican tradition because that's who we are: members of the Episcopal Church and members of the Anglican church."

Most of the more than 400 people who attended the convention remained for the Eucharist. Individuals from the Episcopal dioceses of Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, El Camino Real, Hawaii, Los Angeles, Nevada, Northern California, Rio Grande, San Diego and Olympia also attended.

Half of the offertory was assigned to Lamb's discretionary fund and the other half, Lamb told the congregation to loud and sustained applause, would be given to the Diocese of Louisiana, which continues to rebuild after hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori led Lamb and the congregation through his formal seating as provisional bishop. That part of the service included recognition that Lamb had been duly chosen and accepted by the members of the diocese.

Read it all here.

Father Jake again highlights his commenters who attended, here.

Audio of the press conference here.

Is Christianity a Bibical faith?

Is Christianity a "religion of the book"? In a provocative essay in the Church Times, the Reverend Paul Oestreicher, a Canon Emeritus of Coventry Cathedral, and a Counsellor of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, argues that it is not--or at least ought not be, a religion of any book:

The paradox is that the New Testament texts themselves attest to the fact that they are not the last word. The Spirit is the contemporary judge over all that has been written. Jesus said, and the Spirit goes on telling us: “You have heard it said . . . but I say unto you.” Yesterday’s wisdom is not tomorrow’s. To the disciples, Jesus said: “There are many things you do not understand, but the Spirit will lead you to the truth.” He did not say: “Study the texts: it is all there,” and, significantly, did not write any texts himself.


Quite rightly, we may therefore say that St Paul had a view of the role of women that we now recognise to be less than Christian — to take a simple example. Once that is conceded, there is no longer any need for theologians to sweat blood ironing out the many contradictions in the Bible. Given the world as it is, those contradictions make the Bible more, not less, credible. They leave us with essential existential choices, which give meaning to the “glorious liberty of the children of God”. We are slaves to no text; nor are we a religion of any book.


The Bible is full of violence in God’s name, from the God-sent flood, killing everybody except Noah’s family (what’s wrong with an atom bomb, then, in a good cause?), and the drowning of the Egyptian army to let God’s people get away (why not wipe out Gaza then?), on to the Apocalypse — a horror film to outdo all others. All this, and much more, human beings have projected on to God.

God in Christ really has made all things new. That has proved to be too threatening to the Churches. The ethic of loving enemies is what the Christian revolution is all about. Jesus asked for them to be forgiven as they drove the nails into his hands and feet. When he preached in his home town about Yahweh’s preferential love for despised foreigners rather than for his own people, they tried to lynch him.

. . .

If the Churches embraced this ethic, they would be renouncing significant parts of their history. It is called repentance. It would mean that at least one of the three great religions would cease to be a contributor to the violence that could destroy us all.

Read it all here.

Progressive evangelicals reshape image

The Associated Press is reporting that Sojourners is organizing a conference in Columbus, Ohio, next month to highlight the progressive roots of evangelism--particularly its roots in women's suffrage and the abolitionist movements:

An evangelical group that wants to reshape the movement's political reputation for being focused on opposing abortion and same-sex marriage is hoping that a series of meetings stressing its roots in women's suffrage and abolition will help it break out of the mold.

The stated goal of the first three-day "justice revival," one of several to be held around the country, is to tackle poverty in the city through a collaboration with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

But the broader idea is to energize the relatively small liberal end of the evangelical spectrum by linking religious faith with social action as earlier American social movements did, its planners say. Among the areas to be explored by participants are access to health care, immigration, global warming and the war in Iraq.

"I have been very deeply moved by the history of these great awakenings in our national life, where there was a revival of faith that led to big change in our society," said Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

The Washington, D.C.-based group will hold the event April 16-18 in Columbus, with 30 of the city's largest evangelical churches, representing 10,000 Christians.

"A whole generation of young evangelicals believes that Jesus would probably care more about the 30,000 children who died again today — as they did yesterday and they will tomorrow — from preventable disease than he would about passing a gay-marriage amendment in Ohio," Wallis said

Read it all here.

The Pope's visit to America

On April 15, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI will make his first visit as Pope to the United States. Beliefnet offers full coverage, including, a blog by noted religion writer David Gibson devoted to the visit. Here is a sample post:

As CNS reports, the Popemobile is on its way! I can't wait till the Magliozzi brothers on "Car Talk" get hold of this one. Popes have almost always used Mercedes (though you'd think the Bavarian Benedict might like a BMW, no?), and this one is a modified version of the Mercedes-Benz ML430 off-road vehicle. Not terribly gas-friendly for this environmentally-sensitive pontiff. But he's not traveling very far in it.

So as the "Car Talk" fellows would say, here's a Puzzler for you: When did popes start using Popemobiles?

Stay tuned for the answer.

Read it all here.

David Gibson also offers Six Surprising Things About Benedict XVI, 'The Puzzling Pope', which includes the following explanations of the current Pope:

ONE: "He’s not conservative—he’s old-fashioned!" A Vatican aide to the pope delivered that protest to a friend of mine, and it strikes me as one of the best one-liners about Benedict. In reality, of course, Benedict is conservative, in the classic sense of the word—preserving tradition, preferring personal virtue over systemic change, doing more with less. And yes, Benedict will turn 81 on April 16, the day after he arrives. But his outlook is not about his age or philosophy. It’s his style. He loves the Fathers of the early church—St. Augustine is his hero—and he models his vestments on the Medicis of the Renaissance papacy. His Latin is better than his English—and his English ain't too bad—and he plays Mozart to relax. Benedict yearns for the good old days. That's his character, it's his destiny—and, for the foreseeable future, the church's destiny, too. On the other hand, for Catholics "on the ground" who are seeing a return to Latin in the Mass and maybe communion on the tongue (while kneeling at an altar rail, no less), calling Benedict "old-fashioned" rather than conservative may be a distinction without a difference.

Look for full, and updated, coverage here.

A former death row chaplain

The Dallas Morning News Religion Blog notes an interesting new film that was previewed at the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival in Austin earlier this month, and that will air at 8 p.m. on May 29 on the Independent Film Channel. The film is called "At the Death House Door," and it focuses on the Rev. Carroll "Bud" Pickett's path from death-penalty supporter to opponent:

Cathleen Falsani, religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, calls it "the most spiritually important film you'll see this year."

The film traces the Rev. Carroll "Bud" Pickett's path from death-penalty supporter to opponent. From 1982 to 1995, Pickett, a Presbyterian minister in Huntsville, accompanied 95 Texas convicts to their executions.

One case that helped change his mind about capital punishment was that of Carlos De Luna, who was executed in 1989 for the murder of a Corpus Christi gas station attendant. De Luna went to his death maintaining his innocence, and Pickett to this day believes that the state killed the wrong man. A 2006 series by the Chicago Tribune found substantial evidence that someone else committed the murder.

. . .

At the Death House Door" is directed by Steve James and Peter Gilbert, the director and cinematographer, respectively, of the acclaimed 1994 basketball documentary "Hoop Dreams."

Read it all here. You can watch a preview here.

Bishop Katharine writes the Senate

The following is Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to the full Senate in support of Climate legislation.

March 31, 2008

United States Senate
Washington, D. C 20510

Dear Senator:

Urgent action by the United States in response to global warming is long past due. As the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I urge the Senate to take up climate change legislation at the earliest possible moment. As one who has been formed both through a deep faith and as a scientist, I believe science has shown us unequivocally that climate change and global warming are real, and caused in significant part by human activities. Climate change is a threat not only to God’s good creation but to all of humanity.

I am pleased that bi-partisan legislation introduced by Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Warner successfully moved through the committee process with many improvements and now awaits Senate debate. Senate bill 2191, America’s Climate Security Act, is a strong step forward in achieving carbon emission reductions. At the same time it includes measures aimed at addressing the needs of the world’s most vulnerable: those, who for demographic reasons such as health or location are most susceptible to the effects of climate change, and those living in poverty at home and around the world. I strongly support this legislation. Our nation, historically the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, has a responsibility to lead the way in addressing the impact of climate change.

Climate change exacerbates extreme world poverty and poverty is hastening global warming. Most people living in poverty around the world lack access to a reliable energy source, forcing many to choose energy sources such as oil, coal, or wood, which threaten to expand significantly the world's greenhouse emissions and thus accelerate the effects of climate change. That need for resources to purchase energy must be addressed in any attempt to lift a community out of poverty. This cycle—poverty that begets climate change and vice versa—threatens the future of all people, rich and poor alike. The poverty cycle driven by climate change will only add to political instability, social violence, and war. Our own domestic tranquility and security are intimately tied to the wellbeing of the poor both here and abroad.

I am grateful for Congressional attention to climate change, and I challenge the Senate to support measures to further strengthen S. 2191 during floor consideration. I want to be absolutely clear that for those living in poverty, inaction on our part now will ultimately be the most costly of all courses of action. I am grateful to the members of Congress who have recognized and spoken out on that very important truth.

Many in the faith community have long been aware of the ways in which our lack of concern for the rest of creation results in death and destruction for our neighbors. We cannot love our neighbors unless we care for the creation that supports all our earthly lives. I join my fellow Episcopalians in urging the Senate of the 110th Congress to pass the strongest climate change legislation possible. The acknowledgment of global warming and the Church’s commitment to ameliorating it are a part of the ongoing discovery of God’s revelation to humanity and the call to a fuller understanding of the scriptural imperative to love our neighbor as ourselves. I remain

Your faithful servant,

Katharine Jefferts Schori

Webcasting funerals

In England, a Southampton funeral home has begun offering funeral services via webcast to mourners who cannot make the journey to funeral in person. The Guardian reports that funeral directors Henry Powell and Sons set up a digital camera in one corner of one of their funeral chapels and for a fee it can be broadcast over the internet over a password-protected link.

A new "pay-per-view funerals" service will enable bereaved friends and relatives to watch proceedings on their computer screens if they cannot pay their respects in person.

Critics believe the webcasting of ceremonies from a suburban crematorium in the UK to the world is macabre. But from tomorrow, Southampton crematorium will begin the £75-per-family service.

The crematorium manager's, Trevor Mathieson, said he was keen to lay to rest the pay-per-view label.

He said: "It's not as if we're Sky and broadcasting Premier League football. We're not putting the services on to the internet for anyone to watch. Security is very important. It's all about offering a better service to people who are bereaved."

A digital camera discreetly set up in a corner of the crematorium's east chapel captures the service. For £75 a family is given a user name and password.

These can be passed on to people who cannot get to the ceremony and they can watch the service as it takes place. DVDs of funerals are also being offered for £50 and audio recordings for £25.

"It's not everyone's cup of tea," said Mathieson. "Some people will think it's not the done thing. But we live in a world where family members live all over the place. A lot of people cannot make it to a crematorium."

There has been strong reaction locally, however.

The Rev Gary Philbrick, area dean for Southampton, said: "There are a lot of good things about it." But he had reservations and, personally, did not like the idea of being filmed during a funeral.

Read: The Guardian: Pay-per-view service at crematorium

Hat tip to Mad Priest.

The politics of hope

The New Yorker describes a Good Friday "Seven Last Words" service at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

You could hear Wright’s influence in every sermon. His life and work can’t be accurately extrapolated from a few video clips, and, at the church now, “sound bite” is uttered like a curse word. But there’s nothing on YouTube that seems likely to scandalize anyone who has spent time at Trinity. Even Obama does not claim to be surprised by what he called, in his “A More Perfect Union” speech, which he gave on March 18th, Wright’s “profoundly distorted view of this country.” (Despite such disavowals, there is no evident resentment toward Obama at the church; on Good Friday, every mention of his name and reference to his candidacy was greeted with applause.) Few of the preachers resisted the temptation to draw parallels between the man on the Cross and the man on the news, though most of them found ways to do so indirectly. The Reverend Dr. Rudolph W. McKissick, Jr., from Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, in Jacksonville, Florida, looked suggestively around the room as he described the last days of Jesus: “He does not retire in celebration, but he retires with a crucifixion.” Worshippers were free to think about any retiree they liked.

and...

Obama, in his speech, refused to dissociate himself from Wright (at this late date, to do so would have been futile anyway), but he sought to draw a distinction between his world view and his pastor’s. He said that Wright’s error was to talk about race in America “as if no progress has been made”; he contrasted Wright’s perspective with his own “audacity to hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.” This was itself an audacious move, because “the audacity to hope” was a coinage of Wright’s. Audacious hopefulness is sometimes said to be the thing that separates Obama from more conventional politicians, but it is also what separates him from the radicals who have given it up.... Hope is proof that Obama believes in the system, after all. And it is what helps him appeal to swing voters with fond memories of Bill Clinton, who never tired of reminding voters that he was born in a town called Hope.

Wright’s hope is a different thing. His 1991 “Audacity to Hope” sermon was based on 1 Samuel 1:1-18, which tells the story of a woman, Hannah, childless and bereft, who prays for a son. Wright isn’t interested in the happy ending, so he doesn’t mention 1 Samuel 1:20, in which Hannah finally gives birth. Instead, he dwells on her torment, comparing her to Martin Luther King, Jr., in his last years, when the civil-rights coalition seemed to be crumbling and his old allies were criticizing his increasingly comprehensive political program. “There was nothing on the horizon to say that he should keep on hoping, but he kept on hoping anyhow,” Wright said. For Wright, earthly adversity and the struggle against it are existential. If he thinks that things haven’t changed much in the past hundred years, it’s because he thinks that things haven’t changed much in the past two thousand years. You don’t hope because the odds look good. You hope because they don’t.

The New Yorker: Annals of Religion: Project Trinity

Proper liturgy for opening day

The Baseball Fan observes with great devotion the days of the Baseball Season, and it became the custom to prepare for Opening Day by a season of reflection and prediction. This season provided a time for converts and seasoned Fans alike to share with each other their allegiances and analyses so that conversations, whether appointed or joyously unexpected, could begin with mutual understanding and awareness.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of Baseball Fans everywhere, to the observance of a truly great Season by self-examination and objectivity; by reflection, contemplation, and self-awareness; and by reading and studying Street and Smith's Baseball Annual, the sports pages, baseball blogs, and websites, and, perhaps, conversing (at arm's length) with baseball handicappers of renown. And, to make a right beginning to the Season, let us now kneel in silence to determine the results of our studies and our hopes for the Teams, and to set forth those results below:

2008 Baseball Season Predictions
Winners of Divisions and Wild Cards, League Champions, and World's Champion

AL East:
AL Central:
AL West:
AL Wild Card:
AL Champion:

NL East:
NL Central:
NL West:
NL Wild Card:
NL Champion:

World's Champion:

Please include your predictions in the comments below.

Written by the Ven. "Dusty" Howard Stringfellow, Archdeacon of the Diocese of Bethlehem.

HT: Andrewplus: Proper liturgy for opening day.

Think Wright was bad? Try the real Jeremiah!

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, listened to the preaching the Rev. Jeremiah White, the retired pastor of Chicago's Trinity UCC Church and then listened to the words of the prophet Jeremiah that was recently read in many synagogues.

Traditionally, Jewish congregations each Shabbat read a portion of the Torah and a passage chosen long ago by the rabbis from the Prophets -- one that has some connection with the Torah portion. On the Shabbat (March 21) that followed a week of tumult about Pastor Jeremiah, the traditional Prophetic reading was a passage from the Prophet Jeremiah (7: 21 to 8: 3 and 9:22-23).

Reading it, I found not only our country but myself challenged at a profound level:

The ancient Jeremiah channeled God's burning anger at seeing the people
betray their covenant of love, justice, and fairness. Bitterly, furiously,
he denounced the kingdom of Judah for turning its burnt-offerings of animals
and grains into the burnt-offerings of its own children, thrown into fires
they thought would delight their God..

But on behalf of God, the ancient Jeremiah cried out that "the carcasses of
this people shall be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the
earth." Even the dead shall not escape disaster -- for "the bones of kings
and leaders, priests and prophets, even ordinary citizens, will be ripped
from their graves and exposed to the sun they had worshipped, so that their
own bones will become dung on the face of the earth."

How does this differ from the most extreme statements of Pastor Jeremiah
Wright? How does it differ from "God damn America!" except by being far
more graphic?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center and author of many books on Jewish thought and practice and on public policy. Most recently he is co-author with Sr. Joan Chittister and Saadi Shakur Chisti of "The Tent of Abraham."

Read the rest: On Faith: The Two Jeremiahs.

Makgoba enthroned in Cape Town

Episcopal Life Online reports that the Most Rev. Thabo Makgoba was enthroned as primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) on March 30 in a four-hour service at St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town.

Archbishop of York John Sentamu represented the Archbishop of Canterbury and Iowa Bishop Alan Scarfe represented Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori during the liturgy, which was also attended by the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Anglican Communion secretary general, and the primates of the Congo, Tanzania and the Indian Ocean.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki formally greeted Makgoba, paying tribute "to past Anglican leaders, and the church as whole, for their role in defeating apartheid," according to SABC News.

Multiple languages representing the constituencies of the multi-national province were use in prayers and hymns throughout the service, said the Rev. Canon James M. Rosenthal, director of communications for the Anglican Communion, who attended the service. "Portuguese was heard alongside English, Xhosa. Sotho, Tswana and Afrikaans.

Expressions of loyalty to the new primate and metropolitan were offered by the Very Rev. Rowan Smith, dean of the cathedral, Highveld Bishop David Beetge, "and other clergy, office holders, laity, and a warm embrace from two young children," said Rosenthal.

Also attending the celebration were members of the Lambeth Conference 2008 Design Group, of which the new Archbishop is a member.

After the anointment by fellow bishops, including Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, Makgoba pledged to work for peace, justice and reconciliation in a changing world, SABC News reported.

Formerly bishop of the Diocese of Grahamstown, Makgoba was elected September 25, 2007 to succeed Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane who had served as ACSA's primate since 1996 and retired December 31, 2007.

Makgoba was "collated" as Archbishop of Cape Town on January 1. At 48, he is the youngest bishop ever to be elected to the office of Archbishop and Metropolitan in the ACSA.

Episcopal Life Online: Southern Africa primate Thabo Makgoba enthroned in Cape Town

UPDATE:
The Anglican News Service has the full text of the sermon delivered at the service, plus additional details here.

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