Bishop of Harare encouraged by Lambeth Conference

The Bishop of Harare, Zimbabwe, Sebastian Bakare has written a pastoral letter on the current situation in Zimbabwe for the church and the nation.

On the Lambeth Conference he writes:

One of the issues that came up among others was homosexuality, especially the blessing of same sex marriages and ordination of openly gays and lesbians. Lambeth's position was that homosexuality is a sensitive pastoral and divisive issue that has to be handled with care. Lambeth discussed this issue in a very responsible manner by emphasising the importance of the family bond in the Communion whereby members of one family do not have to agree on all issues but still remain a family. Contrary to the forecast by the media that the Anglican Communion was about to break up, the 670- bishops present expressed their allegiance to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Communion. It was also made clear and agreed upon, after long discussion in small groups where all the bishops were able to make an input, that the ordination of gays and lesbians and blessings of same sex marriages was to stop forthwith and the discussion about these matters was to continue.

You may have heard that several bishops met in Jerusalem prior to Lambeth expressing their unwillingness to participate at the Lambeth Conference over the issue of homosexuality. However a good number of those who met in Jerusalem also attended Lambeth to show their allegiance to Canterbury and the Anglican Communion. Even those who stayed away have not severed relationship with Canterbury.

There were many other areas of serious concern such as the political crises in Zimbabwe, Darfur and Pakistan. My wife and I were surprised and indeed moved to come across so many bishops and their spouses who were very much aware about the persecution in our diocese and assured us of their prayers. Archbishop Rowan Williams and his wife Jane personally pray for Zimbabwe daily in their chapel. They are indeed a gift to the Anglican Communion. We came home feeling very much encouraged by the solidarity we experienced at Lambeth.

Read the letter below or at this link:

Read more »

Quincy standing committee votes to realign

While the Bishop of Harare is encouraged by developments at Lambeth, and the Archbishop Ian Ernest has "called upon the African church to put aside its differences and engage with its theological opponents within the Anglican Communion," another American diocese moves forward on plans to disengage.

The Living Church:

The standing committee of the Diocese of Quincy has recommended that the diocese seek realignment with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone based in Argentina, while continuing as a member of the Common Cause Partnership, according to Fr. James Marshall, president of the standing committee.

Bishop Keith Ackerman of Quincy is on sabbatical through the end of October.

Café contributor on Jeopardy

The Rev. Kit Carlson of East Lansing, MI, a Café contributor, "asked the questions" on Jeopardy this week as she follows a family tradition of joining the TV gameshow.

WILX television reports:

You could say being on "Jeopardy!" is in Pastor Kit Carlson's DNA.

"My cousin did this in the '80s and he won five days in a row. My mother used to tell me 'You should go on that show, you should go on that show, you're just as smart as your cousin," Carlson, known to her congregation as "Pastor Kit" tells News10.

Well, that game-show family tree is growing Monday night, as the pastor from All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing makes her TV debut.

"The game was great," she says. "The game had categories I really, really knew, but the worst one was Ancient Greek Writers where I knew every answer and could not buzz in, it was making me crazy! I kept saying, 'I know that! I know that one too!!'"

Read it all here.

Akinola: Do unto all Muslims as some have done unto you

Peter Akinola has written a letter. Andrew Brown has an observation:

His answer seems to me quite clear: British Muslims must suffer as Iraqi or Pakistani Christians do. Otherwise it's not fair and "Religious tolerance [becomes] a one sided principle that favours one particular religion and inimical to the other. [But] What is good for the goose is good for the gander. It is only if we all embrace the divine injunction: 'do unto others, as you want them do unto you' that we can truly and in all sincerity preach peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance."

If I have followed his reasoning, he is claiming that since "we all" – i.e. "you Muslims" – have not embraced this divine injunction, they must themselves be treated as they treat others, and Christians can no longer preach peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance.

This is the logic of ethnic cleansing and civil war and it is coming from a man who is taken very seriously by millions of otherwise respectable Christians.

Check out Brown's new belief blog starting at the introductory post. Welcome to the religious blogosphere, Andrew.

Related Episcopal Cafe posts: Mark Harris responds to Akinola

Fundamentalists persist in censorship efforts

The Guardian has two opinion pieces this week on attempts by fundamentalists to censor books.

Philip Pullman:

When I heard that my novel The Golden Compass (the name in the USA of Northern Lights) appeared in the top five of the American Library Association's list of 2007's most challenged books, my immediate and ignoble response was glee. Firstly, I had obviously annoyed a lot of censorious people, and secondly, any ban would provoke interested readers to move from the library, where they couldn't get hold of my novel, to the bookshops, where they could. That, after all, was exactly what happened when a group called the Catholic League decided to object to the film of The Golden Compass when it was released at the end of last year.
...
My basic objection to religion is not that it isn't true; I like plenty of things that aren't true. It's that religion grants its adherents malign, intoxicating and morally corrosive sensations. Destroying intellectual freedom is always evil, but only religion makes doing evil feel quite so good.

Jo Glanville, Respect for religion now makes censorship the norm:
The firebomb attack this weekend on the publishing house Gibson Square in London was an assault on one of the bravest publishers in the business. Three men were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Saturday morning, suspected of attempting to set fire to the premises. Martin Rynja, who runs Gibson Square, is due to publish Sherry Jones's novel about Mohammed's wife Aisha, The Jewel of Medina, next month. Random House had pulled out of publishing the novel in August, stating that it had been advised that "the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community" and that "it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment".
...
Random House's actions show just how far we have lost our way in this debate over free expression and Islam: the level of intimidation, fear and self-censorship is such that one of the biggest publishers in the world no longer felt able to publish a work of creative imagination without some kind of dispensation. Jones's book does not claim to be a piece of history - it's a work of invention.

It was also disingenuous of Random House to suggest that the novel might incite violence. Certain members of the population might choose to commit an act of violence, but that is not the same as the book itself inciting violence.
...
Respect for religion has now become acceptable grounds for censorship; even the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has declared that free speech should respect religious sensibilities, while the UN human rights council passed a resolution earlier this year condemning defamation of religion and calling for governments to prohibit it.


Values voters: it's my pocketbook at issue

Steven Waldman:

Inspired by the Twelve Tribes of Biblical Israel and based on the new National Survey of Religion and Politics conducted by the University of Akron, the Twelve Tribes looks at the unique behavior of different faith groupings such as Heartland Culture Warriors, Whitebread Protestants, Convertible Catholics and others. (Click here for the full Twelve Tribes lowdown.)

Overall, the Twelve Tribes survey showed that just 13% of voters listed moral issues as their primary concern, half the percentage as in 2004.

Among members of the Religious Right, the percentage emphasizing social issues plummeted to 37.2% from 50.7%, while the portion emphasizing the economy rose to 40% from 18%. Among the Heartland Culture Warriors – consisting of conservative Catholics, conservative mainline Protestants and Mormons — 57% now list the economy first, compared with 28% in 2004.


As Ramadan ends, Williams sends greetings

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has sent his greetings to Muslim communities for the festival of Eid ul Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan.

To Muslim friends and co workers in the Common Good

It is a great pleasure once again to be able to send my warm greetings to friends and colleagues of the Muslim communities on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr and to wish you the joy of celebrating the breaking of the fast.

The celebration of Eid provides opportunities for putting the past behind and for opening doors into a renewed future which is a constant task for all people of faith. There are aspects of our society's attitude to religious faith and practice which need to be addressed; and there are matters relating to religious freedom in some countries of Islamic governance that need to be challenged. Christianity and Islam can do much, together with other religions, to encourage an openness to a better future for all in these and many other respects.

See Episcopal Life Online: Archbishop sends greeting to Muslims for Eid ul Fitr, end of Ramadan

Vatican refuses ambassadors for being gay or divorced

The Roman Catholic Church has a wide range of teachings on social issues, and recently there have been signals that sexuality issues has taken a disproportional place in the public sphere.

France has tried twice to appoint an ambassador to the Vatican but failed when one candidate was divorced and another a partnered gay man. Reuters reports:

For a country keen to improve relations with the Vatican, France has made some surprising faux pas this year. Things have been going well on the surface. President Nicolas Sarkozy has sung the praises of religion in public life several times this year. Pope Benedict was warmly welcomed during his visit to Paris last month. But behind the scenes, Paris has apparently flubbed what should be a routine procedure — naming a new ambassador to the Holy See.

The Foreign Ministry refuses to comment on ambassadorial nominations until they are accepted by the country involved. But with the post open for an unusually long period of 10 months, newspapers in Paris and Rome have begun writing about the delay. Even the Paris Catholic daily La Croix got into the story today. It seems Paris has been rebuffed twice for proposing a gay candidate and a divorced one. The Argentinians could have told Paris to play safe with a solid family man.


Meanwhile, with the news that some bishops saying they would refuse communion to Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden for his pro-choice voting record, there is concern that Vatican may have difficulty working with if Barack Obama should he become president.

Douglas Kmeic told National Catholic Reporter that the Catholic voter should look at the broad spectrum of Catholic teaching when choosing a candidate:

Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine, is author of Can a Catholic Support Him? Asking the Big Question about Barack Obama, in which he argues that the pro-life teachings of the church can be reconciled with voting for Obama despite the Democratic candidate's pro-choice stance. Kmiec spoke this morning to reporters in a conference called organized by the “Matthew 25 Network,” a coalition of Christian groups that has endorsed Obama.

Relations with the United States are a diplomatic priority in the Vatican, and some analysts have speculated that an Obama victory would create new tensions between Rome and Washington because of differences over the “life issues,” above all abortion. Kmiec, however, offered a different forecast.

“An Obama presidency would open the door to what is frequently called the best-kept secret of the Catholic church, which is the balance of its social teaching,” Kmiec said. He argued that many of the Vatican’s social concerns are broadly congruent with the likely priorities of an Obama administration, including health care, a living wage, economic policies that promote the well-being of families, and environmental protection.

Kmiec also pointed to a broad meeting of minds between Obama and the Vatican over the war in Iraq.

“The mindset that took us to war is not his,” Kmiec said. “He believes that our greatest strength as a country comes not just from military defense but international diplomacy, for the kind of understanding which the Vatican has repeatedly asked America to have of other cultures and other religions.”

For those reasons, Kmiec predicted, “relations between Benedict XVI and the Holy See under an Obama administration would be very, very positive.”

Reuters: Gays and divorced need not apply as ambassador to Vatican

National Catholic Reporter: Pro-Obama Catholic predicts 'very positive' ties with Vatican

Proclaiming Jesus as Son of God never in debate

Updated. As we move towards another big weekend of Episcopal conflict, we find that one of the chief weapons of those who denegrate the Episcopal Church is spin and distortion. A favorite charge of these folks is that we are no longer Christian. Sometimes the MSM takes the bait. Today's New York Times is a case in point.

In an otherwise fair piece on the situation in Pittsburgh, Sean D. Hammil writes:

“The dispute includes complaints that the national church allows open debate on whether Jesus is the Son of God, or that the only way to God is through Jesus — tenets of faith that conservatives find indisputable.”

To our knowledge, there is no debate in our church over whether Jesus is the Son of God.

We do know of at least one attempt to stir up such a debate, and it was instigated by very people who know repeat this charge against the church endlessly. During the 75th General Convention in Columbus, the deputation of the Diocese of Fort Worth wanted convention to vote up or down on the Lordship of Jesus. The motion was dispensed with administratively by a majority of the House of Deputies without a vote on the motion itself because it was redundant.

The teaching of the Episcopal Church on this point is clearly stated in the Prayer Book over and over again, itself a document of General Convention.

The point of the resolution was to embarrass the church and embolden it's detractors because, passed or not, the resolution would have been used against the Episcopal Church either to charge us with hypocrisy or apostasy.

The truth is that there is no debate.

Jim Naughton observes:

I don’t know whether everyone who finds his or her way into a church on Sunday believes it, but it isn’t as though the issue is open to dispute in any serious way. We proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God in our Prayer Book. This understanding infuses our hymns. We profess it every Sunday as part of our Creed. We teach it in our seminaries. There is absolutely no movement to change this bedrock element of our faith.

To suggest that we do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God is to call the integrity of our faith into question for political ends. Bishop Duncan and his followers want readers to believe that the controversy in the Episcopal Church isn’t “about” homosexuality, but some greater intellectual and spiritual division. This explanation removes the taint of bigotry from a movement led by the notoriously bigoted Peter Akinola of Nigeria. I don’t know if reporters of the time allowed secessionists to argue that slavery wasn’t a racial issue but a Scriptural one, but that’s basically what is going on here. To excuse his own self-glorifying behavior, the Bishop and his followers must allege ever greater crimes against the faith. I get that. I don’t get why the New York Times can’t see through it.

On the second point, whether Episcopalians believe that the only way to God is through Jesus there are leaders in the Episcopal Church who believe that an intellectual assent to Christian doctrine isn’t necessary to be saved. This is more or less than position of the Roman Catholic Church; it can hardly be classified as outside the Christian mainstream.

Why is the New York Times allowing people who seek to destroy our Church to define for the public the nature of our beliefs?

Updated: epiScope had the following:

The following letter has been sent to the reporter: Thank you for your in-depth article which appeared in today’s New York Times, Pittsburgh Episcopalians Weigh Division. However, I must point out that the Episcopal Church has never disputed that “Jesus is the Son of God”. While there may be debate in some quarters about beliefs of the Episcopal Church, there has never been “open debate” or any debate in councils or conventions on our core belief that Jesus is the Son of God.

Is the financial collapse a sign of moral collapse?

Conservative evangelicals believe that the crisis on Wall Street is the direct result of the moral crisis on Main Street.

Ed Stoddard, writing for Reuters, explains:

The narrative goes roughly like this: the "collapse" of the traditional family, widespread divorce and a "permissive" culture have led to a disregard for personal responsibility.

A culture focused on instant gratification -- through the overuse of credit cards to buy consumer goods, for example -- has also lost other "traditional values" such as thrift and hard work.

"You can't have a strong, vibrant society when you don't have strong, vibrant families. It's a crisis of commitment, it's a crisis of responsibility," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobby group with strong evangelical ties.

"If you don't live up to your responsibility you are going to see that in the broader culture. You see this on Wall Street," he told Reuters.

It is a view that has been echoed by other conservative commentators, on Christian radio stations and on popular "Talk Radio" programs.

"To spend more than you've got is not the way we brought up our kids ... You have a whole credit industry that grew up around people wanting what their parents had without working 20 years to get it," said Gary Ledbetter, spokesman for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

The immediate significance of this narrative may show up in the House of Representatives on Friday when they vote on the latest version of the financial "bailout/rescue" package passed by the Senate last night.

The next place this narrative may show up is in the voting booth. It remains unclear how conservative Christians and evangelical Protestants will react to McCain's support of the package, even though they've been energized by his pick of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Tying "values" to economic problems is one way that religious conservatives can keep some focus on the "culture" issues they have long fought over as public attention is riveted on Wall Street, job security and house prices.

Upholding "traditional" values which they say have been under assault since the 1960s informs much of their outlook, ranging from their opposition to abortion and gay rights to a professed aversion to heavy debt loads.

"Although debt is not a sin, it also is not a normal way of life, according to Scripture ... debt is a dangerous tool that must be used, if at all, with extreme caution and much prayer," says the conservative evangelical advocacy group "Focus on the Family" on its web site.

While, at first blush, it may appear that the narrative of moral decay leading to credit frenzy appears to co-exist nicely with the views of, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury, it is not so simple. Long ago, these same preachers conflated their theology with a politics that valued deregulation and embraced unfettered capitalism.

"Essentially the Christian Right did not do serious biblical reflection on economics, it just borrowed its model from the Republicans," said David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta.

"Conservative Christians who accepted the unregulated free market ethos must bear some of the responsibility for its consequences," said Gushee.

Washington Post: Evangelicals see moral decline in Wall St. woes.

Rosenthal to step down

Canon James M. Rosenthal, is stepping down from his position as Director of Communications for the Anglican Communion Office.

Prop 8 through the lens of 1 Corinthians

Mad Priest pointed us to this video, which speaks in opposition to California's Proposition 8 and is based on 1 Corinthians 13.

The San Jose Mercury News writes:

Ratcheting up a media barrage that will spill into millions of California living rooms, proponents of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage broadcast their first TV ads Monday, charging that permanent legalization could endanger religious freedom or change schools' curriculum, charges whose veracity were challenged by legal experts.

ProtectMarriage.com's $10 million media buy puts its new pro-Proposition 8 television ad in every major media market in the state "” more markets than its chief opposition group is currently targeting.

With Prop 8 trailing in the polls, ProtectMarriage.com is trying to highlight the broader effects of gay rights legislation and court decisions in its specific support for a ban on same-sex marriage, a strategy that underscores the different tactics the two campaigns are using to woo undecided voters.

The anti-Prop. 8 group Equality California's first ad, which aired last week, focuses on the effect the initiative would have on one family, featuring a gray-haired couple married for 46 years, Sam and Julia Thoron, talking about how they want all of their three children to have equal rights to marry, including their lesbian daughter.

"Please don't eliminate that right "” for anyone's family," says Julia Thoron.

Mad Priest says simply: "This will get you through the day whatever is thrown your way. If it doesn't then you are a clanging cymbal."

The Mercury News: Gay Marriage: Both sides unleash Prop. 8 TV ads

Rosh Hashanah greetings

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, sent a greeting to Jewish leaders and communities for the festival of Rosh Hashanah, marking the start of the Jewish New Year.
In his greeting the Archbishop spoke of the "mutual and public support for the Millennium Development Goals" at the Lambeth Conference, and also paid tribute to "the way in which all the religions and their leaders can act together for the common good of humanity".

The text of the greeting begins:

To our Jewish friends in the household of faith

As you move from one year towards another and into the High Holy days, marking the creation of humankind, I am glad once again to be able to extend my warm greetings of friendship and appreciation to you on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah.

We have been able to share much together in this year past which has been significant, enjoyable and fruitful for the future and I look to be able to build on this in the year ahead.
In the Lambeth Conference held in Canterbury the bishops of the Anglican Communion were able to welcome Sir Jonathan Sacks to address them and with Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield and Rabbi Danny Rich to share in mutual and public support for the Millennium Development Goals in the presence of the Prime Minister. These were both an unprecedented witness to our friendship and esteem, and also a sign of the way in which all the religions and their leaders can act together for the common good of humanity.

Read the rest here.

AIDS virus in circulation for about 100 years

ABC News reports that a genetic analysis of two old strains have pushed back the estimated date of origin of HIV to 1908.

Previously, scientists had estimated the origin at around 1930. AIDS wasn't recognized formally until 1981 when it got the attention of public health officials in the United States.

The new result is "not a monumental shift, but it means the virus was circulating under our radar even longer than we knew," says Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona, an author of the new work.

The results appear in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. Researchers note that the newly calculated dates fall during the rise of cities in Africa, and they suggest urban development may have promoted HIV's initial establishment and early spread.

Scientists say HIV descended from a chimpanzee virus that jumped to humans in Africa, probably when people butchered chimps. Many individuals were probably infected that way, but so few other people caught the virus that it failed to get a lasting foothold, researchers say.

But the growth of African cities may have changed that by putting lots of people close together and promoting prostitution, Worobey suggested. "Cities are kind of ideal for a virus like HIV," providing more chances for infected people to pass the virus to others, he said.

Perhaps a person infected with the AIDS virus in a rural area went to what is now Kinshasa, Congo, "and now you've got the spark arriving in the tinderbox," Worobey said.

Key to the new work was the discovery of an HIV sample that had been taken from a woman in Kinshasa in 1960. It was only the second such sample to be found from before 1976; the other was from 1959, also from Kinshasa.

Researchers took advantage of the fact that HIV mutates rapidly. So two strains from a common ancestor quickly become less and less alike in their genetic material over time. That allows scientists to "run the clock backward" by calculating how long it would take for various strains to become as different as they are observed to be. That would indicate when they both sprang from their most recent common ancestor.

The new work used genetic data from the two old HIV samples plus more than 100 modern samples to create a family tree going back to these samples' last common ancestor. Researchers got various answers under various approaches for when that ancestor virus appeared, but the 1884-to-1924 bracket is probably the most reliable, Worobey said.

Read the rest here.

British clergy to unionize?

There is a legal case in the courts of Britain that, depending on the decision, could have the effect of allowing clergy in Britain to unionize. Up until now, the custom has been to say that clergy are employed directly by God and therefore exempt from existing employment law. Depending on the way the court decides, its decision could, by implication, allow clergy to claim otherwise.

The Church Times Blog has an excellent overview:

"Unite is claiming that the case of Reverend Mark Sharpe, Rector of Teme Valley South in Worcestershire, will have significant implications for the employment rights of ministers. From their website:

Should Revd. Sharpe’s case be upheld after any appeal, it will mean that ministers across the UK will be subject to legislation covering: health & safety, the national minimum wage, paid holidays, ‘whistle-blowing’, anti-discrimination, paid holidays, family-friendly flexible working policies, the working time directive, and unlawful deduction of wages.

Rachael Maskell, Unite’s National Officer, Community and Non Profit Sector said: “We are poised for the biggest raft of employment benefits for ministers in the Church of England since it came into being under Henry VIII’s Reformation in the 1530s. It will also have implications for other faith groups.”

The union is claiming that that the Church of England has conceded for the first time that its ministers are employed by the Church rather than by God.

However, the Church is denying that the case will have such implications. From Charity Finance website Church denies union claims of employment rights revolution:

The Church, however, says that the tribunal case has no impact on the status of any clergy outside the case itself. Agreeing to consider Revd. Sharpe a ‘worker’ was a requirement to allow the case to move forward, said Sam Setchell, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Worcester."

Read the full article here. (There are links on there to all the primary material.)

Thinking Anglicans has coverage here.

Presiding Bishop: "Room for all"

A video from Episcopal Life Media:

"Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori addresses the events and the controversies facing the Episcopal Church this fall in Room for All. The Presiding Bishop offers her remarks during a visit to the Diocese of Georgia following Eucharist with Christ Church Savannah, currently worshipping at St Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Savannah."

Watch the video here.

Bishop Bennison has been deposed

The Bishop of Pennsylvania has been deposed. Details are still coming out, but there are news reports describing the decision of the special court that was convened. He was deposed because of his actions in covering up a case of sexual abuse that occurred earlier in his ministry.

Deposition means that Bishop Bennison is to be removed from the clergy of the Episcopal Church and will not be allowed to exercise any ordained ministry in Episcopal churches.

The Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pennsylvania has released the following statement:

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania has received the news that the Court for the Trial of a Bishop has rendered its decision and sentencing recommendations. The Court denied Bishop Bennison's motion for a new trial and for a sentencing hearing, and recommended that Bishop Bennison be deposed.

The Standing Committee's prayers and thoughts are with those affected by the trial, the verdict and now the sentence. We pray for healing for all.

The canonical process is long and not over. Under the Canons, Bishop Bennison has thirty days within which to file an appeal with the Court of Review. If the conviction and sentence are upheld by the Court of Appeal, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church would impose the sentence. The Standing Committee will be continuing its responsibilities as the Ecclesiastical Authority in the diocese until the matter is finally concluded.

According to a newspaper account:

Charles E. Bennison Jr., 64, deserved to be ousted from the clergy because of his "very significant failures to fulfill his responsibilities" and "a fundamental lack of professional awareness," the special Court for the Trial of a Bishop said in documents released Friday.

The unanimous nine-person panel of bishops, priests and church members chose the harshest sentence for Bennison, who has been bishop of the nation's fifth-largest Episcopal diocese for a decade. He could have faced a reprimand or a temporary suspension of his duties.

"The court finds that even today (Bennison) has not shown that he comprehends the nature, significance and effect of his conduct and has not accepted responsibility and repented for his conduct and the substantial negative effects of that conduct," the ecclesiastical panel wrote.

The full court decision (in PDF) is here.

The court order (also in PDF) is here.

Church apologizes for role in slavery

The Daily News has a report on the national event taking place this weekend in Philadelphia. According to reports we've gotten here that Cafe, there are over four hundred people in attendance.

The event in which the Episcopal Church, at the direction of General Convention, represents a formal apology for any role the Church had in the support of the institution of slavery in the early part of the United States' history.

"Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will conduct the service at the church, founded in 1792 by Absalom Jones, a former slave and the first black Episcopal priest.

Jayne Oasin, staff officer for the New York-based Episcopal Church Center, said that the church can't deny its complicity in slavery even after the trans-Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in 1808.

She noted that some historic Episcopal churches were built using slave labor and that members owned or profited from industries associated with it.

'Slavery went against God's law of equality and justice,' she said. 'This apology is made to the descendants [of those] who were wronged.'"

Read the full article here.

Episcopal News Service has a story and pictures here.

Bad boy screenwriter pens conversion memoir

Joe Eszterhas is perhaps most infamous for having penned the screenplay for one of Hollywood's worst movies, the raunchy Showgirls that, after a much-hyped release in 1995 (mostly owing to its NC-17 rating) tanked on the big screen—only to become a camp classic in its video-release afterlife. His other credits include films like Basic Instinct, Jagged Edge, Flashdance and Music Box. But now he's writing about something different: after being diagnosed with throat cancer in 2001, he sat down in a moment of despair and found a part of him asking for God's help.

NPR has an interview with Eszterhas, in which he talks about his conversion experience, and answers skeptics who think that he's going through a phase. That he was able to survive the cancer, he says, is a miracle, and proof of God's existence to him

He wrote a bit more about it in an essay at On Faith:


Why did God save the life of a man who had trashed, lampooned, and marginalized Him most of his life? Why did He take the time and the trouble to save me? It certainly wasn't because I had written Basic Instinct and Showgirls, right? Was it because my wife and I had four little boys we were trying to raise? Possibly.

Or was it God's divinely impish sense of humor? "Who, you? You're praying? After everything you've done to break my commandments and after every nasty, unfunny thing you've written about Me and those who follow Me - now you're sobbing? Praying? Asking Me to help you? Hah! Okay, fine, I'll help you. But if I do, know this: My help will obliterate the old, infamous you. You'll wind up turning your life inside-out. You'll wind up stopping all of your excesses. You know what will happen to you? You'll wind up telling the world what I did for you. You'll wind up carrying my cross in church. Yes, I make all things new - and you will be new, too."

He was startled to find that actually happened.

The NPR interview is here (click on "listen now"), and the On Faith essay is here.

Pittsburgh votes to leave Episcopal Church; Duncan returns

UPDATED
2 p.m. Update: Comments from Presiding Bishop here.

The Standing Committee of the portion of the Diocese that has voted to realign, has announced a special convention in November to elect a diocesan bishop and to admit into the Diocese of Pittsburgh any additional parishes that wish to join the Diocese of PIttsburgh of the Province of the Southern Cone. The Convention will be held at Trinity Cathedral. The first order of business on the second day of the special convention will be the Bishop's Address and Vision. All clergy of the diocese are now able to pick up licenses as clergy of the Province of the Southern Cone. The back of the license spells out the terms they agree to when they accept that license.

Archbishop Venables announces that he has appointed Bishop Robert Duncan to serve as the "Episcopal Commissary" of the diocese.

Immediately following that announcement Bishop Duncan greeted the Convention. He reports that the existing Standing Committee is still the ecclesiastical authority until the new bishop is elected. It is explained to be a temporary measure in effect while this diocese and is expected to last until there is a new Orthodox diocese of "faithful Anglicans here in North America."

UPDATE:

The vote has been taken and its result is being reported as:

121 aye, 33 nay, 3 abstentions (clergy)
119 aye, 69 nay, 3 abstentions (laity)

At the moment the Diocesan Convention is reorganizing its committees and reporting the results of other elections.

UPDATE 2 p.m. - comments from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

"I believe that the vast majority of Episcopalians and Anglicans will be intensely grieved by the actions of individuals who thought it necessary to remove them from The Episcopal Church," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said after the vote. "I have repeatedly reassured Episcopalians that there is abundant room for dissent within this Church, and that loyal opposition is a long and honored tradition within Anglicanism. Schism is not, having frequently been seen as a more egregious error than charges of heresy. There is room in this Church for all who desire to be members of it. The actions of the former bishop of Pittsburgh, and some lay and clergy leaders, have removed themselves from this Church; the rest of the Church laments their departure. We stand ready to welcome the return of any who wish to rejoin this part of the Body of Christ.

"We will work with remaining Episcopalians in Pittsburgh to provide support as they reorganize the Diocese and call a bishop to provide episcopal ministry. The people of The Episcopal Church hold all concerned in our prayers -- for healing and comfort in time of distress, and for discernment as they seek their way into the future.

This from Episcopal Life Online, which promises a fuller story later today.


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The Diocese of Pittsburgh moved its annual convention up a month earlier this year when it became clear that Bp. Duncan might be deposed; so after a morning Eucharist and lunch, the Diocese will move to the business at hand: to wit, voting on Resolution One: whether to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Southern Cone.

Thinking Anglicans has a roundup of morning papers and other stories on today's vote in Pittsburgh here.

Information on the convention and its resolutions are at the diocesan website, here.

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh has some resources here.

More as it unfolds.

Oh, the hymns you will sing

Timothy O'Toole has a column in today's Albany Union-Times on the abundance and diversity of church music.

Church music is limitless. Throughout America, sanctuaries resonate with the sound of the classics (Mozart and the 3 B's — Bach, Brahms and Beethoven), Gregorian chant and plainsong, jazz (Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday"), folk (Michael and his boat that never quite makes it to shore), and ethnic melodies from Africa, Asia and South America (best sung in the original language). Even the predictable two-dimensional "praise music," which enlists drums, mikes and electric guitars — in keeping with John Wesley's 1761 instruction "Sing lustily and with good courage."

I am reminded of Harvard psychologist William James' 1902 book, "The Varieties of Religious Experience." Just as there are different ways of experiencing the divine in our daily existence, there are different ways of raising our voices in song, and opening our ears and minds to inspiration.

Most hymnals have work derived from European sources, but America is blessed with an exceptional variety of home-grown music. Drawing from Charles Wesley's English experience, what was once secular can become sacred with a few lyric modifications. In 1882, Salvation Army founder William Booth wondered, "Why should the devil have all the best tunes?" To which we Presbyterians might add, "Why do the Methodists have all the best hymns?" Need gender-neutral lyrics? Call Brian Wren, an Englishman who now lives in New Hampshire and specializes in non-sexist imagery.

We resonate to William Billings' energetic New England hymns; the raucous, nasal sound of Sacred Harp and shape note singers, cousins of Southern harmony, spirituals and gospel; even bluegrass renditions with their own bittersweet quality.

Read it all here.

Groups committed to preserving Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh

UPDATED 7:30 p.m.
Click here to go directly to the update with several new developments, and please remember, commenters, to sign your full name so we can approve your comments.

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) and Across the Aisle, two groups formed in opposition to the departure of the diocese from the Episcopal Church, have posted their reactions to today's events. Jim Simons, a member of the standing committee of Pittsburgh, has written that he is determining who else among the standing committee is staying with the Episcopal Church:

Once that has been established I will appoint several other members to serve on the Standing Committee, Episcopal Church leadership will recognize that body as the ecclesiastical authority of the Diocese and we will call for a special convention to be held sometime before the end of the year. At that Convention we will elect individuals to vacated offices and do such reorganization as is necessary.

The initial steps may take several weeks and we will do everything we can to communicate with you in a timely fashion.

Personally I am excited by the days that are before us. Twenty-five per cent of the parishes in the diocese have already contacted us about their desire to remain in The Episcopal Church, and we know that over the next months more will follow. I see a Diocese of Pittsburgh which will be diverse, vibrant, and most of all getting back to the work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is from the Across the Aisle website, here.

Several members of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh shared comments in a press release this afternoon:

“The schism we have seen today has been long in coming,” said Lionel Deimel, PEP board member and PEP’s first president. “It is an unhappy outcome and one we would like to have avoided. Although we see challenging times ahead, we also see an opportunity to build an Episcopal diocese that is less contentious and more focused on the gospel imperative to minister to a troubled world.” “PEP has always worked to bring traditional Anglican diversity to our diocese,” explained Joan Gundersen, PEP’s president and one of six people on the steering committee of Across the Aisle, a broad coalition of Episcopalians who have sought unity and reconciliation in Pittsburgh. “We hope the individuals who have left The Episcopal Church today find the spiritual home they are seeking. The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will always be ready to welcome them should they want to return to The Episcopal Church. Our task now is to make our diocese a model of how people of different views can work together for Christ.” One challenge that is still ahead is access to property belonging to the church. PEP expects that the current efforts by Calvary Episcopal Church will result in a favorable decision regarding diocesan property. “We hope that the involvement of the courts in resolving distribution of parish property can be minimized,” said Kenneth Stiles, a local attorney and a PEP vice president. “Clearly, the continuing diocese and everyone in it, those who have chosen to ‘realign,’ and The Episcopal Church itself are all interested parties that must resolve parish property issues. As much as possible, we hope to preserve the possibility of a future reconciliation between the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and at least some of the departing congregations.”

That release is available here.

Also, in case you missed the update, we included Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's comments in our earlier post, visit that post here; click the 2 p.m. update for Jefferts Schori's comments. We've also corrected the vote count.

Other updates that have come through since then are that the "special convention" called for to restore Bp. Duncan to the diocese is slated for the very same dates that the diocesan convention was originally scheduled for, and those dates were being held apparently in anticipation of a second convention being needed.

UPDATE: 7:30 p.m.
First, a couple of blog entries to note. The Rev. Bruce Robison has written his impressions here in a pastoral note to his congregation, which includes moving witness to some of the lovelier things he experienced at the convention, as well as this note:


On leaving St. Martin's this afternoon canonically resident Pittsburgh clergy were asked to take certificates licensing them as deacons or priests of the Diocese of Pittsburgh in the Southern Cone Province, and I declined to receive the one with my name on it. As I have indicated to you, I will remain a priest of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A.

Again: much sadness, and a sense of profound loss. I personally have expressed my deep respect and love for many dear friends and colleagues who have chosen today to walk in a different direction--and my hope and prayer that in many ways the spirit of friendship and shared ministry that we have known in the past may be able to continue. But of course there will be changes, and it will be necessary to move forward to the new challenges that await us without being overly-encumbered by what lies in our past. We'll have to figure that out as we go on.

I am glad to note that those clergy, laity, and congregations of Pittsburgh intending, like us, to remain in the Episcopal Church, have prepared carefully over the past months for this possibility, and I am confident in the strength and vision of our ordained and lay leadership.

Additionally, Lionel Deimel Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh founder points us to a brochure distributed at the end of the convention: “Realignment Realities: What You Need to Know.” He has excerpts, commentary and a scanned version of the brochure at his blog, here.

Lastly, for now, Episcopal Life Online has posted the more complete version of its coverage of today's events here.

Tempted by politics

Mark Galli responds in Christianity Today to the effort by some pastors to challenge the IRS rules that bar the use of the church for political purposes:

This yearning to tell congregations how to vote arises out of a godly desire to teach how to live daily the Christian life, in political season and out. Politics is nothing if it is not about daily life. Whether it's the place of creationism in the local high-school curriculum, or how many immigrants to welcome into the country, or how much to spend on defense versus welfare — all political decisions affect our Day-Timers or our Form 1040. They influence things like how much our investments earn or what values our children imbibe in the public square.

Pastors are driven by a righteous desire to shape not just church members but also their communities according to biblical standards of justice and mercy.

But these same pastors often hanker to be relevant — and this is nothing but the Devil's third temptation of Jesus. When chatter about candidates and platforms fills the airwaves, when everyone pontificates about the last debate or recent TV appearance, you can seem out of touch with reality or too timid if you don't join in the national conversation and take a public stand. Who wants to go to a church led by an irrelevant coward?

These pastors — and congregations that are egging them on — don't realize that in endorsing political candidates or platforms, they are selling their inheritance for a mess of pottage. Two examples should suffice: the late Jerry Falwell, and the current Jim Wallis — both Christian ministers. When all is said and done, what are they both known for? Falwell was considered a champion of political what most call "the Religious Right", and Wallis is usually identified as a "[politically] liberal evangelical."

Both have said — sincerely, I believe — that their highest priority is serving and proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ. But given the insidious nature of politics (it aims to co-opt everything and everyone into its service), ministers' Christian identity gets swallowed up by their political views. They were ordained to be heralds of the Great King. Instead they end up, like it or not, being seen as marketers for a partisan agenda. What a waste of an ordination.

. . .

Pastors are right about this much: The election season is a unique moment in a church's life, but not because the pastor has the chance to lobby for his candidate. No, the Christian preacher has the unparalleled opportunity to act as the only sane person in a nation mad for power, the only voice in an ephemeral season filled with lies and half-lies to speak abiding truths — that elections (even "the most important in a generation") come and go, that princes (even "the most gifted in a lifetime") appear and pass away, that nations (even "the greatest in history") rise and fall.

And that something greater remains after the first Tuesday in November.

Read it all here.

A landmark beginning

A statement from the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson.

The Episcopal Church spent two days in solemn observance and belated repentance for its involvement in the institution of transatlantic slavery last weekend. It was truly a landmark event.

Although General Convention resolution A-123 named the site for the Service of Repentance as Washington National Cathedral, the event was held at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia. There was no public explanation offered regarding the change of venue named in the resolution. The welcome and hospitality from the clergy, staff and membership of St. Thomas’, however, set an example of the highest order for the whole of the Episcopal Church.

The solemn observance event marked the commencement of a comprehensive program called for in resolution A-123 that asks every diocese to:

• collect and document detailed information in its community on the complicity of The Episcopal Church in the institution of slavery;
• collect and document detailed information in its community on the subsequent history of segregation and discrimination
• collect and document detailed information in its community on the economic benefits The Episcopal Church derived from the institution of slavery

It is my hope and expectation that every diocese in The Episcopal Church that participated at the 75th General Convention in Columbus, Ohio and voted in favor of resolution A-123, and has not already initiated this work in their diocese will begin now.

Link to resolution A-123:
http://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_resolution.pl?resolution=2006-A123

Ministry for a meltdown

Samuel Freedman's "On Religion" column in the New York Times this week was devoted to how the financial meltodown has created "teachable moments" for all faiths:

Several weeks ago, before the earth cracked open on Wall Street, Imam Khalid Latif had a chat with one of his regular worshipers at the Muslim center at New York University. This young man, a business student, had a theological complaint to register. Why did Islam make such a big deal about the principle of mutual benefit? What was the matter with just taking care of yourself?

About 10 days later, with the landscape marked by the bankruptcy, emergency sale and federal bailout of some of the nation’s most venerable financial companies, a more abashed version of that same student returned. “Now I know why I can’t define security by the number of zeroes on my paycheck,” Imam Latif, N.Y.U.’s Muslim chaplain, recalled the man saying.

Presented with the spiritual equivalent of what educators call a “teachable moment,” Imam Latif spoke to the student about the humility, perseverance and especially the Islamic concept of sabr, meaning “patience.” He offered a hadith from the Muslim tradition: “Patience comes at the first sign of calamity.”

Variations of the imam’s conversation have been proceeding in virtually every faith these last few weeks, especially for clergy members who have a following among the investors, executives and employees of the shaken financial industry. They are practicing ministry for a meltdown.

. . .

As the United States staggers from its credit binge to a straitened future, the religious holidays demand their own form of self-denial. Jews fast on Yom Kippur and, for the most observant, the Fast of Gedalia, which comes the day after Rosh Hashana. Devout Muslims did not take food or drink during daylight hours for the entire month of Ramadan, which ended this week.

“The purpose of the fast goes beyond a physical one,” Imam Latif said. “It puts into perspective a lot. When you have that drink of water at sundown, when you eat that date to break the fast, you have a deeper appreciation of what you have.”

The Rev. George W. Rutler, pastor of the Roman Catholic Church of Our Saviour in Midtown Manhattan, has been giving a similar message to the younger of his parishioners. Unlike the older generation, which lived through the Great Depression, these men and women had known nothing except exuberant days for investment banks, hedge funds and the stock market.

“They’re just astonished; they have no historical reference,” said Father Rutler, the former national chaplain of Legatus, a group of prominent Catholic executives. “I’ve said to them: ‘You’re part of history now. And in the future, you will learn to be more practical about value.’ This was a necessary purge, painful in many ways.”

Read it all here.

An agnostic meditates on the afterlife

Author Julian Barnes, a self-described atheist turned agnostic, devotes his most recent book, Nothing To Be Afraid Of, on his fear of death. In today's New York Times Book Revew, Garrison Keillor, describes the effort:

I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him,” the book begins. Julian Barnes, an atheist turned agnostic, has decided at the age of 62 to address his fear of death — why should an agnostic fear death who has no faith in an afterlife? How can you be frightened of Nothing? On this simple question Barnes has hung an elegant memoir and meditation, a deep seismic tremor of a book that keeps rumbling and grumbling in the mind for weeks thereafter.

. . .

Religious faith is not an option. “I had no faith to lose,” he writes. “I was never baptized, never sent to Sunday school. I have never been to a normal church service in my life. . . . I am constantly going into churches, but for architectural reasons; and, more widely, to get a sense of what Englishness once was.”

The Christian religion has lasted because it is a “beautiful lie, . . . a tragedy with a happy ending,” and yet he misses the sense of purpose and belief that he finds in the Mozart Requiem, the paintings of Donatello — “I miss the God that inspired Italian painting and French stained glass, German music and English chapter houses, and those tumbledown heaps of stone on Celtic headlands which were once symbolic beacons in the darkness and the storm.” Barnes is not comforted by the contemporary religion of therapy, the “secular modern heaven of self-­fulfilment: the development of the personality, the relationships which help define us, the status-giving job, . . . the accumulation of sexual exploits, the visits to the gym, the consumption of culture. It all adds up to happiness, doesn’t it — doesn’t it? This is our chosen myth.”

So Barnes turns toward the strict regime of science and here is little comfort indeed. We are all dying. Even the sun is dying. Homo sapiens is evolving toward some species that won’t care about us whatsoever and our art and literature and scholarship will fall into utter oblivion. Every author will eventually become an unread author. And then humanity will die out and beetles will rule the world. A man can fear his own death but what is he anyway? Simply a mass of neurons. The brain is a lump of meat and the soul is merely “a story the brain tells itself.” Individuality is an illusion. Scientists find no physical evidence of “self” — it is something we’ve talked ourselves into. We do not produce thoughts, thoughts produce us. “The ‘I’ of which we are so fond properly exists only in grammar.” Stripped of the Christian narrative, we gaze out on a landscape that, while fascinating, offers nothing that one could call Hope. (Barnes refers to “American hopefulness” with particular disdain.)

. . .

All true so far as it goes, perhaps, but so what? Barnes is a novelist and what gives this book life and keeps the reader happily churning forward is his affection for the people who wander in and out, Grandma Scoltock in her hand-knitted cardigan reading The Daily Worker and cheering on Mao Zedong,while Grandpa watched “Songs of Praise” on television, did woodwork and raised dahlias, and killed chickens with a green metal machine screwed to the doorjam that wrung their necks. The older brother who teaches philosophy, keeps llamas and likes to wear knee breeches, buckle shoes, a brocade waistcoat. We may only be units of genetic obedience, but we do love to look at each ­other. Barnes tells us he keeps in a drawer his parents’ stuff, all of it, their scrapbooks, ration cards, cricket score cards, Christmas card lists, certificates of Perfect Attendance, a photo album of 1913 entitled “Scenes From Highways & Byways,” old postcards (“We arrived here safely, and, except for the ham sandwiches, we were satisfied with the journey”). The simple-minded reader savors this sweet lozenge of a detail. We don’t deny the inevitability of extinction, but we can’t help being fond of that postcard.

. . .

I don’t know how this book will do in our hopeful country, with the author’s bleak face on the cover, but I will say a prayer for retail success. It is a beautiful and funny book, still booming in my head.

Read it all here.

Repenting Slavery

Lost in all of the news about the deposition of Bishop Bennison and the actions of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, was a rather important event in the history of the Episcopal Church. Yesterday more than 500 worshippers from across the nation, including over 12 Bishops, took part in a service of public atonement for the Episcopal Church's silence about slavery:

The "Day of Repentance" started in silence. More than a dozen Episcopal bishops from around the country yesterday morning slowly walked down the aisle of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in West Philadelphia.

There were no trumpets, no organ, only the sounding of a lone gong.

From the start, this service would be like no other in the history of the two-million-member denomination.

The bishops led more than 500 worshipers in a day of public atonement for the silence of the official church during slavery, segregation and racism over the centuries.

The service began with an unflinching look at the church's past.

People heard how church members in the Continental Congress permitted slaves to be counted merely as three-fifths of a person.

How the Episcopal Church often disallowed African Americans from entering churches to worship.

How the church kept black members from being ordained as priests and, even today, often sends African American priests to depressed or resource-barren areas.

And with this litany, the worshipers responded, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

But what started solemnly at St. Thomas, the nation's oldest black Episcopal church, ended after more than an hour later with a joyful blast of music. With trumpets and organ, people sang out the words of a spiritual often sung during the civil-rights era: "Oh freedom, oh freedom, oh freedom over me."

Read it all here.

Religion and generosity

According to a new study, religious faith does make people more generous--but only in certain circumstances. Here is the Science Daily report:

Belief in God encourages people to be helpful, honest and generous, but only under certain psychological conditions, according to University of British Columbia researchers who analyzed the past three decades of social science research.

Religious people are more likely than the non-religious to engage in prosocial behaviour – acts that benefit others at a personal cost – when it enhances the individual's reputation or when religious thoughts are freshly activated in the person's mind, say UBC social psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff

Their paper "The Origin and Evolution of Religious Prosociality" appears in the October 3, 2008 issue of the journal Science.

Read it all here.

Jefferts Schori at the National Cathedral

Dean Sam Lloyd of the Washington National Cathedral and the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, explore the state of the church in the twenty-first century.

Watch it here. (54 Minutes)

Barring late schedule changes, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will be today's featured guest on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, which is produced at WHYY-FM in Philadelphia.

Find out where and when you can hear Fresh Air with Terry Gross here.

A landmark beginning

A statement from the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson.

The Episcopal Church spent two days in solemn observance and belated repentance for its involvement in the institution of transatlantic slavery last weekend. It was truly a landmark event.

Although General Convention resolution A-123 named the site for the Service of Repentance as Washington National Cathedral, the event was held at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia. There was no public explanation offered regarding the change of venue named in the resolution. The welcome and hospitality from the clergy, staff and membership of St. Thomas’, however, set an example of the highest order for the whole of the Episcopal Church.

The solemn observance event marked the commencement of a comprehensive program called for in resolution A-123 that asks every diocese to:

• collect and document detailed information in its community on the complicity of The Episcopal Church in the institution of slavery;
• collect and document detailed information in its community on the subsequent history of segregation and discrimination
• collect and document detailed information in its community on the economic benefits The Episcopal Church derived from the institution of slavery

It is my hope and expectation that every diocese in The Episcopal Church that participated at the 75th General Convention in Columbus, Ohio and voted in favor of resolution A-123, and has not already initiated this work in their diocese will begin now.

Link to resolution A-123:
http://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_resolution.pl?resolution=2006-A123

Re-examining Vatican II

John O'Malley has written "A Spirit of Affirmation" which details the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, which not only modernized the Roman Catholic Church but had a profound effect on how churches of other traditions responded to the modern world and to each other.

The Washington Post reviewed the book.

Over the last two or three decades, a huge argument has erupted among theologians, journalists and intellectuals about what "Vatican II" actually did. Conservatives tend to argue that the council took several false and damaging turns, leading unintentionally from the confident Roman Catholic Church of the 1950s to the empty churches (in Western Europe) today. As the great progressive Jesuit Gustave Weigel, who loved irony, once predicted during the council, swirling a splash of scotch in a plastic cup at a party: "All good things, given enough time, go badly."

Progressives tend to argue that the council reaffirmed ancient traditions even as it made significant reforms: clearing the way for the Mass to be said in native languages, endorsing the search for heartfelt cooperation and doctrinal dialogue with other Christians and, above all, encouraging deeper self-understanding and warm relations with Jews. In other words, progressives say now (as some did then) that the council's essential purpose was conservative in nature, rooted in lessons from the pre-medieval church. They wanted, for instance, to resume the ancient tradition of speaking of the church as a "people" -- the "people of God" -- and of bishops and priests as "servants" of the people of God. They argued that celebrating Masses in vernacular languages and small, informal settings was more in keeping with the practices of the early church. Well, then, what was really new?

O'Malley says that the Council was fundamentally different that past ecumenical councils because the Second Vatican Council attempted to listen to and respond to the world, rather than reacting negatively to current trends.

His main point is that Vatican II differed in its way of thinking from every other doctrine-setting gathering in the church's history, from the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. to the First Vatican Council in 1869. His preferred word for this is "style," though sometimes he says "method," "approach" or "language." Vatican II was distinctive, he contends, in its attention to the liberty of the human person and to the connectedness of the human community. The new spirit was to affirm, not condemn; to be open, not closed; to focus on ideals to live by, not things forbidden.

"Vatican II was unprecedented," he writes, "for the notice it took of changes in society at large and for its refusal to see them in globally negative terms as devolutions from an older and happier era." He says the council underscored the authority of bishops while, at the same time, trying to make them "less authoritarian." For bishops, priests and everybody in authority, it recommended the ideal of the servant-leader. It upheld the legitimacy of modern methods in the study of the Bible. It condemned anti-Semitism and discrimination "on the basis of race, color, condition in life, or religion." It called on Catholics to cooperate with people of all faiths, or no faith, in projects aimed at the common good. And it supplied "the impetus," O'Malley writes, "for later official dialogues of the Catholic Church with other churches."

Read the rest.

Christian militias forming in Iraq

A new phenomenon is spreading through the Christian towns and villages of northern Iraq: Christian security forces, organized through their local churches, are manning checkpoints and working with the Iraqi police.

NPR reports:

A few years ago, Christian churches were being bombed and thousands of Christian families in Baghdad and elsewhere were terrorized into fleeing their homes. Many of them wound up in the north, where they seem to be thriving.

Displacing Iraqi Christians

Qaraqosh is a peaceful town of 50,000 people. But because it's just a few miles east of the northern city of Mosul, one of the most dangerous places in Iraq, security is high.

Every vehicle is stopped, most drivers are questioned, and many cars are searched by members of the Qaraqosh Protection Committee, an all-Christian security force that is spreading to Christian villages across the north.

The coordinator for the Qaraqosh Protection Committee is Sabah Behnem, who says outside agendas — from the Sunnis of al-Qaida to the Shiites in Iran — were behind the brutal efforts to displace Iraqi Christians.

According to NPR, the growth of Christian militias is tied to the fate of the mainly Christian Assyrian minority which is located in the roughly the same region as Kurds, so the two groups appear to grown an uneasy alliance. And all the money comes "without strings" through a mysterious man, who has worked with Kurdish government, named "Mr. Sarkis."

Read the rest here.

A conversation with Marcus Borg

Gordon Atkinson, who blogs at CC blogs had a conversation with Marcus Borg. In his blog, he introduces "his thinking and explain why he is such a controversial figure, certainly among conservative evangelical Christians, but for many mainline theologians as well."

The conversation reveals how it is that the study of the Christian tradition has allowed Borg to remain Christian.

It all has to do with how you read the gospels. Most Christians in the world read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as literal accounts of what happened in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

These are the texts; they tell us what happened. Many of us grew up in Christianity and have a history of reading the gospels in just that way. And we recognize the power of such a thing. After all, most people in the world will not have the privilege and joy of a higher education. For many of these, a simple, child-like approach to Christianity is their way. To scorn them or in any way make fun of them would be cruel and arrogant. And it would discount things Jesus said to praise such child-like faith.

Jung describes such people as living fully within their myth. And Jung understood, as do scholars like Joseph Campbell, that such people are the driving force behind most of human history.

Some of us went off to seminary to be trained as ministers. While there we were taught to engage the gospels in a very thorough and rigorous way. In doing so, it seemed very clear to some of us that each of the gospels developed out of its own tradition. Mark perhaps less than the others, but various traditions about the teachings and life of Jesus led to these accounts of his life and death, which differ greatly from each other. Jesus was a man who lived on this earth. 30 to 60 years after he was gone, various Christian traditions wrote down their gospel stories of his life. As humans it was inevitable that their memories would be influenced by their post-Easter experiences as the Church.

Most of us ministers have made our peace with this. We understand that the gospels clearly reflect early Church theology. That’s okay because that theology was the present experience of the friends of Jesus. It has value too. Our approach is to preach and teach from the gospels, taking the text as given. Trying to distinguish what might be the actual words of Jesus and the actual events of his life from what might be slightly embellished Church tradition is something that would be interesting, but ultimately it a question that cannot be answered. Moreover, we are busy with the real lives of people in our world who are following the spiritual path of Christianity as a means of salvation and spiritual growth.

Marcus Borg and the Jesus Seminar scholars have, however, taken up that task and have sought to distinguish carefully between the pre-Easter Jesus, who was a man defined by what he actually said and did, and the post-Easter Jesus, who is the figure venerated by the Church.

Please keep this in mind: These scholars are not dealing with spiritual communities. They are free, therefore, to pursue their scholarly work and publish and present their theories.

If my experience with Marcus Borg is indicative of other Jesus Seminar scholars, they understand the difference between the spiritual purpose of the Church and the scholarly pursuit of their discipline. But because the findings of the Jesus Seminar can be threatening to many and seem to undercut their spiritual life and journey, scholars from the Jesus seminar are often harshly criticized.

I was impressed by how passionate Marcus is about the life and teachings of Jesus and his own life as a Christian. Marcus is a worshipping, praying Christian man. That he is also a fearless participant in the search for the historical Jesus does not, in my opinion, negate that in any way.

And finally this: There are millions of people in our modern world who read the gospels honestly and who cannot help but have trouble believing them. People who grew up in the church and were nurtured by the scriptures sometimes cannot realize how difficult the gospels can be for educated people in our culture. Marcus Borg has made the spiritual journey of Christianity something that is intellectually possible for many intelligent, educated people. Thousands have told him that they were able to remain in Christianity because he gave them permission to express real and honest doubts and concerns about the text.

As I put it in my conversation with Marcus, he has kept a good many people in the game.

The conversation may be heard here.

Does this kind of inquiry "keep you in the game" or does it diminish your faith? What is the balance you have found in your Christian life?

Katharine Jefferts Schori on Fresh Air

Listen to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in an interview byTerry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air.

The interview is in two parts. One interview was done last Thursday and the other part was today and centered mainly around the events in Pittsburgh.

Listen here.

Congolese Anglicans stranded by rebel attack

Life in other provinces of the Anglican Communion can be very difficult. Episcopal Life Online is reporting that a recent uprising of rebel activity in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo has caused Bishop Henri Isingoma and 150 delegates of the Province de L'Eglise Anglicane du Congo to be stranded in Boga following their September 30-October 5 diocesan synod.

Fears of a fresh wave of violence have forced thousands of people in the eastern region of Africa's third largest country "to run for their dear lives in various directions," Frederick Ngadjole, liaison officer for the province, said in an October 5 email to the Africa desk of Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD). "Some have gone towards Bunia town, others towards [the] Ugandan border and others are still wandering in the bush trying to find their way out to a safe zone."

The director of Africa programs for Episcopal Relief and Development was on her way to the Diocese and received the news:
Janette O'Neill, director of Africa programs for ERD, received news of the rebel activities as she was en route to Boga to visit with Isingoma and the local communities to hear about the progress made with ERD-supported micro credit, small business, malaria control and HIV/AIDS programs.

O'Neill is now traveling to Kampala, Uganda, where she will work with the Congo church liaison office to assess the immediate humanitarian needs and respond to the crisis. "I urge Episcopalians to pray for peace in Congo and for the safety of Bishop Isingoma, his wife Mugisa, and those in their care," said O'Neill.

Isingoma and the synod delegates "have no way out as all roads are cut off," Ngadjole said, noting that their only option is to take a diverted route to reach Bunia, a distance of about 124 miles, at their own risk. "Those coming from the invaded area have not yet heard from their families."

Ngadjole said that the priority is to ensure that those stranded in Boga are able to find safety, food and shelter in Bunia. "Another immediate concern will be to reunite people with their families [and] to attend to thousands of people who are taking refuge in Bunia town and other gathering points in and around Bunia," he said.


We ask your prayers for their safe return home.

Read the rest here.

A little good news from Zimbabwe

Anglican-Information reports that although the Zimbabwean power sharing agreement between the Movement for Democratic Change headed by Morgan Tsvangirai and the Zanu-PF Mugabe regime, as agreed on 15th September, does not look healthy,

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Know your community, build your ministry

Getting a parish to think of themselves beyond the "four walls" of their church and engaging the community is a critical step of having a vital, active congregation that proclaims Christ. Doing that effectively requires that the congregation nurture their relationship to the community they live in.

Joy Skjegstad from the Alban Institute writes:

Getting to know the community that your congregation will focus on is a critical step in defining your mission. To start, work on getting answers to several key questions: What are the primary issues in your community? How do the people in the community want the church to respond to those issues? And probably most important: do the people in your community actually want the ministry you are proposing? Your congregation will be most successful if you can answer yes to this question.

It is pretty easy to stay within the four walls of the church and make assumptions about the lives of the people in the broader community. It is more difficult to actually build relationships with community residents and grow in your understanding of their needs and desires. It takes more time, too.

There are tremendous advantages, however, to building your congregation’s ministries on what the community says it wants. If you take the time to build these relationships, your congregation will focus its efforts on meeting unmet needs rather than duplicating what other groups are already doing. You will also have a strong foundation for sustaining your programs; strong relationships with your community make it easier to recruit participants and volunteers and raise money.

Read the rest here.

Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust

The Roman Catholic Church wants to declare Cardinal John Henry Newman, a convert from Anglicanism, a saint. They wanted to remove his body from its original resting place to a place where the new saint could be properly venerated. To do this, the body would have to have been separated from the remains of the man Newman wanted to be buried with. After much controversy, they finally opened the grave and found...nothing.

Ruth Gledhill wrote about it here:

On Thursday, having won the battle to exhume Cardinal John Henry Newman's body for its transfer to the Oratory in Birmingham, those paying their respects at the graveside had a bit of a shock. There was no body to exhume, nothing at all. Not a trace of bone, hair, human remains or anything except this plate. It means that he was not buried in the lead coffin that many supposed he had been but a simple wooden affair. It is not apparently unusual for remains to disintegrate totally in this fashion. A few fragments of hair preserved elsewhere will now be placed in a casket for veneration in the Birmingham Oratory, but of course there can be no 'lying in state' for a real body. At least it solves the Peter Tatchell problem. A non-existent body cannot be exhumed. As the spokesman for the Cause, Peter Jennings, has just told me, rarely can there have been a more vivid reminder of the truth of what the priest says at the Ash Wednesday Mass: 'Remember Man, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.' As our capitalist world crumbles about us, it seems that Newman is a saint for our times in more ways than we could previously have imagined.


And Libby Purves, also of the Times wrote:

You would need a heart of stone not to laugh. After months of furious controversy about homosexuality, Victorian graveyard law and Birmingham Council planning, the man at the heart of the row has softly and silently vanished away like the Snark. Last week it was discovered, to the chagrin of exhumers, that Cardinal Newman is not in his grave at all.

So John Henry Newman, that humble, thoughtful, loving and humane convert, that hot tip for canonization by the Roman Catholic Church, cannot after all be hoicked out and reburied. Not for him the marble tomb in the Oratory, still less the risk of being laid out with a nasty waxen mask from the Tussauds team over his dead face so that the faithful may file past and gawp as they do at Pope John XXIII and Padre Pio. Dust to dust: nobody can get their reverential paws on him now. Newman's last wish, furiously quoted by Peter Tatchell, was to be buried alongside his close friend and companion of 30 years. He wrote: “I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Father Ambrose St John's grave - and I give this as my last, my imperative will.”

. . .

Oh, enough! Even as a genuinely devout Catholic schoolchild I hated this stuff, and I hate it more now. The Church's weird horror of fleshly things (unmarried or contracepted sex, gay love) is nastily counterpointed by its affection for cadavers. I know the theology, I accept that there is a distinction between voodoo paganism and the more complex ideas formulated by St Jerome and Thomas Aquinas. They say that relics are not worshipped in themselves but are an “aid to veneration” of people whose bodies “were the temples and instruments of the Holy Spirit”.

Fine. Save a well-thumbed prayerbook if you will, or a lock of hair. But these creepy exhumations feed the superstitious magical instincts of religion, not the spiritual and humane ones.

A voice of conscience stilled: Francis B. Sayre

The Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre Jr., who as dean of Washington National Cathedral for 27 years oversaw much of its completion and used his pulpit to confront McCarthyism, racial tensions and the Vietnam War, died Oct. 3 at his home on Martha's Vineyard, MA according to the Washington Post.

Sayre, whose grandfather was President Woodrow Wilson, was appointed to the cathedral in 1951 and quickly became a leading national voice of conscience. As the church's fifth dean, he also presided over daily operations and focused on finishing the massive Gothic structure whose cornerstone had been placed in 1907.
Dean Sayre commented to the Washington Post in 1977:
"Whoever is appointed the dean of the cathedral, has in his hand a marvelous instrument and he's a coward if he doesn't use it."

From the pulpit, he denounced the tactics of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy at the Wisconsin senator's peak of influence investigating Communist influence in government and Hollywood. He called McCarthy part of a crew of "pretended patriots" and also chided the American people for letting demagogues achieve prominence.

"There is a devilish indecision about any society that will permit an impostor like McCarthy to caper out front while the main army stands idly by," he said in a 1954 sermon.

Read more about his life here. A voice of conscience for the church and the world, stilled. Rest in peace and rise in glory.

Church can change fate of trafficked women

Premier Christian Media has produced a thought-provoking resource for churches as they campaign against human trafficking as part of 'Not for Sale' according to Christian Today:

The poster, which is intended to be displayed on church notice boards features the faces of two women, one glamorous and healthy, the other beaten and destitute.

"We hope the poster will dispel the widespread myth that women involved in prostitution lead a glamorous and happy life, when in fact many are enslaved and forced to service men against their will," presenter and campaign member, Maria Toth commented.

"The 'Not for Sale' poster highlights the real face of prostitution - women, many of whom are trafficked from other parts of the world and forced into a life of modern slavery here in the UK."

Premier states: "Because of their plight we're asking that churches display the poster on their notice boards and encourage their congregation to sign a letter of support online here." Also at the website, a variety of resources for churches and individuals, including an introductory short film, fact sheet, poster as well as a printable petition.

Read more here.

Speak truth to power

The Anglican Journal reports that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has commended Christian communicators for support that helped liberate his country from minority white rule, and has appealed for their continued assistance in the post-apartheid era.

“We are free today because you supported us,” Archbishop Tutu said at the opening in Cape Town of an Oct. 6 to 10 congress of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), as he highlighted the role that the group had played in sustaining independent media during the apartheid era.

WACC, whose headquarters are in Toronto, Canada, describes its mission as one in which it promotes communication for social change.

Earlier, the 300 participants at the WACC gathering heard the mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille, who also leads South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, say that the Church and the media play an essential role in checking the misuse of power.


Read it all here.

California Supreme Court hears Episcopal Cases today

"S155094 Episcopal Church Cases" will be heard Wednesday in the California Supreme Court. According to the Court's Outreach Services,

The California Channel is scheduled to broadcast the entire Supreme Court's Special Oral Argument Session, October 7 & 8, beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 7. For information about cable viewing opportunities in your area, go to: www.calchannel.com

From the Expanded Background Summary provided by the Court website:

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Rowan Williams gives post Lambeth Conference interview, on Dostoevsky

Stuart Jeffries at The Guardian:

His job is to try to hold the Anglican church together through its darkest days for centuries. So why on earth did the Archbishop of Canterbury take last summer off to write about Dostoevsky?
...
I ask why Rowan Williams took three months off last summer to write this book.
...
he explains

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Diocese: Falls Church deeds held by Christ Church

Washington Times, Julia Duin:

The diocese [of Virginia] will cite 18th-century cases to argue that the Falls Church, a 276-year-old congregation that is the oldest of the departing parishes, cannot lay claim to its property on 5.5 acres in the city of Falls Church. Attorneys have produced two 18th-century land deeds that say Christ Church possesses the property.

The deeds, dated March 19 and 20, 1746, say the land was owned by

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Does the market corrode us?

The John Templeton Foundation asked thirteen thinkers this big question: Does the free market corrode moral character?

Some samples from a few of the answers:

Read more »

Diocese of Western New York: Separation without property dispute

Updated: The Buffalo News

The Diocese of Western New York reports:

On Tuesday, October 7, 2008, the Rt. Rev. J. Michael Garrison, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York, met with the Rev. Arthur Ward, rector of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. During that meeting, Ward informed Bishop Garrison of his desire to disaffiliate himself from the Diocese of Western New York, and to transfer from the jurisdiction of The Episcopal Church to a different Anglican entity.

He also declared that other clergy affiliated with St. Bartholomew’s and some portion of the congregation also intend to leave the Episcopal Church. Ward and others who share his convictions plan to vacate the property at Brighton and Fries Roads before the end of this year.

“People may come and go, but St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Tonawanda will continue,” state Bishop Garrison. “We are ready and able to carry on with worship, pastoral care and administration. We stand ready to support and work with continuing Episcopalians who have been a part of St. Bartholomew’s, as well as those who have felt disenfranchised by the position of its leadership.

Read it all here. (PDF version here.)

Church statistics on St. Bartholomew's here; statistics for the diocese are here.

Undercover at an "ex-gay bootcamp"

Lucy Bannerman's article in The Times Online describes a few days spent at a camp run by Exodus International, an organization that believes it can help people to “find freedom from homosexuality through the love of Jesus Christ.” Exodus and similar groups are popular on the Anglican right.

The article quotes Peterson Toscano, a performance artist who performed at one of the "Lambeth Fringe" events at the recent Lambeth Conference.

Peterson Toscano spent 17 years and £20,000 in the US and UK trying to suppress his identity as a gay man. “It is a far more subtle seduction over here,” he says. Toscano claims that therapists in Britain - who he says tried to exorcise his gay demons in Kidderminster, in the West Midlands - nearly drove him to suicide. “There is no question about that. I became severely depressed and contemplated suicide on several occasions,” he says.

Toscano, who now runs the Beyond Ex-Gay support group, believes that, far from being living proof of being a changed man, [Exodus] is simply promoting celibacy by stealth.

“You walk out on this cloud of ex-gay glory,” says Toscano, “but you end up intimate with no one, becoming more and more isolated until it's just you alone on this little ex-gay island ... so many people are hurting and living this half-life.”

Canons? We don't need no stinking canons

Mark Harris' correspondents make a strong case that Bishop Gregory Venables is making up the rules as he goes along.

"Thomas", once a priest in the Southern Cone writes that Venables' church gives him no authority to "receive" the dioceses of Pittsburgh and San Joaquin into his church:

1. There is no canonical nor constitutional provision for the Province of the Southern Cone to receive, accept, or "host" a "foreign" diocese. (Check the C&C translated and available on line courtesy of the Diocese of Fort Worth).

2. The Executive Council of the Province of the Southern Cone has voted to receive the bishop and clergy into their midst "for pastoral reasons"... NOT the institution of the Diocese, as even in the Southern Cone they realize they can't do it.

A second correspondent, a canon lawyer, writes:

Thomas is spot on with respect to the duplicitous actions of the Southern Cone. They cannot, under their own rules, accept a diocese from outside the territory listed in their constitution. Nor can they do so within the norms of Anglican Canon Law.

On top of that, there is no way under generally accepted canonical principles that they can receive and license a bishop or other cleric who has been deposed, or who has voluntarily relinquished his or her orders in the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada (or
elsewhere, of course).

The Global South howl that Gene Robinson is not just a bishop in the Episcopal Church, but in the Anglican Communion, and they are correct to say that, though I don't personally understand why they are so distressed about it. But it equally holds that deposition or relinquishment of orders has effect throughout the Communion, and not simply locally within one Province. Ergo, Robert Duncan is simply not a bishop, and this is true not only in the Episcopal Church, but throughout the Communion. He cannot be licensed as a minister of word and sacrament in the Anglican Communion, and any Province that purports to do so has stepped completely outside the bounds of Anglican canonical norms."

The Episcopal Church has its own problem with canons. It seems unlikely that the authors of the canons meant to give any one of three senior bishops the authority to stop a deposition proceeding, but there is a legitimate--if not, in the end, persuasive--argument to be made that this is how the canons currently read. That said, what Gregory Venables is doing remains troubling.

Consider that if a Primate, such as Venables, wanted to effectively disenfranchise the people already in his pews, one way to do so would be to dilute their influence by welcoming thousands of new members--with money!--into the church from other parts of the Anglican Communion. It is already the case that the Anglican Church of Rwanda has more white American bishops than black African ones (thanks to the Anglican Mission in America penchant for handing out purple shirts.) At some point in the future, the interests of the wealthy Americans will conflict with those of the poor Rwandans. Who do you think is going to win that one?

Whatever the theological conviction that informs their actions, what Venables, a British citizen and his principal border-crossing surrogate Bishop Frank Lyons of Bolivia (via Potomac, Md.) are doing in giving shelter to Bob Duncan of Pittsburgh, John-David Schofield of San Joaquin--and perhaps eventually to Jack Iker of Forth Worth and Keith Ackerman of Quincy-- is enlarging the primarily white hierarchy that presides over a Latin American church. That church, in turn, is part of a larger movement ostensibly led by Peter Akinola of Nigeria and Henry Orombi of Uganda, but scripted and staged managed by white westerners such as Martyn Minns, Stephen Noll and Chris Sugden and the Australian evangelical Peter Jensen.

The Anglican right in the United States likes to talk about globalization and Africa's duty to re-evangelize the West, but what is afoot is re-colonization by other means. Using the issue of homosexuality for cover, the American right is attempting to make sure that Christianity in the developing world remains as docile as possible, and presents no challenge to either the corporate or political status quo.

No, not that John

From The Church in Wales:

The Archdeacon of Cardigan, the Venerable Andrew John, is the Bishop Elect of the Diocese of Bangor.The announcement was made this afternoon by the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, at the west door of Bangor Cathedral on the third and final day of the meeting of the Electoral College.

Breaking: New day dawns in Pittsburgh

Updated at bottom with Presiding Bishop's letter

[From the Rev. Dr. James B. Simons:

Later in the day, I received a letter by e-mail from David Wilson informing me that the remaining seven members of his Standing Committee consider themselves to be aligned with the Province of The Southern Cone.

This information was conveyed to the Presiding Bishop’s office and today we received recognition as the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in the Episcopal Church and because of the absence of a Bishop, the ecclesiastical authority.

I am also pleased to announce that the Standing Committee has made several staff appoints. Andy Roman has agreed to be our Chancellor, Rich Creehan is Director of Communications, Joan Gunderson is the Treasurer, and Scott Quinn is the Director of Pastoral Care.

I am also pleased to announce that The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will be holding a reorganizing Convention on Saturday December 13th. Details as to time and place will follow shortly.

This is an exciting time and there is much work to be done but I know that we are equal to the task. Keep all of this in prayer as we move forward in grace as the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The Presiding Bishop's Letter

The Rev. Dr. James B. Simons
St. Michael’s of the Valley Episcopal Church
P.O. Box 336
Ligonier, Pennsylvania 15658

Dear Jim:

Thank you for your letter of 8 October 2008, advising that you have appointed the Rev. Jeff Murph and Ms. Mary Roehrich to the Standing Committee, and that you are working together to lead the reorganization of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. I give thanks for your efforts, and I pledge my support and that of this Office in this vital task.

As a first step, and in response to the specific request in your letter, I have asked the Rt. Rev. F. Clayton Matthews, Bishop for Pastoral Development, to meet with you and your colleagues on the Standing Committee to assist in obtaining appropriate Episcopal assistance for the Diocese in the coming months.

I give thanks for the work that the Standing Committee has undertaken and look forward to learning of your progress as you move forward in this mission. You and the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh continue in my prayers and those of Episcopalians across this Church. I remain

Your servant in Christ,

Katharine Jefferts Schori


Visit the diocese's new Web site. To read the diocese's press release, click Read More.

Read more »

CA Supremes hear church property case

The California Supreme Court heard arguments yesterday in a case that pits the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles against parishes attempting to depart from the church but keep the property. If you are exceedingly interested in this issue (and perhaps rather lonely), you can watch the arguments online. Presbyterian Blogger Steve Salyards tuned in. Among his impressions:

[T]he general impression I got was that the justices seemed more sympathetic to the denomination's arguments so I would not be surprised to see this decision come out in their favor, not withstanding the justice who sided with neutral principles but was pointing out the "forever bound."

I must admit that in listening to the arguments I was bothered by the way the argument was made that the property was somehow separate from the ecclesiastical law. I do realize that this was an argument from a legal perspective, but it just hit me wrong that somehow the property was separated as different in the mission to follow and serve Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

As I mentioned, if I had to bet on this one hour alone I would expect the denomination to win. However, there are a lot of other parts to this case and it was clear that different justices were focusing on different aspects. When the decision finally comes down it will be interesting to see what of today's proceedings is found in it.

For background on the case check our earlier post.

Addendum. Thanks to reader Rodney Davis we have the Cal Law Reporter's take on the court proceedings: "The California Supreme Court indicated strongly during oral arguments Wednesday that parishes don't keep their property once they leave. That stays with the greater church based on canons that place all parish property in trust when the local parish originally joins the overall church."

A counterintuitive question

Tom Heneghan at Reuters' FaithWorld blog asks a counterintuitive question: Could pro-choice Obama reduce the U.S. abortion rate?

The Matthew 25 Network, which calls itself “pro-life pro-Obama,” says “an Obama administration will do more than a McCain administration for the cause of life, by drastically reducing abortions through giving women and families the support and the tools they need to choose life.”

Over at Beliefnet, editor-in-chief Steve Waldman has two very interesting posts about this. The first one says that Obama supports Medicaid funding for abortion, which obviously would make getting one easier. The Democratic candidate also supports the Freedom of Choice Act, which “would wipe out state laws, including moderate ones that merely require parental notification for teens seeking abortion.” So it looks like total abortions would rise during an Obama administration.

But Waldman’s second post points to a rarely discussed aspect of the abortion issue: “during Democratic administrations (pro-choice administrations) the average annual abortion rate is virtually identical to that under Republican administrations.” There may be something to the Matthew 25 claim, he says, “however, Barack Obama has severely undermined his ability to make such an argument.”

Faith in Public Life's intriguing polls

Faith in Public Life, one of the more influential outfits on the religious left, has released two polls that have caught the attention of religion blogs run by mainstream media outlets.

Michelle Boorstein of The Washington Post suggests the pool data points to a "truce in the culture wars." She writes:

The poll ... concluded that attitudes about hot-button issues such as abortion, legal recognition of same-sex relationships and the size of government are changing among young people -- possibly shifting or weakening the culture wars.

"What we see is younger Americans, including younger Americans of faith -- they are not the culture war generation," said Robert P. Jones, president of Public Religion Research. "They are bridging the divides that have entrenched the older generation."

The Dallas Morning News and Reuters note that John McCain is the choice of voters who attend church weekly, but that Barack Obama seems to be the choice of people who attend church once or twice a month. Reuters also picks up on some intriguing findings about what church goers in various denominations hear from the pulpit:

[The poll] found that among the white evangelicals and black Protestants surveyed, 67 percent said their pastor speaks out about the issue of homosexuality — among Catholics that number drops to 37 percent.

But Catholics at 78 percent were the most likely to hear about abortion while attending a religious service.

Hunger and poverty topped the list of what Americans from a range of Christian denominations hear in church. Among white mainline Protestants, 88 percent reported their clergy speaking about such things; among Catholics, 90 percent did.

Immigration was at the bottom of the list. Among white evangelical Protestants only 12 percent reported their pastors speaking about the issue.

Find out more about the survey.

Jefferts Schori speaks on Pittsburgh, racism and more

The Columbus Dispatch reports on Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's visit to Trinity Episcopal Church--the site of her election as presiding bishop:

On Saturday in Philadelphia, Jefferts Schori apologized for the Episcopal Church's role in perpetuating and profiting from slavery.

There is a parallel between the historic oppression of black people and the challenges that gays and lesbians face, she said.

"It's an age-old human struggle over who's an accepted member of the community," she said.

Jefferts Schori's appearance at the National Cathedral's Sunday Forum is also online.

Watch and listen to the Presiding Bishop's sermon at the Day of Repentance here.

Financial crisis drives church members to seek help online

Anglican Communion News Service reports:

Web users looking for support during the current financial situation have boosted traffic to a Church of England website section focusing on debt advice by over 70 per cent, and increased visitor numbers to the Church’s online prayer page by more than a quarter.

The Matter of Life and Debt website section - containing a new ‘debt spiral’ feature so visitors can work out if they are one of the many families who will be seriously affected by the credit crunch, and useful advice for those worried about debt - has seen a 71 per cent increase in traffic in recent weeks.

Voices of the House

There's a new feature on Bonnie Anderson's webpages. It's called "Voices of the House. Bonnie is the President of the House of Deputies (the larger and more senior portion of the Episcopal Church's General Convention.) The Voices series has profiles of various deputies who have been elected to General Convention and who are expected to be present in Anaheim this coming summer.

The featured deputy at the moment is Charles Crump, one of, if not the, longest serving deputies in the whole of the House.

From the end of his article:

"Charles Crump is a 17 time lay deputy to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church and has served as Vice President, parliamentarian, and a member of multiple Legislative Committees."

Read the full article by Deputy Crumphere.

There are also pieces by Brian Prior, the Vice President of the House and by Michael Battle who has helped flesh out the meaning of the chosen theme of "Ubuntu" for the upcoming Convention.

You will find the previous articles linked from this page.

CT Supreme Court rules ban on gay marriage unconstitutional

Following a similar line of reasoning of the decision earlier this year by the California Supreme Court, the Connecticut Supreme Court has issued a 4-3 ruling that appears to overturn a "separate but equal" argument for civil unions and orders that same gender couple have the right to marry.

From the ruling:

" We conclude that, in light of the history of pernicious discrimination faced by gay men and lesbians, and because the institution of marriage carries with it a status and significance that the newly created classification of civil unions does not embody, the segregation of heterosexual and homosexual couples into separate institutions constitutes a cognizable harm. We also conclude that (1) our state scheme discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation, (2) for the same reasons that classifications predicated on gender are considered quasi-suspect for purposes of the equal protection provisions of the United States constitution, sexual orientation constitutes a quasi-sus- pect classification for purposes of the equal protection provisions of the state constitution, and, therefore, our statutes discriminating against gay persons are subject to heightened or intermediate judicial scrutiny, and (3) the state has failed to provide sufficient justification for excluding same sex couples from the institution of marriage. In light of our determination that the state’s disparate treatment of same sex couples is constitution- ally deficient under an intermediate level of scrutiny, we do not reach the plaintiffs’ claims implicating a stricter standard of review, namely, that sexual orienta- tion is a suspect classification, and that the state’s bar against same sex marriage infringes on a fundamental right in violation of due process and discriminates on the basis of sex in violation of equal protection. In accordance with our conclusion that the statutory scheme impermissibly discriminates against gay per- sons on account of their sexual orientation, we reverse the trial court’s judgment and remand the case with direction to grant the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment."

Read the full ruling here. There are three dissents: 1, 2, 3.

The New York Times story is here.

A story by the AP on the case in question which gives some background.

The Blade also has a piece up on the legalization that would seem to be implied by this decision.

Read GLAD's reaction and plans.

Integrity has released a statement, which we received via email:

"Integrity applauds today’s Connecticut Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. “Today’s decision is a decision in favor of marriage and against bigotry,” said Integrity President Susan Russell.

“It is another step forward toward making this a nation of liberty and justice for all -- not just some – and it is a cause for celebration for all Americans. It is also a source of great encouragement for those of us working to preserve marriage for all in California.”

“Integrity is committed to continue to work toward full inclusion for the LGBT faithful in the Episcopal Church and to advocate for equal protection for LGBT Americans -- and we give thanks for those who made today’s Connecticut Supreme Court decision possible.”

Stewardship in difficult times

Many parishes across the country are in the middle, or getting ready to begin their yearly stewardship/pledge drive campaigns. With the DOW index hovering around 8000 this afternoon, and people watching the savings evaporate, how do we manage to think about the needs of the Church and World when we're hurting so badly?

Terry Parsons, formerly the Missioner for Stewardship and Discipleship for the Episcopal Church, gave a talk in Southwest Virginia on just how to do this.

Christie Wills has posted her notes from Terry's talk on the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia's website.

The short, highly edited version has seven key points with two addenda for leaders:

1. Pray.

2. Bible study.

3. Rebuke scarcity.

4. Claim abundance.

5. It is more important to nurture holy habits than to fret over a budget.

6. Say thank you.

7. You can't sell soap if you don't take a bath.

Parsons had particular advice for leaders of churches:

8. In churches, sometimes the conversation comes down to cutting expenses or increasing income. Faith is always found when focusing on the income side. 'Sometimes the bad news is that ministry costs money. The good news is that we have the money. The terrible news is that the money is in our pockets,' said Parsons.

9. As a church we are called to confront the culture of greed and the spectacle of debt. We must do this for ourselves and as an example to our children.

You can find the full version of the notes and some additional material here. Might be worth forwarding to your parish stewardship chair this week.

Have you seen anything useful, or have any great tips to share? How about posting them in the comments below...

Whose Obsession?

Many American voters have received a copy of a DVD titled "Obsession" in the mail in the past few weeks. But there's no clear answer to who is behind the making of the 2006 movie about radical Islam or who has paid for its distribution.

Adam Shatz has done a little digging:

"The Clarion Fund is a front for neoconservative and Israeli pressure groups. It has an office, or at least an address, in Manhattan at Grace Corporate Park Executive Suites, which rents out ‘virtual office identity packages’ for $75 a month. Its website, clarionfund.org, provides neither a list of staff nor a board of directors, and the group still hasn’t disclosed where it gets its money, as required by the IRS. Who paid to make ‘Obsession’ isn’t clear – it cost $400,000. According to Rabbi Raphael Shore, the film’s Canadian-Israeli producer, 80 per cent of the money came from the executive producer ‘Peter Mier’, but that’s just an alias, as is the name of the film’s production manager, ‘Brett Halperin’. Shore claims ‘Mier’ and ‘Halperin’, whoever they are, are simply taking precautions, though it isn’t clear against what. The danger (whatever it is) hasn’t stopped Shore – or the director, Wayne Kopping, a South African neocon – from going on television to promote their work."

Read the full article here.

The article claims that it's been voters in swing states that have been getting copies of the DVD, but your "editor of the day", who lives in Arizona, received a copy a few weeks ago as well.

"Christian-Muslim" priest to be defrocked

From the Seattle Times:

There are moments these days when the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding sits outside a church or a Muslim gathering, wondering if she will be welcome at either.

It didn't use to be this way. But now, six months away from what is almost certain to be her defrocking, the Episcopal priest who announced last year that she had also become a Muslim remains steadfast in her belief that she was called to both faiths but says her decision to follow that call has been exceedingly painful at times.

In a letter mailed last week to national and local church leaders, Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, who has disciplinary authority over the Seattle priest, said a church committee had determined that Redding "abandoned the Communion of the Episcopal Church by formal admission into a religious body not in communion with the Episcopal Church."

It's actually rather pleasant

Giles Fraser is having a good time in the USA:

The morning brings a fine smoke over the mountain lake. The forest trees of North Carolina rise majest­ically from the surface of the water. This is all the church you could ever want for.

We wade through the lilies, chest-deep in muddy water. “Will, I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Back on the bank, the congregation strikes up the magnificent spiritual: “O sin­ners, let’s go down, down in the river to pray.”

All the news is being made by the nonsense secession of the diocese of Pittsburgh from the Episcopal Church in the United States (News, 26 September). So the impression is given that this Church is a snake-pit of acrimony. Yet, on the ground, in the parishes, things are so different.

The liturgy is prayerful and ima­ginative, the preaching orthodox and lively, the congregations wel­coming and alive. At least, that is my experi­ence. “Has Rowan Williams actually been to a service in an Episcopal church since he became Arch­bishop?” a friend asked me re­cently. Perhaps he has, but I could not think of an occasion.

And, no, I do not admire the Episcopal Church just because it has made a costly prophetic witness to the truth of the gospel over homo­sexuality. Media coverage has given the impression that it is a one-trick pony. That is nonsense. Churches here are vibrant and genu­inely diverse.

The culture war and politics

The Pew Forum convened a panel of experts and journalists to explore the question of how the culture wars may or may not affect the presidential election in November.

For much of the presidential campaign, it has appeared that moral values issues would play only a small role in the November election. Indeed, at various points both Barack Obama and John McCain shied away from talking about abortion, same-sex marriage and other "culture war" issues. But the selection of Sarah Palin as the Republican Party's vice presidential candidate and Catholic bishops' criticism of Joe Biden's comments on when life begins have increased the attention paid to culture war issues. If the candidates focus more on these issues, will it help or hurt them with voters? Will the national and global economic difficulties introduce new definitions of the culture war? Just a few weeks before Election Day, the Pew Forum invited two culture war experts and a group of leading journalists to explore these questions in depth.

Yuval Levin and Todd Gitlin explore the idea that there is always a cultural war behind US politics. Although with slightly different descriptions of the "war" both see it as longstanding and foundational in the US.

Todd Gitlin

The culture wars matter in American politics because it’s the norm for them to matter. They always matter. They don’t always matter decisively, and the sides don’t always line up in the same way. In fact, the outcome of politics frequently hinges on who succeeds in defining what will be the sides this time. But the culture wars always matter because Americans vote not simply, and not even necessarily first, for what they want but for whom they want.
....
But again, the structure, the body if you will, remains the same even as the issues which are the cells change. Culture war is a fixture. So, to the question of how the culture wars will matter this time. Well, we have all the usual dimensions: abortion, gay marriage. We have, I think, an accentuation of the city versus country theme, which is a perennial. We have Barack Obama, of Honolulu, New York, Cambridge and Chicago versus John McCain of Sedona and Sarah Palin of Wasilla. Obviously, the impact of all of these will be muted by the financial and economic crisis to the great benefit of Sen. Obama and the chagrin of Sen. McCain.

Levin:
So I agree that the culture war on our politics is really a – a set of opposing attitudes and dispositions. But I don’t quite – I wouldn’t describe it in the same way that Todd did. It seems to me that the culture war actually takes place within what Todd described as the party of resentment. I think that both parties in our politics, both sides in our politics, actually want to be the party of resentment. And you know, no one wants to be the elite in American politics; they just have two very different ways of understanding what elite means and what there is to resent. And the culture war is a war of two populisms, what we might call in very broad terms, cultural populism and economic populism. For that reason, I think that this election is definitely, and has been and will be, a culture war election – because in fact, in this particular election more than most, we see the war of cultural populism defining the two candidates

Following their presentations a variety of journalists continue the conversation and the discussion of how the culture wars are more than the current representation of them.

Read the transcript here.

Todd Gitlin is Professor of Journalism and Sociology, Columbia University
Yuval Levin is Hertog Fellow and Director of the Bioethics and American Democracy Program, Ethics and Public Policy Cente
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Remembering Matthew Shepard

erasehate.jpgTomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man from Casper, Wyoming, who was severely beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in a remote area east of Laramie, where he was attending college. The Rev. Susan Russell points us to a remembrance and reflection from her colleague the Rev. Michael Hopkins, who was president of IntegrityUSA at the time of Matthew's death. He also recounts his experience at Matthew's funeral, which was picketed by extremists:

There I came face to face with the hatred that killed Matthew in the guise of protestors from a church in Kansas led by a man named Fred Phelps. They held signs proclaiming Matthew was a "fag" who was even now burning in hell, and their verbal taunts were even more horrific. The only consolation was a group of good souls standing silently between them and those of us waiting in line in the cold outside the church.

Mr. Phelps and his followers are in the extreme even in the realm of those Christians who are of the opinion that sex between men or between women is intrinsically sinful. And yet the entire church that remains ambivalent about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is culpable in the physical, psychological and spiritual violence inflicted on us. This includes my own beloved church, much as most of it would term itself "progressive." Real discrimination continues and discrimination is at least spiritual violence, pure and simple.

In the Episcopal Church, one of the options for the general confession in our liturgy includes repentance for "the evil done on our behalf." It is a powerful phrase, although the church has barely begun to unpack the many ways it is true and face up to them, which is the only way for repentance to be genuine. The awful truth is that the death of Matthew Shepard was part of the "evil done on our behalf." Any amount of ambivalence or hostility toward lgbt people is in collusion with such an evil act.

Someone at the time of Matthew's death, on various listservs on which Episcopalians can be found, emotionally declared that the church had "blood on its hands." The statement was met with a great deal of protest and even outrage. As a leader, I myself distanced myself from the remark, its own collusion. It was, however, the truth.

My deep prayer as I contemplate this anniversary is that one day, in my lifetime, the church (at the very least, my church) will own up to this truth, repent of it, apologize, and finally amend its life to erase the ambivalence. As Matthew showed us, it is a matter of life and death.

(Ed. note: A small correction—the name of the church in Casper where Matthew's funeral was held was St. Mark's Episcopal Church.)

His entire essay is available at Susan+'s blog, here; she also shares a link to a video remembrance of the young man, here.

Matthew's mother, Judy, also has some updates at the Matthew Shepard Foundation website.

Atheist soldier drops suit, leaves Army

The AP is reporting that Pfc. Jeremy Hall, an atheist who accused the Defense Department of violating his religious freedom, is leaving the Army and dropping his suit:

An atheist soldier who accused U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Defense Department of violating his religious freedom dropped the lawsuit Friday, citing his plans to leave the Army next spring.

But the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which filed the suit in 2007 with Pfc. Jeremy Hall, still plans to pursue allegations of widespread religious discrimination within the military in a separate lawsuit it filed with a second atheist soldier.

Attorneys for Hall filed papers Friday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., to dismiss the case, said Mikey Weinstein, head of the foundation.

Hall and the foundation sued over Hall's claims that a major prevented him from holding an atheist meeting while deployed in Iraq. That officer denied the allegation.

Dropping the lawsuit avoids a fight over whether Hall has standing to sue if he is no longer in the Army, which he plans to leave in 2009, Weinstein said.

. . .

Spc. Dustin Chalker, a combat medic who filed the second lawsuit in October, also named Gates as a defendant. Chalker alleged he was required to attend three events from December 2007 to May 2008 at Fort Riley at which Christian prayers were delivered.

The lawsuit cited examples of the military's religious discrimination by fundamentalist Christians, including programs for soldiers, presentations by "anti-Muslim activists" and a "spiritual handbook" for soldiers endorsed by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East.

Defense officials have declined to comment on either lawsuit but have said the military has a longstanding policy against discrimination that preserves religious freedom for all in uniform. It also has said complaints about alleged religious discrimination are rare.

Weinstein said Hall recently was transferred to another military police company. He plans to attend college and serve as a liaison with the foundation on religious freedom issues.

Read it all here.

Should we allow sale of organs

The Economist has a fascinating essay on whether it makes sense to allow the sale of transplant organs. Would this increase the supply of donated organs? Would it save more lives? Or would it cause the exploitation of the very poor?

“PLEASE don’t take your organs to heaven,” reads the American bumper sticker. “Heaven knows that we need them here on earth.” Last year more than 7,000 Americans died while awaiting an organ transplant—almost double the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq since 2003. In Europe, too, thousands of people whose lives could be extended or transformed (by having sight restored, for example) through transplants forfeit the opportunity for want of available organs.

Research by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that only one in ten people in need of a new kidney, the body part most in demand, manages to get one. In the poorest places, of course, a complex transplant—which in the American health system costs $500,000—is unthinkable for most people anyway. But the gap between supply and demand for organs affects the poor too, by creating a market in body parts where abuses are rife.

. . .

The latest of many organ-harvesting scandals is now raging in India, one of several poor countries where the sale of organs used to be legal but has now been banned, with the apparent effect of driving the trade underground. A doctor, Amit Kumar, is awaiting trial after reportedly confessing to having performed hundreds of illegal transplants for rich clients from America, Britain, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Greece. He has been accused of luring labourers into his clinics with job offers; victims were then offered up to $2,000, a princely sum, to part with a kidney. Some who refused are said to have had kidneys removed anyway after being drugged.

Another kidney racket flourished in South Africa between 2001 and 2003. Donors were recruited in Brazil, Israel and Romania with offers of $5,000-20,000 to visit Durban and forfeit a kidney. The 109 recipients, mainly Israelis, each paid up to $120,000 for a “transplant holiday”; they pretended they were relatives of the donors and that no cash changed hands.

At least until very recently, a key destination for such “transplant tourists” was China, where—according to human-rights groups—there used to be a ready supply of organs plucked from the bodies of the thousands of people who are executed every year. China insisted that the prisoners’ organs were only used with their “consent”. But under global pressure, it agreed a year ago to stop the practice; in theory, only blood relatives of the executed can now get their organs. The sale of any human body part was banned in 2006. Before the change, about five Australians a year bought organs from the bodies of Chinese who had been executed, according to Jeremy Chapman, the Australian head of the International Transplantation Society.

. . .

Just why is there such a lack of donors in rich countries, given that, according to opinion polls, most people like the idea of donation and are ready in principle to participate? One big factor has been a stream of media reports that give people the impression of widespread malpractice by the medical profession and the funeral and biomedical industries.

. . .

But it is Iran (with a low deceased-donor rate) that has the highest living-donor rate in the world—23 per 1m. It is also the only country where monetary compensation for organs is officially sanctioned. Iran began paying unrelated living donors for their kidneys in 1988. Just 11 years later it had eliminated its kidney-transplant waiting lists—a feat no other country has achieved. Under the Iranian system, a patient wanting a kidney must first seek a suitable, willing donor in his family. If that fails, he must wait up to six months for a suitable deceased donor.

. . .

In practice, Iran also has a market in kidneys (allowing buyers and sellers to agree a price that tops up the sums officially available). In addition, there are altruistic donors, who offer up kidneys anonymously as an Islamic duty, or in gratitude for a prayer that has been answered. In fact, Iran’s reality runs the gamut of approaches from commerce to state support to kindness. It somehow works; Iranians no longer go abroad for kidneys.

. . .

Gavin Carney, a professor at Australia’s National University Medical Hospital, suggests paying each donor around $47,000. This, he says, would save thousands of Australian lives and billions of dollars in the cost of care for patients, some of whom wait seven years for a kidney. The government “shouldn’t just let people rot on dialysis”, he says. Nadey Hakim, a London transplant surgeon and ex-president of the International College of Surgeons, also favours some form of compensation. “There really is no other option,” he says.

Read it all here. What do you think?

Religion and teen drug use

A new study by BYU researchers finds that religious involvement cuts teen marijuana use in half:

Now a new national study by two Brigham Young University sociologists finds that religious involvement makes teens half as likely to use marijuana.

The study – which will be published October 13 in the Journal of Drug Issues – settles a question scholars have disagreed on in the past.

"Some may think this is an obvious finding, but research and expert opinion on this issue have not been consistent," said BYU sociology professor Stephen Bahr and an author on the study. "After we accounted for family and peer characteristics, and regardless of denomination, there was an independent effect that those who were religious were less likely to do drugs, even when their friends were users."

The study, co-authored by BYU sociologist John Hoffmann, also found individual religiosity buffered peer pressure for cigarette smoking and heavy drinking.

The term religiosity as used in the study has to do with people's participation in a religion and not the particular denomination. Hoffmann said the protective effect of church and spirituality supplements the influence of parents.

. . .

Two data sets were used in the study, 13,534 students who participated in the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health and 4,983 adolescents in a state-wide survey of Utah schools. Individual religiosity was measured by two questions: one asked the students how frequently they attended church and the other asked the students to rate the importance of religion to them.

"The power of peers is less among youths who are religious," Bahr said. "Meaning if you are religious, the pressure from peers to use drugs will not have as much effect."

However, researchers found that religiosity didn’t have the same effect on use of illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin. Professor Bahr gave his insight as to why:

"There are pretty strong social norms against illicit drugs throughout society," Bahr said. "So even if you aren't religious, you receive many messages against illicit drugs. But that may be less so for drinking, smoking and even using marijuana, which tend to be strongly opposed by many religious groups."

Another result showed that the religiosity within the community as a whole does not play as big a role as formerly thought by researchers.

"Previously, it was thought that if someone grew up in a religious community and went to church, then the community’s religious strength would make a difference,” Bahr said. “We basically found that this was not the case. Individual religiosity is what makes the difference."

Read it all here.

What does your church do about teen substance abuse? Does it work?

Christians in Mosul under attack

Violence against Christians in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul has reached a five-year high:

Iraq deployed around 1,000 police in Christian areas of Mosul on Sunday as thousands of members of the minority group fled the worst violence against them in five years.

"Two (national police) brigades were sent to Christian areas in Mosul and churches were surrounded and put under tight security," interior ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf told AFP.

He said the reinforcements had been deployed from midnight in the restive northern city, considered by US and Iraqi commanders as the last urban stronghold of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Khalaf added that two investigation teams, one security and the other criminal, had also been deployed to probe a spate of attacks on Christians in Mosul since September 28, in which at least 11 people have been killed.

An AFP correspondent said police had set up checkpoints at churches in the city's four heavily Christian areas and were patrolling the streets on foot.

Nearly 1,000 Christian families have fled their homes in the city since Friday, taking shelter on the northern and eastern fringes of Nineveh province, according to provincial governor Duraid Kashmula.

He said the violence was the worst against Christians in five years.

"(It) is the fiercest campaign against Christians since 2003," Kashmula told AFP on Saturday. "Among those killed over the past 11 days were a doctor, an engineer and a handicapped person."

At least three homes of Christians were blown up by unidentified attackers on Saturday, security officials said.

. . .

The flight of Christians from Mosul came as Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako last week called on the US military as well as Prime Minister Maliki's government to protect Christians and other minorities in the face of a rash of deadly attacks.

In an interview with AFP, Sako called on US forces to do more to protect Christians and other minorities.

"We are the target of a campaign of liquidation, a campaign of violence. The objective is political," Sako said.

Since the US-led invasion of 2003 more than 200 Christians had been killed and a string of churches attacked, with the violence intensifying in recent weeks, particularly in the north, he added.

There were around 800,000 Christians in Iraq at the time of the US-led invasion, a number that has since shrunk by around a third as the faithful have fled the country, the archbishop said.

Read it all here.

The Enlightenment and religion

Peter Steinfels religion column in yesterday's New York Times is devoted to a new book by David Sorkin, professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin, that argues that the Enlightenment created both religious and secular world views:

“In the academic as well as the popular imagination,” Dr. Sorkin writes, “the Enlightenment figures as a quintessentially secular phenomenon — indeed, as the very source of modern secular culture.”

But contrary to this “secular master narrative,” he argues, “the Enlightenment was not only compatible with religious belief,” it actually generated new formulations of that belief.

Such theological formulations were no less an essential part of Enlightenment thought, he insists, than the deist, materialist or antireligious ideas often identified with it and regularly wheeled into the front lines of today’s cultural and political wars.

In “The Religious Enlightenment,” a book published in August by Princeton University Press, Dr. Sorkin aims at nothing less than “to revise our understanding of the Enlightenment.”

Building on recent scholarship highlighting the ideological and geographical diversity of 18th century thought, Dr. Sorkin posits a specifically religious Enlightenment that not only shared characteristics across confessional lines as well as national borders — hence his book’s subtitle, “Protestants, Jews, and Catholics from London to Vienna”— but also “may have had more influential adherents and exerted more power in its day than either the moderate or the radical version of the Enlightenment.”

Leading thinkers of this religious Enlightenment, he explains, sought a “reasonable” faith that was answerable to contemporary science and philosophy, and not grounded merely on dogmatic authority, pure emotion or fascination with the miraculous.

These thinkers agreed with deists that there was a kind of “natural religion,” basic truths about God and morality accessible to reasoning people. Natural religion was not a rival or alternative, however, to revealed religion. It was a prelude, a necessary but insufficient foundation for belief. Without a further belief resting on revelation, reason was likely to end in skepticism and immorality.

. . .

“The twenty-first century has begun with seemingly unbridgeable chasms between secularism and believers,” Dr. Sorkin writes. “One step in averting such a parlous situation is to recover the notion of an Enlightenment spectrum that, by including the religious Enlightenment, complicates our understanding of belief’s critical and abiding role in modern culture.”

Read it all here.

Breaking the taboo

In Alban Weeky, from the Alban Institute, James Hudnut-Beumler writes:

In many congregations, talking about money is taboo. That we don't talk about money doesn't mean we don't worry about it, though. In fact, most Americans worry about it constantly. Are we saving enough? Will Social Security be there for us when we are old? Will the nursing home costs for our aging parents clean us out just in time to prevent us from sending our children to college? And now, how will the mortgage lending crisis and the sharp declines in stock values affect me and my family?

Many people keep such worries to themselves or share them only with their spouses. Sometimes we turn to a coworker for understanding, but rarely to a pastor or to the church and its members.

One of the best ways people can be the church together in a money-dominated age is to break the taboo against discussing money and money worries. If we are concerned with having enough money to care for others or ourselves, or with meeting payments, let's confess those concerns to our brothers and sisters in a supportive setting. A burden confessed is a burden shared.

For another take on this issue visit Ways of the World.

For more information on the fundamentals of the issue listen here.

AP report: Palin blurs church-state lines

Garance Burke reports:

The camera closes in on Sarah Palin speaking to young missionaries, vowing from the pulpit to do her part to implement God's will from the governor's office.

What she didn't tell worshippers gathered at the Wasilla Assembly of God church in her hometown was that her appearance that day came courtesy of Alaskan taxpayers, who picked up the $639.50 tab for her airplane tickets and per diem fees.

An Associated Press review of the Republican vice presidential candidate's record as mayor and governor reveals her use of elected office to promote religious causes, sometimes at taxpayer expense and in ways that blur the line between church and state.

Meanwhile, a rally for John McCain in Davenport, Iowa, opened with a peculiar invocation from a local minister, which the McCain campaign later disavowed. And Joe Biden was back in Scranton yesterday with Bill and Hillary Clinton. They drew a crowd of 6,000 people, which no doubt irked the local Catholic bishop in the heavily Catholic city.

Convert or flee

Christians in eastern Indian state of Orissa are being told “Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished, otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village." reports The New York Times. Economic conditions are also a large factor in this attack.

India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.

The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.
.......
India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, and India’s Hindu-majority of 1.1 billion people. But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years.

It was set off, people here say, by the killing on Aug. 23 of a charismatic Hindu preacher known as Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who for 40 years had rallied the area’s people to choose Hinduism over Christianity.

The police have blamed Maoist guerrillas for the swami’s killing. But Hindu radicals continue to hold Christians responsible.
........
Hate has been fed by economic tensions as well, as the government has categorized each group differently and given them different privileges.

The Kandhas accused the Panas of cheating to obtain coveted quotas for government jobs. The Christian Panas, in turn, say their neighbors have become resentful as they have educated themselves and prospered.


Read the rest here.

Previous Lead items on persecution of Christians around the world are here and here and here.

Real San Joaquin stands up

Episkofest 2008 is the name given the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin to be held at Church of the Saviour in Hanford. The annual diocesan convention includes election of Standing Committee and Executive Council members, approval of the budget and resolutions. Among the eleven resolutions submitted in advance of convention are a resolution on conduct of clergy and a resolution calling for the creation of an equality commission. The business portion of convention is scheduled for Saturday morning, October 25.

Convention also includes 33 workshops, most presented by individuals in the diocese, a carnival-style event and hamburger dinner on Friday night, a chili dinner on Saturday night, and worship services throughout. Episkofest will conclude with Eucharist at 10 am on Sunday morning. Over 200 people are expected to attend.

Additional information, including resolutions submitted, proposed budget and Episkofest schedule, is available on the diocesan website: http://www.diosanjoaquin.org/convention/index.html

Devlin in Wonderland

Parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh have received a very strange letter from former Bishop Robert Duncan's chancellor, Robert G. Devlin. Lionel Deimel advises them to ignore it.

Also check out the interview Bob Duncan gave to Christianity Today.

Fort Worth and Dallas sought to usurp role of General Convention

The Bishop of Fort Worth writes that he and other diocesan leaders have been discussing associate status in the Diocese of Dallas for congregations in Fort Worth who want to remain in The Episcopal Church when he and others move into the Province of the Southern Cone.

In late January, I asked 12 of the senior, most respected priests of the Diocese to begin meeting together as a clergy discussion group to assist me in addressing the tensions and conflicts involved in the life of our Diocese as we move toward a Diocesan Convention vote in November to separate from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. I am sorry to report that after several meetings over the months, they have been unable to agree on any proposed remedy for the divisions that face us.
.....
At the same time as these conversations were going on, a group of diocesan officials from Fort Worth were meeting with our counterparts in the Diocese of Dallas to see if a pastoral agreement could be worked out between our two dioceses, whereby parishes in Fort Worth that wanted to remain in TEC could do so as part of the Dallas Diocese. These meetings included the Bishops, Chancellors, Canons to the Ordinary, and Presidents of the Standing Committees of the two dioceses. We came up with a proposal whereby, under certain conditions, Fort Worth parishes and clergy could have “associate membership” in Dallas, including seat, voice and vote at their Convention, and their property could be placed temporarily in the name of the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, to be held in trust for their use.
...
Mr. Beers stated that neither the PB nor the General Convention would support such a plan, and without their support, the Fort Worth parishes [we thought would like to pursue such an arrangement] were unwilling to continue steps to implement the plan.

According to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church only General Convention can approve rearrangement of congregations and the dioceses to which they belong. The Diocese of Fort Worth will continue to be a diocese of The Episcopal Church regardless of the vote of the diocesan convention and the bishop.

Read it all here.

The Dallas Morning News reports here. Some of those commenting seem to understand the situation better than the bishop and his associates.

In God We Trust

The Sun News Online writes that The Primate, Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Archbishop Peter J. Akinola has raised an alarm over increases in moral decay in society which has negative impact on Christian faith.

Bishop Akinola however described the trend as worrisome events that have gradually caught up all over the world adding, "We are in perilous times that Christians must be watchful to ensure that they are not deceived into compromising their faith.

The Primate stated that it has gradually become fashionable to remove the historic emblems of Christian faith such as ‘cross’ and even the ‘Christ’ from the public domain.
........
Primate Akinola further observed with dismay that though the founding fathers of the United States inserted In God We Trust, in their currency, anti-Christ agents are threatening to erase it.

Actually, Archbishop Akinola, the "founding fathers" did not put this phrase on US currency HERE is the history of In God We Trust:

The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins.
...
The Congress passed the Act of April 22, 1864. This legislation changed the composition of the one-cent coin and authorized the minting of the two-cent coin. The Mint Director was directed to develop the designs for these coins for final approval of the Secretary. IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.
...
A law passed by the 84th Congress (P.L. 84-140) and approved by the President on July 30, 1956, the President approved a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress, declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States. IN GOD WE TRUST was first used on paper money in 1957, when it appeared on the one-dollar silver certificate.
Addendum: The Church of Nigeria's full statement is here. An excerpt:
The Primate observed with dismay that though the founding fathers of the United States of America inserted “In God We Trust” in their coin, modern anti-Christ agents, in the name of civil liberties, are hell bent to erase God not only from the American currency, but also from the entire public domain including schools. He called for tolerance and reciprocity in religion.

African bishops comment on US elections

While US bishops cannot support candidates for election, but can speak on issues, at least one African prelate currently attending the Synod of Bishops in Rome feels no such scruples according to the National Catholic Reporter.

Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, said today he would “obviously” vote for Barak Obama if he could cast a ballot on Nov. 4.

Known as a strong advocate for social justice, Onaiyekan said Obama’s pro-choice record wouldn’t stop him from voting for the Democrat.

“The fact that you oppose abortion doesn’t necessarily mean that you are pro-life,” Onaiyekan said in an interview with NCR. “You can be anti-abortion and still be killing people by the millions through war, through poverty, and so on.”

A past president of the African bishops’ conference, Onaiyekan is widely seen as a spokesperson for Catholicism in Africa. During the synod, he was tapped to deliver a continental report on behalf of the African bishops.

Onaiyekan said the election of an African-American president would have positive repercussions for America’s image in the developing world.

“It would mean that for the first time, we would begin to think that the Americans are really serious in the things they say, about freedom, equality, and all that,” he said. “For a long time, we’ve been feeling that you don’t really mean it, that they’re just words.”

Onaiyekan said he’s aware that many American Catholics have reservations about Obama because of his stand on abortion, but he looks at it differently.

“Of course I believe that abortion is wrong, that it’s killing innocent life,” he said. “I also believe, however, that those who are against abortion should be consistent.

“If my choice is between a person who makes room for abortion, but who is really pro-life in terms of justice in the world, peace in the world, I will prefer him to somebody who doesn’t support abortion but who is driving millions of people in the world to death,” Onaiyekan said.


Read it here.

The Rt. Rev. Peter Akinola, Anglican Primate of Nigeria, has a different point of view. From his Primatial Address to the Church of Nigeria:

We salute those who emerged as presidential candidates of both the Republican and Democratic Parties. It was a rigorous, time and energy sapping exercise. But it was participatory as all stakeholders were openly involved in all parts of the vast country. As we wish them well in their electioneering we have our fears and reservations about the dangerous trends we see in American politics.

Ordinarily, it should be our joy that an African American is popularly nominated for the first time in American political history to slug it out with other contenders and going by popular forecasts, he is likely to be heading for the White House. We should however be concerned that this is a politician considered to be a far leftwing liberal for whom all that counts is victory at the polls. He sees abortion as normal and a matter of right for those who do it. So life is not sacrosanct and man can terminate it at will. By the same token homosexuality is okay and so under him, the world is likely to see more liberal and widespread acceptance of same sex marriages.

We urge Senator Obama to prayerfully reconsider some of his ultra liberal dispositions not only for the sake of “God’s own Country” but in the interest of the world. His endorsement of what the scriptures and much of the world condemn will definitely deepen in America the religious and spiritual vacuum which ungodly influences will of course seek to fill by whatever means. And that will have grave consequences for him and his country. As you know, whenever America sneezes, the rest of the world catches cold. In matters of religion, we plead; do not take today’s world for granted.

A stitch in time saves nine.

Baseball and faith

As you know, we on the Lead news team find a deep theological connection in baseball. Our belief is confirmed by stories in the Boston Globe on cardinals, bishops and baseball.

Michael Paulson writes that while Cardinal O'Connell, whose tenure saw them win 4 World Series, was not a fan,

His successor, Cardinal Richard J. Cushing, was more of an enthusiast, periodically buying blocks of seats at Fenway and bringing hundreds of nuns, in full habit, to games.

Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros was a real fan, so much so that, on his way into a papal conclave in Rome, he famously asked how the Red Sox were doing. (That was in 1978, a grim year for the Vatican, when two popes died, and for the Red Sox, who lost the American League East division in a one-game playoff with the New York Yankees.)

Now comes Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, a Capuchin Franciscan friar better known for his affection for foreign films, Spanish literature, and "A Prairie Home Companion," but who showed up at Fenway Park with a group of priests and church officials to watch the Red Sox clinch a wild card berth on Sept. 23.

"Since I have been the archbishop of Boston, the team has won two championships," O'Malley blogged afterward. "Only one other archbishop in the history of the diocese can make that claim. Cardinal O'Connell saw the victories of 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918 . . . but, I have just gotten started!"


In a followup story Paulson reports on an Episcopal Church connection:
In response to the story, I got this e-mail from David Clark:

"My dad, Rt. Rev. William H. Clark was the Episcopal Bishop of Delaware from 1975 to 1985. After retiring from that post, he and mom moved to Cape Cod, and he acted as an assisting bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. He was often asked to visit parishes to perform confirmation services. Dad was very much "low church” and had never bothered to order, much less wear, the mytre, a pointed “bishop’s hat”. However during a visit to a “high church” parish in suburban Boston during October 1986, the local priest was very concerned about having a hatless bishop confirm the new candidates. The matter was easily settled when a parishioner, agog with Red Sox fever because of the Mets-Sox world series going on at the time, kindly donated the Red Sox cap he had worn to church that day so that dad could wear it during the service. A long time Red Sox fan himself from his time as a parish priest at Trinity Church in Concord, and Saint Andrew’s Church in Wellesley, dad was happy to oblige."

The Lead team has determined in light of this past Sunday's gospel, the reason the Cubs did not win this year is because their "garments" were all wrong! NPR, however, believes it is because of Cheap Grace. Their fans love them too much.

Ringing changes in a time of change

The Rt. Rev. Alan Wilson, the Bishop of Buckingham, joined the congregation of St Laurence Church in Winslow, south of London, for a celebration and blessing of the church's newly-restored eight bells.

Winslow rector the Rev Belinda Searle-Barnes said: "This special benefice service offers us a marvellous opportunity to celebrate the wonderful bells of St Laurence.

"They are now restored and able to give of their full potential to call people to worship at this beautiful church and to ring out in celebration for festivals and weddings."


Bishop Alan, as he is known from his blog, reflects on the why change ringing* is a good thing in times of turmoil:
Sunday morning with brilliant sunshine amidst all the financial doom and gloom, at Winslow for the rededication of their ring of 8 bells — a considerable collaborative effort by bellringers and friends. They’ve been ringing at St Laurence for at least 400 years, but things rather declined in the nineties. During the run-up to the Millennium, Margaret Lowery raised a new band of ringers, and the frame has now been made safe and everything tuned up properly so that they’re a joy to ring as well as to hear. Manhandling the tenor bell up the tower felt like stuffing a small family car, or a hippo, up in the attic!

Change ringing (“ringing changes”) is a wonderful thing, in itself, to do in times of turmoil. You have to get things in perspective. There was life before Canary Wharf. Our society is heavily into panic and whining, but the fashion will pass. Winslow’s bells rang out the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the restoration of the Monarchy after the Civil War, Waterloo, Queen Victoria’s Death, the defeat of Hitler...


Read more and see photos here

*Change ringing is the art of ringing a set of tuned bells in a series of mathematical patterns called "changes".

What the presidential candidates believe

PBS Religion and Ethics Weekly produced a special report, using clips from various appearances, on how each candidate for president and vice president views his or her faith. Kim Lawton, producer of this program also speaks with leaders of the various faith traditions of the candidates.

All four candidates describe themselves as Christians, but they talk about their faith -- and apply it to their politics -- in very different ways.

Barack Obama:

Barack Obama has been the most outspoken about matters of faith, even though a survey last month found that 46 percent of Americans were still unable to correctly identify him as a Christian.

Obama says he was not raised in a religious household. But when he arrived in Chicago as a young community organizer he says he realized something was missing from his life. He visited Trinity United Church of Christ and went forward during an altar call given by its controversial pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

John McCain:

[John] McCain was raised in the Episcopal Church and attended an Episcopal school in Virginia. He learned the Anglican liturgy and memorized the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, two of the oldest statements of traditional Christian doctrine. McCain says he drew heavily on those for spiritual strength during his captivity in North Vietnam.

Joe Biden:

Joe Biden frequently identifies himself as a Roman Catholic, but he rarely speaks in-depth about religious issues... Biden spent his early childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where St. Paul's Catholic Church was a central part of his family's life. He went to Catholic schools and even briefly considered becoming a priest.

In his book, "Promises to Keep," he wrote: "My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion." He attends Mass nearly every Sunday and says he carries a rosary.

But Biden has been in conflict with the Catholic Church over the issue of abortion. Earlier this year, the U.S. Catholic bishops took him to task for what they called his "flawed moral reasoning" in saying he's personally opposed to abortion but supports a woman's right to choose.

Sarah Palin:

Church has played an important role in Sarah Palin's life, although she too has been very private about her personal faith. As an infant, Palin was baptized a Roman Catholic, but then her parents began attending the Wasilla Assembly of God Church. That local congregation is part of the Assemblies of God, an international Pentecostal denomination which has a conservative evangelical theology and emphasizes manifestations of the Holy Spirit. ...

Moderator Kim Lawton wonders, "Does it matter what a candidate believes? According to an August survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, nearly half of all Americans say they get uncomfortable when politicians talk about how religious they are. But at the same time, more than 70 percent of Americans say they do want a president with strong religious beliefs."

Watch and listen here.

CT demolishes arguments against marriage equality

The New Rebublic writer, Richard Just, recommends reading the Connecticut Supreme Court's gay marriage decision. He comments:

It's actually a rather moving document: a cogent defense of gay rights that efficiently demolishes the chief arguments against marriage equality, while offering what struck me as a reasonable defense of judicial intervention in the matter.
.....
First, the decision lays bare the absurd illogic at the heart of civil unions. In order to argue that Connecticut's civil union law did not discriminate against gays and lesbians, lawyers for the defendants were forced to contend that civil unions are basically the same as marriage.
......
Second, the justices made a pretty lengthy foray into the question of whether gay marriage ought to be adjudicated by the courts or left to the legislative process--and, in doing so, they offered an extended historical analogy that contains a worthwhile political lesson for liberals.
......

The court's reasoning here contains what I think is an important cautionary note for liberals. It's tempting to assume that, because history is headed in our direction on gay marriage, there is no need for the courts to get involved. But there's a difference between knowing that history is headed in your direction and knowing how quickly history is headed in your direction. In the case of women's rights, history turned out to be moving a bit slower in the direction of full equality than it appeared to be moving during the heady days of 1973. In the case of Connecticut and gay marriage, it's conceivable that it might have taken the legislature just a year to enact marriage equality. But it's also entirely conceivable that it could have taken decades. Which is why I'm unconvinced when gay rights advocates (like John Cloud this week in Time) argue that the same-sex-marriage battle needs to be fought in legislatures not courts. The Connecticut Supreme Court makes a good case that it needs to be fought in both.

Read the article here.

Reform threatens to walk

Thinking Anglicans provides a roundup of the just concluding Reform Conference. Included is this link to an article by Ruth Gledhill of The Times who smells schism; Us? We're skeptical. An excerpt from Gledhill:

Without agreement from the Synod of the kind that set up “flying bishops” for traditionalists who opposed women bishops, to seek alternative oversight from a bishop outside the diocese would be tantamount to schism in all but name.

Two bishops in the frame to provide this oversight are the Bishop of Rochester Dr Michael Nazir-Ali and the Bishop of Lewes Wallace Benn.

However, it is also possible that Reform could consecrate its own new bishops, in effect setting up a “rival” Church of England diocese.

Of the 25 congregations understood to be interested, several are already outside the formal structures of the established church, having failed to win recognition from their local diocese. A new structure would also bring these congregations into the fold.

It would be run under the auspices of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, the new body set up by the summer’s Global Anglican Future meeting of conservative Anglican bishops, clergy and laity from around the world.

Even without a discount for possible hyperbole this doesn't sound like much.

Meanwhile, from Sydney, Peter Jensen continues to assert "Persistent attempts to portray GAFCON as a breakaway movement or an attempt to split the Anglican Communion are perverse, almost malign. ... [The Anglican Communion] is a highly significant entity, to be cherished and maintained, not torn apart. The aim of GAFCON is to renew and invigorate the Communion and to help bring order and peace out of the mayhem created by the American division."

Addendum: Thinking Anglicans makes the address by Rod Thomas, chairman of Reform, available here. A phrase jumps out: "the reason we’re interested in Episcopal oversight at all is that we believe in being part of an Episcopal church for good theological and pragmatic reasons. We are not Congregationalists in that we believe it biblical to be connexional. It is right therefore that it should not simply be the local congregation that validates its own senior ministry."

Attendance numbers released

The latest attendance numbers for the Episcopal Church are now available.

At the Growth and Development page you can access figures through 2007 by diocese and church.*

Your interpretations are welcome. Also, how do you see these numbers in the context of the page A01 coverage of the Episcopal Church in the Washington Post today?

Read more »

History says foreign aid will fall

In the presidential and VP debates, the candidates have been asked which of their promises would have to go in light of the financial crisis? The answers have been mostly elliptical. Joe Biden did say, "Well, the one thing we might have to slow down is a commitment we made to double foreign assistance. We'll probably have to slow that down."

David Roodman says history tells us foreign aid will fall:

Though today's financial crisis began in the world's richest nation, there is good reason to worry about how it will affect the world's poor. A recent series of posts explores the implications. The contagions of freeze-up and slowdown will spread through many channels: trade, investment, migration, and more.

In particular, as governments pour trillions of dollars and euros of aid into their banks, it will be unsurprising if their spending on aid for poor countries--currently about $80 billion/year--falls. (See Saturday's story in the Washington Post.) After each previous financial crisis in a donor country since 1970, the country's aid has declined. "Every" in this case refers to four instances: Japan after its real estate and stock bubble burst in 1990; and Finland, Norway, and Sweden after their shared crisis in 1991.

Read it all here.

68 percent of Catholics back legal recognition for gay unions

A Knights of Columbus survey, reports Catholic News Service, finds:

A plurality of registered Catholic voters, 36 percent, said homosexual couples should be able to form civil unions. The remaining 64 percent were split evenly -- 32 percent to 32 percent -- on gay couples being able to legally marry or such couples getting no legal recognition.

What's that you say?

In other words:

Although the poll results indicated that 68 percent of Catholics would favor some kind of legal recognition for gay couples in terms of either same-sex unions or legal marriage, "I would not read it that way," [Supreme Knight Carl] Anderson said.

Anderson was probably surprised by the result since it cannot be explained by the inclusion of nonpracticing Catholics: amongst practicing Catholics 63% back legal recognition of gay unions.

When results on the question of same-sex unions are presented (see link below) they are "read" this way: "70% of Americans do not support same-sex marriage including 38% who advocate no legal recognition and 32% who favor civil unions. 68% of Catholics and 75% of practicing Catholics share this view. Even though a majority of non-practicing Catholics oppose same sex marriage, 46% believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry."

The question on same-sex unions asked was: Which comes closest to your view: (A) Gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry, (B) gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally form civil unions, but not marry, or (C) there should be no legal recognition of the relationship between gay and lesbian couples?

Given that C < 50% Anderson instead frames the finding as B + C > 50%. Yet it is also true that A + C > 50%. In other words, a majority of Catholics back legal recognition of gay unions. That's a far cry from what many would predict.

You can listen to the news conference webcast here.

The poll, Moral Issues and Catholic Values, is summarized here.

Mainliners breaking for Obama

Steve Waldman:

[A]n ABCNews/Washington Post poll released Monday showed Sen. Obama now leading among Mainliners 53%-44%, indicating that the undecided voters are breaking heavily for the Democratic candidate.

Why? The superficial answer is, as with so many other questions, the economy. In Beliefnet’s Twelve Tribes study, 68% of centrist Mainliners (what we called “White Bread Protestants”) said the economy was the No. 1 issue compared with just 4% who said social issues.
...
But that only gets at part of the riddle.
...
In some ways, Sen. McCain is actually an ideal candidate to appeal to this group – a mainline Christian himself (raised Episcopalian), he talks about fiscal discipline and earmarks.

The Mainline shift to Sen. Obama may be partly an unintended consequence of Sen. McCain’s efforts to energize evangelical Christians, including through the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Though fiscally conservative, mainline Protestants are socially liberal – so they would be unimpressed by the Republican Party adopting the most antiabortion platform ever. Mainliners may be irritated or scared by Gov. Palin’s religious language and beliefs – including her attendance at a Pentecostal church espousing “End Times” theology (that we’re approaching the end of the world and Christ’s return).

Waldman's entire column is available here.

Meanwhile, Chad Groening at OneNewsNow writes:

Dr. Charles W. Dunn, dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University, believes that even if Obama wins, Americans should give John McCain credit for picking Sarah Palin as his running mate.

"She is the heir apparent to conservative leadership. She is the heir apparent to having the mantle of Ronald Reagan bestowed upon her. She is the heir apparent to becoming the Margaret Thatcher of America," Dunn contends. "If she does not stub her toe along the way, she has a very bright future."
OneNewsNow is a division of the American Family Network.

'A Common Word' on the economic turmoil

From the Communiqué from A Common Word conference released office of the Archbishop of Canterbury:

We, the Christian and Muslim leaders and scholars gathered for the Conference on A Common Word and Future Muslim-Christian Engagement from 12 to 15 October 2008AD/1429AH, give thanks to Almighty God for the opportunity to meet together and grow in mutual understanding, trust and friendship.
...
We live in an increasingly global world that brings with it increased interdependence. The closer we are drawn together by this globalisation and interdependence, the more urgent is the need to understand and respect one another in order to find a way out of our troubles. Meeting at a time of great turbulence in the world financial system our hearts go out to the many people throughout the world whose lives and livelihood are affected by the current crisis. When a crisis of this magnitude occurs, we are all tempted to think solely of ourselves and our families and ignore the treatment of minorities and the less fortunate. In this conference we are celebrating the shared values of love of God and love of neighbour, the basis of A Common Word, whilst reflecting self-critically on how often we fall short of these standards. We believe that the divine commandment to love our neighbour should prompt all people to act with compassion towards others, to fulfil their duty of helping to alleviate misery and hardship. It is out of an understanding of shared values that we urge world leaders and our faithful everywhere to act together to ensure that the burden of this financial crisis, and also the global environmental crisis, does not fall unevenly on the weak and the poor. We must seize the opportunity for implementing a more equitable global economic system that also respects our role as stewards of the earth's resources.
Speaking of the markets and priorities, Ruth Gledhill is blogging that a Financial crisis looms for Anglicans:
word has reached me of a meeting this morning about the finances of the Anglican Communion, specifically the Anglican Communion Office in north-west London. This office is quite heavily dependent on income from the US. While none of the trust capital is affected, being secure in property in some of the 'best' areas of the US, investment income has apparently gone through the floor. This means that projects currently funded by such organisations have to be assessed and prioritised. One insider in the US tells me: 'I think ACO has been in a bad way even before the current situation. I am in the minority of TECers who would like to see us spend the money we give them on something more meaningful. Additionally, there are ethical issues involved in supporting a group of people so eager to throw gays and lesbians under the bus.'
Gledhill likes to run ahead of stories; as usual, wait for more evidence no matter what the plausibility.

From Bishop Bruno

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

The Supreme Court of California has determined that all citizens of our state should have equal access to marriage as a civil right based in our state constitution. The Court's ruling provides the Church with an opportunity to reflect on our own theology of marriage. In the Diocese of Los Angeles, we have sought to provide the Church's blessing to all the baptized people of God.

Among those are people who have sought to have same-sex relationships blessed in the community of faith. I know that the acceptance of same-sex unions has caused spiritual struggle and questioning for some members of our Diocese, our Church and the Anglican Communion. My policy has been to allow clergy to respond to the needs of their community with pastoral sensitivity including the blessing of these unions as they deem appropriate to the pastoral context.

Earlier this year, when the court made same-sex marriage an option in civil law, I felt it necessary to convene a task force to develop a diocesan policy by which clergy in our Diocese might officiate at same-sex marriages. The task force has developed educational materials that I hope will help you and members of our Diocese to reflect on the issues involved in same sex-marriage as we discern our way forward.

I hope that all clergy in our Diocese might educate our congregations about marriage and have conversations about it.

Performing and blessing these marriages is not simply theoretical. There are real people in congregations large and small who have waited sometimes for many years for this opportunity, and the witness of their faithful love has been an inspiration to me. Other couples will step forward in the future. I hope you will take the opportunity in the next several weeks to listen to their stories. Many among these couples are members of our congregations.

While no one in this Diocese will be forced to move beyond what his or her conscience allows, we seek to provide that gracious space for those whose conscience compels them to bless the marriages of all faithful people as together we discern the work of the Holy Spirit who continues to lead us into all truth.

Your Brother in Christ,
J. Jon Bruno
Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles

Latino missioner sleeping a little easier

"Don't be surprised when there's a [expletive] bullet in the back of your [expletive] brain," the caller said in a message."

That's the message that the Rev. Simon Bautista, Latino missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, found on his answering machine in May. Now a suspect has turned himself in.

The Washington Post has the story:

A 34-year-old Maryland man was arrested yesterday on charges of making bomb threats against CASA of Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group based in Silver Spring.

Wesley J. Queen II of Pasadena turned himself in to Montgomery County police and was being held on a $250,000 bond, authorities said. He faces two counts of "false statements -- threatening to use a destructive device" and two counts of telephone misuse.

CASA of Maryland runs four day-labor centers, where workers can gather while waiting to be picked up for jobs. On May 18, police said, Queen made telephone calls to CASA and to a CASA staff member's cellphone. The staff member, Mario Quiroz, said the caller told him, "You shouldn't be surprised if your places start blowing up in pieces," according to a police report on the incident.

WNBC has video.

(Editor's note: Simon's office is across the hall from mine and he played the message for several of us back in May. It was chilling. The fact that we were able to trace the call using just the caller ID function on Simon's phone was somewhat reassuring as it made us question the caller's intelligence. On the other other hand, just because someone isn't bright,doesn't mean they aren't dangerous.)

Religulous: fish, barrel, bang! bang! bang!

Damon Linker, author of The Theocons, reviewed Bill Maher's film Religulous for The New Republic:

Maher and director Larry Charles are highly adept at ridiculing their fellow citizens. Anyone who has seen Charles' last film (Borat) is familiar with his directorial style: put ordinary Americans on camera, ask them a few questions about their beliefs, and then stand back as they reveal their vapidity. The technique is simple, but the psychological response it provokes in viewers is anything but. We laugh as we shake our heads in disgust, squirming with a mixture of pity and repugnance for the pious fools on screen. But we also enjoy a rush of pride for getting the joke, since every laugh confirms that we in the audience are smarter and more sophisticated than the ignoramuses ignorantly and ineptly defending their convictions. Maher is our surrogate here, posing the questions, smirking at the idiocy of the responses, and sometimes explicitly ridiculing the interviewee to his face. And not only to his face. Maher and Charles have been kind enough to include some of their banter as they travel from one interview to another, cracking a few extra jokes at the expense of the last inarticulate boob.
See, also, Deidre Good's review in The Daily Episcopalian.

The faith-based economy

On the Social Science Research Council's blog Immanent Frame, Arjun Appadurai writes:

Last week as I listened, along with many other Americans and others around the world, to President Bush’s most recent effort to reassure us about the current economic meltdown I had a “Road to Damascus” moment. It happened as I heard Bush repeat the word “faith”: faith in America’s institutions, faith in its workers, faith in capitalism, faith in our capacity to survive other disasters (such as 1929 and 2001). And, of course, the faith we needed to weather the recent crisis and get to the other side, such faith, in Bush’s rhetoric, being not only the need of the moment but the fulcrum for the journey to recovery.

I instantly saw that a great feat in reverse discourse engineering had occurred: we had moved into the era of the “Faith-Based Economy.” ...

[N]ow we are in a new Weberian moment, where Calvinist ideas of proof, certainty of election through the rationality of good works, and faith in the rightness of predestination, are not anymore the backbone of thrift, calculation and bourgeois risk-taking. Now faith is about something else. It is faith in capitalism itself, capitalism viewed as a transcendent means of organizing human affairs, of capitalism as a theodicy for the explanation of evil, lust, greed and theft in the economy, and of the meltdown as a supreme form of testing by suffering, which will weed out the weak of heart from those of true good faith. We must believe in capitalism, in the ways that the early Protestants were asked to believe in predestination. Not all are saved, but we must all act as if we might be saved, and by acting as if we might be among the saved, we enact our faith in capitalism, even if we might be among the doomed or damned. Such faith must be shown in our works, in our actions: we must continue to spend, to work hard, to invest, and, as George Bush long ago said, “to shop” as if our very lives depended on it. In other words, capitalism now needs our faith more than our faith needs capitalism.

ERD gets child survival grant for work in Uganda

From ERD:

Episcopal Relief & Development is proud to announce the receipt of a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). This award is part of the USAID Child Survival Agenda which was established to focus attention on the dire health needs of children in developing countries.

Episcopal Relief & Development announces the receipt of this grant as we commemorate World Food Day on October 16th and the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17th. The theme, “working together out of poverty” highlights the need for a global anti-poverty partnership between both developed and developing countries. These commemorative days are a reminder of the Millennium Development Goals which aim to combat disease, inequality, hunger and cut the number of people living in extreme poverty in half by the year 2015.

The USAID grant will be implemented in January of 2009 and will fund Episcopal Relief & Development’s programs in Northern Uganda where there are currently at least 1.4 million people living in Internally Displaced People camps. Janette O'Neill, Senior Director for Africa Programs, is currently in Uganda working with local partners to develop a holistic program that will address critical needs for communities. The goal of the Episcopal Relief & Development USAID program is to contribute to sustained improvements in child survival and health outcomes.

“Episcopal Relief & Development is honored to receive this generous grant supporting our heath and hunger programs in Uganda,” said Mariama Dauda, African Program Officer. “The grant will allow us to implement key programs that will improve child survival in Uganda.”

To make a contribution to help people in Northern Uganda, please donate to Episcopal Relief & Development online at www.er-d.org, or call 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to: Episcopal Relief & Development, PO Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058.

One wonders how Archbishop Henry Orombi, who has refused aid from the Episcopal Church because of its stance on homosexuality, feels about this development.

Batting 1000

Our friend Mark Harris made his 1,000th post at Preludium today, and he's at the top of his game. He makes many fine points, but this one stands out:

7. The Archbishop of Canterbury has consistently misrepresented the nature of the Anglican Communion, believing somehow that he had to “save” the Communion as if it were a church, from splitting. There is no church to save. The wringing of hands by certain Primates was power play and public rhetoric. He bought it.

Diocese of Virginia will appeal Fairfax court rulings

A letter from Bishop Peter James Lee (emphasis added)

October 16, 2008

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

Every day God calls us to remain faithful together at the foot of the cross. The mutual support and community we share in the Diocese of Virginia is a clear sign of our faithfulness to this call. Especially important in these challenging times is the support we offer the faithful Episcopalians in our continuing congregations as they serve the mission of the Church.

The Circuit Court of Fairfax County has heard evidence related to ownership of disputed church properties. Despite our claim that these properties are held in trust for many generations of Episcopalians, from the past to the future, we have received some unfavorable rulings, including one this week which declared that property acquired for the Church of Christ Redeemer was transferred properly to Truro Church. Next week the Diocese will present evidence which we believe shows that Christ Church, Alexandria is the owner of the historic church of the Falls Church. The trial will conclude next week and we expect a ruling in late November or early December.

While these legal rulings have been disheartening, I pray that you remain mindful of our larger common mission. It is our duty to band together to see that all Episcopalians may worship in their own churches. It is our privilege to live and worship here in Virginia, the birthplace of religious freedom. We must not allow the government to dictate how people of any faith organize and govern themselves nor where they may gather in prayer.

Let me assure you that the Diocese of Virginia will vigorously appeal every court decision that denies any Episcopalians their rightful church homes. The Diocese of Virginia has experienced challenges in the past and we have always come through renewed and strengthened in our mission to serve Christ's church. Virginia will do so again.

Please continue to keep all those affected by this trial in your hearts and prayers.

Faithfully,

Peter James Lee
Bishop of Virginia

Mainline churches and politics

Ed Kilgore (an Episcopalian, by the way) and Beliefnet's Steve Waldman have interesting posts about the importance of members of mainline churches this election. Here is Ed's take:

If you're not religious yourself, and derive your impressions of Christianity in this country from the news media and the shouting of self-appointed Prophets, you'd be excused for thinking that Christians are pretty much all divided into Catholics and conservative evangelical Protestants. Sure, you might be dimly aware that there was once a large group of people called Mainline Protestants, but they're a relic of the past, decimated by their wishy-washy liberalism and reluctance to leap into politics to defend infallible truths.

But despite many predictions by both secularists and religious conservatives that they are a dying breed, the fact is that Mainline Denominations (as measured by affiliation with that quintessential "liberal" institution, the National Council of Churches) represent 45 million Americans, which is a lot more than a few. They're a diverse group, to be sure, including denominations like the Eastern Orthodox churches which are quite conservative on many cultural issues. But by and large, they have dissented conspicuously from the Christian Right movement, and its alliance with conservative politicians.

. . .

For a long time, the GOP was able to count on the residual loyalty of Mainline Protestants while devoting virtually all of its religious outreach to conservative evangelicals and "traditionalist" Catholics. But shirking these Mainline believers, while allying themselves with religious spokesmen who frequently speak of Mainliners as little more than pagans who like singing hymns, is a gamble that has finally caught up with the Republican Party. And this backlash has not been helfpul to John McCain, a Mainline Episcopalian by birth who now calls himself a Southern Baptist.

Read it all here.

Waldman offers some interesting analysis about what is happening this year:

This used to be a solidly Republican group. In 2004, they went for President George W. Bush 54%-46%. This summer, John McCain was leading Sen. Obama among these voters 43% to 40%, according to a study by John Green of the University of Akron.

But an ABCNews/Washington Post poll released Monday showed Sen. Obama now leading among Mainliners 53%-44%, indicating that the undecided voters are breaking heavily for the Democratic candidate.

Why? The superficial answer is, as with so many other questions, the economy. . . .

But that only gets at part of the riddle.

For one thing, Mainliners are traditionally conservative on economics - and surveys indicate that if anything they've become more skeptical of big government since 2004. Slightly more than four in 10 "white bread Protestants" call themselves conservative compared with 16% who say they're liberal. In some ways, Sen. McCain is actually an ideal candidate to appeal to this group - a mainline Christian himself (raised Episcopalian), he talks about fiscal discipline and earmarks.

The Mainline shift to Sen. Obama may be partly an unintended consequence of Sen. McCain's efforts to energize evangelical Christians, including through the selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Though fiscally conservative, mainline Protestants are socially liberal - so they would be unimpressed by the Republican Party adopting the most antiabortion platform ever. Mainliners may be irritated or scared by Gov. Palin's religious language and beliefs - including her attendance at a Pentecostal church espousing "End Times" theology (that we're approaching the end of the world and Christ's return).

In general, Mainliners have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the role the "religious right" has played in the Republican Party. According to a new survey by a progressive group called Faith in Public Life, Mainliners - by a margin of two to one -- believe public officials are too close to religious leaders. Evangelicals, by a two to one margin, think politicians should pay more attention to religion.

If you view the campaign as a chess game, Sen. McCain made a bold and successful gambit to shore up evangelicals by picking Gov. Palin - but thereby left several other pieces on the board vulnerable.

Read it all here.

Church property: we are stewards, not owners

A brief essay by Dean George Werner, former President of the House of Deputies via Lionel Deimel's blog:

I reluctantly, and with sadness, find I must reply to an argument being offered concerning the property of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The claim has been made that the property belongs to those who are currently tending it. One of the clearest of principles in The Episcopal Church (and many others) is that we are stewards, not owners. It is a scriptural concept, that we are the temporary managers whose job description is to maintain and enhance (see Parable of the Talents, Mt. 25:14–30) that with which we have been entrusted and then pass it on to our successor.

It has worked brilliantly for centuries. Clergy are entrusted with Church buildings, land, chalices, vestments, linens, and other appointments of worship and community. Our generous forebears have left behind dedicated funds for music, for scholarships, for endowments, for personnel positions, and for maintenance of all the above.

Unfortunately, from time to time, some group makes the judgment that “this time is special” and that “we are more able, more effective, more holy, more scriptural, more just, or more righteous than others. Therefore, we must take ownership of that we once accepted in trust as stewards.” But I would think that such a self-praising judgment needs to be left to the One true Judge, who will separate the sheep from the goats and the wheat from the chaff.

I question neither the sincerity nor the commitment of such folk. I understand that I am a dinosaur who actually believes that vows should be taken seriously. At my Ordinations to Diaconate and Priesthood, not only did I respond orally and positively to accept the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church, but I also signed the documents of that vow before the ceremony could be continued.

I believe in the Communion of Saints. For me that includes the hundreds and the thousands of wonderful lay people who gave so much of their time, talent, and treasure to build these communities and then passed them on to another generation. In both our sacred and secular worlds, there are too few voices of gratitude for those who have given us so much and too many shouts of “mine” in this difficult moment of God’s history.

This is my thirtieth year as part of this Diocesan family. When I arrived, we were just completing the last significant Diocesan fund raising for mission. Though other campaigns were proposed, none came to fruition. So the property and funds in question were the product of decades and centuries. (I was a steward for Trinity Cathedral for more than twenty years of Trinity’s twenty-five decades of history.)

Serving as a steward was a great honor and privilege for me and I never felt the need or desire to be an owner of such a treasured place and gloried history. But then, I am a dinosaur who believes in vows and commitments, and dinosaurs are best known for being extinct.

— George Werner, 31st President of the House of Deputies; Dean Emeritus, Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh

Comment problem is fixed

We've been having some trouble with our comment function, but we think we've got it licked, so all you folks who were eager to talk about the essay on Daily Episcopalian today, have at it, but don't forget to sign your (real) name.

Florida faith leaders rally against gay marriage ban

From The Miami Herald:

A coalition of religious leaders from across Florida joined forces Thursday to speak against a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Florida Clergy for Fairness, a group of interfaith clergy, say that Amendment 2 is mean-spirited and an infringement upon the religious freedoms of all Floridians.

''Hatred and bigotry are the motivations behind this,'' said Father Frank Corbishley, an Episcopal Chaplain at the University of Miami, during a conference call with reporters Thursday morning. ``It's sending a dangerous message about intolerance.''

The measure, called the Marriage Protection Amendment, will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot and needs 60-percent voter approval for passage.

LA Diocese produces education materials on same-sex marriage

The education materials that Bishop J. Jon Bruno mentioned in his letter posted Thursday are now available. An extract:

While churches are allowed to oppose the state’s legalization of same-sex marriage and refuse to engage in same-sex marriage ceremonies, it is the position of the authors that it falls within our own historic/biblical teaching and practice to support the state’s legislation and to solemnize same-sex marriage as now allowed by the state. Some of the following questions and answers are directed to explaining why we believe this is the case.

Fighting poverty with faith

From the Center for American Progress:

Faith communities across the nation held a week of action on poverty this September, calling upon political candidates and leaders to address the issue during their first 100 days in office and to pledge their efforts to cut poverty in half within 10 years. The "Fighting Poverty with Faith" action campaign brought together a coalition of nearly 100 religious communities in 36 states to draw attention to America's poor and create a mandate to reduce poverty in a significant way.

The interfaith coalition hosted local summits and social justice workshops, mobilized food and clothing drives, organized sermons, and more. The week ended with an interfaith prayer vigil in Washington and a call to action, urging members of Congress and the administration to pass legislation that will end poverty and hunger in America.

The problem is stark. Over 37 million Americans live below the official poverty line, constituting a population larger than the 25 smallest states combined. As a result, the state of poverty is now the largest state in the union. One in eight Americans is poor. One child in six is poor. And the numbers are growing. From 2000 to 2007, the number of children living in poverty increased by 15 percent. The income gap is growing as well. In 2007, the richest 20 percent of Americans had over 50 percent of the nation's income, while the poorest 20 percent had only 3.4 percent.

Bush administration okays religious discrimination in hiring

The New York Times has the story:

In a newly disclosed legal memorandum, the Bush administration says it can bypass laws that forbid giving taxpayer money to religious groups that hire only staff members who share their faith.

The administration, which has sought to lower barriers between church and state through its religion-based initiative offices, made the claim in a 2007 Justice Department memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel. It was quietly posted on the department’s Web site this week.

The statutes for some grant programs do not impose antidiscrimination conditions on their financing, and the administration had previously allowed such programs to give taxpayer money to groups that hire only people of a particular religion.

But the memorandum goes further, drawing a sweeping conclusion that even federal programs subject to antidiscrimination laws can give money to groups that discriminate.

Evangelicals in the newsroom: If not, why?

Rose French writes for AP:

Since the 1980s, when the Christian right emerged as a powerful force in American culture and politics, evangelicals have made significant inroads in law and government by training believers to work inside secular institutions. But while the same universities that helped students launch careers in those fields are offering similar programs in journalism, they haven’t been as successful at changing the nation’s newsrooms.

“The media — journalism — remain one of the hardest fields for them to realize their power,” said D. Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University and author of “Faith in the Halls of Power.”

Many evangelical journalists start out in secular news organizations but they soon join Christian media that offer an environment more accepting of their beliefs and more family-friendly than the long hours and low pay of secular journalism, said Robert Case II, director of the World Journalism Institute, which offers seminars for young evangelicals seeking work in secular media.

Is it discrimination if the environment in secular newsrooms is one that evangelical journalists find inferior to alternatives? Should secular new media consider changes that encourage a greater religious diversity within their newsrooms?

Duncan goes to England

In England yesterday, former Pittsburgh bishop Bob Duncan urged British traditionalists to be ever-vigilant lest what happened to him happen to them. He is touting his deposition as a cause célèbre which should give all conservatives pause as to their own status and a sign that the center of Anglican Communion will move outside of England.

Simon Sarmiento of Thinking Anglicans reports in Episcopal Life:

Duncan told traditionalists in the Church of England that they should not be complacent. Noting that "what begins as a liberal initiative quickly becomes illiberal", he cited the July General Synod's debate on legislation for women bishops as an example of how what had happened to him could also happen in England.

"Don't assume the progressive party will behave any differently over here" he said.

He cited as further examples of "illiberalism" the way Lambeth Conference 2008 organizers had sought to control the press, and the change of style from the 1998 conference, when many primates had also had places on the podium. In 2008, Duncan said, the Archbishop of Canterbury alone dominated the formal proceedings.
...

Discussing the unfolding situation in Pittsburgh, Duncan confirmed that he expected "around 20" parishes would remain with TEC and not participate in the Southern Cone re-alignment. The reduced income would inevitably lead to diocesan budget cuts. "We will suffer," Duncan said. Asked about the potential confusion caused by retention of the word "Episcopal" in the name of both the reorganised TEC diocese and the Southern Cone aligned diocese, insisted there was no question of changing the name of the latter to "Anglican."

Read his entire report here.

Religious Intelligence also covered the event, quoting Duncan's assertion that Canterbury should no longer be the center of Anglican affairs:

Bishop Duncan said: “He [Dr Williams] is attempting to lead in what are thoroughly unchartered times. I think the institutions of the Anglican Communion are in a season of real re-evaluation. I think he has not found it possible in terms of what he believes the limitations on his office are, to have done the things that actually would have secured the role of his office over the long haul of the 21st century. This is not an office which in terms of the life of the Anglican Communion of the future, is going to look anything like it did.

“The British period of Anglicanism is coming to an end.”

That article is here.

Christian Today also filed a report based on Duncan's news conference and seems to have misinterpreted some of the Q&A. In particular, while Duncan did express "his support for a second Anglican province in the US to replace the current pattern of “interprovincial” interventions in the US and Canada" he did not say the "Anglican Consultative Council of lay and clergy representatives was working on a proposal for the second province." See Duncan news conference transcript at Anglican Mainstream.

It's far from clear whether traditionalists in England are all pulling in the same direction. See our post from earlier in the week on the Reform Conference.

In a related story, George Will quotes Duncan while reverently admiring the breakaway dioceses in his column here, attributing the decline in church attendance among American Episcopalians and British Anglicans to a failed policy of inclusiveness, rehashing several arguments we've seen elsewhere.

Riding a spiritual wave

Here's a new take on observing the Feast of St. Francis, in case you'd rather spend it at the beach. With 6- to 10-foot waves crashing down behind them, two Catholic priests led some 400 interfaith worshipers in a "Blessing of the Waves" at Huntington Beach.

[Father Christian Mondor] of Sts. Simon and Jude Catholic Church in Huntington Beach, was 10 years old and growing up in Westwood when he took up body surfing. More than seven decades later -- he is now 83 -- he says he is still drawn to the sea.

"You're out there on the water, between waves, and you feel the swell under you and you look up and see palm trees and mountains in the distance," Mondor said. "You're so close to nature. It's so quiet out there."

[Father Matt] Munoz, 43, of St. Irenaeus Catholic Church in Cypress, made his way through the crowd. With his long auburn hair and long beige poncho, the priest said jokingly, "I'm not Jesus. I need a surfboard to walk on water."

Rick Ischinger, a longtime surfer, blew on a conch shell, calling the gathering to order.

Then, one by one, the representatives of different faiths stood to give a brief prayer.

"Some people pray by the oceans, others by the mountains," said Carol Weinfeld of Temple Beth David in Westminster. "Some people pray in forests and others by a calm cool lake.

"We hope," she said, "that those voices will join together to thank God."

Fawad Yacoob of the Islamic Society of Orange County recited a verse from the Koran. The crowd was quiet as he sang the prayer.

"In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful," he said, "it is he who subjected the sea to you, that you may eat of its fresh fish, and take forth from it ornaments to wear."

Story here, and don't miss the photo essay, which begins here.

CBN and the Democrats

David Brody, Washington correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, has interviewed many people during his coverage of campaign 2008. As keynote speaker at the Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism conference awards banquets last weekend, he made special note of how the climate has changed for Democrats at the network. Brody has interviewed Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Hillary Clinton. He's done enough interviews with Barack Obama now that in their last meeting, Obama was downright chummy with him. All of this seems part of the "strategy" to address "values voters," says a Scripps Howard article, but Brody never questions their authenticity, he says.

After two decades in broadcasting, Brody has become a go-to commentator, primarily by gaining a reputation as a fair-minded sounding board for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Thus, Brody has started turning up on MSNBC, CNN and NBC's "Meet The Press."

Democrats turn to his occasionally goofy weblog, "The Brody File," for insights into the views of conservative, centrist and progressive evangelicals. Republicans do the same thing, often to see how Democrats answer his questions about hot-button social questions.

Brody stressed that he isn't interested in asking "gotcha questions" about faith in an attempt to trip them up. The journalist has heard his own share of loaded questions during his lifetime, since he was raised as a Jew in New York City before converting to Christianity while in college. Brody isn't fond of labels.

"I don't have an agenda, but I am going to ask questions about faith" during CBN news broadcasts, he said. "I am going to ask personal questions about how the candidates go about making their decisions. Still, I know that there are shades of gray when people start talking about faith. ... So much of our politics in the age of talk radio is totally back and white, but we really do try to avoid polarizing language."

Then there was the landmark Nevada trip to interview Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his wife Landra at their home. Landing a face-to-face interview with Sen. Hillary Clinton for "The 700 Club?" Say no more.

Finally, after a year of negotiations, Sen. Barack Obama's staff scheduled an interview with the news team at the Rev. Pat Robertson's flagship network. Then Obama came back for another interview, then another and another.

Before that fourth interview, Brody expected to shake hands once again. But Obama caught him off guard by moving in for one of those "Hey, how are you doing?" shoulder-to-shoulder bumps that colleagues use when greeting one another.

"It was strange," said Brody, speaking at the annual Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism Conference. "You really don't want to be chest-bumping White House candidates. It just doesn't look right."

Indeed, these are strange times. In the past year, Democrats have been talking more about their faith than the Republicans -- part of a strategic attempt to capture a slice of a voting bloc that was so crucial in the 2004 elections. But in the age of talk radio, 24-hour cable TV coverage, weblogs and other forms of niche news, politicos are learning that they need to talk to a wider array of journalists to reach these values voters.

All kinds of doors are opening and "you have to be ready for your close-up," Brody told student journalists in Nashville.

"Go after it hard. Be very, very aggressive. I can't tell you this enough," he said. "You need to make multiple phone calls a day to get your source to talk. You need to make sure that you are constantly really going after the story. Don't ever let up."

After two decades in broadcasting, Brody has become a go-to commentator, primarily by gaining a reputation as a fair-minded sounding board for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Thus, Brody has started turning up on MSNBC, CNN and NBC's "Meet The Press."

Democrats turn to his occasionally goofy weblog, "The Brody File," for insights into the views of conservative, centrist and progressive evangelicals. Republicans do the same thing, often to see how Democrats answer his questions about hot-button social questions.

Brody stressed that he isn't interested in asking "gotcha questions" about faith in an attempt to trip them up. The journalist has heard his own share of loaded questions during his lifetime, since he was raised as a Jew in New York City before converting to Christianity while in college. Brody isn't fond of labels.

"I don't have an agenda, but I am going to ask questions about faith" during CBN news broadcasts, he said. "I am going to ask personal questions about how the candidates go about making their decisions. Still, I know that there are shades of gray when people start talking about faith. ... So much of our politics in the age of talk radio is totally back and white, but we really do try to avoid polarizing language."

Take the Obama interviews, for example. It's one thing, said Brody, to ask Obama specific questions about his liberal approach to Christianity, his support for abortion rights and commitment to expanding civil rights of gays and lesbians. It's something else to "play judge and jury" and try to challenge the reality of Obama's faith.

"There is no question that his sincerity shines through when he's talking to you about his Christian beliefs and the role that his faith plays in his life," said Brody. "This man says what he believes and he believes what he says. Obama has said over and over that he has given his life to Jesus Christ and I think people need to take his word on that.

Read the whole story here.

Speaking out against "that's so gay"

Celebrities Hilary Duff, Wanda Sykes and others are speaking out against the use of the phrase "that's so gay" when it means "that's so awful" or "that's so dumb" or other negative put down. GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) has joined with the National Ad Council to launch the first national multimedia public service advertising (PSA) campaign designed to address the use of anti-gay language among teens. According to GLSEN:

LGBT teens in the U.S. experience homophobic remarks and harassment throughout the school day, creating an atmosphere where they feel disrespected, unwanted and unsafe. GLSEN’s new survey found that three-quarters of LGBT teens hear slurs such as "faggot" or "dyke" frequently or often at school, and nine in ten reports hearing anti-LGBT language frequently or often. Homophobic remarks such as "that’s so gay" are the most commonly heard type of biased remarks at school. Research shows that these slurs are often unintentional and are a part of teens’ vernacular. Most do not recognize the consequences, but the casual use of this language often carries over into more overt harassment.

The new campaign aims to raise awareness among straight teens about the prevalence and consequences of anti-LGBT bias and behavior in America’s schools. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce and prevent the use of homophobic language in an effort to create a more positive environment for LGBT teens. The campaign also aims to reach adults, including school personnel and parents, because their support of this message is crucial to the success of efforts to change behavior among the target age group.


Read more here

Watch all the videos here.

Watch the CNN report below:

Read more »

Colin Powell busts a move

Foreign Policy offers this news about former Secretary of State and Episcopalian, Colin Powell, on its blog.

Colin Powell appears to have traded statecraft for stagecraft. The former Secretary of State hopped on stage with the Nigerian hip-hop group Olu Maintain last night at the Africa Rising Festival at London's Royal Albert Hall. Powell danced to the group's song, "Yahoozee," and even took the microphone to sing a few lines. The song celebrates "Yahoozee," a term used for those who defraud people using the Internet, a booming industry in Nigeria. Whether Powell knew the subject matter of the song remains a mystery
.

Read more here.

Atheists and politics

Peter Steinfels' column yesterday focused on the challenge that atheists face in organizing political activity:

As an atheist, Ms. Norman felt indignant about what she considered an intrusion of religious dogma into public policy. So she decided to hold a rally of like-minded nonbelievers, who might variously describe themselves as atheists, humanists, freethinkers or secularists. By various polls, such people accounted for nearly one-quarter of Colorado’s citizens.

Over two months, Ms. Norman made all the necessary arrangements — getting a parade permit, delineating the schedule for state officials, even buying a megaphone. She put out word about the rally not only through a variety of local atheist groups but also on the heavily trafficked Web site of Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist who has become a best-selling author for his broadside against religion.

When the appointed day of Sept. 28 arrived, no more than three dozen supporters joined Ms. Norman on the steps of the State Capitol in Denver. No newspaper covered the event. The speechmaking and picketing concluded a half-hour before the rally’s designated closing time.

“I was very disappointed because I put so much work into it,” Ms. Norman, 42, a model for art classes, said this week in a telephone interview. “And so did some other people. But we were the only ones there. The secular community as a whole seemed so indifferent. It wasn’t like nobody knew. It was like nobody cared.”

Ms. Norman’s exasperating effort to mobilize nonbelievers as a political constituency was not some local anomaly. The difficulty of delivering secular voters in the way numerous religious groups are routinely and effectively put into electoral action reflects a national trend.

Read it all here.

Bonnie Anderson in California

President of the House Deputies, Bonnie Anderson greeted the Diocese of California convention Saturday, October 18, at the invitation of The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, Bishop of the Diocese of California. President Anderson presented the Bishop and the President of the Standing Committee with a Pewabic Tile, symbolic of their mutual commitment to Christ and the ministry of God's church. During lunch at the convention Anderson provided an informational and informal workshop. She co-facilitated the workshop with the General Convention Deputies from the Diocese of California and gave a brief background and overview of the governance structure as well as answering questions. A video of this presentation will be available at the PHOD (President of House of Deputies) website.

Sunday, President Anderson participated in the Grace Cathedral live broadcast talk show. She was interviewed by The Very Rev. Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral.

Read more and listen here. Below is the sermon she preached at the 11 a.m. service at Grace Cathedral:

Read more »

A rabbi on the financial meltdown

Pete Tobias, the rabbi at the Liberal Synagogue Elstree, has an essay on spiritual implications of the economic meltdown:

There's a rabbinic quote about wealth and possessions that I've never really understood. It reads: "There are four types of person: one who says 'what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours' - this is the average type. One who says 'what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine' - that is an ignoramus. One who says 'what is mine is yours and what is yours is yours' - this is a righteous person. One who says 'what is yours is mine and what is mine is mine' - that person is wicked."

I also don't understand very much about global finances, but it seems to me that our economic wellbeing has been governed by a system - and people - who largely fall into the second category: ignoramuses who say what's yours is mine and what's mine is yours. They pass around large and often imaginary sums of money that don't belong to them and lend it to other people, who then find themselves unable to give it back. Quite what the consequences of this are going to be for our world remains to be seen, but it is already clear that something very dramatic - alarming even - is taking place all around us that could yet have drastic effects on our society and on each of us as individuals.

. . .

And we are seeing also the manifestation of another of nature's cruel aspects: the greed and folly of human nature. A society built on the acquisition of material possessions, constructed around the beliefs of those who tell us that it is possible to buy now and pay later; that what's theirs is ours and what's ours is theirs - but please can they have what's theirs back now. But we can't give it back because it was never ours in the first place.

What we do have, and what we need to rediscover, are the values of community - social capital - that have underpinned human development throughout the ages, even as our greedy economic system has run away with itself and carried us along with it in more recent times. As our human nature has driven us to seek the acquisition of ever-greater quantities of riches and possessions, so it has blinded us to the more profound qualities that are available to us. "Who is wealthy?" ask those same rabbis who might now be shaking their heads at the folly of an economic system run by ignoramuses. "Someone who is satisfied with what they have," is their reply.

Read it all here.


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Open Communion redux

Open communion or communion without Baptism (CWOB,) as it is more accurately called, is in the news again. In an article "Who is worthy to receive?" Michael Paulson writes:

A quiet revolution is taking place at the altars of many churches - in the form of bread and wine.

Communion, the central ritual of most Christian worship services and long a members-only sacrament, is increasingly being opened to any willing participant, including the nonbaptized, the nonbeliever, and the non-Christian.

The change is most dramatic in the Episcopal Church, particularly in liberal dioceses like Massachusetts. The denomination's rules are clear: "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church." Yet, a recent survey by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts found that nearly three-quarters of local parishes are practicing "open Communion," inviting anyone to partake.


Paulson also notes:
The public discussion of Communion in the United States has recently been dominated by developments in the Catholic Church, which maintains a traditional view of the Eucharist, asking that only members in good standing participate in the ritual. The Church's rules preclude divorced Catholics who remarry without annulling their first marriage from receiving Communion, and the bishops next month are scheduled once again to talk about the contentious and unresolved question of whether politicians who support abortion rights should be eligible to participate.

But even within the Catholic Church, there has clearly been change in practice, but coming from the pews, not the pulpit. Church officials and scholars say the percentage of people attending Mass who receive Communion has risen dramatically over the last several decades. This suggests that the number of people who see themselves as excluded by sin has dropped.

Many Catholics have clearly decided to make their own rules, from public figures, like the twice-divorced and abortion rights supporting Rudolph Giuliani, who took Communion at a papal Mass in New York, to nonfamous persons who take Communion despite having been remarried outside the church, or engaging in premarital or gay sex, or other practices the Church defines as sinful.


Comments on the article are quite interesting and diverse.

Read it all here.

Other essays and articles on Episcopal Cafe on CWOB here and here and here.

Christians in Iraq

In this time of extreme violence against Christians in Iraq, the Rt. Rev. Michael Lewis, The Anglican Bishop of Cyprus and the Gulf, whose diocese includes Iraq, has expressed his strong solidarity with all Christians in Iraq

The bishop recently visited Baghdad, where he met religious and political leaders, including major Shi'a and Sunni figures, as well as diplomats.

Speaking from Nicosia, Cyprus, he said:

"I am in close touch, as always, with our priest in Baghdad, Canon Andrew White, and with leaders of our congregations, especially at St George's church in the north-western suburbs. The threats, injuries, and deaths in the Mosul area are a deep grief to all Christians in the nation of Iraq and throughout the world, and fly in the face of centuries-long coexistence and toleration in the land, where Christian families have lived and prospered from near the very beginnings of our faith.

"I am glad to hear that key figures in both the Christian and the main Muslim communities are united in condemnation of the violence and are soon to meet.


Read the letter here.

Canon Andrew White, priest in Baghdad, writes in his weekly letter that the head of the Baghdad City Council came to church with some of the Council. Although all are Muslim, he wanted to come to the biggest church in his city to express solidarity with the Christians.

Dear Friends,
Blessings from Baghdad. It all should be awful here: we may be in the most dangerous place in the world and we have indeed seen terrible things happening to the Christians here in the past few days but today has been wonderful. The day started with the service in the US Embassy which was alive and passionate. Chaplain Causey was leading the worship and he has truly spiced up our praise. I used to say that the Episcopal service in the Embassy was my most boring service. It is no longer.

St George's today was simply incredible. The head of the Baghdad City Council came to church with some of the Council. They were all Muslim but he wanted to come to the biggest church in his city to express solidarity with the Christians. He spoke to us all and amazingly showed great support and assured us that he was with us and would do anything for us. He has even agreed to build a large hall with a kindergarten. The drawings are being worked on and they will go to our Embassy- they own the land- and to our Diocese to seek permission. So despite all the problems things have been very positive.

Blessings and Peace from Baghdad,

Andrew

Vicar of Dibley eases path for women clergy

First woman to become a Church of England Archdeacon thanks Dawn French in Vicar of Dibley for paving the way for acceptance of women priests.

As director of communications Diocese of Norwich, Reverend Jan McFarlane is the public voice and face of the Anglican church in the city.

She is also set to become the diocese's first ever female Archdeacon, and one of just a handful in the country, when she takes up the position next March. Reporter Kim Briscoe found out more about how the bubbly vicar found her calling - and the gratitude she owes to Dawn French.

By the time [McFarlane] had finished her training the vote had gone through and women could become priests. Jan was ordained at Lichfield Cathedral in 1993 and started work as a curate in Stafford for the Lichfield Diocese.

She said: “The ordination of women was very, very new and people's reactions were varied. You would walk down the street in your clerical collar and people would literally stop to stare. It was quite a tough time. I felt I was in this representative role for women and there was a strong sense of pressure to do better than the men in order to be accepted.”

Since then the clergy has come a long way and Jan acknowledges the boost Dawn French's Vicar of Dibley portrayal has given to female priests, but jokes her experience of the ministry is even more bizarre than the programme!

Jan, who shares the same sense of humour as the comic character, said: “Before then vicars were the fun figures - dappy, off-the-wall characters. The Vicar of Dibley presented this character who was fun and lovely and who had faith in a wacky way and who was 'the sane one'.

“I'd love to meet Dawn French and give her my thanks - she did such a good job."

Read it all here.

Biblical literalists vote white

The more literally one reads the Bible, the less likely a white voter is willing to cast his or her ballot for a racial minority, according to a Baylor University survey of religious attitudes and practices, as reported in the Waco [Texas] Tribune

Additionally, members of churches that are entirely white are more than two times less likely to vote for a nonwhite candidate, says Kevin Dougherty, assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University.

“One of the most powerful predictors of voting behavior is the color of the church they (voters) came out of,” said Dougherty, who specializes in the study of religion, race and ethnicity. “It’s really a startling thing.”

Sociologists and ethnographers have long decried 11 a.m. Sunday as “the most segregated hour of the week” in America, he said. But the Baylor study seems to put teeth into those words, quantifying what the potential impact of such social segregation might be.

“At our most intimate level, with whom we worship or sit down to dinner or go to bed, that is what makes it easier to divide the world into ‘us vs.them.’ It is easy to be distrustful of ‘the other’ when you have no reason to recognize that someone is ‘just like me,’ ” Dougherty said.

“In a big swath of America, life is still color-coded,” Dougherty said.

The level of religious service attendance had no effect, according to the survey. However, spiritual affiliation, view of the Bible and the racial composition of congregations did, he said

.
See the study and read the article here.

Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?

Colin Powell had a lot to get off his chest in his endorsement of Obama on Sunday. Michael Paulson at Boston Globe's Article of Faith blog focuses on the Powell's remarks about Muslims:

Powell, speaking on "Meet the Press,'' is among the first major public figures to question why it is a slur to call a candidate a Muslim. While explaining his concerns about the McCain campaign to Tom Brokaw yesterday, Powell (an Episcopalian) said the following:

"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, 'Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.' Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, 'He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.' This is not the way we should be doing it in America. I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.''
Read all of Paulson's post here. He provides additional links.

Could McCain or Obama come out and say the same thing?

Voting is an act of stewardship

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori calls voting "an act of stewardship" as the United States approaches its general election on November 4. In bulletin inserts available to congregations, the Presiding Bishop reminds all Episcopalians to approach the election with prayer, remembering their baptismal vows.

As caretakers and stewards of all of God’s creation, each one of us is responsible for the flourishing of the rest of the human family. As in all elections, on 4 November we have the opportunity to continue working to reconcile and heal the world. I urge every citizen to use this opportunity to motivate our government to respond to, and participate in, building the Reign of God. We prepare the ground for the possibility of more abundant life through our part in the ministry of governance.

Voting and political participation are acts of Christian stewardship, in which citizens can engage in a common conversation about the future of our nation and the world. I urge you to exercise your right to vote, and to encourage and help others to do so as well
.
Read it all here.

Bulletin inserts are available here.

PB: No to consideration of Covenant at GC2009

Reporting from the Executive Council meeting in Helena Montana, ENS quotes Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori as strongly discouraging any vote on a proposed Anglican Covenant at the 2009 General Convention.

If a proposed Anglican covenant is released in mid-May for adoption by the Anglican Communion's provinces, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will "strongly discourage" any effort to bring that request to the 76th General Convention in July.
Jefferts Schori briefly discussed the covenant process during her remarks to the opening plenary session October 21 on the second of the Executive Council's four-day meeting in Helena, the seat of the Diocese of Montana.

Anglican Communion provinces have until the end of March 2009 to respond to the current version of the proposed covenant, known as the St. Andrew's Draft. The Covenant Design Group meets in London in April 2009 and may issue another draft of a covenant. That draft is expected to be reviewed by the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) during its May 1-12, 2009 meeting. The ACC could decide to release that version to the provinces for their adoption.

If the ACC decides to do that, "my sense is that the time is far too short before our General Convention for us to have a thorough discussion of it as a church and I'm therefore going to strongly discourage any move to bring it to General Convention," Jefferts Schori told the Executive Council. "I just think it's inappropriate to make a decision that weighty" that quickly, she added.


More news of the Executive Council meeting and the Presiding Bishop here.

Homeless numbers rise

USA Today reports an alarming rise in the numbers of homeless especially families.

More families with children are becoming homeless as they face mounting economic pressures, including mortgage foreclosures, according to a USA TODAY survey of a dozen of the largest cities in the nation.
Local authorities say the number of families seeking help has risen in Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis, New York, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle and Washington.

"Everywhere I go, I hear there is an increase" in the need for housing aid, especially for families, says Philip Mangano, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates federal programs. He says the main causes are job losses and foreclosures.


Read it here

The latest from the Covenant Design Group

From Anglican Communion News Service:

The Covenant Design Group publish today the Lambeth Commentary, which sets out the responses of the bishops at the Lambeth Conference in their discussions of the St Andrew's Draft for an Anglican Covenant.

The Commentary was complied by the Covenant Design Group at their recent meeting in Singapore and also sets out some of the initial thinking of the CDG in response to the comments of the bishops.

The Commentary has already been sent out to all Provinces to assist in their discernment and response to the St Andrew's Draft, and encourages Provinces to submit their responses to the St andrew's Draft, while contributing to the ongoing thinking on the development of the text.

ACNS spoke to the Chairman of the Design Group, Archbishop Drexel Gomez about the Covenant Process.The full transcript is available below:


Read more »

San Diego diocese wins on appeal

North County Times:

St. John's Parish broke away from the Episcopal Church USA in July 2006 and aligned with an Anglican diocese in Uganda. After the change, the congregation continued to meet in the same church.

The Episcopal Diocese of San Diego and some members of St. John's who did not want to break away from the Episcopal Church sued St. John's Anglican in September of that year, claiming the Anglican congregation did not have the authority to claim ownership of the building.

A trial judge ruled in favor of the breakaway members. But the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday that the breakaway members "lacked the power and authority" to change the bylaws and articles of incorporation in place when it affiliated with the Episcopal Church in 1973.

Read the decision (37 pages).

Unlike some other cases the central issue of this case was control rather than property ownership per se. The court decided which the loyalist vestry was in control.

This may be the key paragraph in the decision:

Read more »

ABC meets with deposed bishop

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams met with deposed bishop of Pittsburgh, Bob Duncan last week. Duncan was in London to meet with disaffected members of the Church of England.

As ENS notes, while addressing the media last week,

Duncan said that the "institutions of the Anglican Communion are in a season of real re-evaluation," adding that he thinks the Archbishop of Canterbury "has not found it possible, in terms of what he believes the limitation of his office are, to have done the things that actually would have secured the role of his office over the long haul of the 21st century. This is not an office which, in terms of the life of the Anglican Communion for the future, is going to look anything like it did for the previous century."

Threats, it seems, are rewarded with attention.

Read the ENS report on Lambeth Palace's confirmation of the meeting between Williams and Duncan.

During his tenure he has met more often with Duncan than any other American bishop with the exception of the Katharine Jefferts Schori. Nor has he ever, to our knowledge, attended a worship service in an Episcopal Church.

Neither candidate has visited a mosque

Colin Powell's remarks (the right answer to whether Obama is a Muslim -- he isn't -- should be what if he was) seem to have motivated reporters to take a look at the state of Muslim attitudes towards both McCain and Obama. Muslims have the impression the candidates are keeping their distance.

CNN:

Biviji said it hasn't always been easy for Muslim-Americans to support candidates who don't usually seem to support them.

"Neither candidate has visited a mosque," said Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy group. "It might not be a gesture that's the politically right thing to do, but it's the morally right thing," Rehab said. CAIR has registered thousands of Muslim voters across the country.
...
Asma Hasan echoed Rehab's frustration about the occasional fumbles of the candidates toward the Muslim community. She pointed to a June incident at an Obama rally.

Two women were told not to sit behind Obama because they were wearing head scarves. Campaign volunteers thought it would would look bad if the women were seen behind the candidate in a photo or on television.

The Obama campaign quickly apologized, and a campaign spokeswoman said that the incident was not reflective of Obama's message, according to the New York Times.

More recently, a woman at a McCain rally in Minnesota stood up and faced the candidate. She said she doesn't support Obama because "He is an Arab." McCain shook his head and replied, "No ma'am, no ma'am."

NPR, Obama's Absence Upsets Some Muslims, Arabs:
Siblani says both Obama and McCain have allowed the words "Arab" and "Muslim" to be hurled as pejoratives.

And Siblani says worst of all, neither candidate has made a significant effort to reach out to his community.

Siblani also heads the Arab American Political Action Committee, which for the first time is not endorsing a presidential candidate.

"When you are running for office, you're supposed to talk to all Americans. You're supposed to feel the pain and the suffering and the good and the bad, and form your agenda based on what people need," he says. "How could you exclude 3 and a half million Arabs and 6 million Muslims out of your campaign?"

Siblani says Muslims are angry with McCain. But he says many are disgusted with Obama, who he says wants the benefit of his community's vote without the liability of being seen with Arabs and Muslims.
...
Nadia Bazzy is a third-generation Lebanese-American. She says she's waiting for the day when people see her the same way they see people who worship in churches and temples.

"So while this is a campaign built on change, whether it's on the side of Obama or McCain saying he's going to change Washington, are the American people ready to think of Arabs and Muslims as Americans? And that's the major question," Bazzy says.

Should Muslims be more understanding of the political calculus that says they might be more respected in an Obama presidency, but that the odds of Obama winning would fall if he visited a mosque now?

Balancing the triennial budget

From Episcopal News Service

The Episcopal Church's Executive Council heard October 22 that the church's 2009 budget, if council members approve it, will have a $2.5 million deficit.

However, Treasurer Kurt Barnes told council members that the entire 2007-2009 triennial budget will be balanced, as required by the Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons. There were surpluses of $1.2 million in 2007 and $2 million in 2008, Barnes said.

The article by Mary Frances Schjonberg also provides at least some information on legal expenditures, an issue on which Church Center has been unnecessarily (and unhelpfully) secretive.

She writes:


Included in the proposed 2009 budget is $600,000 for legal support to dioceses and expenses for Title IV disciplinary actions. Any costs above that amount will have to be taken from the church's short-term reserves, Barnes said, noting that because of previous commitments made for $5.4 million of the $6.5 million in reserve, there is $1.1 million available that could be used for those expenses. Those previous commitments include a recent dedication of $2.4 million for the effort to relocate the Archives of the Episcopal Church and a 10-year-old promise to reserve $3 million for future pension enhancements for lay employees at church center.

In 2008, the council budgeted $450,000 for legal expenses but $1.97 million was spent. The difference was taken from short-term reserves as the council had directed when it passed the budget.


Racism on the wane?

The Christian Science Monitor suggests that Barack Obama's viability as a presidential candidates indicates that racism may be on the wane in the United States.

This Associated Press story suggests otherwise, contending that racial prejudice could cost Obama the election:

Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House if the election is close, according to an AP-Yahoo News poll that found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them "lazy," "violent," responsible for their own troubles.

Then there is this item from the superb polling blog fivethirtyeight.com
which suggests the existence of racists for Obama.

And finally, here is the take of a Jesse Jackson impersonator on the "Bradley Effect" via Saturday Night Live's new Thursday show.

What do you think this election has shown us about the issue of race in American politics?

Something new in the abortion debate?

Father Thomas J. Reese of the Woodstock Theological Center writes:

After decades of debate over abortion, something new has occurred this year.

First, the Democratic Party is now not just using pro-choice language; it is also acknowledging the need to do something to reduce the number of abortions. Democrats, like presidential candidate Barack Obama are now willing to say that abortion is a moral issue--something the pro-choice lobby always opposed. Democrats are now promoting social and educational programs that will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and help pregnant women have their babies. In other words, after many years of insisting that abortion be legal and safe, the Democrats are finally emphasizing that it should be rare.

This new emphasis by the Democrats will not win over the hard-core pro-lifers, but it will make it easier for those, especially Catholics, who are concerned about abortion and other issues to vote Democratic.

And:

The second change in the debate this year is within the pro-life community. The traditional pro-life strategy has been to try to make abortion illegal. This has meant supporting Republican candidates, even though Republicans have never delivered on their promises even when they controlled both houses of Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court.

A small group of Catholic pro-lifers, exemplified by Douglas Kmiec and Nicholas Cafardi, has concluded that criminalization is a failed strategy. Overturning Roe v. Wade will simply return the issue to the states, where most states will keep it legal; and where it is illegal, women will simply drive to a neighboring state. These pro-lifers argue that abortion will not be criminalized in the foreseeable future and that it is time for pro-lifers to be more pragmatic and support candidates who will actually reduce the number of abortions through social programs that help women choose life when they get pregnant

Isn't it possible to argue that whether abortion is a sin is a matter of Church doctrine on which bishops are equipped to instruct the faithful and expect obedience, whereas the best means of diminishing the number of abortions is a matter of public policy and political calculation on which Catholics may have legitimate disagreements? And isn't it also possible to argue that bishops who instruct the faithful on matters of pubic policy and political calculation as though they were speaking on matters of doctrine are abusing their office? And finally, aren't bishops who withhold Communion from politicians who may agree with them on abortion as a matter of doctrine, but disagree with them on how best to diminish the number of abortions committing a grave sin?

TEC wins NY property case

From The Associated Press via Newsday:

In a property dispute stemming from the national Episcopal rift over the ordination of a gay bishop, New York's top court ruled Thursday that the Rochester Diocese can keep the building once occupied by the breakaway All Saints Anglican Church.

Note especially:


"We conclude that the Dennis Canons clearly establish an express trust in favor of the Rochester Diocese and the National Church, and that All Saints agreed to abide by this express trust either upon incorporation in 1927 or upon recognition as a parish in spiritual union with the Rochester Diocese in 1947," Judge Theodore Jones Jr. wrote. The other six judges agreed.

All Saints' attorney Eugene Van Voorhis had argued that the Dennis Canons, adopted in 1979 by the General Convention of the National Church, should not apply since they came nearly 30 years after it joined the diocese. He said the land and church were bought and built by the parishioners.

While Jones agreed there was nothing in the original deeds or certificate of incorporation indicating the church property was held in trust for the diocese or National Church, he said applicable case law set in 1979 by the U.S. Supreme Court requires looking to the constitution of the general church.

Read the whole decision. According to the AP, five or six other parishes in New York have allied themselves with other branches of the Anglican Communion while attempting to keep property claimed by the Episcopal Church. Those of us who aren't lawyers should probably speak cautiously, but this would seem to be very bad news for them.

Va. suffragan to "consult" with new Pittsburgh diocese

The Rt. Rev. David Colin Jones, the bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, has accepted an invitation from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh to serve as a "consulting bishop" as it rebuilds.

Bishop Jones will provide the Pittsburgh diocesan Standing Committee -- the current leadership team -- practical advice on the details of diocesan administration, clergy deployment, and support for congregations remaining in the Episcopal Church in the United States.

"Bishop Jones's experience in Virginia, especially his pastoral care for congregations that continued with the Episcopal Church, provides us a great resource and guiding hand," said the Rev. James Simons, President of Pittsburgh's Standing Committee.

The Diocese of Virginia, like Pittsburgh, has seen a handful of parishes seek to "realign" with other Anglican churches outside of the United States. As the bishop suffragan, or assisting bishop, in Virginia, Jones's primary responsibility is for missions and church planting, and he is known to be passionate about church growth.

"I believe my strongest spiritual gift is the gift of encouragement," Bishop Jones says. "Throughout my entire ordained ministry I have been a listener and a guide. I now offer that to the Episcopalians of Pittsburgh to use as they see fit in rebuilding their diocese. I do not come with any predetermined expectations."

As a consultant, Bishop Jones will have no ecclesiastical authority in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. That jurisdiction remains with the Standing Committee. He will begin his consulting role immediately. Jones will continue as Virginia's bishop suffragan and maintain his residence in Virginia, spending time in Pittsburgh as needed. He may, on occasion, be asked to perform sacramental duties for Pittsburgh churches.

Congregations representing twenty Pittsburgh parishes are on record as remaining in the Episcopal Church, with more likely to be identified by the time the Diocese holds its Special Convention on December 13, 2008. At that meeting, vacancies in all elected diocesan offices will be filled. In the coming months, the Standing Committee will name an Assisting Bishop to serve until a permanent diocesan bishop is called – a period that could take up to two years. Bishop Jones is expected to lend advice on naming the Assistant Bishop and continue serving as a consultant until that person is in place.

Jones, 65, was consecrated the bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Virginia in 1995, making him one of the more senior bishops of the Episcopal Church. He has held numerous leadership positions within the House of Bishops and General Convention. Jones holds degrees from West Virginia University and Virginia Theological Seminary.

The Bishop has close connections to the Pittsburgh area, but until now, never had an official tie to the Diocese. Born in Youngstown, raised in West Virginia, he visited Pittsburgh often. "I bought my first suit at Kaufmann's downtown," Jones recalls, "and rooted for the Pirates and Steelers."

Additional information on The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of The Episcopal Church in the United States is available at www.episcopalpgh.org.

An opening for action against poverty

From The Associated Press:

Left-leaning Christian and social activists see opportunity in an unconventional presidential race and a spiraling national economy: pushing poverty as an election issue. At a time when more than 37 million Americans are in poverty, including many who are newly poor and paying keen attention, spiritual leaders are encouraging the young to vote and urging voters to select candidates who will fight poverty. ....

The cause has resonated across party lines and denominations, said Elaine Clements, deacon of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in New Orleans. More liberal Episcopalians and Methodists are working alongside more conservative evangelicals and Baptists in a manner many say they have not seen this generation.

She said that every Wal-Mart patron she has approached in the economically stricken Tchoupitoulas neighborhood has readily signed a pledge to pick local, state and federal candidates this year with poverty foremost in mind.

Many Christians viewed the city's treatment after Hurricane Katrina as added evidence that the poor's needs were being overlooked, said Lisa Sharon Harper, of New York Faith & Justice.

“War and violence across the globe, the lack of compassion toward the poor during their time of most need in Katrina, and the collapse of an economic structure where Wall Street was made rich on the backs of the poor,” Harper said. “There's an open window that nobody really made. It's just time.”

Just so you know

From Think Progress:

On Saturday, Republican North Carolina Reps. Patrick McHenry and Robin Hayes warmed up the crowd at a rally for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) by throwing red meat to the right-wing audience. As ThinkProgress noted, the New York Observer’s Jason Horowitz reported that Hayes “accused Obama of ‘inciting class warfare’ and said that ‘liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.’”

Hayes now says the remarks were "definitely not what I intended."

Canadian province will bless civilly married same-sex couples

From the Anglican Journal

The assembly of the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior (APCI) has requested its bishop, Gordon Light, to allow clergy whose conscience permits to bless civilly married gay couples where at least one party is baptized. The assembly passed the motion when it met October 17-19.

A notice of a similar motion was filed at the synod of the Diocese of Ontario but was declared out of order by the diocesan bishop, George Bruce, who acted on the advice of the diocesan chancellor (legal advisor). The ruling was appealed at the synod held October 16-18 but was upheld by a majority vote of delegates.

At the APCI assembly, Light gave concurrence to the motion but suspended any action pending consultations with the Canadian House of Bishops, which meets October 27-31 to discuss, among other things, how best to respond to renewed proposals for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions.

Since the 2007 General Synod, four dioceses have already passed similar motions -- Ottawa, Montreal, Niagara, and Huron. The diocesan synod of New Westminster approved same-sex blessings in 2002.

Running out of "passionate patience"

From The Denver Post:

Elizabeth Bennett sits in her Denver church contemplating the elephant in the sanctuary that few polite Episcopalians want to mention.

Bennett grew up in the Episcopal church. She sang in the choir. She was married in one and baptized her five children there. Her mother's ashes are buried under a tree outside an Episcopal church in Massachusetts.

But being openly gay now in the Colorado diocese, she says, is like being given "half-a-loaf acceptance."

Gays are offered some sacraments but not others.

"I've gotten mine. But this is wrong — to go to church, have potlucks and not care about other people's rights," said Bennett, 59.

And, she said, the pain of partial acceptance is the pain of rejection.

"There are places in our lives where we truly want to be loved," Bennett said.

The church's hope is that a moratorium on blessing gay unions and ordaining openly gay priests — "passionate patience" — will help hold the fracturing American church together and keep it part of the larger, less liberal international Anglican Communion.

The rest of the English 'gay wedding' story

Back this summer The Rev. Dr. Martin Dudley became somewhat of a celebrity after it was reported that he had officiated at a formal liturgy in the Diocese of London blessing the partnership of two men. In the resulting furor an investigation was promised. Those findings have now been released and a letter of regret has been written.

According to Ruth Gledhill:

"[T]he Rector of St Bartholomew the Great, the Rev Dr Martin Dudley, is to escape any form of discipline or reprimand for the Prayer Book-style 'wedding' service he conducted for two gay priests, the Rev Peter Cowell and the Rev David Lord. Mr Dudley has reached an agreement with the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres that the matter shall now be laid to rest after the errant cleric sent a 'letter of regret' in which he pledges not to do it again and admits he was wrong. It would be pushing it too far to call it an apology, and Stonewall, which has him as one of its Hero of the Year nominees for its awards dinner next month, doesn't see it as a climbdown either."

Read the full article here. Ruth has the full text of the letter in the body of her article.

Thinking Anglicans has information as well plus some links to background.

Friday Rap

Not too long ago the Episcopal Church entered into a full communion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We're working out the implications of this growing partnership, but in spite of many successes the central common themes of the Reformation are still unknown to many of us. But now, thanks to Bulldog Productions we can start to learn about our Lutheran sisters and brothers through rap...

If you're interested in the lyrics, you can find them printed out here.

Court finds for Bennison in civil trial

A civil court has decided that Charles E. Bennison Jr., the former bishop of the Diocese of Pennsylvania, did not commit fraud in removing the Rev. David Moyer from the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. Moyer had sued for unspecified damages to compensate for "loss of employment and mental suffering," although he continues to serve as rector of the parish and is licensed through his affiliation with other Anglican provinces.

Moyer v. Bennison attracted international attention, especially in the theologically fractured Anglican Communion, to which the 2 million-member Episcopal Church USA belongs.

If the jury had found for Moyer and if appeals courts sustained the verdict, the case would have opened a traditionally closed door in U.S. law by allowing clergy in religious institutions to sue their superiors over personnel matters.

...

During the four-day civil trial, Moyer's attorney, John Lewis, presented documents suggesting Bennison concealed from Moyer his plan to remove him without a church trial. However, the 12-member jury never got to deliberate whether that constituted fraud.

Instead, Judge Joseph Smyth instructed jurors to first determine if the diocese engaged in fraud when it asserted that Moyer "abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church" in 2002.

That question was the "gateway" to all the other questions, Smyth told them, and trumped the question of whether Bennison deceived Moyer about a trial.

If they decided fraud did not "pervade" the diocese's decision process regarding the abandonment of communion, Smyth said, the case was over.

In less than three hours - including lunch - the jury announced that it had reached a verdict. When it returned, the forewoman told the judge that only two jurors had found fraud on the critical question.

The verdict seemed to shock Moyer, who shook his head slightly and then gazed down at the table.

Read it here.

UPDATE: Philadelphia Inquirer story is here.

Cheers for Restoration

The Parish Church of St. Guthlac, located in Market Deeping, is a (mostly) 15th-century landmark in the small Lincolnshire, England, town, pop. 6,200. Currently, the church is undergoing some renovations and additions, thanks to successful fund-raising efforts. But one contributor in particular is of note: the Hobshackle Brewery, which has created a beer especially for the church.

A donation of 25p from the sale of each bottle of the beer, aptly named Restoration, has been donated to the church, totalling £210.

The Rev Philip Brent said: "We have a close relationship with the brewery, which I blessed when it initially opened.

"We are delighted with the donation.

"We have recently had new wiring and lighting done in the church and are now working on new toilets with disabled access, a meeting room and a kitchen.

"We have been fundraising for a while for this and it's great to have support."

Story here

Sydney votes to allow diaconal and lay presidency at the Eucharist

The Archdiocese of Sydney in Australia has broken with Anglican tradition and voted to accept a report which calls for allowing lay people and deacons to celebrate the Holy Eucharist without a priest present.

The Church Times reports in their article:

"In a motion moved by a Sydney regional bishop, Dr Glenn Davies, the synod accepted arguments that there was no legal impediment to deacons’ presiding, given that, under a 1985 General Synod canon, deacons are authorised to assist the priest in the administration of the sacraments.

A report accompanying the motion argued that, because deacons can administer the sacrament of baptism ‘in its entirety’, and because ‘no hierarchy of sacraments is expressed in describing the deacon’s role of assisting the presbyter,’ deacons are therefore authorised to ‘administer the Lord’s Supper in its entirety’.

Bishop Davies told the Synod that the Archbishop could not prevent a deacon’s ‘administering the Lord’s Supper’. But the motion, though it also affirmed lay presidency, could not approve lay people’s presiding at Sunday services, as the Archbishop would need to license them, Bishop Davies said. ‘The Archbishop will not license a lay person at this time.’"

Read the full article here.

The article speculates that the reason for Archbishop Jensen's reluctance to license lay people to preside at the Eucharist is that he is concerned about the reaction of the GAFCON leadership. But licensing deacons is, by itself, a departure from the Ordinal and the traditions of Anglicanism.

Here is some background information to the controversy.

The coexistence of God and evolution

The Washington Post reviews three new titles advancing the case for faith-based belief in evolution in tomorrow's Book World: Thank God for Evolution, by Michael Dowd; The Faith of Scientists, edited by Nancy K. Frankenberry; and Saving Darwin, by Karl W. Giberson.

... It's getting hard to tell the players without a scorecard in America's most peculiar culture war: the battle between evolution and its enemies.

Spectators often see this conflict as a straightforward affair. On one side, scientists pile up physical evidence; on the other, biblical literalists scorn that evidence as a snare of Satan. Adherents of " scientific creationism" and "intelligent design" blame evolution, with its explanation of how all living beings evolve through chance and natural selection, for everything from abortion to the Holocaust. Returning fire, the British biologist Richard Dawkins rides the bestseller list with his polemic The God Delusion, dismissing not just creationists but religious folk generally as dupes and creeps.

As if to annoy Dawkins, now comes a parade of books that jumble the sides and soften the tone of this conflict.

The review of the books is here.

Why we believe

David Shariatmadari has an interesting essay in the Guardian about Dorthy Rowe's new book What Should I Believe about purports to explain why we hold our religious beliefs:

She starts from the premise that our greatest fear is annihilation, not physical death, necessarily, but annihilation as a person. It is the desire to avoid this that motivates us throughout our lives. For some, religion is the answer, because it tends to suggest quite straightforwardly that life carries on after death.

But a continuation of our existence is what we all clamour for, religious or not; parents hope their worldview will shape the lives of their children; some take comfort from the fact that their "blood" or "genes" will be around after they've gone. Artists imagine the work will stand as a monument to them. Humbler people hope they'll live on, at least, in their friends' memories or through the effects of the good things they've done. To live without any hope of projecting one's soul is, Rowe argues, impossible. Test yourself, if you believe you do.

So why be the Pope rather than Picasso? Why choose religion as your balm, rather than some other route to eternal life? According to Rowe's model, that decision is the result of a kind of cost-benefit analysis for the individual – and those costs and benefits can come from absolutely anywhere within the arena of personal experience. And into the mix goes the cast of your personality – introvert or extrovert. Will my father beat me if I'm not devout? Well I had better believe then. Or not, depending on which is worse, giving in to dad or getting hit. Is it easier for me to believe that despite the dead-end job that absorbs all my time I will receive a reward in heaven, or to take the huge material risks involved in pursuing self-expression? Again, it depends.

All this presents a bit of an obstacle for those who think that the problem of religion can be "solved". When the explanation for religious belief is a question of individual psychology, there's little room for the argument that it can be educated away. There are always going to be situations where it makes (personal) sense to be a Muslim, Catholic or Hindu.

Read it all here.

Why we can't imagine death

Scientifc American has a fascinating article by Jesse Bering that explores why every culture has at least some notions of an after-life:

Why do we wonder where our mind goes when the body is dead? Shouldn’t it be obvious that the mind is dead, too?

And yet people in every culture believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are unsure about what happens to the mind at death. My psychological research has led me to believe that these irrational beliefs, rather than resulting from religion or serving to protect us from the terror of inexistence, are an inevitable by-product of self-consciousness. Because we have never experienced a lack of consciousness, we cannot imagine what it will feel like to be dead. In fact, it won’t feel like anything—and therein lies the problem.

The common view of death as a great mystery usually is brushed aside as an emotionally fueled desire to believe that death isn’t the end of the road. And indeed, a prominent school of research in social psychology called terror management theory contends that afterlife beliefs, as well as less obvious beliefs, behaviors and attitudes, exist to assuage what would otherwise be crippling anxiety about the ego’s inexistence.

According to proponents, you possess a secret arsenal of psychological defenses designed to keep your death anxiety at bay (and to keep you from ending up in the fetal position listening to Nick Drake on your iPod). My writing this article, for example, would be interpreted as an exercise in “symbolic immortality”; terror management theorists would likely tell you that I wrote it for posterity, to enable a concrete set of my ephemeral ideas to outlive me, the biological organism. (I would tell you that I’d be happy enough if a year from now it still had a faint pulse.)

Yet a small number of researchers, including me, are increasingly arguing that the evolution of self-consciousness has posed a different kind of problem altogether. This position holds that our ancestors suffered the unshakable illusion that their minds were immortal, and it’s this hiccup of gross irrationality that we have unmistakably inherited from them. Individual human beings, by virtue of their evolved cognitive architecture, had trouble conceptualizing their own psychological inexistence from the start.

Read it all here.

Putting the Bailout in perspective

British Baptist Times editor Mark Woods has a provocative column that puts the huge sums of money spent to repair the developed world's financial system in a larger context:

Nearly £2 trillion has been pledged to stabilise the banking system and start the flow of credit again.

This is nearly 36 times the aid sent by the richest nations of the world to the poorest every year, and 190 times the gross domestic product of the whole of Ethiopia. We are, it seems, as profligate when it comes to solving our own problems as we are miserly when it comes to solving other people's.

Whatever the long term effect of this bailout, it should at the very least make us, as a society and as Christians in society, take a far more critical view of the culture in which we are inevitably embedded.

. . .

The events of the last few weeks require deep reflection over many months. But if a different normality means an adjustment—no, not a lowering—in our expectations of what it’s reasonable to consume, it should surely include an adjustment in what it's reasonable to ask for others.

It is not, with due respect to worthy campaigners, as simple as saying, 'You've just spent £2 trillion on getting yourselves out of a financial mess; just give a fraction of that to Africa and all its problems will be over.'

But there is a yawning gulf between the poverty of a First World economy or City trader and that of a Zimbabwean child suffering from every disease of malnourishment. Nothing should deflect our political leaders from their commitment to end global poverty.

Read it all here. Hat tip to Jim West.

The battle over Pope Pius XII

The 50th anniversary of Pope Pius XII's death is causing renewed tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and Jews. The Economist has a good summary of the dispute over history:

Eight years ago, when Pope John Paul II prayed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, there seemed to be a new level of trust between Roman Catholics and Jews. But so heavy is the historical baggage that the relationship still creaks under the strain.

The latest problem is a nasty flare-up in an old argument over the role of Pius XII, who was pope during the second world war. Was he a hero who deserves to be beatified, or was he, as some Jews say, guilty of neglectful silence?

. . .

The flare-up began when the Vatican, in what was meant as a friendly gesture, invited an Israeli rabbi to address the Synod of Bishops convening in Rome to discuss the teaching of the Hebrew scriptures. Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen discovered too late that his trip coincided with ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of Pius XII’s death. “We cannot forgive or forget,” the rabbi told the bishops, in an oblique reference to the pope. He also told journalists the pope should have done more to save Jews. The Vatican responded that this was a “black legend”.

The arguments go back more than 40 years. Writers in the 1960s, most famously Rolf Hochhuth in his 1963 play “The Representative”, condemned Pius XII for passivity and pusillanimity. The reading was reinforced in John Cornwell’s best-selling “Hitler’s Pope” (1999). But Mr Cornwell himself retracted many of his allegations after criticism. The Vatican archives, meanwhile, hardly helped the pope’s case by refusing, for technical reasons, to open critical diplomatic files to scholars.

Still, historians are reassessing the record. Sir Martin Gilbert, official biographer of Churchill, who is a Jew and an authority on the Holocaust, has said that Pius XII, far from deserving obloquy, should be a candidate for Yad Vashem’s order of “righteous Gentiles”.

Read it all here.

Grandmere Mimi profiled

The Huffington Post's Georgianne Nienaber profiles Grandmère Mimi, a blogging Episcopalian from Louisiana who has made up her mind.

As it turned out, this blogging "Grandmere" (Cajun for grandmother) from red McCain country has a lot to say about southern living, poverty, Louisiana's resources, the wetlands, families, and gay rights.

Mimi describes a father who was a "gifted man," but hopelessly addicted to alcohol, and a mother depressed for most if not all of the marriage. Something happened to Mimi when she was twelve years old and she just "decided that even though my childhood was awful, traumatic really, that as I grew up the choices would be mine. I decided I did not want to make a life like the one my father made for himself."

Therein rests the origin of her blog title, "The Wounded Bird." Mimi describes "a wounded bird syndrome" that influences those who have endured hardship to be more empathetic to suffering.

"I grew up poor, but we always had music and for some reason that enriched my life and made me aware that even though there was often no food on the table, there was something more to life."

. . . .

One might be surprised to learn that a 74-year-old Cajun grandmother is a fearless advocate for gays and lesbians, but there you have it. I never thought to ask, but Mimi wants it clearly understood that "One of my causes is inclusivity for gays and lesbians in my church. If a church can't be inclusive..." she says as her voice trails off to the obvious conclusion.

Why is this issue of so much importance to a woman who has no gay members of her immediate family?

"My conversion is a long story that covers a number of years," Mimi says, and then directs me to a web log she wrote: Confessions of a Recovering Homophobe

Her "confessions," are a four part series, and a must read.

Here is an excerpt involving her husband, Tom, getting used to the idea that gay friends would be staying with them.

"Since ours is an empty nest, and we have not moved to a smaller house, we have bedrooms to spare. Our guests arrived, and I introduced T., and we met N., who was a absolute dear. I took them upstairs to unload their luggage and showed them the rooms and told them to sort themselves out wherever they chose. When I came back downstairs, my husband asked me who was sleeping where. I said that T. and N. had chosen our daughter's old room. He said, 'That has a queen bed in it.' I said, 'Yes. Which room did you want them in? The one with the twin beds?"' He laughed.

Mimi had once again made up her mind.

Read: Gumbo Granny Blogs From the Bayou for Obama

The strange evangelism of conflict

Lionel Deimel notes that one Pittsburgh area former-Episcopal parish has started their own post-card war with a neighboring Episcopal parish.

The breakaway church appears defines themselves as much as who they are not as who and whose they are. Perhaps they believe that people outside of the Episcopal-Anglican world cares about the nuances of the conflict and will pick a church accordingly. Maybe they think that postcards will change the minds of Episcopalians who have been living with the talk of schism for years.

He writes:

I attend St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon. St. Paul’s is one of the largest parishes in the diocese. It is also a parish strongly committed to The Episcopal Church. The nearest Episcopal church of any consequence is—or, perhaps, has been—St. David’s, in nearby Peters Township. For the past several decades, St. David’s has been out of the mainstream of Episcopal Church practice, and, increasingly, has been openly hostile to The Episcopal Church. These attitudes have been among several factors that have brought many former parishioners of the Peters Township church to St. Paul’s. Not long before the annual convention, Wilson, whose pastoral practices had made him unwelcome in his former parish, became, according to the church’s Web site, “senior pastor” of St. David’s.

Approximately a year ago, St. Paul’s installed a new rector, the Rev. Lou Hays. This fall, St. Paul’s changed its Sunday schedule, replacing a single principal service with two. Although a similar service schedule had been in use several years earlier, the new plan called for a traditional service at 10:30 and a “contemporary” service described as “family-friendly” at 8:30. This was a significant departure from the past, and the program year was advertised in an aggressive publicity campaign. A special logo and slogan was created, and, in addition to the usual promotion in the weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter, advertising was placed in the township magazine. Also, postcards announcing the St. Paul’s initiative were mailed to thousands of nearby households....

It was quite a surprise when, last Sunday, a parishioner showed me a postcard he had received in the mail from St. David’s. The front and back of that postcard (say):

Anglicans and Episcopalians in the South Hills now have an option!

St. David's Church, in conjunction with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, has separated itself from the apostasy of the national Episcopal Church based in New York and is now aligned with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone (South America). The Southern Cone is a Province of the Anglican Communion, in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and is unabashedly biblical in faith, & practice and is mission oriented –and so are we! So guess what? -- You no longer need to apologize for being an Episcopalian. Is this the kind of Anglican Christianity you want to be a part of? Then check us out.

...While dioceses, parachurch organizations, Anglican provinces, bishops, and primates fight the air war for Anglican supremacy, an equally ugly ground war seems to have broken out in Pittsburgh. Whereas we might have thought that separation would free each side to pursue its Christian mission according to its own lights, one side seems unable to resist lobbing mortars at the forces of the retreating “enemy.” Of course, this may be how the likes of David Wilson construe their Christian mission—as a God-given commission to destroy anyone daring to claim the appellation “Christian” who does not believe as they do.

Read the rest here.

One-sided Will rebuffed by readers

George Will spoke to Bishop Bob Duncan and declared in his syndicated column that he is a kind of modern day Martin Luther. Episcopalians from around the country wrote letters to their editors saying "not so fast."

Will rehashes some of the old talking points:

It is not the secessionists such as Bishop Duncan who are, as critics charge, obsessed with homosexuality. The Episcopal Church's leadership is latitudinarian -- tolerant to the point of incoherence, Bishop Duncan and kindred spirits think -- about clergy who deviate from traditional church teachings concerning such core doctrines as the divinity of Christ, the authority of Scripture and the path to salvation. But the national church insists on the ordination of openly gay clergy and on blessing same-sex unions.

In the 1960s, Bishop James Pike of California, who urged the church to jettison such "theological baggage" as the doctrines of Original Sin and the Trinity, was the last active bishop disciplined for theological reasons. Bishop Duncan doubts whether Bishop Pike would be disciplined today....

The Anglican communion once was a "via media," a middle way, between Catholicism and Protestantism. Now, Bishop Duncan says, the national leadership of the Episcopal Church thinks of itself as a bridge between Protestantism and the culture.

Episcopalians did not take Will's column lying down. Here is a sampling of some of the letters we've seen.

Dianne Eldridge of Murraysville, PA wrote to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

I read George F. Will's "A Cautionary Tale" (Oct. 20) with complete amazement. Mr. Will seems to have consigned the entire Episcopal Church of the United States to the category of " 'progressive' politics cloaked -- very thinly -- in piety." Apparently he bases his uninformed opinion on an interview with Robert Duncan, the recently deposed Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh. It's good to know that we can all be summarily dismissed with this glib statement: "It [the church] celebrates an 'inclusiveness' that includes fewer and fewer members."

I have a question for Mr. Will: If progressive is an evil in your eyes, can you show me the chapter and verse in the Bible describing Jesus, the foundation of our beliefs, as regressive? I also wonder how it is that Mr. Will knows all this about the Episcopal Church: personal experience, reading the newspapers, word of mouth? If from personal experience, I regret that his parish did not take seriously the second great commandment: "Love thy neighbor as thyself." If his experience is not personal, then I deeply regret his writing of a propaganda piece, which leaves me wondering if his other columns are as uninformed as this one.

On the other side of the Commonwealth, Christine Whitmore Papa of Stroudsburg, PA, wrote to the Pocono Record:

Yes, there has been a loss of membership, but new people are joining: just yesterday at my Stroudsburg church I met three new members.

Yes, in my native England, Anglican churchgoers may be fewer than before, but Mr. Will doesn't mention that the boom in Catholic worshippers is due to the recent huge influx of Polish Catholics.

Is it necessarily "evidence of spiritual vigor" when a diocese leaves the Episcopal Church, sincere as a departing bishop may be? Doesn't it also take "spiritual vigor" to rise above dissension?

Those 650 bishops at the Lambeth Conference differed, often widely, in their views. Yet from reports of their meetings it seems they were able to discuss, and then set aside, their differences, and focus on prayer, meditation, and all that unites them as Anglicans.

Mr. Will says "The Episcopal Church... today... is 'progressive' politics cloaked — very thinly — in piety." No church is perfect, of course, and our leaders can be as flawed as any others, religious or secular. But in the pews I see believers of various backgrounds, drawn together by a desire to seek God and live as much as possible in the spirit of Jesus. While fostering tradition and keeping core Christian doctrines (we say the Nicene Creed weekly), the Episcopal Church has room for various understandings of what the Christian life means for us today.

Two Cathedral deans weighed in. The Very Rev. John P. Downey, Dean of the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Erie, PA said,

George Will's column about the "inclusiveness" of the Episcopal Church (Erie Times Oct. 20), was a simplistic attempt to describe some of the troubles that the church is undergoing.

Numerical decline in membership has been experienced by all the historic mainline denominations in the United States for many reasons. These include decline in birth rate among their members and other demographic shifts, more honest and accurate record keeping, and a well-financed effort to weaken these churches by exploiting the cultural tensions they will inevitably have because of their democratic structures.

Along with these is the reality that the conventional churchgoing of past generations is increasingly marginal in our current culture.

As for the pitfalls of "inclusiveness," let me say that I know well what it feels like to be excluded for religious or other reasons.

The pain is deep and lasting. However, I can only imagine the further reaches of that pain for women and minorities of various kinds.

The Episcopal Church is far from perfect, but I will gladly live with the risks and even the well-intentioned errors of "inclusiveness," than the damaging effects of exclusiveness.

The Very Rev. Dr. Benjamin Shambaugh, Dean of The Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland, Maine wrote to the Portland Press Herald:

As a member of the clergy, I have heard it said that "pastors should preach about what they know and not about subjects they don't."

After reading George Will's diatribe against The Episcopal Church, I would say the same about journalists. The Episcopal Church I know and have served as a priest for 20 years is not "more devoted to culture than to Christ" but exactly the opposite.

When the Episcopal Church seeks to welcome all the baptized to all of its sacraments, empower women, serve the poor or advocate for justice, it is doing these things not to be politically correct or to give into the culture, but rather to give culture glimmers of the Kingdom of God proclaimed by Scripture and by Christ himself.

Grounded in deep respect for Scripture, the great Anglican traditions of worship and teaching and God-given reason, the Episcopal Church strives to be about what Jesus was about and do what Jesus would do.

It is not the Episcopal Church but rather the religious right that has become more devoted to culture (and one political party) than to Christ.

And Ben Garren wrote to the same paper:

A few points on George Will's Oct. 21 piece ("Traditional Anglicans channel Martin Luther in modern-day schism"):

First, Luther had no intention of leaving the Roman Catholic Church, only of reforming it.

The pope and the German monarchy lied to Luther, offering him a safe hearing while planning to murder him.

The Most Rev. Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh has specifically decided to leave the Episcopal Church, having not the stomach to follow Christ and sit at a table with those society deems to be unworthy.

He has been given a fair and honest hearing according to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and has been deposed.

Second, Bishop James Pike, the "last active bishop disciplined for theological reasons," was a man who had gone through much family trauma that had left him mentally unstable and no longer able to give proper pastoral care.

Third, "Via Media" does not refer to a middle way between Protestantism and Catholicism but a middle way between affective and speculative spiritual methods.

Fourth, the liberal social justice movement of the Anglican Church stems from the Oxford Movement of the 1850s and a return to Incarnation Theology. It has its roots in the Gospels and early church fathers and mothers.

Finally, The Episcopal Church is seeing no more decline than conservative Christian denominations -- so it is rather difficult to say that the reason for decline is that The Episcopal Church has decided to include the disenfranchised in its ranks instead of excluding them.

Did someone you know speak up for the Episcopal Church in your local paper? Tell us in the comments below.

Membership numbers released

Domestic totals for The Episcopal Church for 2007 are now public. They show a 2 percent decline in membership from 2006, and a cumulative 10 percent decline over the last ten years.

Pledge and plate in 2007 was up by 1.3 percent in a year when inflation was 4.1 percent.

Check out all the Fast Facts: 2003-2007. Or see Episcopal Domestic Fast Facts 2007.

Ottawa bishop seeks approval for same-sex blessings

The Anglican Journal reports that the Rt. Rev. John Chapman, Bishop of Montreal, will ask the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church in Canada for permission to bless same-sex unions.

“It is important that I honour the collegiality of the Canadian house," said Bishop John Chapman at the opening of the annual synod of the diocese of Ottawa in Christ Church Cathedral Oct. 23. "We are, after all, an episcopally-led and synodically-governed church."

The bishops are expected to discuss tomorrow the Canadian Anglican church's response to renewed proposals for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex unions, the ordination of persons living in same-sex unions to the episcopate, and cross-border interventions. The proposals were made at the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the once-per-decade meeting of bishops from around the world, in response to bitter divisions among Anglicans over the contentious issue of homosexuality.

Bishop Chapman said he would make a "conclusive statement" to the diocese within a month after the house of bishops’ gathering. It would state that after "an appropriate rite" is developed, permission would be given for one parish to offer the blessing of civil marriages between same-sex couples.

"This hope is not and must not be understood as a conclusive statement affirming that the church must and ought to proceed with the blessings of same-sex civilly married couples," said Bishop Chapman. "As the church was not able to come to a clear mind regarding the priestly ministry of women, so we must take the process of discernment to a place beyond discussion."

Read the rest here.


Catholic abortion teaching changes over centuries

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Biden is telling the Catholics in his audiences that St. Thomas Aquinas had a different teaching on abortion than the current pope and his immediate predecessors. Many Catholics are saying, "He simply cannot be right." Well, the short answer is: Biden is right. The news media are saying that American bishops are giving him a theology lesson on abortion. Mr. Biden is in a position to give them one right back according to Frank Flinn, author of the Encyclopedia of Catholicism who teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

The Catholic teaching on abortion has complex roots in Jewish teaching, Greek thought and early Christian doctrine. Jewish teaching shows great reverence for life as a gift from God. The law of compensation in Exodus 21:22 makes a distinction between the penalty for striking a pregnant woman that ends in the loss of the fetus (a monetary amount) or the mother (death).

The Greek Septuagint text of this verse shows the influence of Greek thought. It distinguishes between incompletely and completely formed fetuses, and exacts a penalty of death in the case of the abortion of the latter. This is a clear reference to Aristotle's distinction between three types of souls corresponding to three types of living beings: plants, animals and humans. Aristotle taught that the human fetus does not receive a human soul until it takes on a human form. This became known as the delayed hominization thesis or the late implanting of the human soul.
......
It is important to note that for roughly 500 years the Catholic church followed the teaching of Aristotle and St. Thomas on the status of the fetus. The Council of Vienne (1312) under Pope Clement V affirmed Aristotle's teaching on delayed hominization. But in 1588 Sixtus V issued the bull Effraenatum excommunicating anyone who used contraception and induced abortion at any time. Three years later Gregory XIV rescinded the severity of Sixtus' punishments and reinstated the doctrine of delayed hominization or "quickening" of the fetus, approximately sixteen weeks after conception. This rule remained in effect for another three hundred years until 1869 when Pope Pius IX imposed automatic excommunication for abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Implicitly Pius's teaching embraced a theory of the immediate implanting of the soul at the moment of conception.


More Roman Catholic commentary on the election and abortion here.

Survey of American global impact

A new survey by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc. for WNET's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and the United Nations Foundation says that Americans who routinely attend worship have a divided view of America’s impact on the world. On the one hand the vast majority those surveyed believe the United States has a moral obligation to be engaged on the international stage, they also believe that there are times when such involvement can cause more harm than good.

The September 2008 survey found that nearly a quarter of Americans (24%) say the U.S. should be very actively engaged in world affairs and 70 percent believe America should be at least moderately involved. Most believe the nation should be actively involved in world affairs because of an explicit responsibility or moral obligation to take a leadership role in the world. At the same time, nearly eight-in-ten (79%) of Americans agree that sometimes U.S. involvement in world affairs causes more harm than good. Overall, Americans are equally split about whether the U.S. has a positive or negative impact on the world.

Other findings include:

• Eighty percent of people who attend religious services regularly believe that America is blessed by God and that America should set an example to the world as a Christian nation (77% agree). Only 48 percent of people who attend services less regularly agree that America is uniquely blessed by God, and 49 percent of them agree America should set an example as a Christian nation. • A substantial minority of Americans (41%) say they consider America’s culture to be better than others, agreeing with the statement “our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others” (21% strongly agree). • The most important foreign policy priority across the religious spectrum is controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons (80% of Americans, 86% of white evangelicals, 82% of Catholics, and 76% of mainline Protestants extremely/very important). • Evangelical Protestants express the greatest support for an interventionist role on the part of the U.S., while more moderate religious groups such as mainline Protestants and Catholics take a less interventionist posture. • Evangelicals and traditional Catholics are more likely to believe the US is a positive presence in the world (58% and 53% positive respectively) than liberal Catholics, mainline Protestants and Americans who attend religious services only irregularly (37%, 45%, and 44% positive, respectively). • Young evangelicals have a broader definition of pro-life issues than older evangelicals. Sixty- three percent of young evangelicals (ages 18-29) agree that poverty, disease, and torture are pro-life issues, compared to 56 percent of older evangelicals.

Read the rest here.

CT diocese implores bishop to allow same sex marriages

The clergy and lay delegates of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut voted Saturday to ask the bishop to allow same-sex weddings, as the state Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage in the state becomes official today.

Read more »

All the lonely people....

Every year thousands of recently deceased people are buried not by their loved ones, but by their local council - often because they have no known family to make the arrangements. Who attends these funerals and how are they organized, asks the BBC Magazine.

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Tutu raps

Sunday, November 16, St. Paul's Cathedral in London will host a world premiere of The Cry: A Requiem for the Lost Child to benefit the Save the Children organization.

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God is my BFF

The Vatican's website considers a patron saint of the internet, Muslims debate divorce by text, and Jews pray by email; How does the inevitable transition to the virtual realm affect religious experience across the world? Religion Dispatches reports on the increasing use of the internet and computers in religion

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Reactions to Sydney vote on Lay Presidency of Eucharist

Reactions to the Diocese of Sydney vote to allow Lay and Diaconal presidency [translation: presider/celebrant] at the Eucharist can be found on blogs and in articles from news sources around the Anglican Communion. Most seem to find Sydney's decision confused and illogical.

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Bishop of Lewes: "God ultimately has allowed this crisis for good"

The Telegraph:

The Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev Wallace Benn, has written in a church newsletter that materialism has a "stranglehold over our lives" and that some good may therefore emerge from the crisis.

In the November 2008 newsletter the bishop said: "I believe that God ultimately has allowed this crisis for good.

Read more »

Rowan Williams busts a move

PASSERS-BY looked on in amazement as the Archbishop of Canterbury led hundreds of worshippers in song and dance in the streets of Plaistow.

Dr Rowan Williams was joined by up to 300 people at a service at St Philip and St James Church to celebrate the centenary of The House of The Divine Compassion.

Story and a photo in the Newham Record.

Earlier posts in The Lead's Anglicans bust-a-move series.

Zimbabwean bishop wins human rights prize

Business Day (South Africa)

An Anglican bishop from Zimbabwe was today named winner of a Swedish human rights prize for "having given voice to the fight against oppression."

Bishop Sebastian Bakare was also cited for his work to promote "freedom of speech and of opinion in a difficult political situation."

He was due to accept the 2008 Per Anger prize at a ceremony in Stockholm on November 10.

Read more »

How to spend a downturn

From a blog at the intersection of anthropology and economics:

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Bishop of Quincy announces sudden retirement

UPDATE: epiScope offers this statement and prayer for Bishop Ackerman and Episcopalians in the Diocese of Quincy from the Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori:

I give thanks for the ministry of Bishop Ackerman, and pray that his retirement may permit him time to recover his health. The people of the Diocese of Quincy remain in my prayers and those of many, many other Episcopalians. We encourage all to remember that there is room in this Church for all who desire to be members thereof.

The Rt. Rev. Keith Ackerman, Bishop of Quincy has announced his retirement to take effect November 1, 2008. Just three day notice. His diocese will vote on whether to leave the Episcopal Church on Saturday. A press release that leaves major questions unanswered follows.

"The Right Reverend Keith L. Ackerman, VIIIth Bishop of Quincy, has announced to the Standing Committee his retirement as Diocesan Bishop effective November 1st, 2008. Bishop Ackerman has reached this decision after much thought and prayer. The Bishop and his wife Jo conferred with his physicians, many trusted friends, and the Standing Committee before making this decision.

While Bishop Ackerman is retiring from his administrative duties as executive officer of the Diocese, he plans to remain in the area of the Diocese for some time and will make himself available, under arrangement with the Standing Committee, to perform Episcopal acts and provide spiritual counsel to members of the Diocese, as have Bishop Donald Parsons and Bishop Edward MacBurney, the VIth and VIIth Bishops of Quincy.

Under diocesan canons, the Standing Committee will continue to act as the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese, as they have since the Bishop’s sabbatical began in late August. Day to day operations of the diocese will continue to be handled by the various officers and department heads.

Bishop Ackerman wants to assure everyone that he has no intention of abandoning the diocese but will continue to provide spiritual and pastoral support as asked by the Standing Committee."


More here and here.

Putting Resolution B033 behind us

Update: read Herb Gunn's encyclopedic account of the saga of B033, and the statement of dissenting bishops.

Last week, the Chicago Consultation hosted a gathering of bishops, activists and General Convention delegates at Seabury Western Seminary. The group’s three goals, as stated on its Web site are:

• To strengthen the movement toward the blessing of same sex relationships.
• To advance the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians in all orders of ministry.
• To strengthen the Anglican Communion’s witness against racism, poverty, sexism, heterosexism, and other interlocking oppressions.

In planning for General Convention, the group began to ponder the issue of Resolution B033 passed in the waning minutes of the General Convention in 2006. It states:

Resolved, That the 75th General Convention receive and embrace The Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further

Resolved, That this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

There is general agreement within the Chicago Consultation that something has to be done about that second "Resolve", but the group is looking for input on which tack should be taken in attempting to get rid of it, or at a minimum, to reduce its influence.

The CC has considered three strategies, but there may be others.

1. Outright repeal

This is the strategy embodied in a recent resolution passed by the Diocese of Maine:

RESOLVED, that the Diocese of Maine calls for the repeal of B033, passed at the 75th General Convention and be it further

RESOLVED that the Diocese of Maine calls upon the 76th General Convention to refrain from restricting the field of potential candidates for future episcopates on the basis of gender or sexual orientation and to reject interference from outside the Convention that would attempt to affect its parliamentary process or negate the polity of The Episcopal Church, and be it further
RESOLVED that the Diocese of Maine maintain its commitment to participation in the Anglican Communion and to the listening process described in the Windsor Report. And be it further Resolved to direct its deputation to the 76th General Convention to submit a resolution to this effect. ("RESOLVED that the 76th General Convention will refrain from restricting the field of potential candidates for future episcopates on the basis of gender or sexual orientation and will reject interference from outside the Convention that would attempt to affect its parliamentary process or negate the polity of The Episcopal Church.")

Straight forward and plain spoken. Some, however, worry that such a resolution cannot pass the House of Bishops, whose members are fresh from the Lambeth Conference at which Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, urged a continuing moratorium on the consecration of GLBT people in committed monogamous relationship from the episcopacy. So, what about

2. Clarifying the nature of B033

This approach is embodied in a resolution passed by the Diocese of Rochester.

Resolved … that this 76th General Convention affirms that standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction are not bound by any extra-canonical restraints—including but not limited to the restraints set forth in Resolution B033 passed by the 75th General Convention—when considering consents to the ordination of any candidate to the episcopate.

In a way, this resolution simply seeks to call the Church’s bluff. B033 does not compel bishops or Standing Committees to vote against a gay candidate for the episcopacy; that would require a change in the canons, rather than a simple resolution. However, both the Episcopal Church—particularly its House of Bishops—and the Anglican Communion, have frequently behaved as though B033 had the force of law. This resolution makes it clear that it does not.

But some worry that this approach, while it certainly undercuts the authority of B033, does not go far enough in stating opposition to that resolution. So what about…

3. Sunsetting B033

This strategy has yet to be embodied in a resolution. It is based on the notion that the best way to get past B033 without bogging down in a fight over whether we are technically repealing it is to pass a more recent resolution with different content.

GC2006 “call[ed] upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

GC2009 can just as easily “call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to” fill in the blank “when considering whether to consent to the consecration of candidates to the episcopacy.”

abide by the non-discrimination provisions in Title 3 Canon 1 Section 2” might work.

Integrity maintains a data base on all known resolutions regarding the full inclusion of all of the baptized in the life of the Church. They are also sponsoring a survey that addresses some of the issues raised above.

Which approach makes the most sense? Which one can work? Your thoughts are welcome.

Here is some of our coverage of B033 from the Daily Episcopalian, June 2006.

Next steps in the Covenant process

Following the discussions on the proposed Anglican Covenant in Lambeth this summer, the Covenant Design group has met in Singapore and released a compilation of the concerns raised by the bishops this summer. In addition they have outlined the next steps that they suggest be taken in the process and included a questionnaire.

From an article this week in the Church Times:

"Provinces are being asked whether they can ‘in principle’ commit themselves to the Covenant process. The Design Group is seeking to find out what this would involve for the provinces, and whether they require significant changes to be made to the draft to help it through their synodical processes.

The Commentary is packed with detail, including the results of a questionnaire, in which 28.5 per cent of the bishops who were asked said that they had some concerns about the Covenant (see story below). A further 16 per cent had serious reservations about it, but 56 per cent said they were very content or reasonably content about its place in supporting interdependence without excessive centralisation in the Communion.

[...]Many of the bishops were concerned that ‘the very concept of a covenant [was] too contractual to describe communion relationships’. Some also said the document had too many historical references, and others feared it could become ‘a fifth instrument of Communion’, or that it was an ‘innovation’ that ‘be trayed’ the Communion’s flexibility. It was a response to a ‘crisis’, and so was essentially negative. It was legalistic, punitive, and designed more to exclude than to retain provinces.

In response, the Design Group says it will change the ‘idiom’ so that relationships are emphasised more. But sustaining relationships means facing up to what threatens them, it argues. God’s covenants with his people were made in the context of crisis; so that should not be a problem."

Read the full article here. There's a poll linked from the article as well if you'd like to voice your opinion on the question.

There's also an interesting report on the effectiveness of the Lambeth Conference at the end of the article. One interesting take-away is that 4 out of 5 bishops are pleased with the way the Archbishop of Canterbury is handling his office.

Canadian bishops release post-Lambeth statement

The Bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada have concluded their first gathering since their participation in the Lambeth Conference. They've released a statement in which they pledge to uphold the three moratoria until the 2010 General Synod.

From their report (which is found here in PDF format):

As a result of these conversations a large majority of the House can affirm the following:
A continued commitment to the greatest extent possible to the three moratoria -- on the blessing of same-sex unions, on the ordination to the episcopate of people in same-sex relationships and on cross-border interventions -- until General Synod 2010. Members of this House, while recognizing the difficulty that this commitment represents for dioceses that in conscience have made decisions on these matters, commit themselves to continue walking together and to hold each other in prayer.

The House also affirms:

A commitment to establishing diocesan commissions to discuss the matter of same-sex blessings in preparation for conversations at General Synod 2010.

Continued commitment to exercise the greatest level of pastoral generosity in keeping with provisions approved by this House in Spring, 2007 and continued commitment to the Shared Episcopal Ministry document approved in Fall, 2004.

We ask for your continuing prayers as we steadfastly seek to discern the mind and heart of Christ for the wholesome care of all members of his Body, the Church. We share a deep hope that though we may never come to consensus over this matter of the blessing of same-sex unions, we will live with differences in a manner that is marked by grace and generosity of spirit, one toward another.

Bishop Ackerman's post retirement plans

There's a short announcement on the Forward in Faith website that announces that Bishop Ackerman will remain as president of Forward in Faith following his retirement.

From the site:

"Further to the announcement yesterday of his retirement as Bishop of Quincy, The Right Reverend Keith Ackerman SSC wishes to make it clear that he will be remaining in office as President of Forward in Faith North America. Indeed, it is his intention during his retirement to devote himself more fully than has been possible hitherto to this ministry."

Bishop Ackerman announced his unexpected retirement effective tomorrow, earlier this week. Bishop Jefferts Schori released a statement offering prayers that Bishop Ackerman's health would recover quickly.

Why do so many evangelical teen-agers become pregnant?

This month's New Yorker has an article on the relatively high rate pregnancy amongst the teens of evangelicals.

Thanks for the pointer to Tyler Cowen who asks us to consider two points:

The first question is whether they do, adjusting for all the proper demographics. Second, I wonder if there isn't also a combined lifecycle/genetic effect. Maybe if you're rowdy when you're young, you're religious when you're old, but the kids that pop out are on average rowdy too.
Cowen highlights this quote:
Bearman and Brückner have also identified a peculiar dilemma: in some schools, if too many teens pledge, the effort basically collapses. Pledgers apparently gather strength from the sense that they are an embattled minority; once their numbers exceed thirty per cent, and proclaimed chastity becomes the norm, that special identity is lost.
My emphasis.

Ghostbusters go to church

An Episcopal parish in Staten Island has been the site of some ghostly investigations according to news reports. St. Andrew's on Staten Island allowed a organization to come in to look for evidence of "paranormal" activity and the report of the investigations is to be released just in time of Halloween.

From an article in the NY Daily News:

"The ghost busters, who are based in Staten Island, requested a probe last year after hearing about strange goings-on at the church and asked to do a second investigation last week, according to Delaney. Their last findings were convincing, he said.

A DVD of what they taped during their night at the church showed heavy chimes that are difficult to move ringing on their own.

'All of a sudden the chimes were ringing. The candle over the tabernacle was dancing like there was a major wind. But there was no wind. And we heard what sounded like a tin dish hitting the floor,' recalled Delaney [the rector of St. Andrew's]."

Read the full article here.

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