Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year message

The Archbishop of Canterbury's message this year will invite his hearers to take a moment and rethink their values in the coming year. Specifically he calls for us to focus less on material wealth and more on what society can do for children and its most vulnerable members.

From the BBC:

"The archbishop will say he understands that people are filled with "anxiety and insecurity" about entering the new year with amid so much financial uncertainty.

He will say: "There are fears about disappearing savings, lost jobs, house repossessions and worse.

"While the headlines are often about the big figures, it's the human cost that makes it real for us."

However, the archbishop will say that the events of the last few months should be viewed as an opportunity to think about wealth and security - and what "treasure" actually is.

The full text from here follows:

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Suit filed to stop Inauguration prayers

Perhaps this news will lower the temperature of the controversy surrounding the President-elect's invitation to Pastor Rick Warren to give the Invocation at his Inaugural celebration. A group of atheists have filed to block the ceremony from including any prayers at all.

beliefnet reports:

Michael Newdow, along with 17 other individuals and 10 groups representing atheists, named Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., officials in charge of inaugural festivities, the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and pastor Rick Warren in their complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington Tuesday, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.

Roberts will administer the oath of office to Obama at the Jan. 20 event. Warren and Lowery are scheduled to deliver the invocation and benediction, respectively.

The lawsuit says the prayers are exclusionary, "showing absolute disrespect to plaintiffs and others of similar religious views ... ."

Newdow and others also said the phrase "so help me God" should be stricken because it is not part of the oath as specified in the Constitution.


Obama's team taking religion seriously?

In spite of some suing to prevent prayers during the Inauguration and thus mixing the spiritual realm with that of the state, Obama's transition team is engaged in an unparalleled reaching out to religious organizations in the United States. According to reports there have already been about a dozen meetings of various groups with the transition team.

Dan Gilgoff, writing in US News and World Report quotes David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism;

""This is the most extensive outreach and listening tour that I've ever seen a new administration take, and that is certainly true of their outreach to the faith community," says Saperstein, who has worked with presidential transition teams going back to Jimmy Carter's. "It's quite remarkable."

Gilgoff continues:

The effort is noteworthy not only for the number of Obama transition team meetings with religious groups—about 15 so far—but also because top Obama policy aides have joined the powwows. Melody Barnes, who will be director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Heather Higginbottom, who will be the council's deputy director, have participated in some of the meetings.

"There is the feeling that these are not perfunctory meetings but serious meetings with people in policymaking roles who know the process well," says James Winkler, general secretary of the public policy arm of the United Methodist Church, who says that he or his staff have attended nearly a dozen meetings with the Obama transition team so far. "This is not something meant to bring in the faith community to keep them happy but to solicit our views and ideas."

Military Freedom of Religion lawsuit expanded

An ongoing lawsuit that claims the US military isn't willing to take appropriate action in cases of religious discrimination and is overly lax in allowing certain groups of Christians to proselytize imprisoned Muslims, has been expanded to include charges of a pervasive bias toward evangelical Christianity in the Armed Forces.

Dustin Chalker, a Kansas based soldier is one of the parties that brought the suit:

Chalker, a combat medic, is an atheist whose original complaints included being forced to attend military formations where Christian prayers were given. The foundation, based in Albuquerque, N.M., says it represents about 11,000 military personnel, almost all of them Christians upset about what they view as discrimination by more conservative and evangelical personnel.

"Our amended complaint is specifically designed to further stab at the throbbing unconstitutional heart of darkness that comprises the systemic fundamentalist Christianity so pervasive and pernicious in today's American armed forces," said Mikey Weinstein, the foundation's president.

Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said the agency doesn't comment on pending lawsuits. But she said it has identified fewer than 50 complaints about alleged violations of religious freedoms during the past three years, with 1.4 million personnel in uniform.

Read the full article here.

Religious leaders decry violence in Gaza

Religious leaders have issued statements on the war in Gaza, calling on participants and world community to cease the violence and return to negotiations for the sake of innocent civilians, especially children and their future:

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An unlikely author argues that Christianity can save Africa

Matthew Parris, an atheist, argues that only Christianity can save Africa from "the crushing passivity of the people's mindset."

[T]the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? “Because it's there,” he said.

To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosophical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.


Archbishop Makgoba on the death of Helen Suzman

Statement from Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, on the death of Helen Suzman

Friday 2 January 2009

On behalf of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the family of Helen Suzman, as I thank God for the gift of her long and remarkable life.

The Psalmist wrote, 'Who will stand up for me against the wicked? Who will take my part against the evildoers?' (Ps 94:16). We are all grateful that Helen Suzman dared to take that stand, on behalf of so many, and for so long. A voice for the voiceless, her readiness to speak up, no matter what, made an exceptional contribution to the life of our nation, without which we would not enjoy the potential we have today for freedom and democracy. It is for all of us who honour her name to take forward her legacy by continuing to raise our voices wherever that potential is impeded, or humanity diminished.

May the comfort and strength of the eternal God who is love surround you as you celebrate her life and mourn her passing.

+Thabo Cape Town

For more on Helen Suzman read here.

Helen was noted for her strong public criticism of the governing National Party's policies of apartheid at a time when this was unusual amongst whites, and found herself even more of an outsider by virtue of being an English-speaking Jewish woman in a parliament dominated by Calvinist Afrikaner men. She was once accused by a minister of asking questions in parliament that embarrassed South Africa, to which she replied: "It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa, it is your answers".

She was often harassed by the police and her phone was tapped by them. She had a special technique for dealing with eavesdropping, which was to blow a whistle into the mouthpiece of the phone.

Washington Post reports here.

Bishop Tutu is calling for an official state funeral for Suzman here.

From California judge to Episcopal priest

Third District Court of Appeal Justice Rodney Davis is leaving the judiciary after 25 years to become an Episcopal priest...Davis, 59, explained that he was only stepping down now because the idea of becoming a priest had “captured my heart,” and added that he hopes to be ordained as a parish priest in June. ... A longtime Episcopalian, he said that he considered the idea of joining the priesthood in the 1970s, but decided not pursue it at the time. However, he said the idea continued to evolve over time, and that approximately seven years ago he began to seriously explore and work toward achieving it on the advice of his mentor priest.

He also said that he expects to miss being a judge, and that there will be times when he will wonder whether he left the bench too soon.

“I loved this work, and my colleagues were marvelous” he explained, adding that he would not be stepping down but for the chance to become a priest.

Read it all at MetNews, featuring articles on law and the courts, government, politics, business and health.

Anglican Communion updates list of bishops

Lionel Diemel reports some success in his campaign for the Anglican Communion Office to update the listings of bishops for dioceses in the US. The Lead reported that although bishops had been removed from their positions, the ACO was still listing them.

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Cross rises from the ashes

Amid the ashes and the rubble, one icon of Mount Calvary remains standing, a silent symbol of salvation and triumph: the wrought-iron cross that was erected in 1949, shortly after the monastery was established, reports the Santa Barbara-Goleta Noozhawk.

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Church Times: year in review

Church Times reviews the year of news from a Church of England point of view:

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Islam's tele-evangelists

The latest article in the New York Times series Generation Faithful examines the rise of tele-evangelists in Islam. The series looks at the Islam and religious revival of among young Muslims:

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Buddha and God

Ed Halliwell notes that Buddha declined to express an opinion about the existence of God, and argues that there is much wisdom in avoiding a debate about whether God exists:

When I first started reading about the Buddha's life, I was disappointed to learn that the existence of God was one of the subjects on which he declined to make a definitive comment. At the time, this seemed to me either rather unfair or something of a cop-out – surely this was exactly the kind of topic that an awakened being should pronounce upon, for the benefit of all. However, after the last couple of years of amusing but unproductive pantomime debate ("oh yes he does, oh no he doesn't"), I am beginning to get a sense of how not answering may well have been an enlightened response.

. . .

The tussle over God is marginally more entertaining than getting shot, but the protracted diversion created by its war of words could nevertheless be more of a hindrance than a help. Not only has the stream of agitated comment brought us no closer to finding an answer, it hasn't even enabled us to formulate agreed terms for the question. Part of what makes the argument so comical is how the concept of "God" onto which atheists project is rarely the same as the one defended by believers. Part of what makes it tragic is how, at the extremes, each party insists that their denial of what they think the opposition believes is enough to make them correct, to the point of misrepresenting the traditions they seek to uphold.

As we appear to be getting nowhere on this, I'd like to offer a fresh perspective for the new year – that of a non-theistic approach. Following the Buddha's example, the non-theistic position refutes the extremes of both a nihilistic view (atheism) and an eternalist one (theism). In doing so, it cuts through intellectual speculation concerning the origin of the universe, in order to free up the space in which we can systematically investigate, engage with and appreciate the world as it is in this moment, right now.

Non-theism may sound somewhat like agnosticism, and indeed contemporary Buddhist teachers such as Stephen Batchelor have adopted the agnostic label as a way of distancing themselves from those metaphysical elements of Buddhist tradition, such as rebirth and karma, that are not empirically demonstrable. However, whereas agnosticism tends to emphasise not-knowing, which results from and remains confined by the limitations of intellectual and philosophical inquiry, a non-theistic approach implies letting go of all concepts in order to go deeper into experience, creating the possibility that this might produce a more profound kind of understanding.

Read it all here.

Adoptive parents give back

This week's Christian Science Monitor includes an inspiring story about some adoptive parents who were touched by the poverty they saw in Guatemala, and who did something about it:

"We felt good at first, because we felt like we had made a difference," says Ms. Downie, mother to a 2-year-old adopted Guatemalan, Sofia. "But then we get back to all these people who still need help, and you realize that what we're doing just isn't enough, and can never be enough. I'll never be able to give enough because there's no way to put a value on children and what they mean to a family."

Downie, of Roanoke, Va., is one of some 25 volunteers from across the United States who spent one week last month in Panajachel, Guatemala, "honoring" their adopted children by working with Mayan Families, a small nonprofit organization serving indigenous populations in the Lake Atitlan region in the highlands of Guatemala.

What started as a simple service trip for a handful of women who had bonded as they all went through the Guatemalan adoption process at the same time has snowballed into Helping Mayan Families, an effort that raised more than $30,000 worth of supplies to help provide free medical and veterinary clinics, Christmas baskets of food, and toys, clothes, and shoes to 1,000 poor indigenous families.

. . .

All of us moms are here for the same reason," said Hryniewicz, searching through piles of donated shoes to find a pair for a boy whose old shoes were so tight his mother couldn't pry them off his squished toes. "There's no way to say thank you for the sacrifice they made in giving up their children, so if you can't say thank you to the birth parent, you say it to their cousins and friends and community."

Read it all here.

On dying

The New York Times today reviews Robin Romm's new book, The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks, which deals with her mother's death from breast cancer after a nearly decade battle with the disease. It sounds like a book that would be useful to anyone who wants to understand and comfort those facing such a loss:

The foundational condition of being human is that we’re going to die. Almost as basic a truth is that we seem incapable of believing it. The collision of these inconsonant facts is the spark that ignites Robin Romm’s memoir, “The Mercy Papers,” a furious blaze of a book. The title is inapt: there is little mercy in these pages. As Romm herself writes, “Maybe the problem is God, the lack of God, the lack of mercy, of grace.”

In concrete terms, the problem is Romm’s anguish over the impending death of her mother, Jackie Romm. Jackie, 56, has been living with breast cancer for nine years when her daughter is summoned home to see her for the last time. Subtitled “A Memoir of Three Weeks,” the book chronicles not only the final weeks of her mother’s life but also, in passages too seamlessly inter­woven to be called flashbacks, the almost decade-long period in which cancer invaded the author as well — not physiologically but in every other imaginable way. Romm, who was 19 at the time of her mother’s diagnosis, does not so much mourn as rail against her losses: the looming loss of her mother, yes, but also the loss of her own unburdened youth, of her “20s,” as she puts it, again and again, at times wistfully (“I felt the most normal I’d felt in a month. I felt like a girl in my 20s”), at times bitterly (“I couldn’t be around so many healthy people in their 20s, their eyes lit up with the frenzy of being young and lucky”).

. . .

But “The Mercy Papers” is no blind rant. In Romm’s hands, anger becomes an instrument for pursuing truth, an extremely effective crowbar with which to pry back nicety and expose “something unfettered, something darker.” Often, it’s from this unfettered darkness that the author delivers her best lines, the words strung together with a kind of plain-mouthed beauty. Right in the midst of eviscerating Barb, for example: “She’s building a boat to sail my mother out. . . . Barb will build the boat of morphine and pillows and then I will have no mother and the days will be wordless and empty.” This is just accurate and eloquent and hard.

The truths Romm pursues are not of the confessional variety. She offers no festering family secrets, no deathbed revelations. It’s really only a single truth she grapples with, but it’s that oldest and most unyielding, the inevitability of death. She never quite wrestles it to the ground: “I can’t get my own brain to register the truth of it.” Nor can she bring herself to surrender to it, not even when evidence of her mother’s suffering becomes intolerable (“She’s swollen everywhere and on her sternum you can actually see the skin puffed out where the tumors have grown, like a basketball rising from her chest”), not even when those around her implore Romm to “release” her mother, to assure her that she’ll be O.K. when her mother dies. “I can’t,” Romm says. She makes no attempt to cast her refusal as an act of altruism, or an act of love. It’s about her fear for herself, plain and simple. “I won’t be O.K.,” she tells her mother. “I can’t imagine life without you.”

. . .

In the end, it is the mother who releases the daughter. After a particularly horrific day of doing battle with the “boat builders” who are ushering her mother toward death, Romm goes to Jackie and confesses that she cannot bring herself, as the ­others have urged her, to say “it’s O.K. to die.” The confession is gorgeous for its admitted selfishness — which, in its candor and intimacy, is transformed into an act of generosity, a precious, unprettied gift. But the gift her mother gives in return is even greater. Her speech slurred through the oxygen mask, Jackie answers, “Sweetheart, I dun need your permission.”

Read it all here.

Jesus is not a brand

Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, author of Brand Jesus, has a very thoughtful and provocative article in Christianity Today that challenges those who want churches to adopt modern marketing methods in evangelism:

The champions of better church marketing say that withdrawal and resistance are not options for a local church that seeks a public presence. We live in a commercialized culture that accepts that virtually everything is for sale. There is simply no way to be in the public arena without engaging in marketing. Even if you do not intend to market your church, that's how consumers are going to perceive your outreach. They will take it in through market-conditioned filters. If we ignore this fact, we will probably wind up doing bad marketing, and that doesn't do anyone any good.

. . .

The difficulty with the pro-marketing arguments, however, is the failure to recognize that marketing is not a values-neutral language. Marketing unavoidably changes the message—as all media do. Why? Because marketing is the particular vernacular of a consumerist society in which everything has a price tag. To market something is therefore to effectively make it into a branded product to be consumed. The folks at ChurchMarketingSucks.com have no problem with this: "Marketing is the process of promoting, selling, and distributing goods or services. It's a business concept, but something very similar happens in the church. As much as we bristle at comparing evangelism to a sales pitch, there are certain similarities."

There are indeed similarities. But evangelism and sales are not the same. And we market the church at our peril if we are blind to the critical and categorical difference between the Truth and a truth you can sell. In a marketing culture, the Truth becomes a product. People will encounter it with the same consumerist worldview with which they encounter every other product in the American marketplace.

Thus our dilemma: The product we are selling isn't like every other product—it isn't even a product at all. But if the gospel is not a product, how can we market it? And if we can't avoid marketing it, how can we keep from turning it into the product it isn't?

, , ,

In other words, people who respond to church marketing approach Jesus as another consumer option. This is first and foremost a problem because it is blasphemy: We are talking about the incarnate Logos, not a logo. Additionally (in case blasphemy isn't bad enough), this should concern us because of the problems it creates for discipleship. Consumerism isn't just a social phenomenon—it's a spirituality. And it comes with spiritual habits and disciplines that conflict with the particular practices of the Christian life.

The entire essay is well worth reading in full, and can be found here.

Israel cannot bomb its way to peace

As the war rages in Gaza, it is hard to find pieces that are neither cheerlead nor stir up hatred toward one side or the other. Here are some perspectives we've seen that shed light on the Israeli action in Gaza.

Rosa Brooks wrote in the Los Angeles Times on New Years Day that "Israel Can't Bomb Its Way to Peace."

But if there is no reason to doubt Israel's ability to pulverize Gaza, there's also no reason to think this offensive will improve Israeli security. Destruction of Hamas' infrastructure may temporarily slow Hamas rocket attacks, but sooner or later they'll resume.

The Israeli assault may even strengthen Hamas in the longer run and weaken its more moderate secular rival, Fatah. As Israel should know by now (as we all should know), dropping bombs in densely populated areas is a surefire way to radicalize civilians and get them to rally around the home team, however flawed.

Ironically, it's precisely this psychological phenomenon that Olmert, Barak and Livni are counting on among Israelis, but they seem to assume it doesn't exist among Palestinians. (Or, worse, they're too cynical to care, as long as they profit politically.)

Israel has no viable political endgame here: There's just no clear route from bombardment to a sustainable peace. But the damage caused by this new conflagration won't be limited to the Israelis and Palestinians. Israel's military offensive already has sparked outrage and protests throughout the Arab world. The current crisis also may destabilize some of the more moderate Arab governments in the region -- in Egypt, for instance -- where leaders now face popular backlash if they don't repudiate Israel.

Ann Fontaine said in her sermon yesterday:

I read the news from all sides in the conflict and do not know who is more righteous. The Palestinians, confined and barricaded in small bits of their former lands, the Israelis under siege by those who would eliminate them from the region? Perhaps it is the Israelis who even now are protesting the actions of their own government or the Palestinian medical and aid workers desperately trying to save all lives in hospitals with broken windows and few supplies?

Our hearts cry out for wisdom and finding another way. The Magi had the wisdom to look for the Christ child. They discovered that God appears in the most unlikely of places. When they returned home it is said they went "another way." The powers of the world do not seem to have the will nor the wisdom to find answers. Perhaps there are none when both parties want the same land and sovereignty. The strategy that is being pursued has not worked so far and does not seem likely to produce anything but a constant cycle of revenge and violence. I remember times of hope along the way during this conflict. The Oslo accords, the meetings at Camp David (where President Jimmy Carter was able to get each side to see what they needed beyond the cycle of violence), the truces, the leadership that rose up in new ways but was soon cut down often by their own people. It is not often that leaders arise, like Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu who can see a larger picture and encourage all of us to see one another as children of God where all children can find safety and a life of peace.

What is our call in the midst of this and other tragedies around the world? Support those who work for peace, those who call for new ways of relationships. Give to the Anglican hospital that cares for all regardless of nationality and ethnicity. It all seems too small in the face of the overwhelming and seemingly intractable issues but I take heart from the infant lying in the manger and from the wise ones who knew enough to be humble and giving. It is the only thing I know.

Give to Episcopal Relief and Development here to assist the hospital in Gaza.


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California Supreme Court decides unanimously for TEC

Updated: to read Bishop J. Jon Bruno's statement, click Read More at the end of this article. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's statement is also online.

In a decision issued today, the California Supreme Court held unanimously in favor of the general church, affirming in full the judgment of the appellate court in the case between the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and three disaffiliated parishes including St. James, Newport Beach. In its opinion the court stated,

Applying the neutral principles of law approach, we conclude that the general church, not the local church, owns the property in question. Although the deeds to the property have long been in the name of the local church, that church agreed from the beginning of its existence to be part of the greater church and to be bound by its governing documents. These governing documents make clear that church property is held in trust for the general church and may be controlled by the local church only so long as that local church remains a part of the general church. When it disaffiliated from the general church, the local church did not have the right to take the church property with it.
In a separate opinion Judge Kennard states, "I agree with the majority that the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (Episcopal Church) owns the property to which St. James Parish in Newport Beach (St. James Parish) has held title since 1950. This conclusion is compelled by Corporations Code section 9142, subdivision (c)(2). But I disagree with the majority that this provision, which applies only to religious corporations, reflects a “neutral principles of law” approach."

The decision makes clear that parish property is held in trust for the general church, a finding that would seem to make it unlikely that churches that left the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin to join the Anglican province of the Southern Cone will be successful in retaining their property.

From Episcopal News, Diocese of Los Angeles:

John R. Shiner, attorney for the diocese, said Monday’s ruling “will apply to all parishes throughout the State of California” and influence church property disputes nationally. “It’s been a long and arduous journey over the past few years,” he said. The decision, which upheld a 2007 appellate court ruling, is “final, conclusive, definitive,” he added.


(The Orange County Register story is here. See also The Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press. See also Howard Friedman's analysis over at Religious Clause blog. Also, Michael Conlon writing in Reuters. Episcopal Life says it is "a landmark ruling that could have national implications.")

St. James' former rector is David Anderson, who is now a bishop in the Church of Nigeria. The church itself is a member of the Church of Uganda. It was (and perhaps remains) the home church of Howard Ahmanson, the California savings and loan heir who has helped finance the breakaway movement. Ahmanson's wife Roberta, is president of the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, which has supported the breakway movement, and once shared offices with Anderson's organization, the American Anglican Council.)

The justices affirmed the so-called Dennis Canon, the validity of which has been questioned by breakaway parishes:

Under the neutral-principles approach, the outcome of a church property dispute is not foreordained. At any time before the dispute erupts, the parties can ensure, if they so desire, that the faction loyal to the hierarchical church will retain the church property. They can modify the deeds or the corporate charter to include a right of reversion or trust in favor of the general church. Alternatively, the constitution of the general church can be made to recite an express trust in favor of the denominational church. The burden involved in taking such steps will be minimal. And the civil courts will be bound to give effect to the result indicated by the parties, provided it is embodied in some legally cognizable form.” (Jones v.Wolf, supra, 443 U.S. at p. 606, italics added.)

Shortly after this decision, and in apparent reaction to it, the Episcopal Church added Canon I.7.4, which recites an express trust in favor of the denominational church. This occurred some 25 years before the instant dispute erupted. Defendants focus on the high court’s reference to what the “parties” can do, and argue that Canon I.7.4, to be effective, had to have been enacted by the parties — in other words, that some kind of agreement must have been reached between the general church and St. James Parish (and presumably every other parish in the country) ratifying Canon I.7.4. We do not so read the high court’s words. Use of the passive voice in describing the possible “alternative[]” of making the general church’s constitution recite the trust suggests the high court intended that this could be done by whatever method the church structure contemplated. Requiring a particular method to change a church’s constitution —such as requiring every parish in the country to ratify the change — would infringe on the free exercise rights of religious associations to govern themselves as they see fit. It would impose a major, not a “minimal,” burden on the church governance. (Jones v. Wolf, supra, 443 U.S. at p. 606.)

Thus, the high court’s discussion in Jones v. Wolf, supra, 443 U.S. at page 606, together with the Episcopal Church’s adoption of Canon I.7.4 in response, strongly supports the conclusion that, once defendants left the general church, the property reverted to the general church. Moreover, Canon I.7.4 is consistent with earlier-enacted canons that, although not using the word “trust,” impose substantial limitations on the local parish’s use of church property and give the higher church authorities substantial authority over that property. For example, permitting a disaffiliating local church to take the property with it when it reaffiliates with a different church is inconsistent with the prohibition of Canon II.6, section 2, against encumbering or alienating local property without the previous consent of higher church authorities. Thus, a strong argument exists that Canon I.7.4 merely codified what had long been implicit.

More:

In short, St. James Parish agreed from the beginning of its existence to be part of a greater denominational church and to be bound by that greater church’s governing instruments. Those instruments make clear that a local parish owns local church property in trust for the greater church and may use that property only so long as the local church remains part of the greater church. Respect for the First Amendment free exercise rights of persons to enter into a religious association of their choice, as delineated in Jones v. Wolf, supra, 443 U.S. 595 (as well as the provisions of section 9142) requires civil courts to give effect to the provisions and agreements of that religious association. To adapt a similar conclusion in a recent Court of Appeal decision involving a different religious association, “In summary, [St. James Parish] is bound by the constitution, laws, rules and regulations of the [Episcopal Church]. Historically, it has accepted the authority of the national church and submitted itself to the national church’s jurisdiction.”

On attempts to delegitimize the Dennis Canon:

Defendants also suggest that the Episcopal Church did not properly adopt Canon I.7.4 under its own rules. It is a bit late to argue that Canon I.7.4 was not effectively adopted, a quarter of a century later, and, in light of the consistent conclusions of the out-of-state cases that that canon is, indeed, part of the Episcopal Church’s governing documents, the argument seems dubious at best. But, in any event, this is one of those questions regarding “religious doctrine or polity” (or, as we phrased it in Catholic Charities of Sacramento, Inc. v. Superior Court, supra, 32 Cal.4th at page 541, “religious doctrine and internal church governance”) on which we must defer to the greater church’s resolution.

The justices were not persuaded by the "we built it,we own it," argument:

Defendants state that, over the years, St. James Parish “purchased additional parcels of property in its own name, with funds donated exclusively by its members.” They contend that it would be unjust and contrary to the intent of the members who, they argue, “acquired, built, improved, maintained, repaired, cared for and used the real and personal property at issue for over fifty years,” to cause the local parish to “los[e] its property simply because it has changed its spiritual affiliation.” But the matter is not so clear. We may assume that St. James Parish’s members did what defendants say they did for all this time. But they did it for a local church that was a constituent member of a greater church and that promised to remain so. Did they act over the years intending to contribute to a church that was part of the Episcopal Church or to contribute to St. James Parish even if it later joined a different church? It is impossible to say for sure. Probably different contributors over the years would have had different answers if they had thought about it and were asked. The only intent a secular court can effectively discern is that expressed in legally cognizable documents. In this case, those documents show that the local church agreed and intended to be part of a larger entity and to be bound by the rules and governing documents of that greater entity.

And:

As stated in one of the out-of-state cases involving the same Episcopal Church, “[t]he individual defendants are free to disassociate themselves from [the parish and the Episcopal Church] and to affiliate themselves with another religious denomination. No court can interfere with or control such an exercise of conscience. The problem lies in defendants’ efforts to take the church property with them. This they may not do.” (Protestant Episc. Church, etc. v. Graves, supra, 417 A.2d at p. 25.)

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Bishop Jefferts Schori's statement on Gaza fighting

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on the fighting in Gaza:

We are deeply saddened by the first-hand reports we are receiving from Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza about the casualties they are treating under the most horrific circumstances. Not only do they lack basic medical supplies, but with windows blown out they are even struggling to keep patients warm. The high number of civilian deaths and injuries, which continue to include noncombatants, women, and children, will only prolong the violence years into the future. Israel’s disproportionate response to the rockets being fired into its cities may well encourage violence beyond Gaza and Israel. The first steps toward peace will only come if all parties unite behind an immediate ceasefire. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded the world that “an eye for an eye soon leaves the whole world blind.” May we seek to end this blinding violence.

January 5, 2009

Covenant architect leaves Communion office

Gregory Cameron, architect and defender of the proposed Anglican Covenant is leaving his position as Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion office in London to become a bishop in the Church of Wales.

Thinking Anglicans has the story. The Church in Wales has a press release.

Central African diocese is still without a bishop

Anglican-Information reports on another New Year in the troubled Central African Province which is still without a bishop even though the Bishops who originally blocked the election of the Rev. Nicholas Henderson in November, 2005, have either died, retired or have been ex-communicated.

In the Diocese of Lake Malawi the people have now been without their elected bishop for over three years due to the continued inability of the Provincial bishops to correct their spectacular faux pas at the subsequent Court of Confirmation. In November 2005 the ‘Court’ declared (without any evidence but under pressure from North American schismatic factions) that the bishop – elect was of ‘demonstrable unsound faith’.

Amongst those bishops who adamantly made the declaration, two are now excommunicated and waging a war of attrition against the Church in Zimbabwe, one has entered a discredited retirement abandoned by his American friends, and one is deceased. ‘Demonstrable unsound faith’ seems to be a relative concept.

Current provincial policy towards the Diocese of Lake Malawi has been to place the priests and people under an undeclared interdict, enacted as a policy of calculated neglect. The bishops have therefore conducted a programme of minimal episcopal duties, hoping to crush any opposition, sap any will and through sheer frustration create a complaisant laity. This policy does not have the wholehearted support of all the bishops some of whom (sensibly) think it is counter-productive and disingenuous.

A typical recent communication from a layperson reads:

‘Since the disgraceful rejection of our dear man of God, the Rev Fr Nick, the Diocese of Lake Malawi has been going through a tough time from the bishops. As of now there are reports saying that the diocese is under punishment for a period known only to the provincial bishops and they say that they will decide on when to have a bishop.’

Remarkably, the people of the diocese remain in good spirits and vigilant. Far from suppressing or dividing them the bishops have succeeded in producing a renewed determination to see justice done. This essentially means convening the previously agreed independent provincial court to examine the failings of the original Court of Confirmation. However, this would be the very last thing that some of the original bishops would want for the obvious reason that it might (from their point of view) embarrassingly go the wrong way.

Making a difference

Former Dean of Episcopal Divinity School and parish priest, Bill Rankin, is among 70 individuals over the age of 60 named 2008 Purpose Prize Fellows for their willingness to take on society's biggest challenges in the second half of their lives. The fellows are selected by Civic Ventures, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco that works to expand the social contributions of older Americans. According to the Marin, California Independent Journal.

"Purpose Prize Fellows such as Bill Rankin show that experience and innovation can go hand in hand, that inventiveness is not the sole province of the young," said Marc Freedman, co-founder of the Purpose Prize program and author of "Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life."

Rankin, 67, former priest at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Belvedere, co-founded the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance in 2000 together with former Tiburon resident Dr. Charles Wilson. The alliance delivers human immunodeficiency virus prevention and care to people in impoverished rural areas of Africa, principally in the central African nation of Malawi.
....
Rankin said he and Wilson had recently retired when they got the idea of starting the alliance after reading an article in the British medical journal, The Lancet. The two men had met when Rankin was rector at St. Stephen's church from 1983 to 1993. The Lancet article made it clear that a single $4 dose of an anti-retroviral drug given to an African mother and her newborn could significantly reduce the probability of HIV transmission from mothers to newborns.

"About 2,000 babies are born every day in sub-Saharan Africa to HIV-positive mothers," Rankin said, "and we thought we could save a lot of the children by getting that medication out into the villages where the people are."


For more information on GAIA click here.

H/T and more on Bill Rankin at Mark Harris' blog Preludium.

More reactions CA Supreme Court ruling

Reactions to the California Supreme Court's unanimous ruling on property in the Diocese of Los Angeles in favor of The Episcopal Church continue, including a statement from the churches who lost the case.

From the Los Angeles Daily News:

When the Rev. Jose Poch learned a high court ruling Monday could spell eviction of his 78-year-old parish from St. David's Church, he was prepared to pack his bags and Bibles.

The California Supreme Court unanimously decided that a breakaway parish like his could not hang onto church property.

"We have to find a place," said Poch, rector of the North Hollywood church. "We must worship the Lord in any way we can."
...
A lawyer for the breakaway Southland churches said despite the ruling, he would continue to fight for church property when the case returns to a lower court.

"The Episcopal Church has never contributed a dime to buy properties, to build buildings and to maintain the property - all things that property owners have to do," Eric Sohlgren said.
...
St. David's Church owns deeds to a half-block complex at 11605 Magnolia Blvd., which it has inhabited since 1953. Like the other breakaway churches, it abandoned the L.A. Diocese for an Anglican diocese in Uganda.
...
Poch said he would comment on church plans after consulting with church leaders and attorneys.

"Today is a day to focus on the church," he said, "and prayer and our people."

H/T to Titus 1:9.

Also being reported from Kendall Harmon's blog is a statement from the churches who lost their case:

Nor is the saga over for St. James Anglican Church. “While we are surprised that the Court seemed to give some credence to the Episcopal Church’s purported rule confiscating local church property, the battle is far from over,” lead attorney Eric C. Sohlgren said. “The matter will now return to the Orange County Superior Court for further proceedings, and we look forward to presenting evidence and additional legal arguments that St. James Church should prevail under neutral principles of law.”

The leadership of the Newport Beach congregation is also evaluating a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and is meeting to discuss other possible steps. Today’s ruling also affects All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. David’s Church in North Hollywood, whose cases were put on hold pending the outcome of the St. James case. Together with St. James Church, these congregations never agreed to relinquish their property to the Episcopal Church upon changing their affiliation, and have consistently maintained that they have the right to use and possess the property which they have owned and maintained for decades.


Read the entire statement here. Few believe that the US Supreme court will accept this case as no point of constitutional law is at issue and the ruling is consistant with those in many other jurisdictions.

The Bakersfield Californian reports:

The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin said the California Supreme Court ruling Monday on property held by seceding Southern California parishes gives him hope regarding similar lawsuits in his diocese. The court ruled that the property in question belongs to the Episcopalian (sic) Church, not the Anglicans who seceded and transferred rights to the property to themselves.

The Living Church writes that Bishop Bruno says his next step will be to initiate dialogue individually with the clergy and lay leadership of the three churches in the hope that it will lead to reconciliation and perhaps the eventual voluntary return of those congregations to The Episcopal Church.
“I want to see if they are willing to talk; to see if they want to return to The Episcopal Church,” Bishop Bruno said. He added that the offer of dialogue carried no preconditions.

“Attorneys handle legal issues,” he said. “This is now a pastoral issue."

The Fresno Bee captured reaction from Schofield group:

Read more »

Sermons on Presidential Inauguration to be collected

The American Folklife Center announces that it will collect sermons and orations on the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

On January 20, 2009, the United States will inaugurate Barack Obama, the country’s first African American president. In anticipation of citizens’ efforts to mark this historic time around the country, the American Folklife Center will be collecting audio and video recordings of sermons and orations that comment on the significance of the inauguration of 2009. It is expected that such sermons and orations will be delivered at churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship, as well as before humanist congregations and other secular gatherings. The American Folklife Center is seeking as wide a representation of orations as possible.

Read more about how to contribute sermons and orations here.

The Ten Worst Habits of Preachers

Michael Jensen of Sydney, Australia, keeps the "The Blogging Parson" wherein he frequently discusses the art and craft of preaching. In this post, he names ten things preachers often inflict on hearers.

The Ten Worst Habits of Preachers

My assumption in this list is a culture that values the preaching of scripture very highly. This of course should not be assumed at all! There are actually worse crimes than these that include doing violence to the text of scripture, or ignoring it altogether, or waffling and calling it 'spirit-led'.

1. Merely 'explaining/teaching the Bible' and not preaching the living Word of God. (I think we should ban the phrase 'we are now going to hear the Bible explained'. I don't need it explained. I need it preached.)

2. Introducing us to the text and not to the issue addressed by the text.

3. Providing overelaborate explanations of the biblical-theological background to no great end.

4. Moralising from the Old Testament.

5. Reading every OT text immediately in terms of Christology without regard to its own particular context and meaning and purpose.

6. Speaking down to the congregation; assuming we are simpletons and do not read or think for ourselves. That our questions just need better information in order to answer them.

7. Getting Penal Substitution (or whatever the hot-button issue is for your church!) from every single text.

8. Illustrations that confuse more than illuminate. That's...most of 'em.

9. Never referring to self and own Christian faith in sermon. (Of course, the opposite is worse: using the pulpit for autobiographical purposes. Yuck.)

10. Making ill-informed generalisations about culture/sociology from a knee-jerk conservative standpoint.

11. (sorry) Pop-psychologising.

From your perspective--either as the preacher or as the preached-to--what would you add to this list?

Alert on Gaza from Public Policy Network and ER-D

The Episcopal Public Policy Network has issued an alert on the situation in Gaza:

Because of the continuing siege in Gaza and its devastating toll, we are doing a second alert regarding the Middle East. We are asking that you send the Presiding Bishop's statement of January 5th to your Member of Congress. The 111th Congress has just been seated and it is important that they hear from you now on the situation in the Holy Land.

Read more »

Will Church of the Saviour die to be re-born?

The Church of the Saviour, Washington, DC, is an icon of Christianity in action. Their long time pastor, Gordon Cosby gave his final sermon on December 28. The church is contemplating the future with the very real possibility of ending its current mode of being to allow new forms to emerge.

Read more »

Churches and ministries adjust as donations fall

Faced with substantial declines in fourth-quarter giving by parishioners, many churches and faith-based organizations have been forced to curb their spending and outreach programs, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.

A new study from the Barna Group, a consultancy in Ventura, California, found that during the past three months, one out of every five households had cut its faith-based giving. As a result, churches could see donations decline by as much as $5 billion and revenue by as much as 6 percent during the fourth quarter of the year. "The enemy of charitable giving is insecurity," said Paul G. Schervish, professor of sociology and director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College. "Right now, we can't even project the end of the recession, like we did other recessions."

The number of religious groups in trouble is growing. Focus on the Family, a faith-based organization in Colorado with a $5 million deficit, laid off more than two hundred workers in November, while Seventh Day Adventist Church leaders have instituted a wage freeze and a 20 percent reduction in travel. Elsewhere, falling donations recently forced the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh to hold a "special collection" for Catholic Charities in response to a 40 percent increase in calls to the agency's emergency assistance program.

See the complete Philanthropy News Digest report here.

Affidavit says Armstrong misappropriated $392,000

Colorado Gazette:

The Rev. Donald Armstrong funneled money earmarked for "single, unmarried seminarians" from a Grace Church trust fund to pay for his two children's college tuition, according to Colorado Springs police investigators.
...
The affidavit, returned by detective Michael Flynn to the court Tuesday, outlines the 18-month police investigation from May 2007 - when they were notified by the Episcopal Church, Diocese of Colorado that it suspected financial wrongdoing by Armstrong - and Nov. 25, when a judge signed the warrant authorizing the search.
...
"The Bowton Trust was a restricted trust fund providing scholarships for single, unmarried seminarians from Colorado, and was administered by Grace Church," according to the affidavit. "Father Armstrong's children were not seminarians. The police investigation determined Donald Armstrong was in control of parish finances and the Bowton Trust with no effective oversight and/or internal controls, and misused trust income (averaging about $9,000 a year) from about 1992 until 2001 when the trustee stopped further disbursements (because Armstrong could not prove he was in compliance with the trust fund)."

Armstrong headed the Grace Church and St. Stephen's Parish before he and his followers broke away in early 2007 to affiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

The trial over the church property occupied by the breakaway is set for February 10.

CANA is affiliated with the Church of Nigeria led by Archbishop Peter Akinola who has been an outspoken critic of corruption, mocking the Nigerian government for its ineffectiveness in rooting it out, and blaming the West moral weakness and for abetting corruption in Africa.

Previous coverage of the Armstrong saga can be found here, here,here, here, here, here and here.

Israeli-Hamas conflict: Just war?

Israeli is accused of using disproportionate means, and the toll on Gazan civilians is weighed against the civilian casualties in Israel from Hamas' homemade rockets. Hamas fighters use their own civilians as involuntary human shields, and fire their rockets indiscriminately and triggering the end to the ceasefire. These issues have got bloggers thinking about just war theory.

Andrew Sullivan begins: "How does just war theory defend the deaths of many innocent civilians as a means to increase "deterrent strength"?"

Noah Pollak requests in response: "Increasing “deterrent strength” against an enemy is simply another way of saying that you intend to fight them until they stop attacking you. As far as just war theory is concerned, I invite Andrew to cite chapter and verse, or even vague tenets, which might guide us toward his claim of the illegitimacy of the ground operation."

Sullivan, after checking his Catholic Catechism accepts Pollak's invitation:

The loss of life this past week has been huge - far greater than any other stage of the conflict, and out of all proportion to the damage Hamas has inflicted on Israel. In terms of casualties, we are talking about ratios of roughly a hundred to one. That makes this far from a close call morally. There is a reason, in other words, for many Europeans' horror. This is an extremely one-sided war, with one side essentially being attacked at will in a way that cannot avoid large numbers of civilian deaths. It is all very well understanding and sympathizing with Israel's dilemma in tackling Jihadist terror, as we should and must; it is another thing to watch women and children being terrorized and killed as they currently are in Gaza, with very little tangible gained as a result in terms of Israeli security. Maybe the long-term gains will shift the balance here. But those now arguing for exactly that proposition are those who believe the Iraq war has been a great success.

I need to repeat: There is no "just war" excuse for Hamas' murderous terrorism or for its refusal to acknowledge or peacefully co-exist with Israel. But there's no reading of traditional just war theory that can defend what Israel is now doing and has done either. Maybe I am missing an element here. Or maybe just war theory cannot account for modern terrorism. But if that is the case, then an argument must be made for a new framework of just warfare that can account for that.

Pollak responds:
Andrew has fallen for one of the great deceptions of the current age. In Andrew’s telling, and in the current faddish European one, proportionality requires that a military’s response to aggression must not exceed in violence the original provocation. This idea is not just a foolish and morally benighted concept of warfighting — it represents the complete repudiation of the actual doctrine of proportionality.
Pollak takes his understanding of proportionality from Michael J. Totten who wrote earlier this month:
The Law of Armed Conflict “arises from a desire among civilized nations to prevent unnecessary suffering and destruction while not impeding the effective waging of war. A part of public international law, LOAC regulates the conduct of armed hostilities. It also aims to protect civilians, prisoners of war, the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked.”

Proportionality, in short and according to the law, “prohibits the use of any kind or degree of force that exceeds that needed to accomplish the military objective.”

In other words, if a surgical strike is all that is needed to take out a Grad rocket launcher, carpet bombing the entire city or even the neighborhood isn’t allowed.

Hamas is still firing rockets; therefore, the IDF is not using more force than necessary to disrupt the firing of rockets. ... nd the IDF, unlike Hamas, does what it can to minimize injury to civilians. “Militants often operate against Israel from civilian areas,” the Associated Press reported last week. “Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.”

Ross Douthat (who has, independently, consulted the catechism on just war) has this punchline:
if it's important not to stretch the theory to justify any goal or end you seek, it's also important not to narrow it to the point where it seems so unrealistic and disconnected from the realities of war that policymakers will feel comfortable ignoring it. Which is why I find the widespread tendency to label Israel's current tactics as unjust - as opposed to labeling the war as a whole unwise, and unjust in its unwisdom - to be a somewhat troubling development: If you find yourself saying that a modern state cannot take the fight to a terrorist regime if doing so unavoidably involves civilian casualties, you're advancing a theory of jus in bello that no state can accept - and ultimately, I suspect, you're giving ammunition to the side of the debate that wants to do away with moral restraint in the struggle against terrorism entirely.
Douthat was reacting to these words of Peter Hitchins: "[T]he bombing of densely populated areas, however accurate, is certain to cause the deaths of many innocents. How then can it be defended? In what important way is it different from Arab murders of Israeli women and children?"

Tutu interviewed about the African in Obama

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, senior editor of The Atlantic Online talked with Archbishop Tutu in Boston shortly after the US presidential election. An extract:

You’ve described America as a “crazy country.” In your mind’s eye, what is America’s ideal role on the world stage?

The world accepts America’s leadership. But the world has been let down in the last eight years. The kind of America the world wants is not the unilateralist America, not the America who leads by being a bully-boy. The world wants the America who leads by collaborating, who leads by consulting.

You see already some examples of Obama’s style of leading. Right after the election, he was sitting with McCain and they were agreeing. That’s a fantastic image! It doesn’t happen in many countries in the world that people who are so at each other’s throats at a campaign can then sit and say, “We are going to collaborate.” That’s the style of leadership the world is so hungry for, where the leader asks, “What is your opinion, what is your opinion?”

The African in him is the one who is making him ask, “What is the consensus?” That’s the African way at its best. The good leader in Africa is the leader who keeps quiet and lets others speak and then says at the end, “I have heard you all, and this is our mind.”

Read it all here.

Statement of Bishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem on the fighting in Gaza

Statement of Bishop Suheil Dawani of Jerusalem on the fighting in Gaza:

JERUSALEM, January 7th, 2009 – At a time when great tragedy is occurring in the Holy Land in Gaza, I want to share some insight into what we are experiencing on a moment to moment basis. Our Diocese has one of 11 hospitals serving a population of 1.5 million residents in the Gaza Strip. The Al Ahli Arab (Anglican) Hospital has been in operation for over 100 years and has a very dedicated medical staff of doctors, nurses, technicians and general services personnel.

During the best of times they are stretched to their maximum meeting the medical needs of this populous community. Now, during the current military conflict with its heavy toll on human life and material, the hospital faces even greater responsibilities and challenges. The result is growing strain on the hospital’s resources. Every day since the beginning of military operations, the hospital has received 20-40 injured or wounded patients. A large proportion of them require hospitalization and surgery. These patients are in addition to those with non-conflict-related illnesses. About one-fourth of the patients are children.

In addition, the conflict has brought new type of medical and surgical conditions. For example, patients with burns and acute, crippling psychological trauma, are being seen more frequently. Because it is not possible for aid workers to enter Gaza at this time, the hospital’s staff is working around the clock, struggling with the effects of exhaustion and against limited resources in a conflicted area of ongoing military operations.

Many medical items are needed, especially bandages and supplies for burns and trauma. The hospital’s windows have all been blown out or shattered from rocket and missile concussion and cold permeates the entire premises. Plastic sheeting to cover the windows could alleviate some of the cold but is unavailable now. Food supplies are scant throughout the Gaza strip and maintaining patients’ nutritional needs at the hospital has been difficult, especially for the most vulnerable. Some medicines and supplies for the hospital have been generously donated by US AID, but it has not yet been possible to deliver the items.

Efforts to help alleviate some of the shortages are underway and we hope that the shipments will arrive quickly. Through the ICRC limited amounts of diesel fuel are being delivered to keep the electrical generators functional for life saving and other essential equipment. We are working with a number of related governmental and international voluntary agencies to speed up the delivery and steady supply of needed medicines and food. We are also working to ensure to the fullest extent possible the physical safety of the Hospital staff and campus.

On a “normal” day, approximately 600 life line trucks a day bring supplies to the Gaza Strip. Many are under the auspices of UNRWA and international relief agencies because about two-thirds of Gaza’s residents are Refugees and living in UNRWA Camps. During this time of conflict, that number of trucks is not seen in a week or more. Because of the reduced deliveries, medical items, nutritional food, and other basic supplies are now scarce items, if available at all, for our brothers and sisters in Gaza.

I ask you to join with me in prayer and by offering whatever financial support you can for our Hospital and heroic Staff of the Al Ahli Hospital - and other such humanitarian endeavors. Thankfully the Hospital plant remains intact at this time. While several among our Staff have suffered loss and injuries within their own families, they are representing all of us as a witness of God’s love to all people - “come unto to me all you who are heavy laden and I will refresh you”. As we continue to pray for communal Palestinian and Israeli PEACE, we especially remember these dedicated individuals who cannot leave, but most importantly do not want to leave, but continue to do all they can to help.

Our Lord’s imperative in St. John’s Gospel during this Epiphany season gives each of us the new hope for a new dawn of light, life and communal conciliation - "I have come that you may have Life and have it abundantly”.

Refer to the Diocese of Jerusalem's Web site for previous statements on Gaza from The Bishop. Donations can be made online through Episcopal Relief and Development or by mail to:

Gaza Relief
Episcopal Church House
Mount Saint Alban
Washington DC 20016
Attn: Bishop Chane

A president who does not always fit the stereotype

Jay P. Lefkowitz, Bush’s deputy domestic policy adviser when the global AIDS initiative was being developed, gives an insider's account of the president's interest in HIV/AID policy. One extract:

The announcement came the next month in the President’s 2003 State of the Union address. Midway through his remarks, he turned to the issue of AIDS, pointing out that nearly 30 million people in Africa were infected, including three million children under the age of fifteen. Yet across the entire continent, observed Bush, only 50,000 AIDS victims were receiving medication. Calling his initiative a “work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa,” he declared his intention to commit to it a full $15 billion over the next five years. This time, the reaction from AIDS activists was a resounding chorus of approval.

No sooner had the dust settled on the State of the Union speech than the initiative faced its first controversy. Although the heart of the plan lay in the disbursement of funds for prevention, treatment, and care, the President had made clear that he wanted to follow the Ugandan model of counseling. This raised the touchy issue of condom distribution (the C in the ABC).

Read it all here.

Yesterday Bush pulled another surprise, using his executive powers to create three huge environmental preserves in the Pacific.

Using hypocrisy to encourage safe sex

Washington Post

What if the students placed themselves in a position where they vociferously and publicly advocated to others the utility of condoms? If Aronson could make them spokespeople for AIDS prevention, he theorized, it would be very difficult for them to then act as if condoms didn't really do much to stop AIDS or they were not really at risk. They would feel like hypocrites.

Aronson realized he had gotten things backward: Instead of his selling condom use to students, what he really needed was for them to sell AIDS prevention to him.

Retired Bishop MacBurney to lead breakaway diocese as interim

Bishop Edward MacBurney, whose brief inhibition by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was a cause celebre among conservative Anglicans, has agreed to lead the breakaway diocese of Quincy on an interim basis, the Cafe has learned.

MacBurney, 80, was Bishop of Quincy from 1988-1994. He was inhibited by the presiding bishop in April 2008 for performing confirmations in the Diocese of San Diego in June 2007 on behalf of Bishop Gregory Venables of the Province of the Southern Cone without seeking permission from the Bishop of San Diego, the Rt. Rev. James Mathes.

Venables has claimed authority over numerous parishes in the United States and Canada in the wake of the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. He had previously claimed authority of the Diocese of Recife in the province of Brazil.

Response to the inhibition, which occurred two days after the death of the bishop's son, was heated among conservative Anglicans. The Forward in Faith chapter in the United Kingdom said the "purported inhibition" was "nothing less than contemptible, confirming our view that a ‘graceless and totalitarian’ mindset now holds sway in the upper echelons of TEC."

The Rev. Robert S. Mundy, Dean of Nashotah House Theological Seminary wrote: "What is going on right now is a cold, calculated show of force; and no amount of dressing it up with language about compassion is going to change that reality. Those who for decades spoke of tolerance, compassion, and inclusion are now running the Episcopal Church; and it is turning out just like George Orwell's Animal Farm."

MacBurney's inhibition was lifted on September 9, 2008 after he apologized. According to Episcopal Life Online:

Jefferts Schori's September 9 order admonishe[d] MacBurney to not make any other such visits and to apologize in writing to Mathes "for not respecting his authority as Bishop of that Diocese."

In November, he agreed to assume some of administrative responsibilities in the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy when the Rt. Rev. Keith Ackerman resigned just three days before the diocesan convention at which a majority of delegates voted to leave the Episcopal Church and join Venables' Province of the Southern Cone. Ackerman, who cited health concerns in resigning, was named an assisting bishop in the neighboring Diocese of Springfield, which is led by a fellow conservative, Bishop Peter Beckwith, a month later. However, Ackerman continues as president of Forward in Faith--North America, which is a member of the recently-founded Anglican Church of North America, which is seeking recognition as an Anglican province.

Pseudo-science from the Vatican

Even if one accepts the tortured logic of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical on birth control (which is widely disregarded by the faithful) it is still difficult to make sense of two recent Roman pronouncements on contraception.

William Saletan of Slate points out logical and scientific flaws in the Vatican's argument against the so-called morning-after pill advanced in the Dignitas Personae. But that document is a marvel of rational discourse compared to the views advanced over the weekend in an article in The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano . As Tom Heneghan of Reuters reports, Pedro José Maria Simón Castellví, head of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations claims without much in the way of proof, "that the contraceptive pill pollutes the environment massively, contributes to male infertility and causes abortions."

Silvia Aloisi of Retuers Rome bureau managed to get a few reactions to the article.

The deputy chairman of the Italian Society of Contraception dismissed the article as “science fiction. “Gianbenedetto Melis told Italy’s Ansa news agency: “The pill cannot provoke an abortion because it blocks ovulation, and if there is no egg to be fertilised there can be no pregnancy.” Flavia Fronconi, a pharmacologist, said “the world is full of substances with oestrogen effects … Even a plastic bottle left in the sun releases oestrogen ‘polluting’ the liquid that we drink.”

Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, former president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, was cautious about the link made in the article between the pill and male infertility. “It’s true that the spreading of hormones in the environment increases the chances of multiple births and in turn provokes male infertility,” Sgreccia told the daily Corriere della Sera. “But there are several causes for this. And more than anything else, it stems from the fact that they are used in agriculture fertilisers, so they end up in vegetables and meat,” he said.

Ross Douthat of The Atlantic offers this reasoning in the article's wake:

An orthodox Catholic is required to believe that the Church teaches truly in matters of faith and morals. He is not required to believe that the Church teaches truly in matters of science; indeed, the Church does not have "teachings," properly understood, on scientific questions. Where the two intersect - well, there things get a bit dicey. My sense of that matter is that I am bound to accept the Church's moral judgment that the taking of innocent human life at any stage from conception to natural death is a grave evil (and would not have become a Catholic if I did not), but that I am not bound to accept a Vatican document's summary of where the science stands regarding whether the morning-after pill does in fact take a life, by preventing implantation of a fertilized embryo. And therefore, to take up Rod's hypothetical, if someone contemplating taking the morning-after pill asked for my opinion on the matter, I would tell them that I've seen no persuasive evidence that suggests that emergency contraception is anything save, well, contraception - whose use is sinful according to Catholic teaching, obviously, but not nearly so gravely sinful as abortion.

Saletan has also probed Castellví claims in a very funny column in which he notes that in essence, Rome is arguing that:

The new cause of male infertility is female urine. Specifically, the urine of women who are committing the sin of contraception.

How should we respond to the poor?

The bloggers Wormwood's Doxy and Under There have had a moving dialog on what we owe those less fortunate than us, and it is worth reading in its entirely.

A sample from Doxy, whose essay is prompted by an encounter with a homeless man named William who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and its wake:

It is one thing to talk about “homelessness” or “the homeless”--it is quite another to look into the weary eyes of a human being who tells you that he slept in a bus shelter last night because he had nowhere else to go.

The Wall of Doubt is what I encounter every time I am faced with the failure of common decency--and let’s be honest and acknowledge that this is what is at the root of homelessness and abject poverty. These things are based in the failure of human beings to love and care for one another in the most basic ways.

That Wall is the rock on which my faith is tested--the stone that threatens to shatter what little confidence I have that there is a good and benevolent God in this universe.

Much better minds than mine have wrestled with the theodicy problem through the ages. I am under no illusion that I will be the one to solve the puzzle. But the problem takes on new urgency as I consider the fact that there is nothing I can do to help William.

And from UT's response:

You see, I approached the whole ministry to the poor and homeless thing with some very flawed assumptions. Back then I really thought it was my mission to change people and make them ready to fit into society. “Housing readiness” is the technical term for the model that says let me “fix” you so you will no longer be homeless. If I can make you more like me then you can finally be a respectable citizen. The hubris of such a position is staggering and yet it was shamelessly my position. That was before I came to realize that “society” is a cultural/geographic construct that is very fluid over time and space. There will always be people who do not fit into what society terms “normal.” I also know that the kingdom of God has most often been hidden among the “freaks and the misfits.” Today we in polite society would, like both of their families did, try to have Jesus and St. Francis committed and stabilized on medication.

Please join in their conversation, either here on the Cafe, or at either of the blogs quoted above.

Opinions on the opinion

Tobias Haller and the Mad Priest have both written insightfully about the California Supreme Court's unanimous affirmation that breakaway parishes in that state are not entitled to take the Episcopal Church's property with them when joining other Anglican or quasi-Anglican bodies.

Tobias focuses on the legal and moral implications of the case. One interesting insight:

Giving: When people give to the church, they give up control over what they have given. (A designated gift can, of course, allow for limited degree of control as to purpose.) However, most gifts are for the general operation of the church and its mission. Many people claim a tax deduction for such gifts; and if they were to attempt to recover them would incur a tax liability. It is an affront to the concept of stewardship to try to regain control over something you have given for the work of a larger entity. It would be very odd indeed if people could remove, say, a stained glass window, because they didn't like the new rector's preaching. We should not only not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing when we give open-handedly, but if we do know, forget it as soon as possible.

Many Episcopalians previously belonged to other churches. How many of us assumed we were entitled to a parting gift--say the candlesticks--or a refund when we left other churches?

Mad Priest points out, perceptively, that the court's decision is actually a gift to schismatic Episcopalians:

Although I doubt that they will agree with me, this is good news for the schismatics. Up until now they have been a people of no integrity. They have claimed martyrdom without having suffered. They have claimed sacrifice without giving anything up and dispossession without any loss. They have claimed the past whilst being, very much, a product of their modern, consumerist culture. Now they have the opportunity to test their commitment to the principles they have claimed for themselves and tried, so militantly, to impose on the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Susan Russell's summary of Bishop Jon Bruno's efforts to reach an accomodation with the departing parishes before their depature is also illuminating. It should be read especially by those who have come late ot this story and spoken loudly about a purported lack of Christian charity on both sides. The facts don't bear that out.

Anglocat's lawyerly take is also worth a look.

Diocese of Pittsburgh move to regain assets

Updated with a full set of links from Thinking Anglicans.

A press release from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (internal link added):

Pittsburgh – Today the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh asked a court for control of church assets still held by former diocesan leaders who have left the Episcopal Church.

The request was made in the context of an existing court order which stipulated that local Episcopal property must stay in the control of a diocese that is part of the Episcopal Church of the United States.

"We're not asking for anything the court has not already addressed, or for anything former leaders have not already agreed to," said the Rev. Dr. James Simons, President of the diocesan Standing Committee, the group currently leading the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese.

The original court order was issued in October 2005 as a result of a lawsuit filed by Calvary Episcopal Church in East Liberty. The order prohibits any group that separates itself from the Episcopal Church from continuing to use or control Diocesan property. The order specifically defines the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh as being part of "the Episcopal Church of the United States of America." In negotiations leading to the 2005 Order, former Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan and his attorneys agreed this stipulation would apply regardless of the circumstances surrounding any separation, even if every parish were to leave.

In October 2008, supporters of Bishop Duncan purportedly attempted to remove the entire Diocese from the Episcopal Church. However, the Episcopal Church maintains that parishes and dioceses cannot leave the church, only individuals may do so. Duncan and his supporters are now attempting to organize a competing church entity. The group continues to call itself the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

"Whatever Robert Duncan and his followers may claim to be, they cannot claim to be 'the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America'," the Diocese argues in its papers filed today.

At issue in today's request is access to approximately $20 million in diocesan endowments and bank accounts, as well as other resources, some non-financial, used in conducting day-to-day diocesan business. The use of church buildings is not directly addressed in today's filing, but Diocesan leaders say ownership issues will need to be resolved in the future. Since October, attempts to complete an orderly transition of assets to those who remain in the Episcopal Church have been ignored by those who left it, the Diocese filing contends.

Calvary Episcopal Church joined the Diocese in today's filing with the Court of Common Pleas in Allegheny County. The request was made to the Special Master overseeing the Calvary case.

Approximately 27 congregations, or about 40% of the Pittsburgh Diocese prior to the October separation, remain active in the life of the Episcopal Church.

For more information about the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, visit www.episcopalpgh.org.

The Cafe's previous coverage of the litigation in Pittsburgh is here.

Lionel Deimel has also commented on this development.

Tough times and a turn to God

From the Montclair (NJ) Times:

Parishioners sometimes come up to the Rev. John Perris after Sunday worship and pull him aside.

"I need to have a conversation with you. I have started to cut back," they’ll say.

"Not everybody will tell me that they lost their job," said Perris, pastor at St. James Episcopal Church on Valley Road. "But whether the economy is awful, or when there are other things happening, people are still coming to church."

Richard John Neuhaus died yesterday

Father Neuhaus, a Roman Catholic convert from the Lutheran Church died on January 8th of complications from his cancer treatments. Neuhaus was best known as a formative voice for the religious right in the United States.

From the obituary on the National Catholic Reporter's website:

From the early 1970s forward, Neuhaus was a key architect of two alliances with profound consequences for American politics, both of which overcame histories of mutual antagonism: one between conservative Catholics and Protestant Evangelicals, and the other between free market neo-conservatives and “faith and values” social conservatives.

Breakaway parish sued in Wisconsin

Bishop Steven Miller has announced that the Diocese of Milwaukee has decided to sue the congregation of St. Edmund's Church in Elk Grove to return it's church property to the diocese after voting to leave the Episcopal Church late last year.

From the article in the Living Church:

“Sadly, the diocese is now in the position where it will be necessary to seek other remedies to address this situation and recover diocesan assets,” Bishop Miller wrote. “This is particularly disheartening to me as the apostle clearly reminds us that God is not glorified when we go against one another in courts of law.” Several members of the congregation contacted by The Living Church said the congregation would not voluntarily relinquish the keys to the property without a court order, but they declined to give their names because they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the congregation.

According to the article, Bishop Miller said that he was "saddened by the decision made by some members of St. Edmund’s to “disaffiliate from a diocese where their theological convictions are respected.”"

Flooding in Southern Africa

The flooding in Southern Africa has elicited the prayers and the support of people across the region as they attempt to help the victims. The Archbishop of Cape Town has written to the bishops of the hardest hit regions and called upon the governments in the area to respond by declaring the region as a disaster area.

The Archbishop's statement follows:

Read more »

Implications of the California ruling

Now that the California Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church, what sort of ramifications will the ruling have on the ongoing dispute between Provinces of the Anglican Communion? An article in US News and World Report argues that they will be significant.

Dan Gilgoff writes:

"In accepting the Episcopal Church's argument for maintaining ownership of its property, says Kirkpatrick, author of The Episcopal Church in Crisis, the decision is likely to deter other breakaway parishes from suing for their property. 'It's very costly to go to court,' he says, 'and if the trend is not to recognize the authority of the local congregation, what's the point?'

Experts on the Episcopal Church said the ruling would be a likely bellwether for similar legal skirmishes over property between the national church and local parishes in half a dozen other states. That's what the Episcopal Church is hoping for. 'The California Supreme Court's decision was precedent-setting,' said John R. Shiner, chancellor for the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles and the church's lead counsel in the California litigation. 'It clarified to a large degree what the rules will be going forward and will the basis for clarification elsewhere.'"

This doesn't mean that people won't still feel that they have to disassociate themselves from the Episcopal Church, it will just change how it happens:

"In the face of the California ruling, breakaway churches have vowed to continue working to launch an alternative Anglican denomination in North America, even if it means losing church property. "Parishes are not choosing to leave the Episcopal Church because of their estimation of the possibility of maintaining ownership of property but because of significant theological disagreements," a spokesman for Bishop Robert Duncan, the leader of the conservative breakaway dioceses and parishes, said in an interview on Tuesday. "This decision doesn't begin to change that."

Read the full article here.

Rick Warren offers a home to conservative Anglicans

Pastor Rick Warren has offered to allow any Anglican group that might lose access to worship space as a result of the recent ruling in California in favor the Episcopal Church, to have the use of the campus at Saddleback Church in Orange County.

This news from Christianity Today's Live Blog which quotes from an email from Warren that they have just received:

[The Episcopal Church has] already considered me an adversary after partnering on projects with Kolini, Orumbi, and Nzimbi, and writing the TIME bio on Akinola.

But since last summer... I’ve been on Gene Robinson and other’s attack list for my position on gay marriage. ....[Our] brothers and sisters here at St. James in Newport Beach lost their California State Supreme Court case to keep their property.

We stand in solidarity with them, and with all orthodox, evangelical Anglicans. I offer the campus of Saddleback Church to any Anglican congregation who need a place to meet, or if you want to plant a new congregation in south Orange County.

The St. James parish is not giving up its court case and has plans to seek other legal remedy. In the meantime, other conservative Episcopal congregations or Anglican church planters might be eager to take pastor Rick up on his offer. "

Read the full article here.

Presiding Bishop calls special convention in Fort Worth

The Presiding Bishop has called for a special convention of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Fort Worth for Feb. 7th. The convention is tasked with electing a provisional bishop and reorganizing the diocesan government to replace those who have left to join the Province of the Southern Cone.

The ENS story is here.

From the story:

"Jefferts Schori's announcement said that "all qualified clerical and lay delegates to the convention are urged to attend," adding that criteria for qualification would be announced soon. The Steering Committee's diocesan website lists 13 congregations as remaining members of the diocese.

The Presiding Bishop convened a similar meeting in the Diocese of San Joaquin in March 2008 after the former leadership of that diocese left the Episcopal Church to align with the Southern Cone province. Prior to the beginning of that meeting, Jefferts Schori recommended retired Diocese of Northern California Bishop Jerry Lamb to become provisional bishop for the diocese. She recommended him in accordance with Canon III.13.1. That canon states in part that "a diocese without a bishop may, by an act of its convention, and in consultation with the Presiding Bishop, be placed under the provisional charge and authority of a bishop of another diocese or of a resigned bishop."

Katie Sherrod writing on her blog has some thoughts as well:

What you won't read [in the ENS story], because there is simply no way for a reporter to document it, is the incredible sense of joy and liberation being experienced here, as happy Episcopalians reach out to one another and to others, sharing their love of God and of one another in ministries new and old.

Christans and Living Wills

An article by one of our regular contributors here at the Cafe, discusses the moral questions a Christian might encounter in drawing up a living will, or in acting on a loved one's desires expressed in one.

Originally published in Raleigh News and Observer.

By Greg Jones

Q: What is the Christian view of the following provisions in a living will?

* Withdrawing artificial hydration.
* Withdrawing artificial nutrition.
* Withdrawing life-prolonging measures.

Are any or all of the above considered to be killing or suicide?

---

There are, to be sure, a variety of responses to these questions in global Christianity. I have found a great deal of similarity among the various denominations -- ranging from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholic. In my own, the Episcopal Church, our General Convention in 1991 resolved to encourage the use of living wills, which might include provisos to withdraw hydration, nutrition or extreme life-prolonging measures in limited circumstances. The key issue for us resides in our understanding from God's revelation of a few key truths.

First, we believe that all human life is sacred and that God's commandment "Do not kill" is authoritative. Second, we recognize too that death is part of the cycle of our natural life. As Ecclesiastes says, "There is a time to be born, and a time to die." Third, we proclaim that in the birth, death, Resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, God transforms our earthly deaths into eternal lives. As Paul writes, by Christ "has come the resurrection of the dead."

With these three points before us, we do not believe it is morally acceptable to intentionally kill someone who suffers from an incurable illness. Our covenant in baptism to honor the dignity of every human being encourages us to seek palliative treatments for those in pain.

And, if the time has drawn near, we want to allow people to die with dignity, without artificially prolonging the act of dying. This might include the removal of hydration and nutrition or other artificial measures.

Because the decision to remove life-sustaining systems still has a tragic side, it is a decision that must ultimately rest with the patient or his/her surrogates. The decision is best made in prayer, with family and friends, to the merciful God who suffered and died as the Christ and who by grace restores us to wholeness.

Finding a bishop on the Web

The innovative folks in the Diocese of Minnesota are searching for their next bishop via Web site. Candidates are encouraged to apply online before February 18.

A report from the Diocese of Jerusalem on Al Ahli Arab Hospital

From the Diocese of Jerusalem:

Saturday, 10 January 2009. Al Ahli Arab Hospital continues to receive and care for many patients each day who are injured, wounded, or burned from the current conflict. Up to 40 new patients are seen each day and many of them require hospital admission and surgery. This increased surgical load places strains on related hospital departments – anesthetics, suture material, operating room linens and equipment, bandages, and surgeons themselves. Until relief is available from additional healthcare personnel, the hospital staff works long intervals without rest and struggles against exhaustion. Some hospital staff are now staying in the hospital around the clock, adding to the hospital’s obligations.

In addition, Al Ahli is now receiving patients referred from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City – up to 15 per day. Patients are also being seen, especially children, who are experiencing the effects of fear and psychological trauma.

Large-scale efforts are underway to deliver needed material assistance to the hospital, but the procedures required for safe delivery impose security-related limitations on the amounts of supplies that can be delivered and the time required to get them to the hospital. The hospital is short of fuel which is required to continue operating the electrical generator because little electricity is available in Gaza. Without the fuel for the generator the hospital would have no electricity, which would greatly impact its ability to operate.

Glass in windows and doors at the hospital was shattered by nearby rocket and missile strikes. Glass is unavailable in Gaza at the present time for permanent repair, so the windows are temporarily covered with plastic rubbish bags until plastic sheeting becomes available for better protection from the cold.

Food is in increasingly desperate need. Our efforts at this time are focused on providing nutritional products for the most vulnerable people; for example, children and nursing mothers.

An additional scarcity in Gaza is cash. Many banks are closed for lack of cash. During this time, the Diocese is providing the cash necessary for the hospital to carry out its work and is also providing assurance that any debts incurred by Al Ahli Hospital will be honored.

Bishops oppose reinstituting death penalty in Maryland

An op-ed article by Bishops John Bryson Chane of Washington and Eugene Taylor Sutton of Maryland will appear on the Close to Home section of tomorrow's Washington Post, but it is online now:

For decades, many religious groups have voiced strong public opposition to capital punishment, believing that every human being is given life by God and that only God has the right to deny life. Of course, we understand that the state must seek justice and prosecute wrongdoing, but we cannot condone the state pronouncing a sentence of death for wrongdoing -- no matter how violent and brutal the crime. There is simply no moral justification for the state to execute a child of God in the name of justice.

The Episcopal Church has carefully studied the application of the death penalty in many states. In every case, it has concluded that the death penalty is unjust and ineffective. It is immoral to any who are seriously committed to the ethics of Jesus, who continually forbade violence as a means to solve problems caused by evil. It is unjust because of the hugely disproportionate number of poor and black defendants who receive the death sentence. It is a sad truth that many who are wealthy in our society are able to "buy" their way out of being executed by the state. When it comes to the death penalty, true justice comes with a price tag: "Justice paid is justice won." It is ineffective in that it has never been shown to deter the commission of violent crime, nor has it lowered the murder rate in any state that regularly executes its most violent criminals.

A report from Zimbabwe

Anglican-Information has been asked to circulate the following report from Zimbabwe, a country whose people’s sufferings are being quietly forgotten at the moment.

NEWSFLASH FROM ZIMBABWE - It’s the women who suffer most

Read more »

A gay ordination in Colorado

The Denver Post:

Ending several years of restraint by the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado in ordaining openly gay and partnered priests, Bishop Robert O'Neill will ordain Mary Catherine Volland, along with three others, to the priesthood at St. John's Cathedral on Saturday.

Meetings are worship

Charles Olsen notes that we often bookend church meetings with perfunctory invocations and benedictions. He suggests that if we redefine activity of the people of God serving on church boards as worshipful work, then prayer will no longer be relegated to a book-end position; instead, it will saturate the agenda and thread its way throughout the meeting.

Frame the Agenda with Prayer
Use opening and closing prayers that relate to the agenda of the meeting. The invocation might focus on the image of God and create an openness to and awareness of the Spirit’s presence and leading. The closing prayer might be a thankful offertory for the work of the meeting—lifted to God.

Glean for Prayer
At the beginning of a meeting, you might assign four people to keep notes with an eye toward separating out items for prayer. (They do not record the decisions being made. That is the task of the recording secretary.)

Offer Prayers of Confession
Naming “how things really are” and “what is left undone” are healthy processes for a board, but by themselves they can bind and paralyze it; the board needs to have a safe place to work through these issues.

Sing Prayers
Often discussion and discourse are anything but harmonious. Singing together models the harmony to which they aspire. The presence of wonder and mystery in music also helps break up the framework of most meetings by adding some “grace notes.”

Time-out for Prayer
After twenty minutes of debate and discussion over an issue on which people seem divided, the egos take over. Some deliberative groups have found value in taking three to five minutes of silent “time out” for personal refocusing and prayer.

Rotate Prayer
At the beginning of the meeting, assign each person to a certain fifteen-minute segment of the meeting; during that assigned time, members should pray silently for each person in the group and for the deliberative process in which the board is engaged.

Draw upon Model Prayers in Scripture
Olsen suggests using some of the models of prayer offered in Scripture such as using the Psalms, the Lord's Prayer. He also suggests that prayer is modeled in various parts of the New Testament such as Jesus’s prayer for his friends and disciples (John 17) and Paul’s heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving for his friends (Phil. 1:3–11).

Acknowledge Subliminal Prayer
Prayer may be ceaseless and subliminal, even when we engage in active work or deliberation. Such prayer plays just below the conscious level. The old desert saints wanted to pray without ceasing, so they attached the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner”) to the rising and falling of their breath. For a while the breath carries the prayer. Then in a mystical moment the prayer carries the breath without one’s thinking about it!

Meetings Are Worship
Resistance to infusing the work of a board with prayer tends to come from the conviction that “there is a place for everything and everything should be in its place”—that worship belongs to Sunday and sanctuary and prayer belongs to worship. But an inspirational moment in a meeting does wonders in loosening the strings of resistance, and those inspirational moments will come once worshipful work is attempted. Let the only rule be “meetings are worship.” All else will flow to and from that fountain. Then we can drink from its fullness!

Read the rest here.

Who would Jesus smack down?

The New York Time Magazine includes a profile of Mark Driscoll, pastor at Seattle's Mar's Hill Church, with a cool attitude, but neo-Calvinist message:

Mark Driscoll is American evangelicalism’s bête noire. In little more than a decade, his ministry has grown from a living-room Bible study to a megachurch that draws about 7,600 visitors to seven campuses around Seattle each Sunday, and his books, blogs and podcasts have made him one of the most admired — and reviled — figures among evangelicals nationwide. Conservatives call Driscoll “the cussing pastor” and wish that he’d trade in his fashionably distressed jeans and taste for indie rock for a suit and tie and placid choral arrangements. Liberals wince at his hellfire theology and insistence that women submit to their husbands. But what is new about Driscoll is that he has resurrected a particular strain of fire and brimstone, one that most Americans assume died out with the Puritans: Calvinism, a theology that makes Pat Robertson seem warm and fuzzy.

At a time when the once-vaunted unity of the religious right has eroded and the mainstream media is proclaiming an “evangelical crackup,” Driscoll represents a movement to revamp the style and substance of evangelicalism. With his taste for vintage baseball caps and omnipresence on Facebook and iTunes, Driscoll, who is 38, is on the cutting edge of American pop culture. Yet his message seems radically unfashionable, even un-American: you are not captain of your soul or master of your fate but a depraved worm whose hard work and good deeds will get you nowhere, because God marked you for heaven or condemned you to hell before the beginning of time. Yet a significant number of young people in Seattle — and nationwide — say this is exactly what they want to hear. Calvinism has somehow become cool, and just as startling, this generally bookish creed has fused with a macho ethos. At Mars Hill, members say their favorite movie isn’t “Amazing Grace” or “The Chronicles of Narnia” — it’s “Fight Club.”

Read it all here.

Is the Narnia franchise dead?

Sad news for fans of the C.S. Lewis Narnia series: Disney is pulling the plug after making movies based on just two of the books:

Fans of the Narnia movies had the wind taken out of their sails over the holidays when it was announced that Disney has taken leave of the franchise, opting out of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Though Disney helped finance and distribute the first two films in the series, the third movie will have to move forward without their involvement. Walden Media, the company that made the first two movies, had planned to begin filming Dawn Treader this spring for a May 2010 release, but is now shopping for a new business partner—possibly Fox, with whom it partners for all its other films.

According to the UK's Independent, Disney cited budgetary concerns as chief among their reasons for withdrawing from the film, leading to further speculation about the future of big-budget fantasy films amidst the receding economy—including, possibly, the Harry Potter franchise.

Dawn Treader, like Prince Caspian, was slated for an estimated $200 million budget—which makes Walden's task of finding a new distributor difficult. The Los Angeles Times, however, reports that the film would likely have come in well under the $200 million mark, and quotes an anonymous source who says that Disney and Walden experienced "creative differences" and a disagreement over when to release the film. Meanwhile, Jim Hill lists a third possible motivation: Slow DVD sales for Caspian.

Some industry insiders don't quite see Disney's logic. LA Times Critic Mary McNamara says Disney is jumping ship too soon, dismissing the entire franchise because of Caspian's disappointing sales; she argues that Caspian is generally regarded as a weak link in the series anyway, and says the fact that the film did as well as it did is a miracle, while Dawn Treader is a much more cinematic and appealing story to begin with. Naomi Creason, meanwhile, says Disney is just being practical, and senses little future for Dawn Treader.

Read it all here.

Spirituality and chronic disease

This week, there was yet two more studies that support that faith can help with disease:

Two recent studies, led by Michael Yi, MD, associate professor of medicine, and Sian Cotton, PhD, research assistant professor in the department of family medicine, investigated how adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—a condition characterized by chronic inflammation in the intestines—may use spirituality to cope with their illness.

These results were published in online versions of the Journal of Pediatrics and the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Spirituality is defined as one’s sense of meaning or purpose in life or one’s sense of connectedness to the sacred or divine.

. . .

Teams led by Yi and Cotton collected data on socio-demographics, functional health status and psychosocial characteristics as well as spiritual well-being for 67 patients with IBD and 88 healthy adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19.

, , ,

He adds that researchers also found that one of the most important predictors of poorer overall quality of life was having a poorer sense of spiritual well-being.

Cotton’s analysis of the same 155 adolescents focused on the relationships between levels of spiritual well-being and mental health outcomes in the adolescents with IBD as compared to their healthy peers.

Levels of spiritual well-being were similar between adolescents with IBD and healthy peers. In addition, higher levels of spiritual well-being were associated with fewer depressive symptoms and better emotional well-being.

“However, even though both healthy adolescents and those with IBD had relatively high levels of spiritual well-being, the positive association between spiritual well-being and mental health outcomes was stronger in the adolescents with IBD as compared to their healthy peers,” Cotton says, noting that this indicates spiritual well-being may play a different role for teens with a chronic illness in terms of impacting their health or helping them cope.

Read it all here.

Still more on the Obama church search

Well this is an interesting twist on the story of the Obama family search for a church home: as Politico is reporting, the President-elect is suggesting that they are looking for a neighborhood church, rather than choosing among the larger downtown D.C. churches:

Barack Obama hinted in an interview on "This Week" on Sunday that he might choose a church outside the marble-monuments.

The church may not be in the "company town" part of D.C. but instead in one of the District's neighborhoods facing "enormous challenges," he said. He said he and wife Michelle would visit different churches to see what's comfortable but suggested that his goal on this and other matters will be, "to see if we can bring those two Washington D.C.s together."

Read it all here.

Here is the relevant excerpt from the interview:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, do you have a church here in Washington?

OBAMA: Not yet. And so, one of the things that Michelle and I will be doing is probably visiting some churches and seeing what’s comfortable.It is tougher as president. You know, this is not just an issue of going to church, it’s an issue of going anywhere. You don’t want to subject your fellow church members, the rest of the congregation, to being magged every time you go to church. And so, we’re going to try to be balancing, not being disruptive to the city, but also saying we want to be part of Washington D.C.

But one of the things that I don’t like historically about Washington is the way that you’ve got one part of Washington, which is a company town, all about government, and is generally pretty prosperous. And then, you’ve got another half of D.C. that is going through enormous challenges. I want to see if we can bring those two Washington D.C.s together.

Any suggestions?

Obama names minister for prayer service

President-elect Barack Obama has selected a minister to give the sermon at the prayer service that is held the day after the inauguration, and she is decidedly different than Rev. Rick Warren:

President-elect Barack Obama has selected the Rev. Sharon E. Watkins to deliver the sermon at the national prayer service that is held the day after the inauguration.

Ms. Watkins, the first woman ever selected to lead the service, is the president and general minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a small, liberal-leaning Protestant denomination with 3,754 congregations and about 690,000 members in the United States and Canada. Ms. Watkins was elected to the post in 2005, the first woman ever chosen to lead a mainline Protestant denomination.

But Ms. Watkins is not well known nationally. She came to the attention of Mr. Obama at a meeting he held during the campaign last summer to introduce himself to a politically and theologically diverse group of ministers. At that closed-door meeting, some of the conservative ministers bluntly questioned Mr. Obama on certain issues. Ms. Watkins was asked to give the closing prayer.

“Sharon was able to conclude in a way that tied everyone together,” said the Rev. Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, who was at the meeting. “It left folks on a buoyant note, with a degree of hope and optimism that we could find some common ground.”

The prayer service will be held on Jan. 21 at the Washington National Cathedral.

. . .

Ms. Watkins has spoken out against torture and the war in Iraq, but as church president she has not taken a position on same-sex marriage. Like many mainline Protestant churches, the Disciples is not unified on the issue. As a congregational church, each church in the denomination is free to set its own policies.

Ms. Watkins said in a telephone interview that the church in Bartlesville, Okla., where she served as minister before becoming president, could not reach a consensus on whether to allow gay union ceremonies and decided to hold off on a decision.

“We really emphasize the responsibility as well as the freedom of individuals within the church to study Scripture to prayerfully pursue their own spiritual journey,” Ms. Watkins said. “That means we end up being incredibly diverse politically, theologically and socially.

“Coming out of that context, the kind of message I want to reflect on is the deeper unity we have as a human family,” she said of the sermon she planned to deliver at the National Cathedral.

Read it all here.

Obama asks Gene Robinson to give Inaugural concert invocation

Updated with numerous links. (Concert performers include Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Beyonce, says the Wall Street Journal.)

We received this email from Bishop Robinson this morning:

I am writing to tell you that President-Elect Obama and the Inaugural Committee have invited me to give the invocation at the opening event of the Inaugural Week activities, “We are One,” to be held at the Lincoln Memorial, Sunday, January 18, at 2:00 pm. It will be an enormous honor to offer prayers for the country and the new president, standing on the holy ground where the “I have a dream speech” was delivered by Dr. King, surrounded by the inspiring and reconciling words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is also an indication of the new president’s commitment to being the President of ALL the people. I am humbled and overjoyed at this invitation, and it will be my great honor to be there representing the Episcopal Church, the people of New Hampshire, and all of us in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

+Gene

(Editor's note: There will undoubtedly be some controversy over whether Gene was invited as a response to the intense criticism of Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. We don't know. We've been sitting on this news since just before Christmas, so it has been in the works for a while. But if Gene had been contacted before the Warren selection was announced, it seems unlikely he would have spoken out so strongly against the choice.)

Updated: Politco's Mike Allen is also on the story, as is Gene's hometown paper, The Concord Monitor. Episcopal Life Online has the most comprehensive story we've read. Washington Monthly has also weighed in, as has Ben Smith of Politco's blog. He writes:

It's a mark of Obama's raw power at the moment as much of his unifying message, that he can bring in fundamentally opposed Christian leaders like those two, without either walking out. (Though, to be fair, they're a safe 48 hours apart.)

Still, it's a mark of just how different, when it comes to mainstreaming gay leaders, it is to have a Democrat in the White House than a Republican, or even than a 1990s Democrat.

The Huffington Post chimes in, as do the Christian Broadcasting Network, the Human Rights Campaign and New York magazine's Daily Intel. The Boston Globe has also filed a story, as have US News and World Report, Religion Dispatches, the American Prospect, the Independent and Reuters. To read Integrity's press release click Read more.

Bill Donahue of the Catholic League is predictabily unhappy. In reference to his statement, it should be noted that it isn't at all unusual for a clergy person of one denomination to give a retreat fo clergy of another denomination, and that this is generally done at the invitation of retreatants. Additionally, it is libelous to say Bishop Robinson left his wife and children for a man, as he hadn't met his partner, Mark Andrew, until will after he and his wife divorced.

Ezra Klein has one of the shrewder posts we've read. It concludes:

This is, incidentally, why it's useful for progressives to criticize the president. Politicians respond to incentives. To noise. To anger. Warren, on some level, was a response to the loud protestations of evangelicals who believed the Democratic Party had no place for them. It's hard to see Robinson is anything but a response to progressive activists who sense that Obama was more willing to risk cross those who supported him than those who opposed him. Erase the anger from either side and it's not worth Obama -- or any president -- taking the risk to placate them. But this is a step in the right direction. This is genuinely inclusive. If it was the plan all along, the Obama administration sure did a good job keeping the secret. And if it wasn't, then equality activists have something to be proud of this morning. They changed the incentives.

In the Times of London, Ruth Gledhill writes:

The President-elect's choice is a sign of his willingness to respond to criticism.

It also indicates that the conservatives might still wield immense political influence in the US but that they have lost their hard-fought battle for the soul of Anglicanism and that the gay and lesbian community, denied equal ordination and other rights for centuries, are with the election of Mr Obama on their way to capturing the moral high ground in the US church.

The New York Times' story is now online.

And if you are keeping score at home, the Robinson story became the biggest blog event of the day at about 4:30, with over 135 blogs on the case, according to Google's blogsearch.

In other news, Ken Blackwell, a leading candidate for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee had this to say.

Read more »

A Pittsburgh timeline

On Thursday, January 8, the Episcopal diocese of Pittsburgh took steps to reclaim the property of the diocese. The diocesan press release is found here.

The group that left TEC has posted a response here.

Joan R. Gundersen, a Lay Deputy to the 2009 General Convention from Pittsburgh, wrote to the House of Bishops and Deputies listserve (reprinted here with permission):

Let me assure you all that The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in the TEC is not "attempting" to join the Calvary law suit. Our Chancellor was recognized by Judge James (who is the Allegheny County Judge who has been riding herd on all the filings since a group including Calvary Episcopal Church first filed suit against Bishop Duncan and other diocesan leaders in 2003 in order to prevent removal of diocesan property from TEC) at a hearing held within days of the October 4, 2008 convention. Also we are definitely NOT a new diocese. This diocese has been around since 1865. We are in a start-up mode only because we do not have access to the files, mailing lists, insurance records, office supplies, etc. owned by the diocese since Bishop Duncan's group has retained physical possession of them, and will not give us any access.

Calvary Episcopal's 52 page Request to the Special Master was filed January 9. The first nine pages setting forth the diocese's request for access to the funds are here. Also filed in the request are the judge's previous comments on the matter.

If you have not followed the legal maneuvers in Pittsburgh, here is a very quick summary written by Dr. Gundersen:

Read more »

Obtaining grant funding for ministry

In rough economic times, congregations look for ways to meet the costs of upkeep, programs and ministries. If these are directed towards the wider community, like soup kitchens, counseling centers, tutoring programs and youth drop in centers, congregational leaders and clergy wonder if it is possible to obtain grants.

Joy Skjegstad writes for the Alban Institute:

Pastors and ministry leaders are always asking me whether grants are available to fund the work of their congregations, and this question is arising more during these difficult economic times. Congregations that are having a difficult time meeting budget with gifts from inside the congregation are increasingly looking to outside sources for help.

So, is there grant funding out there for your church? I always answer: “It depends.” Whether you can secure grants for your congregation will depend on a number of factors, including:

* how closely your mission matches the funder’s mission (the most important factor)
* the results that your programs achieve
* whether there is spiritual content in the programs you seek to get funded and how the funder feels about that
* the ability of your church to actually do what you’ve set out to do, as measured by the qualification of your staff members and volunteers and the experience the congregation has implementing these types of programs


Paying attention to what funders are looking for and preparing strong grant proposals is even more important during these difficult economic times. Most foundations and corporations have less money to give away—profits are down for many companies and foundation endowments are worth much less than they were a year ago. So, with the same number of (or more) groups competing for less grant money, responding to the issues identified here will greatly increase your chances of being funded.

Before deciding to seek grant funding, keep in mind that many grants are made by foundations and corporations that are not interested in the spiritual dimension of programs. Some funding groups are even prohibited from funding religious organizations by their own bylaws. Take corporations that make grants to community programs, for instance. Because corporations have such a wide range of stakeholders—employees, customers, stockholders, and senior executives (and often many others)—many of them resist making grants to programs with religious or spiritual content for fear of alienating one or more of these key constituencies.

Another thing to keep in mind is that foundation and corporate funders typically want to support programs that benefit the broader community, not just an exclusive group of people like the members of a particular congregation or denomination. So regular church expenses like worship, pastoral care, Sunday school, and maintenance of your sanctuary usually won’t be eligible for grant funding (exceptions to this include grant support from denominations and funders like the Lilly Foundation that focus on building the capacity of congregations and pastors).

Read the rest here.

A new appointment

Mary E. Kostel, chancellor of the Diocese of Washington, has been named the Episcopal Church's Special Counsel to the Presiding Bishop for Property Litigation and Discipline. She was formerly of counsel at Goodwin Proctor, where David Booth Beers, chancellor to the presiding bishop, is of counsel. Read her profile in the Washington Window.

Iker under misapprehension

Jack Iker, former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, has written a letter to Presiding Bishop asking her not to attend the Special Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. Under the misapprehension that he is the bishop of the diocese he cites Canon III.12.3.c of the Episcopal Church. His letter was mailed the day the Episcopal News Service reported there would be a special convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth on February 7th.

Some in the Church of England have questioned why it is necessary to go through with the unpleasantness of deposing bishops.

Sex and the seminaries

A group called The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing issued a report along with the Union Theological Seminary of New York calling on North American Theological Seminaries to offer more courses and programs to help prepare ministers, rabbis, priests, and other religious professionals to address issues of sexuality better than they now do.

Among their findings:

Read more »

All Saints, Pasadena rector on Oprah, encore visit

From All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, CA:

The Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, Jr., rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena will make an encore appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show today, Monday, January 12, to respond to the controversy around his statement in a January 8th segment on the Oprah Show that "being gay is a gift from God."

It was no surprise at All Saints Church that the show's producers asked for some follow-up time with Reverend Bacon. "The volume of email we're getting here in Pasadena tells us that Ed Bacon's message -- the good news that God loves absolutely everybody -- is one people are hungry to hear," said the Reverend Susan Russell, All Saints Senior Associate for Communication.

"We are deeply grateful for the national platform Ed Bacon's appearance on Oprah has given this message of love, inclusion and tolerance that we hear preached here in Pasadena 24/7. We look forward to welcoming those coming toward us who are hearing for the first time that the abundant, inclusive love of God includes them!"

For more information contact Keith Holeman, Director of Communications at All Saints Church, Pasadena, at kholeman@allsaints-pas.org, or 626.583.2739.

The Oprah show is reporting that it was the most controversial moment of her "Best Life" Week series. Oprah Winfrey said Monday her show's message boards were flooded with responses to statements made by a religious leader that being gay was OK in God's eyes.

Responding to a viewer who Skyped into the show, The Rev. Ed Bacon, declared being gay is a "gift from God."

Bacon appeared live via satellite during today's show and didn't back down from statements made last week.

"I meant exactly what I said," Bacon said.

It is so important for every human being to understand he or she is a gift from God. ... and it's important to remember that God made them, he said.

Bacon said he's received a lot of response from his appearance last week, most of it being positive.

"It simply unleashed a flood of healing," Bacon said.


Read the article here.

Comments to the Oprah Show are here.

Integrity, Episcopal group working for full inclusion of GLBT persons in the Episcopal Church, comments here.

Ed Bacon tells of his experience in the first show below:

Read more »

2008 reviewed by Presiding Bishop

The Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, reflects on this past year with Editor of Episcopal Life, Solange de Santis:

The year 2008, it seemed, was crammed more-than-usually with momentous events for the Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

Internationally, Anglican bishops gathered for the decennial Lambeth Conference and the church continued to work for the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals for social progress. Domestically, some members left the church due to theological differences and the church confronted its past with an apology for involvement in slavery.

As the year drew to a close, Jefferts Schori's thoughts turned toward the Middle East, where Israeli and Palestinian forces were battling in Gaza -- a place she had visited the previous spring.

On Lambeth and the Anglican Communion:

Six months later, Jefferts Schori said what continued to resonate with her was "the ability to learn about contexts in other parts of the [Anglican] Communion … what the challenges are in other dioceses, what the opportunities are … what the needs and hungers of the local population are. In most parts of the Anglican Communion, those needs and hungers are far more basic than in much of the Episcopal Church -- adequate food to eat, education for children, any semblance of health care, a peaceful society … Those are things we tend to take for granted in the United States part of this church," she said.

On the Millennium Development Goals:
Jefferts Schori said she's seen positive developments in the past year. "Every diocese I visit knows something about the MDGs; that wasn't true five years ago. Increased numbers of congregations and dioceses are building relationships with developing parts of the world. They are learning what it is like to live on less then one dollar or two dollars a day," she said.

On church growth and plans for the future of the Episcopal Church:
Recent statistics have shown that Episcopal Church membership -- along with that of some other mainline denominations -- is declining. What plans are there to address this trend? "There are many plans to address that trend. Among the new staff at church center [in New York] are ones dedicated to church planting work, one dedicated to work in evangelism, one for work with small congregations. We're going to bring aboard another person who will help to teach the rest of us and challenge the rest of us to think about emergent church models -- how the church can as a whole be more effective in presenting the gospel in language and images and idioms that can be more readily understood by new generations," she said.

On the future with those who are in disagreement with church's stance on same sex blessings and inclusion of gays and lesbians.
Is there hope for reconciliation with disaffected Episcopalians or former Episcopalians? "When we're clearer about our identity, there is abundant room for reconciliation. The challenging part of the environment is that some have said they can no longer be Episcopalians because the Episcopal Church believes 'X.' The Episcopal Church has always had a wide range of belief. The challenge comes when some find that range too wide for their own comfort. There have always been times in the church when some have decided to follow their spiritual journey in another faith community. We are embracing, we are a wide tent. If you are reasonably comfortable with that diversity, you are more then welcome," she commented.

On the passage and possible repeal of B033:
The 2006 convention passed a resolution called B033, which called upon the church to use restraint when electing and consecrating bishops "whose lifestyle poses a challenge to the wider church." It was seen as an uneasy conservative-liberal compromise and there have been calls for its repeal or modification in 2009. "I've said I don't think it's helpful to revisit B033. It is far more helpful for us to say something significant about where we are in 2009. Conventions have passed resolutions in the past and they have rarely been revisited. New resolutions have been passed that state where the church is at that point," said Jefferts Schori.

Many other items are discussed by the Presiding Bishop on the video of the interview here.

Horror in Zimbabwe

Episcopal priest and CEO of Physicians for Human Rights Frank Donaghue led an investigative team of public health investigators into Zimbabwe -- and evaded Mugabe's secret police to get the extraordinary story of the unfolding horror in Zimbabwe out according to a report from Frederick Clarkson, long time writer on politics and religion and co-founder of Talk2Action.

A doctor from Johns Hopkins University I interviewed for the story says that the scale of death and human suffering may be greater than Cambodia under Pol Pot, and that international inaction is reminiscent of the the neglect of the Rwandan genocide

Religion Dispatches carries Clarkson's report on the death defying investigation of the situation in Zimbabwe:
What is the secret so horrible that President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe does not want the world to see? Why did he refuse visas for Jimmy Carter, Kofi Annan and Graca Machel of The Elders, a group of eminent statesmen, last fall? Why did Mugabe’s secret police keep a team of investigators from Physicians for Human Rights under surveillance in the week before Christmas last year—and try to arrest them before they could tell their story to the world?

In a report titled HEALTH IN RUINS: A Man-Made Disaster in Zimbabwe, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) revealed Mugabe’s dark secret this morning at a press conference in Johannesburg, South Africa: President Mugabe's regime was committing crimes against humanity. Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, said in a statement that the PHR report: “documents that the people of Zimbabwe are being denied the most basic of life’s necessities—access to health care, food, clean water, and even life itself. The world must take action against the Mugabe regime for these crimes against humanity.”

Excerpts from
HEALTH IN RUINS:
A Man-Made Disaster in Zimbabwe: Crimes Against Humanity
…Robert Mugabe [has attempted] to conceal the appalling situation of his country’s people and to prevent the world from knowing how his Government’s malignant policies have led to the destruction of infrastructure, widespread disease, torture, and death.

The Cholera Epidemic is a Result of Human Rights Violations
The Mugabe regime intentionally suppressed initial reports of the cholera epidemic and has since denied or underplayed its gravity.

Healthcare Neither Accessible nor Affordable
...The dollarization of the economy since November 2008 has led to an economic apartheid in healthcare access. Since then, only a tiny elite with substantial foreign currency holdings can be said to have any real access to healthcare.

Human Rights and Torture
...A political environment marked by partisan violence, arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, torture, and extrajudicial killings have continued unabated since the March 2008 parliamentary and presidential elections.

Seizure of Farmland by the Ruling Elite
Under the guise of land redistribution to benefit landless black Zimbabweans, Mugabe instead awarded many of these once productive farms to government ministers.... The land seizure led to sharp falls in agricultural production...and increased food insecurity for millions.

The Collapse of Democracy, the Economy and Health Care
The health crisis in Zimbabwe is a direct outcome of the violation of a number of human rights, including the right to participate in government and in free elections and the right to a standard of living adequate for one’s health and well being, including food, medical care, and necessary social services.
PHR found that the Mugabe government has withheld food aid, seed, and fertilizer to rural provinces in order to starve political opponents; that the regime nationalized and then withheld routine support for municipal water and sewer systems from cities that elected political opponents; that the health care infrastructure and the economy itself is nearing utter collapse; corruption is the rule not the exception; and that the regime brutally silences critics to cover its crimes, profound corruption and incompetence.


Read more here.

Read the report here.

The BBC reports here.

Ekklesia reports here.

UPDATE: Clerics join Tutu in fasting for Zimbabwe here:

Two clerics have joined Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, in fasting in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, which faces a collapsing economic and political order and reports of a military alert amid fears of a coup.

Watch the video from Physicians for Human Rights below:

Read more »

Gay men's chorus to sing at inauguration event

A local gay men’s chorus has been invited to perform as part of President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremonies next week, according to a statement from the group, and reported in the Washington Blade

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington will perform during a pre-inauguration event Sunday that will take place from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Lincoln Memorial. Among the 800,000 attendees expected at the concert are Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden, the statement says.

Taunee Grant, a chorus spokesperson, said HBO, which will broadcast the performance live, tapped the group to sing at the concert.

According to a former member of the chorus they will be singing an arrangement of “America” (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) at the same event where The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, will give the invocation.

Targeting gun dealers

Episcopal bishop Allen Bartlett of Pennsylvania has joined other religious leaders calling for pressure for a code of conduct for those selling handguns, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's philly.com

Citing frustration with the legislature's reluctance to pass tough laws against "straw" handgun purchases, a coalition of religious leaders stood outside a gun store yesterday and announced a plan to pressure retailers directly.
"We . . . cannot stand by while towns and cities suffer senseless violence," said Bishop Allen Bartlett, assisting bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

He was joined on the sidewalk in front of Colosimo's Gun Center in the 900 block of Spring Garden Street by representatives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Friends Yearly Meeting, and a synagogue.

A group of about a dozen area religious institutions, named "Heeding God's Call," is urging Pennsylvania gun retailers to sign a 10-point "code of conduct" to curb the supply of weapons to criminals. The code, created in April by a national coalition of mayors, drew national attention when Wal-Mart - the largest seller of rifles and shotguns in the country - signed a document agreeing to abide by its rules.

Dealers who take the pledge agree to:

Videotape all their firearms transactions.

Participate in a computerized gun-trace log that will identify buyers whose previous purchases were used in crimes.

Conduct criminal background checks on employees and train them in ways to deter illegal purchasers.

Accept only federal or state photo IDs.

Read more here.

+Gene talks about praying at the inauguration

NPR interviews Bishop Gene Robinson, who has been chosen to deliver the invocation at Barack Obama's kickoff inaugural event Sunday.

Robinson says he doesn't think Obama picked him to balance the selection of evangelical pastor Rick Warren. Robinson believes the invitation came because of his work with the Obama campaign. He hopes that the prayer will be one that many if not all people can join in praying.

Listen here.

Read more here.

Obama: Life without church community is difficult

President-elect Barack Obama has been without a worship community for about a year now and throughout that time, he says, it’s been difficult according to Christian Post.

“Now, I've got a wonderful community of people who are praying for me every day, and they call me up and – you know, but it's not the same as going to church and the choir's going and you get a good sermon,” he said in an interview aired Sunday by ABC's This Week.

Over the past year, Obama has been attending church sparingly and though it’s been nearly two weeks since he and his family arrived in Washington, the president-elect said they still don’t have a church to attend yet.

But Obama said one of the items on his list of things to do is to visit churches in the area and “seeing what’s comfortable,” preferably before his fast-approaching inauguration date.

“It is tougher as president,” said the incoming commander-in-chief.

And it’s not just an issue of going to church, Obama added. “It’s an issue of going anywhere.”

“You don't want to subject your fellow church members, the rest of the congregation, to being magged every time you go to church,” Obama said. “And so, we're going to try to be balancing, not being disruptive to the city, but also saying we want to be part of Washington D.C.”

Since Obama’s victory in November, churches in the nation’s capital have been extending invitations to him and his family, touting their African-American roots, their ties to past presidents and to Obama himself. According to reports, United Church of Christ, Methodist, nondenominational, and historic black congregations have all extended invitations to the Obamas to attend their services.

“The eclectic nature of Obama’s spiritual pilgrimage, coupled with his coming to Washington unaffiliated with a denomination, has increased the competition among congregations for the involvement of the president-elect and his family,” observed Dr. Gary Scott Smith, author of Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush.


Watch the interview here.

On inauguration morning Obama will worship at St. John's

The Washington Post:

President-elect Barack Obama will attend a private prayer service on the morning of his inauguration at the historic St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, according to the Presidential Inauguration Committee.

Read more »

Presiding Bishop among the "$10 in 2010" signatories

US faith leaders say lift economy by raising minimum wage (Ekklesia):

The leaders of 15 denominations and national faith organizations are among the inaugural signers of an open letter calling for a $10 federal minimum wage by 2010.

Four hundred faith leaders from all 50 states have so far given their endorsement and more are signing every day, say campaigners.

Rev Dr Sharon E. Watkins, General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), signed the letter in support of the ‘$10 in 2010’ campaign saying: "National wage policies are moral documents that express the values of our country. A minimum wage closer to a living wage better reflects our values." [Watkins has been selected by Obama to deliver the sermon at the national prayer service at the National Cathedral the day after the inauguration.]
...
Most of the ten occupations projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to have the largest employment growth during 2006-2016, such as retail salespersons, fast food workers, home health aides and janitors, have disproportionate numbers of minimum wage workers.

"A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it," said Holly Sklar. "The minimum wage sets the wage floor, and we cannot build a strong economy on downwardly mobile wages and rising poverty, inequality and insecurity. As President Roosevelt understood, we have to raise the floor to lift the economy."

Read more »

"Being gay is a gift from God"

Video from the Rev. Dr. Ed Bacon's follow-up visit on Oprah is now available. Bacon is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

Read more »

Gene Robinson on Rachel Maddow Show

Tonight at 9 EST on MSNBC

Will the real Rick Warren please stand up?

Who is Rick Warren? What is his purpose?

In this internet age it's hard to tailor your message to your audience. Everyone has ears. And even if you don't intend for a message to be public your audience may find it convenient to make it public. (And who's to say you didn't mean it be public rather than belatedly regretting your words?)

Who is the real Rick Warren?

Rick Warren 1 [Jan. 9]: In this email,

[The Episcopal Church has] already considered me an adversary after partnering on projects with Kolini, Orumbi [sic], and Nzimbi, and writing the TIME bio on Akinola.

But since last summer... I’ve been on Gene Robinson and other’s attack list for my position on gay marriage. ....[Our] brothers and sisters here at St. James in Newport Beach lost their California State Supreme Court case to keep their property.

We stand in solidarity with them, and with all orthodox, evangelical Anglicans. I offer the campus of Saddleback Church to any Anglican congregation who need a place to meet, or if you want to plant a new congregation in south Orange County.

Read more »

National Cathedral inaugural prayer service clergy identified

AP:

The Inauguration Committee has only released one clergy name so far for the Jan. 21 National Prayer Service that caps the inauguration. The Rev. Sharon Watkins, the first woman president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a Protestant group, will deliver the sermon.

Read more »

The Anglican Communion Website II

Mark Harris reports on the provincial directory maintained by the Anglican Communion:

The Anglican Communion website now confirms The Episcopal Church's understanding that there is currently no bishop in either the Diocese of Quincy or the Diocese of Fort Worth. In addition, the entries are for "The Episcopal Church," rather than "The Episcopal Church, USA." Additionally, the Diocese of Fort Worth website now lists the site belonging to that of the "Steering Committee North Texas Episcopalians representing The Diocese of Fort Worth."

We've cautioned against reading too much into the speed with which the understaffed Anglican Communion office responds to changes within member churches. Political battles within the Communion won't be won via Web directories. That said, in this instance, it seems that the Communion office accepts that certain bishops have been deposed, or renounced their orders. This is good news for the Episcopal Church, and bad news for Bob Duncan and Jack Iker.

Video: Bishop Gene Robinson talks to Rachel Maddow

Bishop Gene Robinson appeared last night on The Rachel Maddow Show. "No one had a bigger tent than Jesus," he said.

To watch the whole show download the January 14 Rachel Maddow show podcast from iTunes.

Ruth Gledhill spots a double standard

Ruth Gledhill notes that the Church of England seems to judge the Episcopal Church by one standard and the Swedish Church by another:

"The Church of England along with the three other Anglican churches of these isles is in full communion with the Church of Sweden, which is about to debate and probably approve a proposed rite of same-sex marriage. And there is no Anglican-English-style fudge here, over 'when is a blessing a wedding and when is it just a blessing'. These are real, one-flesh-and-all-that same-sex marriages we are talking about here. The Swedish church already has two women bishops and we've remained in communion with them through that one, so I don't suppose this will make any difference. It just seems a bit unfair that The Episcopal Church should get it in the neck for Gene Robinson, and Canada for New Westminster, while another church, albeit Lutheran not Anglican, gets away with it. Poorvoo but not pour vous, it seems, if you are a gay Anglican in England or TEC.

The latest from the Anglican hospital in Gaza

The latest from Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza:

Today (Wednesday 14 January 2009) brought more injured and wounded patients to Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, as each of the last 18 days has. One patient who came to Al Ahli recently was Mohan’nad, a 9 year-old boy whose leg was badly injured when a building near his home was damaged. Thankfully, the doctors and staff at Al Ahli were able to save his leg.

But this day also brought hope and much needed assistance for Al Ahli in the form of several trucks filled with medicines, medical supplies, blankets, and food that arrived in convoys coordinated by UNRWA. The hospital to date has received some limited assistance through various aid agencies, but the trucks arriving today represent a huge boost to the hospital’s ability to continue its urgent humanitarian mission of medical care for anyone in need, even under the current dire circumstances. The hospital’s location in the very heart of Gaza City is now placing added responsibility on its work, which is being carried out so bravely and selflessly by the hospital staff.

Robert Bellah on Barack Obama and "the common good"

Robert Bellah, author of Habits of the Heart, has written a rapturous, but nonetheless scholarly essay at the blog The Immanent Frame that situates President-elect Barack Obama within the context of both Roman Catholic social teaching, Protestant individualism and the traditions of what he calls Biblical and Civil Republicanism. It is well worth a read.

If you look at Obama’s specific policy concerns you will find the common good at the core of almost all of them. Universal health care is an obvious example. And why, except for our culture of radical individualism, don’t we already have it as every advanced society in the world has it? Because in normal times common good arguments do not carry the day in America. Obama’s jobs program, his environmental program, his foreign policy concerns are all examples of making the common good the focus of politics. What all this leads to in my opinion is that Obama is not concerned with center-left or center-right but with making America into a country with a concern for all its citizens and not just the privileged few, a country like other advanced countries and less like a third world country.

Lay Catholics call on five bishops to resign

Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe has the story:

Voice of the Faithful, the Newton-based [MA] organization formed in the wake of the abuse crisis to push for change in the Catholic Church, is calling for the resignations of Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Bishop William F. Murphy of Long Island, Bishop John B. McCormack of New Hampshire, and Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati. The group is also calling on Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the former archbishop of Boston, to give up his positions in Rome, where he oversees a basilica and serves on several Vatican committees.

The group's explanation:

"We ask those authorities that failed to protect the well-being of our children by knowingly and secretly transferring predator priests from parish to parish without informing the laity of the reasons for such transfers to resign their current office before June 30, 2009. In our view, any secret transfer constitutes prima facie evidence that, regardless of the professional advice or counsel they may have received, such bishops and other religious authorities, by acting in secret, put the interests of the institutional church before the safety of its people and their children. In addition to requesting all such resignations, we call on these bishops to acknowledge personally and publicly their involvement in the sexual abuse crisis, and to ask for forgiveness from the survivors and their families who were so badly wounded by their decisions."

Friday Night Lights is back

As longtime visitors will recall, the Cafe's editor in chief is crazy about the NBC's drama Friday Night Lights. (See previous effusions.) The show returns for its third season tomorrow night at 9. Here's a sneak preview.

Episcopal Churches create shelter from the cold

There's a pretty significant cold spell settling down across the east and mid sections of the US right now. The overnight cold is so bad that many homeless people are at risk of literally freezing to death. The situation is more dire for newly homeless people who haven't learned the necessary street smarts to survive these sorts of days and nights.

When churches in Bethlehem PA began to prepare to care for the homeless during these cold nights, they called the city to see about opening up city facilities. Being told that the Mayor would only be willing to open four jail cells for four street people to sleep overnight, the Episcopal parishes in the Lehigh Valley organized their own response and have opened their doors to get people out of the cold. Enlisting as many other groups as they could, they have managed to open at least three shelters across the entire Lehigh Valley for the cold spell, and have begun working to work on longer term solutions to such emergency conditions.

The Rev Scott Allen of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Allentown is quoted in this story about his congregation's decision to open their parish hall in response:

"'We are being intentionally naive in doing this,'' he said. ''We don't know what to expect, but our primary mission is to get people out of the exposure to the cold for one night. This is our job in being Christians.''

There's a second story from the area about the other Episcopal churches participating in the effort here.

Banning torture

A broad coalition of religious groups here in America are pressuring President-elect Obama to move quickly to recreate a ban on torture for prisoners in American custody.

The coalition, which was formed in 2006, includes Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christian groups, as well as organizations representing Muslims, Jews, Bahais, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. They asked their congregations to recite a prayer to end torture in the 10 days before Mr. Obama takes office.

In a news conference on Wednesday, the Rev. Dr. John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ, said, “All over the world, people are looking this week for a clear and strong word that change has come, that religious values are not simply to be pandered to for votes, but are principles that underlie policy.”

From here.

T. D. Jakes to preach at Inauguration morning service

Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press reports:

Bishop T.D. Jakes, the Dallas megachurch pastor, will preach at the private church service that President-elect Barack Obama will attend the morning of his inaugural, The Associated Press has learned.

Jakes will give the sermon Tuesday at St. John's Episcopal Church, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information. St. John's, dubbed the "Church of the Presidents," sits across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House.

On Wednesday, a National Prayer Service will be held in the National Cathedral to cap the inauguration. Among the participating clergy will be the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell and Jim Wallis, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Read more on participants here.

Bishop Lamb, San Joaquin: CA Supreme Court decision

The Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb, bishop for the Diocese of San Joaquin has sent out letters to the clergy, leaders and others in the Diocese following the California Supreme Court ruling on property in the Diocese of Los Angeles. To the members of the diocese he writes:

The decision by the California Supreme Court was very clear, and it may result in some people rethinking their decision to leave the church. I urge the laity and clergy of the Episcopal Diocese to engage their friends and acquaintances from the other group in personal conversations, and based on long-standing friendships, move toward healing in the diocese.

To all affected persons he writes:
I write to you to invite you into conversations with me regarding your relationship with the Episcopal Church in view of the January 5, 2009 California Supreme Court decision on property. I am, of course, not an attorney, but the decision is clear that all property and assets of a parish are held in trust for the wider Episcopal Church, and upon any attempted disaffiliation from the Episcopal Church, such property must be returned to the Episcopal Church and its Diocese.

There has been enough pain and suffering on all sides of the issue of separation from the Episcopal Church. It is time for us to speak to one another face to face about returning to the fold of the Episcopal Church or setting forth a plan for gracious leave taking.

I remain ready to speak to clergy, the laity, those in leadership, or congregations.

Please be in touch with me.

In peace,
+Jerry A. Lamb
Bishop of San Joaquin

Episcopal Church, Church of Sudan strengthen, expand relationship

Those who follow interAnglican strife will no doubt recall that during the Lambeth Conference, Archbishop Daniel Deng Bull, primate of the Church of Sudan called on Bishop Gene Robinson to resign for the sake of the Anglican Communion. This statement was portrayed in numerous media reports as furhter evidence that relations within the Communion were deteriorating and that the Episcopal Church was losing friends, etc. We did our best at the time to suggest that this interpretation was incorrect, and that the relationship between the two churches would continue.

It is gratifying then, to read the lede of this press release from the Diocese of Virginia. To read the entire release, click Read more.

The Episcopal Church of Sudan has 24 dioceses in an area roughly the size of the United States east of the Mississippi. Four dioceses are located in the northern part of the country, while the other 20 are clustered in the southern portion. Of these 20 dioceses, only six have relationships with U.S. dioceses in the Episcopal Church. This February, a mission team from the Episcopal Church, including members of the Diocese of Virginia, will travel to South Sudan for a month to develop relationships with many of the remaining 14 dioceses.

Read more »

Chane, Jefferts Schori to participate in Obama's National Prayer Service

Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Diocese of Washington will give the invocation and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will offer the closing prayer at the National Prayer Service organized by the Presidential Inaugural Committee at 10 a. m. on Wednesday, January 21 at Washington National Cathedral.

The Cathedral will webcast the service live from its Web site.

The names of other participants, including the Cathedral's Dean Samuel T. Lloyd and its precentor Canon Carol L. Wade are also online.

For more news from Washington National Cathedral click Read more.

Read more »

Conversations with a theocracy

Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington recently spoke with Sister Maureen Fiedler of Interfaith Voices about his trip to Iran in October and his meeting with the country's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (20 minutes)

"So help me God"

I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

The 35 words of the presidential oath of office are found in the Constitution. "So help me God" is not among them.

NPR Morning Edition
:

Read more »

The neo-Thoreuvians

It turns out that foresaking material possesions is as likely to turn you into a crank as a saint, writes Michael Agger in a book review for Mother Jones magazine.

I don't mean to throw cold water on earnest self-improvement. But maybe we should set about such tasks in a way that doesn't reek of personal branding. Thoreau, after all, left the cabin behind, which earned the respect of Robert Louis Stevenson: "When he had enough of that kind of life, he showed the same simplicity in giving it up as in beginning it. There are some who could have done one, but, vanity forbidding, not the other; and that is perhaps the story of hermits; but Thoreau made no fetish of his own example." While that doesn't mean not writing a book, it may mean not letting the rigor of your experiment get in the way of the lessons.

The changing face of Africa

A professor and several students at Brown University have created an animated map of Africa from 1879 to 2002 showing armed conflicts, changing rule (colonial, monarchical, white minority, etc.) and shifting political boundaries. Access the map here. (Read about Professor Nancy Jacobs and the student research team here.)

Read more »

Vicar of Putney installed honorary canon by gathering of Ghanaian & Nigerian priests

Giles Frazier, the Vicar of Putney and an outspoken advocate of the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the Anglicanism, has been named an honorary Canon in a Ghanian diocese.

Canon Frazier was installed by a group of Nigerian and Ghanian priests at the cathedral of the diocese of Sefwi-Wiawso in Ghana recently having been named to that position by Bishop Abraham Kobina Ackah.

As Jonathan Wynne-Jones writes:

By making the appointment, Bishop Abraham has sent out a message to his colleagues and held out a hand of friendship from the African church to the more liberal Church of England.

There are more pressing issues for Africa than those that have got Archbishop Akinola so wound up.


Fraser reports on his experiences on this trip to Ghana in the Church Times.

The inauguration as pilgrimage

Ali Eteraz argues in the Guardian that the inauguration is a classic example of America's civic religion, and compares it to a pilgrimage:

Barack Obama's inauguration promises to be one of the most important civic events in American history. Millions will make their way to the National Mall. More than 10,000 buses will be chartered. At a website called Inauguration or Bust, people anywhere in the country can find locals to travel with. At the site, the contingent from Savannah, Georgia, refers to its trip as a "pilgrimage". That word, most often associated with religious fervour, is appropriate here. The inauguration buzz is reminiscent of the excitement I have encountered in Muslim countries in the days preceding the hajj.

. . .

The inauguration is a ritual, akin to Muslims touching the walls of the Ka'bah in Mecca. It renders tangible the ethereal. It is a reminder that the government is like an idol, a fact that was well known to those who introduced the modern nation-state - the French even raised a new goddess after the revolution - but which goes entirely forgotten by us.

The comparison is not all exalted, however. Quite like the hajj - where wealthy western and Gulf-based Muslims discover their piety in five-star hotels while everyone else stays in a tent city on the desert plain of Mina - the inauguration also offers an insight into inequality.

. . .

Still, for its various issues, the thing about the hajj, ultimately, is that it erases all previous sins. It is a time for renewal. Reincarnation without death. A hopeful look forward. It is upon that principle that Obama's inauguration, the coronation of the first black president in American history, is to be valued. He is a mea culpa for America's original sin. A trip to this inauguration thus becomes a secular hajj for collective redemption.

Read it all here.

Advice for theology students

With his tongue firmly in his cheek, Ben Myers of the Faith and Theology blog offers advice to theology students:

1. As a theological student, your aim is to accumulate opinions – as many as you can, and as fast as possible. (Exceptional students may acquire all their opinions within the first few weeks; others require an entire semester.) One of the best ways to collect opinions is to choose your theological group (“I shall be progressive,” or “I will be evangelical,” or “I am a Barthian”), then sign up to all the opinions usually associated with that social group. If at first you don’t feel much conviction for these new opinions, just be patient: within twelve months you will be a staunch advocate, and you’ll even be able to help new students acquire the same opinions.

. . .

4. Every successful theological student must master the proper vocabulary. All theological conversations should be peppered with these termini technici (e.g. “Only a demythologised Barthian ontology can subvert the différance of postmodern theory and re-construe the analogia entis in terms of temporal mediation”). The less comprehensible and more sibylline the sentence uttered, the better. There are some stock-in-trade terms that are de rigueur (e.g. perichoresis, imago Dei, Heilsgeschichte, Bullsgeschichte), but the really outstanding student should find creative ways to deploy a wide range of foreign polysyllabic words. Phrases of Latin, Greek or German derivation are particularly prized. (Those of Hebrew of Syriac extraction should be used more sparingly – they are usually greeted with some puzzlement, or with cries of “Gesundheit!”)

Read all ten pieces of advice here.

Bishop Gene Robinson blogs the inauguration

Bishop Gene Robinson is keeping a blog about his experience at the inauguration, where he will give the invocation at the kickoff concert at the Lincoln Memorial this afternoon at 2:30.

Arriving at National Airport yesterday was like coming into a recently-stirred-up anthill. But there were no angry, impatient voices (okay, I did hear one!), no one in a bad humor. Faces filled with anticipation and sheer joy at being here. Was it my imagination, or were all the African-Americans walking just a little bit taller? I think so. I hope so. And so was everyone else.

I am, to say the least, overwhelmed by the possibilities of this day. Not just offering a prayer for the nation and the new president, but helping to kick off the beginning of a new era of hope in this nation. The hope that then-candidate Barack Obama talked about -- and which was often decried by others as hopelessly (literally) labeled as unrealistic and maudlin -- is about to become reality. The future won't be perfect, of course, and the new president won't be either. But what a new beginning!

I am also overwhelmed and humbled by the task ahead of me. This prayer has weighed on my heart for several weeks now. My words will be the first heard by the crowds who will have been standing, waiting, for six hours to witness this event. I figure they'll be ready to listen, and grateful that the event has finally begun, or maybe they'll start chanting "Springsteen" or "Bono" and wishing the clergy guy would just get out of the way. Either way, I will attempt to get the crowd to pause for a moment before the fun begins, and join me in a prayer that we can all pray together.

+Gene Robinson's Prayer for President-elect Barack Obama

A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama
(Also available on You Tube).

By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire

Opening Inaugural Event
Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC
January 18, 2009

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

AMEN.

Switching Religions

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 44 percent of Americans profess a different religious affiliation from the one they had as children. Newsweek puts a human face on this statistic--Episcopal priest Albert Scariato of St. John's Episcopal Church in Georgetown:

Like most of his congregants at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown, Father Albert wasn't born an Episcopalian. In fact, he first walked into St. John's almost 20 years ago as a Jewish physician. He had done a lot of searching to find a spiritual home since his high-school days, when he attended Hebrew classes. "I wasn't very religious, but I always read everything I could get my hands on about religion, regardless of tradition," he says. Peering through round, owlish glasses, he is subdued when discussing his decision to enter the priesthood. The choice is still "very painful" to some members of his family, he says, but to him it was a change of profession more than of faith.

. . .

Father Albert says he is most comfortable in a place of worship where people with doubts and questions are welcome. He is candid about the fact that his sexual orientation was and probably still is an issue for some in the church. On the morning of his ordination to the priesthood at St. John's in 1997, someone nailed an objection to the church door à la Martin Luther. The church was packed and the officiating priest, a woman, had planned that the congregation would sing the longest hymn in the hymnal while the lay leadership and the bishop heard the protest in the parish hall. Midway through the verses, the bishop returned to declare Father Albert had been fully and fairly evaluated and that the ordination would proceed. His words received a thunderous, 10-minute ovation.

The church has grown since then, and Father Albert says he is "hard-pressed to name a whole slew of cradle Episcopalians" among the congregants. He's known for biblically based sermons that can be applied to daily life and that convey a message of social justice. He spends much of his time ministering to the sick and dying, and reaching out to the poor. Does he miss his old profession? "I feel I never left it."

Read it all here.

Cafeteria Christians?

Consistent with a recent Pew Survey that showed that American Christians believe that other faiths can lead to salvation, a new Barna Survey finds that Christians in the United States do not blindly accept the theological teachings of their faith:

A sizable majority of the country's faithful no longer hew closely to orthodox teachings, and look more to themselves than to churches or denominations to define their religious convictions, according to two recent surveys. More than half of all Christians also believe that some non-Christians can get into heaven.

"Growing numbers of people now serve as their own theologian-in-residence," said George Barna, president of Barna Group, on releasing findings of one of the polls on Jan. 12.

In the Barna survey, 71 percent of American adults say they are more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a defined set of teachings from a particular church. Even among born-again Christians, 61 percent pick and choose from the beliefs of different denominations. For people under the age of 25, the number rises to 82 percent.

Many "cafeteria Christians" go beyond the teachings of Christian denominations to embrace parts of other world religions.

Half of Americans also believe that Christianity is now just one of many faith options people can choose from (44 percent disagree with that perception). Residents of the Northeast and West were more likely than those in the South and Midwest to say Christianity has lost its status as the favored American religion.

Christians expressed a variety of unorthodox beliefs in the poll. Nearly half of those interviewed do not believe in the existence of Satan, one-third believe Jesus sinned while on earth, and two-fifths say they don't have a responsibility to share their faith with others.

Read it all here.

Top 10 reasons HBO censored Bishop Gene Robinson

From nka's blog at Talking Points Memo:

1. HBO sound system cannot broadcast gay voices.
2. Program ran over schedule, so HBO went back in their time machine and cut the beginning of the live broadcast.
3. Appearance of a gay men's chorus went way over HBO's 'gay quota' for the event.

and more.

In case you missed it here is what HBO did not carry

Updated.

Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer was passed over by HBO and MSNBC and even though one speaker tower broke down, the prayer was clearly heard as this YouTube video shows. Several papers carried his prayer in full or in part. A transcript is here. A note on the controversy over the bishop's exclusion from the HBO broadcast is here.


It is hard to know what is more surprising: that HBO passed over the invocation in both the live and rebroadcast versions or that it was posted on YouTube by Sarah Pulliam of Christianity Today. She also described her experience at the Lincoln Memorial event, and described the speaker tower breakdown near the Washington Monument area.

Gene Robinson, the divisive figure who was the first openly Episcopal gay bishop, led the invocation at today's inaugural kickoff.

Robinson prayed for God to "bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people." He also prayed that God would bless us with "the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah."

Overall, his prayer was not especially surprising, since Robinson had told the Concord Monitor that it wouldn't be "especially Christian" and wouldn't use a Bible. Below is the video I took on my camera of Robinson's prayer....

The event was mostly focused on the celebrities, including Bono, Tiger Woods, Beyonce, and Bruce Springsteen. Several journalists clearly need a brush-up on People, In Style, and US magazines because people had to call out each celebrity for those of us who were clueless. My favorite moment was when it looked like Samuel L. Jackson peeked around the corner to take a picture on his phone. Even Malia Obama pulled out a small digital camera....

During the event, I stood close to the front and heard the prayer just fine, but my friend who stood closer to the Washington Monument said the sound of the prayer didn't reach the crowd until halfway finished.

USA Today's Faith and Reason blog:

Did you miss the invocation by the openly gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson at today's star-studded concert at the Lincoln Memorial? The HBO broadcast started after Robinson's prayer but Episcopal Cafe fills us in with the full text here.

He began, "O God of our many understandings," and asked God to grant this nation seven distinct blessings including:

Bless us with tears -- for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger -- at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Robinson asked God to give Obama wisdom, a "quiet heart" and "stirring words" to inspire the nation in a time of challenge and sacrifice. He concluded by imploring a "good and great God" to keep Obama safe to do his work and "find joy in this impossible calling..."

Jeffrey Weiss at the Religion Blog of the Dallas Morning News:

If you're keeping score, and we know you are, you know that Barack Obama has raised some eyebrows in his choices of preachers to pray at some of the inauguration ceremonies. First up: Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop. He offered an opening prayer before Sunday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The Episcopal Cafe blog (hosted by the diocese of Washington DC) has the text. Any hot-buttons pressed? None that you'd be surprised at. There was this:
Bless us with anger - at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

But it was mostly the kind of broadly spiritual civic prayer that usually (but not always) happens at such events. And no, it did not end "in Jesus name." Read it yourself here. (I'll betcha that Rick Warren ends on a different note in his invocation...)

Also:

Boston Globe.

Leah McElrath Renna writes for The Huffington Post about anti-gay protesters whose small presence were a startling contrast to the feeling of unity and hope that pervaded the crowd. The protesters were also a painful reminder of why it was important to have Bishop Robinson's prayer and presence covered responsibly and fully.

Appearing at the primary public entrance to the pre-Inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial, representatives from a group calling itself "Brother Ruben and the Official Street Preachers" protested openly-gay Episcopal Gene Robinson's participation in the event.

With a diverse and otherwise joyous crowd of adults and children of all ages streaming by, the three protest participants shouted about hate, hell and "homo-sex" - using a megaphone to assert that "homosexuals are eternally damned" and "Jesus doesn't love homosexuals."

On its website, the group claims to "preach a loving message to sodomites. We tell them the truth, that unless they repent they shall likewise perish in Hell Fire!"

Although widely denounced by the passing concert attendees, the protesters' message and ahistorical Biblical justifications for their bigotry differ in tone only from the beliefs espoused by the Saddleback Baptist Church and its Pastor Rick Warren. Rick Warren will be delivering the official Invocation at the Inauguration on Tuesday.

Updated Monday 9:30 am EST: HBO says they are not to blame.

Michael Jenson on the blog AfterElton contacted HBO about the omission of the invocation:

Sunday afternoon, HBO televised the Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial — a concert planned by the Presidential Inauguration Committee — to kick off the festivities surrounding Obama's inauguration on Tuesday.

Openly gay bishop Gene Robinson delivered the opening prayer before the start of the concert, but the prayer was not included as part of HBO's broadcast.

Contacted Sunday night by AfterElton.com concerning the exclusion of Robinson's prayer, HBO said via email, "The producer of the concert has said that the Presidential Inaugural Committee made the decision to keep the invocation as part of the pre-show."

Uncertain as to whether or not that meant that HBO was contractually prevented from airing the pre-show, we followed up, but none of the spokespeople available Sunday night could answer that question with absolute certainty.

However, it does seem that the network's position is that they had nothing to do with the decision.

We have also contacted a spokesperson from the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) for their explanation and will post what we learn either from PIC or HBO .

Wherever the fault lies, this is yet another unfortunate turn involving GLBT concerns over Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the prayer at Obama's inauguration. Many in the gay community saw Robinson's selection to deliver Sunday's prayer as an olive branch.

But given that most Americans could not attend the concert, instead having to watch it on television, the decision to not broadcast the prayer is being seen by many in the GLBT community as a slight.

The exclusion of Robinson, even if unintentional, does not reflect well on the Obama administration's ability thus far to think through these sorts of nuances.

Another update (11:45 am est):

The Kansas City Star has on it's tvbarn site the following by Aaron Barnhart:

As I see it, the Obama campaign has three options when the outcry (which has already started) comes to a boil later today:

1. Claim it was a technical glitch, jumping on the Times blog item. This would not only be a cowardly route, but it would be quickly disproven by one of several gay executives at HBO or a viewer who could point out that the show began precisely and glitch-free at 2:30 p.m. ET.

2. Come clean and admit that they never intended for Robinson to be seen on national TV. Which would mean admitting that Obama cooked up an extremely cynical ploy to pacify gays -- and straights like me who support gay marriage -- with a press release. Well, it failed. Perhaps Team Obama will claim it had no idea Robinson would not be seen giving the invocation. But then what does that say of Team Obama's vaunted preparation, planning, and chesslike working of all the angles?

3. Admit they screwed up and should've included Robinson on camera. If HBO had -- for some reason -- objected to having a gay bishop welcome all of America to "We Are One," then the invocation could have been pushed until after the entry of the presidential entourage. Well, it would not be the first time Team Obama had underestimated a controversial clergyman ... or the second. (How many presidents have gotten into hot water over their ministers three times before they even took the oath of office??)

Washington Monthly says:

I'm going to guess that this was the first invocation at an inaugural event to cover this specific ground. Good for Robinson.

As for his prayer to a "God of our many understandings," Robinson said that was entirely deliberate. He told the Union Leader that he'd researched previous inaugural invocations and prayers and found them to be "aggressively Christian." He preferred a more inclusive route: "All I could think about when I read them was, 'My goodness, what does a Jew think hearing this? What does a Muslim think? What does a Sikh or a Hindu think?' Having been not included, as a gay man, in so many instances, the last thing I want to do is exclude any American from this."

I didn't see it, but Digby added, "I just saw Obama hug Bishop Robinson at the Lincoln Memorial and it did my heart good." Indeed.

Integrity's press release is below the fold.

Read more »

Who muted Bishop Robinson?

Who made the decision to mute Bishop Robinson? HBO has blamed the Presidential Inauguration Committee (see coverage on After Elton). Politco's Ben Smith has this:

“We had always intended and planned for Rt. Rev. Robinson’s invocation to be included in the televised portion of yesterday’s program. We regret the error in executing this plan – but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event," emails PIC communications director Josh Earnest.

The statement is inadequate to the offense and explains nothing. Bishop Robinson's invocation was moved forward in the program, and the effect of that move was most likely apparent to the people who made it. The PIC owes the bishop and his supporters an explanation.

Pam Spaulding has done a round-up of some reaction, and the Huffington Post is also on the case. Jason Linkins writes:

HBO comes to this controversy without any sort of significant reputation for being a network or a workplace hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In fact, the network is responsible for airing the drama Six Feet Under, which depicted gays in complex relationships unflinchingly. The Obama camp, on the other hand, has courted controversy already with the decision to include in the inauguration Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, a supporter of Proposition 8 in California. The appearance of a snub in the case of Bishop Robinson has successfully raised the temperature among Democratic activists and in the liberal blogosphere, where outrage is being pointed mostly at the incoming administration and the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

A journey of costly transformation

Bruce Nolan of The Times-Picayune tells the story of Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana. It is a story of both trauma and transformation, a story of the scars inflicted by Hurricane Katrina and the spiritual journey that this very storm initiated. Jenkins speaks honestly about his diagnosis of PTSD, and at the very same time he speaks of the spiritual transformation that has connected him to the poor and the forgotten and to cause him to cross both denominational and racial lines for their sake.

Three years after the storm flooded Jenkins' home and nearly destroyed his city and diocese, the bishop is both damaged and transformed.

He is damaged in that he lives, medicated, with a formal diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. He said the condition is worsening, so much so that after nine years in office he has announced he will retire as 10th Episcopal bishop of Louisiana by year's end.

And he is transformed in that he is no longer entirely the man, priest or bishop he was before the storm.

Jenkins is exploring a new dimension to his Christian vocation.

Its shape is still evolving. And Jenkins acknowledges his journey of discovery might be halting, occasionally off course.

"I don't know if I'm on the right road, but I think I am," he said recently. "I know that God is with me on that road. And I hope than in trying to please him, I do. I'm searching for God. And also searching for myself."

Fundamentally, Jenkins has embarked on a personal re-education in which he seeks to see the city through the eyes of the poor. And that education inevitably yields a new personal mission: to work for citywide racial reconciliation and for purging the social injustices Katrina laid bare.

Before the storm, "I thought Christianity and priesthood were primarily about the cult," Jenkins said. "And doing the actions correctly -- holding my fingers correctly at Mass, not wearing brown shoes when celebrating the Mass. That it was getting all those right.

"And I was missing the larger picture of the dignity of humanity and the world for whom Christ died."

In the spring of 2007, with that personal transformation well under way, Jenkins preached that imperative to his recovering church.

He said he feared less what might happen to his damaged diocese than what might not happen -- that his community of 54 congregations might shirk the need to confront social evils Katrina had exposed.

The Episcopal church's new mission, he told them, would be not merely to dispense charity, like the New Testament Good Samaritan on the Jericho road, but to remake the road itself and fashion a just civil society -- what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famously called "the beloved community."

"Let me be clear," he told a meeting of Episcopal clergy in the fall of last year. "I do not want much -- just a revolution. A revolution of values."

Read it all here.

Obama makes it right (& Gene Robinson on Talk of the Nation)

(Updated: Bishop Gene Robinson's interview on Talk of the Nation. Conducted before events reported in this post.)

From the Huffington Post's Leath McElrath Renna:

A PIC source reports that some clips from the Lincoln Memorial event, including Bishop [Gene] Robinson's prayer, will be played on the Mall prior to the swearing in ceremony. In addition, there are reports that HBO will likely include the prayer in its re-broadcast of the event.

Confirmation from Ben Smith at Politico:

Citizens turned out on the Mall to watch the event on giant screens tomorrow will have a second chance to see the invocation by Gene Robinson, the gay Episcopal bishop, a source at the Presidential Inauguration Committee said.

"Yesterday's program will be shown on the jumbo screens on the Mall to entertain the assembled crowd. Tomorrow's version will include Robinson's prayer," the source said.

Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic is on it as well. And the NYT confirms that HBO will include Robinson in future broadcasts.

Here at the Cafe, we've been told that Bishop Robinson will also be attending the service at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square tomorrow morning, and will be sitting with the President and his family at the parade. If all goes to plan, he will be on the Daily Show TOMORROW night (not tonight, s we had reported).

And here is Gene's interview with Andrea Mitchell today on MSNBC.

+Gene blogs about his day

UPDATE: Beliefnet interviews Gene Robinson

Robinson said he was huddled together privately with his daughter and partner, Mark, and his daughter reminded him that the last time the three of them were secluded in a hotel room was five years ago when the Episcopal general assembly was considering his consecration. Charges came forward that he was involved in sexual misconduct and linked to a pornographic website. He knew they were false but didn't know whether he could disprove them in time.

"People were saying unspeakable things about me and my detractors, of course, were relishing that moment. Ella [his daughter] reflected last night what a difference five years makes... Here we were [Sunday] sequestered away again but now awaiting to speak before the new First Family, a million people gathered on the mall in Washington, at the invitation of the President of the United States. So it's at least one indication of how far we've come in five years."


Interview and video to come here.

Bishop Robinson reports the latest on his blog:

One addendum to yesterday's posting: I have been invited to be on the President's Platform for the inauguration/swearing in. An astounding honor!

From his blog last night:
When I got to the second petition of my invocation, the one where I ask God to "bless us with anger," those million people got very quiet. It's an unnerving experience to have a million people go silent as a result of what you are saying. It was then that the import of the moment hit me. I wanted it to be a moment for God, and of course, I will never know who or how many were touched by what was said. What I do know is that it was an indescribable honor to be asked to address God at this amazing occasion.
.....
I learned fairly early on that the live broadcast of the event would begin just AFTER I concluded my invocation. A decision made by HBO? Who knows? But I couldn't help but wonder if the HBO-powers-that-be could not imagine that the nation would be interested in a religious prayer. For whatever reason, it was not to be broadcast. I learned a long time ago not to worry about those things over which I have no control! I was honored to be invited to give the invocation, and that's what I intended to do.

More from +Gene on yesterday's events here.

Pastor Dan at Street Prophets has written a thoughtful meditation on Bishop Robinson's prayer that is well worth reading:

It makes me tremendously sad that anyone should find his comments at all exceptional, that we even have to remark on the difference between what he had to say and what we guess Rick Warren might say tomorrow. It certainly saddens me that we must consider the possibility that Robinson might have been cut out of the broadcast on purpose.

In saying that, I don't want to point fingers at anyone. Or maybe I want to point fingers at everyone. Somehow we have lost all sense in this nation that faith is for everyone and against no one. A pack of wicked jackals has convinced America that the limits of belief in the Lord Jesus are defined by Randian economics and who does what with their naughty bits. That lot arose as part of an aggressive and malignant political movement built around the cornerstones of sanctimony, greed, and resentment, of course. But they were enabled by too many easy marks in the press, and yes, too many liberal believers who took it for granted that the public would understand that not all Christians were narrow-minded conservative ideologues.

We have failed America, we liberal Christians. We have failed to speak up loud and long enough to be heard over the din of our right-wing brothers and sisters so that our neighbors can hear the real message of Christianity: faith and hope and love.

Obamas attend church at St. John's

As massive crowds swarmed the National Mall on Tuesday to witness Barack Obama's inauguration as president, the man at the center of the maelstrom began the day quietly and reverently, at a church service across the street from the White House according to Talking Points Memo:

Obama and his family attended a private service at St. John's Episcopal Church, a tradition for those about to become president. The family of Vice President-elect Joe Biden also attended.

Barack and Michelle Obama waved to bystanders, then entered the church to applause from about 200 people. The choir and congregation began singing the hymn, "O God Our Help in Ages Past."

The Rev. Luis Leon welcomed the Obamas and said every president since James Madison has worshipped at the church at least once, "some of them kicking and screaming."

Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr., of Los Angeles, drew murmurs and chuckles when he blessed the Obamas and asked that "they may finish these two terms in office" stronger than they are now. Obama, of course, would have to win re-election in 2012 to serve a second term.

The Rev. Joel Hunter of Longwood, Fla., offered a blessing to "Barack Hussein Obama."

The sermon was by prominent Dallas minister T.D. Jakes. Borrowing an Obama campaign slogan, he told the president-elect that he will face many critics, "but you are all fired up, sir, and you're ready to go." The nation and God will go with him, too, Jakes said.

Read more here.

Ben Smith of Politco has the pool report from the service:

Jakes read from Daniel, 3:19 and used the scripture to offer PEOTUS a series of four lessons for his administration.

1 – “In time of crisis, good men must stand up. God always sends the best men into the worst times.”

2 – “You cannot change what you will not confront. This is a moment of confrontation in this country. There’s no way around it…This is not a time for politeness or correctness, this is a time for people to confront issues and bring about change.”

3 – “You cannot enjoy the light without enduring the heat. The reality is the more brilliant, the more glorious, the more essential the light, the more intense the heat. We cannot separate one from the other.”

4 – “Extraordinary times require extraordinary methods. This is a historical moment for us and our nation and our country, and though we enjoy it and are inspired by it and motivated by it.”

After his four lessons, Jakes turned from the crowd and looked directly at Obama.

“The problems are mighty and the solutions are not simple,” Jakes said, “and everywhere you turn there will be a critic waiting to attack every decision that you make. But you are all fired up, Sir, and you are ready to go. And this nation goes with you. God goes with you.

“I say to you as my son who is here today, my 14-year-old son – he probably would not quote scripture. He probably would use Star Trek instead, and so I say, ‘May the force be with you.”


Read more notes on the service here.

Presiding Bishop on the inauguration of Barack Obama

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offers the following statement on the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States:

As Episcopalians, we pray for the President of the United States each time we gather for worship. In the years ahead, we will continue to pray for President Barack Obama, for his wise and inspired leadership and that he may know himself as a beloved child of God. May he both guide this nation and be a partner in leading the world to a greater justice for all.

We give abundant thanks for his historic election, and pray that his ministry may encourage others in the prophetic search for a just and peaceful world.

January 20, 2009

The Rev. Rick Warren's inauguration prayer

ABC News reports that Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor who faced criticism for his anti-gay views in the weeks leading up to the inauguration, today delivered an inclusive but deeply religious invocation that celebrated the first African-American president.

Read more »

Prayers for the Inauguration

UPDATE: with the Rev. Dr. Lowery's full text. To see video of the invocation and benediction, click Read more at the bottom of this item.

Christianity Today reports both the invocation and benediction prayers:
From the Rev. Rick Warren:

Read more »

Praise Song for the Day

Congressional Quarterly has a transcript of the inaugural poem written and read by Elizabeth Alexander.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer consider the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, Words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Sermons on the inauguration

Inspired by the Inauguration 2009 Sermons and Orations Project of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center, the Boston Globe invited local clergy to e-mail the texts of inauguration-related sermons and prayers for their Articles of Faith religion blog. Michael Paulson reports on the sermons:

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HBO to get right by Bishop Robinson tomorrow at 11:30 pm

The Washington Post reports:

HBO says it will telecast “an updated version” of Sunday’s inaugural-related concert tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time,

By “updated,” the premium cable network means it will include the invocation that had been delivered by the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay New Hampshire Episcopal bishop, at the ceremony’s start.

Good news on the new White House Web site

In an item entitled "Obama's Promises to Gays," Marc Ambinder writes: "They're now in black and white on the White House website. Full civil unions and federal rights. Employment non-discrimination. A repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Expanded Adoption Rights."

To read the White House Web site section on Support for the LGBT Community click Read more.

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Al Ahli Hospital: after the ceasefire in Gaza

Reports from the Anglican hospital in Gaza, Al Ahli, tell of exhaustion and increased numbers of people coming for help now that the cease-fire is in place. The need for funds to support the efforts of healing is great.

“We are exhausted, but we must begin to resume normal operations at Al Ahli Hospital. We must continue the services that the people of Gaza expect of Al Ahli. We cannot rest yet.”

With these incredibly unselfish words, Al Ahli Hospital Director, Suhaila Tarrazi, described her work in the first days of ceasefire in Gaza. Ms. Tarrazi states that the cessation of military operations and activity is a tremendous relief from the recent “nightmare” but that in fact the hospital’s work remains very busy. Since the ceasefire began, the hospital has actually seen a slight increase in the numbers of patients because many who were afraid or unable to come to the hospital before are now able to come to receive care.


Washington Post on the silence of the ceasefire and taking stock here.

Read more below:

Read more »

+Gene appears on the Daily Show

Jon and +Gene talk on inauguration day. (Gene blogs about his inauguration day experiences here.)

It's hard to tell which one is the professional comedian.

Celebrating King and praying for Obama at the National Cathedral

The National Prayer Service will be Web cast today from Washington National Cathedral at 10 am. Here is the service leaflet.

UPDATE: On demand video link.

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National prayer service: reports

(Update: On demand video here.)

The Washington Post has some raw video. From the Post's article:

Canon Carol Wade, who as the cathedral's precentor oversees music and worship, said that in accordance with tradition, today's prayers were based on the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer and sound similar to prayers given at services after the inaugurations of both Bush presidents and Ronald Reagan.

New touches to the service this year, cathedral officials said, were prayers drawn in part from George Washington's 1789 post-inauguration prayer service and Abraham Lincoln's 1865 inaugural address. The latter includes the famous phrase "with malice toward none, with charity for all," which was said as part of the closing prayer given today by Katharine Jefferts-Schori [sic, it's Jefferts Schori], presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

"We felt it was time to take a fresh look at the prayers," Wade said yesterday, noting Obama's embrace of religious liberalism. "Care was taken as to how we might respect and celebrate our diversity." While multiple clergy who are not Christian participated in the service, Wade noted that the service was, at its core, Christian to reflect Obama's personal beliefs.

Washington Times (also includes video clips and photos):
"This is the first full day on the job, and the best way we can begin is by praying," The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, dean of the cathedral, told the gathered congregation. "This morning, we're all coworkers."
The World Council of Churches has a press release which includes a link to the text of the sermon given by the Rev. Dr Sharon Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). From the sermon:
So how do we go about loving God? Well, according to Isaiah, summed up by Jesus, affirmed by a worldwide community of Muslim scholars and many others, it is by facing hard times with a generous spirit: by reaching out toward each other rather than turning our backs on each other. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "people can be so poor that the only way they see God is in a piece of bread."

In the days immediately before us, there will be much to draw us away from the grand work of loving God and the hard work of loving neighbor. In crisis times, a basic instinct seeks to take us over – a fight/flight instinct that leans us toward the fearful wolf, orients us toward the self‐interested fast... In international hard times, our instinct is to fight – to pick up the sword, to seek out enemies, to build walls against the other – and why not?

Video of the first half of the sermon here.

Addendum. USNews has good report.

The National Prayer Service: A report from the Great Choir

Hi folks,

Just back from the National Prayer Service. [On demand video of service here.] The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins preached a heck of a sermon, but for me the high points of the morning were musical: the gently rocking harmonies of the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Children of the Gospel Choir (Annisse Murillo, soloist) singing He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands; the impassioned majesty of Amazing Grace as sung by Dr. Wintley Phipps, President of U. S. Dream Academy; and the sweet, serene tones of The Cathedral Choir whose version of America the Beautiful makes plain the profoundly prayerful essence of that song.

Amazing Grace

America the Beautiful

I was also taken by the jubilant elegance with which the Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale of Ray of Hope Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Decatur, Georgia read the first reading (Isaiah 58:6-12).

The Obamas are either prayerful folk, or expert mimics. From my seat in the Great Choir—The cathedral clergy and diocesan canons processed with the altar party, and then sat blessedly out of sight.—I could see them throughout the service and their attention never wavered.

Before the service, President and Mrs. Obama met privately with the Bishop John Bryson Chane, Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III, John H. Shenefield, chair of the Cathedral Chapter and their wives. Bishop Chane said the ten-minute meeting was as relaxed and informal as a quick get-together of this sort can be. He asked the president if he was tired after his hectic day yesterday, and President Obama said no, and that he was having a good time. “These are young people,” the bishop told me later.

Karen Chane and Michelle Obama talked about the Obama’s daughters first night in the White House. (I am withholding the details, not because they are especially revealing, but because the children are off limits.)

The bishop said the Obamas are an unpretentious couple. “It was like meeting your neighbors across the back fence,” he said. “That’s just how they carry themselves.”

After the service former President Bill Clinton stuck around for a long time chatting with the crowd, while people climbed the altar steps to get above the crowd so they could take pictures of him.

Mary Francis Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service is working on her story in the office next to mine. We will link to it later.

Cheers,

Jim Naughton

Read more »

"When white will embrace what is right"

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around . . .

. . . when yellow will be mellow . . .

. . . when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

With "do justice and love mercy" the Rev. Joe Lowery might have invited each of us to "walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

The Rev. Lowery stirred up something of a hornets nest in his inauguration day benediction with that line "when white will embrace what is right." The complaint seems to be that whites have broadly embraced the belief that blacks have suffered discrimination in the past, and want to do what is right by ensuring that no individual is treated differently by virtue of the color of their skin.

Ta-Nehisi Coates writes,

There is a strong temptation to simply say, "Tough. Get over it." Or some such. I think, from a black perspective, we don't expect sensitivity from people who've basically run shit for the past few centuries--especially given that we spent the last two decades hearing about how black people are so sensitive. Moreover, it was a kind of joke, a reversal of that old rhyme about "black get back."
A lively discussion ensues in the comments.

Here's my gassy two cents. We have a black president. But there's only one black senator -- and he was appointed with some controversy. There are two black governors; none in the South. The same is true in the private sector; blacks are still disproportionately represented amongst the poor. Look at the civil rights agenda of the incoming president at whitehouse.gov and you'll find the same old assumption that if the we legislate equality of civil rights then there will be equality of outcomes. The policy points are all well and good, if old, but they won't get us where we need to be. (Not that I'm saying discrimination is no longer a problem -- even whites who embrace what is right fall short wittingly or not -- but on the discrimination front the progress to be made is going to be primarily at the level of the heart and the impulse, beyond mental assent or mere law. Something that perhaps our children will be better at than we are.) The LGBT agenda (scroll down the civil rights agenda link just given) is fresher and more promising.

Blacks may not have to get in the back of the bus anymore, but there's still a problem. Poverty amongst blacks is a legacy of slavery. There's much as a nation to be redressed by an attack on the problem of poverty. Not that there is an easy answer. But it's plain embarrassing (though, evidently, necessary politics) for all sides how much of the campaign was spent addressing the middle class -- read, the white middle class. I'm pretty sure it came up even more than Joe the Plumber.

Now is the time to put away childish things.

The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart — not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

- Barack Obama

Opportunity might suggest do no harm; do not discriminate on the basis of color. It might suggest to some that we mandate opportunities even if they are overpaid make-work projects. But I think Obama means attacking the sources of poverty at their roots so that more Americans can earn a good living and create a good environment for their children.

Take note: The CoE still can't sign the Anglican Covenant

UPDATED 9AM, Thursday

The General Synod of the Church of England meets from February 9-13. Thinking Anglicans points to this press release and these words caught our attention:

Anglican Covenant

The Churches of the Anglican Communion were asked in March 2008 if they were able, in principle, to commit to the Covenant process and to say if there were any elements which in their view would need extensive change in order to make viable the process of adoption by their Synods. The General Synod will consider a take note motion, moved by the Bishop of Rochester on behalf of the House of Bishops, on a report from the House, to which is attached a draft Church of England response to these questions. The draft response welcomes the direction of travel of the Covenant while flagging up a number of points which still require attention.

Being mostly ignorant of the meaning of "take note motion" I inquired and Peter Owen graciously provided this explanation:
The wording of these is always "That the Synod do take note of this Report". [Which report is made clear by the heading above the motion in the printed agenda and the official record of business done.] Such a motion cannot be amended. The Synod's standing orders state that "If the motion is carried, it shall not be deemed to commit the Synod to the acceptance of any matter contained in the report."

The purpose of a take note motion is to allow a general debate on the contents of a report, and to separate this from any decisions on what action, if any, to take. If any action is required on the recommendations of a report then appropriate motions (which can be amended) are moved, debated and voted on afterwards.

A day has passed and Thinking Anglicans has a post linking to those papers for the synod meeting that have now been released online. This includes the "take note motion" GS 1716 Anglican Covenant. We've perused the attached document and if we're not mistaken it doesn't address a fundamental issue: the Church of England cannot sign the Anglican Covenant. It was Peter Owen who drew our attention to this back in November when we wrote:
Rowan Williams believes that the solution to our problems lies in the development of an Anglican covenant which the Church of England CANNOT LEGALLY SIGN. (excuse the capital letters, but really...)

Note this response from the Secretary General of the Church of England to a written question from a Synod member:

Mr Justin Brett (Oxford) to ask the Secretary General:

Q2. What research has been undertaken to establish the effect of the Church of England’s participation in an Anglican Communion Covenant upon the relationship between the Church of England and the Crown, given the Queen’s position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and the consequent tension between her prerogative and the potential demands of a disciplinary process within the proposed Covenant?

Mr William Fittall to reply as Secretary General:

A. The Church of England response of 19 December 2007 to the initial draft Covenant noted on page 13 that ‘it would be unlawful for the General Synod to delegate its decision making powers to the primates, and that this therefore means that it could not sign up to a Covenant which purported to give the primates of the Communion the ability to give ‘direction’ about the course of action that the Church of England should take.’ The same would be true in relation to delegation to any other body of the Anglican Communion. Since as a matter of law the Church of England could not submit itself to any such external power of direction, any separate possible difficulties in relation to the Royal Prerogative could not in practice arise.

Since "the Church of England could not submit itself to any such external power of direction" we're puzzled why the General Synod will be discussing a report in which the Church of England expresses its support for an Anglican Covenant.

Thursday, Feb 22 update

Simon Sarmiento has posted on this puzzle at Thinking Anglicans. In a comment below he writes, "The original comment was made over a year ago. The question surely is, does the current draft still contain anything which amounts to such a delegation, or ability to "give direction" to the CofE. It seems clear that the HoB of the CofE doesn't think so."

Sarmiento's post contains a link to GS Misc 910 The Governance of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion by Colin Podmore referred to in GS 1716.

Charlotte Pressler comments on Podmore below. She writes of a Gordian knot: "It would seem to follow that the Queen's Prerogative will not be infringed upon if, as Supreme Governor, she gives assent to a Covenant that has no legally binding authority over the Church of England. I suspect this is how the Church of England proposes to cut the Gordian Knot of Covenant and Prerogative." My emphasis.

Updated, again. Read Tobias Haller's analysis. He concludes that "the second draft of the Covenant (St Andrew's) has been attenuated to such an extent that in the eyes of the committee this difficulty no longer presents itself." (My emphasis.) He also finds other points of interest.

Naked and you clothed me

Episcope has a full round-up of the mainstream media's coverage of yesterday's National Prayer Service, which we covered here. But the work of the Church isn't all about blessings presidents and squabbling about sexual ethics. Sometimes it is about helping a Jewish girl collect prom dresses. That's right, prom dresses.

Have a look at this item from Mobile, Alabama, about a Jewish girl working with an Episcopal Church to help collect prom dresses for girls who can't afford to buy them.

Thought experiment: the Diocese of Lake Malawi

We receive regular correspondence from Anglican Information about developments in the diocese of Lake Malawi in the province of Central Africa. Why should American and British readers care about what is happening in that far away corner of the Anglican Communion? In part because an injustice is being done to the lay people of the diocese, and in part because what is happening in Lake Malawi reveals the double standard that currently exists both in the Anglican Communion and in the media.

What if the Diocese of Lake Malawi were a conservative American diocese rather than a relatively liberal African one? Would the Anglican Communion and the American and British media be paying more attention? People are being forced for ideological and political reasons to accept a bishop they didn't elect, yet no one seems to notice.

To read the latest report from Anglican Information, click Read more.

Read more »

An Oscar for spiritual literacy?

To greet the announcement of Oscar nominations, the Spirituality and Practice Web site has compiled a list of the 10 most spiritually literate films of 2008, a list that includes Slumdog Millionaire and Milk. Did they miss any good ones?

(Commentor Dennis Bosley mentions In Bruges. Anybody else?)

Hat tip Religion News Service.

Deposed bishop Bob Duncan's funds frozen in Pittsburgh

UPDATE: To read the statement of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh (the real one) click Read more.

In the item below, the "Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh refers to the entity now lead by deposed bishop Robert Duncan, and not to the parishes in the Pittsburgh area recognized by The Episcopal Church.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Financial services firm Morgan Stanley has frozen the accounts of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh because it is unsure who should be allowed to access them.

In a letter Jan. 13, the firm's legal and compliance division said the company would not allow any further distributions until it received a court order listing those authorized to use the accounts.

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Worship is mission

Craig A. Satterlee says that there is no distinction between worship and mission. He says that worship ismission.

I no longer subscribe to the distinction between worship and mission, nor do I think of myself as either a chaplain or an evangelist. Over the years, I have come to understand Christian worship as a river. Like a mighty river, the life and history of Israel, the saving work of Jesus, and the mission of the early church as these events are proclaimed in Scripture, are connected to one another and to the church’s worship as the single, continuing story of God’s saving activity in Jesus Christ.

Christian worship is God’s initiative and activity in human history and the world, as well as in our individual lives, before it is an activity of Christians or the church. Worship is a place where God’s liberating grace is already present and active in words and actions. God speaks and acts in and through the ritual of Christian worship to save, reconcile, and recreate humanity and all creation. The judgment and mercy of God, proclaimed and enacted in worship, signify God’s ultimate judgment and mercy for the world.

Rather than being the means or the motivation by which the church carries out its mission, worship is the location where God carries out God’s mission. Worship is the way God gathers people to witness to and participate in God’s work of reconciling the world to God’s own self. In and through worship, individuals and the community encounter, experience, and celebrate the God who is the source and goal of the rest of their lives. The church proclaims God’s reconciliation and shares in God’s mission by living in the world in ways congruent with what it experiences God doing and enacting in worship. In this way, God’s people worshiping in the midst of the world enact and signify God’s own mission for the life of the world.

Worship and mission are God’s single activity of reconciliation—not simply distinct yet related activities in which the church engages. God is the first and primary actor. While Christians and congregations can participate in, be indifferent to, resist, and even undermine God’s saving activity in worship, they can neither achieve nor stop it. Like a mighty river, God’s work of salvation, accomplished in Christ and continued and enacted in worship, will not be stopped until it reaches its destination, the fullness of the reign of God.

Read the rest here at the Alban Institute weekly e-newsletter.

Gag rule to be rescinded?

UPDATE: ABC News reports that President Obama signed an executive order today reversing the ban that prohibits funding to international family planning groups that provide abortions.

Read more here.

The BBC News writes "...aid agencies welcomed the move, saying it would promote women's health, especially in developing countries."

The new President has moved quickly to implement a number of policies that he spoke about on the campaign trail. One of the promises he made was to rescind the gag rule on offering any form of abortion counseling as part of family planning that was enacted during President Bush's administration.

Steve Waldman is one of the looking for details and news on just how the new President is going to fulfill his promise.

While Steve is waiting for this news, he does point us to an article by a democratic party member who works in Chaplaincy ministry. She discusses some theological issues that are not commonly discussed when talking about abortion:

Have you had an experience where you felt that life was asking you to make a choice? In your heart you sensed the ‘right' way to go, but you had to engage in a deep, personal, profoundly spiritual struggle to come to that decision? Perhaps it meant great sacrifice on your part, or going against the expectations of those you love and respect, or maybe you just really didn't know what to do.

As a chaplain I have had the privilege of being with people facing such choices, and as a human I have faced them myself. Ask yourself, or someone else who has faced such a choice: "Do you wish the choice had been taken out of your hands?" In the midst of the struggle many of us wish we weren't faced with such a difficult decision. But time after time I have witnessed the saving power that dwells in that struggle. On the other side of the struggle, after the choice is made and lived, people thank God for the choice. We realize that it was only through the challenge, the discernment and the desperation that we deepened our relationship with God, that we reached a little further into our own spiritual depths, that we discovered our strength.

I think our discussion on the legality of abortion needs to take into account the spiritual nature of choice. To those who say, "Some choices are so obvious God doesn't need us to make them on an individual basis, we know how God wants everyone to act." I say, "Then why do we have the story of Abraham and Isaac?" Why is Abraham, the one who was willing to terminate his child's life, the spiritual father of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths?

and

One thing I have never heard discussed in all the debates on abortion is: what would be taken away from those who choose to bring their pregnancies to term if abortion is made illegal. I vividly remember the complex array of emotions and questions and prayers that flooded me when I conceived. Each time, my commitment to bear my children (and my husband's commitment to parent them) was a process that unfolded. Knowing I had the choice to say ‘yes' or ‘no', I had to dig deep. What unfolded was a glorious "hineni". Here I am Lord! I absolutely believe that my response - born of struggle and doubt and discernment -- came from so deep that its truth infused my womb. Thus my children's first home was a place that said, "Yes to you!!" and taught them by example the wondrous fruits that come from saying, "Here I am Lord".

So can you see what could be lost if we legislate such discernment out of existence? Without the possibility of safely, legally terminating pregnancies we help to create womb-environments that say "Well you're here so I guess that's the way it's going to be, like it or not."

Presiding bishop accepts two bishops' renunciation of ministry

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has accepted written statements from retired Bishop William Wantland and Henry Scriven that they have renounced their ministries in the Episcopal Church.

Another view of the Inauguration

A young member of a Connecticut Episcopal parish has written up her eyewitness account of the Inauguration. She comments particularly on the crowd's reaction to the various forms of prayers that were offered during the event.

I noticed a lot of references to faith and religion during the actual ceremony, the most obvious being the Rev. Rick Warren's opening prayer. I was surprised at the bad reception when the prayer was first announced -- most people looked around in a confused or tense manner and I even heard a "boo" from over my shoulder. Once the prayer began, I folded my hands and bowed my head, only to look up a few minutes later to realize that I was the only one. I was surprised when the crowd even cheered at the mention of President Obama's name during the prayer, which I'm not used to.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the prayer, and some people, including me, began reciting the Lord's Prayer along with Warren at the end. After the "Amen," he received loud, enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, which cheered me up considerably. I then realized that perhaps Obama, as a president, could re-inspire those who had lost their faith to return to their religious communities. His influence could do a great thing for Christians and people of any religion. I also noticed that both Obama and Vice President Biden included "so help me God" at the end of their swearing-in. Although I am aware this is a tradition based on the words of George Washington, I was pleased with the boldness of the way they said it, like it had a true meaning rather than just words that they had to memorize.

Bishop Lee sets departure date

From the Diocese of Virginia
To read the entire release, click Read more

RICHMOND, Virginia (January 23, 2009) – The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee announced today that on October 1, 2009, he will step down as bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, leaving the Diocese in the capable hands of his successor the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston.

In January 2006, Bishop Lee called for the election of his successor, and Bishop Johnston was elected and consecrated the next year. Under the canons of the Episcopal Church, a bishop must retire either by age 72 or no more than three years after the consecration of a bishop coadjutor; both dates occur in the next year.

In making the announcement, Bishop Lee said, “I cannot refer to these plans to leave the Diocese of Virginia without placing them in the context of thanksgiving for you, the clergy and the lay leadership of the Diocese of Virginia. I thank God daily for you and I am grateful for the privilege of serving among you.”
______________________

His announcement and reaction can be viewed at The Diocese's youtube channel.

Read more »

Religious leaders praise torture ban

Religious leaders are celebrating President Barack Obama's executive order banning torture. Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe is on it.

A call for civility

On the eve of the Inauguration which seemed to make "inclusiveness" its by-word, two religious leaders, a conservative Evangelical and a liberal Jew launched the new Civility Project in an attempt to foster more dialogue between increasingly polarized voices in American society.

As an article in the Christian Post explains:

DeMoss, an evangelical conservative, and Davis, a Jewish liberal, developed the idea behind The Civility Project during a meeting in Washington six months after Sen. Hillary Clinton ended her campaign for the presidency.

“As dissimilar as our religious and political beliefs and opinions are, we found ourselves drawn to each other's love for this country,” recalled the two, “and a conviction about the importance to its future of trying to change the polarizing, attack-oriented political culture that has become all too common in recent years and, instead, to bring civility back as the staple of American politics and life.”

As an example, DeMoss and Davis referred to the uncivil events that erupted amid and after the campaigns for and against California’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

“[W]e both condemn the vandalism by some who opposed the proposition directed at those such as Mormon Church members who supported the measure,” DeMoss and Davis stated despite their different stances on Prop. 8.

“We also oppose the often blind hatred, violence and discrimination against gay people by certain individuals, who claim they act in the name of religious beliefs while violating other religious tenets,” they added.

To participate in the project, there are three promises that need to be made to govern the way a person expresses their ideas in public discourse. You can find them fully listed at the link above, but in short, they involve promising to be civil in expressing a viewpoint, being respectful of the people with whom one agrees, and calling out incivility in others when it is present.

The comments on the news story announcing the site don't give this particular author much hope that this movement is going to get much traction...

Virginia coadjutor considers gay ordination

Earlier Friday The Lead carried the story of Virginia's Bishop Peter Lee and his retirement plans. Further news from the diocese gives the Pastoral report of Bishop Shannon Johnston to the Diocese.

Read more »

Changing the Church

If you visit The Lead but don't drop in at the Cafe's other blogs, you owe it to yourself to visit Speaking to the Soul today.

Towards a moral diet

What we eat affects not only our health, but our planet, says Mark Bittman, food columnist for The New York Times. So are you eating morally? Listen to this NPR interview and find out. Bittman's new book is called Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. Here is an excerpt.

"The gay-friendliest Presidency we have ever seen"

The Washington Post's On Faith Web site offers two new interviews with Bishop Gene Robinson.

If the first, Robinson talks with Sally Quinn about Barack Obama, Rick Warren and his involvement in the "prayer wars" that surrounded Obama's inauguration.

In the second Bishop Robinson talks about his faith journey and his beliefs.

Young Muslims combat extremism

Young Muslims are leading the world in new ways to live together. Pew Forum reports on a group of 300 who are seeking help with combatting extremism and Religious Dispatches interviews two investigators who are looking into the discussion among Muslims and others in the virtual world.

Read more »

Diocese of Virginia concludes 214th Annual Council

The Diocese of Virginia may be the only church council where both the treasurer and the chancellor receive standing ovations. But the longest applause came during the closing remarks of the chaplain for this year's 214th Annual Council. Archbishop Barry Morgan, Primate of Wales, said Wales was in the same boat as The Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church and he would resist the formation of an alternative North American province with, in his words, "every fiber of my being." The room jumped to its feet with applause and cheering.

At its concluding day of the 214th Annual Council the Diocese of Virginia debated several resolutions including a number on sexuality and addressing issues flowing from the Windsor Report. Complete resolution results can be found here.

R-4a: Blessedness of Covenanted Relationships was adopted as amended. Debate centered on the second resolve but the resolution passed as submitted (with the addition of the words "and blessedness"):

Resolved, that the Diocese of Virginia recognizes our responsibility to respond to the pastoral needs of our faithful gay and lesbian members in a spirit of love, compassion and respect, and in so doing seek to fulfill our baptismal commitment to respect the dignity of every human being; and, be it further

Resolved, that accordingly the 214th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia affirms the inherent integrity and blessedness of committed Christian relationships between two adult persons, when those relationships are “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God” (Resolution 2000-D039 of the 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church).

Two resolutions, R-5: Allowing Clergy To Exercise Pastoral Care In Blessing the Unions Of Same-Gender Couples and R-6: Inclusiveness in Ordained Ministry were combined by the resolutions committee into R-9sa. The effect of R-9sa was to refer R-4 and R-5 to the diocese's Windsor Dialogue Commission. The Council followed the lead of the resolutions committee and passed R-9sa. Among the whereas statements in R-9sa: "we are in the midst of episcopal transition."

On the first day of business, the diocese's Windsor Dialogue Commission submitted a report. The report includes, in Appendix 2, liturgies In Thanksgiving for a Committed Relationship.

The Council also passed resolutions concerning the Sudan and on advocacy for the poor in the state of Virginia. A resolution that would have urged a special General Convention between 2009 and 2012 to consider the Anglican Covenant was not adopted.

The balanced budget passed by Council preserved all diocesan staff positions although there will be no salary increases for the year.

As the Council learned on Friday, Bishop Lee will retire October 1st. In May he will be honored for his 25 years of service to the diocese. Lord Robin Eames, former Anglican Primate of All Ireland and Archbishop of Armagh, will preach.

Pope lifts excommunication on bishop who denies Holocaust

The New York Times reports that Pope Benedict XVI has reinstated four schismatic bishops, one of whom does not believe the Holocaust took place and thinks that the United States government staged the attacks of September 11, 2001, as a pretext for invading Afghanistan. Episcopalians need to keeps this in mind the next time the Vatican lectures us on our grave moral failings, such as permitting women to be priests, and blessing the relationships of monogamous gay and lesbian couples.

Ruth Gledhill has the chilling video and other coverage.

Obama and the Covenant

British Rabbi Sir Jonathon Sacks astutely observed in his Times column this week that President Barack Obama's speech was consistent with the very American concept that we are a covenanted nation:

Virtually every US president since Washington in 1789 has renewed the covenant in his inaugural address, often in biblical terms. Obama’s was a textbook example. There was the reference to the Exodus, a journey through the wilderness that involved crossing a sea: “They packed up their few worldly possessions and travelled across oceans.” There was the covenant itself: “Our Founding Fathers . . . drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man.”

There was the key covenantal virtue, faithfulness: “We the people have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears and true to our founding documents.” There was the idea, central to covenant, of a commitment handed on by parents to children: “That noble idea, passed on from generation to generation.” There was the principle that nations flourish not by the power of the state but by the duty and dedication of their citizens: “It is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.”

Obama’s ending was little less than biblical: “Let it be said by our children’s children . . . that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

. . .

What Barack Obama has understood is that covenant creates the politics of hope. Never has the future of freedom needed it more.

Read it all here.

Sir John Mortimer: atheist for Christ

Author John Mortimer died earlier this month, and the Times description of his funeral notes that he was a self-professed "atheist for Christ":

“Sir John called himself an atheist for Christ,” the vicar said. “He always came to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. But he emphatically did not believe in life after death. My hope,” she added, “is that he has had a wonderful surprise.”

John Mortimer's atheism was one of his most cherished convictions. He loved to cross-examine an archbishop about God and find his evidence deficient.

Yet it was at the little medieval church of St Mary the Virgin, in Turville, near Henley-on-Thames, where his parents are buried, that Sir John's family and friends gathered yesterday to sing The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended at his funeral.

Read it all here.

Bishop Alan Wilson commented:

The C of E at its best, I thought. And the Atheism? It sounds as though God views atheism as a harmless eccentricity, which probably doesn’t really exist as much as people think, infinitely better than pretending to believe, which is a ruddy menace...

Read it here.

Intentional Christian communities

The Washington Post Magazine cover story today captures the lives of young people who are finding God with the poor in intentional Christian communities such as Catholic Worker houses where they live with the poor that they serve:

At Simple House, as at other Christian intentional communities, the answer demands devotion and sacrifice. None of the missionaries at Simple House has an outside job. Laura earns just $200 a month to minister to about two dozen families in Southeast, doing everything from delivering food to helping a couple deal with their daughter's suicide attempt. She and her housemates have taken vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. They pray every morning and evening and attend Mass daily. In their rowhouse on T Street NW, they have no TV. No Internet. No alcohol inside the house. And no sex. Ever. What the young women lack in amenities, they make up for in sightings of rats and roaches.This is what it looks like to reject careerism and affluence in pursuit of spiritual fulfillment. This is what it looks like to become a modern-day radical.

. . .

"When we get to heaven . . .," writes Shane Claiborne, a leader in the intentional community movement, "I don't believe Jesus is going to say, 'When I was hungry you gave a check to the United Way, and they fed me,' or, 'When I was naked, you donated clothes to the Salvation Army, and they clothed me.' "

This is from Claiborne's essay in "School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism." The book has become an unexpected sensation among young Christians ready to renounce their parents' pursuit of worldly success in favor of a low-income lifestyle and a commitment to working with the poor. Even more surprising has been the success of Claiborne's most recent book, "Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical," a memoir that also offers a deeper introduction to alternative Christianity and intentional communities. Published almost three years ago, it has sold almost 200,000 copies.

Read it all here.

Jerry Coyne on faith and science

In the most recent New Republic, biologist Jerry Coyne has a lengthy review of two recent books by Christians who argue that science and Christianity are compatible, and finds them both unpersuasive:

True, there are religious scientists and Darwinian churchgoers. But this does not mean that faith and science are compatible, except in the trivial sense that both attitudes can be simultaneously embraced by a single human mind. (It is like saying that marriage and adultery are compatible because some married people are adulterers. ) It is also true that some of the tensions disappear when the literal reading of the Bible is renounced, as it is by all but the most primitive of JudeoChristian sensibilities. But tension remains. The real question is whether there is a philosophical incompatibility between religion and science. Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith? Are the gaps between them so great that the two institutions must be considered essentially antagonistic? The incessant stream of books dealing with this question suggests that the answer is not straightforward.

. . .

And so we have Karl Giberson and Kenneth Miller, theistic scientists and engaging writers, both demolishing what they see as a false reconciliation--the theory of intelligent design--and offering their own solutions. Giberson is a professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College, a Christian school, and has written three books on the tension between science and religion. He is the former editor of Science and Spirit, a magazine published by the Templeton Foundation. (Saving Darwin was also financed by Templeton.) Kenneth Miller, a cell biologist at Brown University, is one of the most ardent and articulate defenders of evolution against creationism. He is also an observant Catholic. Miller's new book, Only a Theory, is an update of Finding Darwin's God. Both books offer not only a withering critique of intelligent design, but also a search for God in the evolutionary process.

Together, Saving Darwin and Only a Theory provide an edifying summary of the tenets and the flaws of modern creationism, the former dealing mainly with its history and the latter with its specious claims. If these books stopped there, they would raise a valuable alarm about the dangers facing American science and culture. But in the end their sincere but tortuous efforts to find the hand of God in evolution lead them to solutions that are barely distinguishable from the creationism that they deplore.

Read it all here. After you read the full review, let us know what you think.

Inauguration presents "teachable moment" in Episcopal school

The Gazette of Montgomery County, Maryland carried this story about inauguration activities at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac:

As the students of all colors and backgrounds joined together in a conga line that snaked around the room, the celebration seemed to answer Obama's call to come together as one.

"We're passing the stage of racism," said Bokamoso youth group member Pearl Zondo, 19, of Obama's historic inauguration. "We're finally realizing that we are the same, if you can just forget our skin color."

Students paired off to pinpoint a common trait — black, white, northern, southern, public school or private school attendees, for example— and discussed the "snap judgments" that came to mind for each phrase.

"What we are all struggling with is to get beyond those first judgments or assumptions we make about people," said Kincaid. According to Alex Lis-Perlis, a St. Andrew's student who organized the workshop, a need for dialogue about diversity will remain after Obama's election.

Fifty years ago a council was called

National Catholic Reporter writer Jason Petosa reflects on the fifty years since Pope John XXIII called for an ecumenical council to take place starting in 1962. He says that the Church is mired in the tension between the call to engage the modern world and the need to conserve tradition. Petosa suggests that the way for the Church to move forward is forgiveness.

He reminds us that John XXIII surprised the world when he called for a council. Many hoped that he would leave well enough alone.

Fifty years ago today, Jan. 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII surprised the world by calling for an Ecumenical Council. Vatican II would convene in 1962....and it was a fresh and far reaching initiative for the church, although there were many people who believed that the church was doing very well as it was, and had no need for change.

To the contrary, these conservatives believed the church should resist any efforts that would disturb its good order of practice and doctrine—as governed by the Roman Curia. Their attitude was “not in my china shop!"

The bishops in attendance overruled the agenda set by curia bureaucrats and went directly for liturgical reform.

Slowly the tide shifted and a huge wave of optimism, energy and enthusiasm emerged as the assembled hierarchy proceeded through the final two sessions of the council. When the council ended, the wave crested with an outpouring of pent-up hope and excitement.

Millions and millions of Catholics along with many more millions of believers from other faith traditions rolled up their collective shirtsleeves and began to put into practice the reforms wrought by the council.

For the most part, bishops, clergy, religious and a fired-up laity worked together. Maybe it was goodwill run amuck. (Was that so bad?) Maybe, as many proclaimed, it was the Holy Spirit at work, silencing or at least muting those naysayers whom Pope John XXIII called “prophets of gloom and doom.”

Looking back at the immediate post-Vatican II church, we can say that this parade of joyous engagement was like Palm Sunday: a prelude to the agony and crucifixion to come.

It is easy to be disappointed that the "promise" of Vatican II seems to have never been fulfilled. Moderates and liberals feel that whatever progress the Council brought is being systemattically rolled back, and conservatives feel as if the Council brought about much that was regrettable and even ruinous to the Church. Much of what was fought over then appears to us today as trivial but the heart of the motivation for change fifty years ago seem to be untouched.

Petosa suggests a way forward that may instructive to Christians of every tradition: forgiveness.

Weary and even heart-broken, let us consider forgiveness. Our ultimate model of forgiveness is Jesus Christ, and for a concrete, recent Christian example we have the Amish of Nickel Mines, Pa. In the fall of 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV, a truck driver, entered the Amish community’s one-room schoolhouse and held 10 girls hostage for several hours. He then shot and killed five of the girls and seriously wounded the other five.

How the Amish community responded with forgiveness in so many ways is told in the book Amish Grace, How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher (Jossey-Bass). “Amish people are likely to say that they are simply trying to be obedient to Jesus Christ who commanded his followers to do many peculiar things, such as love, bless and forgive their enemies,” they write. These Amish people’s ongoing forgiveness, pardon and reconciliation are a model for us as we try to liberate the Catholic church from its current predicament.

Forgiveness is the way to make us whole again. It is the medium through which we tap into the transcendent power of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is the balm to ease our pain and restore our optimism. Forgiveness helps us avoid sinking into the ugly cancer of contempt. It frees us from the temptation to get even, to one-up or put down our adversaries. Forgiveness enables us to purify our intentions so that every step of our ecclesial crusade is marked with magnanimity.

Forgiveness matters because internal church reform is important. Because the church — the entire people of God, including the hierarchy — is important to the world and to each of us individually. A disfigured body of Christ, a distorted proclaiming of the good news, destroys the church’s credibility, which weakens and diminishes the power of that proclamation, much as Kryptonite saps the power of Superman.

Read the rest here.

Texas bill would allow courts to decide church property issues

According to Capitol Annex "...a Texas state legislator has introduced a bill which appears to be geared toward addressing property issues resulting from the secession of former congregations of the The General Convention of The Episcopal Church in the United States over the ordination of openly gay clergy."

The legislation, House Bill 729 by State Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), would direct Texas courts to divide church property “in a manner that the court considers just and right.”

The bill is narrowly crafted only to apply to schisms as a result of doctrinal differences and then only to divisions that result in a unit of an organized denomination’s church or diocese seceding from its ultimate ruling body.

Although evidently geared to address the property concerns of Episcopal Churches who have abandoned the Anglican Communion or the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., the bill is drafted to apply to any religious organization that qualifies as such under the Texas Tax Code so long as the religious organization is organized “into orders or ranks each subordinate to the one above it,” and specifically mentions churches, synagogues, and mosques.


Read more here.

Information on his district and biography of Representative Cook is here.

Ed. note: The law seems to go out of its way to make clear it's not trying to be
retroactive. Read here.

SECTION 2. This Act applies to a factional separation of a hierarchical religious organization as those terms are defined by Section 30.001, Property Code, as added by this Act, occurring on or after the effective date of this Act. A factional separation of a hierarchical religious organization as those terms are defined by Section 30.001, Property Code, as added by this Act, that occurs before the effective date of this Act is governed by the law in effect on the date that the application was filed, and the former law is continued in effect for that purpose.

SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2009.

Storming the gates

Church planter Gary Schokely says that a person coming to a congregation for the first time faces many barriers of peculiar ritual, internal group dynamics and even, at times, resentment coming from both clergy and laity. He suggests that weddings, funerals and baptisms may be an opportunity for congregations to welcome the unaffiliated when they come to us for a service.

My own experience of visiting with other churches has helped me realize what a huge step it is for "unaffiliated" people--the ones we say we are trying to reach--to show up, especially on Sunday mornings, and find their place among us. It has got to be about as uncomfortable for many of them to come and feel connected to what we are doing as it would be for us churched folk to show up at a Hindu shrine and be expected to jump right into the ritual.

He says that many unaffiliated people are open to visiting a church but often need an entry point like a baptism, wedding, or funeral to do so. These can be opportunities for us to connect with the unaffiliated--to build a bridge to where they are. He says that after they join us, we can then lead them to begin to take responsibility for themselves--to understand about our history, to study our traditions, to learn how to spiritually feed themselves.

The problem, Schokely says, is that we often meet the unaffiliated with suspicion and communicate a "club mentality."

Read more »

Welcome the Iraqi refugee

Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, TN, hopes to draw attention to the plight of millions of Iraqis who have fled their homes since 2003 and says that the Gospel compels us to welcome the refugee.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says more than 4.7 million Iraqis have been displaced during the war in Iraq. More than 2 million of those have fled to countries like Syria and Jordan. Others have gone to Europe or the U.S.

The Tennessean writes:

The Saturday morning forum at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Nashville will feature a report from activist and journalist Kelly Hayes-Raitt, who worked with refugees in Iraq for several months in 2008. Organizers hope the event will rally support for the plight of refugees.

"The mandate for Christians is found in Matthew 25 — 'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat … I was a stranger and you invited me in,'" said the Rev. Bob Abstein, a retired Episcopal priest and former pastor of St. George's Episcopal Church in Nashville....

Erol Kekic, director of the Church World Services program for refugees in Knoxville, said

Iraqi refugees who come to the U.S. have been through an intensive screening process. "We need to know who they are and what their story is," he said. "They have to show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution if they return home."

Churches and other nonprofits play a key role in resettling refugees. The federal government provides some basic support, Kekic said, but churches often supply needs like clothing, housing and emotional support."

Read the rest here.

Children of the Gospel choir

There is finally some video available of the Children of the Gospel Choir singing He's Got the Whole World in His Hands at the National Prayer Service last Wednesday. It is the second item on this page.

Ask the Senate to re-authorize SCHIP

From the Episcopal Public Policy Network:

Last week, by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a four-and-a-half year reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), extending health coverage to an additional 4 million children to provide health insurance to a total of more than 11 million children. The bill provides $34 billion in SCHIP funding and allows states to cover children and families with income up to 300 percent of the poverty level. The House bill also allows the states to waive the five-year waiting period for legal immigrant children and pregnant women to enroll in SCHIP, providing access to preventive care, regular check-ups, and treatment for chronic health problems.

Similar bills passed both houses of Congress in 2007, but they were vetoed by President Bush, leaving the program operating under a temporary, one-year extension. It is long overdue for Congress to provide health care to the nation's neediest children. Since SCHIP was enacted in 1997, it has, in combination with Medicaid, succeeded in reducing the number of uninsured children by one-third despite rising health care costs and declines in employer-based coverage. But, with 9 million children still lacking health insurance and unable to access the care they need, it is clear that more needs to be done.

During this time of economic crisis, in which American families are plagued by rising unemployment and increasing health care costs, the Senate must now act quickly to reauthorize the program to increase both the number of children served by SCHIP, improve the quality of coverage they receive, and provide long-term, dedicated funding to this critical program.

Contact your Senators today and ask them to vote to reauthorize and strengthen the SCHIP!

ABC asks 5 primates for reflections on sexuality and mission

Anglican Journal:

The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has asked the primates (national archbishops) of five provinces, including the Anglican Church of Canada, to reflect on the impact that the current Anglican conflict over sexuality has had on the mission and priorities of their churches.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that he and the primates of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Uganda, Pakistan, and South Africa, have been invited to offer their reflections during the primates’ meeting scheduled Feb. 1 to 5 in Alexandria, Egypt.

According to Anglican Communion News Service, "all Provinces will be represented at the forth-coming meeting, except the Church of Pakistan and the Church of South India, where in each case the Moderator cannot attend due to a previously booked engagement."

"Mississippi Queen"

From the Jackson Clarion Ledger:

She came out during her senior year of high school. Paige Williams acknowledged she was gay, and her devoutly religious parents were devastated.

It took more than three years for their fractured relationship to begin to heal, and now they all deal with the issue publicly, albeit different avenues.

Paige Williams, a Montana filmmaker, created a documentary called Mississippi Queen that tells her coming out story and her parents' transformation.

Her parents, in turn, sought solace through an organization called Exodus International. Although designed to "liberate people from homosexuality," Judy Williams, Paige's mother, said the organization taught her empathy, understanding and unconditional love. It's a message she and husband Jerry hope to impart as co-directors of Restoration Grace, an upcoming seminar at Morrison Heights Baptist Church.


John Updike dead at 76

AP:

John Updike, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, prolific man of letters and erudite chronicler of sex, divorce and other adventures in the postwar prime of the American empire, died Tuesday at age 76.
...
An old-fashioned believer in hard work, he published more than 50 books in a career that started in the 1950s. Updike won virtually every literary prize, including two Pulitzers, for "Rabbit Is Rich" and "Rabbit at Rest," and two National Book Awards.

Seven Stanzas at Easter, By John Updike:
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

From the Washington Post in 2004:
Through the years, Updike nearly always attended church. In his autumn, he has become a regular at St. John's Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms. "The Episcopal church is a good place for a half-assed Lutheran to settle," he says. "I need the pinch of salt that religion gives."
Boston Globe:
...there was the description of Fenway Park, “a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark,” in Mr. Updike’s classic account of Ted Williams’ final game, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”

It was Mr. Updike’s boyhood attachment to Williams, as well as access to area beaches, that brought the Pennsylvania native to the North Shore, in 1957. He lived north of Boston the rest of life....

A later, longer, AP report.

Marc Ambinder: Updike at one with his neutrons.

TPM Cafe has thoughts and quotes from Updike's tribute to Ted Williams:

But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters.

Updike's essay on NPR's "This I Believe"

"Cosmically, I seem to be of two minds. The power of materialist science to explain everything — from the behavior of the galaxies to that of molecules, atoms and their sub-microscopic components — seems to be inarguable and the principal glory of the modern mind. On the other hand, the reality of subjective sensations, desires and — may we even say — illusions, composes the basic substance of our existence, and religion alone, in its many forms, attempts to address, organize and placate these. I believe, then, that religious faith will continue to be an essential part of being human, as it has been for me."

Ohio bishops support domestic-partner registry

Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The Cleveland City Council has picked up some welcome allies as it tangles with local religious leaders who want to repeal a recently passed domestic partner registry.

Last week, the Call & Post newspaper endorsed the registry, which could help same- and opposite-sex couples obtain privileges typically reserved for the married. It is expected to take effect this spring, but several pastors are studying ways to repeal the law through new legislation.
...
[C]himing in, with harsh words for opposing pastors, was the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio.

"While we affirm the right of any person in our democratic society to oppose the establishment of this registry, we are dismayed that clergy and others would use the Bible as their weapon of assault," Bishop Mark Hollingsworth Jr. wrote to council members in a Jan. 21 letter also signed by three assisting bishops.

Read the letter here, or below.

Read more »

The end of war, culture war, that is

At The Daily Beast, Peter Beinart sees the possibility of an end to the culture wars:

When it comes to culture, Obama doesn’t have a public agenda; he has a public anti-agenda. He wants to remove culture from the political debate.
...
A black politician running in the midst of a racial culture war is virtually doomed. But amidst a religious culture war, being black is less of a handicap since blacks are the least secular element of the Democratic coalition. Barack Obama was more successful than John Kerry in reaching out to moderate white evangelicals in part because he struck them as more authentically Christian.

That’s the foundation on which Obama now seeks to build. He seems to think there are large numbers of conservative white Protestants and Catholics who will look beyond culture when they enter the voting booth as long as he and other Democrats don’t ram cultural liberalism down their throats.
...
Obama’s effort could fail. After all, he’s not offering to split the difference with cultural conservatives, only to make his cultural liberalism less conspicuous.

Read it all.

Some reaction:

Commentary: "Muddles don’t end wars. They draw them out. ... Americans want a recess from ugliness, but that’s not how history works." (Abe Greenwald)

The New Republic: "If he fulfills [his promise to sign the Freedom of Chose Act], Obama will not only have failed to end the culture war. He will have ensured its survival for another generation." (Damon Linker)

When the culture war gets in the way of larger issues, Obama appears willing to concede -- as to the Republicans on the family planning money House Democrats want in the stimulus bill.

Rosenthal, Martin awarded Cross of St. Augustine

ENS:

The Rev. Canon James M. Rosenthal and Deirdre Martin were each awarded the Cross of St. Augustine at a January 26 reception hosted by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in honor of their combined 51 years of service to the Anglican Communion.
...
In November 2008, they were both awarded honorary life memberships in the Compass Rose Society in recognition of their outstanding work for the Anglican Communion.

"Deirdre has served the communion for over 30 years with unobtrusive skill and commitment, as well as real theological intelligence. She has been an anchor of stability for us all, and a generous friend to countless individuals," said Williams. "Jim has been an outstanding ambassador for the communion and has had a unique role in making and keeping friendships among us. I am very glad to recognize in this award the warmth and passionate dedication he has brought to his role."

Rosenthal was recruited for the communications post at the Anglican Communion Office after his volunteer work during the 1988 Lambeth Conference. He went on to work in a media relations role for two further Lambeth Conferences. He has traveled to more than 60 countries, often accompanying the Archbishop of Canterbury on pastoral visits to provinces of the Anglican Communion.


ENS video: Rosenthal reflects on his ministry

Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks and Rabbi Dr Tony Bayfield, Head of the Movement for Reform Judaism unite to reflect on their recent visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau and give their message for Holocaust Memorial Day 27 January 2009:

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Churches and solutions to poverty, environment

Churches are becoming more involved with systemic answers to poverty, lack of health care and the environment, as well as offering hands on services.

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Pope on holocaust denial

The Boston Globe carries Pope Benedict XVI's comments on why he revoked the 1988 excommunications of the four bishops ordained without permission by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre:

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Radical Welcome

Hospitality is key to growing any organization, but women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are looking beyond sociability to the much deeper relationships needed to sustain a Christian community’s alternative values according to a story in Ekklesia today.

The Women of the ELCA network facilitating and online and in-person discussion of the provocative book Radical Welcome: Embracing God, The Other and the Spirit of Transformation, by the Rev Stephanie Spellers (Episcopal Priest). The online deliberations will include live chats and a blog supported by downloadable resources.
To find out more click here.

To see Spellers discuss her book see read more:

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Confusion about Bishop Scriven and renunciation

There seems to be some confusion about the status of Bishop Henry Scriven's status according to Thinking Anglicans.

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Faith and football at the Super Bowl

Associated Press columnist Tim Dahlberg says that while God may not care who wins the Super Bowl, players at the Super Bowl sure care a lot about God.

Arizona running back Tim Hightower had just finished a thoughtful explanation of his religious beliefs when one of the media types who found their way into the Super Bowl stadium Tuesday decided he needed more proof.

"Can you pray right now?" he asked.

"I can pray that whatever is going on in your life right now that you find God," Hightower said.

Hightower handled the question with the same ease he handled would-be tacklers to score the winning touchdown that got his team into the Super Bowl, which by itself was somewhat surprising since he is a rookie on the biggest stage of his young life.

LA Catholic diocese under investigation for abuse cover-up

Updated: The Los Angeles Times has a more extensive story.

The Wall Street Journal reports:


Federal authorities are investigating the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles to see whether top church officials tried to cover up the sexual abuse of minors by priests, said a person familiar with the matter.

A federal grand jury has issued subpoenas and begun calling witnesses in the probe, which began late last year, said this person. The investigation is still in its early, fact-gathering stage, and it isn't known whether any criminal charges will result.

Addendum. NYT has more, including reaction from the diocese and Cardinal Mahony.

Mr. President, have we got a church for you

If there were Emmy awards for playing along with an interviewer who needs you to act silly, the Rev. Randolph Charles, rector of Church of the Epiphany in Washington D. C. would win it for his performance in this segment from The Daily Show about President Barack Obama's search for a new church.


Presiding bishop laments latest atrocities in Sudan

Read the entire statement at episcope:

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has issued a statement on the attacks by the “Lord’s Resistance Army” in the Sudan.

It is with great sorrow that I have received, in recent days, reports from brother bishops and other Episcopalians in the Sudan of the latest round of humanitarian atrocities committed by the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Since the beginning of this year, several parishes and villages in the Dioceses of Mundri and Ezo have fallen victim to LRA attacks that have included killings, child abductions, executions by decapitation and other unspeakable crimes. Tragically, the violence appears only to be spreading, with reports now coming that LRA activity has spread across southern Sudan to Torit, Kajokeji, Lainya, Yei, Yambio, Ibba, Maridi, and Lui.

Primates to meet, bicker

The Primates of the Anglican Communion are meeting Feb 1-3 in Alexandria, Egypt. We have been relatively quiet in advance of this meeting, because a) we don't know much about what will occur and b) what little is known suggests the meeting may not be particularly consequential. For an excellent preview, visit Mark Harris.

It seems likely that some of the conservative Primates in the Communion, led by Akinola of Nigeria, Orombi of Uganda and Venables of Argentina will make the case for recognizing the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)--which is composed in part of parishes and parts of dioceses that have broken away from the Episcopal and Canadian churches--as a fourth North American province. Their arguments are unlikely to succeed in any official sense, in part because Akinola, et al., lack the 2/3 majority necessary to send the matter on to the Anglican Consultative Council when it meets this spring, and in part because the Anglican Communion office has made clear that ACNA has followed none of the procedures necessary to attain provincial status.

That said, ACNA's leaders may nonetheless declare victory, stating that Primates "representing" the great majority of the Communion now "recognize" their endeavor. This recognition, while not official, gives them a way to claim that they are an Anglican endeavor, and not simply another small American religious movement.

The result, one suspects, will be further arguments about who is really Anglican and who isn't. And you all know how riveting that can be.

Southeast is most religious region of US

The Gallup polling organization reports:

An analysis of more than 350,000 interviews conducted by Gallup in 2008 finds Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Arkansas to be the most religious states in the nation. Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts are the least religious states.

and

The question of why residents of some states (e.g., Mississippi and other Southern states) are highly likely to report that religion is an important part of their lives, while residents of other states (e.g., Vermont and other New England states) are much less likely to report the same is fascinating, but difficult to answer simply.

Differing religious traditions and denominations tend to dominate historically in specific states, and religious groups have significantly different patterns of religious intensity among their adherents. The states have differing racial and ethnic compositions, which in turn are associated with differing degrees of religiosity. Certain states may attract in-migrants with specific types of religious intensity. In addition, there may be differing "state cultures" that are themselves associated with life approaches that give varying degrees of credence to religion as a guiding force.

It would be interesting to compare the list of fastest growing dioceses in the Episcopal Church against this list to determine which diocese benefit from a favorable demographic climate, and which are preaching to less receptive ears.

Separation of church and state with President Obama

The American Prospect asks if President Obama acknowledged nonreligious Americans in his Inaugural Address will his administration re-separate church and state? Paul Waldman in his weekly column writes:

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PB nominates Gulick as provisional bishop in Fort Worth

A press release from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth:

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori has recommended the Rt. Rev. Edwin F. "Ted" Gulick Jr., bishop of Kentucky, to be the provisional bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. If elected by the special meeting of the convention of the diocese, Bp. Gulick will be installed during the meeting. Bishop Gulick will serve part time as he continues to serve as bishop of Diocese of Kentucky.

The special meeting of the convention of the diocese has been called for Saturday, Feb. 7, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 3401 Bellaire Drive S., Fort Worth, 76109, because the former bishop and some diocesan leaders have left the Episcopal Church and the diocese.

Delegates also will fill other diocesan vacancies, including members of the Standing Committee, deputies to General Convention and trustees of the Corporation for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

Read more »

Prominent Dallas priest asked Texas legislator to change property law

Update: Two friends in Texas inform us that the Roman Catholic Church is lobbying against the bill, as are the Baptists, who, while not hierarchical in the same way as Catholics and mainline Protestants, could have property at stake.

On Tuesday the Café reported on a bill introduced in the Texas legislature that would allow courts to disregard Church law in deciding property cases arising from doctrinal issues.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), a close ally of new Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, would allow the court to divide property and other assets "in a manner that the court considers just and right."

If passed, the bill would significantly strengthen the hand of individual parishes trying to break away from hierarchical churches. However, it would not go into effect until September 1, too late to help former Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker in his efforts to take the property of the diocese he once led with him as he enters the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, headquartered in Argentina. That led us to wonder who might have asked Rep. Cook, a Southern Baptist, to file a bill that seems aimed at causing problems for more hierarchical churches.

Sam Hodges of The Dallas Morning News was wondering, too, and he didn't have far to look. As it turns out the Rev. Canon Ed Monk, of St. John's Episcopal Church in Corsicana asked him to file the bill. Monk, a protégé of Bishop Keith Ackerman, former bishop of Quincy, is a deputy to the 2009 General Convention from the Diocese of Dallas and immediate past president of Bishop James Stanton's Standing Committee.

Monk's rapid rise in the Diocese of Dallas, and his close relationship with Ackerman, who named him a canon at St. Paul's Cathedral in Peoria, raises questions about whether either bishop was involved in or had knowledge of the bill. Neither Stanton, who founded the conservative American Anglican Council, nor Ackerman, who is president for Forward in Faith, a group that opposes the ordination of women, has spoken publicly about the proposed legislation.

According to the Dallas News:

Some Episcopal Church officials are weighing in negatively on the bill.
"Our [Episcopal] Church strives for unity, and this bill is divisive," said the Rev. Andy Doyle, bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which covers the Houston area. Officials affiliated with other denominations also express concern.

Other bishops in Texas have yet to speak on the bill.

The legislation seems unlikely to pass for several reasons, not least among them that it would likely be viewed as a fairly straightforward violation of the separation of church and state. Additionally, as Hodges notes, the Texas legislature passes only about a quarter of the 6,200 bills that are filed each session, and this one is likely to face opposition from the Catholic Church, and most mainline Protestant denominations.

If nothing else, this incident makes clear precisely why the state should stay out of church property matters. A single priest with a powerful ally in the legislature has set in motion a bill that would put hierarchical churches in danger of losing control of their assets to any dissatisfied group that can wrap its complaint in doctrinal garb. The First Amendment exists in large measure to protect churches from this sort of interference.

Finally, if experiencing a sense of déjà vu , that is because the Anglican right has pulled this move before. In February 2005, a Virginia legislator with close ties to the breakaway churches in that state filed a bill that would have made it easier for those congregations to leave the Episcopal Church and keep their property. It was withdrawn amidst bad publicity, and the breakaway churches in Virginia have thus far succeeded in court without it. But that effort, like this one in Texas, is evidence of the Anglican right's discomfort with the First Amendment.

Post script: I forgot that the Virginia legislator who proposed the legislation is now the top advisor in the state attorney general's office, and the AG has joined the case on the side of the breakaway congregations.

Rome to receive Traditional Anglicans? Maybe not...

Yesterday, an Australian website that reports on the Roman Catholic Church posted that Vatican officials had decided to create a personal prelature arrangement (similar to how Opus Dei is organized) for the Traditional Anglican Communion. Today there's news that this may only be speculation.

The Record reported yesterday:

History may be in the making. It appears Rome is on the brink of welcoming close to half a million members of the Traditional Anglican Communion into membership of the Roman Catholic Church, writes Anthony Barich. Such a move would be the most historic development in Anglican-Catholic relations in the last 500 years. But it may also be a prelude to a much greater influx of Anglicans waiting on the sidelines, pushed too far by the controversy surrounding the consecration of practising homosexual bishops, women clergy and a host of other issues.

It is understood that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has decided to recommend the Traditional Anglican Communion be accorded a personal prelature akin to Opus Dei, if talks between the TAC and the Vatican aimed at unity succeed.

The TAC is a growing global community of approximately 400,000 members that took the historic step in 2007 of seeking full corporate and sacramental communion with the Catholic Church - a move that, if fulfilled, will be the biggest development in Catholic-Anglican relations since the English Reformation under King Henry VIII.

The Traditional Anglican Communion claims to be a world-wide organization of more than 400,000 members that represent the traditional anglo-catholic understanding of Anglican theology and liturgical practice. The Anglican Church in America is the branch or province in the US. The ACA has about 5200 members in something like 100 small parishes according to Wikipedia.

A number of people reacted skeptically to the news yesterday with good reason apparently.

Today there's a report on the Catholic Online International News page that this may have been a premature announcement - or even just a trial balloon by an Australian bishop associated with the cause for the beatification of Cardinal John Newman (an anglo-catholic priest who converted to Roman Catholicism.)

According to today's report, "no decision has been made."

The National Catholic Register cites a "Vatican Source" as saying that "nothing's been decided" by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Reports abound that the Congregation has recommended the creation of a personal prelature as the vehicle through which to receive the members of the Traditional Anglican Communion into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. The Register contends that an official at the Congregation spoke with their correspondent Edward Pentin today saying,“It’s something that has appeared on the blogosphere and then been reiterated, but the truth is nothing’s been decided.”

Primates' meeting begins this weekend

The Primates of the Anglican Communion will be meeting, as per their typical once every two year schedule, in Alexandria Egypt beginning this Sunday and continuing through Thursday of next week. According to reports a portion of their time will be spent discussing how the debate on Human Sexuality is impacting the Anglican Communion and their respective Provinces.

From a report by the Church Times:

"It will be the first time that the Archbishops who were at Lambeth will be together with those who boycotted the event, although some acceptances had still not been received this week. On Wednesday, the secretary of the Primates’ Meeting, Canon Kenneth Kearon, put that down to “personal disorganization” on the part of some.

The draft agenda is largely an extension of the Lambeth agenda. It has been put together by the Archbishop of Canterbury and Canon Kearon, but is deliberately undetailed, and has a “degree of elasticity”. Worship, Bible study, and group discussions will have a high priority. The same question as the bishops discussed at Lambeth will be asked here: what impact has the sexuality debate in the Anglican Communion had on the mission of the individual provinces?

Five Primates have been invited to lead the debate on this. They are from the United States, Canada, Uganda, South Africa, and Pakis tan. The Primate of Canada, the Most Revd Fred Hiltz, told the Canadian Anglican Journal that his presentation would show: “We’re a Church that’s renewing its commitment to God’s mission in the world; and that there’s more to the Canadian Church than discussions about sexuality; that mission is front and centre.”

Religious Intelligence has an article that thinks the plans for the agenda of the meeting may be changed once the meeting starts:

[I]t is unlikely the agenda for the five-day gathering will survive unscathed. At their meeting in 2005 in Northern Ireland and in 2007 in Tanzania the primates rebelled, forcing the meeting to address the issues that had split the Anglican Communion.

On the other hand, maybe not... According an Religious News Service post, the issue of the parallel North American Province created in response to disagreements over the Human Sexuality debate might not even be talked about:

"Conservative Anglicans say they do not expect their new North American church to receive official approval from Anglican archbishops who will convene next week (Feb. 1-5) in Alexandria, Egypt.

“We do expect that our situation will be discussed,” said the Rev. Peter Frank, a spokesman for the newly established Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). “At the same time, it would be very surprising if there was some kind of quick, game-changing action.”

Thinking Anglicans has an excellent round-up of articles reporting on the upcoming meeting.

Homelessness on the rise

There are increasing numbers of newly homeless people appearing at agencies and churches asking for assistance according to a number of social service agencies around the country. What makes this particularly tragic is that this is happening just as funding to provide for the needs of the homeless is running out or being cut.

MSNBC's website reports:

“A downturn in (overall) funding in this case is accompanied by a surge in demand, so a homeless shelter, food pantry, or job-training program is going to feel it first,” says Chuck Bean, executive director of Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington, in the District of Columbia. “Even if they have 100 percent of their budget compared to last year, they now see a 50 percent surge in demand. Then (they) get into the tough decisions: Do you thin the soup, or shorten the line?”

Even as census-takers fan out in cities across the country this week in an attempt to count homeless populations, advocates and experts point to a bevy of evidence that homelessness is rising and will continue to, most notably among families with children.

Shelters across the country report that more people are seeking emergency shelter and more are being turned away. In a report published in December, 330 school districts identified the same number or more homeless students in the first few months of the school year than they identified in the entire previous year. Meantime, demand is sharply up at soup kitchens, an indication of deepening hardship and potential homelessness.

Churches and volunteer organizations are attempting to pick up the slack, but their budgets are being increasingly strained as well as donations begin to dry up in the regions where assistance is most desperately needed.

One simple thing that is being done in response this weekend is the participation of Episcopal congregations in a census count of the local homeless populations that is mentioned above.

Other congregations are ramping up their existing programs to attempt to respond to the increased needs.

Even more responses are found here, here and here.

What sorts of things are congregations doing in your area?

Bishop Iker insists he's still in charge of Episcopal Diocese

Here at the Café we've been notified that earlier today Bishop Jack Iker, who left the Episcopal Church with a group from the Diocese of Fort Worth to become members of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, has had his lawyer write the Steering Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth's lawyer that they must stop using the name of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and its emblem since they are his property and not theirs.

Which is sort of an odd thing to claim for someone who has abandoned the Episcopal Church in part because being associated with the Episcopal Church was becoming increasingly "a scandal" to his faithful.

We're told that Dallas Morning News and other Texas media outlets are working on a story about the details and should have something up tomorrow morning.

Keep an eye on this space.

Super Bowl parties allowed in churches

In previous years the NFL has frowned on congregations getting together to watch the Super Bowl together on a large screen - and especially so if the "getting together" is held as a fund-raiser. In addition, the licensing agreements that govern the broadcast used to ban "public" showings on wide-screen televisions. Many churches were using their projection equipment to show the game on wall sized screens.

But good news! Last year in response to congressional pressure, the league changed the terms of its broadcast usage policy to clarify the second restriction:

"'As long as they follow the basic guidelines set forth by the NFL, churches can now rest assured that they are free to have football parties and show the Super Bowl game,' said John W Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville, Va.-based civil liberties organization.

...NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the modified policy eliminated past rules regarding the size of the screens on which the game is shown.

'The only thing we do ask is that these organizations not charge admission -- the game's on TV for free -- and that they hold the parties at locations they regularly use for other large gatherings,' he said Tuesday (Jan. 27)."

Read a full description here in Ethics Daily.

Brian McLaren: sneak preview

Brian McLaren is giving the keynote address today at the Diocese of Washington's annual convention. The diocese will have video available in the not-too-distant future, but here is a little taste of what McLaren proposes to talk about, lifted from my story in the recent Washington Window:

Internationally acclaimed evangelist Brian McLaren has a few questions he'd like to ask:

"What if the Episcopal Church is poised and positioned for its greatest season of ministry ever?

"What if difficulties of recent years were actually like pruning on a vine, making way for great fruit and new wine to come?

"What if historic values and virtues have become like a treasure hidden in the Episcopal Church, waiting to be rediscovered and shared?

"What if there were a few obstacles or barriers that needed to be removed so that future could unfold?

"What would it mean to rise to that occasion?"

It is so refreshing to hear from someone who is optimistic about the future of our church, especially someone of McLaren's stature. Stay tuned.

#1. Don't be a jerk

Father Matthew Moretz, the Episcopal You Tube Star, has a few thoughts on evangelism.

Toronto moves closer to same sex blessings

The Diocese of Toronto news service reports:

The bishops of the Diocese of Toronto are proposing to respond pastorally in the matter of committed same-sex relationships.

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Bishop Lambert takes a pass

The suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Dallas spoke with the Corsicana Daily Sun about a legislator's bill that would override the Dennis Canon. The bishop did not come out against the bill.

As reported by the Daily Sun:

“We’ve had five break away,” said The Right Rev. Paul E. Lambert, Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas. “We allowed them to keep their property in two instances, and in the third instance they didn’t want the property, but they wanted to rent it back with us. “We’ve dealt with it pastorally instead of legally,” Lambert said.

An internal Episcopal law called the Dennis Canon states that all parish property is held in trust for the diocese and the national church. “We’ve always held that we uphold the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church,” Lambert said. “We may not agree with the Dennis Canon, but it is part of the constitution and canons. It has to play out to see whether or not the bill passes, and if it trumps the canons of the Episcopal Church.” “It’s an interesting concept, though, to be sure,” Lambert added.

Read it all. The reporter has developed the story along other dimensions as well.

See The Lead's earlier story on the bill: Prominent Dallas priest asked Texas legislator to change property law

Episcopal Church files response to St. Andrew's Draft

As requested of all provinces, the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church has submitted its response to the St. Andrew's Draft of the Anglican Covenant.

The response is here (PDF). Episcopal News Service has a story here.

One excerpt from the American response:

The vast majority of diocesan deputations had significant concern about Section 3.2.5 and following. The concern focused on what was perceived as an embrace of binding arbitration, mediation and evaluation, as well as “moral authority.” This section was perceived as being overly juridical in its process: e.g., while 3.2.5.e affirms autonomy, it also affirms the force of binding decisions, including “a relinquishment by that Church of the force and meaning of the covenant’s purpose….” The inclusion of the appendix, though intended not to be a part of the covenant, cannot be ignored specifically because it is consistently referred to in 3.2.5.a-e. Those deputations who did mention the appendix found it to be highly problematic because of its embrace of juridical process for resolving disputes in the Anglican Communion.
Compare this with the Church of England draft response:
47. The major development between the Nassau and St Andrew’s Drafts is the proposed draft appendix in the latter exploring the procedural implications of entering a covenant and complaints about breaches of the covenant. The legalistic tone of the Appendix has been frequently criticised and at the Lambeth Conference it was described as ‘too punitive’.9 The CDG has signalled that the current draft appendix will be subject to further revision (and perhaps incorporation as a fourth section of the covenant) in the next draft.

48. It is clear that the Covenant must have procedural implications if it is to have any effect at all and that the Church of England has always acknowledged the need for discipline within the life of the Church....

Related: Our earlier coverage of the CofE response.

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