Live blogging Gustav

The Rev. Jane B. Bearden, an Episcopal priest from Massachusetts, is blogging about Hurricane Gustav from Biloxi, Miss. Bearden has been working and living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast helping the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer recover from Hurricane Katrina. An excerpt from her blog, posted (by BlackBerry, which accounts for the typos) on Sunday:

"We had about 55 today for church. There is a sense of relief that we will get minimal hurricane frce winds and only a 15 ft surge - 1/2 of Katrina. But there is great sadness for New Orleans. I cried all the way home. One of the parihsioners had come along I 10 and she said that all she could see for mile after mile were LA plates. I am reminded of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. And now I am crying again. I have got to stop that as I need to go put baptismal records in plastic bags and feed the cats..."

From a later post:

I am finally ready to go. I am spending the next 36 to 72 hours volunteering at a local Red Cross shelter.

The storm continues to veer to the west. Winds are not as strong as they were predicted at this point. The further west it goes the better for us and for NOLA at this point. But they are still predicting 130+ and a 20 ft surge. The good news is that people have responded all over and have evacuated. This is the second evacuation for my son, John and the first for #2 son, Will. Having spent the last two days with John who came to help me get ready, the emotional impact of having to leave home yet again is off the stress charts for people in NOLA. The news is full of predictions for flood depth and number of homes likely to be flooded. Pumping stations are manned though and NOLA seems to have responded well. One glitch (and this could be one of those hurricane rumors) is that only a portion of the buses that FEMA had contracted to move people out actually showed up. They were several hundred buses short. FEMA called for help and LA responded by sending buses from surrounding communities. They say that they will get all people who want to get out. There are some who have not left. All are reluctant to leave, but most are resigned to the necessity of the evacuation. The resignation is apparent in the faces.

Talk at the coffee pot after church and in the lines at the gas station are vivid retellings of Katrina, George, Elena, and Ivan. From a pastoral perspective this seems good to me. It connotes community, shared experience, a remembering that seems to make the current chaos more "ordinary". Hurricanes are a part of life on the coast. There is not doubt about that. Perhaps it is the media coverage that makes these events so frightening. Today the Gospel lesson was "pick up our cross and follow" This is one mean cross. But Rev Harold Roberts (Redeemer rector) who lost everything he had in Katrina was more focused on the power of the relationships we have built with those who have come here to help since Katrina.

See Jane's blog Gulf Coast Partners here.

See also Boston.com: Articles of Faith: Priest blogs from Biloxi as Gustav nears

See yesterday's post on The Lead You got a plan? We will update as we get news. Please keep the people of New Orleans and the Central Gulf Coast in your prayers

Hate visits Atlanta area chrch

Last Sunday someone posted a note on the door of St. John's Episcopal Church, College Park, Georgia, expressing hatred for gays and lesbians and proclaiming God's wrath on the church for having an openly gay priest as Rector.

College Park police are investigating an anti-gay note left on the doors of St. John’s Episcopal Church as a “terroristic threat,” according to a police report.

Father Troy Beecham, the first openly gay rector at the church, said a message stating, “homosexual priest in the pulpit in this church are an abomination! 666” was handwritten on a piece of cardboard and posted on the door for members to see when they came to church Aug. 24.

“It was found by a gay member when he unlocked the doors Sunday morning at 7 a.m. He was going to throw it away but another gay member said that I should see it,” Beecham said. “I’m glad he did.”

College Park is located south of downtown Atlanta near the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and has a population of approximately 21,000.

Beecham has been at the church for two months. He said members were in fear for their physical safety as well as shocked by the message. The church, located on Main Street, has a sizable gay membership and has never been targeted by anti-gay vandalism before, Beecham added.

“The community and congregation has been very supportive as well as shocked,” Beecham said.

Officer George Williams, spokesperson for the College Park Police Department, said officers were taking the matter seriously.

“This is very rare, very rare,” he said of the church vandalism. “We have several churches in the area and this is something we don’t tolerate. We are investigating this very seriously to ascertain who did this.”

Police are treating this as a terroristic threat and Georgia law states a person found guilty of such a crime can face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Southern Voice: College Park church target of anti-gay threat

Dead Sea Scrolls being digitized for the internet

The Israel Antiquities Authority is digitally photographing every one of the Dead Sea Scrolls so that they may be available on the internet. The Scrolls, which were discovered between 1947 and 1979, contain every one of the books of Hebrew scripture except the book of Esther and details about rich and diverse Jewish community in the second Temple period of Judaism.

The New York Times reports:

In a crowded laboratory painted in gray and cooled like a cave, half a dozen specialists embarked this week on a historic undertaking: digitally photographing every one of the thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the aim of making the entire file — among the most sought-after and examined documents on earth — available to all on the Internet.

Equipped with high-powered cameras with resolution and clarity many times greater than those of conventional models, and with lights that emit neither heat nor ultraviolet rays, the scientists and technicians are uncovering previously illegible sections and letters of the scrolls, discoveries that could have significant scholarly impact....

“The project began as a conservation necessity,” Ms. Shor explained. “We wanted to monitor the deterioration of the scrolls and realized we needed to take precise photographs to watch the process. That’s when we decided to do a comprehensive set of photos, both in color and infrared, to monitor selectively what is happening. We realized then that we could make the entire set of pictures available online to everyone, meaning that anyone will be able to see the scrolls in the kind of detail that no one has until now.”

The process will probably take one to two years — more before it is available online — and is being led by Greg Bearman, who retired from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Data collection is directed by Simon Tanner of Kings College London.

Jonathan Ben-Dov, a professor of biblical studies at the University of Haifa, is taking part in the digitalization project. Watching the technicians gingerly move a fragment into place for a photograph, he said that it had long been very difficult for senior scholars to get access.

Once this project is completed, he said with wonder, “every undergraduate will be able to have a detailed look at them from numerous angles.”

NYTimes: Israel to Display the Dead Sea Scrolls on the Internet

Churches find their flocks are not recession-proof

The San Diego Union Tribune took a look at how congregations in San Diego country are dealing with the consequences of the current economy. With falling home prices, a credit crunch, skyrocketing fuel costs and stagflation, congregations must deal with shrinking budgets while helping their members deal with hard times.

Rancho Bernardo Community Presbyterian Church has cut its budget, laid off a half-dozen staff members and is being bombarded with requests for prayers by members faced with losing homes and jobs.

North Coast Church in Vista, one of the county's largest evangelical congregations with multiple venues, began holding workshops on how to write résumés and do job interviews after members began mentioning that they were facing downsizing or unemployment.

And at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral near Balboa Park, the congregation is meeting in small groups to study a book about living more simply. Later this year, the church will launch a program on how to budget.

God may be recession-proof, but his flock is another story.

Throughout San Diego County, many religious communities find themselves tightening their own fiscal belts as well as ministering to members squeezed by rising costs, a diminished labor market and escalating home foreclosures.

The Episcopal Cathedral noticed what was happening and decided to take a direct approach:

“We really made an effort to say, 'Look, folks, just let us know if you need to reduce your pledges,' ” said Chris Harris, the cathedral's canon for congregation development.

Others were invited to give more, if they could. It seems to be working. “I think we've righted our ship pretty much,” Harris said.

The cathedral also launched a two-part education program. The first phase, going on now, involves having the congregation meet in small groups at members' homes to study a book about living more spiritually and simply. The next phase will be a nuts-and-bolts budgeting program to teach people how to live within their means.

At a small group session Tuesday night, five cathedral members gathered at a Hillcrest condominium to talk about how their net worth should not equal their self-worth.

Read the rest here.

John to be a nominee in Bangor

There are reports in the British media that the Very Rev. Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans, will be a nominee for Bishop of Bangor in the Church of Wales.

The Telegraph says:

The Very Rev Jeffrey John was appointed Bishop of Reading five years ago but was forced to stand down by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a personal friend of his, after the election sparked outrage among conservatives.

He was later made the Dean of St Albans but is now being considered for the post of Bishop of Bangor in North Wales, following the death of the previous incumbent from cancer in June.

Insiders believe 55-year-old Dr John is highly likely to be chosen, because he is a Welsh speaker as well as being a respected theologian.

In addition, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, recently admitted he would support the election of a gay bishop despite opposition among orthodox Anglicans and guidelines stating that practising homosexuals should not become clergy.

Ruth Gledhill at the Times wrote:


The gay cleric whose abortive appointment as Bishop of Reading came close to splitting the Church of England could soon become Britian’s first openly gay diocesan bishop.

Dr Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans, who two years ago celebrated a civil partnership ceremony with another priest, is to be nominated as Bishop of Bangor in north Wales.

Liberals welcomed the news but conservatives gave warning that it would exacerbate further the tensions over sexuality threatening to rend the Anglican Communion in two.

Several candidates are likely to be nominated for the post but Dr John has the support of senior figures in the Church in Wales, according to informed sources. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury whose authority does not extend beyond England, would have no power to prevent such an appointment.

The Church in Wales is no longer part of the established Anglican Church in Britain and has a long tradition of liberal catholicism.

In addition, the Church in Wales prefers its senior clergy to be Welsh-speakers, a rare attribute that Dr John possesses. Of the six dioceses, Bangor is vacant and St Asaph is to become vacant soon when the present incumbent retires. The Dean of St David’s, the Very Reverend John Wyn Evans, was elected the new Bishop of St David’s yesterday.

As at St David’s, the main requirement in Bangor and St Asaph is that the new bishops be good pastors. Dr John meets this and is also a noted theologian. He has proved himself a success at St Albans, where the congregation has thrived under his leadership and where many would be loath to see him go....

Dr Morgan will take initial soundings when members of the college for Bangor meet for preliminary discussions next week. The formal election will take place in October, at a highly-secret three-day lock-in at Bangor’s historic cathedral.

There are more than 40 members of the college, including six from each diocese and 12 from Bangor. Each member can nominate as many candidates as they wish. Dr John will not be formally nominated until the members are closeted behind the locked doors of the cathedral. The nominations are confidential.

He would then only become bishop if a two-thirds majority of the college agreed. If elected, he would have 28 days to accept or decline the offer before the appointment was confirmed by a specially-convened Sacred Synod.

In spite of the liberal majority in Bangor, the conservative-liberal break-down of the electoral college means the final outcome will be close. Dr John was put forward to be Bishop of Monmouth four years ago but did not secure enough votes for a two-thirds majority.

Gledhill says

A senior source close to the election told The Times: “One member of the college is going to put Jeffrey John’s name forward. It will be a very close thing.”

Another Church in Wales insider said: “I have heard Jeffrey John’s name mentioned in connection with episcopal elections in Wales. He is Welsh and a Welsh speaker. He has a good pastoral record. He might well be considered.”

Expect strenuous opposition from Anglican Mainstream and other groups. The first hint of both the nomination and the opposition came from a letter written to the American Anglican Council and CANA written by AAC Bishop David Anderson. According to George Conger in Religious Intelligence:

In an Aug 29 letter to members of the American Anglican Council (AAC) and CANA, the Rt Rev David Anderson said the Church in Wales would likely be the first province to break the Lambeth moratorium on gay bishops. “Wales is in an election process for Bishop of Bangor and the election has as one of its still-secret nominees none other than Jeffrey John,” Bishop Anderson said.

Citing “reliable sources” Bishop Anderson said: “Dr Barry Morgan is a man of his word - he previously has said, ‘I [Barry Morgan] would ordain Britain's first gay Bishop’."

Last month Dr Morgan told the Sunday Telegraph he would support the election of a gay bishop in Wales. “If a priest had a [same-sex] partner and someone nominated them that wouldn’t be a bar to them becoming a bishop,” he said in an interview published on July 13.

Gledhill reports that

The Vicar of St Mary’s Putney, the Rev Giles Fraser, a friend of Dr John and founder of the Inclusive Church lobby that champions the gay cause, said: “Jeffrey John would make an absolutely splendid bishop. This is not before time. This is a man who does not contravene the guidelines on human sexuality at all."

But in a joint statement, Canon Chris Sugden and Philip Giddings of Anglican Mainstream, the conservative lobby set up in response to Dr John’s appointment to Reading, said: “If he is being nominated to a Welsh episcopate, the obstacles remain the same as to his previous candidacies for senior appointments.”

Conger reports that Anderson of AAC says that the Archbishop of Canterbury "will not get a pass on this" even though the ABC has no authority in Wales and that the elections process has not even begun.

The Guardian also has the story. Riazat Butt writes: "The clergy of Bangor and bishops of Wales are due to meet next Wednesday to discuss the vacant role. The election of the next bishop will take place on October 10." (Note that the headline is inconsistent with the content of the article.)

Thinking Anglicans has more links here.

Metal theft cost parishes and create preservation challenge

In England gangs of thieves are making off with the roofs of Churches which are often made of lead because scrap metal brings in a lot of money. Many parishes would like to replace them with cheaper, less valuable material but are prevented by rules governing historic churches in Britain.

Jonathan Wynne-Jones reports in the Sunday Telegraph:

Thousands of churches have been targeted by gangs over the past year, with more than £1 million worth of metal stolen every month.

The thieves strip lead from the roofs, which they can sell to scrap dealers, cashing in on high metal prices.

Many churches have been targeted repeatedly and now want to stop replacing the stolen lead and start using cheaper alternatives, like stainless steel, felt or tiles, which would be less tempting to thieves.

However, many have been stopped from doing so by English Heritage which has insisted they continue to use the more traditional - and more lucrative - lead.

Some churches have been left with gaping holes in their roofs while planning disputes drag on over what building materials can be used to repair them.

The Rt Rev Nick Baines, the Bishop of Croydon, said: "Anglican churches are facing the greatest threat of attack in their history.

English Heritage have to give greater attention to the real issues faced by parishes and not just see this simply as a case of preserving museums.

Read the rest here.

Besides historically high metals prices, another contributing factor is the economic slowdown in the UK.

On the Palin pregnancy

We agree with Senator Obama's assertion that candidates' minor children should be off limits in political debate. We agree with the blogger Hilzoy who wrote: "To my mind, this extends to using [Sarah Palin's] daughter as evidence that abstinence-only education doesn't work: presumably, no one thinks that it works 100% of the time, and that's the only claim to which this one counterexample could possibly be relevant." We don't think the issue of whether the Palins' youngest child will be properly cared for if his mother becomes vice president is relevant, either. However, as parents, we wonder at the judgment of the two adults who put a 17-year-old child in the position to have her premarital pregnancy become front page news. And as cynics, we suspect that Karl Rove, Rush Limbaugh and others would be handling this matter rather differently if the pregnant teenager were the child of Democrats.

Dean Jeffrey John in his own words -- mostly

Ruth Gledhill has reposted an interview she did with Dean Jeffrey John in 2003 when John was chosen to be the Bishop of Reading and then forced out by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, before taking office. John, who is gay, has a partner, and they have had their relationship recognized by the state, under the English law that permits civil unions. However, the relationship is a celibate one. Unsurprisingly, that has not mollified critics who, in other instances, argue that it is Bishop Gene Robinson's behavior, not his orientation that is objectionable.

An excerpt:

Through all this, he was battling with the emerging awareness of his sexuality. "I was conscious of it from quite an early age, and that it was probably going to bring problems. I certainly resisted and fought it. I wrestled hugely with it and prayed about it, as I think so many gay people do.

"The issue of celibacy never really arose. I was aware that there was a great deal of homosexuality in the Church, which confused me. I was aware that quite a lot of clergy got into trouble about it and that quite a lot of people led disordered lives. I was determined that I was going to try to work out a viable way of life which would not get me into that kind of mess, a way of life which was honest and which was compatible with faith."

Publicly, however, the Church remained in denial. "There is a great deal of wisdom in the Church about it but it is all in private, mainly through the confessional and through spiritual direction. People would offer celibacy as the safest, most positive, way of living if that was possible. But if it was not, and if it was felt that people were at risk of falling into promiscuity, the next best thing was to find a partner and be faithful and find some security that way.

"But that was the sort of advice that could only be given privately, it could never be stated openly. It seemed there was a private morality, a Christian one, but one that could never be talked about openly. Probably that is the way it has always been dealt with, certainly in the middle Church and with the Anglo-Catholics. But that way of dealing with it has led to the mess we are in now. There have been centuries of double thinking."

Pluralist has some thoughts.

On the Guardian's Web site, Stephen Bates provides an excellent primer on how Anglican conservatives prevailed upon Rowan Williams to sack John the first time around. He notes:

There is no doubt that John would like a bishopric and is qualified for one, but the source of the latest rumour is intriguing. It comes from the Rev David Anderson, one of the American conservatives who led the protests against the election of Gene Robinson and who was assiduous in spreading lies about him. (Did he subsequently apologise for bearing false witness about Robinson – what do you think?) You might ask what the appointment of the bishop of Bangor has to do with someone living in Atlanta, Georgia, especially given the church's supposed agreement not to trespass on events in other provinces, but of course, Anderson is part of an international coalition ever vigilant against gay clergy. One of Anderson's close associates is Canon Chris Sugden of Oxford, one of the campaigners against John in 2003 and now an organiser of the conservative coalition known as Gafcon whose member bishops boycotted Archbishop Williams's recent Lambeth conference. And, funnily enough, Sugden's daughter, Joanna, is employed as deputy to the Times' religion correspondent who broke the story. Of course, this may all be a coincidence.

No going back on rights to blessings

Anglican Journal: There was wide agreement [at Lambeth] that moratoria on same-sex blessings, the ordination of gay bishops and cross-border interventions by conservative bishops would help to heal the conflict engulfing the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury warned that failure to heed the call would put the Communion “in grave peril.”

Earlier, the Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) suggested that the moratoria be “retrospective.” However, the final document issued by bishops dropped the word “retrospective,” which has further sowed confusion. The WCG was formed last February by Archbishop Rowan Williams to “address outstanding questions arising from the Windsor Report and the various formal responses from provinces and instruments of the Anglican Communion.”

Victoria Matthews, a member of the WCG and bishop of the diocese of Christchurch, New Zealand, said that the body’s proposal for a “retrospective” moratorium on same-sex blessings means that dioceses such as Vancouver-based New Westminster “will be asked to reconsider and withdraw that right. It isn’t just from here on there will be no new ones…”

(snip)

Bishop Michael Ingham, whose diocese – New Westminster – voted to allow same-sex blessings in 2002, reacted strongly to the WCG’s proposals, describing it as “an old-world institutional response to a new-world reality in which people are being set free from hatred and violence.” Bishop Ingham called the WCG proposals “punitive in tone, setting out penalties and the like, instead of inviting us into deeper communion with one another through mutual understanding in the body of Christ.” He added that the suggestion of a pastoral forum “institutionalizes external incursions into the life of our churches.”

(snip)

Bishop Ingham said that if the proposal for a moratorium on same-sex blessings is adopted, “it will put the Anglican Church of Canada in the position of having to support and defend irrational prejudice and bigotry in the eyes of our nation.” (Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005.)

(snip)

“Having made a decision at some point in the past has changed the way we live, and you can’t say ‘we’ll just go back where we were,’” said Archbishop Caleb Lawrence, bishop of Moosonee and metropolitan (senior bishop) of Ontario.


(snip)

Bishop Matthews said the WCG’s proposals would be presented to the primates, who will meet early next year, and to Anglican Consultative Council, which meets in May.

Sarah Palin's pastors

Updated: Two weeks ago Palin attended a service at which David Brickner, founder of Jews for Jesus gave the sermon. Hew said that terrorist attacks against Israel were God's "judgment of unbelief" on Jews who had not converted to Christinaity. The American Prospect has more, too.

From Harper's:

During the 2008 campaign the beliefs of various candidates’ spiritual mentors has attracted a great deal of attention, especially those of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and to a lesser extent those of John Hagee, who endorsed John McCain. So now seems an opportune time to examine the viewpoints of Sarah Palin’s two most recent pastors, as expressed in their sermons.

A sampling:

Mike Rose, senior pastor at Juneau Christian Center

From an April 27, 2008 sermon: “If you really want to know where you came from and happen to believe the word of God that you are not a descendant of a chimpanzee, this is what the word of God says. I believe this version.”

From a July 8, 2007 sermon: “Those that die without Christ have a horrible, horrible surprise.”

From a July 28, 2007 sermon: “Do you believe we’re in the last days? After listening to Newt Gingrich and the prime minister of Israel and a number of others at our gathering, I became convinced, and I have been convinced for some time. We are living in the last days. These are incredible times to live in.”

Sarah Posner article at The American Prospect is worth reading, too. As is Andrew Sullivan's item on the candidate's invocation of "God's will" in some peculiar circumstances.

NY Court backs governor regarding gay marriage

New York Times:

The decision, issued by Justice Lucy A. Billings of State Supreme Court in the Bronx, a trial-level court, is the latest in a string of rulings by state courts that have upheld the right of same-sex couples who were married in other jurisdictions to have their marital status recognized in New York, even though gay couples may not marry within the state. A bill to allow gay unions passed the State Assembly last year but has not come up for a vote in the Senate.
...
[I]n her decision to dismiss the suit, Justice Billings rejected the plaintiffs’ reasoning, finding that Mr. Paterson’s order was consistent with state laws that generally require officials to recognize marriages from other jurisdictions and are silent on whether gay marriages should be excluded from that recognition.

“Furthermore,” she wrote, “when partners manifest the commitment to their relationship and family, by solemnizing that commitment elsewhere, through one of life’s most significant events, and come to New York, whether returning home or setting down roots, to carry on that commitment, nothing is more antithetical to family stability than requiring them to abandon that solemnized commitment.”

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori's reflection on the Lambeth Conference

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's has written a reflection on the recently concluded Lambeth Conference for Episcopal Life. She concludes as follows:

The challenge for us will be sorting out how we live together in this diverse communion. That is not a new challenge, but it is exacerbated by the rapidity and pervasiveness of today's communication and the need to honestly confront the legacy of colonialism. The coming months and years will bring invitations to enter more deeply into challenging relationships. Those invitations will annoy, sadden or frighten some of us, yet that is where God has always called us to go.

We are a pilgrim people, and we are not invited to settle down in comfort until all God's people are able to do the same. This Lambeth Conference was a profound reminder that we are responsible to and for each other, and that the journey is about being companions of Jesus on the Way. Along the way, we are meant to listen for the call of the Spirit, in seagulls and the stranger.

God-O-Meter Q&A with Sarah Palin's Biographer

The media has scrambled to learn more are Sarah Palin's faith. Among those publishing articles: Harpers and BeliefNet.

BeliefNet today posted a God-O-Meter Q&A with her biographer. Some extracts:

Sarah Palin was baptized as a Catholic but became active in the Pentecostal Assemblies of God church while still young. How did she go from one tradition to the other?

It was through her mother, Sally. Sarah was baptized as an infant in the Catholic Church. And her mom discovered a more meaningful experience at an Assemblies of God Church in Wasilla, where Pastor Paul Riley had really formed a community. And Sally enrolled her kids in church camps and Bible school. This was when Sarah was about 12. She asked to be re-baptized. The whole family was baptized at the same time, at a lake right here in Wasilla called Beaver Lake. I don't know that her father was baptized--it was a mom and the kids. It was a milestone that Sarah never really forgot. She knew she claimed a moral compass that would stay with her.

Was that pastor--Pastor Riley--a major influence in her life? Can you talk about him?

Pastor Riley and his wife became lifelong family friends to Sarah because she grew up in that church. Now he is retired and serves as a chaplain in jails. They are known for taking people in, including--sometimes--prisoners that Pastor Riley ministers to. He was at Wasilla Assemblies of God for 44 years.


Read it all.

Harpers:

Since becoming governor in 2006, Palin has attended the Juneau Christian Center, where Mike Rose serves as senior pastor. Her previous pastor was David Pepper of the Church on the Rock in Palin’s hometown of Wasilla — a church that “was kind of a foundation for her.”

Of the two, Rose is certainly the more politically active, both locally and in the broader evangelical community (with ties to Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, for example). Pepper, it should be noted, is outspoken on slavery, racism, and the massacres of Native Americans, all of which he terms “sins” that still cast a long shadow on minority communities.

Sebastian Jones found links to many sermons by Rose and by Pepper. The excerpts below come from his review.

Read it all.

Annnoucement: Unity event for Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese

Updated: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A unity event is planned for those in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh who are opposed to constitutional changes that would purportedly take the diocese out of The Episcopal Church. The press release issued by the group Across the Aisle issued today reads, in part:

A coalition of Episcopal clergy and laypeople today invited everyone in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to an event promoting diocesan unity. “A Hopeful Future for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh: An Alternative Solution” will present the case for rejecting proposals that, purportedly, would remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church. Speakers will explain how continuity of the diocese as a judicatory of The Episcopal Church will be maintained irrespective of the outcome of the vote on “realignment” at the October 4 diocesan convention.

“A Hopeful Future” will be presented at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 1066 Washington Rd., Mt. Lebanon, Pa., from 1 to 3 pm on Saturday, September 13, 2008.
...
Most elected leaders of the Episcopal diocese have supported constitutional and canonical changes promoted by Bishop Robert Duncan to remove the diocese from The Episcopal Church. The constitutional changes will be voted on for the second and final time at the October 4 diocesan convention to be held in Monroeville.

The Episcopal Church has taken the position that individuals may leave the church but that parishes and dioceses are integral components that cannot separate. Those who vote for “realignment” and plan to leave The Episcopal Church may neither hold office in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh nor retain control of its assets. If convention approves the proposed measures, vacated leadership positions will have to be filled by Episcopalians staying in the church, and core diocesan functions will be performed under new leadership until the diocese regains control of diocesan assets.
Read the entire press release here.

Lionel Deimel explains, "event has two main purposes: (1) to encourage deputies to vote against “realignment” and (2) to explain how the diocese will be reorganized if the vote succeeds."

IRS surfing church websites

New York Times:

Even as the increasing Web fluency of religious organizations has flung their doors wide to a new world of potential followers, it has also opened the gates for all to see what may have been intended only for the faithful in the pews. Now, I.R.S. investigators, as well as groups that monitor churches’ political activity, can do much of their work with a simple Google search, or a surfing of YouTube posts.
...
Since the early 1990s, when the revenue service imposed severe penalties in several high-profile cases, including a two-year revocation of the tax exemption for Jerry Falwell’s “Old Time Gospel Hour,” most religious organizations and clergy members have been careful to keep within the I.R.S. limits.
...
If a cleric appears on his or her church’s Web page endorsing or attacking a candidate, she said, that is clearly no different from a sermon in the pulpit.

But links on the same page, to other sites connected directly or indirectly to partisan groups, are a more complicated matter. In one recent I.R.S. memo, the question is addressed with almost Talmudic intensity, urging enforcement agents to explore the issue of "electronic proximity — including the number of ‘clicks’ that separate the objectionable material from the 501(c)(3) organization’s Web site.”

Fallacies of planning

Dan Hotchkiss of the Alban Institute writes:

The classic way to demonstrate loss aversion is to ask two groups of people to choose between alternative plans for vaccinating people against a disease. Without vaccine, the disease will kill 600 people. One group has to choose between a vaccine that definitely will save 200 and another that has only a one-third chance of saving everyone. Most people, given this choice, choose the first vaccine.

The second group is asked to choose between a vaccine that will definitely let 400 people die, and another that has only a two-thirds chance of letting all 600 die. Given these options, most people choose the latter, even though the only difference is that this time the choice is expressed in terms of a loss (letting people die) instead of a gain (saving people). We are more willing to take risks in order to avoid losses than to achieve gains.

This helps explain why new ideas face such an uphill battle for acceptance in most congregations, while old ideas persist unquestioned. Remaining in a familiar building or continuing a cherished worship style does not feel risky even though there may be good reason to believe that doing so may limit our potential to attract new members. Moving to a new location or changing our worship style, by contrast, feels extremely risky because it involves the immediate loss of something we have now. In reality, the risk of clinging to the old may be much greater than the risk of trying something new.

Another related concept is the “sunk-cost fallacy” or “gambler’s mistake.” For a gambler, this is the idea that if you bet a lot of money on a hand, you’d better keep on betting to avoid losing the money you have put into the pot. For congregations, it may be a matter of sticking with a strategy (like browbeating people for their stinginess) long after it has repeatedly proved unsuccessful. In part, this is a simple matter of saving face: so long as you keep on trying, you can blame other people or circumstances for your failure. But as soon as you wise up and quit, you have to admit you’ve made a mistake.

Read it all.

40 days of convincing

The Bishop of Fort Worth has told the clergy, lay leaders and convention delegates of his diocese that he would like the members of convention to pray and study before they vote to take the diocese out of the Episcopal Church using materials developed and copyrighted by The Falls Church and Truro Church Virginia, both of which have left the Episcopal Church to join CANA, the Convocation of Anglicans in America.

Called "Forty Days of Discernment" the material purports to offer a balanced view allowing people to choose whether to stay in the Episcopal Church or vote to join a new entity. In fact, the material makes a step by step case for separation by assuming that the teachings and actions of the Episcopal Church are entirely of human origin, separated from faithfulness to Christ and ignorant of scripture. The supporting materials only point to conservative and separatist websites, blogs and other writings.

Bishop Iker wrote:

As the date approaches for our momentous Diocesan Convention vote in November, many parish clergy have attempted to make certain that their parishioners understand the issues surrounding the proposal that we separate from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. In several places parish forums have been held, where outside speakers have been brought in to present the opposing sides on the question of realignment. Some of you have preached sermons on this subject, written articles for your parish newsletter, and even in a couple of places brought in General Convention authorities to speak to your people. In addition, several different groups have been formed in the Diocese, including Remain Episcopal, Via Media, and Remain Faithful, which have attempted to educate, organize, and motivate the laity to take sides on the question: “Should we remain with TEC or with the Diocese?” Legal counsel has been engaged, lawsuits are being anticipated, various steering committees have been formed, and outside assistance from the “815” church headquarters in New York is being sought.

An important factor that has often been forgotten in all of the controversy is the need for prayerful discernment that seeks, above all else, to know what God’s will is for us at this particular time in our life together as a diocesan family.

As your bishop and chief pastor, I am inviting and urging that every congregation in this Diocese enter into an intentional 40-day period of prayerful discernment to be concluded the week prior to our Convention on November 14 and 15. This means that our start-up day would have to be either September 28 or 29. Furthermore, I am proposing that we all use the same materials and process that will lead us in this venture.

The Bishop's letter assumes, of course, that no one--especially those opposed to separation--has spent time in prayer and discernment. He also assumes that a diocese can unilaterally separate "from General Convention of the Episcopal Church" when what is in fact being proposed is the creation of new, self-identified entity that would leave their diocese (which was after all created by that same convention) and the Episcopal Church behind.

Katie Sherrod writes in her blog:

I am very glad Bishop Iker isn't going to "force" us all to participate in this, given that he has no power to force anyone except clergy to do so.

But as usual, he makes no effort to be even-handed. Just look at how he phrases the question: “Should we remain with TEC or with the Diocese?”

Many of us plan to do both, bishop, since you can't "take' the diocese anywhere.

The question should be "Should we remain with the Episcopal Church, or leave it for some other entity?" The diocese stays right here, and will reorganize itself, elect a new bishop, and get on with God's work in this part of Texas.

The materials the bishop mentions have been produced and copyrighted by The Falls Church and Truro Church Virginia, both of which have left the Episcopal Church to join CANA, the Convocation of Anglicans in America. They claim Martyn Minns, former rector of Truro Church, as their bishop, he having been consecrated by Peter Akinola, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

I guess I should be glad that at last, Bishop Iker is encouraging discussion of the issues here. But you know, somehow, I just can't bring myself to trust that anything produced by this group wasn't created to produce the outcome they want -- acquiescence to Bishop Iker's desire to leave the Episcopal Church.

Because that is the intent. To leave the Episcopal Church. That's what "separating from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church" means.

Citing the "40 Days" materials themselves, Mark Harris points out that the "thought experiment" at the end of the period

...is in reality a blatant effort to steer the participant into the third option. The first is totally discredited, as it assumes TEC to be the land of heretics and theological poison. The second option is little better, offering lots of suffering and little return except for a long period of attempting to regain control of TEC. Only the third is presented in any positive light at all.

In reading through the whole of the 40 Days of Discernment it is clear from the outset that the "problem" is presented as being the result of TEC's failure as a church, and who indeed wants to related to a failure? This is not an aid to clear thinking, it is an insult to clear thinking.

Diocese of Fort Worth: A Pastoral Request

Desert's Child: Thanks, but no thanks.

Preludium: Forty Days of Discernment: A Setup Job.

A concerned voice from Canada

Writing in the Anglican Journal (Canada), Walter Deller, Principal of the College of Emmanuel and St. Chad, Saskatoon says:

More depressing, in my view, is that despite all protestations to the contrary and arguments about confrontation with Islam in Africa and elsewhere, the evangelical side of Anglicanism is leading us more and more toward a form of Christianity which is simply another variant of fundamentalist Islam. This is most evident in the insistence on treating the scriptures as the centre of faith rather than the living Lord Jesus Christ (book as authority rather than the uniquely Christian revelation of God), and on the inability to articulate Christian moral positions that may be distinctly different from the taboos of Islamic and animist culture.

On the other side, it is increasingly clear that our Catholic side is held captive by the desire to reunite with Rome. This is manifesting itself in the continuing denigration and deletion of the authority of all communion bodies such as the Anglican Consultative Council which includes lay people and clergy, and in the increasing desire for more Lambeth gatherings and for more authority over doctrine to be given to primates and other foreign prelates. It becomes clearer and clear why Queen Elizabeth I gave the authority over the prayer book and the church in emergent Anglicanism to Parliament and deliberately bypassed the bishops in many of her crucial decisions.

The Window looks in on Lambeth

The Washington Window's coverage of the Lambeth Conference is now online. The main story begins: The bishops of the Lambeth Conference walked a novel route to a familiar destination.

The sidebar commences as follows: "The bishops at the Lambeth Conference didn’t talk exclusively or even primarily about sex. The rest of their conversations just didn’t receive as much attention.

Among the topics to which they devoted prayer, study and conversation were: evangelism, ecumenism, interfaith relationships, domestic violence, political advocacy and safeguarding the environment. Their spouses explored complementary themes at a separate conference."

The stories are based on reporting that has already appeared on the Cafe, but we pass them on nonetheless.


Joint pastoral letter from Bethlehem and Sudan

The Diocese of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania has being doing heroic ministry in partnership with the Diocese of Kajo-Keji in the Sudan. The most recent expression of the deep relationship between these to two dioceses was the decision by the bishop and people of the Diocese of Bethlehem to focus their diocesan capital campaign around the rebuilding of theological colleges and schools in the war ravaged Sudanese diocese.

It was against this background of cooperation that words of the Archbishop of the Sudan at a press briefing in Lambeth were heard. The Archbishop reiterated the stance of the Church in the Sudan rejecting actions taken by the Episcopal Church at its last two General Conventions.

Bishop Paul Marshall and Bishop Anthony Poggo have issued a joint statement to be read in their respective dioceses which clarifies the situation and reassures all that the partnership that exists will continue in spite of significant theological differences.

From their joint letter:

"We wish to assure you that as your bishops we are of one mind about the importance of our work together for the spiritual health of both our dioceses. This is a time of change in Anglicanism, a truth that is apparent on many levels, and no one can predict what the Anglican Communion will be like at the time of the next Lambeth Conference. We can and do trust God to work his will, and therein is our peace of mind. We pledge to work together and in each of our dioceses to build understanding and love as all of us seek to follow the Lord Jesus in word and deed. All of our work is begun, continued, and ended in Him.

One of the gifts that the existence of differences in culture and outlook presents all of us is the experience of being loved by people who are not like us and who may not share all of our views on any number of subjects. The grace of learning to receive love from those who are not like us is a gift from God that awakens us to the depth of God’s own love in giving Jesus Christ for the salvation of the world.

As we continue our vital work together, it is our prayer that the Holy Spirit will guide us into deeper levels of understanding, devotion, and dedication of the ministry our Lord has given to us in Kajo-Keji and Bethlehem."

Read the full article here (a pdf document).

Another rector in the YouTube racket

From the Winston-Salem Journal:

On YouTube, you can watch video of a chewing-gum sculptor from Romania and an office badminton match among cubicle dwellers.

And then there are the videos of the Rev. Steven Rice, who ponders such theological questions as why we pray and whether observing the pagan ritual of Halloween is OK for Christians.

Rice, 29, has been the rector at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church since June. He has been writing a blog for three years and creating videos and posting them to YouTube since January 2007. He said that he sees the blog and videos as a way to reach an audience that may not look for God in such traditional places as church.

The Rev. Rice is following in the footsteps of the Rev. Matthew Moretz of Christ Church in Rye, NY.

Harmony is their tune

It sounds like the start of a joke: one day some pastors got together to sing; a Methodist, an Episcopalian, a couple of Congregationalists and.... Although these men love to laugh, what they do is sing in harmony and they call themselves the Glory Land Parsons Band.

The Glory Land Parsons Band is made up of a group of local ministers who love to joke around, but when it comes to singing, they are nobody's fool. Each performance hearkens back to an older time when harmonizing was the central focus and musical selections were drawn from hymn books.

With humor clearly evident in the clergy's camaraderie with each other, it is surprising to hear that conception of the group came out of tragedy. It was during 9/11 when the Rev. Don Bliss of East Freetown Christian Congregational Christian Church happened to see the Rev. Bill Comeau of the United Church of Assonet putting up flyers, looking for participants in a candlelight vigil honoring the victims. The men quickly discovered they had more in common than just their faith.

"Our regard for each other rose out of Christian fellowship, then it turns out we had common passions, one of which was music," the Rev. Bliss said.

The group's first performance took place at the Biltmore Ballroom in Providence.

"We started at the top," said the Rev. Bliss, laughing.

The group has now performed in venues ranging from churches to coffeehouses, with one of their latest performances taking place two months ago during the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches convention.

The past few years have seen a rotation of members. Along with the Rev. Comeau and the Rev. Bliss, the Rev. David Milan of the Church of Our Saviour Episcopal Church in Middleboro and the Rev. Dave Hammett of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in New Bedford round out the group's current members.

Occasionally, others accompany them, but this group maintains their connection with a weekly breakfast. They said that their diverse religious backgrounds make their group stronger.

"But the Methodist guy sits at the next table," quipped one of the ministers.

The members say that the driving force of the group is devotion.

"(The group) was God's idea," said the Rev. Bliss. "Here's the odd thing. We've all been called to our churches all within the last eight years, and we all happen to have a background in music and performance in addition to our passion for the Lord. This is what I mean when I say it's God's idea. Nobody put an ad in the paper for tryouts. It's a devotion thing."

Beside humor and music, the group witnesses to God's ability to overcome difference and for God's love and power to shine through a diverse group of Christians.

"The truth is we have theological differences in our group, but we love each other," said the Rev. Hammett.

"We recognize in each other that we're all here because of God, to do His work and care for His people," said the Rev. Bliss.

"And to have a good time while we're doing it," added the Rev. Hammett.

Read it all here.

The Guardian takes note

Riazat Butt of the Guardian has written a brief article about Bishop John Bryson Chane's column on the Lambeth Conference that appeared on the Cafe earlier this week.

She writes:

His comments, in an article called Stop the Scapegoating, published on a US website, are the most scathing yet about Williams, and he is the first US liberal to break ranks with his church and condemn Lambeth. Bishops from the Episcopal church maintained a united front at Canterbury, despite internal divisions over central issues, and remained on-message by stressing the positives. His assessment is more critical than the one issued by primates from the breakaway conservative movement the Global Anglican Future Conference (Gafcon).

Do you agree with her interpretation of the column?

Joint meeting between Quincy and Springfield

Last weekend there was a meeting between the clergy, bishops and laity of the Dioceses of Springfield and Quincy. The meeting was described by the bishops as forum for assessment rather than a decision making body.

Both Bishops Ackerman and Beckwith reported on their experiences at Lambeth and at the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem. An open forum followed where members of the laity and clergy of the dioceses asked questions of a panel which included the bishops.

The most interesting bit of news from the meeting is that Bishop Beckwith explicitly stated, according to the reporter who sent us notes from the meeting, that he intended to remain canonically part of the TEC House of Bishops and that he did not believe that a bishop had the authority to take a diocese out of the Episcopal Church.

You can read an edited version of the notes from the meeting below:

Read more »

"A Plea for Parishes with Porches"

The Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon published an essay yesterday that asks congregations to try to maximize the possibilities for seekers to connect with them. He uses the metaphor of porches to describe what he calling us to do:

"To do better, churches need to provide porches. Although disappearing in many American homes recently, porches play a vital function. They are an intermediate ground in which people who live in the house come out of the house and can be seen, and indeed talked to, by passers by on the sidewalk.

It is a big risk to go into someone’s house, but not to talk to them on their porch. Indeed, most people when invited will go onto a porch and speak with people who ask them to come.

Such a safe intermediate ground is exactly what parishes need to provide. What will it look like? One example is the Alpha course, used in many Anglican parishes worldwide. It involves a meal, it has small group discussion after a presentation, and it seeks in its format to bend over backwards to allow people who do not consider themselves as Christians to partake."

Kendall goes on to list other sorts of ways that he sees happening around the Diocese of South Carolina such as Agnostics Anonymous and Questions from the Heart.

Read the full article here.

General Convention Logo

ELO_090308_ubuntuLogo_md.gifThe theme of the 2009 General Convention is "Ubuntu", an African concept that's not only difficult to translate into American idiom but harder still to picture visually. But in spite of the difficulty, The Rev. Paul Fromberg, has risen to the challenge.

His submission to a logo design contest sponsored by the General Convention Office was chosen out of field of 82.

The full story is published here by Episcopal Life.

Robinson on the presidential campaign

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson:

With Barack Obama, we have someone who is utterly sympathetic to our full and equal rights as citizens. I know, he won’t say he’s for equal marriage rights (neither did Hillary), but he still is the most LGBT-friendly president we will have ever had. I know from my own private conversations with him that he is totally in our court. I believe him, and I trust him, not to throw us under the bus when the election is over.

With last night’s speech by Governor Palin, preceded by attack dog presentations by other Republicans, we have seen the official re-igniting of the culture wars. And along with attacking the media, Eastern liberals, and the intellectual “elite,” you and I know that gay-bashing is not far behind.

Emphasis added.

H/T Religion News Service blog.

The name game

Astute readers will notice that your Saturday editor is writing under another name, one which will be familiar to those who know me through Facebook. The name change I've been alluding to for months is now official.

Formal announcement and some pictures are here.

What is emergent?

I've sat in on the occasional "what is emergent" conversation at various events, and it's interesting to note that even Publisher's Weekly is stymied by the term. Marcia Ford, writing in this week's issue, points to the confusion that the term engenders for publishers and booksellers as much as it does for readers interested in learning more about emerging church, emergent theology and Emergent Village—three terms that are used interchangeably as "emergent."

But more significant, Ford continues, is that nontraditional expressions of Christianity that do not fit into these three areas but are still, perhaps mistakenly, considered emergent.

“The term 'emerging church' is so loose that one moment you can apply it to a specific book, and the next moment, you can just as easily decide it isn't emergent at all,” says Dudley Delffs, Zondervan's v-p and publisher of trade books.

One author who has separated the emergent from the nonemergent is Tom Sine, whose InterVarsity book, The New Conspirators, released earlier this year. In it he makes a clear distinction among four streams of alternative Christianity: emerging church (emphasizing the gospel as story, community, experiential worship, the arts, and much more); missional (an outward focus on mission); mosaic (intentionally multicultural); and monastic (a radical communal lifestyle, often lived out among the poor).

Many in the emerging church “conversation,” the preferred self-descriptor, distinguish among three terms: emerging church, an umbrella term for the category; emergent, referring to an unorthodox interpretation of scripture; and Emergent, shorthand for Emergent Village (EV), a largely online community. Most of the publishers PW spoke with used the terms interchangeably, as does the Christian community at large.

Other forms of alternative Christianity are often mistaken for emerging/emergent, but are not. One cause for confusion, says Al Hsu, associate editor at InterVarsity Press, is that many books that are not theologically emergent still resonate with emergent readers, such as IVP's The Circle of Seasons (Nov.), a title about the liturgical year from Presbyterian writer Kimberlee Conway Ireton.

And then there's the mistaken assumption that to be young and edgy is to be emergent. “A traditionalist in a younger body is not emergent,” Hsu says, pointing to Shane Claiborne as an author who is frequently referred to as emergent but is not. Claiborne, who with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove coauthored Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers (IVP, Oct.), lives in an intentional community in inner-city Philadelphia.

The rest is here.

Organists' guild focuses on staying relevant

Eileen Guenther, the newest president of the American Guild of Organists, gets spotlighted in a Religion News Service interview this week. Facing declining membership, Guenther explains that organs haven't so much been replaced as the instrument of choice in churches as they have been supplemented by other instruments. The result is a new landscape for church musicians, one that she hopes the guild can help them face:

Q. It seems like one of your greatest challenges would be that many houses of worship don't use organs anymore. Is that the case?

A. That's an interesting question. Lots of places use organ and other instruments as well, and I think a challenge is to reach out to everyone who is involved in music-making in houses of worship, regardless of the instruments they play.

Q. So you want to include instrumentalists who play instruments other than the organ even though you've been an organization of organists?

A. Right. Many of our places of employment want more than just the organ, and we want to be able to support organists, of course, but also encourage them to acquire more skills that will ... meet the long-term needs of the marketplace. It's not a phrase that people use within the church, but it's kind of a reality.

Story here.

What we need is a good fast

Riazat Butt, religion correspondent for the Guardian, wrote the following for the Church of England Newspaper which was reprinted in Thinking Anglicans:

Ramadan is upon us and, taking my cue from Tower Hamlets council, I’m asking you to be sensitive to my needs during this 30-day period of abstinence and restraint by refraining from publishing stories about gay bishops during the hours of sunrise and sunset.

In the month of fasting I can think of no better example to set than a complete avoidance of phrases such as openly gay and Anglican Communion in the same sentence, especially when ever one is stuffed to the gills already with stories of schism. A little bit of perspective and reflection is required here. There are 80m Anglicans in the world. There are more than 800m Hindus, more than 300m Buddhists and more than 1bn Catholics. The Anglican Communion is, much like Springfield, Illinois, a one-horse town.

I was minded of how bizarre the obsession with gay sex must look to the outside world when I spotted the excellent Stonewall poster — “Some people are gay. Get over it” — on the westbound District line service to Blackfriars. I am thinking of bulk ordering these t-shirts for my Fleet Street colleagues, bishops and archbishops. I am so over gay sex. Alas, the combination of gay bishops and journalists is a bit like competitive dieting. You see other people doing it, so you have to as well. Nobody wants to be the fat one in the photo.

Read the rest here.

Religious liabilities on the Republican ticket

Earlier this year, the newswires ran amok with report after report that McCain was no longer an Episcopalian, but a Baptist. But that splits more hairs than some are comfortable with, and the pastor of the Baptist church that McCain attends has actually "dialogued" with him over the fact that attendance at the church doesn't make him a member. (In the meantime, Palin is so closely tied with Pentecostalism that some question how nondenominationally evangelical she is -- more under the cut.)

Read more »

New study on abortion reduction

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good released a study that examined the drop in the abortion rate that occurred in the 1990's and concludes that government social programs and economic conditions are the real drivers in reducing abortions. Mary Nelson has a good summary of the results:

Joseph Wright (Penn State University) and Michael Bailey's (Georgetown University) examined the dramatic drop in abortions in the 1990s. The results are significant. States that spend more generously on nutritional supplement programs, for example, could see up to 37 percent lower abortion rates. Other factors such as cutting welfare more slowly and higher male employment rates had a 20 to 29 percent reduction rate.

The negative approaches don't seem to work. Welfare caps on children born while on welfare and laws requiring parental consent for minors have only negligible impact. The study concludes that "pro-family policies reduce abortions."

Both Republicans and Democrats should take note. The authors estimate that increased welfare payments and less Medicaid funding for abortions could lower the current abortion rate by 37 percent.

Read it all here. The full study can be read here (PDF file).

Obama has a rabbi in the family--really

Well here is an interesting twist on this year's presidential election. As the Jewish weeking Forward reports, Barack Obama is related (by marriage) to a rabbi:

While Barack Obama has struggled to capture Jewish votes, it turns out that one of his wife’s cousins is the country’s most prominent black rabbi.

Michelle Obama, wife of the Democratic presidential nominee, is a first cousin once removed of Rabbi Capers Funnye, spiritual leader of a mostly black synagogue on Chicago’s South Side. Funnye’s mother, Verdelle Robinson Funnye, and Michelle Obama’s paternal grandfather, Frasier Robinson Jr., were brother and sister.

Funnye (pronounced fuh-NAY) is the chief rabbi of the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in southwest Chicago. He is well known in Jewish circles for acting as a bridge between mainstream Jewry and the much smaller, and largely separate, world of black Jewish congregations, sometimes known as black Hebrews, or Israelites. He has often urged the larger Jewish community to be more accepting of Jews who are not white.

. . .

Funnye converted to Judaism and was ordained as a rabbi under the supervision of black Israelite rabbis. He then went through another conversion, supervised by Orthodox and Conservative rabbis. Funnye has worked to connect his own congregation with the rest of Chicago’s Jewish community. He serves on the Chicago Board of Rabbis and is vice president of the Israelite Board of Rabbis, the rabbinical association for black Israelite rabbis.

. . .

“I think it tells us everything we need to know about modern America and modern Judaism that a biracial candidate has been nominated by the Democratic Party and he’s related to an African-American rabbi,” said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, which has worked for greater acceptance of Jewish minorities.

Read it all here.

Tutu: Church obsessed with homosexuality

The BBC reports that Archbishop Tutu has once again warned the Anglican Communion that it has the wrong focus:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has accused the Anglican church of allowing its "obsession" with homosexuality to come before real action on world poverty.

"God is weeping" to see such a focus on sexuality and the Church is "quite rightly" seen by many as irrelevant on the issue of poverty, he said.

It may be good to "accept that we agree to differ" on the gay issue, he said.

Archbishop Tutu was addressing a conference of church leaders organised by the Christian charity Tearfund.

. . .Archbishop Tutu told the conference in London that the Anglican Church was ideally placed to tackle poverty because of its presence at the heart of communities in the UK and overseas.

However, he said he sometimes felt ashamed of his fellow Anglicans as they focussed obsessively on trying to resolve their disagreement about homosexuality while 30,000 people died each day because of poverty.

"We really will not be able to win wars against so-called terror as long as there are conditions that make people desperate, and poverty, disease and ignorance are amongst the chief culprits," he said.

Read it all here.

A Contrarian History of Marriage

The New York Times did a review of Susan Squire's new book, I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage, which seems to be an aptly timed book for recent controversies in both the secular world and in the Anglican Communion:

Various state supreme courts have been grappling with this conundrum as they try to determine whether to expand the definition of marriage to include gay couples, a question California voters are poised to answer in November. This has forced groups on both sides of the issue to struggle to define the essential purpose of marriage. Is it a religious sacrament or merely a civil allocation of property rights? Is marriage a way of optimizing the rearing of children or an ancient way of enforcing female chastity? In legalizing gay marriage in 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts insisted that marriage encourages “stable relationships over transient ones,” “provides for the orderly distribution of property” and promotes “a stable setting for child rearing.” The Washington Supreme Court, in refusing to strike down that state’s ban on gay marriage in 2006, rooted its logic in a view of marriage as an institution that exists to “promote procreation and to encourage stable families.”

It’s a testament to our national confusion about the purpose of marriage that the courts can toggle this way between four or five rationales for such a union in a single judicial opinion, with little regard for any one coherent principle. In “I Don’t: A Contrarian History of Marriage,” Susan Squire explains that this is because there is no single coherent principle behind modern marriage. As currently practiced, the institution is a hodgepodge of biblical, classical, courtly and Christian rules and mores. What we know as “marriage” is rooted in warring historical efforts at regulating procreation; tamping down sexual lust (especially female lust); and — only relatively recently — celebrating companionship and romantic love. Those of us who speak reverently about the sanctity of marriage must also acknowledge that modern matrimony is less a sacred vessel than a crazy quilt.


Read more »

Faithful rethink food

The Washington Post reports on Christians who are thinking about how God might want them to eat in light of new research on health, working conditions in food supply chains and environmental crises.

When Marilyn Lorenz of Alma, Mich., talks about living out her Catholic faith in daily life, she starts by describing what's in her refrigerator.

The produce is grown on nearby farms, and the milk is organic and hormone-free. Meat comes from a local farmer who lets his animals graze freely and doesn't use antibiotics.

"Packing animals in factory farms, I think, is against God's wishes," says Lorenz, who changed her shopping and eating habits after a speaker at her parish broached the issues last year. "It isn't something my faith could ever support."

In bringing faith to bear anew on diet, Lorenz is among a growing movement of believers from various traditions who are exploring how to better reflect their moral values in the ways they eat.

Read the rest here.

Women in secular and church leadership

The On Faith blog at the Washington Post posed this question to a panel of fifty religious leaders: "Women are not allowed to become clergy in many conservative religious groups. Is it hypocritical to think that a woman can lead a nation and not a congregation?"

Read more »

Conservative churches unite to challenge IRS rule

The conservative Alliance Defense Fund is planning to have conservative pastors all over the country endorse political candidates (and denounce others) by name on September 28th. They want the IRS to crack down on these churches so that they can then the challenge rule that prohibits non-profit organizations (including churches) from taking part in direct political activity.

Read more »

A window into Pentecostalism

The Pew Forum writes that just as coverage of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's fiery former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, opened a window into life inside some black churches, Palin's candidacy is introducing many Americans to the conservative theology of Pentecostalism.

Though Palin currently attends a nondenominational evangelical church and her campaign does not identify her as a "Pentecostal," she's captured on video at a June appearance at Wasilla Assembly of God in her Alaska hometown, saying "it was so cool growing up in this church and getting saved here."

Read more »

Recovering apprenticeship for the newly ordained

The Alban Institute and the Lily Endowment are beginning a project to assist the newly ordained make the transition from seminary to ordained ministry, as well from the life as a lay person in a congregation to pastoring a congregation.

The process uses some old techniques: mentors, apprenticeships in congregations dedicated to the ministry of forming new pastors etc. And it includes new stuff: understanding of congregational systems, new learning on the changed role and status of religious institutions in society, and wider use of peers and mentors outside the new congregation.

The newly ordained person, the supervising pastor, the new congregation and the outside peers and mentors come together as a community of practice to make the transition time a period of learning and vision rather than one of disorientation and--as too often occurs--trauma.

Read more »

Hocus pocus for Jesus

Some people like a little razzle-dazzle with their proclamation. The Fellowship of Christian Magicians attempt to bring together the theatricality of their craft as illusionists with the call to proclaim the Gospel. The results can sometimes be tacky, sometimes moving, often fun, but is it also distracting?

Read more »

An Anglican triad

In a recent sermon, Tobias Haller mentions three characteristics of Anglicanism that he values, and that he believes are under threat: humility, locality and variety.

Humility: "What attracted me most was the fact that Anglicanism is one of the few Christian traditions that says, right up front, “The church makes mistakes.” One would think, looking at the church history, that this would be obvious — but many people want a religion that will tell them what to believe, give them answers instead of questions. Whether it’s the fundamentalist’s, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it” or “The Pope is infallible” — some people want that kind of security, to know that they are Right.

Anglicans, however, accept that just as the people of Israel made mistakes — and boy did they make mistakes — so too the Christian Church is not immune from its own failures and errors."

Locality: "This aspect of Anglicanism has come under a lot of pressure lately, as disagreements between the individual national churches have come to the foreground. What should be our strength is becoming an additional challenge. The strength lies in the fact that the Episcopal Church in the US doesn’t have the right to tell the Church in the Sudan what to do in the Sudan, nor does the Church in the Sudan have the right to tell the Episcopal Church what to do here in the US. The problem is, quite a few of the churches outside the Episcopal Church have in fact been trying to tell the Episcopal Church what it ought to do, indeed what it has to do if those other churches are going to continue to have any kind of relationship with it."

Variety: "One of the things the Church of England recognized when it became independent from the Church of Rome was that not only could the form of church government differ from place to place, but also the form of prayer and worship. For instance, two changes the Church of England made at that time were to worship in English instead of Latin, and to allow the congregation to drink from the Cup. (And isn’t it interesting that some 400 years later the Church of Rome caught up?)

When the Episcopal Church became independent from the Church of England — back at the American Revolution — we Episcopalians also took advantage of the opportunity to change our liturgy — not just dropping the prayers for the royal family, but adopting a form for the Eucharist based on what was being done in Scotland instead of England. After all, it was Scottish bishops who ordained our first American Bishop!"

"90210" mom now a priest

The Associated Press has the story:

"Beverly Hills 90210" fans discover in Tuesday's episode of the "90210" sequel that Kelly Taylor's troubled mother, Jackie, hasn't changed much.

The same can't be said for Ann Gillespie, who plays Jackie: She's gone from actress to Episcopal priest.

Between sermons, weddings and funerals at Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., the Rev. Gillespie squeezed in an appearance on "90210," CW's follow-up to the hit Fox series that aired from 1990-2000.

Read more »

Examining the candidates' beliefs

Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer has written about or rounded up some of the more intriguing coverage of the candidates and their religious beliefs.

Read more »

Judge rules in Pittsburgh case

With the October vote regarding the Diocese of Pittsburgh's decision to attempt to leave the Episcopal Church or to stay approaching, the Diocese has agreed to a request to allow a third party to inventory the diocesan assets in anticipation of legal action that might follow the vote. There is an existing legal challenge to the Diocese's actions already that has been brought by congregations in the Dioceses led by Calvary Church Shadyside and it is expected that should the Diocese vote to leave, their vote and subsequent actions would also be challenged.

Read more »

California bishops to issue statement on Prop 8

The Living Church:

Bishop Marc Andrus of the Diocese of California announced that he will deliver a statement signed by all six California diocesan bishops of The Episcopal Church that calls on Episcopalians to defeat a state ballot initiative that would amend the state’s constitution to read “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”
...
Bishop Andrus will hold a press conference on Sept. 10 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco [Addendum: video here]. He will be joined by assisting Bishop Steven Charleston of California and Bishop Barry Beisner of Northern California. Earlier that day, clergy and lay leaders from throughout southern Califorina will join Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles, who will hold his own press conference at the Los Angeles Cathedral Center.

“The Episcopal Church stands for equal rights for all persons and fair treatment for all Californians,” a spokesperson for the Diocese of California said.
Sean McConnell of the Diocese of California writes:
Our bishop and many clergy in this diocese have publically expressed opposition to California Proposition 8, the ballot initiative intended to overturn the state supreme court’s May 2008 decision granting marriage rites to same-sex couples. The decisions you make when you consider many city and county propositions or ballot initiatives might come from a deep personal consideration of your core Christian values. And even the candidates you consider … do your religious beliefs inform whom you vote for?

Politics: What’s a preacher to do?

According to the Rev. Anne Howard, executive director of the Beatitudes Society, it is simply a good rule of thumb to remember that the people in the pews are smart, thinking people. “You don’t ever hammer people over the head and tell them how to vote.”

“Preachers must always speak prophetically about political issues. If we are going to speak about hunger, or the environment, or healthcare, we need to do so prophetically. To be prophetic is to speak about those things in ways that get people to consider them deeply, but we cannot back the candidate who supports specific issues. But, speaking prophetically, we can ask people to consider what the issues are as they consider their choice.”
Legally, a church can take positions on public policy, specific pieces of legislation, and even on ballot measures or initiatives.

Property case reaches top NY court

AP:

With about 100 similar cases in courts around the country, diocese attorney Thomas P. Smith said this appeared to be the first to reach a state's top court. At issue is whether the parishioners who built the church own it, or whether they simply held it in trust for the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA and the diocese under the national church's 1979 Dennis Canons.
...
Trial and midlevel appeals courts sided with the diocese, concluding it was entitled to the property under the canon rules.

The parish in suburban Irondequoit quit supporting the diocese and the Episcopal Church of the USA after the 2003 ordination of its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

In November 2005, a majority of delegates at the Rochester diocesan convention voted to end their relationship with All Saints.

The Rev. David Harnish, the All Saints rector, notified the diocese a month later that the parish had been placed under the authority of Archbishop Henry Orombi of the Anglican Church of Uganda.

The diocese sued and has since sold the building to another Protestant denomination for about $450,000. Smith said they're holding the funds depending on how the Court of Appeals rules. He said the case could eventually go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
...
Philip Fileri, chancellor of the Rochester Diocese, told The Associated Press that five or six parishes from Long Island, Binghamton and the Buffalo area, out of 300 to 400 statewide have taken similar steps. "Nationally, it's also very small, too," he said.


Statement on Proposition 8 by the Episcopal Diocesan Bishops of California

Statement on Proposition Eight by the Episcopal Diocesan Bishops of California


As Episcopal Bishops of California, we are moved to urge voters to vote “No” on Proposition Eight. Jesus calls us to love rather than hate, to give rather than to receive, to live into hope rather than fear. On Tuesday, November 8th, voters in California will be given the opportunity to vote for or against Proposition Eight, which would amend the state’s constitution to reserve marriage as only between a man and a woman. Since the California Supreme Court’s ruling in May that civil marriage should be provided to all of the state’s citizens whether the genders of the couple are different or the same, faithful gays and lesbians have entered into marriage as the principle way in which they show their love, devotion and life-long commitment to each other. Furthermore, marriage provides these couples the same legal rights and protections that heterosexual couples take for granted.

Read more »

Palin worries Europeans

Stephen Bates, The Guardian: "Every word Europeans (and many Americans) hear about Sarah Palin chills their blood - none more so than her religious beliefs, or at least those of her pastors at the Wasilla Assembly of God church, or the Juneau Christian Centre."

N. T. "Tom" Wright, Bishop of Durham: "I am concerned, not about this candidate's religious views (that particular political decisions might be in accordance with God's will) but about her political judgment. (...) Too bad that though the decision will hugely affect the rest of the world, only the elite (i.e. U.S. citizens) vote."

Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian
: "Fight too hard, and the Republican machine, echoed by the ditto-heads in the conservative commentariat on talk radio and cable TV, will brand Democrats sexist, elitist snobs, patronising a small-town woman. Do nothing, and Palin's rise will continue unchecked, her novelty making even Obama look stale, her star power energising and motivating the Republican base. So somehow Palin slips out of reach, no revelation - no matter how jaw-dropping or career-ending were it applied to a normal candidate - doing sufficient damage to slow her apparent march to power, dragging the charisma-deprived McCain behind her. (...) Of course I know that even to mention Obama's support around the world is to hurt him. Incredibly, that large Berlin crowd damaged Obama at home, branding him the "candidate of Europe" and making him seem less of a patriotic American. But what does that say about today's America, that the world's esteem is now unwanted? If Americans reject Obama, they will be sending the clearest possible message to the rest of us - and, make no mistake, we shall hear it."

BBC: "People outside the US would prefer Barack Obama to become US president ahead of John McCain, a BBC World Service poll suggests. Democrat Mr Obama was favoured by a four-to-one margin across the 22,500 people polled in 22 countries."

Canadian primate proposes meeting on cross-border interventions

Anglican Journal:

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said he has requested Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to facilitate a meeting between him, the primate of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, Gregory Venables, U.S. presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the primate of Brazil, Mauricio de Andrade, to discuss cross-border interventions.

The three primates – Archbishop Hiltz, Archbishop de Andrade, and Bishop Jefferts Schori – have repeatedly asked Archbishop Venables to stop meddling in the internal affairs of their provinces. Archbishop Venables has, on his own accord, been providing episcopal oversight to churches that are in serious theological dispute with their respective provinces over the issue of sexuality.


And
The Canadian house of bishops will discuss next month how best to respond to renewed proposals for a moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of openly gay persons to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions.
...
In an interview, Archbishop Hiltz said the Canadian bishops will have “a very focused conversation” around how they understand the call for moratoria. He said there are conflicting interpretations on what the moratorium means, with some thinking it means not having any new blessings, and some interpreting it as retroactive, which would require a synod like New Westminster to rescind its 2002 motion that allowed same-sex blessings in their diocese.

Addendum. The Toronto Star gets Venables to talk:

Archbishop Gregory Venables of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, however, says he would find it "difficult" to attend such a meeting.

"We had been talking about a private meeting, and it rather surprises me that it is now public," Venables told the Star in an interview from Buenos Aires.

"This makes it even more difficult for me to attend."

Venables said he would make his formal response about the proposed meeting to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican church, who was asked by Hiltz to organize the meeting.

Report from Fort Worth Bishop and Standing Committee

Excerpt:

After months of prayerful discernment and extensive consultation with others, both within our own diocese and beyond, we have come to the following conclusion. We recommend that this Diocese affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone as a member diocese, on a temporary, pastoral basis, until such time as an orthodox Province of the Anglican Communion can be established in North Americsa (sic).

We have been in conversation about this matter with the Committee on Constitution and Canons, and they will be presenting to Convention the necessary changes to our constitution and canons to enact this realignment.

Read it and previous related reports at the diocesan website.

In a message to clergy, convention delegates, and vestry members, the Executive Committee gives its endorsement and states, "The recommendation will be presented to clergy and delegates to the upcoming 26th Annual Convention for consideration on Nov. 14 & 15, 2008."

Katie Sherrod writes the reports from the bishop and Standing Committee lead "to the absolutely unsurprising recommendation that the diocese affiliate with the Southern Cone -- which it can't legally do, but that little reality does not bother these guys one teeny bit."

What's happening to religion reporting?

In his latest Sightings column, distinguished scholar Martin Marty takes a look at the decline in religion reporting:

Religion news is not unique. The thinning scythe cuts through all news departments, and much more. But this is occurring ironically in religion departments, we at Sightings say, during the decade(s) in which secular news organizations are at last recognizing the role and power of religion. True, there are some wonderful examples of religious comment on TV and radio. But most religious news in such media has to be sensational, sound-bite length, accessed by those who are lured by grabbing headlines, and less frequently attracting attention by those who now learn much about religion in news because it leaps out from or sneaks into pages in which other items, mainly non-religious, are also being treated.

The saint of 9/11

A good day to remember the late Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan chaplain of the New York Fire Department who died when the twin towers fell. Judge was gay, a fact that writer Mike Kelly says aroused little concern--or even interest in the Fire Department. The Vatican, however, is not equally enlightened. Can the Church accept a gay saint?

Hat tip: Mad Priest

Turning on a dime for Palin

Robert Parham of the Baptist publication Ethics Daily writes:

The nomination of Sarah Palin changed Southern Baptist fundamentalism quicker than Eve tempted Adam to eat the apple in the Garden of Eden, metaphorically speaking. The Republican Party's first woman caused Republican Party's first-line male clergy to revise their theology about women, while claiming they never meant what they said earlier.

Only 10 years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention thumped the Bible and announced in Salt Lake City, of all places, that the woman's place was in the home. More exactly, they added a family paragraph to the Baptist Faith & Message statement, which said that a wife had the God-given responsibility to her husband "to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."

Their words were abundantly clear and literally interpreted. The wife had no other role, no other divine appointment, no other responsibility. No exceptions were made for women who work outside the home, either by necessity or vocational fulfillment. The woman was to be a household manager and to nurture children.

Terri Jo Ryan of the Waco Herald-Tribune also examines the issue. (HT: Dallas Morning News.)

The Anglican collider

Our friend Pluralist has fun with science.

Power sharing deal in Zimbabwe

CNN has the details. Let's hope this ends the persecution of the Anglican Church in that country. Pray for Bishop Sebastian Bakare of Harare, who has bravely labored to put this diocese back together under incredible stress.

Click Read More to see the pastoral letter he sent to the people of his diocese in June.

Read more »

Reviewing Rick Warren's performance

The editors of The Christian Century were uncomfortable with the way Rick Warren handled himself in questioning Barack Obama and John McCain about issues of faith:

It's the clout factor that makes us uneasy about the Saddleback event—uneasy both about the integrity of Christianity when it gets a lot of political clout, and especially uneasy about a political culture in which trumpeting one's Christian faith is a way to gain some more clout.

Warren certainly succeeded in provoking some revealing answers. Unfortunately, despite his concern for addressing climate change, poverty and AIDS, which has helped legitimate a broader political agenda among evangelicals, in the forum he never asked questions about those issues. He used the occasion to press issues that the religious right has long focused on: opposition to abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research.

The questions were also phrased so as to suggest what the appropriate answer would be for Warren and most of his constituency. "At what point does a baby get human rights?" "Define marriage." "Would you insist that faith-based organizations forfeit [the right to hire people who share their beliefs] to access federal funds?" A discussion more illuminating for political life would have emerged if the questions had been phrased this way: "What's the best way to reduce the number of abortions?" "Should homosexual couples be able to have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples?" "Should government funds be used for religious purposes?"

Akinola charges Anglicanism is failing in England

The Primate of Nigeria is featured in a new interview this week. In the interview Abp. Akinola talks about his national role in Nigeria and his sense of how Anglicanism is failing in England. The interview appears here in the magazine, Third Way.

The Church Times has coverage here.

From the article:

"ENGLAND has let Christ go, says the Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola. Consequently, the ‘huge religious vacuum’ created in the name of multiculturalism is being filled by Islam.

In an interview with Third Way, the Archbishop says he now leads 20 million Anglicans — ‘not on paper: in the pews on Sundays’. He describes himself to Joel Edwards, director of the Evangelical Alliance, as a nobody; some one with no claim to glamour or ‘superstar syndrome’; a ‘tool in the hand of God’, with no choice but to be humble.

[...]England is making “a constant effort to throw God out of the system”, he says, describing a re ported one million Anglicans at Sunday worship as “not even as much as one diocese in my country”. He criticises English preachers for their timidity: “When the gospel is pro claimed uncompromisingly, the Muslim respects you. When you have no regard for your religion, when you are neither here nor there, the Muslim disdains you — detests you.”"

One correction to the Church Times article: Akinola is no longer the chairman of Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA).

Interestingly, there's an article in the Telegraph today that quotes the Archbishop of York John Sentamu's remarks that England has become intolerant of Christian faith as well as pointing to a Cambridge study that the English government has focused too strongly on Islamic groups and ignored Christian ones.

ACNS (Anglican Communion News Service) has a story on Abp. Semantu's words as well.

Scottish Primate on Lambeth

Bishop Idris Jones, in an address to his Diocesan Council, speaks of what he believes happens and didn't happen at this summer's Lambeth Conference.

While he rhetorically overstates the condition of the Communion, he rightly points out that the Communion is in a phase of rapid transformation:

"It seems to me that the issue is not that we lack structure but that the structure has failed to address the situation and when it has attempted to do so Provinces have simply continued to do what they wanted to do and ignored the proposals put forward by the Instruments of Unity. I do have an unease that at the heart of our Communion there is a lack of evenhanded dealing. It was almost as if we were trapped into a game of “my pain is bigger than your pain”. The approach of the Church of Canada about which we were able to learn so much more this year and which was praised for its theological method was completely ignored and brushed aside for example whilst and the interference of another Province in Canada where proper and full provision had been made for congregations who felt alienated remained un -rebuked in spite of it having been forbidden by the recent Primates meeting.

The Canadian Anglican church has a long and strong history of fidelity and development - it gave the Communion A YP A for example - and has been not accorded the respect that it should have. There is more than one way of destroying a Communion but injustice is high on the list of how to achieve it.

We heard much about the need to support churches in other parts of the world; but very little of the vulnerability of the church where society has moved ahead of the game in its provisions which is the position that we find ourselves in along with other churches in the developed world."

Read the full article here.

Church attendance and voter turnout

A paper published at the National Bureau of Economic Research has found a definite and measurable link between decreasing church attendance and decreasing voter turnout in elections.

From the abstract:

"Regular church attendance is strongly associated with a higher probability of voting. It is an open question as to whether this association, which has been confirmed in numerous surveys, is causal. We use the repeal of the laws restricting Sunday retail activity ('Blue laws') to measure the effects of church-going on political participation. The repeal of Blue Laws caused a 5 percent decrease in church attendance. We measure the effect of Blue Laws' repeal on political participation and find that following the repeal turnout falls by approximately 1 percentage point. This turnout decline, which is statistically significant and fairly robust across model specifications, is consistent with the large effect of church attendance on turnout reported in the literature, and suggests that church attendance may have significant causal influence on voter turnout."

Read the abstract here. You can buy a copy of the paper for $5 US if you'd like as well.

There's a discussion of the paper on the Wall Street Journal's website here. The discussion makes an interesting point that the decrease in church attendance might hit democrats harder since statistically speaking, church attendance is higher among lower-income voters (who have traditionally voted Democratic).

Texas prepares

The Diocese of Texas is preparing to respond to the expected emergency conditions that will be left in Hurricane Ike's wake this weekend.

From their website:

"The Diocesan Office in Houston will close Thursday, September 11, at 12 noon to prepare for Hurricane Ike and to avoid traffic congestion for evacuees (as per our Mayor  Bill White's request). The office will reopen on Monday morning.

Bishop Don Wimberly and key staff members will meet Monday morning to assess damage and provide needed resources.  As Monday is payday for many churches it may be important for those evacuating to remember to issue checks to employees, as well as, to review emergency preparedness plans.

 A back-up email to report your location and situation immediately following the hurricane is cebarnwell@gmail.com. You may also send a text message to 713.703.6385. This will allow the staff a comprehensive assessment when they meet Monday.

If you have needs or donations you may contact Episcopal Relief and Development directly: e-mail Abigail Nelson, anelson@er-d.org or call 212.716.6139 or 646.387.0887 or Scarlet Harrington at 212.716.6302.

The diocesan Emergency Response Plan, a list of diocesan personnel contacts and a disaster response checklist can all be found here.

Prayers ascend from all of us for the people in this part of the country.

Saturday morning caffeine break

Megachurches with coffeeshops might not be unusual, but Eastbrook Church in Milwaukee built theirs out of a problem. The church was located next to a bar that had a growing reputation for noisy bikers, drug-deals and violent crime. After a particularly nasty night in which three people were injured in a shooting, the community called for it to be shut down. Eastbrook successfully worked with the bar to--well, acquire it.

After a period during which the former bar was used for meeting space, they renovated the building and turned it into a coffee shop, says church elder Vera Wolf, who envisioned the space. Holy Grounds Cafe has been open since March:

"It's an outreach to the community and provides fellowship for church members," she says. "It's a quiet haven if you want to use the Wi-Fi, meet a friend, have a business meeting or just get a cup of good coffee."

Today, the smell of rich roasted coffee fills the air of the light and bright cafe, which is decorated with warm, soothing colors, black leather couches, sharp-looking wooden tables and chairs, and photographs of flowers and waterfalls.

"We didn't want a bargain basement look," Wolf says.

At the counter is a selection of coffee drinks, including lattes and cappuccinos, along with chai tea, hot chocolate, smoothies, Italian sodas, vitamin waters and juices, along with baked goods, soup and rolls. A small bookcase contains Christian pamphlets and books on religious subjects.

The coffee comes from Alliance World Coffees, an arm of the Muncie Alliance Church in Indiana, where pastor Guy Pfanz turned his own love of coffee into a business that benefits him and his church.

The specialty micro-roaster purchases beans from throughout the world. Alliance Coffee is all fair trade or farmer direct to be socially responsible, Pfanz says. He also sells coffee machines, and Wolf traveled to Muncie for barista training.

Pfanz also notes the cafe concept, in general, revitalizing coffee hours for churches everywhere.

Story here.

Priests in film

Cinematical points us to an indie film (also featuring Peter O'Toole, in addition to those in the excerpt below) that premiered at the Toronto Independent Film Festival earlier this week: "...Dean Spanley, a wonderfully charming and whimsical comedy about an Anglican priest who believes he is the reincarnation of a dog."

A New Zealand production, the film is set in England near the turn of the last century, a time when manners and social graces were all-important, and when a man could say "Poppycock!" and truly mean it. A well-to-do bachelor named Fisk (Jeremy Northam) is more open-minded than most of his contemporaries, and he finds that a local minister, Dean Spanley (Sam Neill), when plied with a certain rare and expensive brandy, will speak freely of his memories of being a canine before he was born into his current existence.

What will those wacky New Zealanders think of next? Read the rest of the review (witty! lovely! oscar-wilde-ish!) here -- it is the second film reviewed on the page. There is also a podcasted interview with Bill Maher, whose "docu-comedy" "Religulous" also premiered at the event, here.

And for those on the other end of the obscure film spectrum of taste (or who want to see Hercules in a dog collar), there's always Kevin Sorbo, playing an Episcopal priest/action hero in the Sci-Fi Channel B-eco-horror flop "Something Beneath," which apparently came out on DVD this week.

Pittsburgh developments

Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh has sent a pastoral letter out in response to talk of a vote over action regarding the matter of the Title IV Review Committee certification that Bishop Robert W. Duncan has abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church. In it, he avers that he believes any vote on the matter would itself violate the canons of the church.

You'll recall that when the evidence on the matter was originally presented late last year, three senior bishops were asked to vote on whether Duncan should be inhibited until such point as the House of Bishops could take action. That point is coming later this week, when the House of Bishops meets in Salt Lake City on Sept. 18 and can take action on whether to depose Duncan. Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, in a memo, has noted that the House of Bishops has three options:

  1. They can consent to the deposition.
  2. They can withhold that consent.
  3. They can defer the vote for another meeting.

Jefferts Schori continues that that some have expressed a preferend for the last option specifically because they want to see what happens at Pittsburgh's October convention. There is also some debate over whether this vote can take place without the three senior bishops consenting to the inhibition, which is probably why Duncan has taken the position he has. From her memo:

It is the position of my Chancellor, after reviewing the apparent intent of the canon and consulting several other chancellors and former chancellors, as well as the opinion of the Parliamentarian of the House, that the General Convention in enacting this canon did not intend to give the three senior bishops a "veto" over the House's right to determine whether or not a bishop who has been certified by the Review Committee as having abandoned the Communion of this Church should be deposed. Rather, that decision was intended to be made by the House. The consent of the three senior bishops, they opine, was intended to be sought only on the matter of whether or not the bishop in question should be inhibited pending the proceeding before the House, and that any ambiguity in the language of the canon should be resolved in favor of the ability of the House itself to vote on this matter. In their view, and in the language of the canon, it is my "duty ... to present the matter to the House of Bishops" regardless of whether the bishop in question has been inhibited.

Duncan's pastoral letter is here.

The memo from Jefferts Schori is here (PDF Link)


The presentment and evidence against him continues after the "Read More" tag.

Read more »

Playing with creation

Spore is a new video game, created by the same fellow behind the virtual world phenom "The Sims." This time, he's taken that virtual world experience to a new level--one that begins when a virtual comet slams into a primordial virtual world, giving a player the virtual building blocks to start from single-celled scratch.

Time Magazine makes note of the game in last week's issue:

God rested after he created life, but you're just getting started. Next you shepherd your fledgling life-form through its single-celled stage until it's ready to crawl onto land, at which time you decide where its various eyes and ears and limbs and less easily identifiable appendages go. Then it must learn to feed itself and reproduce. Eventually, it forms tribes and builds cities. Finally it achieves spaceflight, whereupon you guide it off into the galaxy to meet other sentient species.

You can't turn the entire history of life into a video game without wrestling with some heavy philosophical questions, but Wright seems to have steered a middle course that avoids both religious and evolutionary blasphemy. You could read Spore equally easily as a model of evolution or of intelligent design, with you in the role of Intelligent Designer. (O.K., it's a bit blasphemous.) "A game like this can actually generate interesting, meaningful conversations between people," Wright says. "I think that's the best thing it can do."

That's an interesting point on its own, but wait! There's more! First on the conversation block? Antispore.com, a site run by a segment of Christians who object not to the blasphemy (O.K., perhaps a bit) but more to the notion that it "teaches" evolutionary theory and undermines creationism, whatever it represents as a potential metaphor for intelligent design.

(It bears noting an interesting potential sidebar conversation, there: can video games make great teaching tools?)

PC News points to the review calling it "well good" entertainment in icily wry fashion. A short excerpt shows the real problem they have with the games creator, though, whom Time says describes himself as "definitely an atheist. Well, agnostic atheist maybe." It's not even that he didn't immediately condemn the new art movement of "Spore-nography"—new "species" that physically resemble genitalia. Rather:

"I used to like Will Wright," continues Anti-Spore.com. "He created Sim City, a fantastic game that celebrated the earth that God created for us and allowed you to use all your God given abilities to make an ideal society. But if you ever felt like you had too much power, God would come in with a tornado or an earthquake and put you back in place.

"You would think that as a member of the Episcopal Church, a smart man like Will Wright would not be capable of creating Spore. However, we must be reminded that the Episcopal Church is the only church in america that ordains homosexuals on a regular basis.

The Time story is here, and the PC News story with a link to the Antispore site is here.

Nigeria on re-evangelizing the West, among other things

A Nigerian tabloid has reported on a Metroplitan Community Church congregation in Nigeria that, according to the paper, is "first openly declared gay church in the country." Along with the story, they've noted that both Muslim and Christian Leaders have condemned the church, like homosexuality, as evil. The item, along with an Anglican-specific sidebar, indicates that the Nigerian bishops stand in solidarity with Archbishop Akinola, admiring and commending his stance, and themselves resolute, on non-admittance and ordination of gays.

In that sidebar to the story, however, we get this item from an interview with the Venerable Daniel Ilogu of Okrika Anglican Diocese in Rivers State:

Why did white people get involved in the gay issue? They are very funny people. They keep animals as pets. They kiss animals and carry them like humans. As for their human level, I don’t know what to say, but their Christian level is another thing. They are not good Christians. This is why they are re-evangelizing them. We have our ministers in Britain, America and all parts of the world who are re-evangelizing the white people.

The pieces are here (MCC) and here (Ilogu et al.).

Marilynne Robinson’s "Home"

Marilynne Robinson’s novels focus on issues of faith, perhaps most notably her second novel, Gilead. As James Woods notes in his New Yorker review, her new novel is no exception:

Her new novel, “Home” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $25), begins simply, eschewing obvious verbal fineness, and slowly grows in luxury—its last fifty pages are magnificently moving, and richly pondered in the way of “Gilead.” “Home” is not a sequel to that novel but more like that novel’s brother, since it takes place at the same narrative moment and dovetails with its happenings. In “Gilead,” John Ames’s great friend is the Reverend Robert Boughton, a retired Presbyterian minister (Ames is a Congregationalist). The two men grew up together, confide in one another, and share a wry, undogmatic Protestantism. But where Ames married late and has only one son, Boughton has eight children, one of whom, Jack, is a prodigal son. In the earlier novel, Ames frets over Jack (now in his forties), who has been difficult since he was a schoolboy: there has been petty theft, drifting, unemployment, alcoholism, and an illegitimate child, now deceased, with a local woman. Jack walked out of the Boughton home one day and stayed away for twenty years, not returning even for his mother’s funeral. After all that time, we learn, Jack has unexpectedly returned. In the last part of “Gilead,” Jack comes to Ames for a blessing—for the blessing he cannot get from his own father—and spills a remarkable secret: he has been living with a black woman from Memphis named Della, and has a son with her.

“Home” is set in the Boughton household at the time of Jack’s sudden return, and is an intense study of three people: the Reverend Boughton, the old, dying patriarch; his pious daughter Glory; and the prodigal Jack. Glory has her own sadness: she has come back to Gilead after the collapse of what she took to be an engagement, to a man who turned out to be married. Like Princess Marya in “War and Peace,” who does daily battle with her father, the old Prince Bolkonsky, she is the dutiful child who must submit to the demands of an aging tyrant. She is fearful of Jack, whom she hardly knows, and is in some ways envious of his rebellious freedom. Robinson evokes well the drugged shuffle of life in a home dominated by the routines of an old parent: how the two middle-aged children hear “a stirring of bedsprings, then the lisp lisp of slippered feet and the pock of the cane.” There are the imperious cries—for help getting dressed; a glass of water—and the hours distracted by the radio, card games, Monopoly, meals, pots of coffee. The very furniture is oppressive, immovable.

. . .

What propels the book, and makes it ultimately so powerful, is the Reverend Boughton, precisely because he is not the soft-spoken sage that John Ames is in “Gilead.” He is a fierce, stern, vain old man, who wants to forgive his son and cannot. He preaches sweetness and light, and is gentle with Jack, like a chastened Lear (“Let me look at you for a minute,” he says), only to turn on him angrily. There are scenes of the most tender pain. Robinson, so theologically obsessed with transfiguration, can transfigure the most banal observation. In the attic, for instance, Glory finds a chest of her father’s shirts, ironed “as if for some formal event, perhaps their interment”; and then the novelist, or poet, notices that the shirts “had changed to a color milder than white.” (Those cerements again.) Father and son clash while watching television news reports of the racial unrest in Montgomery. Boughton swats away his son’s anger with his bland, milky prophecy: “There’s no reason to let that sort of trouble upset you. In six months nobody will remember one thing about it.”

As the old man palpably declines, an urgency sets in. The imminence of death should conduce to forgiveness, but the father cannot allow it. He knows that his son has not returned for good. “He’s going to toss the old gent an assurance or two, and then he’s out the door,” he complains. Nothing will change, because the family situation rests on a series of paradoxes, which interlock to imprison father and son. Jack’s soul is homeless, but his soul is his home, for, as Jack tells his sister, the soul is “what you can’t get rid of.” He is condemned to leave and return. If the prodigal son is the most loved because most errant, then it is his errancy that is secretly loved: perhaps a family needs to have its designated sinner? Everyone longs for restoration, for the son to come home and become simply good, just as everyone longs for Heaven, but such restoration, like Heaven itself, is hard to imagine, and in our lack of imagination we somehow prefer what we can touch and feel—the palpability of our lapses.

Read it all here.

Barring Yahweh

Christianity Today notes that the Roman Catholic Church will no longer pronounce the name Yahweh in worship, and explores the debate whether Protestants should do the same:

Observant Jews have traditionally not used the name Yahweh, refusing to pronounce the so-called proper name of God out of respect, or to be sure they do not misuse it. Now neither will Roman Catholics, at least in their worship services.

"In recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name," said a June letter from the Vatican. "As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: Adonai, which means 'Lord.'" In August, U.S. bishops were directed to remove Yahweh from songs and prayers.

Protestants should be following their lead, said Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. "It's always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name," she said. "Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God."

While refusing to write or say Yahweh aloud is a long-standing Jewish tradition, the Bible does not forbid its pronunciation.

"I don't have an issue with the use of that word in the worship context," said Mike Harland, director of the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Worship, which released the new Baptist Hymnal in August. "It's a transliteration of one of the names of God. It wouldn't be off-putting to me at all."

Read it all here.

What do you think?

Previous coverage here.

Evangelicals and torture

A new poll of 600 Southern evangelicals finds that they do not rely on the Bible when making decisions about torture:

A new survey suggests the very Americans who claim to follow the Bible most assiduously don’t consult it when forming their views about torture and government policy.

The poll of 600 Southern white evangelicals was released Sept. 11 in Atlanta in connection with a national religious summit on torture. It shows not only are white evangelical Southerners more likely than the general populace to believe torture is sometimes or often justified, but also that they are far more likely—to tweak a phrase from Proverbs—to “lean on their own understanding” regarding the subject.

. . .

While a recent Pew survey showed 48 percent of the general public believes torture sometimes or often is justified in order to obtain information from suspected terrorists, the new poll shows 57 percent of white Southern evangelicals hold that belief.

Among that demographic and despite their high levels of religious belief and practice, the survey found, “white evangelicals in the South are significantly more likely to rely on life experiences and common sense (44 percent) than Christian teachings or beliefs (28 percent) when thinking about the acceptability of torture.”

Meanwhile, among the minority who pointed to the Bible and Christian doctrine as the primary influences on their view of torture, more than half—52 percent—oppose government use of such tactics.

“This is a spiritual crisis, I suggest, that should alarm all Christian leaders regardless of what we think about torture,” said Tyler Wigg Stevenson, a Baptist minister and human-rights activist from Nashville, Tenn., at a press conference announcing the survey’s results. “This bad news for the church is a plus for any special interest who wants to take advantage of us.”

Read it all here. The poll was released as part of a conference in Atlanta on torture:

Starting today, Atlanta will host a simmering ethical and religious debate about the United States’ use of harsh methods such as waterboarding in the war on terror.

David Gushee, a Mercer University professor and Baptist preacher, has put himself at the center of that debate. He is leading a push among Christians, and especially among evangelicals, to ban the methods, which he believes are torture.

. . .

“From the moral perspective, to hear that one-fifth of evangelicals think torture is often justified, and that one-third think it is sometimes justified is extremely distressing. It shows we have a lot of work to do,” said Gushee, who also helped found Evangelicals for Human Rights in 2006.

Today and Friday, more than 200 U.S. religious, legal and political leaders will attend the conference that Gushee helped organize at Mercer’s Atlanta campus.

Keith Pavlischek from the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, also an evangelical, will not be there.

He has countered Gushee’s articles on torture in the evangelical flagship publication “Christianity Today.” Pavlischek does not rule out harsh treatment in extreme cases where lives could be saved, and he criticizes Gushee for not defining exactly what torture is.

“I want to push up against the boundary of that. Why, because I am sadistic? No, because I want to protect innocent people,” Pavlischek said.

Painful interrogations ought to be rare, but neither should suspects be simply jailed, he said.

“In between are a continuum of interrogation techniques that I believe are morally and legally permissible, that are aggressive, that are short of torture,” he said.

Gushee has responded to Pavlischek’s criticism, saying quibbling over what qualifies as torture is unseemly in the face of the golden rule and the Bible’s teachings on the sacredness of life. He defines torture as those things we would not want done to Americans and those forbidden by the Army Field Manual.

Read it all here.

Democrats and evangelicals

The Economist has an interesting analysis of the success (or lack thereof) of Democratic efforts to woo evangelical voters:

As Barack Obama and John McCain move into the final two months of this longest of elections, white evangelical or “born again” Christian voters are being fought over more fiercely than at any time in modern history. Both parties employ evangelical outreach specialists. Both are spending a lot of time courting evangelical leaders. And both are holding meetings with “values voters” to try to reassure them.

The Democrats have at last realised that it is foolish to write off a group that makes up an astonishing 23% of the population. In 1988 Michael Dukakis could hardly bring himself to speak to evangelicals. This year all the major Democratic candidates have cuddled up to them. Mr Obama says that he is “somebody who really has insisted that the Democratic Party reach out to people of faith”. His staff has already conducted more than 200 “American values forums” or faith-themed town-hall meetings. The aim, of course, is not to win the evangelical vote: merely chipping away at such a monolith could be hugely useful.

. . .

White evangelicals are the most Republican religious group in the country, with 62% of them leaning Republican, compared with 38% of all voters. Their support for the Republicans is higher than it was in 2000, and also higher among the under-30s than the over-30s: 64% of young evangelicals lean Republican compared with 29% who lean Democratic.

This general preference for the Republicans over the Democrats has also translated into a preference for Mr McCain (for all his faults) over Mr Obama (for all his religion-friendly rhetoric). White evangelicals in general prefer Mr McCain to Mr Obama by a margin of 44 points (the figure for Bush versus Gore in the summer of 2000 was only 30 points). Among white evangelicals who go to church more than once a week, the gap is 54 points. Much of this is driven by suspicion of Mr Obama. Only 27% of this group believe that the deeply religious senator from Illinois shares their values—a figure shaped partly by revulsion for his preacher, Jeremiah Wright, partly by the mistaken belief that Mr Obama is a Muslim, but mostly by his uncompromising support of abortion choice.

. . .

But Mr McCain’s biggest coup by far was picking Sarah Palin as his running-mate. Mrs Palin is an evangelical convert—she was born a Catholic—who is deeply-rooted in the evangelical subculture. Her eldest son, Track, has a tattoo of the “Jesus fish” on his calf. She has pronounced opinions on abortion, gay marriage and creationism. The news of her selection was greeted with standing ovations from leaders of the religious right and near-hysteria on Christian radio stations.

Can Mr McCain ride an energised evangelical base into the White House? He is certainly much better off now than he was a month ago, before the evangelical surge. But he nevertheless confronts two big problems. The first is that evangelical issues have less resonance with the general public than they did in 2004. There has been a decline in support for traditional morality, an uptick in hostility to the involvement of the church in politics, and an increase in support for social welfare. Catholics in particular are shifting back into the Democratic camp. The second is that Mrs Palin and her supporters may energise America’s secularists while also putting off swing voters (who are likely to be troubled by Mrs Palin’s hostility to abortion even in cases of rape and incest). The big problems now facing Mr McCain may not be too little enthusiasm among evangelicals, but too much.

Read it all here.

Remembering Charles Darwin

As the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Darwin in 1809 and the 150th year since the publication of On the Origin of Species approaches, the Church of England has added a section to its web site commemorating Charles Darwin, naturalist and deacon.

Meanwhile, the British press speculates about whether or not the Church of England will apologize for its initial mistreatment of Darwin after the publication of his theories.

From the CofE website:

As media interest grows in the bicentenary, the pages analyse Darwin’s faith and his relationship with the Church of England. A new essay by the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs, gives a personal view of Darwin’s contribution to science, whilst warning of social misapplications of his theories.

The Bishop of Swindon, Rt Revd Lee Rayfield, himself a former biological scientist, has contributed a welcome page to the section, and commented: “Theology and science each have much to contribute in the assertion of the Psalmist that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. I hope that this new section will not only provide a source of information and knowledge about Charles Darwin and his work, but that it will prove to be a resource for growing in wisdom and understanding.”

In the new section, Darwin and the Church reveals that Darwin was surrounded by the influence of the Church his entire life. Having attended a Church of England boarding school in Shrewsbury, he trained to be a clergyman in Cambridge; was inspired to follow his calling into science by another clergyman who lived and breathed botany; and married into a staunch Anglican family.

However, Darwin and Faith shows, quoting Darwin’s own words, how he slowly lost his personal Christian faith, the erosion made complete by a need for evidence, and the sad death of a beloved daughter.

It is this need for humans to think, and love, that forms the centrepiece of the essay by the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, called Good Religion Needs Good Science.

After warning of the social misapplication of Darwin’s discoveries, where natural selection justifies racism and other forms of discrimination - perhaps predicted in the "misguided" over-reaction of the Church in the 1860s - Malcolm Brown writes: “Christians will want to stress, instead, the human capacity for love, for altruism, and for self-sacrifice.”

The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown writes: “There is no reason to doubt that Christ still draws people towards truth through the work of scientists as well as others, and many scientists are motivated in their work by a perception of the deep beauty of the created world."

Check out the site here.

See Thinking Anglicans which has a round up of the advance press coverage here and here.

Legal wrangling, spin and misunderstandings

This week the House of Bishops meets in Salt Lake City. In addition to reflecting on Lambeth, the Bishops will discuss whether or not Bishop Bob Duncan has abandoned the Episcopal Church and, if so, what to do about it.

Letters from Duncan and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori may be found here and here. See the previous Lead entry here.

George Conger writes in his blog Religious Intelligence:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori may face legal hurdles in her bid to depose Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan (pictured) this week, as her decision to change the agenda of the special session of the House of Bishops five days before its start appears to violate canon law.

And...

Giving five days notice that the lawfully elected bishop of a diocese would stand trial for what he might do, rather than what he had done, was “unfair” to both the diocese and to Bishop Duncan, diocesan communications officer Peter Frank said.

Whether the vote will take place is unclear, however, as the canons specifically forbid the Presiding Bishop from amending the agenda once she issued her March 25 and Aug 20 call for a special session to review the Lambeth Conference.

Fr. Tobias Haller responds to Conger's article:

What a strange mixture of strained readings and false statements.

This is not a trial, nor even a hearing. It is a proceeding to determine if the certification of the Review Committee is to be sustained in light of Bishop Duncan's response to same. Bishop Duncan did receive timely notice of the January certification of the Review Committee, and issued his response in March. His shock that he's only received five days notice (for a meeting he says he plans not to attend anyway) sounds as believable as that of Captain Renault on finding gambling at Rick's.

His written response, taken in conjunction with his much more important statements and actions towards "realignment" have made it very clear that he does not deny there is -- in his mind -- a two-church situation at play, and that he is making his choice not to be in communion with The Episcopal Church (the one with General Convention), regardless of any actions taken by his diocese -- which he has urged to follow the course of realignment. I have long maintained that this urging in itself is actionable -- it is a form of incitement or conspiracy -- and that the action of the diocese is not determinative of the guilt of the bishop.

For Duncan has urged "realignment" publicly and unapologetically. He no longer wishes to be part of The Episcopal Church whose House of Bishops will soon be meeting, though he recognizes it has the authority to discipline him. He has played the word game that he and those who believe what he believes represent the "real" Episcopal Church -- on his tendentious reading of the Preamble to the Constitution of TEC (though his hopes that TEC would lose its status of being in communion with Canterbury fell flat; he has rather painted himself into a corner in this regard.) Duncan had a chance to back down from his course of throwing in his lot with Common Cause against and opposed to the "course" of The Episcopal Church, and he refused to take it. He is for realignment -- which in this case is just another word for abandonment of communion with one Church in order to join another, in this case assembled from the fragments of several dozen churchlets also not in communion with The Episcopal Church. To suggest this is not schismatic involves a distorted view of the nature of schism.

Back to the Intelligence article: There is no need for this consideration to be "on the agenda" of the House of Bishops' meeting, as the Canons say the PB is to place the matter before the next regular or special meeting of the House after the two-month period for response or retraction. (The red herring of the sessions at Lambeth is typical obfuscation -- those were not meetings of the House of Bishops, but provincial gatherings of those bishops who happened to be present at Lambeth.)

Duncan's choice to stay away from what his coterie characterize as a "trial" would simply be contumacy if it really were a trial. If he wants to assure the House of his bona fide he should show up and recant his program of realignment. In this case it is Duncan who is "steeped in so far" that turning back is difficult. But it is still a lively option.

Further, citing Robert's Rules is in vain as the Canons and the Rules of Order of the HB cover this situation without any need to appeal to the stopgap of Robert's. (RRoO is only called upon to address matters not dealt with.)

Moreover it takes a two-thirds majority (not a simple majority as the article states) to overrule the chair's decision on a point of order on appeal, according to rule XV of the House of Bishops.

For those who want to judge for themselves if Duncan's response to the certification of abandonment was adequate, I copy it out below. This was posted originally in mid-March. While he acknowledges himself to be "subject" to the discipline of this Church, he in no way indicates any sympathy with it, but rather his opposition to it. Which would be fine if he stopped short of realignment -- about which his "response" says nothing. His actions speak much louder than his words in this regard. If this was intended as a good faith retraction, it fails miserably.

Read George Conger's article here and Fr. Haller's blog entry here.

On Anglican Disunion

Jack Miles writes in Commonweal about the essential nature of Anglican Communion, reflecting on his life in the pew of an Episcopal Church and learning about the strange evolution of the Lambeth Conference since its inception.

After reading the four-part series on the history of the Conference in his Sunday bulletin, he learned that the first conference was called only with reluctance and ten years later there was still suspicion of a creeping structuralism among churches that were seen as having a common heritage but different polities.

One learned that the initial impulse for the Lambeth Conference only came in 1867 and then from Canadian Anglicans uneasy over their country’s evolution toward independence from Britain. If Canada became fully independent, would the Church of Canada, against its wishes, be forced to become the Canadian equivalent of the Episcopal Church in the United States? Reluctantly, the archbishop of Canterbury agreed to hold a meeting, but he insisted that it would seek only “brotherly counsel and encouragement.”

Miles notes that the pastoral pronouncements of the decennial conference tended to follow the pastoral realities of the several churches rather than guide them. At the same time, the need for a deciding authority began to creep in.

During the twentieth century, however, the issues of divorce, remarriage, intermarriage, contraception, and the status of women in the church-all of which fell plausibly within the avowedly pastoral purview of the Lambeth Conference-replaced almost completely such classic doctrinal issues as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in determining whether one was or was not a communicant in good standing. Thus, when the 1900 conference ruled that only the “innocent party” to a divorce might be readmitted to Communion after a civil marriage, it did tacitly claim a right to determine who was an Anglican.

As the years went by, the statements of the Lambeth Conference became more permissive, following no doubt the experience of the member churches.

In matters of sexuality and church discipline, the path of the Lambeth Conference through the twentieth century was, as Webber summarizes it, a long, slow walk to the left climaxed by a sudden lurch to the right in 1998. As late as 1920, the conference went so far as to link “the open or secret sale of contraceptives and the continued existence of brothels.” But qualifications began to creep in at the 1930 and 1948 conferences, and in 1958 a resolution boldly declared that family planning is “a right and important factor in Christian family life,” a position reaffirmed in 1968 with explicit reference to the then just-issued papal encyclical Humanae vitae.

Lambeth was responding rather than dictating to the faithful regarding contraception, but had this not, broadly speaking, been its founding, pastoral intent? During the 1970s, when a long-running Anglican debate over the ordination of women was preempted by their actual ordination in Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and the United States, the response of the 1978 conference, consistently enough, was to affirm “the legal right of each church to make its own decision” in this matter. In 1988, it took the identical position with regard to the ordination of women to the episcopate.

We all know what happened next. The 1988 Conference, which called “for deep and dispassionate study of the question of homosexuality” anticipating a gradual loosening of traditional strictures, knowing that change would only come slowly and in a few churches, gave way to highly divided and politicized 1998 conference. The passage (and selective reading) Lambeth 1.10 signaled the start of a transformed communion when very conservative Western and Central African province allied with conservative minorities in the West.

So what does Miles see as the road ahead?

What lies ahead? GAFCON seems bent on becoming a strong vehicle for church governance, a kind of standing quasi-ecumenical council for Anglicans who want one. Williams, for his part, in remarks made at the end of the Lambeth Conference in August, seemed to foresee a milder version of the same thing for the communion over which he still presides-namely, the formulation of a “covenant,” by subscribing to which constituent churches would accept or decline membership. In his concluding address, Williams said: “a covenanted future...has the potential to make us more a church; more of a ‘catholic’ church in the proper sense, a church, that is, which understands its ministry and service as united and interdependent around the world.”

But do the world’s Anglicans, leaving aside the GAFCON Afro-Anglicans and their American supporters, really want to be “more a church”? In precise and dry language, an editorial appearing August 15 in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland Gazette says no. “It is important to emphasize,” the editorial avers, “that the Anglican Communion is not, as Dr. Williams did at least suggest in his statement, a church. It is a communion of churches,” while “the Lambeth conference is, precisely, a conference. It is not a synod.” Accordingly, Lambeth has no governing authority, and “members are free to attend or to ‘boycott,’ as they wish.” Such would not be the case if they did have a role in governance.

In short, no greater Anglican Church, therefore no schism within the church. This classic view of Anglican polity, rooted ultimately in the city- and region-based ecclesial polity of the early church, has the clear backing of the Episcopal Church. Its roots are deep enough among Anglicans around the world that it will surely still be a live option at the end of the coming ten full years of debate about the still-to-be-written covenant. Shifting demographics alone are no more likely to dislodge so strong a habit of mind than shifting demographics alone are likely to dislodge any other strongly rooted first-world institution.

The discovery that the West African (notably not South African) Anglicans, who now so hugely outnumber Euro-American Anglicans, are militantly conservative regarding homosexuality and solascripturalist regarding church authority has led conservative American Episcopalians who share these views into an occasionally giddy enthusiasm. Church historian Philip Jenkins, himself a theological and political conservative in a mainstream Episcopal congregation, put it thus at a press conference under the auspices of the Pew Forum:

Just think of the rhetorical, political advantages of being aware that this [demographic dominance by the global South] is the future of Christianity. “We are allying ourselves not with the decadent, Northern world, but with the future of the church.” Think of the advantages that gives you, if you’re trying to put on a spokesperson for a conservative cause, and the person you put on is an African or an Asian who is going to present the issue in terms of fighting cultural imperialism. Oh boy, that’s good. Politically, that’s enormously powerful.

But is it? Powerful where? Powerful for or against whom? The question brings me back to my pew at St. Edmund’s. Ours is a well-to-do church in a Republican suburb with, as it happens, a well-liked, politically moderate to compassionately conservative gay rector, the Rev. George F. Woodward III, whose sexual orientation, known to all for some years now, has ceased to be a topic of conversation. I have long sensed that even politically conservative Episcopalians tend to be nonchalant about homosexuality, and my hunch was confirmed by the June 2008 Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey. Episcopalians are 26 percent liberal, 43 percent moderate, and 27 percent conservative in general political preference; but when it comes to homosexuality, 70 percent choose “should be accepted,” while only 23 percent choose “should be discouraged.” In short: politically conservative or moderate, socially liberal, and in that mix probably ahead of the curve. All surveys, after all, show that younger Americans are more tolerant of homosexuality than older Americans; few show any durable shift to the political left. Ten years from now, how many Episcopalians will want to exchange the security of local governance for the perils of remote governance by an Africa-dominated council-all to escape the peril of gay marriage and gay ordination?

Read the rest here.

Speaking hope to exiles

The Savannah Morning News describes a visit to Christ Church Episcopal, the congregation of Episcopalians who are exiled from their parish while others attempt to take the congregation and the church buildings out of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Georgia.

More than 250 worshippers attended the afternoon service of Christ Church Episcopal, which meets at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church at Waters and Washington avenues.

Leaders of Christ Church Episcopal and the national church claim to be the rightful owners of the historic downtown property known as Christ Church, the "mother church of Georgia."

The current inhabitants, known as Christ Church Savannah, cited theological differences and broke from the Episcopal Church in 2007. The national church and the Diocese of Georgia are embroiled in a lawsuit against Christ Church Savannah over the property.

The service at St. Michael and All Angels marked the conclusion of Jefferts Schori's four-day visit to the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. Her choice to worship with Christ Church Episcopal was meant to send a message.

"It's an important opportunity, not only to reassure the people, but to celebrate the fact that they're Episcopalians and to say to the larger community that we're all part of a larger whole," Jefferts Schori said during an outdoor reception after the service. "Christ Church Episcopal matters a great deal to the Episcopal Church, and we're all here to support you."

Many Episcopalians said that message was well-received.

"We feel like we've been kicked out of our house," said M. Daniel Suwyn, junior warden of Christ Church Episcopal and a former managing editor of the Savannah Morning News.

"She stays even and she stays true. And that was an inspiration to us because she showed us we don't have to be in conflict in a way that's rancorous," he said. "She very much showed us a way to have these conversations without getting angry."

Here is a video from the Morning News web-site showing Bishop Jefferts Schori answering questions from parishioners.

Read the Savannah Morning News account here.

That other covenant

Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, reminds us that there is another Covenant within the Anglican Communion that speaks to mission but that is often forgotten in the current controversies.

Reading the comments made by deputations about the St. Andrew’s draft caused me to think about another covenant. The “Covenant for Communion in Mission is the work of the Anglican Communion’s Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Mission and Evangelism (IASCOME). The Anglican Consultative Council forwarded The “Covenant “to those bodies of the Anglican Communion tasked to consider the Anglican Covenant as commended by the Windsor Report”.

In November, 2006, the Episcopal Church Executive Council passed a resolution commending the Covenant for Communion in Mission for study. I do not recall it getting much attention.

The Covenant for Communion in Mission may be found here (with commentary). It says:

A Covenant For Communion In Mission

This Covenant signifies our common call to share in God’s healing and reconciling mission for our blessed but broken and hurting world.

In our relationships as Anglican sisters and brothers in Christ, we live in the hope of the unity that God has brought about through Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Nourished by Scripture and Sacrament, we pledge ourselves to:

1. Recognise Jesus in each other’s contexts and lives

2. Support one another in our participation in God’s mission

3. Encourage expressions of our new life in Christ

4. Meet to share common purpose and explore differences and disagreements

5. Be willing to change in response to critique and challenge from others

6. Celebrate our strengths and mourn over our failures
.
7. Share equitably our God-given resources

8. Work together for the sustainability of God’s creation
.
9. Live into the promise of God’s reconciliation for ourselves and for the world

We make this covenant in the promise of our mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ.

The covenant is deliberately general in its principles. The document is based on the Five Marks of Mission of the 1984 and 1990 Anglican Consultative Councils, which are

To proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God; To teach, baptise and nurture new believers; To respond to human need by loving service; To seek to transform unjust structures of society; To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

The Five Marks of Mission appear in the Indaba Groups report of the last Lambeth Conference.

23. As Anglicans, we value the “five marks of mission”, which begin with the preaching of the Gospel and the call to personal conversion, but which embrace the whole of life: we would wish to see increased emphasis on ecumenism, peace-making and global mutuality as integral parts of God’s mission. Mission is a rich and diverse pattern faithful to the proclamation of the Reign of God in Christ Jesus; a proclamation which touches all areas of life.

Anderson says "The Covenant for Communion in Mission is a document worthy of discussion and prayerful consideration."

Read Bonnie Anderson's statement here.

Creationism in British schools? Not!

For a moment it looked as if American science curriculum battles were about to commence in Great Britain just as the Church of England was about to honor Charles Darwin's 200th birthday. Not so fast, says Dr. Michael Reiss.

Thinking Anglicans reports that the Rev. Professor Michael Reiss, director of education at the Royal Society and a priest in the Church of England, is reported to have told the British Association for the Advancement of Science that creationism and intelligent design should be taught in school science lessons. This created a media storm.

Today, Dr. Reiss released a statement. Ekklesia reports:

A leading biological scientist, and the prestigious Royal Society he works for, has said that his comments on creationism and the classroom have been misrepresented - and that it is opposed to creationism being taught as science.

"Some media reports have misrepresented the views of Professor Michael Reiss, Director of Education at the Society expressed in a speech yesterday," the Royal Society declared in a statement on 12 September 2008.

The Rev Professor Reiss, also an Anglican clergyman, has issued a further statement which is being described by the Society as a clarification.

He said: "Some of my comments about the teaching of creationism have been misinterpreted as suggesting that creationism should be taught in science classes. Creationism has no scientific basis. However, when young people ask questions about creationism in science classes, teachers need to be able to explain to them why evolution and the Big Bang are scientific theories but they should also take the time to explain how science works and why creationism has no scientific basis. I have referred to science teachers discussing creationism as a worldview'; this is not the same as lending it any scientific credibility."

The Royal Society, the organisation declared, "remains committed to the teaching of evolution as the best explanation for the history of life on earth. This position was highlighted in the Interacademy Panel statement on the teaching of evolution issued in June 2006."

Government guidelines make it clear that neither creationism nor its cousin 'intelligent design' can be regarded as valid scientific theories.

A Church of England spokesperson, the Rev Dr Malcom Brown, who heads up the denomination's mission and public affairs unit, also made it clear that the Church has no truck for creationist propaganda - which is based on fundamentalist readings of Scriptural texts and denies 150 years of modern evolutionary biology.

The message that the media largely missed is that creationism ought not to be ignored but contextualized.

The British Humanist Association said that creationism was “simply wrong” but agreed that those who struggle to accept science should be engaged by science teachers rather than ignored.

Andrew Copson, director of education and public affairs for the BHA, said it was better to take the opportunity to talk rather than to belittle children. “Should a teacher say, ‘Shut up, that's for RE'? Obviously not,” he said. “If a child raises it in a classroom you don't say, ‘Shut up'. You say, ‘That's not a scientific perspective.' It can be an opportunity to demonstrate what a scientific perspective is.”

Read the rest here.

Thinking Anglican reports here.

Addendum: Professor Reiss has resigned his post. Thinking Anglicans has a roundup of links. It is worth checking the links before deciding if he was wrong or wronged.

Who would Jesus torture?

A new Faith in Public Life poll released on September 11 says that more than half of Southern Evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views change when they are reminded of the Golden Rule.

A new poll released Thursday (Sept. 11) finds that nearly six in 10 white Southern evangelicals believe torture is justified, but their views can shift when they consider the Christian principle of the golden rule.

The poll, commissioned by Faith in Public Life and Mercer University, found that 57 percent of respondents said torture can be often or sometimes justified to gain important information from suspected terrorists. Thirty-eight percent said it was never or rarely justified.

But when asked if they agree that "the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers," the percentage who said torture was rarely or never justified rose to 52 percent.

"Presenting people with this argument and identifying with the golden rule really does engage a different part of people's psyche and a part of their heart, their soul, and really does shift their views on torture," said Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research, which was commissioned to conduct the poll.

The findings of this poll, which did not define torture, compared to a Pew Research Center poll from February that found that 48 percent of the general public think torture can be justified.

The new poll found that 44 percent of white Southern evangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28 percent, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

Andrew Sullivan comments:

Southern evangelicals always cite Scripture when arguing that homosexuals should be jailed or sent to therapy or denied basic rights in their marriages. But on torture, they don't cite Scripture:
The new poll found that 44 percent of white Southern vangelicals rely on life experiences and common sense to determine their views about torture. A lower percentage, 28 percent, said they relied on Christian teachings or beliefs.

Pew Forum: Poll shows support for torture among Southern evangelicals

Andrew Sullivan: The Daily Dish

Throw the bums out

A Jamaican religion editor says the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of wimps and it is high time to throw out the Americans.

No Bible-believing denomination in Jamaica would have allowed the appointment of a known homosexual to the office of pastor - let alone bishop. No Bible-believing denomination in Jamaica would still be in dialogue on the issue after five years.

My view is that there has been enough talk within the Anglican Communion in the five years since V. Gene Robinson was made a bishop.

Dialogue is a drug which, when taken in excess, leaves one anaemic to summon the courage to take hard decisions. Dialogue is also a tranquilliser and if the Anglican Communion continues to receive heavy dosages it will end up in a coma.

There comes a time when there has been enough dialogue. For how long will the Anglican Communion engage in dialogue with people who refuse to accept the authority of the Bible? To refuse to accept the authority of the Bible is to be in rebellion. But no, Minott and the Anglican Communion are willing to cuddle rebellion, engage in dialogue until thy kingdom come. That approach is not pastoral care, but pastoral cowardice, and it makes the Anglican bishopric a fellowship of wimps.

Here.

Dark knight and the dark night

Nathan Brockman of Trinity Church, Wall Street, reviews The Dark Knight and wonders what it takes to hold the center when the world is going dark.

I’ve never forgotten what a 110 story building falling to earth nearby sounds like, the way it shakes you. Nor have I forgotten what came next: how a priest said the Beatitudes before a congregation that had just, essentially, been attacked by terrorists. It may sound fanciful, but this sentiment is true in my heart: the first strike in our country’s war on terror was a spiritual one, an act of peace in Trinity Church, and the war will not truly be won without many more.

While most critics see the new Batman movie as political allegory, I see it through this lens: The Dark Knight is about the sustainability of the spirit in dark times. And make no mistake: this is a dark movie, and (say it with me now) these are dark times. The joke about the old Batman films was that they were depressing – cloaked in night and shadow. The darkness of those first films is pale in comparison. What deepens the opacity is realism, the nagging, bold, references to our current war on terrorism. The smoke and fire, the use of media as a terrorist’s messenger, the absurd creativity of some forms of destruction (and surveillance) – we are seeing ourselves through a movie glass, darkly, and repeatedly.

In the movie, the center is not holding. Batman has become a scapegoat – in the public’s eyes the very reason for the Joker’s wicked reign. He is no longer a hero, or, in the movie’s lexicon, no longer “the hero we need.” The Joker, on the other hand, is evil personified.

Read the rest.

Text message preacher during sermon

St. Andrew's, Mt Pleasant, SC, Senior Pastor Steve Wood reports on his blog about the latest use of technology in church:

This morning we inaugurated a system that allows individuals to text message a central number - during the service - with a question relating to the sermon. Our communications team then culls the questions and passes along to the preacher the “best” question(s) allowing them (if all goes well) to answer before the service ends. Other questions will then be addressed via blogging throughout the week.

What question would you ask?

HT to T1:9

Interfaith group pleads for help after Ike and Gustav

The Dallas Morning News reports that a high profile interfaith group is calling for a stepped up federal effort to help the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast. The group writes:

We have learned that acts of faith and mercy alone, no matter how profound, cannot provide everything needed for a sustainable recovery. Gulf Coast families deserve a federal government that recognizes their needs by rebuilding their communities, supporting basic human rights of all communities, addressing poverty and displacement, and confronting coastal erosion. The government must empower local communities to take the lead in rebuilding their neighborhoods, renewing their lives, and restoring God's creation. We believe it is a moral obligation for the federal government to fulfill its promises for Gulf Coast recovery: empowering residents to return and participate in equitably rebuilding their communities.

Now we are joining community and faith leaders across Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and calling on people of faith to form a new partnership for a renewed and just federal Gulf Coast recovery policy to put all Gulf Coast communities, regardless of race, ethnicity or income, on the path to an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable recovery.

We ask national leaders of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, as they discuss the future of our nation, to honor the third anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the survivors of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav by pledging to fulfill these obligations in the next Administration and Congress, including:

• Passing policy based on the Gulf Coast Civic Works Act for a resident-led partnership to rebuild vital public infrastructure, restore the environment, and create good jobs and economic opportunities for residents and returning displaced families to help create stronger, safer, and more equitable communities;

• Increasing funding for federal, state, and local partnerships in the Gulf Coast to create more affordable housing and promote home-ownership for returning families, workers, and residents moving out of unsafe FEMA trailers; and

• Supporting federal funding to restore the coastal wetlands and barrier islands that form the Gulf Coast's natural barriers to flooding and to build improved levee systems to create a comprehensive flood control system which could protect all Gulf Coast communities from another Category 5 storm.

Read the letter and which groups signed on to it here.

According to Episcopal Life Online:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and other Episcopalians are among 105 ecumenical and interfaith leaders who have signed on to a statement declaring that "the slow pace of recovery and the new needs caused by Ike and Gustav's destruction have created a moral crisis along the Gulf Coast that demands a powerful response from people of faith."

In other stories:

The American Red Cross, which is plunging into debt to provide relief after back-to-back Gulf Coast hurricanes, said yesterday that it has asked Congress for $150 million in emergency funding to replenish its disaster relief reserves. Read here

From the Miami Herald:

Authorities said Sunday [volunteers] had rescued nearly 2,000 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike's strike on the Texas and Louisiana coasts. Though crews planned to keep combing flooded streets Sunday night with boats and dump trucks, they were encouraged that time and time again, they knocked on doors and found life.

From Episcopal Relief and Development:

Episcopal Relief & Development is communicating with affected dioceses in Western Louisiana, Texas, West Texas and Arkansas and is providing critical assistance as the needs arise,” said Don Cimato of Episcopal Relief & Development. “We are working in coordination with voluntary organizations at state and national levels with the goal of preventing the duplication of services.

Read more here.

Donate here.

It's the end of the world as we know it?

The current economic news is causing a lot of anxiety about job loss, fewer donations to churches and non-profits, and what the future holds.

Paul Solman of PBS writes:

Anxiously scanning the Business section of [The New York Times] on Sunday, I came across this headline: Amid Potential Chaos, a Light-Hearted Break. Below was a subhead: "For those who need a little bit of levity on a tense day, we present some mood music." If you clicked on the video box below, a song began to play, its lyrics flashing on the screen in various colors: REM's It's the End of the World as We Know It.

It did bring me a smile - at 11:30 p.m., no less - but also a question from my wife, Boston Globe language columnist Jan Freeman: "IS it the end of the world as we know it?" she asked.


According to Solman it boils down to "belief," in Latin, credere, which is the basis of the word "credit."
Any financial system more sophisticated than Robinson Crusoe's is built on credit: "I'll take your promise to pay me tomorrow in return for the use of your wealth today." That's how a farmer gets money for his seed corn before the crop comes up. That's how the high-tech firm rents its offices and pays its workers when its new software is no more than a gleam in its eye. That's how traders in Mesopotamia sent yarn across the desert around 2500 B.C. (The credit terms were pressed into clay tablets that still exist.
....
What has happened is simple: Lehman became the sleazy corn farmer or the pie-in-the-sky techie or the Ur weavers who got lost in the Tower of Babel -- a borrower with no credibility. To stay in the game, Lehman would have to pay more and more for its loans. That would eat into its capital - its investors' money. The less capital it had, the more collateral it would have to plunk down for the money it had already borrowed. And if it tried to sell the loans it had invested in, those loans would crash in value, making the situation worse.

Read it all here.

Rabbi Michael Lerner editor of Tikkun Magazine writes of the fear pervading the country and ideas for citizens to overcome the paralysis and denial that fear induces and to act in this election year:

The fear is palpable. Those of us in the non-profit sector feel it deeply already, because with the predictions of collapse surrounding us, many magazines are reporting drops in subscribers, and many change-oriented organizations are suffering from a drop in membership or donations. And it's likely to get worse. There are predictions that even with the hundreds of billions likely to be spent to ameliorate some aspects of what we face, there might be as many as five million people who will be losing their homes in the mortgage crisis, and millions more losing their jobs as small businesses collapse.
....
Once again, the responsibility is on ordinary citizens to stand up and talk back to the politicians in both parties, and to do so in a way that demands a new set of values to run our economy, so that materialism and selfishness is put on the defensive and caring for each other becomes the central motif. It is only when some serious political leaders are willing to make that the center of their campaign, to demand that love, generosity and caring for others is the shaping force determining their policies, that the American people will be able to take that part of their consciousness that wants such a world but believes it impossible, and finally transcend their fears and act on their highest desires rather than sinking into the other fearful part of their consciousness that leads them to seek magical solutions in repression and denial of much of what they know about the failures of the economy and of our foreign policy.

Read the rest of this newsletter here.

For Episcopal clergy and laity who have pensions from the Church Pension Group it is reported that the Church Pension Fund is absolutely secure with more than enough funds to meet obligations and even in these times provide an increase of annual benefits and an increase in the life insurance coverage for those who are retired and dependent upon the fund. Read more here.

God's will and the presidency

The Dallas Morning News religion blog is running a series of answers by panelists on the question: "If you were the spiritual adviser to the next president, what would you advise him on how to discern and implement God's will in the execution of his duties?"

Writer and producer Katie Sherrod, Episcopal laywoman in Fort Worth, TX is one of the panelists. She writes:

In Galatians, Paul tells us a work of the Holy Spirit produces love, joy, and peace while sinful nature is full of hatred, fighting, jealousy, and fits of anger." We are then given a list that sounds like the Karl Rove School of Political Campaigning: "It is interested only in getting ahead. It stirs up trouble. It separates people into their own little groups. It wants what others have."

So a huge first step for whoever is elected would be learning the difference between governing and campaigning.

The most obvious danger for anyone seeking to "do God's will" is that of confusing God's will for her or his own. Since humility is not a quality often seen in political leaders in any nation, the danger is even greater for a president seeking to "do God's will" in the execution of his duties. I think American voters are right to be wary of such talk. After all, the men who flew those planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers believed they were doing God's will.

How is one to know? The Gospel of Matthew gives us some excellent guidelines: 'I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.' And conversely, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

So the president could ask the question, "Does this [decision, policy, piece of legislation, etc.] help the stranger, assist the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the sick or imprisoned, or does it make their situation worse while helping the most fortunate among us?

Or more simply, "How does this [decision, policy, piece of legislation, etc.] affect the least of us?"


Read all the answers here.

Economists: Education should be nation's top priority

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, took it upon himself to do what no one else seemed willing to do: poll economists and ask them their views on the economy and the candidates. He hired a polling firm "at considerable personal expense" and has shared the results.

He summarizes the results in a CNN op-ed (the complete report here). An extract:

we asked the economists which candidate they thought would do the best job on the most important issues. For me, the surprise is how many economists say there would be no difference.

The economists in our survey favor Obama on 11 of the top 13 issues. But keep in mind that 48 percent are Democrats and only 17 percent are Republicans.

Among independents, things are less clear, with 54 percent thinking that in the long run there would either be no difference between the candidates or McCain would do better.

The top priority amongst economists? Education.






















The Harvard economist Ed Glaeser makes the case for more public spending on education:

The case for governmental investment in education reflects the fact all of us become more productive when our neighbors know more. The success of cities like Boston reflects the magic that occurs when knowledgeable people work and live around each other. As the share of adults in a metropolitan area with college degrees increases by 10 percent, the wages of a worker with a fixed education level increases by 8 percent. Area level education also seems to increase the production of innovations and speed economic growth.

American education is not just another arrow in a quiver of policy proposals, but it is the primary weapon, the great claymore, to fight a host of public ills. One can make a plausible case that improving American education would do as much to improve health outcomes as either candidate's health plans. People with more years of schooling are less obese, smoke less, and live longer. Better-educated people are also more likely to vote and to build social capital by investing in civic organizations.

Churches protect the status quo

Peter Gomes is interviewed by Steven Colbert about his new book, The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus. He says Jesus came to turn things upside down, but churches have turned out to be defenders of the status quo.

Wales scraps position of bishop for those opposed to ordination of women

WalesOnline:

The Rev David Thomas served as Provincial Assistant Bishop from 1996 – when women were admitted to the priesthood – until his retirement in June.

The bishops yesterday said there would be no replacement bishop but pledged to provide pastoral care to those who remain opposed to women priests.

Archbishop of Wales Dr Barry Morgan made the announcement to the Governing Body of the Church in Wales at the University of Wales, Lampeter.

The church's press release and "Statement by the Bench of Bishops" is here. From the statement:
We reaffirm as Diocesan Bishops our commitment to securing a continuing place in the life of the Church in Wales for those who cannot in conscience accept the ordination of women to the priesthood. However, we no longer consider that the continuation of additional episcopal provision for one part of the Church on grounds of belief or doctrine on one particular issue is either necessary or consistent with Anglican ecclesiology. All Church in Wales clergy and parishes are in communion with their respective Diocesan Bishop, regardless of whether or not they agree on every issue. Episcopal oversight and care for all within each Diocese is the responsibility of the Diocesan Bishop.

Order of St. Helena contemplates its future

The Order of St. Helena is consolidating, and making plans for a relocation:

By Christmas, the number of Episcopalian nuns living in Augusta [GA] will nearly triple.

The Order of Saint Helena can't afford to keep its two New York convents open, so the organization voted in Augusta to sell both.

The Augusta convent, established in 1962, will eventually close, too, as the nuns look for a new location to build one, larger facility. But that is likely at least five years away, said Sister Mary Lois, a nun from the Manhattan convent and a member of the order's leadership council.

The eight Augusta nuns are preparing for 14 nuns from the closing convents in Manhattan and the Hudson Valley.
...
The convent receives no income from the Episcopal church, but is self-supporting, relying on donations, the guest ministry, honoraria from programs in the community, sisters who are salaried and a small endowment.

Visit their website here where you will find more information about the order, its history, and its plans for the future. An extract:

Due to increasingly overstretched resources, both in terms of finances and a shortage of sisters, we agreed to close both of our New York convents and to move -- temporarily -- to our Augusta, GA convent, with the intent of looking for a new piece of property in a diocese and location as yet unknown on which to build a new convent. Our intention for the Vails Gate property is to explore ways in which we can realize appropriate income from the property but also attempt to preserve the land from development.
...
We feel that the Holy Spirit is moving us to relocate in the near future to a new area and to re-found our community and mission. We have written to the House of Bishops that we are looking for a diocese that will welcome us and for a location that is close enough to a major metropolitan area for sisters who are called to urban ministry. We are also interested in finding a sufficiently natural setting to encourage a contemplative lifestyle. We hope to build a purpose-designed, efficient, “green” convent.

What has brought this about? For several years we have been facing an increasingly serious budget deficit, and we have also come to realize that our shortage of “sister power” is draining us of the energy we need to do ministry, both to the church and to our own sisters, some of whom are aging and in need of special assistance.

Catholics debate how to weigh a candidate's abortion stance

New York Times:

A struggle within the church over how Catholic voters should think about abortion is once again flaring up just as political partisans prepare an all-out battle for the votes of Mass-going Catholics in swing-state towns like Scranton.

The theological dispute is playing out in diocesan newspapers and weekly homilies, while the campaigns scramble to set up phone banks of nuns and private meetings with influential bishops.

Progressive Catholics complain that by wading into the history of church opposition to abortion — Mr. Biden brought up St. Thomas Aquinas, Ms. Pelosi discussed St. Augustine — Democratic officials are starting a distracting debate with the church hierarchy.
...
Once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, Catholics have emerged as a pivotal swing vote in recent presidential races. Evenly divided in a New York Times-CBS News poll over the summer, Catholics make up about a quarter of the national electorate and about a third in the pivotal battleground states of Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
...
Dozens of interviews with Catholics in Scranton underscored the political tumult in the parish pews. At Holy Rosary’s packed morning Masses on Sunday in working-class North Scranton and the Pennsylvania Polka Festival downtown that afternoon, many Clinton supporters said they were planning to vote for Mr. Obama, some saying they sided with their labor unions instead of the church and others repeating liberal arguments about church doctrine broader than abortion.
...
But more said they now leaned toward Mr. McCain, citing both his experience and his opposition to abortion.
...
One parishioner ruled out voting for Mr. Obama explicitly because he is black. “Are they going to make it the Black House?” Ray McCormick asked, to embarrassed hushing from a half dozen others gathered around the rectory kitchen. (Five of the six, all lifelong Democrats who supported Mrs. Clinton in the primary, said they now lean toward Mr. McCain.)
...
After the 2004 election, progressive Catholics started to organize and appeared to win some victories. In 2006, the bishops’ conference all but banned outside voter guides from parishes. And last fall, the bishops revised their official statement on voting priorities to explicitly allow Catholics to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights if they do so for other reasons. And it also allowed for differences of opinion about how to apply church principles. The statement appeared to leave room for Democrats to argue that social programs were an effective way to reduce abortion rates, an idea the party recently incorporated into its platform.

Yesterday the Pew Forum issued its latest poll on abortion attitudes. The basic finding: a majority of the public supports keeping abortion legal. A majority of white evangelicals (62%) say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases while 44 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics are similarly opposed to abortion.

Finally, Douglas Kmiec today has more about the events since he was denied communion for his endorsement of Barack Obama.

Addendum: Catholic bishops seek meeting with McCain and Obama. For the first time in recent memory, leaders of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops have invited the two presidential candidates to meet with them before the election. Neither Republican John McCain nor Democrat Barack Obama have replied to the invitations offered last month, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the conference.

A spokeswoman for the McCain campaign said the senator wants to accept, but does not yet know if such a meeting will fit into his schedule. A spokesman for the Obama campaign could not be reached for comment.

Five bishops who lead policy committees -- delving into matters including abortion, education, migration, international affairs and communications -- want to discuss the candidates' views on social issues, said Bishop William Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese in New York state. He is chairman of the bishops' domestic policy committee. The meetings, if they occur, will be private and off the record, he said.

House of Bishops meets in Salt Lake City

UPDATED

The following is an account of the House of Bishops for today from epiScope, the Episcopal Church communications blog. There is no provision for press attendance at this meeting:

The Bishops of the Episcopal Church gathered in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a special session of the meeting of the House of Bishops.

Present were 128 bishops. Not present were 15 who could not attend for a variety of reasons, including the bishops of Texas who are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. Nine did not respond and were not present.

Following morning worship, the bishops met in small table groups to debrief the recent Lambeth Conference. The bishops were presented with two questions for discussion:

“What were we most grateful for; and what were we least grateful for?” The afternoon plenary focused on what lies ahead.

Bishops consistently expressed gratitude for the relationships developed during Bible Study, Indaba groups and informal conversations throughout the Lambeth Conference. Many reported that these relationships are continuing through email contact, and the establishment of companion relationships between dioceses around the world. The bishops expressed gratitude for the Archbishop of Canterbury’s leadership, especially during the retreat. Many expressed appreciation for the expansion of the world view they received.

Concerns expressed included the disjunction between the Lambeth Indaba Process and future decision-making. Many compared the deep and collegial conversation of the Indaba Process with the more contentious hearings held by the Windsor Continuation Group and the Covenant Design Group.

In the afternoon plenary, there was lively discussion as we looked forward to extending the Lambeth Conference experience. A wide range of topics was presented including: a cooperation on the environment; global warming; poverty reduction; and improved communication throughout the Communion. HOB also discussed inviting Primates and bishops to visit The Episcopal Church. In turn, some bishops expressed a desire to visit other parts of the Communion. Throughout the day, gratitude was expressed for existing and developing relationships, and their significant value to our mutual life in the Anglican Communion.

Prepared by:
Bishop Thomas Breidenthal of Southern Ohio
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real
Bishop Gordon Scruton of Western Massachusetts
Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island


Media inquiries can be forwarded to:
Neva Rae Fox
Program Officer, Public Affairs
The Episcopal Church
newsline@episcopalchurch.org
Mobile: 917-478-5659

UPDATE: 11:30 p.m.
Bishops blogging House of Bishops Meeting
Neff Powell, bishop of Southwest Virginia writes:

"In your Lambeth experience, for what are you most grateful?"

That was the question for our morning session. We answered this question in small groups of seven sitting at table. One wall of our room was filled with newsprint reporting the highlights of the table conversation. Among the many responses were these:

- The retreat with the Archbishop of Canterbury prior to the opening of the conference.

- The daily Bible study groups where we met with some bishops from around the world to study the great “I am” statements of Jesus in the Gospel according to St. John. There was always deep loving honesty.

- Spending honest time with people we have never met and with whom we sometimes have differences of culture and theology.

- The day in London when we marched in witness to show our support of the Millennium Development Goals, culminating with a stirring speech by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

- The Lord’s Prayer at each workshop occasion when everyone spoke in their own language was a Pentecost moment every time.

In the afternoon we had an open conversation about our Lambeth experience. Two of our bishops spoke to us through interpreters. Another witnessed the devastation caused by the recent hurricanes. Another reflected on how grateful he was for the translators at the Lambeth Conference.

The presence of these bishops and their voices at the microphones was a reminder that The Episcopal Church extends beyond the borders of the United States and that we have our own internal cultural differences and challenges. And for those challenges, I give thanks to God.


Minns and his friends

Read what Bishop Martyn Minns of the Church of Nigeria had to say at the Value Voters Summit last week. The speech was covered in World Magazine, which is edited by Marvin Olasky.

Olasky's bio contains this illuminating section:

Olasky has taught in the journalism department at the University of Texas at Austin since 1983, becoming a full professor in 1993. Midway through his term as associate professor, he came to the attention of Reconstructionist philanthropist Howard Ahmanson, Jr., who gave him the editorship of the Turning Point series of books via his charitable arm, the Fieldstead Institute. Olasky wrote its first installment, A Christian Worldview Declaration (1987), as well as the Capital Research Center series Patterns of Corporate Philanthropy.

This initial work brought him to the attention of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which funded him as a two-year Bradley scholar at the The Heritage Foundation. His two 1988 books on the mass media, Prodigal Press: The Anti-Christian Bias of American News Media and The Press and Abortion, 1838-1988 outlined philosophies that harmonized with the Christian agenda of World magazine, of which he became editor in 1992. He was instrumental in that periodical's 1998 spawning of the World Journalism Institute, which seeks to recruit and train Christian journalists and inject them into the mainstream media.

Minns said:

“The real question we have had to face in the Episcopal Church... is how do we separate the values that are worth fighting for from those that are mere cultural preferences? And to what immutable standards do we appeal to make these decisions? These are not just questions for Episcopalians, or Anglicans in the rest of the world, but for all Christians everywhere.”

One can agree with this statement and disagree with his personal choices. For instance, one can believe that homophobia is a cultural preference of Minns, his followers in this country, and the Nigerian archbishop Peter Akinola to whom he now owes his allegiance.

Speaking of Akinola, one wonders what he would make of the Obama Waffles that were sold at the Value Voters Summit or the guys who created them.

Poll: California gay marriage ban is losing support

The Sacramento Bee reports of a new Field Poll:

A constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage in California has lost support during the past two months and now trails by a 17-point margin.

Just 38 percent of likely voters back Proposition 8 while 55 percent say they will vote against the Nov. 4 ballot measure, according to a new Field Poll. In July, the measure trailed by nine points.

Since then, the heading on the ballot summary – which began with the words "Limit on Marriage" on petitions to gather signatures for the measure – has been changed on voter pamphlets to read "Eliminates right of same-sex couples to marry."

Attorney General Jerry Brown decided to change the wording after the state Supreme Court in May overturned a ban on gay marriages in California.

In the new poll, half the respondents were read the original summary and the other half the amended version to test voter reaction.

The level of support did not waver – in each case, only 38 percent of likely voters said they intended to vote for the measure.

Archbishop Morgan looks back at Lambeth Conference

Wales Online reports that Archbishop Barry Morgan, Rowan Williams successor as the primate of Wales has "warned any attempt to find a quick-fix solution to issues dividing the world’s 80 million Anglicans would 'end in tears' ”.

He told the Church in Wales’ Governing Body in Lampeter that:

Sexuality should not be a “Communion-breaking” issue;

Churches should not be required to sign-up to a new set of binding beliefs;

Anglicans had clamped down on homosexuality but not on heterosexual sex outside marriage.

In his report on the global gathering of bishops for the summer’s Lambeth Conference, he said: “The fundamental question in all of this is whether homosexuality is a matter of choice or not because that should make a difference to the way it is regarded."

Read Archbishop Morgan's address. Some highlights:

Admittedly 200 Bishops were absent mainly from Africa, one or two from England and Australia but that too needs to be seen in perspective. Uganda was the only Province not to be represented by a bishop and some of the African Bishops had come under intense pressure from their Primates not to come, even though some of them wanted to. (This tells you something about the power of Primates in some Provinces of the Communion and why some of them fail to understand why the whole Communion does not fall into line when they speak).
On Lambeth and doctrine:
In 1998, only one part of one Resolution, out of 64 pages of Resolutions, has come to be regarded by some as almost the definition of who is and who is not an Anglican. Forgotten are the parts of 110 asking for a listening process on homosexuality, the condemnation of homophobia, and the restriction of sexual relationships between heterosexuals to marriage – at a time if we are honest, when most people who come to be married in Anglican churches in Britain live together beforehand. The only thing that has seemed to count from Lambeth ’98 is the acceptance of the sinfulness of same sex relationships as being binding on all Provinces as if it had legal and not just moral authority.

In 1867 Archbishop Longley said of Lambeth, “it is not competent to make declarations or lay down definitions on points of Doctrines”. In other words, it was not a Synod or a Council, merely an invitation to confer and that is what happened this year. Knowing that no Resolutions or decisions had to be made, gave people both the opportunity and the space to talk openly and honestly.


On the MDG's:
Lambeth therefore re-affirmed the Millennium Development Goals that had been endorsed by Resolution in 1998. It is ironic that no-one has been castigated or chastised for not pursuing those as ardently as they might over the last ten years. These Millennium Goals are not just secular goals, but are based on firm theological foundations on Jesus’ manifesto in the synagogue at Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry in Luke’s Gospel, with his commitment to the poor marginalised and exploited.

On biblical interpretation:
Why is it that as far as Anglicanism is concerned, we do not interpret the Scriptures literally when it comes to issues such as usury or marriage and divorce to name but two, but insist on a literal interpretation of texts that allegedly deal with homosexuality. It is difficult to believe that we have boxed ourselves into this particular corner. Allegorical, symbolical and mythical interpretations are allowed and have been allowed from the time of the Fathers to the present day for every part of the Bible, except for those that deal with sexuality and one is also left wondering why there cannot be diversity on this issue as on so many other moral issues.

On the St. Andrew's draft of the covenant:

The appendix then sets out the procedures for all of this which effectively gives the Instruments of Communion power over Provinces – admittedly with their consent because they will have adopted the Covenant – but it does change the nature of Anglicanism. It also begs the question of what happens if a church can accept the Covenant in principle but not the details of this particular Covenant. The danger is that it could lead to mutual suspicion and reporting, for the appendix elaborates four exclusionary procedures and runs to two thirds of the Covenant itself.

The young evangelical vote

From AP, via Politco:

Polls have yet to measure the Palin Effect on younger evangelical voters, whose shifting political allegiances put the demographic in play for both major-party presidential campaigns.

But a portrait emerges through interviews with more than a dozen pastors, authors and others who either belong to that generation or track it: Conservatives are energized much like their elders, progressives are unimpressed and many undecideds are gravitating toward McCain-Palin.

"I think the jury is still out on young evangelicals," said Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant magazine, an influential publication for this group. "Both parties have the opportunity to address issues of deep concern for this voting bloc."

Duncan deposed

written thru
The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops has deposed Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh for abandonment of communion. Eighty-eight bishops voted in favor of deposing Duncan, 35 voted against and four abstained according to several sources in the House of Bishops.

"The House of Bishops worked carefully and prayerfully to consider the weighty matter of Bishop Duncan. The conversation was holy, acknowledging the pain of our deliberations as well as the gratitude many have felt over the years for their relationships with, and the ministry of, Robert Duncan," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in a statement after the meeting.

"The House concluded, however, that his actions over recent months and years constitute 'abandonment of the communion of this church' and that he should be deposed. Concern was expressed for the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in the face of leadership which has sought to remove itself from the Episcopal Church.

The vote comes just two weeks before the Diocese of Pittsburgh determines whether to affiliated with the theologically conservative Province of the Southern Cone, the numerically small, geographically vast Anglican province based in Argentina that has more than doubled its membership by recruting disaffected Episcopal, Canadian and Brazilian churches.

"I'm very sad, sad for the Episcopal Church," Bishop Duncan told Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "In 15 days the diocese will determine whether it, too, wants to be part of the Southern Cone and figure out whether it wants me back as bishop. That is up to the diocese, although I have a sneaking suspicion they will want me back," he said.

The vote on deposition did not follow strict ideological lines. Some bishops who hold liberals views on same-sex relationships, the matter that has precipitated the current controversy in the Episcopal Church voted against deposing Duncan, while some who shared his views on homosexuality voted in favor of deposition.

“As difficult as this decision is for me and many others in our Church, it is important to realize that the decision in the House today was not based on the theological convictions of Bishop Duncan, but rather on the evidence presented regarding statements and actions concerning moves to take the Diocese of Pittsburgh out of the Episcopal Church,” Bishop Gary Lilibridge of West Texas, a theological conservative, who voted against deposing Duncan, esaid in a summary of the meeting released by Neva Rae Fox of the Episcopal Church.

Bishop Paul Marshall of Bethlehem and several others said that the bishops voted to depose Duncan yesterday, rather than waiting until after the diocese's vote on October 4 to avoid another situation similar to the one in the Diocese of San Joaquin in which two or more entities are make claims to the assets of the Church. This concern was enough to motivate a number of bishops who came to the meeting prepared to defer a vote to change their minds and vote to depose Duncan.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh was so certain the bishop would be deposed that it had a press release and a statement from the Standing Committee, as well as an illustration of a crozier and mitre resting across an empty chair online within an hour of the vote.

The Standing Committee, which is now the ecclesiastical authority in the diocese, supports Duncan. Its members include the Rev. Geoff Chapman, author of the secretive Chapman Memo. The Chapman Memo, which came to light in 2004, laid out plans to place Episcopal Church property into the hands of archbishops in other parts of the world who would then hand it back to Duncan and his allies.

The Rev. David Wilson, president of the Standing Committee told Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press that Duncan's ouster was "a very painful moment."

"The leadership of The Episcopal Church has inserted itself in a most violent manner into the affairs and governance of our diocese," Wilson said. "We will stand firm against any further attempts by those outside our boundaries to intimidate us."

The group "Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh" (PEP) said in a statement:

"[Duncan] has rejected numerous opportunities and warnings to reconsider and change course. Instead, he has continued resolutely to pursue a course of action designed to remove this diocese and many unwilling Episcopalians from The Episcopal Church.

Now that the House of Bishops has acted, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh needs to find a way to move forward gracefully and productively."

Following are some other statements from bishops:

Read more »

Blogging bishops weigh in on the Duncan deposition

Bishop Stephen Lane of Maine discusses the deposition of Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh:

Opinions were divided on several issues. One was the matter of timing. Should the House wait until after the Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh? Another had to do with the offense. Was the threat to leave sufficient violation of the bishop's duty to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the church? A third was relations with the larger church. Would this action sour recently strengthened relationships with other Anglican churches.

On the other hand, there seemed to be no doubt that Bishop Duncan was clear in his intentions to pull the Diocese of Pittsburgh out of the Episcopal Church. There was no disagreement about that. And there was little disagreement that such an action would cause great harm to the Diocese of Pittsburgh and the faithful Episcopalians of the diocese.

In my opinion the majority of bishops decided to take Bishop Duncan at his word and determined that his actions and intentions were a clear violation of his duties as bishop.

Both the discussion and the vote made it clear that the decision of the House was not related to theological positions or faithful dissent. The perspectives of all speakers received a respectful hearing. Time was spent in prayer at several points and just before the final vote.

Bishop Alan Scarfe of Iowa:

Whatever one’s vote for or against deposition, nothing could hide the sadness or the effect of churned stomachs. There is no joy in discipline, and whether we agreed or disagreed about timing, or procedure, or even appropriateness, neither could there have been any doubt that this action was coming. I could not help contrasting however with the holy moment when the Bishop of Rio Grande in New Orleans took his life decision into his own hands and read his letter of resignation. He received a standing ovation for his courage and conviction, and once again there were few dry eyes in the House.

If people want to deal with the House of Bishops at a distance, we are easy targets. In some ways we stand large and can seem remote. Our decisions can readily be cast as following some kind of agenda. Often of course it is the unconscious agenda of the critic in a strange reversed way. If, however, we want to deal with bishops as sisters and brothers in Christ, who are as strangely in awe of their calling and responsibility as any human being would be, then it might be understood when I say that this is a group of people who genuinely have respect and love for one another, and an acute sense of bringing their people with them into Council. This is so especially as we handle difficult decisions about one another. We anger each other, but we have learned to let grace handle how long we hold onto it.

(emphasis added.)

The post-deposition news conference and minutes

Updated with minutes

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schroi and three other bishops held a brief and lightly-subscribed telephone press conference this afternoon which produced two significant pieces of news:

First:

“The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will not go away,” said Jefferts Schori, even if the diocesan convention votes to secede from the Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Province of the Southern cone.

She said one member of the diocesan standing committee, (the Rev. Jim Simons—although she did not name him) will remain in the Episcopal Church. She said she anticipates that Simons will “reconstitute the Standing Committee” and that it would become the new ecclesiastical authority in the diocese.

Second:

Bishop Michael Smith of North Dakota explained that he had challenged the Presiding Bishop’s ruling that it was permissible to proceed with the deposition of Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh even though Duncan had not previously been inhibited. Inhibition requires the consent of the three most senior bishops in the House, and two of the three (Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia and Bishop Don Wimberly of Texas) had not consented. Some observers have argued that inhibition must precede deposition. Others say the authors of the canons never intended to give three senior bishops veto power of the will of the larger House. The House turned aside Smith’s objection.

The House similarly turned aside an objection by Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina who contended that the vote to depose a bishop requires a majority of all bishops eligible to cast ballots—a potentially insurmountable challenge to those who favored deposing Duncan, as many retired bishops no longer attend meetings. The House backed a competing interpretation—that a vote to depose requires a majority of those present.

“In our system there is no Supreme Court to adjudicate,” such challenges, Smith said. “In the context of the meeting we are free to challenge the presider and we did that but we were overruled by a two third majority of the rest of the house, so the ruling of the Presiding Bishop stood.”

He said he thought there would continue to be confusion over this part of the canons “until General Convention will change [them] and clarify them.

Jefferts Schori agreed that there was “a need to clarify many of the issues that have been raised in recent months,” regarding the disciplinary canons of the Church.

Bishop Nathan Baxter of Central Pennsylvania said the meeting was “challenging” and “difficult” but said” “Those who had voted in different ways [last night] returned to the tables today. [There was] truly a sprit of commitment to being colleagues in this house which was very moving to me.”

Click Read More to see the certified minutes of the meeting and the roll call on deposition.

Read more »

South African Synod

The Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa met this week and released a statement as result of their conversations. It is a reminder that in a week filled with reports about the actions of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops there are more pressing crises around the world.

Their statement can be read below.

Read more »

Salt Lake City meeting

The meeting of the House of Bishops in Salt Lake City is being characterized as a difficult one but also as not simply one where the focus was on the vote to depose the Bishop of Pittsburgh. The bishops discussed Hurricane relief and the future of theological education as part of their meeting.

Episcopal News Service has posted a full description of the bishop's time together and has posted links to some of the key documents that the meeting produced.

Read the full article here.

Beyond Gideon

The Associated Press's religion feature this week is on a trend among "boutique" hotels to offer a menu of spiritual food. Page around in the folder with your room service offerings in one of these hotels, and among them you're likely to find a selection of spiritual texts you can have sent up to your room:


Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer with Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants based in San Francisco, said the chain's 42 boutique hotels began to offer a range of spiritual texts in addition to the Bible nearly a year ago. Every hotel has at least four spiritual texts: the Old and New Testaments, the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Mormon, and Buddhist text. Many other hotels in the chain offer close to a dozen options.

Leondakis said the hotels have received only a few requests for the books so far. Still, she said that, "offering a menu that includes as many philosophies and beliefs and spiritual perspectives was much more in keeping with the culture of our company."

At Hotel Preston, among the other books offered are the Book of Mormon, Buddhist texts, the Chinese Tao Te Ching and the Hebrew Bible. Guests can choose from the works on a laminated "menu" in their rooms and then call the front desk to request a copy.

The article notes and briefly traces the history of the influence the Gideons, who have been placing Bibles in hotel rooms for a century or so, and pegs the vast increase in religious diversity to changes in immigration policy that happened in 1965.

The Washington Post has the story here.

Pentecostalism goes global

In the Times Literary Supplement this week, David Martin explores the history of the Pentecostal Movement and why it's spreading worldwide, citing Palin's nomination as a marker of the movement's growing significance in history. But Palin is but one example of Pentecostalism's far-reaching influence, as Martin describes, noting it's second only to Catholicism in attracting new adherents from Orthodoxy.

Pentecostalism is the contemporary religio-cultural phenomenon. It claims the exuberant gifts of the Spirit originally manifested on the first day of Pentecost as narrated in Acts 2, and it represents a global indigenization of the original Methodist “enthusiasm” that mobilized migrants in the Industrial Revolution. It creates autonomous social capital for (say) a quarter of a billion migrants trekking to the contemporary megacity. Mainstream Churches feel embarrassed and wary, just as established Churches did faced with revival in eighteenth-century Britain and later on the American frontier. The favela of La Pintana, Santiago, Chile, which nobody visits but social workers, Catholic priests and alcohol vendors, is honeycombed with tiny Pentecostal churches. You find those churches, with hundreds of different colourful names, anywhere from Manila to Accra and Johannesburg to Seoul.

After this introduction, Martin digests several books into one summary/review: Randall Stephens' The Fire Spreads, Michael Bergunder’s The South Indian Pentecostal Movement in the Twentieth Century, Asonzeh Ukah’s A New Paradigm of Pentecostal Power: A Study of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, and Ogbu Kalu’s African Pentecostalism.

On Stephens, whose book is a history of the origins of Pentecostalism in the U.S:

This was a time when the tastes of Methodists in the urban middle and upper classes of the wealthy New South often ran to Victorian Gothic and pew rentals, as well as to costly apparel, theatregoing, smoking and drinking. Rural Southern holiness advocates battled against what they saw as over-sophistication and moral decay, and some of the more radical preachers flaunted markers of difference and dissent. They disapproved, for example, of coffee, pork and wearing neckties. Yet although these attitudes were rooted in rural Southern values, holiness people reached beyond the South.

On Bergunder, whose book examines parallel developments in South India:

He offers an initial discussion of how far Pentecostal origins were really multi-centred, given the Indian and other revivals prior to, or parallel with, the events in Los Angeles. He argues it was the (mainly Anglo-American) Evangelical mission movement, for example in England the Keswick convention and the China Inland Mission, that laid down the global trails followed by Pentecostalism. There was already a vast and vague international network in place, serviced by itinerant preachers, who expected signs and wonders. Moreover, those who entertained immediate millennial expectations felt the need first to carry their witness to all nations, for which the gift of tongues seemed providentially provided.

On Ukah:

Asonzeh Ukah’s study of the Redeemed Christian Church of God is specifically focused on the arrival of prosperity teaching in Africa. The RCCG is one of the most successful and controversial of the new mega-churches, in part because it combines the organizational format of an international corporation with an ethos rooted in Yoruba tradition. Ukah brings out its extraordinary ability to fuse deep local roots in an African spirituality based on healing, protection against malign powers, prognostication, trance and visionary dreams, with a modern go-getting organization promoting itself through every marketing device

And finally, on Kalu, who takes a wider perspective on Nigeria, in particular, and Africa and provides some insight on the rivalry between Pentecostalism and Islam:


Kalu has reservations about the kind of “inculturation” sought by mainstream bodies and about a Western critique of Pentecostalism as “fundamentalist” when it is better understood as reviving the spiritual gifts of the New Testament.

Read the entire essay, with all four reviews, here.

Professor Blair's first class

Tony Blair, as Howland Distinguished Fellow at Yale University (an appointment we covered here), "officially" kicked off his teaching career yesterday with an address and question & answer session to some 2,000 students at Yale's Woolsey Hall. His engaging style and sense of humor were apparent in the forum, which sets the stage for the Faith and Globalization Initiative. Blair also is teaching a course on faith and globalization as part of the initiative, which is "a three-year collaboration among Yale's Divinity School, the School of Management and Blair's own Tony Blair Faith Foundation,' according to the Hartford Courant.

That foundation, established in May, aims to promote respect and understanding among religious faiths in hopes that this can help solve some of the world's most crucial problems.

Twenty-five students — including six undergraduates — were selected for the course. Topics include the discussion of ties between faith convictions and economic practices in China, why secularization has failed to take root across the world and a discussion of such peace accords as the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement.

...

Blair said the principles that led to peace in Northern Ireland could be used in the Middle East.

"If you want to solve these conflicts, you have to be prepared to focus and dedicate and commit 100 percent. You have to pay attention to the details, you have to go right into the depths of it, and you have to understand that if the two sides had been able to solve it themselves, they would have done it. The fact that they haven't means that they were unable to on their own."

In asking Blair about what inspired him to take on the faith and globalization initiative, Levin told Blair he was surprised by his courage to take on what he called the "tough topic" of using religion as a force for good in the world.

Blair responded by saying that when the advisers he had when he was prime minister thought he was doing something "really, really stupid," they would say to him, "That's an immensely courageous thought, prime minister."

Blair's response filled the hall with laughter.

He also said that through his work in government and in his personal life, he saw how religion motivated people "very strongly" and led them to do good in the world. But he also saw how religion was often the source of conflict, division and violence.

So although globalization may be the force that pushes people together, religion becomes the force that can tear people apart.

Story and a TV news segment with video excerpts from the forum are here.

Bishop reactions to Duncan issue, Saturday edition

Today in reactions to the HoB vote of Friday, we have several reports--not so much of reactions as explanations of "why I voted the way I did." The reports indicate that the conversation was respectful and that there was an undercurrent of sadness throughout the proceeding.

Christopher Epting, bishop for ecumenical relations, voted yes, calling it a
"sad, but necessary decision":

Contrary to what many may believe, and have stated, this was not about Bishop Duncan’s theological positions. Many loyal bishops, clergy and lay people of The Episcopal Church hold similar views and yet remain faithful members of our church. This was about our church’s polity and the consequences of violating that polity by one who has sworn to uphold it.

At first glance, it’s hard to see how this action serves the goal “that we all may be one.” However, accountability is critical to preserving community life. We have seen the consequences of a lack of accountability on the “left” as well as on the “right” in this church for many years. Perhaps we are finally achieving the kind of maturity which will allow us to hold one another accountable…for the sake of the community…and for the sake of the common witness to the Gospel we hope to make in The Episcopal Church.


George Packard, bishop for chaplaincies , indicates he'd much rather have had a "postpone the vote" option:

A postponed vote would have been wise, prudent, and plainly the right thing to do. To quote senior Bishop Peter Lee advising the House on such matters which is his duty by canon (when he is allowed to do it), "Despite numerous statements by Bob Duncan we found nothing actionable." And there isn't. True, we were provided with canvas shopping bags to hold all the incriminating paperwork of reports, newspaper and magazine articles, assessments, and scary confidential memorandum about Bob's garrulous designs to pick up his diocese and leave but there was no fatal, last gasp. The dignity of church law would have allowed for that.

Bishop John Howe, in a letter to the diocese of Florida, compares the relationship between inhibition and deposition to that of ordination process and the progression from deacon to priest:

This afternoon I offered this argument: "I want to compare what Mr. Beers said last night to the argument that many have advanced in favor of ordaining persons directly to the priesthood - without the requirement that they become deacons first. Cogent arguments can be made for that position, but that is not what our canons stipulate. They say a person SHALL be a deacon first, and only afterward may they be ordained priest. You can wish it were otherwise, and you can speculate all you like about intent, but if you want to change things - change the canons.

"Similarly, our canons are clear - not at all 'ambiguous' - however much you might not like them. 'A Bishop SHALL be inhibited, with the consent of the three senior Bishops,' before deposition can be imposed. The way to change that is to change the canons. Bishop Bob Duncan has not been inhibited, and he cannot be deposed."

+Howe continues:

The discussion and debate today lasted across both this morning's and this afternoon's sessions, for a total of approximately six hours. There was a good deal of sentiment expressed that any action by this House should not occur until after the Diocese of Pittsburgh has voted for a second time to remove its accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, a matter which is scheduled to be before its Convention within the next couple of weeks. A number of people argued that until/unless that decision becomes final "abandonment" has not actually occurred, either by the Bishop or by the Diocese as a whole.

Others, however, argued that in allowing and urging the Diocese to withdraw its accession, and thus to attempt to remove itself from The Episcopal Church, Bishop Duncan has long since violated and "abandoned" his loyalty to The Episcopal Church. Some of the Bishops who are also lawyers argued that the case law of Pennsylvania would make it more difficult for The Episcopal Church to press its case if we delayed our action until after Pittsburgh's Diocesan Convention.

My sense of the discussion today is that it was respectful, painful, and deeply tinged with sadness. There was a good deal of recognition and concern that many, both within The Episcopal Church and across the Anglican Communion, will see today's action as precipitous, pre-emptive, and vindictive. Some expressed the concern that this may well solidify the previously undecided in Pittsburgh to join in the support of Bishop Duncan, by making him, in effect, a "martyr."

Bruce MacPherson, bishop of Western Louisiana, had the same reasons for his vote, and is concerned about what this means for the future, as he explains in a letter to his diocese:

The concern that I have is the fact that by this action, a dangerous precedent has been established as applied to the interpretation and execution of the Constitution and Canons of the Church. The danger in this is that it can, and unless terminated, will lead to the living out of a polity and governance in a manner that is not a part of our heritage nor the intent of the Canons as established by General Convention.

Without God

Nobel prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg gave a lecture at Harvard earlier this year exploring how religion and science are in conflict--but not in the superficial ways we see in debates over creationism. His lecture is now available in the New York Review of Books:

Let's grant that science and religion are not incompatible—there are after all some (though not many) excellent scientists, like Charles Townes and Francis Collins, who have strong religious beliefs. Still, I think that between science and religion there is, if not an incompatibility, at least what the philosopher Susan Haack has called a tension, that has been gradually weakening serious religious belief, especially in the West, where science has been most advanced. Here I would like to trace out some of the sources of this tension, and then offer a few remarks about the very difficult question raised by the consequent decline of belief, the question of how it will be possible to live without God.

. . .

The problem for religious belief is not just that science has explained a lot of odds and ends about the world. There is a second source of tension: that these explanations have cast increasing doubt on the special role of man, as an actor created by God to play a starring part in a great cosmic drama of sin and salvation. We have had to accept that our home, the earth, is just another planet circling the sun; our sun is just one of a hundred billion stars in a galaxy that is just one of billions of visible galaxies; and it may be that the whole expanding cloud of galaxies is just a small part of a much larger multiverse, most of whose parts are utterly inhospitable to life. As Richard Feynman has said, "The theory that it's all arranged as a stage for God to watch man's struggle for good and evil seems inadequate."

Most important so far has been the discovery by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace that humans arose from earlier animals through natural selection acting on random heritable variations, with no need for a divine plan to explain the advent of humanity. This discovery led some, including Darwin, to lose their faith. It's not surprising that of all the discoveries of science, this is the one that continues most to disturb religious conservatives. I can imagine how disturbed they will feel in the future, when at last scientists learn how to understand human behavior in terms of the chemistry and physics of the brain, and nothing is left that needs to be explained by our having an immaterial soul.

. . .

There is a fourth source of tension between science and religion that may be the most important of all. Traditional religions generally rely on authority, whether the authority is an infallible leader, such as a prophet or a pope or an imam, or a body of sacred writings, a Bible or a Koran. Perhaps Galileo did not get into trouble solely because he was expressing views contrary to scripture, but because he was doing so independently, rather than as a theologian acting within the Church.

Of course, scientists rely on authorities, but of a very different sort. If I want to understand some fine point about the general theory of relativity, I might look up a recent paper by an expert in the field. But I would know that the expert might be wrong. One thing I probably would not do is to look up the original papers of Einstein, because today any good graduate student understands general relativity better than Einstein did. We progress. Indeed, in the form in which Einstein described his theory it is today generally regarded as only what is known in the trade as an effective field theory; that is, it is an approximation, valid for the large scales of distance for which it has been tested, but not under very cramped conditions, as in the early big bang.

We have our heroes in science, like Einstein, who was certainly the greatest physicist of the past century, but for us they are not infallible prophets. For those who in everyday life respect independence of mind and openness to contradiction, traits that Emerson admired—especially when it came to religion—the example of science casts an unfavorable light on the deference to authority of traditional religion. The world can always use heroes, but could do with fewer prophets.

Weinberg then argues that living life with religion is not without its problems.

Read it all here. What do you think?

Prayers on Wall Street

Christianity Today has an interesting essay about how executives and workers at Wall Street turned to faith as many saw their work life crumble:

Last Sunday night many Wall Streeters could not get to sleep. After midnight, an executive at one of Wall Street's leading investment banks, who requested that his name and his company's not be used, lay in bed watching CNBC report that his competitors were going by the wayside. "I was surprised how quickly it had come. By 8 P.M. we knew how Monday would open. I prayed, very selfishly, that my company would not be on the list." He worried "about my family, the economic environment, my church, and community."

His wife rolled over and asked, "Are you really worried?"

"No," he told her. "I am just interested in the news. I work for a really good company."

She asked again, "Are you stressed?"

He weighed what was important to them and answered, "Even if the worst happens, we will still be together as a family and have Christ who loves and cares for us." Reassured, his wife turned back over; 30 minutes later her husband turned off the television. He needed to be at work very early the next morning.

On Monday, Christians on Wall Street set up special prayer meetings for the week. First came the special prayer conference calls on Monday and Tuesday nights. Then, starting Wednesday, extraordinary prayer meetings were scheduled at Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Deloitte, and elsewhere. Pastors began planning to gather for a sidewalk prayer meeting outside of the stock exchange.

Mac Pier of the New York Leadership Center started getting calls from friends who were losing their jobs. "Of course, I prayed with them that God would give them the spiritual and financial resources they need." Pier says that the Wall Streeters who called him were stunned. "It was unnerving to them because of the speed [at which] it happened."

. . .

Rice says the emotional impact of the current crisis on Wall Streeters is amplified by attitudes like those described by the chief operating officer. "There is an element of, 'I am master of my fate. I put in 18-hour days and am making it.' Then, this crisis pulls the rug out from under them. This may be the first dislocation of their lives. Their savings have disappeared in 15 minutes."

. . .

Some Christians in NYC hope that God can use the crisis for good. Pier says, "God can use this situation as he did in the 1857 Layman's Prayer Revival that started on Wall Street to draw people to a fresh recognition of our absolute dependence on his grace and love."

Mike Faulkner, pastor of New Horizon Church, says, "Honestly, I am praying God will bring healing and revival." He recalls how during the 1930s Wall Street crash, Central Baptist Church on Manhattan housed people who had lost their homes. "The church should be available in every way for people on Wall Street who maybe didn't think much about God before."

Bethel's Caesar hopes that "the two-hour-per-week Christians will get faith in their bones" so that it will last. "When you are in a fox hole, people make crazy promises. Afterward, they ask God, 'Can we renegotiate?' " Harry Tucker, a longtime strategic adviser to Wall Street executives, believes that God has put "us in crisis to grow our courage."

Read it all here

Why we enjoy a good story

Scientific American has a fascinating essay that explores why human beings are captivated by stories:

Storytelling is one of the few human traits that are truly universal across culture and through all of known history. Anthropologists find evidence of folktales everywhere in ancient cultures, written in Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian and Sumerian. People in societies of all types weave narratives, from oral storytellers in hunter-gatherer tribes to the millions of writers churning out books, television shows and movies. And when a characteristic behavior shows up in so many different societies, researchers pay attention: its roots may tell us something about our evolutionary past.

To study storytelling, scientists must first define what constitutes a story, and that can prove tricky. Because there are so many diverse forms, scholars often define story structure, known as narrative, by explaining what it is not. Exposition contrasts with narrative by being a simple, straightforward explanation, such as a list of facts or an encyclopedia entry. Another standard approach defines narrative as a series of causally linked events that unfold over time. A third definition hinges on the typical narrative’s subject matter: the interactions of intentional agents—characters with minds—who possess various motivations.

. . .

But the best stories—those retold through generations and translated into other languages—do more than simply present a believable picture. These tales captivate their audience, whose emotions can be inextricably tied to those of the story’s characters. Such immersion is a state psychologists call “narrative transport.”

Researchers have only begun teasing out the relations among the variables that can initiate narrative transport. A 2004 study by psychologist Melanie C. Green, now at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, showed that prior knowledge and life experience affected the immersive experience. Volunteers read a short story about a gay man attending his college fraternity’s reunion. Those who had friends or family members who were homosexual reported higher transportation, and they also perceived the story events, settings and characters to be more realistic. Transportation was also deeper for participants with past experiences in fraternities or sororities. “Familiarity helps, and a character to identify with helps,” Green explains.

Read it all here.

Obama's faith initiative hits the campaign trail

CBN News Senior National Correspondent David Brody reports that Obama's faith based initiative is about to hit the campaign trial using surrogates to try to reach the faithful:

An official with Barack Obama’s campaign tells The Brody File that beginning next week the campaign will start an official faith tour in key battleground states called “Barack Obama: Faith, Family and Values Tour”. The subheading of the tour is as follows: “Voting ALL Our Values”

The Brody File is told that top faith surrogates will hit the trail for Obama. Some of those high profile figures include Former Indiana Congressman and pro-life Democrat Tim Roemer, Catholic legal scholar Doug Kmiec, and author Donald Miller. You can also expect a soon to be named Evangelical North Carolina (red state) Congressman to travel the country as well. All of these surrogates are well versed and comfortable talking faith and politics. This is clearly a sign by the Obama campaign that they plan to target red state and swing state moderates.

A campaign official tells me the tour is designed to feature the “strong faith and values” of both Barack Obama and running mate Joe Biden. Issues will range from healthcare to poverty to the economy to climate change to yes, even abortion. The campaign understands tough questions may come their way but they’re ready with an answer of how they can reduce abortions.

While conservative Evangelicals have flocked to Palin, the Obama campaign is targeting voters from so many of the other faith traditions. The Brody File has been told that even with Palin now in the race, the Obama campaign’s internal faith polling shows them to be doing better than expected with other denominations besides conservative Evangelicals.

For example, they have their sites on places like Ohio which is home to roughly 500,000 United Methodists alone.

This tour will last about a month or so and will be in a town hall format where these speakers and others will give their talks in community centers and gyms and then take questions afterwards.

Among the states on the list are Colorado Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Florida, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin. Remember, the Obama campaign believes the White Catholic vote is very much in play especially in places like Pennsylvania. Plus, while conservative Evangelicals are not going to head Obama’s way, the campaign believes they can win over those moderate and liberal Evangelicals, Catholics and even some conservative mainline Protestants.

Read it all here.

A wry look at "Christian culture"

Stephanie from Seattle keeps an interesting blog called "Stuff Christian Culture Likes." It is a wry look at (mainly evangelical) Christian sub-culture.

She describes an aspect of Christian Culture that is pretty difficult for those immersed in it, namely relating to people outside of the sub-culture:

People in Christian culture surround themselves almost exclusively with other like-minded people. They do have some acquaintances who are non-Christians but these are not close friends. These acquaintances are most often neighbors, co-workers, and other people who aren't easily avoided.

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A person immersed in Christian culture feels some tension during every interaction with a non-Christian. This is because they feel they must represent Jesus and win that person for Christ. They feel they should overtly and literally present the gospel during almost every interaction and they feel a certain amount of personal responsibility for that person's salvation. It's an enormous amount of pressure.

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This is not to say that Christians will not seek out conversation with a non-Christian. They will. But it is usually for the ultimate purpose of "witnessing" and avid pursuit of presenting the gospel to them in no uncertain terms. They feel that merely being that person's friend isn't quite enough. As a result the Christian culture person feels much more comfortable with fellow Bible-believing Christians. (Catholics don't count. Are you kidding?)

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Christian culture in large part glosses over the fact that Jesus hung out with the grossest, most immoral people in his society and that the people considered to be the most holy people of his time, the Pharisees, looked down on this. Even still, Christian culture feels unsure about having friends who are agnostic, atheist, undecided, gay, strippers, drinkers, smokers, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, or maybe just kind of skanky. These people could also be saved for all we know but in the eyes of Christian culture their lifestyle trumps this possiblity. (Where is the fruit in their life? asks the Christian, unwitting to his own sin in judging that person.) Christian culture indeed knows that the Pharisees missed the point of the gospel of Christ, but Christian culture members generally are not able to entertain the possibility that they themselves could be modern-day Pharisees.*

*Disclaimer: anyone can have Phariseeical attitudes and thus be sinning, even/especially people with silly blogs.

Check out her blog here.

We are all for marriage...right?

Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona writes about a ballot proposition in his state designed to protect marriage from...what?

This week I would like to say something about Prop 102, which is bound to get me more e-mails because it is about that favorite media topic, sex.

This proposition, the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" left me scratching my head. Doesn't Arizona law already define marriage as a union between a man and woman, and didn't voters already reject a similar initiative in the last election? Why are we going through this again?

. . .

Prop 102 has nothing to do with upholding marriage and the family -- after all, everyone supports that. Rather it is a much more insidious attempt to exclude gay and lesbian partnerships from full protection under the law. Those who feel that homosexual unions are somehow a "threat" to the American family (Dad, Mom, 2.2 kids) seem determined to make sure that people who are in such unions will know that they are not welcomed in this state, even if their union is recognized elsewhere, hence the constitutional change. I suspect that as more states allow gay/lesbian marriage, the greater will be the perceived threat.

I do wish the supporters of Prop 102 would be honest about their goal instead of bombarding us with misleading ads showing happy family outings and children romping on the playground, implying that such things are somehow endangered by two people of the same sex being in love and wanting to spend their life together.

No matter what you might think about the acceptability of gay/lesbian unions, the way this issue is being presented is really a matter of equal protection under the law, and more important for some of us Christians, whether we are going to "respect the dignity of every human being," as we say in our baptismal vows.

Read it all here.

On pride and priests

Conroy D. Guyer is a communicant of Calvary Episcopal Church in East Liberty, Pennsylvania, Diocese of Pittsburgh and is retired from the English faculty at Fox Chapel Area High School. He says in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the upcoming vote to attempt to separate the Diocese from the Episcopal Church and says that if it succeeds, people who vote for it will probably regret it.

Here are excerpts:

It should be a cautionary tale for the laity and the clergy who will soon vote about whether the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh should remain in the Episcopal Church.

"Murder in the Cathedral" is a play about a 12th century archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who has his own agenda. Becket's quest for power takes the form of spiritual pride, which becomes his tragic flaw. This tragic flaw is objectified in Becket's fantasies of martyrdom, with its concomitant desire for power. When the Tempter comes to Becket, the Tempter speaks Becket's own thoughts to him.

.. But think, Thomas ... of glory after death

... Think of pilgrims, standing in line

Before the glittering jeweled shrine ...

And think of your enemies in another place

Power in the form of moral purity does not exist anywhere in this world. There are always the subtexts, the unarticulated desires, the tacit motivations.

While the hidden agenda may remain unclear, one does have an understanding about how an administrator should exercise his power in office. Should an administrator exercise his power in the best interests of his institution, or undermine it? If an administrator feels that an institution no longer reflects his values, should he not resign from it? Does an administrator in the office of a bishop have the right to take a diocese out of its parent organization and give its assets of $43 million to another diocese -- maybe one of his own devising or perhaps one on another continent?

(No wonder Mr. Duncan calls ours a diocese of miraculous expectation! Where is the missionary grace? A slogan can cover a vacuum.)

When power is misused, it taints the hopes of those who are no longer with us and who have given money so that the structures and the doctrines of the Episcopal church will be here for future generations. The purpose for which these people have given money is thwarted and their trust is broken. Is this not a genuine ethical problem? Furthermore, are not the higher ethical values of religion sadly compromised in schism? Who has ever read a book about a church schism and concluded that this was the shining hour of faith?


....

Jesus himself never spoke about the subject of homosexuality as far as we know. Many clergy have said more about homosexuality in Jesus' name than Jesus himself ever did.

A third point that needs remembering is that the new diocese will not be a utopia -- a place of absolute moral purity. It will be administered by people who, like Archbishop Becket, "follow too much the devices and the desires of their own hearts." Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, "The tragedy of man is that he can conceive self-perfection, but he cannot achieve it."

Sadly, many lunatic acts have been committed by religious people in history -- acts that many sincere people lived to regret. Do we learn from history? How quickly the reign of Oliver Cromwell in England lost its purity, and some in New England who supported the witch trials later came to regret their participation in them.

An antidote to mad acts is clarity of thought. One might find a way toward lucid thought if one applies the formula of the English poet, William Wordsworth, to his decision-making process. Wordsworth felt that the genesis of a good poem began in an intense emotional experience, which Wordsworth described as "the spontaneous overflow of emotions." If that intense emotional experience is to find expression in the well-ordered world of art, the poet then must engage in quiet reflection. Wordsworth called this part of the artistic process, "... the recollection in tranquility."

The clergy and the laity of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh are going to make a momentous decision soon that will affect all of us in a good or a bad way for decades to come. Power will be exercised in the process, with its far-reaching effects. The desire for power for some is a subtext in this drama. Some players in this drama will be looking for rewards more palpable than spiritual.

The body of Christ will be torn. The promise of purity will be corrupted by time, as it casts its shadows. Decisions made in the heat of emotions devoid of reason will lead to madness, and madness leads to regret.

My hope is that the laity and the clergy of the Pittsburgh Diocese of the Episcopal Church will exercise their faculty of "reflection in tranquility" in the days to come.

Read it here.

HT to Lionel Deimel.

Check out the web site for Across the Aisle here.

Diocese will forgo voting issue, prepares for appeal

In advance of the October 6th trial the Diocese of Virginia made news by announcing in a statement that it plans an appeal of the 57-9 "Division Statute," and in order to move expeditiously to appeal it will not contest "the validity and fairness of the voting procedures used by the CANA congregations." As a result, "In a trial beginning on October 6, the Court will examine precisely which property is subject to the Division Statute petitions filed by CANA congregations."

The basis of the appeal will be freedom of religion and the constitutionality of 57-9:

The Diocese is steadfast in its goal of returning faithful Episcopalians to their church homes and restoring the full and time-honored protections of the First Amendment and the Virginia Constitution for religious freedom.

"The court proceedings of the past several months have shown that the Division Statute, which exists only in Virginia, is uniquely hostile to religious freedom and our faith. We are resolute in our commitment to pursue every avenue in seeking the return of Episcopalians who have been exiled from their church homes," said Bishop Lee.
The full statement is available here.

GAFCONs mailbox moved to Sydney?

The Sydney Morning-Herald reports that GAFCON has moved their mailing address to the diocesan offices of Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen. But, he says, collecting the mail doesn't mean his diocese is becoming the home office for a breakaway movement.

The postbox address for the Sydney diocese and its bishops is the central contact point for the movement that emerged from a meeting of more than 1000 Anglican conservatives in Jerusalem last month.

Those supporting the movement's call for a return to strict literal interpretations of the Bible have been invited to become members of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and send expressions of interest to the Sydney postbox.

Dr Jensen was appointed secretary to its primates' council in London last month.

The diocese denies that Dr Jensen's new position means the GAFCON movement will be administratively headquartered in Sydney. "The Archbishop is the secretary to the primates' council, an honorary position. He does not have a vote on the primates' council - which is assisted by an advisory board," a spokesman said.

The prominent Melbourne liberal Muriel Porter said she regarded the movement as subversive and would raise the matter at a meeting of the general synod's standing committee in Sydney next month. "The decision to host GAFCON is going to cause real concern among many Anglicans in Australia," she said. "It is an alternative international Anglican structure rivalling the archbishop of Canterbury and the primates and all of the other bodies of the Anglican Communion."

Robert Fordham, Australia's lay representative on the Anglican Consultative Council, the international organisation of the Anglican Communion that is trying to resolve the tensions in the global church, said he would ask the archbishop to explain himself.

"To join an organisation as an archbishop and even more significantly have the diocesan office as the Australian headquarters of this organisation is a matter of grave concern," he said.

Read it here.

Communities of intentional practice

Wayne Whitson Floyd over at Alban Institute discusses the vitality of congregations. What makes a congregation vital? Common faith? Common cause? Common story or experience? Shared heritage? Does the emotional intensity of the worship or the fervency of the preaching make for a vital congregation?

By contrast, Julia Duin at the Washington Times describes how evangelical churches, which everyone thought were growing like topsy, are shrinking partly because they don't appear to be paying attention to the basics.

Floyd says that a vital congregation is a community of intentional practice, which he says is not a new idea but a very ancient one in the Christian experience.

In my experience, vital congregations are more than a collection of individuals drawn together by similar personal experiences and needs that in turn are expressed through common beliefs or by similar styles of religious life. Vital congregations are communities of practice, where we immerse ourselves in those “patterns of communal action,” that in Craig Dykstra’s words “create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy and presence of God may be made known to us.”

Far from being a recent innovation, “spiritual practice” is actually one of the oldest ways to describe the formation and nurture of God’s people for faithful living. Sabbath-keeping, for example, is according to the Hebrew Scriptures a practice that helps us to pattern the rhythms of our own lives on the creative rhythms of God at work in the world. Or in the Celtic church of pre-Roman Christianity in England, the practice of leadership by monastic abbots occurred not only through teaching, but even more importantly by means of personal example of the spiritual practices of the monastery. Here monks practiced the habitus, or habits, of life and worship that kept alive the vitality of the Christian way of life during what would be a long, dark age.

When congregations attend to becoming communities of spiritual practice, we learn that faithful living is more than going out and doing what people are taught on Sunday. Rather, during every day of our lives, faithful people are who they are today, because they have long practiced faithful virtues as members of intentional communities of faith.

Becoming an intentional community of spiritual practice involves the reinvigoration of what are really quite traditional ways of faithful life in community.

Meanwhile, Duin talks about the experience of people in her circle of friends who have stopped going to their evangelical churches. One church could not organize a consistent way to get a disabled man to church. A single mom talked about her sense of isolation. Another felt that the congregations he experienced nurtured spiritual immaturity.

Religious attendance fell from 41 percent in 1971 to 31 percent in 2002, according to a survey sponsored by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. For years, Gallup polls have shown American church attendance hovering at 43 percent of the population, which would mean 129 million out of an estimated 300 million Americans at the end of 2006. However, two 2005 studies, one by sociologists C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler and the other by Dave Olson, a researcher for the Evangelical Covenant Church, show that a more accurate attendance percentage is in the 18th to 20th percentile, half of what Gallup shows.

A significantly smaller number of Americans "are participating in the most basic Christian practices: the weekly gathering for worship, teaching, prayer and fellowship," Mr. Olson said in the April 2006 issue of Christianity Today.

Mr. Hadaway and Ms. Marler faulted the complexities of American life - exhaustion, traffic, two working parents, even children's soccer games increasingly getting scheduled on Sundays - as the main reason people give themselves much more leniency in skipping church.

Over at the site Practicing Our Faith, an intentional spiritual practice is defined as:

Christian practices are things Christian people do together over time to address fundamental human needs in the light of and in response to God's grace to all creation through Christ Jesus.

When we live the practices of Christian faith, we join together with one another, with Jesus, and with the communion of saints across time and space in a way of life that resists death in all its forms - a way of life that is spilling over with the Life of God for creation, for our neighbors, and for ourselves....

....Practices point beyond the individualism of the dominant culture to disclose the social (i.e., shared) quality of our lives, and especially the social quality of Christian life, theology, and spirituality. Our thinking and living take place in relation to God and also to one another, to others around the world and across the centuries, and to a vast communion of saints.

Floyd describes five practices which, when focused on with intentionality, makes for a vital congregation.

The Practice of Discernment, by which I mean discovering who we are in God’s sight—that our primary vocational calling is simply to be the creatures we have been created to be—in relationship, in community, celebrating the goodness of God’s creation...

The Practice of Story-Telling. The stories we tell about ourselves and about God have the capacity to shape—or to inhibit—the people we can become and the lives we can lead...

...If this is true about the practice of telling our personal stories, it is even more crucial for the practice of telling the stories of God—the Practice of Proclamation...

...These stories open up, or close off, the very Practice of Hospitality that we envision for congregational life. Are we merely tolerant of those who are strangers or different from us? Or do we attempt to be inclusive? Or can we go further to risk “radical hospitality,”—moving from mere inclusion to what theologian Miroslav Volf calls “embrace,” or what Adelle Frank at the Church of the Bretheren describes as “intentional vulnerability,” which is what Benedictine Sister Joan Chittester means, I think, when she speaks of living “without clenched fists”?...

...One spiritual practice, as we see, always leads to another, in this case hospitality turning out to be the twin of the Practice of Service....

Read: The Washington Times: Americans leaving churches in droves

Read: The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith: What are Christian Practices?

Read: The Alban Institute: Vital Congregations as Intentional Communities of Practice.

Too much of a good thing?

The New York Times reports about the small town of Roosevelt, New York that has so many churches that locals wonder if so many tax-exempt properties in one town is a good thing.

Residents here have long wished for a thriving downtown where they could shop and work — a business district that would also help shoulder their heavy school taxes. Instead, there are exactly one supermarket and one bank, zero drugstores and nary a 7-Eleven or Starbucks in sight.

What Roosevelt has in abundance, however, is churches. By one unofficial count, 68 houses of worship have taken root in this small community, which is a bit over a mile in width and in length and has a population of about 16,000.

This trend has produced concern among some community, business and political leaders that the concentration of churches is impeding business. Public officials say the situation leaves them in a quandary, acknowledging the right of churches to open here but lamenting the loss of potential tax revenue.

“It’s like a forbidden subject, but I wish to God I could find a way to stop churches from coming into this community,” said Wilhelmina Funderburke, chairwoman of the Roosevelt Community Revitalization Group, a nonprofit coalition of local organizations.

Read the rest here.

The churches of Galveston

The Houston Chronicle covers the beginnings of cleanup efforts in Galveston with an emphasis on the church buildings there, many of which date back to the 19th century. Workers set about wringing out carpets and turning on fans to exhaust the moisture from the buildings, helping to save them from the secondary damage that can be wrought by mildew and mold. Among those churches is Trinity Episcopal, which also withstood a nasty hurricane that hit the island in 1900.

When Galveston formally reopens to residents Wednesday, many will return to homes devastated by a storm that trampled the island and left behind a pervasive film of sea, sewage and debris.

But they will also return to houses of worship, many of which stand on wobbly legs.

Though the churches and synagogues hold an important place in the lives of their members, those such as Trinity Episcopal also hold a spot in Texas and local history.

"Galveston has an extraordinary wealth of religious architecture from the 19th century," said Stephen Fox, co-author of Galveston: Architecture Guidebook (Rice University Press, $17.95). "In addition, there is a very architecturally significant array of more modest church buildings, especially those associated with African-American congregations."

Last week, most churches remained closed on near-empty streets with tree limbs, dried-up driftwood, waterlogged furniture and caked mud that cracked underfoot like ancient eggshells. Members of some churches and synagogues gathered in hotels, basketball courts and sanctuaries without power for weekend services.

Others such as First Baptist Church and Trinity Episcopal started the work of cleaning up, flinging doors open to exchange heavy, moist air with breezes and dehumidifying machines that buzz overtime to save any interior woodwork that withstood the initial trauma.

Story, with quotes from the Rev. Ron Pogue, rector of Trinity, here.

Sudanese priest brings family to US

When last we heard from The Rev. Zachariah Char, his family was caught up in bureaucratic red tape and his wife had been attacked, and things weren't looking good for the young priest reuniting with her and their young son, now almost 2. But two weeks ago, the "Lost Boy" priest went back to Kenya to meet his son, Kur, for the first time.

When he returned to Grand Rapids late Saturday night, he was accompanied by his wife and son; some 100 well-wishers were on hand to welcome them home.

"I didn't lose hope when the process was very difficult," Char, pastor of Sudanese Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids, said Sunday.

"I knew that God will open the way."

Char came to the United States in 2001 with other Lost Boys of Sudan who trekked 1,000 miles to flee civil war in their homeland. He left Thon at Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp where they both grew up but returned in 2004 to marry her.

...

Their arrival brought hope for others, including Deng Reng, who has a wife and son in Kenya, and Michael P. Kuol, who has a wife and daughter there.

Reng and Kuol celebrated at Grace Episcopal.

But they also talked of extreme frustration and wondered whether they would one day be unified with their wives and children.

"You have a lot of internal frustration about missing somebody," said Abraham K. Deng, whose wife remains in Kenya.

"It makes it difficult."

Char understands the frustration. He has friends here with wives in the refugee camp. He met the women while there, the hardest part of his trip. All of the women knew his story and wondered if they would ever be reunited with their husbands here.

"I met with 17 husbands' wives. They're asking about America. They want to see what their husbands are doing here. Even some of them, they say, 'Zach? Zach? My husband talks about you.'"

Even while being exhausted by travel, going to church Sunday morning, and having an apartment filled with friends celebrating that afternoon, Char said he felt complete. Now, he said, he can be a better pastor. He can study -- he's a senior at Kuyper College -- without worrying about his family's safety.

Full story here.

Other past stories on Char are here, here.

UN to look at MDG progress Thursday

On Thursday, the United Nations will convene for a special session to discuss the Millennium Development Goals. The Archbishop of Canterbury has invited all interested parties to attend an Interfaith Service of Recommitment and Witness of the Achievement of the MDGs at the Cathedral of St. John's the Divine in New York City. While it is not clear whether Archbishop Williams will himself be present as some outlets have reported, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will officiate at the service and Archbishop of York John Sentamu will preach. (The event is not on Williams' posted calendar.)

The service is one of the activities for the day sponsored by the Anglican Communion Office at the United Nations and will be preceded by a rally and teach-in on the Cathedral steps, according to a release from the Anglican Communion News Service. These activities, as well as a noontime walk and "prayerful witness" at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, are in support of the prayer, fasting and witness called for on this day in the 2008 Lambeth Conference Reflections Document.

More information on the service is here and here. The Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation has more on the day's events here.

Faith and Wall Street, continued

Over the weekend we heard from Christianity Today (here) about the phenomenon of people on Wall Street turning to God because of market volatility. Today we have a piece from Reuters that spotlights Trinity Church Wall Street, the Episcopal church so close to Ground Zero, among others. Observations included more people coming to services, more of them wearing business suits to lunchtime services, and among regular worshippers, "more strained faces" according to a nearby synagogue.

That is hardly surprising, said Reverend Mark Bozzuti-Jones of Trinity Church Wall Street, given that people don't know if their employers will survive from one day to the next.

"The economic financial crisis is a reminder that we cannot put our faith in riches, that we cannot put our faith in money," Bozzuti-Jones said in his sermon at lunchtime on Friday, which he devoted to coping with the financial crisis.

A handful of men in suits and ties and women in business attire were among dozens of people at the Episcopal church, which was hit by debris from the World Trade Center collapse on September 11, 2001.

The church, which normally attracts tourists and a few financial workers, experienced an upturn in visitors this week, Bozzuti-Jones said. In the past few days he had requests for help to pay rent from those who had lost their jobs.

"People are just sitting there, praying or crying and definitely exhausted. There has definitely been an increase in the number of people who have come in," he said in his office after the service.

Read the whole thing here.

Gospel Today goes behind the counter

Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Teresa Hairston, owner of Gospel Today, whose glossy pages feature upbeat articles about health, living, music and ministry, said she discovered by e-mail that the September/October issue of the magazine had been demoted to the realm of the risque.

“It’s really kind of sad when you have people like [Gov.] Sarah Palin and [Sen.] Hillary Clinton providing encouragement and being role models for women around the world that we have such a divergent opinion about women who are able to be leaders in the church,” Hairston said. “I was pretty shocked.”

Chris Turner, a spokesman for Lifeway Resources, which runs the stores for the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “It is contrary to what we believe.”

Treated like pornography:
The magazine's publisher, Teresa Hairston, said she was just reporting on a trend, not trying to promote women pastors.

"They basically treated it like pornography and put it behind the counter," she said. "Unless a person goes into the store and asks for it, they won't see it displayed."
...
Chris Turner, a spokesman for Lifeway Resources, said the cover was not the reason the magazine was pulled from Lifeway's shelves.

"The buyers said the statements that were in it took positions that were contrary to what we would say," Turner said. "It wasn't so much that there were women on the cover."

Featured on the cover are Pastor Sheryl Brady of The River in Durham, N.C.; Pastor Tamara Bennett of This Is Pentecost Ministries in Sacramento, Calif.; Bishop Millicent Hunter of The Baptist Worship Center in Philadelphia, Pa.; Pastor Claudette Copeland of New Creation Christian Fellowship in San Antonio, Texas; and Pastor Kimberly Ray of Church on the Rock in Matteson, Ill.

The Sacbee has more about Pastor Bennett's life story; more about Pastor Brady at the Raleigh News & Observer.

In other news, "The [Lutheran] Church of Sweden welcomed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church to Stockholm and Uppsala September 22-23 to join the anniversary celebrations of its historic decision 50 years ago to ordain women to the priesthood."

Archbishop of Canterbury encourgages cooperation on MDGs

Lambeth Palace:

On the eve of the United Nations General Assembly meeting on Millennium Development Goals in New York, the Archbishop of Canterbury has underlined the commitment of the Anglican Church to continue to work for the eradication of poverty.

In a video message the Archbishop has backed calls for a renewal of the pledges made by the international community in 2000, and spoke of the need for the Anglican Church to work in harmony with governments and NGOs around the world in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

View the archbishop's video message (transcript here (scroll)):

See our coverage of tomorrow's UN meeting.

We remain dumbfounded why some in our church who claim an affinity with Anglicans in Africa persist in mocking the MDG's.

Paying God before the mortgage

Reuters:

"I've had home owners who face foreclosure sitting in front of me saying, 'I'll do anything, anything to keep my home," said Ozell Brooklin, director of Acorn Housing in Atlanta, a nonprofit which offers foreclosure counseling.

"But after we've gone through their monthly expenses and the only thing left to cut is their tithe, they say 'I guess this home is not for me' and they walk away," he said.
...
Milton Sharp, a home ownership specialist at NeighborWorks, an umbrella group of 230 nonprofits, said for many borrowers tithing is "mandatory and not a discretionary item that can be cut."

Debt counselors said the borrowers most likely to face a dilemma over tithing are people in lower income brackets.

"Often it's the folks who can least afford it who tithe," said Regina Grant of the Atlanta Cooperative Development Corp.

Linda Ingram of St Louis, Missouri-based nonprofit Beyond Housing said, "Tithing is a very sensitive subject and you have to be careful as to how you approach it."
...
"I made an agreement with the Lord 30 years ago and I have tithed ever since," said the woman, who declined to give her name in an interview. "Nothing could persuade me to give that up. My relationship with God comes first."

Asked why she would not be named, the woman said, "I don't want people to think I'm crazy."
...
The Barna Group, a California-based research firm, estimated in an April 2008 study that 5 percent of all American adults tithed in 2007. Evangelicals had the highest percentage (24 percent), and the study estimated that 12 percent of conservatives and 10 percent of registered Republicans tithed.

Both Obama and McCain would expand Bush faith-based initiative

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life interviews two experts about how both McCain and Obama propose to expand the Bush administration's faith-based initiative. John DiIulio Jr. addressed Obama's plans; Stephen Goldsmith addressed McCain's plans.

Dilulio:

Sen. Obama wants to foster interfaith, ecumenical, religious-secular and public-private partnerships with faith-based and other nonprofit organizations that constitutionally, compassionately and cost-effectively supply social services to the needy and the neglected. He is dedicated to assisting sacred places that serve civic purposes, but he has a broader vision of religion and public life in 21st century America. It is a principled and pluralistic vision that extends to lending diverse religious leaders and faith communities a real ear in the White House.

That, I believe, is what Obama meant in July when he stated that the council would be a "moral center" of his administration, and not only regarding government support for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships that dispense social services. As we all know, when it comes to many different international and domestic issues, business, labor and other key sectors and interests have long had a voice in the Executive Office of the President or a place in one or more Cabinet departments and agencies.

Well, religious groups are the largest segment of the nation's trillion-dollar tax-exempt sector, but how diverse religious leaders understand issues from international aid to immigration reform, from environmental protection to health care, does not register so routinely in the corridors of government. That's unfortunate because, as many surveys tell us, diverse religious leaders and groups have ideas and experiences that make what they think about public issues at least as interesting, eclectic and potentially valuable to policy deliberations as what other sectors' leaders and organizations have to contribute.


Goldsmith:
Much has been accomplished in recent years to fully engage faith-based and small community-based organizations (FBCOs) in the delivery of social services to benefit neighbors and communities across the country. Regulatory changes have reduced barriers and expanded the opportunity for government to partner with faith-based organizations. Eleven federal government agencies and the Corporation for National and Community Service created centers within their organizations designed to more fully engage FBCOs. A number of innovative programs are returning positive results. I would anticipate Sen. McCain building out such programs to continue with this momentum.

One example of this is the Mentoring Children of Prisoners program, which today has more than 100,000 children matched with a caring adult mentor. Sen. McCain will build upon the success of this mentoring project to tackle the high-school dropout rate and improve academic achievement. Graduation rates from urban public high schools are hovering at 50 percent, with devastating ramifications for those youths, their families and communities. Nearly half of all dropouts, and two-thirds of minority-student dropouts, are concentrated in 12 percent of America's high schools, which are concentrated mostly in large cities. Recruiting and equipping volunteers and tutors to work with youths to improve educational achievement and high-school graduation rates will be a priority in a McCain administration. This effort may lead to a cross-sector collaboration that will provide incentives for youths completing high school, including education and training opportunities that lead to employment through vocational schools, community colleges or universities.

More on the candidates' actions and words here.

Megachurch loses property case to hierarchical denomination

When a local church participates in, prospers from and enjoys the benefits afforded by the parent church it cannot then disclaim affiliation when it disagrees with the parent body, so as to shield church property from the equitable or contractual interests of the parent church. The court affirmed the concept that individuals may leave the church but they cannot take the church property with them.

-- Craig Hoster, the presbytery’s attorney in the case
Presbyterian News Service, September 11, 2008:
An Oklahoma district court in Tulsa has ruled that the Presbytery of Eastern Oklahoma of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the legal owner of the property of breakaway Kirk of the Hills, a 2,600-member congregation that bolted to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in August 2006.

In his Sept. 9 ruling, Judge Jefferson Sellers denied Kirk of the Hills petition for a summary judgment and ordered the church to “convey its real and personal property” to the presbytery, as per the decision of the presbytery’s administrative commission, which concluded in March 2007 that Kirk of the Hills was “in schism.”
...
The court followed the “hierarchical deference” approach in awarding the property to the presbytery, affirming the trust clause in the PC(USA) Constitution, which holds that all property is held in trust for the denomination. Oklahoma has been considered a “hierarchical deference jurisdiction since an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling in 1973 involving Cimarron Presbytery and Westminster Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK.

Dean Luthey, an attorney for the PC(USA), said hierarchical deference means that in property disputes involving churches, the state court will defer to the decision of the church's legal system.

Craig Hoster, the presbytery’s attorney in the case, said, “The court followed Oklahoma law. When a local church participates in, prospers from and enjoys the benefits afforded by the parent church, as has been the case here for more than 40 years, it cannot then disclaim affiliation when it disagrees with the parent body, so as to shield church property from the equitable or contractual interests of the parent church….The court affirmed the concept that individuals may leave the church but they cannot take the church property with them.”
...

The ruling is the latest in a series in several states that support the claims of hierarchical denominations that their polity is intrinsic to their theology, and property is not owned by individual congregations. The prominent exception is in Virginia where the Diocese of Virginia has said it will appeal the constitutionality of a Reconstruction era "division statute."

MDG mania

Suddenly the world's media, which has been studiously ignoring the Millennium Development Goals to this point, has caught MDG fever, just in time for today's activities in New York City, in which the Episcopal Church will play a major role.

While Bono's blog for the Financial Times, (which is actually quite informative) and articles about Bono's blog for the Financial Times are generating some of the coverage, mainstream media outlets from around the world are weighing in on the political and economic nuts and bolts of the campaign to halve extreme poverty by 2015.

To wit:

Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times explains why world leaders feel the U. S. financial meltdown may cripple the whole effort:

Wall Street and the Bush administration's record of financial oversight came under attack at the United Nations, with one world leader after another saying that market turmoil in the United States threatened the global economy.

"We must not allow the burden of the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all," President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil said in an opening speech Tuesday that reflected the tone of the gathering.

The Guardian has an excellent special section All Out on Poverty and an astute column by Leo Hickman which begins:

"We must do more – and we must do it now." This urgent call for action is being aired loudly in both New York and Washington DC this week. On Capitol Hill, Congress is being urged to accept Henry Paulson's $700bn bail-out for Wall Street's beleaguered banks, whereas just over 200 miles up Interstate 95 at the UN headquarters in Turtle Bay big wigs from around the world are pondering how the millennium development goals – this week marks the halfway point towards their 2015 target – are ever going to be met given the woeful progress to date.

It's at times like this where you really get to see the naked truth about where our worldly priorities lie. And it's pretty hard not to think about what $700bn would buy you if you were pushing the trolley around the Truly Worthy Causes supermarket.

Causes don't come much more worthy than the eight millennium development goals, which together form a panoply of unquestionably important aims: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. But as today's special Guardian supplement All Out On Poverty illustrates, we have a long, long way to go if we're ever to meet most of these goals, let alone by 2015 which seems as absurdly optimistic a deadline now as it did back in 2000 when it was first announced. In fact, with some goals we have arguably slipped into reverse gear rather than advance towards them.

For a brief overview of what the UN will be discussing this week, this AFP story isn't bad. The Age of Australia has a good overview of the entire MDG effort. Meanwhile, Washington Post has a helpful story about the contributions of Bill Gates and Howard and Warren Buffett in response to the world food crisis.

There are additional stories from Bangladesh, Nigeria, an editorial from Business Daily Africa (Kenya), a pessimistic appraisal of where the campaign stands from World Vision, India, and a personal vantage point provided by Queen Rania of Jordan on Slate.

So, I'm in NY this week wearing a couple of hats, shining a spotlight on the Millennium Development Goals and talking about the need for more sustainable development that will not only safeguard the environment, but also provide opportunity for the disenfranchised in society. It's something we're very interested in, in the Arab world.

I was invited to speak at Condé Nast's World Savers Awards conference amid the awesome and inspiring architecture of Gotham Hall. It was about the power of tourism to nurture our planet's precious resources while providing lasting economic opportunities for local communities.

I was there talking up the Middle East—not a region in conflict and turmoil, as many think, but a mosaic of cultures, stories, traditions, and warm, welcoming people.

Is the fact that Condé Nast has gotten into the act a good thing or a bad one?

U. S. abortion rate at 30-year low

The Guttmacher Institute has released a new report "Trends in the Characteristics of Women Obtaining Abortions, 1974 to 2004" by Stanley K. Henshaw and Kathryn Kost.

The report finds that the abortion rate is currently at its lowest since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Most of the change is due to declining abortion rates among women aged 20 to 24 since 1989.

Other highlights:

Overall rates of abortion in the United States peaked soon after the procedure was legalized in 1973, remained fairly constant through the 1980s, and have declined steadily since then. However, the overall rate masks large differences and varying patterns across time for demographic subgroups.

A substantial drop in the abortion rates of teenagers and women aged 20–24 accounts for much of the overall decline from 1989 to 2004. During this period, the abortion rate of women in their 30s changed little, while the rate of women aged 40 or older increased.

The majority of abortions (57%) are obtained by women in their 20s. Minors account for fewer than 7% of all abortions.

Abortion is far more common among unmarried women than married women, although rates for both groups have dropped significantly in the past 15 years.

Abortion rates for all racial and ethnic groups have declined recently. The rates now range from 11 per 1,000 for non-Hispanic white women to 28 per 1,000 for Hispanic women and 50 per 1,000 for black women. The widely varying rates reflect differing patterns of contraceptive use, pregnancy and childbearing.

Black women account for 37% of abortions, non-Hispanic white women for 34%, Hispanic women 22% and women of other races 8%.

Most abortions occur before nine weeks’ gestation, and the proportion of very early abortions (<7 weeks) has increased substantially since 1994. The proportion of abortions performed after 12 weeks of pregnancy has changed little, and fewer than 0.2% take place after 24 weeks.

In 2004, 60% of women having abortions already had children, up from 50% in 1989.

Although 47% of abortions are obtained by women who have had a prior abortion, the proportion of second and subsequent abortions has recently begun to fall. There is no evidence that abortion is being used as a primary method of birth control.

Further research on abortion in the United States should focus on the circumstances facing women in the groups with the highest rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion.

English archbishops on Marx and the markets

Rowan Williams has written a searching moral examination of the free market financial system which has been badly caricatured in initial news reports. It contains this sentence: "Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves; he was right about that, if about little else." How anyone gets from this mild criticism to headlines proclaiming that the archbishop has praised Marx, is difficult to fathom. You can read it for yourself in the Spectator, whose own headline writers have done Williams no favors.

A key passage:

To grant that without a basis of some common prosperity and stability, no speculative market can long survive is not to argue for rigid Soviet-style centralised direction. Insecure or failed states may provide a brief and golden opportunity for profiteering, but cannot sustain reliable institutions.

Without a background of social stability everyone will eventually suffer, including even the most resourceful, bold and ingenious of speculators. The question is not how to choose between total control and total deregulation, but how to identify the points and practices where social risk becomes unacceptably high. The banning of short-selling is an example of just such a judgment. Governments should not lose their nerve as they look to identify a few more targets.

Behind all this, though, is the deeper moral issue. We find ourselves talking about capital or the market almost as if they were individuals, with purposes and strategies, making choices, deliberating reasonably about how to achieve aims. We lose sight of the fact that they are things that we make. They are sets of practices, habits, agreements which have arisen through a mixture of choice and chance. Once we get used to speaking about any of them as if they had a life independent of actual human practices and relations, we fall into any number of destructive errors. We expect an abstraction called ‘the market’ to produce the common good or to regulate its potential excesses by a sort of natural innate prudence, like a physical organism or ecosystem. We appeal to ‘business’ to acquire public responsibility and moral vision. And so we lose sight of the fact that the market is not like a huge individual consciousness, that business is a practice carried on by persons who have to make decisions about priorities — not a machine governed by inexorable laws.

Meanwhile, John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, is blasting "short sellers," whom he refers to as bank robbers. Sentamu will preach tonight at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

The archbishops' criticisms of the financial system have generated considerable press coverage in England, and Simon Sarmiento has a round up at Thinking Anglicans. Reuters is on the Sentamu statement, which some UK stockbrokers don't care for.

The Guardian has one comment on each bishop's statement.

One observation on these issues in the Anglican context: Neither archbishop has much of an audience in the United States. Most of those likely to agree with their economic critique, their interest in the Millennium Development Goals, their concerns about global warming and their opposition to a univalent American foreign policy, are alienated from them by their unwillingness to speak out against the flamboyant homophobia of other Anglican leaders such as Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Henry Orombi of Uganda and Mouneer Anis of Egypt. Those who cheer the archbishops' tacit embrace of bigotry disagree with them on most of the political issues. The conservatives get the better end of this deal. The archbishops opposition to the Bush administration makes nothing happen, while their opposition to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the Church has devastating effects.

Without commenting on the arguments they are advancing here--it isn't clear that either of them understands short-selling--one is still left to wonder how to respond when the archbishops say something one agrees with?

"Three cheers for the abettors of bigotry!" ?

"God bless your irrelevant hearts!" ?

You make the call

The guys at the Dallas Morning News' religion blog aren't saying whether the Kenyan preacher with an interest in witchcraft who prayed over Sarah Palin is "a problem or not a problem." But they have reproduced the evidence so viewers can decide for themselves. The Associated Press has also covered the story, as have the bloggers at Religion News Service and the Washington Monthly, where Steve Benen writes:

Stepping back, people will, of course, draw their own conclusions about a national candidate who is (or was) a practicing Pentecostal, attending a church where people speak in tongues, where the pastor seems preoccupied with witches. Voters' comfort levels will vary, and I'm still inclined to think politicians' spiritual beliefs, whether part of the mainstream or not, are a personal matter.

Interfaith Alliance pushes non-partisan pulpit pledge

From the Interfaith Alliance:

The boundaries between religion and government rarely have seen the level of threat they face during this election season. Candidates on both sides of the aisle have used religion inappropriately as a political tool, and now, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) is preparing to launch a direct attack on religious liberty by encouraging clergy to violate the safeguards that have protected religion in America for generations.

The ADF is asking clergy to endorse candidates from the pulpit and purposefully violate their tax-exempt status in order to force a court case. This is a very real threat to religious freedom given the current Supreme Court’s willingness to set aside precedent in favor of weakening the separation of church and state. Last year’s decision in Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, in which the court eroded taxpayers’ standing to sue over government spending that violates the separation of church and state, should serve as an early indicator of the Court’s direction not just on clergy endorsements, but also on sound science and reproductive rights – issues at the heart of religious liberty.

In response, the alliance is calling on clergy to sign a pledge :

To educate members of our congregation about how our faith relates to issues of the day.

To refrain from endorsing any candidate, either explicitly or implicitly, in or on behalf of our house of worship.

To prevent partisan speech from candidates or their surrogates, as well as the distribution of partisan materials, in our house of worship.

To resist using or soliciting the resources of our house of worship for the exclusive benefit of any candidate or party.

To respect candidates whose religious beliefs are different from my own, and stand against the use of religion to divide our communities.

To encourage members of our congregation to take an active role in civic life, including casting informed votes.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop John Bryson Chane and Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish are among those who have signed the pledge.

See also Dean Sam Candler's essay on Daily Episcopalian.

Making no inroads

Mark Silk writes: The news is beginning to sink in that Obama has not managed to change the voting preferences of the most religious white voters, evangelicals especially.To explain why Obama's "much vaunted religious outreach campaign...isn't working" pastordan has recourse to the idea that it's just very difficult to move socially conservative evangelicals.

Wales backs off Flying Bishop plan

The Anglican Province of Wales has decided to dismantle parallel church structures for Anglicans who are unable to accept the ordination of women. There will still be "a continuing place" for those who object, but there will no longer be a separate church structure in place following a decision by the Church of Wales Governing body.

According to an article in the Church Times:

"The Standing Committee (on which there are no women) set up a working group with a man and woman from each diocese, under the chairmanship of Dr Gillian Todd (Swansea & Brecon), to address this. It reported last week with recommendations that all church committees and conferences should examine their membership-selection procedures, and that equality policies should be produced.

It also suggested that committees should aim for 30 percent women by 2011, and 50 percent by 2013, and the GB for 50 percent women in the house of laity, and 30 percent women in the house of clergy. In addition, it expected that in five years there would be women archdeacons and deans.

Dr Todd introduced the debate. There had, she said, been evidence of exclusion, discrimination, and bullying of women in the Church. Yet people in society were increasingly used to the principles of equality of opportunity, respect, and fairness. The Government of Wales Act also required equality of opportunity for everyone in Wales."

Read the full article here.

Reports of violence against Christians in India

Violent attacks on church members that have left more than 60 dead began in late August in southern India according to a report by the Church of Brethren in Christ released this week. The attacks lasted for 12 days and are believed by some to have been instigated by the regional government in attempt to heighten divisions in the region prior to a coming election.

According to a report in Ekklesia:

"There have been threats, beatings, and persecution for the last 20 years, but the [current] situation is very tense. People have been brutally murdered, hacked to death, women have been gang raped, and more than 100 churches in all six districts have been burned. Brethren in Christ members have been attacked but not killed," he reports.

[...]In August 2008, a crowd of up to 4,000 Hindu militants attacked the Brethren in Christ Girls Hostel at Nuagoan, one of nine such facilities funded through the Scholarship Program for International Children's Education (SPICE). The mob set the hostel and church ablaze, destroyed its water tank, and demolished the campus. Ten policemen who were on guard at the hostel fled when they saw the approaching crowd. Staff, girls, and local believers, some of whom were beaten, managed to flee. The Cuttack-based offices of the Brethren in Christ Church in India were also a target, and several pastors and church planters lost all their belongings when their homes were looted and burned.

People, including pastors, who are still hiding in the forest have lost everything. They have no clothes, no food and are at risk of snake bites and malaria. They have no medication. It is not yet safe to help them,’ says the church leader. Anyone offering assistance would be at risk, he notes."

Read the full article here.

Some Christians have responded with violence according to The Times.

Beleaguered Christians in India have "run out of cheeks to be struck" a senior Anglican bishop declared yesterday, on hearing reports that a Christian mob had hacked a Hindu to death in the troubled state of Orissa.

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, called for peace, and said that the murder, conducted by a knive-wielding mob of 50 Christians, could not be condoned. But he told The Times: “For months now, scores of Christians have been killed, homes, convents and presbyteries have been burnt down to the ground."


The Church in uncertain financial times

There are a number of stories starting to appear that are all basically attempts to think theologically about what is happening in the world's financial markets. There appears to be consensus that the Church calls us to live more simply and less extravagantly.

Some of the stories are continued reflections on the speech given by the Archbishop of Canterbury earlier this week, and on remarks by the Archbishop of York calling "short-sellers" thieves. While the reaction to Archbishop Williams' remarks was mixed in the financial community, there has been strong support for his words in evangelical circles according to a post on the blog Christian Today.

[Evangelical] leaders spoke out after the Archbishop of Canterbury criticised the greed and lack of regulation that have led to the current global financial crisis, whilst the Archbishop of York asked why action for the poorest is deemed too expensive when hundreds of billions of dollars have been found to bail out troubled banks.

...Dr R David Muir, Executive Director of Public Policy at the Evangelical Alliance said: “We live to consume and now our greed is consuming us; we are reaping the consequences of always wanting more. Our way of life is based on the assumption that there is always more money available, more money to buy more things."

..."Rather than supporting the institutionalisation of greed with vast public expenditure why can’t we resist the urge for always wanting more and live within our means?”

But Simon Barrow wonders if there's anything the Church, in it's present mode of accommodation with secular society, has to say to the world.

Under Christendom, the accommodation of institutional religion with governing authority, the churches have largely bought into (literally) the economic status quo. That needs to change. In the past 100 years we have seen that neither unfettered free markets nor a state-controlled command economy can 'work'. But what does it mean for an economy to work?

If we are all, as the New Testament suggests, to envision ourselves as members of a household established on principles of grace, justice, sharing and participation (the word oikonomia links household management with modern economics and with the oikumene, the whole inhabited earth seen as God's gift), then we need to cultivate practices and structures that point towards that - and which declare to the "there is no alternative" ideologues of right and left that there is an economic alternative - one which grows out of real people, real needs, human scale, and the adaptation of structures and mechanisms from those perspectives.

Bodies like the New Economics Foundation (NEF) have long been seeking to encourage, theorise and develop fresh perspectives on the basis of the many alternatives that already exist, from local trading schemes and co-ops right through to taxation on speculation, environmental credit, and major changes in global financial institutions and regulations.

What do you think? Is the Church, as presently constituted, too close to the seat of power to be able to speak prophetically in this moment? Is this even a time that calls for a word of prophecy? Will the calls by Archbishops and society chairs be "outside" enough to be recognized as coming from God?

Partial settlement in VA

News of a settlement with some of the parties involved in the lawsuits between the Diocese of Virginia and two of the break-away congregations was published on the diocesan website this afternoon:

"The Diocese of Virginia today announced that it has reached a legal settlement with Potomac Falls Church in Potomac Falls and Christ the Redeemer Church in Chantilly. The mission churches, which do not hold any real property, will make a payment to the Diocese as part of the settlement ending the litigation between the parties. The settlement also includes the Episcopal Church.

Under the agreement, the Diocese will release the two churches from any claims or future liability arising from the litigation.  In recognition of past diocesan efforts to build, grow and support Potomac Falls and Christ the Redeemer – two mission churches that built and continued meaningful ministries in their communities, conducting worship services in local elementary schools – the churches’ payment will support diocesan ministries, including overseas mission work and Shrine Mont camps, among others.


Read more »

Williams visits Lourdes

The Archbishop of Canterbury visited Lourdes earlier this week, the site where the Virgin Mary is supposed to have appeared to St. Bernadette. He was there taking part in the observance of the 150th Anniversary of the events. While there he gave a sermon and did not qualify any of his descriptions of the Virgins apparitions at the site. This has given rise to a number of stories published afterwards noting that this tacit acceptance of the Blessed Mother's appearances are a first for a post reformation Archbishop.

In his sermon the Archbishop called attention to the fact that prior to the apparition 150 years ago, the people of Lourdes believed they knew all there was to know about the Blessed Mother. And that St. Bernadette's initial attempts to tell of her visions were filled with stumbling and struggles to express the experience to others. From this Williams draws the lesson that Christians today may take comfort in St. Bernadette's success and the acceptance by so many of the new knowledge of Mary that she shared.

But that message seems to have been lost in the reactions. They have focused instead on the implicit endorsement of the visions.

According to an article in the Church Times:

"The Archbishop’s visit to the shrine was criticised by the Revd Jeremy Brooks from the Protestant Truth Society, who described Dr Williams as behaving like a “papal puppet. . . All true Protestants will be appalled. Lourdes represents every thing about Roman Catholicism that the Protestant Reformation rejected.”

An article in the Daily Mail reports that others have similar criticism:

"His words shocked millions of Protestants worldwide because they not only signified a break with Protestant teaching on the Virgin Mary but also Dr Williams’s personal acceptance of the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which is explicitly linked to the apparitions."

All of this is probably a reminder that the Elizabethan settlement which managed to hold catholic and protestant tensions in an uneasy truce was not an easy thing to manage. The fault lines are still present in the Anglican Communion to this day.

10 Commandments for bloggers

Ruth Gledhill writing in The Times reports that:

The Evangelical Alliance will on Monday publish the new Ten Commandments of Blogging. Articles of Faith now brings you an exclusive preview. You can also read the news story on this, now up at Times Online and in tomorrow's paper. They are:
1. You shall not put your blog before your integrity.
2. You shall not make an idol of your blog.
3. You shall not misuse your screen name by using your anonymity to sin.
4. Remember the Sabbath day by taking one day off a week from your blog.
5. Honour your fellow-bloggers above yourselves and do not give undue significance to their mistakes.
6. You shall not murder someone else’s honour, reputation or feelings.
7. You shall not use the web to commit or permit adultery in your mind.
8. You shall not steal another person’s content.
9. You shall not give false testimony against your fellow-blogger.
10.You shall not covet your neighbour's blog ranking. Be content with your own content.

Read the rest here.

You can pray in school

Paul V.M. Flesher, professor of religion at the University of Wyoming, writes on the issue of prayer in school.

The school year has almost arrived, again. This seems like a good moment to revisit that continually confused and confusing issue, prayer in schools. There is a great deal of misinformation and misunderstanding of what kind of prayer is permitted in the public schools of the United States of America. So let me take this column to review what is and what is not allowed with regard to prayer in public schools.

What kind of prayer is allowed in a public school?
Everyone and anyone who goes to a school may pray there. "Everyone," that means students, teachers, staff and administrators, may offer a private prayer to the divine at anytime they choose. "Anyone," that means any person of any religious faith, be they Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, or Mormon, or Native American, Jewish, Moslem, Hindu, or Wiccan. Thus praying in the schools is permitted to everyone there, as long as it is private and personal, and does not interrupt legitimate school activities.

It is also OK for students of like beliefs to join together to pray, whether informally ("let's meet at the west door before the bell") or more formally in a religious club of voluntary membership. This club may meet on school property, such as in a classroom, at times when clubs are usually allowed to meet. The only exception to this is if the school has banned clubs altogether. The rule of thumb is that religious clubs must be treated the same as other clubs.

Similarly, it is permitted for teachers, staff, and even administrators to join together voluntarily to pray. Again, this may occur in formal or informal settings.

What kind of prayer is not allowed in a public school?
It is not OK to pray in a school in way that would knowingly or unknowingly coerce anyone of a different belief to join in. Thus teachers, principals and others in a position of authority should not use that position to persuade, require, expect, or intimidate students or others under their supervision to take part in prayer that they otherwise would not. Schools are inherently hierarchical and those who are higher in the hierarchy should do nothing that would seem to exercise that position to make those below them pray.

Similarly, prayer should not be part of public school functions. Although this rule can be a bit vague, the main principle is clear. A general prayer offered in a manner designed to be inclusive of all present, whatever religion they adhere to and articulating generally positive sentiments agreeable to them, is sometimes acceptable, if not done too frequently. Graduation ceremonies can usually include this kind of prayer. Prayers that adhere to a single doctrinal line or reflect a non-inclusive theology do not belong at school functions, even if said by a student.

In general, prayer should not be conducted in such a way to exclude or stigmatize those who do not participate in or follow a particular religion.

Finally, participation in prayer should not be used as a basis to reward or promote those who take part or to withhold such rewards from people who do not.

These rules, both positive and negative, are designed to ensure every individual's freedom to believe and worship as they choose, and to prevent the power of the state (as exercised by the school and its employees) from interfering with that right. Those who do not follow such rules may be exercising what they see as their own religious freedom, but they will be doing it at the expense of the religious freedom of others.

Flesher is director of UW's Religious Studies Program. Past columns and more information about the program can be found on the Web here and here.

Christian vegans and the humane society

Religion writer for the Boston Globe, Michael Paulson, reports on his vegan lunch with the Humane Society of the United States.

I had no idea what exactly the religion angle was here, but it turns out that the animal welfare cause started as a Christian movement, that the Humane Society has an employee whose title is "director of the animals and religion program,'' and that the society is now embarked on an "All Creatures Great and Small" campaign aimed at religious congregations and schools. The campaign argues that the treatment of animals at factory farms is inconsistent with Christianity and many other faiths.
.....
The Humane Society officials said they are not asking everyone to give up meat and eggs. Instead, they are urging people to cut back on animal products and to try to purchase the meat and eggs they do consume from local farmers, whose practices are more humane than those of the factory farms that supply most supermarkets, or to look for products like cage-free or free-range eggs.

But if you're wondering what a caterer might prepare when trying to introduce veganism to more than 100 non-vegetarians, here's how Veg Advantage answered the question:
~ Amuse of Grilled Sweet Corn and Fire Roasted Chiles with Aged Sherry and Basil over Purple Potato Crisps
~ Shaved fennel and Blood Orange Salad with Warm Squash Blossoms, Toasted Almonds and Balsamic-Port Glaze
~ Sesame Seared Gardein 'Chicken' Paillard over Forbidden Black Rice with Dandelion Greens, Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms and Carrot-Ginger Sauce
~ Vegan Chocolate Mousse Bombe with Raspberry Coulis


Read it here.

Michael Paulson covers religion for The Boston Globe. He shared in the Pulitzer Prize in 2003, won the Mike Berger Award in 2008, and is a four-time winner of the Wilbur Award for religion reporting.

Southern Virginia elects new bishop

The Rev. Herman (Holly) Hollerith was elected on the sixth ballot as the Tenth Bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia.

Hollerith's biography and answers to the Diocesan Search questions are here.

According to the local news sources:

The six candidates collectively represent the full spectrum of views - from opposition to support - around the national Episcopal Church's 2003 endorsement of the ordination of a gay man, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, as bishop in New Hampshire.

Positions on gay ordination and marriage, and how to interpret Scripture, divide the Episcopal Church from much of the rest of the global Anglican Church of which the denomination is a part.

Bane, who became bishop in 1998, voted against allowing the Robinson ordination, while the Southern Virginia parish and clergy delegates at the 2003 national meeting voted in favor.

The internal fight that grew around Bane in 2004 and 2005 was more about personality and management than gay issues.

In 2004, a diocesan review panel sharply criticized his leadership and cited "major ineptitude" in financial management and a near-total absence of accountability in diocesan operations.

Bane disputed the critique, saying detractors opposed his leadership style and his stance on Robinson. In 2005, two top diocesan boards called for his resignation.

A report in fall 2005 by a panel of outside bishops said dysfunctional relations among clergy, lay leaders and bishops had plagued the diocese for decades and required "deep systemic change."

Bane announced shortly before the report that he would retire in February 2006.

... most of the candidates cited the diocese's past feuding and described themselves as bridge-builders and uniters.

"That was certainly something we were aiming for that, whoever was nominated would come in as a healing presence," said the Rev. John A. Baldwin, who was on the candidate nominating committee. He leads Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach.


Read it at Pilot Online

Nominees for bishop were:

The Very Reverend Edward H. Harrison
Dean, St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville, FL

The Rev. Herman “Holly” Hollerith, IV
Rector, Bruton Parish, Williamsburg, VA

The Rev. Dr. Ladson F. Mills III
Rector, Christ Church, Saint Simons Island, GA

The Rev. Canon E. Daniel Smith
Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Missouri

The Rev. L. Murdock Smith
Rector, St. Martin’s, Charlotte, NC

The Rev. Mary C. Sulerud
Canon for Deployment and Vocational Ministry,
Diocese of Washington, DC

Rosh Ha-Shanah: birthday of the world

Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah reflects on the importance of Rosh Ha-Shanah and how it helps all of us to remember:

Rosh Ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year, will begin as the sun sets on Monday evening (September 29). Jewish life is complex; there are actually two other significant new years besides Rosh Ha-Shanah: the new year for months is in the spring, starting with the month of Nisan, which ushers in the festival of Pesach (Passover) on the 15th of that month; and the New Year for Trees, known by its date, Tu Bishvat, is celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Sh'vat.

Rosh Ha-Shanah, literally, "the head of the year", which falls at the beginning of the seventh month, Tishri, as the year turns, is the New Year for years. This new year will be 5769. But the number of years, based on the chronologies given in the Torah from the account of creation onwards - a mythical number - is far less significant than the concept behind it: Jewish time begins, not with the first ancestors of the Jewish people, Abraham and Sarah, but rather with the beginning of everything. On Rosh Ha-Shanah, the liturgy proclaims: "Ha-yom harat olam." (Today is the birthday of the world.) So, at the core of Judaism: universalism.

A remembering people, our collective remembering centres on the creation of the world and the exodus from Egypt; each recalled, not just annually, but in the daily liturgy, and emphasised in the weekly observance of the Sabbath, which is a "memorial" of both. The purpose of our remembering is not simply to recollect the past, but to learn from it, so that we may acknowledge the present and shape the future.


She continues:
We remember, but there is no going back. Jewish time is not caught in an endless cycle; it spirals towards the future. The word, shanah, "year", suggesting "repetition", also evokes "change". The new year summons us to transform our lives. It teaches us that we can stop repeating destructive patterns of behaviour and move on. This year Rosh Ha-Shanah coincides with the 70th anniversary of that infamous moment on September 30 1938, when Neville Chamberlain stepped off a plane, following his meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich, waving a sheet of paper like a white flag of surrender, and then declared outside 10 Downing Street peace for our time. Less than six weeks after Munich, on the night of November 9, known later as Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) following five years of systematic discrimination, the violent assault of the Jewish people began.

Seventy years on, as we face a new year, forgetfulness reigns: yet more tyrants; yet more victims. And so, the summons of "the birthday of the world" seems ever more urgent - not just for Jews, but also for humanity.


Read it all here.

Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah is rabbi of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue

Back to Church Sunday

Anglican churches across Britain hope to attract up to 30,000 new faces on Sunday after a drive to extend personal invitations to would-be worshippers according to BBC News.

This is the fourth Back to Church Sunday and involves 38 dioceses across England.

In addition, Churches Together in Scotland, the Church in Wales, Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed and Elim Pentecostal churches, and Anglican churches in New Zealand and Canada are also taking part.

Organisers hope that some 30,000 newcomers and returners might attend - a figure based on an average of 10 people returning to each church.

Regular worshippers have been encouraged to give VIP invitation cards to friends and neighbours, while some bishops have gone to much greater lengths to spread the word:

In Nottinghamshire, Bishop of Sherwood, the Rt Rev Tony Porter, went underground to meet miners at Welbeck Colliery.

Bishop of Doncaster, the Rt Rev Cyril Ashton, donned his motorbike leathers and rode to four areas of the Diocese of Sheffield to promote the Church to fellow bikers.

A group of parishes in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, took over a shop front in the town centre to hand out invitations to passing shoppers.

Four bishops in the Diocese of Lichfield placed adverts in football match programmes to reach out to fans. They read: "Because Jesus has already taken the penalty, you can be saved."

Read more here.

Did your priest endorse anyone today?

As we previously reported, today is "Pulpit Freedom Sunday", a day designated by the Alliance Defense Fund for ministers and other religious leaders to challenge the half century IRS prohibition on political speech by churches. To challenge that rule, several pastors plan to defy the ban by making endorsements from the pulpit. And, as we previously reported, many other religious leaders have challenged the wisdom of this challenge.

The Christian Science Monitor has a good analysis of issues involved:

During sermons this Sunday, some 35 pastors across the country will tell their congregations which presidential candidate they should vote for, "according to the Scriptures."

Their endorsements represent a direct challenge to federal tax law, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations from engaging in partisan political activity.

The clergy have embraced that risk, hoping their actions will trigger an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service, which would then enable a Christian legal advocacy group to take the IRS to court and challenge the constitutionality of the ban.

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a conservative legal group based in Arizona, recruited the pastors for "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" to press their claim that the IRS tax code violates the free speech of religious leaders.

"I have a First Amendment right to say whatever I want to say, and I've never thought it was appropriate that as a pastor I could not share my political concerns with the congregation," says the Rev. Gus Booth, pastor at Warroad Community Church in Warroad, Minn.

Mr. Booth will endorse Sen. John McCain on Sunday, and has already told his congregation that as Christians, they could not vote for Sen. Barack Obama due to his position on abortion.

For other clergy – and legal experts – this is not a question of free speech, but an act contrary to the law that could also be dangerous for religion, potentially dividing and politicizing congregations.

"This is not a free speech issue," says the Rev. Eric Williams, pastor of North Congregational United Church of Christ in Columbus, Ohio. "Any person, including a pastor, can endorse a candidate as a private individual. And if a church wants to do it, it can give up its tax-exempt status."

He and another Ohio pastor held a press conference Sept. 8 inviting clergy to preach against such partisan activity, and more than 100 pastors in several states did so on Sept. 21, says Mr. Williams.

The Ohio pastors also sent a complaint to the IRS requesting an investigation of the ADF and whether its initiative violated its charity status. They had the support of three former IRS officials who criticized the ADF for encouraging clergy to violate the law by endorsing political candidates.

. . .

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which mails letters to churches alerting them to the IRS rules and has reported alleged violators to the IRS, issued a warning that, "Taking part in this reckless stunt is a one-way ticket to loss of tax exemption."

The IRS says its first goal has always been education on the issue. It plans to "monitor the situation and take action as appropriate."

Read it all here. See also Dean Sam Candler's essay on Daily Episcopalian.


Greed as a sin in the modern world

Peter Steinfels has an interesting essay in the New York Times about modern views of greed as a sin:

Greed is a notion, in fact, that comes positively bristling with religious and moral assumptions that modern culture does not quite know how to handle. Greed, a k a avarice, has long been ranked among Christianity’s seven deadly sins. In some accounts, it is the deadliest, the “root of all evils,” according to St. Paul. Similar judgments can be found in the other great religious traditions.

But in the 17th and 18th centuries, European thinkers in search of political stability and order looked beyond the religious strictures that had manifestly failed to repress unruly rulers’ passions for power, pleasure and possessions.

Perhaps, it was argued, these passions could serve as checks on one another — and soon passions were being viewed, well, dispassionately. That is, they were re-envisioned as more rational “interests.”

Finally, pursuit of commerce and economic interests were generally supposed to tame and channel the wasteful pursuit of glory and domination that had bred wars and royal display.

It was a remarkable mutation, described brilliantly by Albert O. Hirschman in “The Passions and the Interests” (Princeton, 1977): Greed disappeared and was reborn, domesticated, as self-interest.

Greed did not really disappear, of course; it just became the province of moralists and novelists, like Carlyle and Dickens, and of preachers and politicians to this day. Those who dealt with economics, practically or theoretically, have preferred another concept.

. . .

Despite all the current talk of greed, then, one wonders whether it is not a kind of specter, flitting in and out of sight, momentarily frightening and yet finally bereft of the religious and moral conviction that might give it body and weight in the nation’s deliberations.

In “Wall Street,” Gordon Gekko may have sounded a bit like Milton Friedman when he said that greed “works” and “clarifies” and “has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

But he did not actually say, “Greed is good.” What he said in the movie was “greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

Economics has given us a lot of better words, from self-interest to incentive to profit. They do not mean the same thing as greed, but they have displaced it, obscured it — and certainly demoted it from being a deadly sin.

Read it all here. So how do we really think about "greed" as a sin in our modern world?

McLaren emerging

Scot McKnight has a very thoughtful analysis of the Emerging Church in Christianity Today, that focuses on the work of Brian McClaren:

Despite what some critics assume, Brian McLaren, the most controversial of emergent leaders, does not represent all things emerging. But he does represent the more progressive wing, and his latest books offer a glimpse of where that movement might be heading.

To understand McLaren, one must appreciate two things. First, his books are "works in progress." He's working things out in front of us all, and he isn't offering final words on anything. Second, he's exploring how the gospel, seen as the kingdom vision of Jesus, impacts both global crises and Christian discipleship. So although I continue to have questions for McLaren (see below), I believe he can be a rich source for Christian imagination, vision, and reflection.

. . .

McLaren's vision is, simply, to return to Jesus and to rework and revitalize Jesus' kingdom vision. In The Secret Message of Jesus, McLaren explores a variety of phrases, including "empire of God," "dream of God," "revolution of God," "mission of God," "party of God," the "network of God," and the "dance of God." McLaren self-consciously brackets the "conventional" gospel message he grew up with among the Plymouth Brethren and reads Jesus, to cop the words of Marcus Borg, "again for the first time." What McLaren discovered was Jesus' thoroughly social vision, and he believes that most people—especially the conservative evangelical group in which he was nurtured—buried the kingdom vision of Jesus and distorted the gospel. "What if," he asks in what must be seen as a window to everything he is doing, "the religion generally associated with Jesus neither expects nor trains its adherents to actually live in the way of Jesus?"

. . .

I wish more believers would follow McLaren's cue and think about the implications of the Bible for global and systemic issues; that Christians would return to the Bible and ask, "What, then, is the gospel?" as well as its necessary follow-up, "How do we live out the gospel today?" For far too many, the gospel preached is not leading to any serious engagement with the global crises of our time.

But that doesn't mean I don't have questions about McLaren's theology.

Clarity Despite his many proposals in these last two books, McLaren would rather ask a question and create a conversation than propound a solution. This style is an attribute of a good teacher. Yet having said that, I want to voice the frustration of many: McLaren's willingness to muddy the waters, which is characteristic of Generous Orthodoxy, goes only so far. Many of us would like to see greater clarity on a variety of questions he raises.

McLaren grew up among evangelicals; we'd like him to show the generosity he is known for to those who ask theological questions of him. The spirit of conversation that drives much of his own pastoral work urges each of us to answer the questions we are asked, and the Bible encourages those who ask those questions to listen patiently and to respond graciously. The lack of the latter has so far inhibited the former. This can be taken as a plea on behalf of all concerned to enter into a more robust, honest conversation.

The Cross What role does the Cross play in the emergent kingdom vision? One way to get to this is to see how McLaren concludes chapter 10 of Everything Must Change: "How ironic that the cross—the icon of the dominating Roman framing story—became the icon for the liberating framing story of Jesus. And how much more ironic if we who believe in Jesus don't get the irony."

It is right here that I want to dig in. In brief, what McLaren has written about the Cross in these books approaches French intellectual René Girard's theory—namely, that by the Cross God identified with the victim and both unmasked and undid evil, systemic violence, and injustice. In Secret Message, McLaren says that at the Cross, "God exposed and judged the evil of empire and religion" and that the King "achieves peace not by shedding the blood of rebels but by … shedding his own blood … [The] crucifixion of Christ can in this light be seen as a radical repudiation of the use of violent force."

Well, yes, I say to myself—after having written two books dealing with the Atonement. Yes, I believe this unmasking role of the Cross is not only true, but also vital to a political reworking and revitalizing of the Cross. Given the sociopolitical focus of these two books, perhaps McLaren didn't think any more needed to be said.

But I feel obliged to ask, "Can we have more?" Emergents believe that penal substitution theories have not led (as they should have) to a kingdom vision. What I have been pondering and writing about for a decade now is how to construct an "emerging" gospel that remains faithful to the fullness of the biblical texts about the Atonement, and lands squarely on the word kingdom. Girard said something important about the Cross; so does McLaren. But they aren't enough.

This is an essay well worth reading. You can find it here.

The most important part of the debate

Walter Dellinger argues that the most important part of Friday's Presidential debate at Ole Miss what was not said by either candidate:

Somewhere in my attic there is a fading copy of a campus newspaper from 1967—my first year as a law professor at the University of Mississippi. The headline, as I recall, says "Negro to Address Ole Miss Class." In the space of my own adulthood, a world in which a guest lecture by a black man was a front-page news story has morphed into a world in which a person of color will be speaking on the Rebel campus tonight as a candidate for president of the United States.

. . .

I can't know for sure whether Aaron Henry was the first person of color to lecture at the university, but the campus paper certainly thought so and made of it a very notable event. One of my students—whose relatives were reputed to be Klansmen—asked whether he could sit in a chair in the hall and listen to Henry lecture through the open door. His religion, he explained, precluded him from being present at an event at which a black person was in a role of authority. I told him it would be up to Mr. Henry, who agreed to this "separation" with a ready smile.

It seemed at the time a historic event, which is probably why I still have that old newspaper. Now, on the day of the appearance on the campus of candidate Barack Obama, I am amazed at how close and how far away that Oxford of the 1960s really seems. . . .

Sen. Barack Obama comes to Oxford tonight in a far more exalted role than Aaron Henry did in his appearance as a guest lecturer 40 years ago. But while the fact of his race is no longer front-page news, I am nevertheless struck by the thread that connects both appearances. Tonight's visit to the home of the Ole Miss Rebels by a person of color seeking the presidency of the United States is just one more step on a journey of redemption for Americans, both white and black. The fact that his race is not front-page news tells me we are on the right track.

Read it all here.

The San Joaquin precedent

Ann Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes: Although much about San Joaquin's experience is unique, its story is instructive about the problems that may lie ahead for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, which will vote Saturday on whether to join San Joaquin in seceding.

A taste:

For those who remain part of the U.S. church, hard work lies ahead to ensure that the new leadership never becomes as lopsided toward one point of view as the old was, Ms. [Nancy] Key said.

"Those of us who have been in this from the beginning have been a little bit like cowboys exploring the wild West. We are used to taking charge and being a little bit counter-establishment. Now we are the establishment," she said.

"We have families that are divided. You have close friends in parishes where one thought the Episcopal Church was correct and others thought the bishop was correct. They were forced to choose sides, so it is painful. We have had a lot of fun rebuilding, but there is a lot of healing that needs to go on."

Bishop David Beetge has died

We have received terrible news from South Africa this morning. Bishop David Beetge died on Saturday. He had cancer, but when I saw him at the Lambeth Conference this summer, he told me his prognosis was good, and he looked trim and healthy. Bishop Beetge was the long time secretary of the Province of Southern Africa, a member of the panel that wrote the Windsor Report and a tireless fundraiser on behalf of Africa's poor. He made many friends in this country as he sought allies to help him raise money for his province and his people. This is a profound loss to the Anglican Communion. Please pray for his wife Carol.

Pastors seek free speech subsidy

Yesterday, at the urging of the conservative Allied Defense Fund, some 33 pastors endorsed a presidential candidate (John McCain, presumably, and ironically, given his history with right wing religious leaders) in an effort to provoke a legal showdown with the Internal Revenue Service.

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution's story is representative.

The Rev. Jody Hice fired a verbal volley Sunday in a battle that he believes will return the United States to its American Revolutionary roots.

From his pulpit at Bethlehem First Baptist Church outside of Atlanta, he urged his congregation to vote for Sen. John McCain and to not vote for Sen. Barack Obama.

He based his recommendations on McCain’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage and Obama’s support of those issues, Hice told the Barrow County church packed with about 400 listeners.

“These are not political issues,” Hice said. “There are moral issues.”

They may be moral issues, but Internal Revenue Service regulations say clergy cannot make public political endorsements to their congregations without risking the tax-exempt status of their house of worship.

Perhaps the most revealing quote comes for a story from The Los Angeles Times via The Baltimore Sun:

"I am angry because the government and the IRS and some Christians have taken away the rights of pastors," (Southern Baptist minister Wiley S.) Drake said to about 45 people at his service. "I have a right to endorse anybody I doggone well please. And if they don't like that, too bad."

The Rev. Drake does have the right to endorse anybody he chooses--but not from his pulpit. This isn't because the IRS has taken away his right to free speech, it is because they don't think taxpayers should subsidize his right to free speech. If his church wants to pay taxes on its income, it can endorse whomever it wants as publicly as it pleases.

The Rev. Drake and his allies don't want the same rights as everyone else, they want special rights for religious leaders.

Archbishops' criticism of financial system continues to reverberate

The Financial Times carries this tidbit:

"Market freedom has become an absolute, a kind of fundamentalist religion in itself," Dr John Sentamu said, the Archbishop of York, adding: "You know the joke about how many economists it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is: 'None. The market will sort it out."

But not everyone in England considers the criticisms of western financial systems by the Archbishops of and York and Canterbury a laughing matter, especially since the Church of England has benefitted from short selling, a practice that Sentamu lambasted in a speech last week.

Again, The Financial Times has the story:

The Church of England faced charges of hypocrisy yesterday over its leaders' attack on short selling and debt trading after hedge funds pointed out that it uses some of the same practices when investing its own assets.

Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, said it was right to ban short selling, while John Sentamu, archbishop of York, called traders who cashed in on falling prices "bank robbers and asset strippers".

Hedge funds pointed to the willingness of the church commissioners to lend foreign stock from their £5.5bn ($10.2bn) of investments - an essential support for short selling - and derided the pair for not understanding shorting. "They are trying to shoot the messenger and . . . deflecting attention away from the dramatic incompetence of bank executives," said Hugh Hendry, of hedge fund Eclectica Asset Management. "Short selling is the pursuit of truth."

The Washington Post says the archbishops' criticisms are part of a larger debate about greed fueled by the fall of some "flamboyant financiers."

Perhaps, but one still wishes that they were better informed.

Bishop Alan Wilson and Bishop Pierre Whalon do an excellent job in demonstrating that Archbishop Williams' comment about Marx was misconstrued (seemingly deliberately) by the media, but Giles Fraser's column in Church Times points out the weakness of Archbishop Sentamu's argument about short selling--without naming any names.

Bishop Sauls on the Duncan deposition

Bishop Stacy Sauls defended the deposition of Bishop Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh on the BBC's Radio 4 Sunday program. Listen here.

Is there a role for the Church in the financial panic?

Most clergy are not trained in economics. And the last thing the country needs is well-intentioned moralistic advice from poorly-informed people. (See Sentamu, John.) Yet as the financial crisis in the United States deepens, and people lose money they had set aside for retirement, or for their loved ones' college educations, it seems peculiar that neither the Christian left nor the Christian right has had much to say about the ideas and behaviors that brought about our financial panic. Obviously, there is a role for the Church in consoling people during times of loss and uncertainty, but does the Christian tradition provide any intellectual resources for times such as these? Greed isn't great. But is that the best we have to offer?

Religion and Ethics Newsweekly broadcast this prescient segment last week. It includes the following exchange involving Jim Wallis, the Rev. Jim Martin and host Bob Abernathy:

Fr. MARTIN: ... I still believe in the capitalist system, and as Adam Smith would tell you, self-interest is what motivates that. So I'm not saying that needs to be set aside. What I'm saying is that the capitalist system, as we've seen, is not perfect, and you do need regulation, you do need the government to step in and care for such things. You know, we look at education, and people are fine with the common good there. I think we have to expand our notion on what the government, on what society needs to do in terms of their responsibility to the poor.

WALLIS: I think government should encourage innovation, but it must limit greed. Self-interest and success is one thing. Losing sight of what is best for the common good is another thing. So capitalism run amok here is really what's happening, and so restoring a sense of what's good for all of us is, in fact, the best business model. So we've lost something here.

ABERNETHY: So, which is to say oversight by Congress and by the firms themselves?

Fr. MARTIN: Right.

WALLIS: Yeah, and social regulation is going to be necessary. But I would say self-regulation will, too. Jim is right. We've all got into this culture of greed, the culture extolling greed as a value. In D.C., property values have doubled in four years. So what do they say? Take your equity value and take a loan against that and buy another house, and then you can rent that and pay for your mortgage and then buy a third house. The prophets say you add house to house to house to house -- the whole thing falls apart, and that's what's happened, from Wall Street right down to a lot of our own families.

Is their advice specific enough to be helpful?

Canadians to focus on Williams' request for moratorium

The Anglican Journal carries an insightful interview with Canadian Primate Fred Hiltz on the difficulties his Church would face in attempting to comply with Rowan Williams' request for a moratorium on authorization of rites for the blessing of same-sex relationships:

He said there are conflicting interpretations on what the moratorium on same-sex blessings means, with some thinking it means not having any new blessings, and some interpreting it as retroactive, which would require a synod like New Westminster to rescind its 2002 motion that allowed same-sex blessings in their diocese. He added that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent letter about the moratoria was also “significant.” Archbishop Williams had acknowledged that, while the call for moratoria received support from “a strong majority” at the conference, he was nonetheless aware of the “conscientious difficulties this posed for some.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that the diocesan bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, “rightly pointed out that it’s not for him to rescind the motion; the synod has to debate the issue.” The primate said that he’d be “very surprised if they rescind that motion.”

Archbishop Hiltz said that the call for moratoria would also be “a huge pastoral challenge” for bishops of four dioceses that have pending requests from their synods for the approval of same-sex blessings “given the kind of strong majority votes those synods” had.

Legitimately scary

Is it possible to express concern about religously-motivated bigotry and violence in the Islamic world without stoking the fires of Islamophobia? Here's hoping:

From The Washington Post:

Iranian students have released a book containing cartoons of the Holocaust, including some depicting hospitalized Jews on respiratory machines attached to canisters of Zyklon B, the gas used to exterminate Jews during World War II.

The students, members of a state militia, unveiled "Holocaust" in Tehran's Palestine Square on Friday in the presence of Education Minister Ali Reza Ali-Ahmadi, during annual demonstrations calling for the retreat of "Zionists" from "occupied Palestine."

From The New York Times:

LONDON — Early this month, Gibson Square publishers here announced that it would publish “The Jewel of Medina,” a novel about the early life of A’isha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad. It was a bold decision: the book’s United States publisher, Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, had canceled its publication in August amid fears that it would offend and inflame Muslim extremists. (It has since been bought by another American publisher, Beaufort Books.)

For his part, Martin Rynja, Gibson Square’s publisher, said that it was “imperative” that the book be published. “In an open society there has to be open access to literary works, regardless of fear,” he said. “As an independent publishing company, we feel strongly that we should not be afraid of the consequences of debate.”

Early Saturday morning, Mr. Rynja’s house in North London, which doubles as Gibson Square’s headquarters, was set on fire. Three men were arrested on suspicion “of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism,” the police said.

No one was injured in the arson, in which a small fire bomb was apparently pushed through the house’s mail slot. The police were already on the scene as the result of what they described as “a preplanned intelligence-led operation,” and, helped by firefighters, broke down the door and put out the fire.

(Tom Heneghan of Reuters' FaithWorld blog has a comprehensive look at this incident.)

None of which excuses incidents like this one in Dayton :

Njie was one of several affected when a suspected chemical irritant was sprayed into the mosque at 26 Josie St., bringing Dayton police, fire and hazardous material personnel to the building at 9:48 p.m.

Someone "sprayed an irritant into the mosque," Dayton fire District Chief Vince Wiley said, noting that fire investigators believe it was a hand-held spray can.

Archbishop Ian Ernest: work together in love

Archbishop Ian Ernest, Chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) has called upon the African church to put aside its differences and work to show the love of Christ in a divided continent and world, according to a story on the web site, Religious Intelligence.

Archbishop Ernest ... expressed “concern about the violence of arguments” that had so hardened positions that it raised serious concerns “about our ability to resolve such differences.”

However, he did not despair, for it “is in love, and with hope in our hearts, that we meet today, as we pray for unity and look to work together to build the church of God.”

Within the context of African Christianity, the church was facing a number of new challenges, as well as long term problems. The Church in Africa needed to face up to the challenge of militant atheism, ethnic and tribal jealousies, oppressive regimes, and sectarian divisions. While there was good news to report from Zimbabwe, the problems in Darfur remained.
....
The proper path for CAPA was to be “transforming agents” for Christ in the world. “Jesus needs us to be his hands to serve, his feet to visit, and voice to speak for Him. This is our task. But very often as a Church we fail at this task. We belong to the Community of suffering and service, of faith, hope and love which carries saving mission to all people.”

“We can challenge the world if we abide in Christ,” Archbishop Ernest said, and “let CAPA be the prophet of its time by being different, loving but effective.” “My appeal to you” is that we “leave aside the different opinions we may have about the present situation in the Communion. We have to seek to maintain that spirit of togetherness within the Council of the Anglican Provinces of Africa, so that we may leap forward to be a witness of what it means to abide in Christ,” he said.

Read more at the Global South Anglican website.

Meanwhile in Pittsburgh

October 4, the Diocese of Pittsburgh will take its final vote on whether members will follow their former bishop, Bob Duncan, to the Province of the Southern Cone. Meanwhile Episcopalians are planning for their future with The Episcopal Church according to Dr. Joan Gundersen, a leader among these Episcopalians. She reports on the current state of the diocese:

1. Since his deposition, Bishop Duncan has been acting as a paid “consultant” to the current Standing Committee and has been received into the Southern Cone as a bishop; Bishop Henry Scriven also has a consulting contract, since his status as Assistant Bishop ended with Bishop Duncan’s deposition. Bishop Scriven leaves for a new position with SAMS, [a missionary society] at the end of the year. There will need be no negotiation with Bishop Duncan about leaving. He has already left, and should the realignment vote pass, is expecting to be invited back by the realigned group as bishop.

2. While most of the Standing Committee favors realignment, we are sure that at least one member is voting against it. We also have members of Diocesan Council and the Board of Trustees who are staying. This means that we will have an unbroken chain of governance to go forward as a diocese within TEC should the realignment vote pass. It will take a short time to confirm with each member of the various governing bodies whether they have realigned or remain Episcopalians, and then our remaining member(s) of standing committee will begin appointing people to essential vacant spots. We will be able to run our own reorganizing convention. Thanks to planning by the Across the Aisle group which has brought together everyone we can find who is staying (liberal, conservative, or in-between), plans for a continuing presence of TEC are well in hand. We will need to negotiate with the realigned group over access to office information and issues such as insurance. We are putting plans in place for everything from office space and web site to lay-reader training and the care and tending of parishes who are without clergy. It won’t be easy, and we are sure to be short of funds at first. However, passage of realignment is not a sure thing. There is a strong core of congregations and individuals committed to staying.

3. Should the realignment vote fail, we will have a bishopless diocese that is internally divided and in need of healing. We will also experience a rolling set of resignations as certain leaders and congregations individually withdraw. Should the vote pass, we will have an externally divided diocese and a number of deeply wounded parishes. Either way, we will need everyone’s prayers.

4. Those of us opposed to realignment have at every convention tried to have the chair rule that the amendments concerning the accession clause are out of order, and have at every convention reminded people of their fiduciary duties. We are prepared to do so again.

5. Because of the lawsuit filed in 2003 by Calvary Episcopal Church (and others), a signed stipulation on property resulted in 2005. The return to court by Calvary in 2006 resulted this fall in an appointment by the court of a special master who is inventorying diocesan property and reporting to the judge supervising the case. Thus, the status of property issues in Pittsburgh is very different from San Joaquin or Fort Worth. The 2005 stipulation signed by Bishop Duncan states that all diocesan (not parish) property belongs to the “Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A.” We believe that the meaning of this is clear and have every confidence that the judge will enforce this agreement. On the other hand, institutions such as Sheldon Calvary Camp will not turn away a child from a realigned group, and so the camp will, in that sense (but not in a governing sense), remain available to all in the region. The stipulation also includes a process for negotiating property settlements with parishes leaving TEC.

6. Our Cathedral parish has announced a plan where they would be neutral, serve the entire region, and participate in both the realigned and continuing dioceses. It is not clear whether this will be workable, but they are certainly going to give it a good try.

The best thing TEC can do for Pittsburgh should the realignment measures pass at convention is to recognize and support those who are going to ensure a continuing presence of TEC in this part of Pennsylvania.

Read more here.

Catholic Bishops on moral aspects of financial crisis

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a letter to the Bush Administration and Congress on the current economic situation:

Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, urged the Bush Administration and Congress, September 26, to consider the moral aspects of the current financial crisis.

He stressed responsibility, accountability, awareness of advantages and limitations of the market, solidarity, subsidiarity and the common good, in the search for just and effective responses to the economic turmoil, while considering its human impact and ethical dimensions.


The letter follows below:

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Planning as holy conversation

The Alban Institute's topic of the week is planning in the congregational setting. Gill Rendle and Alice Mann write:

Planning can be challenging in the contemporary congregation, where people share a common faith and values but may have very different preferences and needs. Some leaders want to reach out to potential members of the congregation, while others would prefer to direct resources to support current members. Some desire help for their own spiritual growth, while others would like a congregational initiative to address community issues that might shape or support other people. Some want to emphasize ministry with youth, while others hope for help in developing small sharing groups for adults. Some want change. Some want stability. The conversation about what a congregation is to do and where it will direct its resources can be quite complex.

What is a leader to do? How do you negotiate all of the preferences and opinions in order to come up with a plan that all agree with and are willing to support and work on?

Baaa! Humbug.

Mark Harris, writing at his blog, Preludium comments on the speech to the Province of Nigera by Archbishop Peter Akinola, Nigeria:

Ever the political lion, etc, the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, has seen fit to make comments on the Western and US scene. As a primate with oversight of a proto-diocese in the United States, he speaks "from the chair" to the West. All part of ecclesial sausage making: he seems to think that if you package it right, you can put anything in it they will eat it. But not this time. This time the Archbishop has put poison in the grinder.

Akinola: "As a Church we cannot but continue to decry the disturbing level of moral decadence and spiritual degradation eating deep into the soul of western societies. In the United Kingdom, all through Europe and in ever increasing number of States in America, Legislators make laws to upturn the natural order and throw God away from the public domain. Marriage and family life as we know them in the word of God have been jettisoned. People of the same sex are legally permitted to marry. Parents’ right to discipline their children is legally denied, the age of discretion that used to be 21 has been lowered 18 and there are efforts at reducing it to 16 if not 14. As if these are not bad enough, only last week the TELL magazine reported in its 36th edition on page 12 that a 27 year old man was arrested for having sex with a sheep in Dulwich, south east London."

Harris: There it is: the three strikes and out - Strike one, upturning the natural order, Strike two marriage and family life are jettisoned. Strike three, guy pokes sheep.

As to Abp Akinola's comments on the US elections and the Presidential candidates Harris writes:

What is remarkable is that the Archbishop of Nigeria has decided to chastise an American presidential candidate. Now to be fair, clergy of American congregations are given occasionally to telling their governors what to do, and the Archbishop of Nigeria is known to have done the same in Nigeria. But for the Archbishop to make public comments regarding one but not both of the candidates for election in the US Presidential election is very peculiar indeed.

He is meddling in US Politics at a very primary level, calling on one of the candidates to "reconsider some of his ultra liberal dispositions," that is to repent.

He can do what he damn well pleases, of course. Freedom ain't worth nothing but its free. Still, he might remember that a fairly large number of Americans do not particularly like foreign potentates telling them what to do, who to vote for, and we sure don't like them telling particular candidates of ours to repent.


Read the rest of the blog here.

Read the speech here.

Fort Worth members: NOT time to realign

In the most recent Forward in Mission, the diocesan newsletter, Bishop Jack Iker give 10 reasons why now is the time to realign. John S. Morgan, a founding member of Fort Worth Via Media, responded with 10 Reasons Why is NOT the Time to Realign. Read it all below...

HT to Desert's Child.

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More news on the death of Bishop Beetge

As we reported on September 29, in The Lead, The Rt. Rev. David Beetge, Bishop of Highveld, Southern Africa has died.
Dean David Bannerman writes on the Highveld web site:

His death is a profound loss to our Diocese, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa the Anglican Communion and the wider church. He was for us a man with a deep spirituality who engaged compassionately with the issues of his day in Church, South African society and the world at large. His wisdom, wit, integrity and compassion will be sorely missed as our bishop, teacher, pastor and friend to so many.

Biography of Bishop Beetge is here.

Below is the Press Release on his death by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa:

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