The Huffington Post: A Split Episcopal Church

The Rev. Astrid Storm, vicar of the Church of St. Nicholas-on-the-Hudson, writes about Akinola's upcoming visit to install the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns as CANA's missionary bishop in The Huffington Post. In her essay, she remarks on how the departure of certain Virginia churches sowed a deeper dissent this past December:

As has been noted plenty of times before, the decision these churches made to leave the Episcopal Church because of its gay-friendly leanings is monumental, involving complex property disputes, legal wrangling, and the possible—probable—loss of dearly loved church buildings. That's not to mention the risks that come with aligning with an erratic bishop with a dubious human rights record from a country with problems that these Virginians probably can't begin to fathom—problems that have and will continue to have an enormous impact on the church and society in Nigeria.

In showing their willingness to take on such risks, the people in these parishes are making a strong statement against friends, acquaintances, and members of their own families who are gay or at least sympathize with gay people—sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings. Through those emails last December, I got but a glimpse of the sadness and alienation that must have resulted in many homes.

She continues, bearing witness to her own church, where people with opposing opinions came together in worship.

Read the whole thing here: A Split Episcopal Church.

View from Falls Church

The Falls Church News-Press comments on the visit to Virginia by Abp Akinola:

While the political elites in Abuja will use guns to maintain dominion over voters, Akinola will be lording over a ceremony in Old Dominion to install church rector Martyn Minns as the bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a subsidiary of the Nigerian church. Basically, conservatives who think the Episcopal Church is too liberal, are refusing to submit to its authority, and instead have opted to align themselves with Akinola.

Read it all HERE

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File 13?

Where have all the letters to Archbishop Peter J. Akinola gone?

Read more »

Sins of unity

Giles Fraser writes in the Church Times:

I have a deep ambivalence about the word “community”. We talk a great deal about the pathologies of individualism, but not enough about the moral dangers of human togetherness.

Last Saturday night, I walked into the wrong pub in the East End of Glasgow. Celtic had been playing at home. The pub was decked out in green. And I was inadvertently wearing a blue jumper. Had I thought about it, I’d have remembered that blue is the colour of Glasgow Rangers, and that, in this city, a blue jumper does not go unnoticed in a Roman Catholic pub.

That’s an understatement: the moment I walked through the door, eyes swivelled to meet me like the guns on a destroyer. With my shaven head, I might well have been mistaken for someone looking for trouble. I also suspected that the polite explanation that I’m: (i) English; (ii) a Protestant minister; and (iii) support Chelsea wasn’t going to make my life any easier, either. So I left sharpish. In that pub, community felt like another word for sectarianism.

Generally, the Church only ever sees the good in the idea of community. Yet, in the name of community, all manner of nastiness and bigotry is frequently excused. Precisely because we are so focused on the sins of the first person singular, our radar is insufficiently attuned to those committed in the first person plural. It’s a moral blind spot.

Read it all.

Reconciliation: A Third Way

Promoting a faith based culture of reconciliation is the hope of 65 Episcopalians attending "The Third Way" training seminar led by The Rev. Brian Cox, who developed the program

"Our purpose is not to solve the conflict in the Episcopal Church but rather to promote a culture of reconciliation in the life of the church, a paradigm shift away from win-lose advocacy to faith-based reconciliation," said Cox, rector of Christ the King Church in Santa Barbara, California.

About 65 lay and clergy Episcopalians from across the nation are attending "A Third Way," a faith-based reconciliation training seminar being held through May 25 at St. James Church in the Wilshire district of Los Angeles.

Pat McCaughan, Episcopal News Service, writes that participants learn, "This is about creating a third way, a positive way, a proactive way, in the life of the Episcopal Church. It also offers people hope. Our experience has been that the whole seriousness of the conflict hasn't changed but people come away with a feeling of hope."

Cox developed the training following a 1995 Eastern European visit a few months after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Marxism. He recognized the need for a compelling individual and collective moral vision and that "as a person of faith from the Abrahamic tradition, I was carrying in my heart the seed of an ancient moral vision whose time on the world stage had finally come."

The first faith-based reconciliation training seminar was offered in 1996 and "we witnessed the transforming power of the Spirit in bring together polarities to build bridges, demolish walls of hostility and promote the dynamic of forgiveness," said Cox.

"We found it also challenged people at the deepest level of being about their relationship with God, to come to that place to surrender and submission to God."

Submission to God, ironically, was a turnoff for Joanne O'Donnell, now a trainer. "When I first attended this training, I stumbled hard over this area and refused to participate in the follow-up exercise," said O'Donnell, an L.A. Superior Court Judge and General Convention deputy who authored Resolution A039, that called for church-wide faith-based reconciliation training.

"As a lesbian committed to the cause of full participation by gay and lesbian people in all ministries of the church, I had an underlying deep suspicion that the notion of God's sovereignty was being used to browbeat me into acknowledging that my life was sinful," she recalled.

"I've thought a lot about it since then; God's sovereignty is the single-most important element of faith-based reconciliation. It's the factor that distinguished it from secular forms of diplomacy and peacemaking, which don't seem to be terribly effective these days."

During her presentation to the gathering, she outlined eight core values which will frame their conversation during the next few days: pluralism; inclusion; peacemaking; justice; forgiveness; healing wounded communities and submission to God and atonement.

Read is all HERE

Brown to Abp. Williams: Get a Spine

Over on the Comment Is Free group blog, Guardian columnist Andrew Brown issues a challenge to the Archbishop of Canterbury in light of Akinola's call to boycott Lambeth: Stand up for yourself, Rowan.

Taken at face value, this suggests that he and all his bishops will boycott the whole conference unless their invasion of the US is ratified by Dr Williams. There is no doubt that Akinola thinks of himself as the true leader of the Anglican communion, and Dr Williams as a pathetic post-colonial relic. Although Dr Akinola has several times trembled on the brink of marching right out of the Anglican communion, he has not so far had to choose whether this is what he really wants. "He [Williams] will do whatever we tell him to", he was overheard telling one of his advisers at an earlier meeting; but this arrogance is what Dr Williams is banking on. If there is a long-term plan to hold the Anglican churches more or less together, it is based on the belief that most of them would much rather not be led by Dr Williams than by whipped about by Dr Akinola.

But is there such a plan at all? Or is the simple explanation for this subtle man the right one? This is the question the Nigerian boycott threat will answer. Now that the threat has been made, it can't be withdrawn without someone backing down; in Dr Akinola's eyes, the obvious someone will be Dr Williams. There are 14 months before the conference; 14 months in which every effort possible will be made to bully him out of his original decision.

...

Dr Williams caved in over Jeffrey John in July 2003, nearly four years ago; we will find out soon enough if he has learned anything from the experience. If he has not, and if he caves in once more, no one will ever listen to him again. Why should we care what he believes about anything if we know he won't stand up for it?

Read the whole thing.

Conservative Revisionism?

Scott Gunn at Inclusive Church blog has done his history homework on former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey. Comparing "then" with "now" he finds "there is a bit of conservative revisionism going on with respect to Anglican polity. Witness Carey's two letters. In one, he unequivocally supports unity, and in the next, he implies that those conservative bishops who would imperil unity should be invited to Lambeth."

In Lord Carey's letter of 2000 he says:

"To talk of the Primates disciplining the Episcopal Church of the USA or any other Province for that matter, goes far beyond the brief of the Primates' Meeting." After noting that Lambeth resolution 1.10 "reflects the traditional teaching of the church," and "Nevertheless, in many parts of the Communion, faithful Christians, some of whom are homosexual themselves, are seeking to engage the Church in a challenging reassessment of its teaching on human sexuality, because they have felt excluded from the Church for many years. I believe that it is wholly in the spirit of the resolution, and that is why the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA and I set up an international conversation between bishops of different views, an experiment which was so successful that it will meet again later this year. I have also sought to encourage such conversations more locally as well."
Carey reminded the Communion that "we must guard against the risk of allowing one issue to divert all our attention from the primary task of mission to which we are called."

This week in 2007, Lord Carey says,
"It is not too much to say that everything has changed in the Anglican Communion as a result of the consecration of Gene Robinson." and he now writes that ECUSA "clearly signalled its abandonment of Communion norms, in spite of warnings from the Primates that the consecration of a practising homosexual bishop would 'tear the fabric of the Communion'."

Scott Gunn comments: "That's a marked contrast from a consultative, advisory notion of the Primates' Meetings. Now Carey is suggesting that ECUSA can itself be marginalized because of disregard of the Anglican curia. Now, I should also point out that there are plenty of "practicing homosexual bishops" in the Communion. What distinguished +Gene Robinson was his openness and honesty."
Gunn's point? "My point is that there is a bit of conservative revisionism going on with respect to Anglican polity. Witness Carey's two letters. In one, he unequivocally supports unity, and in the next, he implies that those conservative bishops who would imperil unity should be invited to Lambeth."

Read it all Here

Point and counterpoint in local media

Syndicated columnist Michael J. McManus seems to be a raving fan of Nigeria's CANA initiative, writing, among other things:

As Minns summed it up, "We are here to give people a freedom of choice." At present, CANA has 34 parishes and nearly 7,000 members, which is more than 40 Episcopal dioceses. About a third are ethnic Nigerian churches in America, a third are in Northern Virginia and the others scattered.

Bill Mehr responds to the entire column (available here) in the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star:

In "Missionaries to America?" Michael J. McManus asks, "Why would the United States need a missionary bishop?" The answer is: it doesn't. Mr. McManus claims outnumbered orthodox Episcopalians must reach out to Anglicans in the Global South for "safe haven." There's the flaw. They don't need to reach out for what they already possess.

According to historical Anglican tradition, the Episcopal Church, like America itself, welcomes diverse points of view within a broader set of canons. The problem for Mr. McManus' orthodox is that they constitute a minority that is frustrated they can't impose one viewpoint upon the entire church.

Their strategy is to claim a majority within an international Anglican Communion, but that association carries no binding authority over the Episcopal Church in America.

If individuals feel they want to attend a church with a narrower theological doctrine, they are free to exercise that choice. There are no provisions, however, for whole entities like dioceses or parishes to leave. There isn't a diocese or parish in the U.S. where everyone wants to secede.

What about freedom of choice for those who want to stay? That's the focus of the lawsuits.

The diocese is acting on behalf of loyal members who simply want to reclaim the space to worship in their own church and offer that blessing to their children.

My choice, like that of the majority of Episcopalians, is to remain a member of a denomination that provides safe haven for disagreement and that entertains diversity.

When the lawsuits are over, and the issue of property is cleared up, the Episcopal Church will stand as firmly as ever upon the principles on which it was founded, and will grow and flourish, once more, as a shining example of the freedom offered to all who follow Jesus Christ.

Found here.

Boys gone mild

The child-rearing world is profoundly ambivalent about male aggression. Should it be suppressed, cultivated, channeled? Which of these? Read Walter Kirn's insightful essay. Then discuss.

Red Meat

Deviancy! Immorality! Racism! If you read enough of the papers—not to mention the bloggers-- this is what one might think the Episcopal Church stands for. Have you heard? The Episcopal Church is swinging the door open to deviants! Also, six Anglican bishops want Canadian Anglicans want to approve immorality so they won't be distracted from global warming. And don't forget, when the Executive Council disagrees with African Archbishops, it's racism.

Dinesh D'Souza, a conservative columnist, Robert and Karen Rishwain Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and a popular public speaker for conservative causes, whose reputation as a race-baiter was established by his book, The End of Racism, trains his animus on gays, lesbians and the Episcopal Church in his most recent blog entry. Under the heading "Attention Social Deviants! The Episcopal Church Wants You," D'Souza likens the Church's acceptance of gays and lesbians to the acceptance of child molesters and serial killers.

“--Convicts Who Have Been Found Guilty of Violent Crimes (more marginalized now than ever before)
“--Child Molesters (marginalized even within the prison population!)
“--Serial Killers (admired in the movies, but otherwise very marginalized since at least the days of Jack the Ripper)
“--Pedophiles (so marginalized that even gays keep their distance, and all for holding that there's nothing magical about being "of age")
“--Polygamists (marginalized for holding the view, "Why Stop at Two?")
“--Skinheads (more marginalized today than the groups they seek to marginalize)
“This is hardly a complete list, and I'm sure I'll be hearing shortly from nudists, swingers, wife-swappers, Nazis, and other groups I've left off my list.”

So, in one swipe D'Souza includes a faithfully partnered gay man with child molesters and serial killers. Does this make any sense at all? Only if one's goal is to stir up rage. Keep in mind that D'Souza's career has been financed since his college days by the same foundations that keep the Institute on Religion and Democracy in business. Not only does this kind of thing make happy people who agree with D'Souza, he knows that it will illicit rage from some quarters of the people he opposes.

D'Souza is certainly not alone in this approach.

Washington Times columnist Mark Steyn claims that the plea of six Anglican bishops to this weeks General Synod to allow for some provision to bless same-sex couples is another fashionable stand along with their concerns for Global Warming, both of which lead to global moral depravity.

And just last week, Chris Sugden of the Anglican Maintream says disagreeing with certain African Archbishops is racist. It was all well and good, he tells us, for the 1998 Lambeth Conference to condemn genocide in Rwanda, but now the tables are turned when it comes to the ordination of openly gay bishops, Americans should be quiet and listen. “Now,” Sugden says, “something that was regarded as acceptable when dealing with Africans is not acceptable to the Americans. It sniffs of racism.”

To make this analysis work, one must equate the deaths of 800,000 Rwandans in the late 1990's—and what this horror did to the Church and the people of Rwanda-- to the ordination of one man in 2003 in New Hampshire.

By themselves, these statements seem irrational. Most faithful Episcopalians ignore them, perhaps with a sigh and a roll of the eyes. Small shots across the bow don't stop the vast majority of the faithful from going about the business of living faithfully. But taken together, these statements are 'red meat' for a loyal base—many of whom are not even Episcopalian—in a nasty war of words. And when ideas don't work, exaggeration, smear and outright lies will.

And the worst part is this: most of the time it's not about the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion per se. For most of these writers, it about using the Church as a symbol of all that is wrong with the world from their point of view. Which sure beats writing about what's right.

Importance of doubt

Anti-religion books and books on atheism have been bestsellers this year. John Cornwell writes of his struggles with his faith and why he thinks Richard Dawkins and others fail to understand what it means to believe.

Cornwell writes in The Guardian:

It is a year since Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion prompted a torrent of adulation and anguished riposte. The crucial issue he raised is not so much that religious believers can morph into violent extremists (which they patently can), but what is to be done about it. Dawkins thinks that religion is irrational, because it means accepting truths without logic and evidence; and dangerous, because such systematic irrationality can lead to extreme acts of violence. So hideously irrational and dangerous is the disease of faith, he claims, that faith instruction to the young is worse than paedophile abuse. Dawkins wants to rid the world of religion.

Cornwell's response to Dawkins et al is:

As someone who had wavered between agnosticism and atheism for two decades, before having returned queasily to Christianity, I empathised with Greene's faith as "doubt of doubt" as opposed to faith as certitude. Faith is a journey without arrival, complicated by false turns, breakdowns, dead ends and wheel-changes. Faith, like love, is seldom entirely constant; nor is it irrevocable. While frequently assailed by doubt, faith is open to provisional, symbolic interpretations (most Christians outside the American bible belt do not take the book of Genesis literally). Those who pursue a religious vocation are not spared vicissitudes of faith and doubt, any more than card-carrying atheists. Mother Teresa, the Albanian nun who worked for the poor in Calcutta, left letters in which she spoke of her doubts right up to her death: "Where is my faith?" she once wrote to a confidant. "Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God - please forgive me." By the same token, Professor AJ Ayer, the most ardent atheist of his day, proclaimed that he believed in an afterlife following a near-death experience in 1988 when he was clinically dead for four minutes. After a few days, and an outcry from the atheists' society, of which he was the president, he partially recanted: "What I should have said is that my experiences have weakened, not my belief that there is no life after death, but my attitude towards that belief." Doubt of doubt.

Dawkins' recourse to the analogies of disease and medicine is, of course, entirely well meant, and I know him to be a man of the most liberal sympathies, but has he considered the far-reaching consequences of similar metaphors employed by far less well-meaning figures? It was only to be expected that a bold thesis that condemned religion en masse would have profound socio-political implications. Dawkins is a brilliant natural historian, whose science books I have celebrated in a string of reviews. The God Delusion has been criticised for trespassing clumsily in the realms of theology; but my own objections are more in the ambit of socio-politics. Put bluntly, The God Delusion is liable to persuade religious fundamentalists that a pluralist secular society is every bit as hostile to the practice of faith as they ever thought it to be. By urging the elimination of religion in the name of all that civil society holds dear, Dawkins is inviting fundamentalists to be even more fundamentalist. His book, then, is a counsel of despair as well as an incitement to the very thing he deplores and seeks to remedy.

More thoughts by John Cornwell here.

Christianity Today's John Wilson lists his top 5 books on atheism. On the Nature of the Universe by Lucretius So you are a little weary of reading Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and such? Take a break with Lucretius—not an atheist, strictly speaking, but a first-century B.C. materialist forerunner of Dawkins & Co.

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
For bright young Christians who are engaging the atheist boomlet of 2007 and for whom existentialism is merely one of many isms in the last century's garbage dump, it would be instructive to read this novel, first published in French in 1938.

Without God, Without Creed: The Origins of Unbelief in America
by James C. Turner
There's a Catholic argument that blames the Reformation for the rise of atheism. Aha! That's where the trouble started. Turner offers a subtler version, showing how developments within Christendom prepared the ground.

Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England
by Timothy Larsen
Larsen tells the fascinating story of Victorians who renounced their faith, campaigned vigorously for atheism—in print and on the speaker's platform—and then reconverted to Christianity.

Philosophers Without Gods: Meditations on Atheism and the Secular Life
Louise M. Antony, ed.
This Atheists R Us compilation differs markedly in tone from Hitchens and Dawkins. Excellent fare for Christian small groups whose members are genuinely interested in the arguments raised by atheists.

I find that Dawkins and others set up a God is not recognizable to this follower of Jesus Christ. He attacks and trivializes this "non-God" and in the process sells books.

What books would you recommend for seekers with doubts?

Round-up

Tobias Haller announces an ambitious project.


[W]hat I would like to begin to do in this and succeeding posts to this blog is to begin to unpack and challenge what I perceive to be the underlying premises or assumptions of the traditional view, in an effort to get behind the “reassertions” to find out if there is an actual basis of agreement from which a different settlement might be reached — or if we really are thinking and working from two radically incompatible bases.

The Anglican Scotist has been on a hot streak lately. This item in which he captures the tortured logic of anti-Episcopal Anglicans --Christians are obligated to break communion with material heretics only if they are from the Episcopal Church and against separation; any mistake about the faith is a sin only for an Episcopalian against separation.--is especially good.

Mark Harris joins Cafe contributor Greg Jones in recommending that Archbishop Drexel Gomez resign as chair of the Anglican Communion's covenant design group as he can no longer be trusted as an honest broker.

And Cafe newshound Nick Knisely points us to an article from Fred Clark (aka Slacktivist) on the influence that Reinhold Niebuhr has had on Sen. Barack Obama.

In God we doubt

John Humphreys became an angry agnostic but he does not find an answer in the militant atheism of Richard Dawkins and others either. He writes:

My spiritual journey – if that’s not too high-falutin’ a notion – took me from my childish Big Questions to my ultimate failure to find any corresponding Big Answers. I have ended up – so far, at any rate – as a doubter. It’s clear that I’m far from alone.

In almost half a century of journalism I have never had such a response to anything I have written or broadcast as I did to last year’s Radio 4 series Humphrys in Search of God. The letters arrived by the sackful. It felt a bit like putting my fingers on the religious pulse of the nation; and the pulse is still strong. However empty the pews may be there are plenty of people with a sincere and passionate belief. There are also plenty of people who think it’s all a load of nonsense.

What surprised me is how many think of themselves as neither believers nor atheists but doubters. They, too, are sincere. Devout sceptics, if you like. And many of them feel beleaguered. I’m with them. SINCE starting to write my book, I have fallen into the habit of asking almost everyone I meet if they believe in God. And here’s the interesting thing: it was only the atheists who seemed absolutely certain.

He concludes:

Trite it may be, but most of us can see the beauty as well as the horrors of the world and, sometimes, humanity at its most noble. We sense a spiritual element in that nobility and, in the miracle of unselfish love and sacrifice, something beyond our conscious understanding. You don’t need to be an eastern mystic or a devout religious believer to feel that. We should not – we must not – be browbeaten by arrogant atheists and meekly accept their “deluded” label. They are no more capable of understanding this most profound mystery than a small child making his first awe-inspiring discoveries.

As for the fanatics – religious or secular – history suggests they succeed only to the extent that we allow ourselves to be defeated by our own irrational fear. For every fanatic there are countless ordinary, decent people who believe in their own version of a benevolent God and wish no harm to anyone. Many of them regard it as their duty to try to make the world a better place. It is too easy to blame the evils of the world on belief in God. In the end, if we make a mess of things, we shall have ourselves to blame – not religion and not God. After all, he doesn’t exist. Does he?

Read it all in The Times online.

Plea for tolerance in Ugandan paper

An op-ed in Uganda's Weekly Observer reflects on the state of the Anglican Communion and Africa's role in ongoing disputes over homosexuality and the church. The unbylined article expresses a sympathy for people who find homosexuality "revolting," but notes that African churches may hurt people more by exerting so much energy over the matter when there are other, graver issues threatening God's flocks in Uganda and beyond:

... some religious leaders seem to have forgotten the virtues of tolerance and forgiveness so well articulated in the Bible in their zeal to condemn and pass judgment on homosexuality.

As a result of this fixation, such religious leaders tend to keep a blind eye on other evils going on under their noses everyday but are quick to jump onto the gay bandwagon.

Every other day some religious leaders are cited in cases of theft, witchcraft or adultery, but they are not treated as outlaws as much as gays are. Yet the Bible clearly says that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

...

If the Church is to be a true house of God, it should accept all its children, regardless of their flaws or tendencies. We need to tolerate each other’s faults.

If the enthusiasm with which the clergy are fighting homosexuality were applied to evils such as theft, adultery and discrimination, Uganda would perhaps be a better world!

The whole thing is here, with a hat tip to Episcope.

A moral duty

The Most Rev. John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, says the situation in "Zimbabwe cannot any more be seen as an African problem needing an African solution - it is a humanitarian disaster" and that Britain needs to overcome "colonial guilt" which he says has paralyzed a response to that nations needs under a regime that Sentamu has likened to that of Idi Amin.

Even as the Archbishop calls decisive action a moral duty, President Robert Mugabe has turned his reputation as a freedom fighter into a symbol of African resistance to the West, even as the political structure and economy of his nation deteriorate.

Sentamu writes in The Observer:

The statistics alone are devastating: the average life expectancy for women in Zimbabwe is 34 years; for men, it is 37. Inflation rages at 8,000 per cent; the shelves are empty of bread and maize; in the hospitals and clinics, children die for lack of vitamins, food and medicine, while the ravages of AIDS are exacerbated by government indifference.

In the cramped townships now home to those supporters of the opposition whose homes Mugabe destroyed in a frenzy of destruction called 'Clean Out the Filth', there is no electricity or fresh running water and sewage spews out of the dilapidated buildings. The first cholera deaths were reported last week.

The Archbishop, who suffered at the hands of Idi Amin's regime in his native Uganda, compares the Zimbabwean regime of Robert Mugabe to Amin's saying,

Britain needs to escape from its colonial guilt when it comes to Zimbabwe. Mugabe is the worst kind of racist dictator. Having targeted the whites for their apparent riches, Mugabe has enacted an awful Orwellian vision, with the once oppressed taking on the role of the oppressor and glorying in their totalitarian abilities.

Like Idi Amin before him in Uganda, Mugabe has rallied a country against its former colonial master only to destroy it through a dictatorial fervour. Enemies are tortured, the press is censored, the people are starving and meanwhile the world waits for South Africa to intervene. That time is now over.

Sentamu calls for targeted sanctions against the regime, saying that sanctions could not hurt the poor than they are now.

Watch this interview on the BBC.

The Archbishop is not alone in calling Mugabe a tyrant, but in a strange way, Mugabe uses this very criticism to solidify his position in Zimbabwe.

Peter Kagwanja, writing in the Christian Science Monitor, says that while Mugabe repels the west, he attracts much applause in Africa:

In less than seven years, Zimbabwe has witnessed the fastest peace-time economic dip in history since Weimer Germany – plunging one of Africa's strongest economic and regional breadbaskets into a crisis with 4 million people reportedly starving and in need of food aid.

Mugabe may have lost the economic war, but he has won every political battle with the West. As the oldest freedom fighter still in office, he has always drawn the biggest applause in African meetings, including the recent SADC summit. The Africa-West standoff has emboldened him and turned him into a symbol of African resistance, a liberation hero.

Even though foreign humanitarian aid has flowed steadily to the poor in Zimbabwe, the West's asset freezes and travel bans on Mugabe and a hundred of his associates and spouses are seen in some quarters as "racial" retribution for his seizing of white farms and handing them over to black Zimbabweans. But invoking a moral mission, the West insists that its "smart" sanctions have targeted elements of the ruling elite "engaged in actions or policies to undermine Zimbabwe's democratic processes or institutions."

Kagwanja says that Mugabe's status as elder statesman and anticolonialist hero has ensured unwavering regional support. His article provides useful background as well as concrete steps that might give form to Sentamu's call for moral courage in responding to this humanitarian crisis.


Lessons the Church needs to learn

An editorial in the Anglican Journal begins by recounting the history of a case of alleged abuse against students at a school connected to the Anglican Church of Canada. Leanne Larmondin, the author, then lists some specific recommendations for all churches in terms of how they work with institutions inside and alongside them.

First a bit of the history and background of the allegations being made against Grenville Christian College and the way the Anglican Church of Canada responded:

"Initially, when the story broke in the secular media, the church tried to distance itself from the school, saying there was ‘no direct relationship at all between the Anglican Church of Canada and Grenville Christian College.’ Yes, church officials said, three of the former headmasters were Anglican priests, including the most recent holder of that office, but they were there in a private capacity. Yes, the school used Anglican prayer books and hymnbooks, but it used other forms of worship too. Yes, bishops and other Anglican church dignitaries presided at ceremonial functions, but church officials are invited to many events."

Later on, Larmondin makes some specific recommendations:

What lessons should the church have learned from the residential schools affair?

For one, the church ought to be scrupulous about the groups with whom it associates. Regardless of whether the Anglican church was a founding body of Grenville, there appeared to be a close relationship between church and school that was cemented with the regular worship “in the Anglican tradition” in the school’s chapel, with the regular visits from church dignitaries and the Anglican flag that flew on the campus. Any rumours of misconduct at the institution should have been investigated. It was not a matter of whether the school was an Anglican school, it was thought of as such and the church must protect its integrity and care for society’s most vulnerable members.

Additionally, an Anglican priest on leave is still a priest. Although the allegations have not been proven in court, the strange stories about cultish practices at the school did reach the diocese; failure by the diocese to investigate those claims when the school headmaster was a member of the clergy seems pure folly.

A week or so after the story broke in the media, the church did make an effort to redeem itself. By mid-September, it appeared to be making more of a pastoral effort, with the bishop meeting with former students to hear their complaints and the diocese launching an investigation of the incidents.


Read the rest of the editorial here.

Living in tension

The Rev. Matthew Dutton-Gillett has written a new essay for The Episcopal Majority. He says:

If Anglicanism falls apart, with “conservatives” going their way and “liberals” going their way, the world will not be surprised. Because that is exactly what human beings do and have done over and over again throughout history. They choose sides, they throw rocks at their enemies and they ultimately split up – or else destroy one party to the conflict. Most of the world will not see the break up of the Anglican Communion as a great heroic defense of Truth. They will see it as a failure even among Christian people to live any better with each other than the rest of humanity. The falling apart of the Anglican Communion will not be an evangelistic triumph for the True Faith. It will be a conspicuous example of the inability of the followers of Jesus to actually follow him.

Read it all.

Bless the Lord, O my soul

Garrison Keillor writes in Salon:

In Baltimore with friends Sunday morning, a splendid fall day under blue skies, we marched off to the nearest church and found ourselves in an old brownstone temple of 1852, wooden box pews, stained glass on all sides, old tiled floor, for a high Anglican-Catholic Mass, a troop of choristers in white, altar boys, bearded priests in medieval vestments, holy water and puffs of smoke and bells and chanting of scripture, precision bowing and genuflecting, all rather exotic for an old fundamentalist like me but deeply moving, and it made me think about my father, whose birthday was Oct. 12, and brought me to tears.

It was formal high Mass, none of that "hi and how are we all doing this morning" chumminess, and the homily only summarized the scripture texts about healing, it didn't turn into an essay on healthcare. Ten voices strong and true in the choir and positioned as they were under the great arch of the chancel, their tender polyphonic Kyrie and Gloria infused the whole building with pure kindness.

He continues:

Now I'm an old, tired Democrat, sick of this infernal war that may go on for the rest of my life and in which more of our brethren will die miserably, both American and Iraqi. I'm sick of politics today, the cleverness and soullessness of it. But here in an old brownstone church at an ancient ceremony, there is a moment of separation from all the griefs of this world. Ten men and women are singing a cappella, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name," and their voices drench us fugitive worshippers kneeling, naked, trembling, needy, in the knowledge of grace, and when we arise and go out into Baltimore, the blessing follows us.

Read it all here.

On joining the rat-race

For those of us used to stories of people giving up the rat race to save their souls, Melissa Hirshon's story reflects on the opposite. She talks about what she gained and lost in moving from the non-profit, charitable sector into the private, corporate sector.

It all started when she grew up in a progressive Episcopal Church....

Having been raised in 1970s Cambridge, and in a "progressive" Episcopal church to boot, I was determined to make a difference from day one.

No imperialist, soulless job for me. From the moment I graduated from college, I worked to save the world or, at least, people with vision impairments.

For 15 years, I transcribed braille books and magazines at a braille printing and publishing house in Boston.

But it couldn't last. Something was happening that posed a painful choice:

After 15 years, I knew it had to end. It was a hard choice. Didn't I want to save the world? But while the company was not a Dilbert-ian hell, any job has its aggravations, and I was starting to go batty over the company's penny-pinching and their slow pace in dealing with growing pains....

...But the worst problem was that the raises were not keeping up with any sort of cost of living increases in the Boston area; when I threatened to leave without a decent raise and was told, "we'll miss you," I knew that I had to stop saving the world, but save myself instead.

Attitude at the workplace was one issue--how are employees cared for and how is work managed so that even good work does not become overwhelming?--are questions that are often not considered in the non-profit world because of the importance of the "cause." So she made the change to the for-profit world and discovered some surprising things.

Having known no other work life other than the nonprofit one, I was absolutely dumbfounded at some of the basic perks of the rat race.

The improved salary was only the tip of the iceberg.

She found that in her company, allowances were made for--and the company actually has the money to afford--the things that employees need to work more efficiently and feel supported.

She concludes:

Whether you want to save the world or take care of yourself, it's important to do both.

And it really doesn't matter what order you do it in.

Read: The Boston Globe: Time to make a difference - join the rat race.

Facebook and Communion

Anglicans Online asks whether the Communion is becoming like Facebook or another social networking site with people adding and deleting each other at will. The essay encourages ideas for how our relationships can be strengthened and deepened across time and space.

The more we considered it, the more we began to see that Anglicans may be in danger of regarding relationships of ecclesial communion with the same degree of seriousness as Facebook users treat adding and deleting 'friends' or creating, joining and leaving special interest groups online. The primary point of intersection is in the non-reciprocity of the relationships of Facebook friendship and Anglican communion. One can, apparently, be in communion with a central figure in Anglicanism, yet not with other people, dioceses and provinces in communion with that bishop's province and diocese.

Christian communion is historically reciprocal, deliberate, public, duty-creating, love-impelling, and church-strengthening. As the ground of Christian life it is not something we choose, but something we are given: given from God the Father through God the Son, enlivened by and filled with God the Holy Spirit. It is a profound, ideally eternal relation with people we may never meet or befriend on this side of the veil. It is a far cry from the point-and-click ecclesiastical relationships we watch unfold week by week in Anglicanism. Anything less than reciprocal, public, sacramental, Christ-grounded, God-given communion is less than what it ought to be, and less than the people of God need to really serve and know the one 'unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid'.

Do what you can this year to keep our Anglican Communion from becoming a Facebook communion, and to enliven your friendships with handshakes, telephone calls, letters, shared meals, good walks and good deeds

.

Read it all here

Mark Harris counters at his blog Preludium that perhaps a commonwealth in cyberspace has advantages for relationships and the inclusion of all Anglicans not just those with money to travel for face to face meetups.

More from Jason Wells at [lab]oratory

The lost art of cooperation

In a delightfully incisive essay in The Wilson Quarterly, Benjamin R. Barber writes:

Whatever we make of it, today competition dominates our ideology, shapes our cultural attitudes, and sanctifies our market economy as never before. We are living in an age that prizes competition and demeans cooperation, an era more narcissistic than the Gilded Age, more hubristic than the age of Jackson. Competition ­rules.

We need only look at America’s favorite ­activities—­sports, entertainment, and ­politics—­to notice the distorting effect of the obsession with competition. Sports would seem to define competition, as competition defines sports. But beginning with the ancient Olympics, sports have also been about performance, about excelling (hence, excellence), and about the cultivation of athletic virtue. It is not victory but a “personal best” that counts. In the United States, however, athletics is about beating others. About how one performs in comparison with others. Ancient and modern philosophers alike associate comparison with pride and vanity (amour-propre), and have shown how vanity corrupts virtue and excellence. When Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar protests, “Such men as he be never at heart’s ease/While they behold a greater than themselves,” he captures what has become the chief hazard of a ­hyper-­competitive culture. No wonder ours is often an ­outer-­directed culture, unreflective, grasping, aggressive, and ­cutthroat.

It is, ironically, a culture that tries to pin on the animal world responsibility for human viciousness. Michael Vick, one of our great gladiatorial football competitors, recently admitted to sponsoring brutal dogfights. The real dogfights, of course, are the football games he played in, where injury and even death are not unavoidable costs but covertly attractive features of the sport. Where steroid use is forgivable, or at least understandable, on the way to a winning record. And where dogfighting itself (like bullfighting and cockfighting) is justified by an appeal to the “laws of nature,” though it is men who articulate those laws to rationalize their own warlike ­disposition.

It is much the same with entertainment. Our most successful shows, themselves in a competition for survival with one another (sweeps week!), pit ­on-­camera competitors against one another in contests only one can win. The eponymous show Survivor is the Darwinian prototype, but the principle rules on all the “reality” shows. On American Idol, singing is the excuse but winning the real aim. In the winners’ world of television, nothing is what it seems. Top Chef is not about excellence or variety in cooking, but about winning and losing. Project Runway turns a pluralistic fashion industry that caters to many tastes into a race (with clocks and time limits) in which there is but one winner. The competitive culture hypes winners but is equally (more?) fascinated with losers. “It is not enough that I win,” proclaims the ­hubris-­driven American competitor, “others must lose.” And Americans have shown themselves ready to become big losers in order to be eligible to become big ­winners—­however remote the odds. We are a nation of gamblers willing to tolerate radical income inequality and a large class of losers (into which we willingly risk being shunted) for the chance to ­win.

American politics too is founded on competition. Contrast electoral politics in our representative democracy with citizen politics in a participatory democracy, where the aim is not to win but to achieve common ground and secure public goods—a model of politics in which no one wins unless everyone wins, and a loss for some is seen as a loss for all. The very meanings of the terms “commonweal” and “the public interest” (the “res publica” from which our term “republic” is derived) suggest a system without losers. How different from this the American system has become. As each election rolls around, we complain that ideas and policy are shoved to the background and personality and the horse race it engenders are placed front and center.

What’s gone wrong here? Why, as a nation, are we so obsessed with competition, so indifferent to cooperation?

Read it all.

Hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily.

In praise of melancholy

If you have experienced a "dark night of the soul" and emerged stronger, or, if you've ever even dabbled in the arts, Eric G. Wilson's recent essay about melancholia and the creative impulse in The Chronicle Review might strike a chord with you.

He writes:

Melancholia, far from a mere disease or weakness of will, is an almost miraculous invitation to transcend the banal status quo and imagine the untapped possibilities for existence. Without melancholia, the earth would likely freeze over into a fixed state, as predictable as metal. Only with the help of constant sorrow can this dying world be changed, enlivened, pushed to the new.

These are not metaphysical claims, not some New Age claptrap. On the contrary, these statements are attuned to the sloppy world as it simply appears to us in our everyday experience. When we, with apparent happiness, grab hard onto one ideology or another, this world suddenly seems to take on a static coherence, a rigid division between right and wrong. The world in this way becomes uninteresting, dead. But when we allow our melancholy mood to bloom in our hearts, this universe, formerly inanimate, comes suddenly to life. Finite rules dissolve before infinite possibilities. Happiness to us is no longer viable. We want something more: joy. Melancholia galvanizes us, shocks us to life.

Melancholia pushes against the easy "either/or" of the status quo. It thrives in unexplored middle ground between oppositions, in the "both/and." It fosters fresh insights into relationships between oppositions, especially that great polarity life and death. It encourages new ways of conceiving and naming the mysterious connections between antinomies. It returns us to innocence, to the ability to play in the potential without being constrained to the actual. Such respites from causality refresh our relationship to the world, grant us beautiful vistas, energize our hearts and our minds.

Read it all.

I would rather die than hate you

Sarah Vowell reflects on a holiday dedicated to radical love:

Here’s what Dr. King got out of the Sermon on the Mount. On Nov. 17, 1957, in Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, he concluded the learned discourse that came to be known as the “loving your enemies” sermon this way: “So this morning, as I look into your eyes and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you: ‘I love you. I would rather die than hate you.’ ”

Go ahead and re-read that. That is hands down the most beautiful, strange, impossible, but most of all radical thing a human being can say. And it comes from reading the most beautiful, strange, impossible, but most of all radical civics lesson ever taught, when Jesus of Nazareth went to a hill in Galilee and told his disciples, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.”

The Bible is a big long book and Lord knows within its many mansions of eccentricity finding justification for literal and figurative witch hunts is as simple as pretending “enhanced investigation technique” is not a synonym for torture. I happen to be with Dr. King in proclaiming the Sermon on the Mount’s call for love to be at the heart of Christian behavior, and one of us got a Ph.D in systematic theology.

Read the rest: New York Times: Radical Love Gets a Holiday.

Speaking of stand-up comedy

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

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

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

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

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

The miracle of melancholia

In April of 1819, right around the time that he began to suffer the first symptoms of tuberculosis -- the disease that had already killed his mother and his beloved brother, Tom -- the poet John Keats sat down and wrote, in a letter to his brother, George, the following question: "Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul?"

So writes Eric Wilson, in an op-ed article for The Los Angeles Times, which is a bite-sized version of a longer essay from The Chronicle Review, that we featured last month.

Because you can never have enough melancholia.

A dynamic religious landscape

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See previous coverage in the Cafehere and here.

The perils of moral certainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

Reviewing the mass

Mick LaSalle is the film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. His blog is called "Maximum Strength Mick." Here is what he says about going to church on Easter.

Every time I go to church, which isn't often, and I'm not bragging, I always come away frustrated at the way the mass is handled these days -- with lots of acoustic guitars and folk-style singing. Sometimes I actually end up developing a feeling of hostility toward the ensemble leader, which kind of negates the whole point of going to church right there. But even when I feel in sympathy with these people, who after all are devoting hours and hours and hours of practice to these Sunday performances, I usually get the sense that they're enjoying themselves a lot more than the Congregation is.

Usually the priest just stands there befuddled, as if thinking, well, if this is what people like, if this is what brings them in, fine with me. But I don't think this is what's bringing them in. I think the congregation in most cases is merely tolerating it. In some cases, it may be keeping people away.

I was talking to a former Episcopal pastor yesterday, and he told me that if he were to do it all over again, he'd go entirely the other way. Bring in organ music. Incense. Choirs. Maybe choirs singing in foreign languages. Things to make people feel that they've entered another world -- a mysterious place where God dwells. Instead what you get in church these days feels 30 years out of date, a throwback to the 1970s, and completely devoid of mystery or emotional power. There's nothing visceral about it, and this is what this priest was saying: You have to make church a visceral experience -- reach them through the emotions -- and then, with the sermon, start trying to reach them through the mind.

Advertising a product doesn't mean you're cynical about the product. It could mean that you believe you have something worth buying and want to figure out the smartest way to make people want it. I don't think it would hurt if churches looked into hiring theatrical consultants -- or asking for volunteers. Just get some people in who know stage craft. And get rid of the acoustic guitars and the folk music.

I know. This is how critics get in trouble. I went to church and now I'm reviewing the mass.

See: SFGate: Church on Easter.

Think Wright was bad? Try the real Jeremiah!

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, listened to the preaching the Rev. Jeremiah White, the retired pastor of Chicago's Trinity UCC Church and then listened to the words of the prophet Jeremiah that was recently read in many synagogues.

Traditionally, Jewish congregations each Shabbat read a portion of the Torah and a passage chosen long ago by the rabbis from the Prophets -- one that has some connection with the Torah portion. On the Shabbat (March 21) that followed a week of tumult about Pastor Jeremiah, the traditional Prophetic reading was a passage from the Prophet Jeremiah (7: 21 to 8: 3 and 9:22-23).

Reading it, I found not only our country but myself challenged at a profound level:

The ancient Jeremiah channeled God's burning anger at seeing the people
betray their covenant of love, justice, and fairness. Bitterly, furiously,
he denounced the kingdom of Judah for turning its burnt-offerings of animals
and grains into the burnt-offerings of its own children, thrown into fires
they thought would delight their God..

But on behalf of God, the ancient Jeremiah cried out that "the carcasses of
this people shall be food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the
earth." Even the dead shall not escape disaster -- for "the bones of kings
and leaders, priests and prophets, even ordinary citizens, will be ripped
from their graves and exposed to the sun they had worshipped, so that their
own bones will become dung on the face of the earth."

How does this differ from the most extreme statements of Pastor Jeremiah
Wright? How does it differ from "God damn America!" except by being far
more graphic?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center and author of many books on Jewish thought and practice and on public policy. Most recently he is co-author with Sr. Joan Chittister and Saadi Shakur Chisti of "The Tent of Abraham."

Read the rest: On Faith: The Two Jeremiahs.

Protecting the Anglican soul

The Church Times, March 28 2008, issue carries an essay by Mark Oakley, who offers some thoughtful concerns about our current controversies:

An issue! An issue! We all fall down
Mark Oakley

The Revd Rod Thomas wrote to this newspaper that 'there are only really two sides to the current controversy over human sexuality . . . there is no room for middle ground'. So far, media commentators have interpreted the division in the Anglican Communion in the same vein — as being between 'conservatives' and 'liberals'.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been mocked as the compromised referee, who ends up managing the ecclesiastical equivalent of herding cats at the Lambeth Conference. The rest of the Church becomes anxious about which side is gaining the upper hand in Synods, councils, and on the bench of bishops. The result is that, as Churchill noted, keeping your ear to the ground means you can't see very far from down there. To be focused more on our purity than our purpose leads to paralysis.

The division, however, is not really between conservatives and liberals at all. It is much more serious than that. It is a division between, first, those who are willing to say that other Christians, who have different views or lifestyles to themselves, are still, nevertheless, Christian, and have a Christian integrity that must be part of the Church; and, second, those who think that this simply cannot and must not be the case.

Following the first approach, and contrary to much reporting, there are Anglo-Catholics, Evangelicals, conservatives, liberals, radicals, and everything in between — all knowing where they stand, but, in generosity of spirit, acknowledging the different but faithful approaches to the Bible, tradition, and reasoning that there are legitimately other than their own.

These people believe that the Church is a Noah's ark, where every animal has to budge over in the straw to let someone else nestle down. This is a Church where friendships count for more than sound-bites, and which understands that something of God is shadowed every time a believer forgets that Christian faith is an exercise in humility. This has been the Anglican spirit at its best — with a resistance to over-definition of doctrine, in preference to worshipping together in common prayer.

The second approach, however, challenges this spirit. It argues that there is only one way to interpret scripture or tradition on the issues that are presenting themselves, and that all other views are in error and should not be given any oxygen. Some bishops feel so strongly about this that they cannot even meet in conversation and prayer those fellow bishops with whom they so profoundly disagree. An irony emerges: those who argue so fiercely for family values do not set a good example of how to be a family. Communion needs communication.

I was ordained 15 years ago, and, over these few years, I have found myself increasingly worried about the climate change of the Church.

I was ordained next to remarkable people, with whom I disagreed theologically, but I felt then, as I do now, that by ordaining all of us — asking us the same questions of intent, requiring of us the same assent and declarations in a liturgy in which the Creed was jointly recited — the Church of England was both drawing life from its historical inheritance, and maintaining its passion for balance in proclaiming the gospel afresh. We shared communion together from the start; for, as the New Testament is keen to point out, fear of contagion is not a Christian fear.

Those who want a Church of strict uniformity will say that behind all the issues that currently divide us lies the primary topic of how the Bible is interpreted, and that what are often referred to as secondary issues are not.

Again, something of the traditional Anglican spirit is under attack here. The Anglican tradition has sought to be a scholarly, reflective, and intellectually honest one. It has therefore known that reading the Bible as a community and taking it seriously — honouring the many genuine historical and interpretative questions that are simply there — will inevitably lead to more than one conclusion.

It is not so much that the Bible neatly answers all our questions, as that it questions all our answers. Its treasures are not yielded up overnight, at whim, or as ammunition. The only ultimate uniformity on offer is the constant fidelity of God towards us all.

The boundaries of our theological thinking have been placed on the table for us long ago. Scripture is read, tradition received, sacramental worship offered, and apostolic ministry retained. To agree then that some of our dividing issues today are adiaphora, 'things indifferent', might be a provisional understanding, but I would argue that it is urgently necessary.

A little self-reflection might be important. I cannot be the only person who, since my confirmation at the age of 11, has found himself changing thoughts and opinions on almost everything as the years pass. In those years, though, the Church of England has been large enough to be my home — a spiritual compass, not a dictator telling me with whom I cannot meet or pray.

In 1930, the Lambeth Conference concluded that Anglicans stand for 'an open Bible, a pastoral priesthood, a common worship, a standard of conduct consistent with that worship and a fearless love of truth'. My fear is that those who would now homogenise our Church place some of these at severe risk.

This is not about conservatives and liberals. It is about the survival of the Anglican soul. There is middle ground — and it is where we should all be at times, for the sake of one another and the message of reconciliation entrusted to us.


The Ven. Mark Oakley is Archdeacon of Germany and Northern Europe

More Church Times here.

Belief is back

The Newstatesman (UK) has three articles today under the heading "Belief is Back."

Mary Warnock, a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury's advisory group on medical ethics writes:

It is the role of legislators to be consequentialists. They must not ask, "What does my religion teach about this measure?" but "Will society benefit from it in the empirical world?"
...
The assessment of what is good and what is harmful is, for most people, deeply influenced by the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Influence, however, is different from authority. That religion, any religion, may seem beleaguered in a generally secular society may account for the increasingly hectoring demands that it should exercise authority over us. Yet it is essential to hold on to the fact that in this country we are not a theocracy, but a democracy. Parliament must make the final decisions on legislation, even though these are also moral decisions. Parliament must try to judge what is the common good. We all have the right, and duty, to criticise the law.
Stephen Bates writes,
Conservative Christianity has been much less effective in Britain than in the US because it has less social and political influence, less unchallenged access to the media - and less money. But there is certainly a desire in some quarters to mimic the tactics of the US right. They think they are winning the argument, but fear they may be losing the war. They assume that because the world is against them, that means they must be right. But the ultimate irony is that the more urgently they profess the need to win the nation for Christ, the more they repel those they say they most wish to save.
Sholto Brynes gently interviews Tom Wright, the bishop of Durham.

The Fourth Estate weighs in on church and state

Some newspapers regularly tackle thorny topics in their opinion columns. Some very regularly approach matters involving what is more and more often being called the Anglican unpleasantness. Others weigh in less frequently, if at all, usually depending on their geographic relationship to a church that is stirring the unpleasantness pot, so to speak.

So it's always interesting when a newspaper that doesn't have that kind of proximity takes on the issue not only as an opinion piece but as an unbylined editorial. Granted, the Virginia Pilot, based in Hampton Roads, Va., may have had in mind the question of why commonwealth resources were being expended on the cases of defecting parishes in the Diocese of Virginia, particularly after the Virginia attorney general spoke up in favor of the departing congregations.

The editorial's position? This case could have implications reaching far beyond these churches in Virginia. Other denominations could be affected if secular courts are allowed to make decisions about church governance. And what happens once we start down that slippery slope?

Virginia's courts have been dragged into what appears on its face to be a property dispute, but a preliminary ruling shows how difficult it will be to sort out the legal issues without straying into questions of faith.

A Fairfax judge gave the breakaway parishes a boost when he concluded that their votes to split from the Episcopal diocese triggered a Reconstruction-era law. The statute was adopted to help Virginia churches break with their Northern counterparts because of disagreements over slavery.

...

The lawsuit rightly has leaders of other hierarchical denominations concerned that rules established over years, even centuries, could be challenged and nullified in a courtroom. That's about as appealing as a judicial interpretation of the book of Leviticus, and should trouble even the independent-minded Baptists, whose rules give individual congregations ownership of their churches.

Attorney General Bob McDonnell plunged into this theological thicket in January after attorneys for the Episcopal Church challenged the constitutionality of the 1867 law governing church break-ups. But McDonnell went beyond a defense of this rarely used statute, advocating for its use in this lawsuit and giving support to the dissenting congregations.

The Fairfax judge seems inclined to take that advice, but has scheduled a May hearing on the constitutional impact on church-state relations. The judge and the attorney general should take this opportunity to reconsider whether they want secular courts telling churches how to run their own affairs. They've already tramped too far onto sacred ground, but it's not too late to tip-toe away.

The editorial is here.

Will the Church denounce bigotry in the name of Christ?

Andrew Pierce, writing in The Telegraph, wonders what it will take for the Archbishop of Canterbury to denounce the public bigotry of the Archbishop of Nigeria.

As a humble lapsed Catholic, I shall not speculate about what the omnipotent one thinks of Rowan Williams, although I can't believe he approves of that terrible beard.

But I would hazard a guess as to what he thinks of Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria.

Akinola, the arch-enemy of Robinson, likens homosexuality to "bestiality …a form of slavery", and describes homosexuals as being "lower than beasts".

Over the years, I have had a fair few homophobic insults directed my way. It's the usual vulgar bar-room banter: pervert, poofter, queer, shirt-lifter, to mention but a few.

But when the abuse comes not just from an educated man, but a committed Christian who may yet become the leader of a breakaway church, it is shocking.

Even more shocking is, as Robinson pointed out in his BBC interview, the failure of Williams to denounce in unequivocal terms the bigot in a prelate's clothing.

Read: The Telegraph: Would God want this bigot speaking for Him?

Which comes first?

Natalie Hanman asks which comes first, gender equality or religious liberty?

Writing on Comment is Free, for the Guardian, Hanman wonders if gender equality can become the law of the land in Great Britain if there is an exception for religious institutions.

On Thursday night the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, captivated an audience, as he is wont to do. In a lecture on religious faith and human rights at the London School of Economics [transcript and podcast available next week], the most senior figure in the Church of England outlined in his usual composed and intellectual style some of the ways in which his religious tradition may offer a foundation for a discourse of universal rights.

Exploring the idea of a communicative body, he argued that a purely secular account of rights is always going to be problematic, citing how the unshakeable inadmissibility of torture has in recent years been very much shaken. The church, he said, has a right to argue and seek to persuade the state on complex matters such as the right to life and the right of the unborn.

Yet when it came to issues of gender equality and sexuality, I charged the archbishop with sitting on the fence. It's one thing to argue, as Williams did, that "the church reserves the right not to have its mind made up for it on these matters", but reality may soon force just such a decision.

Comment is Free: Cross purposes.

Lambeth Palace has made the text of the address available.

"Taking the soup."

Jimmy Doyle gives testimony in a Newsweek "My Turn" column about his coming to the Episcopal Church so that he may follow Jesus as the gay man he is.

He writes:

In October 2005 I took the soup. To an Irish Catholic, "taking the soup" means going to the other side, turning Protestant. During the famine years, one could get a bowl of soup if one sat through a Protestant service, which meant automatic excommunication in those pre-ecumenical days. So the slang was born, implying desertion of the One True Church in order to make life easier.

I suppose what I took wasn't soup, but it was comfort. I took a life steeped in the mystery and rhythm of the church along with what I hoped was a life with the integrity of being an open, practicing gay man. When I turned to the Episcopal Church, I saw a Christianity that was alive and evolving, one that delighted in difference and saw God's creation in many things, including women and openly gay men serving as priests and bishops. I saw a chance to get past the separation and sanctimony of the more vocal Christian presence in American society, and a challenge to get to the more nuanced and tricky teachings of Christ—loving your neighbor and all that. I hoped to live and worship as I was created, not as I was condemned. And so I took catechism at St. Thomas the Apostle, where the smells and bells made me feel at home, although the challenges of parish life made me want to sleep some Sundays. After six months of classes in the teachings of the Anglican faith, I was "received" into the communion in a high mass attended by friends and my partner, with not a dry eye in the house. The healing I felt as I stood before the assistant bishop and reaffirmed my faith was, without a doubt, of the Spirit.

Faith is, in and of itself, full of strangeness and coincidence. In my more self-pitying moods, I wish I weren't so hungry for God, so greedy for meaning. I wish I could be "spiritual but not religious," thereby bypassing early Sunday rising and the challenges of community. I could stay home, not have to be a part of anyone's club, not have to deal with any idiosyncratic behavior, anyone's out-of-tune singing, anyone's kiss of peace laden with flu germs, anyone's behavior that keeps me from my high-flown aspirations and the saintly life and eventual Oprah tribute I just know is in me.

Read: Newsweek: Let me worship as I am.

Gay marriage is good for U.S.

Jonathan Rauch in the Wall Street Journal writes of why gay marriage a good thing for our culture.

By order of its state Supreme Court, California began legally marrying same-sex couples this week. The first to be wed in San Francisco were Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, pioneering gay-rights activists who have been a couple for more than 50 years.

More ceremonies will follow, at least until November, when gay marriage will go before California's voters. They should choose to keep it. To understand why, imagine your life without marriage. Meaning, not merely your life if you didn't happen to get married. What I am asking you to imagine is life without even the possibility of marriage.

Re-enter your childhood, but imagine your first crush, first kiss, first date and first sexual encounter, all bereft of any hope of marriage as a destination for your feelings. Re-enter your first serious relationship, but think about it knowing that marrying the person is out of the question.

Imagine that in the law's eyes you and your soul mate will never be more than acquaintances. And now add even more strangeness. Imagine coming of age into a whole community, a whole culture, without marriage and the bonds of mutuality and kinship that go with it.

Read the essay here.

Observations about GAFCON

The Guardian has an editorial that says that if Anglican unity is to be maintained, it must for a cause worth staying together for. Stephen Bates says that those taking part in the conference in Jerusalem are united only by the one thing they all hate.

The Guardian editorial says:

Traditionally, the Anglican communion has been a big tent of mutual tolerance and respect. Its bishops have always enjoyed independent authority within their own dioceses. Its conferences, which take place only once every 10 years, are places for discussion and prayer not sessions of a parliament. They are embodiments of a culture of clerical agreement not one in which a quasi-papal authority is enforced.

Yet the pressures for decision rather than reflection are now gathering on all sides. In Jerusalem on Sunday, addressing a conference in which Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester is also participating, Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria called on the church to "banish the errors plaguing our communion", not to "acquiesce to destructive modern cultural and political dictates" and to rescue the communion from "apostates". If significant sections of the communion cannot now even bring themselves to sit in the same room with the rest because of disagreements - a Lambeth boycott movement is gathering pace - then one has to ask if the ties that once bound are now meaningful. In that case, what is the point of keeping the communion together any longer?

The issue on which all of this currently hinges is the status of openly gay people. Over the past half century, civil society in many parts of the world, including ours, has broken free from the long tradition of hostility and discrimination against gay people - and both society and individual lives are immeasurably the better for it. Now, inevitably and rightly, the same process is taking place in the churches, with pressure for the election of openly gay clergy and bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions. In the past, the church has managed such issues by covering them up. But on this issue in these times, that is no longer possible.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has battled to hold both his church and the wider communion together in the face of these pressures. That is one of his jobs - and it has not been a dishonourable effort. Yet it seems clear that it has only delayed an inevitable - and ultimately necessary - confrontation over this issue. Dr Williams has not, contrary to the views of Archbishop Akinola, led the church into this. But, now that it is coming, he has a profound responsibility to lead the church out of it, happily and without fear. The question facing Anglicans - and facing other religious groups too - is whether theirs is a faith that is loving enough to treat gay people as equals. If the communion cannot hold together in the face of this question, then so be it. Unity matters as long as the cause is a good one. If the cause is not good, then maybe nor is the unity.

Stephen Bates writes that homosexuality is a useful unifer among those who can agree on little else:

Theirs is an insurgency united in what they don't like - homosexuality - and elevating it to a litmus test of orthodoxy in a way that other divisive theological issues - divorce, say, or women's ordination - have not been. The thing is that many conservatives know women - some have even married them - and not a few of the righteous have been divorced as well. They don't know gay people, and what they think they know of them is viscerally distasteful.

Had things stopped there, it might be no more than a muttered grievance; but what is happening is a power struggle in which the conservatives of the US church - and, to a lesser extent, English evangelicals - have summoned up the developing world to seize the church from the forces of liberalism and relativism. If the battle over gays is lost, they say, everything is lost. The visit of many African bishops to the conference has been facilitated by US money.

African moral outrage is necessary, not only because they have the burgeoning congregations, and no necessity of consulting their flocks through bloody-minded synods, but also because the conservatives fear their message is lost on western congregations. They are puzzled that their fervour is met with indifference, even though, in the words of the principal of Wycliffe Hall, the Oxford theological college, 95% of the population is in danger of damnation.

Homosexuality is a useful unifier for conservative flocks. The little-noticed irony is that those meeting in Jerusalem agree on very little else: some American conservatives are more high church than the Pope, whereas the conservative archbishop of Sydney says he could never see himself attending mass.

Despite the huffing, they maintain they don't want to leave Anglicanism: in the old evangelical phrase, it's a convenient boat to fish from. But many other Anglicans would like to see them go.

Read the Guardian editorial: Clerical Errors.

See Stephen Bates: Vicious hot air currents.

My big fat straight wedding

What’s the difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals? Andrew Sullivan remembers his own wedding and says, after the California Supreme Court ruling last May, that American culture and law are at last acknowledging that there is none.

What if gays were straight?

The question is absurd—gays are defined as not straight, right?—yet increasingly central to the debate over civil-marriage rights. Here is how California’s Supreme Court put it in a key passage in its now-famous May 15 ruling that gay couples in California must be granted the right to marry, with no qualifications or euphemisms:

These core substantive rights include, most fundamentally, the opportunity of an individual to establish—with the person with whom the individual has chosen to share his or her life—an officially recognized and protected family possessing mutual rights and responsibilities and entitled to the same respect and dignity accorded a union traditionally designated as marriage.

What’s notable here is the starting point of the discussion: an “individual.” The individual citizen posited by the court is defined as prior to his or her sexual orientation. He or she exists as a person before he or she exists as straight or gay. And the right under discussion is defined as “the opportunity of an individual” to choose another “person” to “establish a family” in which reproduction and children are not necessary. And so the distinction between gay and straight is essentially abolished. For all the debate about the law in this decision, the debate about the terms under discussion has been close to nonexistent. And yet in many ways, these terms are at the core of the decision, and are the reason why it is such a watershed. The ruling, and the language it uses, represents the removal of the premise of the last generation in favor of a premise accepted as a given by the next.

The premise used to be that homosexuality was an activity, that gays were people who chose to behave badly; or, if they weren't choosing to behave badly, were nonetheless suffering from a form of sickness or, in the words of the Vatican, an "objective disorder." And so the question of whether to permit the acts and activities of such disordered individuals was a legitimate area of legislation and regulation.

But when gays are seen as the same as straights—as individuals; as normal, well-adjusted, human individuals—the argument changes altogether. The question becomes a matter of how we treat a minority with an involuntary, defining characteristic along the lines of gender or race. And when a generation came of age that did not merely grasp this intellectually, but knew it from their own lives and friends and family members, then the logic for full equality became irresistible.

This transformation in understanding happened organically.

(snip)

...Arendt put the right to marry before even the right to vote. And this is how many gay people of the next generation see it. Born into straight families and reared to see homosexuality as a form of difference, not disability, they naturally wonder why they would be excluded from the integral institution of their own families' lives and history. They see this exclusion as unimaginable—as unimaginable as straight people would if they were told that they could not legally marry someone of their choosing. No other institution has an equivalent power to include people in their own familial narrative or civic history as deeply or as powerfully as civil marriage does. And the next generation see themselves as people first and gay second.

Born in a different era, I reached that conclusion through more pain and fear and self-loathing than my 20-something fellow homosexuals do today. But it was always clear to me nonetheless. It just never fully came home to me until I too got married.

It happened first when we told our families and friends of our intentions. Suddenly, they had a vocabulary to describe and understand our relationship. I was no longer my partner's "friend" or "boyfriend"; I was his fiancé. Suddenly, everyone involved themselves in our love. They asked how I had proposed; they inquired when the wedding would be; my straight friends made jokes about marriage that simply included me as one of them. At that first post-engagement Christmas with my in-laws, I felt something shift. They had always been welcoming and supportive. But now I was family. I felt an end—a sudden, fateful end—to an emotional displacement I had experienced since childhood.

The wedding occurred last August in Massachusetts in front of a small group of family and close friends. And in that group, I suddenly realized, it was the heterosexuals who knew what to do, who guided the gay couple and our friends into the rituals and rites of family. Ours was not, we realized, a different institution, after all, and we were not different kinds of people. In the doing of it, it was the same as my sister's wedding and we were the same as my sister and brother-in-law. The strange, bewildering emotions of the moment, the cake and reception, the distracted children and weeping mothers, the morning's butterflies and the night's drunkenness: this was not a gay marriage; it was a marriage.

Read the rest here.

Pining for liberal Republicanism

Michael McGough, writing in the Opinion section of the L.A. Times, observes that the shift in the Republican party during the past 20 or so years has made a curiosity out of what he calls "liberal Republicans" such as Sens. Arlen Specter and Olympia Snowe. He also notes that such Republicans seem to have a tendency toward being Episcopalians, and dryly observes that there are parallels between the demise of these Republicans politically and what's happening in the church itself:

My nostalgia for liberal Republicans is as much cultural as it is political. The pejorative term for them is “country club Republicans” who, like Leach and the first President Bush, often belonged to the Episcopal Church, a denomination disproportionately represented in power élites and in news coverage (what editor can resist a gay-bishop story?).

I may be the only one to see this parallel, but liberal Republicans have always struck me as the political equivalent of Anglo-Catholics: those high-church Episcopalians who in their liturgy with its “smells and bells” are more Catholic than the pope they don’t acknowledge. Liberal Republicans live a similarly paradoxical existence in the political world, espousing positions (at least on social issues) more common in the opposing party. We should pray –- in an Episcopal Church, of course –- for their resurrection.

From here.

CT demolishes arguments against marriage equality

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

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

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

Read the article here.

The living and the dead

Thomas Lynch, writing in the New York Times, observes that the days following Halloween are ones set aside to honor the departed:

All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day are time set aside to broker peace between the living and the dead. Whether you are pagan or religious, Celt or Christian, New Age believer or doubter-at-large, these are the days when you traditionally acknowledge that the gone are not forgotten. The seasonal metaphors of reaping and rotting, harvest and darkness, leaf-fall and killing frost supply us with plentiful memento mori. Whatever is or isn’t there when we die, death both frightens and excites us.

Thus, throughout most of the Western world, graves are decorated on these first days of November with candles and fresh flowers. Picnics are held among the old stones and markers, relatives gather round family plots to give the dead their due of prayers and remembrances.

But not so much in the United States, he continues, citing Professor June Hobbs and some of her experiences teaching an honors course called "Death in American Culture." Part of the class involves a trip to a local cemetery, and Hobbs says that many of her students have never been to one before the class trip.

“I find this astonishing,” says Professor Hobbs. “This county had more casualties during the Civil War than any other. The dead were everywhere, the churchyards filled up, Sunday afternoons were spent visiting graves. The dead were very much a part of the community, kept alive in everyday conversations.” Now they’ve been downsized or disappeared.

She speaks to a culture that quietly turned the family “parlor” into a “living room,” the “burial policy” into “life insurance” and the funeral into a “celebration of life,” often notable for the absence of a corpse, and the subtle enforcement of an emotional code that approves the good laugh but not the good cry. Convenience and economy have replaced ethnic and religious customs.

The dead get buried but we seldom see a grave. Or they are burned, but few folks ever see the fire. Photographs of coffins returned from wars are forbidden, and news coverage of soldiers’ burials is discouraged. Where sex was once private and funerals were public, now sex is everywhere and the dead go to their graves often as not without witness or ritual.

Still, there remains something deeply human in the way we process mortality by processing mortals in the journey between life as we know it and life as we imagine it, in whatever space the dead inhabit. Wherever the dead go or don’t, it is the duty of the living to get them to the edge of that oblivion.

Since the first cave-dwelling Neanderthal awakened next to a dead kinsman and knew something would have to be done about it, we humans have looked into the tomb or grave or fire and asked ourselves the signature questions of our species: Is that all there is? Can it happen to me? What comes next? Only the dead know the answers. And the living are well and truly haunted by them.

Read the whole thing here.

Andrew Brown: why I am not a Christian

Guardian reporter Andrew Brown, who used to cover religion, explains why he is an atheist:

I have been writing about Christians for more than 20 years now. I am married to one; I was brought up as one, more or less. Half a dozen of the most admirable, brave and honest people I know are Christians, and I don't think for a moment that I am either smarter or better than they are. If I am right, and they are wrong, this is due to no great merit on my part. It is certainly not because I am less prone to illusion than they are, or more firmly attached to the truth. I know I can generate quite enough illusions of my own without supernatural help.

. . .

When I became a religious affairs correspondent, and started to meet Christian intellectuals, I came to realise that some at least believed nothing I found abhorrent or ridiculous. They no more take the Bible as a work of history than I do. There were some with whom I could and can talk seriously in the confidence that we understand the world in almost exactly the same light and see it disfigured by the same shadows. It would be wrong and invidious to name living people, but the late Lord Runcie was one of the most admirable men I have ever known, and if Jesus was good enough for him that's a powerful argument.

Yet still I won't join. In need only reread some parts of CS Lewis to know that if that hectoring certainty is right, I would rather be wrong. Most of the bishops I have known have been a sorry lot. It is hard to believe that they are right about anything much and I would certainly not wish to associate myself with the modern Church of England and all its squalid vanities. I left the 1998 Lambeth Conference determined to do nothing which might have me mistaken for a Christian. No doubt the feeling is mutual. This wouldn't matter if they were representatives of a great tradition. But I find I can't believe in the tradition, either. Looking at what Christians have actually believed about the world, and the ways that they have in practice understood their doctrines, I know that almost every Christian now alive would have been considered a heretic 500 years ago; and that the witch-burners of the 17th century would themselves have been heretics 500 years before.

For similar reasons, I can't accept the intellectual authority of the Roman Catholic church. Calvinism, while it it intellectually satisfying, is emotionally repugnant to me. In the end, I suppose, my objections to God are, as they must be, theological: the workings of divine providence are just a little too inaccessible to human reasoning. The problem of suffering remains insoluble. There is no possible theodicy. But I can't, either, take the Dawkinsian view that the problem of suffering is an illusion generated by the illusion of God. You can't mend the heart in a heartless world by observing that the world is in fact heartless. That's not the point.

I suppose I end up saying that I accept the Christian account of the problem; I just can't accept Christianity's account of the solution, and so I remain, by the grace of God perhaps, an atheist.

Read it all here.

Brawling monks a metaphor

There's a lesson in the news reports of recent brawl monks about who got to stand where in at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem says Giles Fraser:

Pope Pious 9th was absolutely spot-on about how one defends the church. One defends it best by not defending it, by not being obsessed with it and instead by looking outward, looking towards the needs of the others.

Jesus said that only those who are prepared to loose their life will find it. The logic is counter intuitive. The more you give away the more you have. The more your focus in life is outside of yourself, the more your own soul will flourish. This is why the introverted piety of churchyness is, in the end, a complete betrayal of the message of the church - which is exactly what happened with those warring monks.

But surely also, there's a lesson here for a huge number of us. For many of us do spend a great deal of our time and energy, at work and at home, defending some pathetic little patch of turf which, in the great scheme of things, means precious little. If we're not careful we can easily find that we've invested our lives in battling for some shrinking space that is, ultimately, as inconsequential as the place of a monk in a procession.

How do we guard against becoming like this? The Christian answer is that that we find freedom from the ego's ever narrowing obsessions by placing our centre of interest outside of ourselves.

Are Christian persecuted in the UK?

The Guardian posed this question to four writers this past week. The question mirrors similar concerns in the United States where Christians often find negotiating a secular, pluralist society jarring.

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Women are from Bethany, Men are from Tyre

The Washington Post reports some interesting data from the Clergy Voices Survey about the gender gap in political ideology among protestant clergy:

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Jesus condemned sacrificial theology

Giles Fraser:

Last time I was in Wiawso, four men were arrested in a local village, not far from the cathedral, for having taken part in the ritualised murder of a disabled man, a hunchback. He was staked out and dismembered. The men involved went on to sell his body parts for large sums of money to witchdoctors. Pregnant women and children have also been targeted, with Ghanaian newspapers reporting that a human head can be traded locally for a Kia truck.

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Jane Williams: God's verdict

The theologian and wife of the Archbishop of Canterbury writes:

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Are most Americans both "pro-life" and "pro-Roe"?

Nate Silver ponders the apparent contradiction in polls showing a majority of people claiming to be pro-choice but also a large majority supporting Roe v. Wade.

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Marriage Equality: threat to religious liberty or not

Thomas Berg, writing in Christian Century, discusses the issue of religious liberty and marriage equality:

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Only faith can solve the energy crisis

Andrew Brown, commenting in The Guardian, UK, states "only faith can solve the energy crisis." To support his contention he writes:

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LA Times endorses Episcopal Church actions

From an editorial in this Sunday's Los Angeles Times:

With a little more than 2 million members, the Episcopal Church of the United States is far from being the country's largest Christian denomination. But its recent pronouncements indicating support for openly gay bishops and church blessings for same-sex couples will have reverberations beyond that church, beyond Christianity and even beyond religion. For all the theological issues it raises, acceptance of gays and lesbians at the altar reflects -- and affects -- the campaign for equality in the larger society.

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My Goodness: Should you tithe or get out of debt?

At Slate's My Goodness column the question is "Which is more important: tithing or paying off my $13,000 credit-card debt?" After noting that under "the Hatch-Obama bill in 2006 ... those in consumer bankruptcy can continue to make reasonable charitable contributions, including tithing," Sandy Stonesifer offers this advice:

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Hartford Courant welcomes fall in barriers to gay clergy

A Hartford Courant editorial referring to actions of the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

While church leaders and activist members may be ahead of tradition-minded local congregations in some cases, the trend seems obvious — and, to our way of thinking, welcome. Churches will only grow stronger when they do not discriminate in choosing clergy.

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Emerging into adolescence?

Author and Anglican Phyllis Tickle opines in a recent Emergent Village weblog and video that whatever shape Emergent Christianity is to take next, it should be somewhat clarified by the next year-and-a-half to two years, as the emergent/emergence/emerging "conversation" matures.

Similarly, members of traditional churches will face more clearly the question of who and what they are.

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Bishop Scarfe writes on disagreement and common purpose

The Right Rev. Alan Scarfe writing in the Des Moines Register,

Of course, we are not of one mind in this. Not all my own clergy or congregations agree with my position in celebrating this opportunity for same-gender couples.

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An SC plea to stay together

We see a lot of letters-to-the-editor decrying the imperiled status of our parishes/dioceses/TEC, but this one struck us as being particularly and notably impassioned and well-reasoned:

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The whole people of God

Savi Hensman, writes in Ekklesia on the role of the laity in the church and concern that current trends are to send them back to flower arranging. In the 1960's, across denominations, there was a strong push by churches to include the laity in decision making. Hensman notes lately:

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A tainted olive branch

James Carroll comments on the Vatican offer to Anglicans:

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Baptist theologian defends the common cup

Russell Moore, Dean of Theology, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

I'm not offended by people disagreeing me on this. I'm just stunned by the reason they most often give for dismissing this ancient Christian practice: germs.

The common cup is, well, gross to many Christians because they don't like the idea of drinking after strangers. That's just the point. You're not drinking after strangers. You're drinking after your own flesh-and blood, your family. And the offense is precisely the issue.

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Rethinking religious "box score"

John Allen blogs on National Catholic Reporter about the myopia of both his Roman Catholic tradition and many Christians in deciding what really matters to the ordinary faithful. He compares our way of understanding the religious world to the way baseball was understood before Sabermetrics.

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The decline of the Irish Catholic church

What is the cause for the decline in the West in membership and respect for the church? Should the church hold firm to tradition? Or should it adapt? Is its decline inevitable?

Maureen Gaffney is a clinical psychologist and is chairwoman of the National Economic and Social Forum which advises the Irish government. Her op-ed Church's view of sex the root cause of its troubles, on the decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland especially in the wake of the sex abuse scandals, appears in the Irish Times:

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Lost leaders?

Simon Tisdall, foreign affairs writer for the Guardian has an end-of-the-year list of international leaders that "messed up the most last year." On his list are figures such as Ayatollah Ali Kamenei, Hugo Chavez and...Rowan Williams?

See it here. What do you think about the ABC being put on this list?

UK faith communities triple header

As reported earlier today on The Lead, the Labour government in the UK has decided to give in, and not pursue expansion the Equality Bill to apply to religious denominations. The provision would not have included clergy. The government's decision came on the heels of criticism of the provision by the pope.

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Have faith in love

Eric Lax in today's New York Times:

I know that this will offend some Christians, but the notion that Scripture is perfectly clear is wishful thinking, as a recent white paper prepared by the All Saints’ clergy demonstrates. The writers of the four Gospels don’t agree on even so simple a thing as which people were present at Christ’s empty tomb.

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If beauty be not truth, perhaps it's closer to faith

Phyllis Tickle's final installment in her "First Sundays" blog at Explorefaith is about the interrelatedness of beauty, hope, and faith.

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Roger Ebert on God

"At the Movies" reviewer Roger Ebert reflects on God. No, not the George Burns "Oh God," or the Jim Carrey "Bruce Almighty," actually his belief in God:

How I believe in God
By Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times

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Ten steps to repentance, justice and healing

The Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune says that if Pope Benedict were to ask her what he should do about the scandal of child sexual abuse in his church, this is what she'd tell him.

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Shining target on a hill?

Is the National Cathedral a model of Church-State relations or a great big target that proponents of total separation of faith from civic life have not yet trained their sights on?

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pontificalmass.org announces change in celebrant

Protestors get results.

In consultation with His Eminence, Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, The Paulus Institute has agreed to seek another celebrant for the Pontifical Solemn High Mass taking place on April 24th [at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception]. This action will help maintain the solemnity, reverence and beauty of the Mass.

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History is the church's memory

Diana Butler Bass, writing in the Huffington Post, says that without a living memory of the Church's history, we risk falling into a kind of "spiritual alzheimers" that will impede our ability to function in the present.

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Opinion: The Anglican Church of Canada can’t approve Covenant

The Rev. Dr. Canon Dean Mercer of Toronto and The Rev. Catherine Sider-Hamilton,a Ph.D candidate at Wycliffe College have called the Anglican Church of Canada to refuse to sign the Anglican Covenant because to do so would be to lie about where the Canadian Church stands.

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The spritual significance of pride

June is Pride Month for millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people across the country, when thousands of people commemorate the police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village sparking the modern gay pride movement.

The Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng says pride runs two ways. It is a sin when we build ourselves into an obstacle to our relationship to God through puffery and exaggeration. Pride, he reminds us, works the other way when it becomes self-hatred and toxic shame. The festivities this month can function as a useful corrective.

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Gratitude for diversity

Writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Op-Ed page, Patricia Templeton gives thanks for the ways that the Episcopal Church celebrates diversity:

Thank heaven for church that celebrates diversity
By Patricia Templeton writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Rowan destroys his own credibility

This weeks question over at the Guardian's Comment is Free: Belief is "Which way will Synod jump?" We posted earlier responses here and here, next up is our own Jim Naughton:

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Telling the truth and being set free

Gay men and women in public life still have to hide their sexuality, former BP executive John Browne writes in the Guardian, and when the accumulated lies and concealed relationships come to light in the form of a scandal, it can be at one a public disaster and a personal blessing.

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Running on empty

Gay Marriage opponents appear to be running out of people willing to show up and support their cause:

Gay Marriage Opponents Running on Empty
From Religion Dispatches

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The way forward

There is lots of food for thought in Tom Ehrich's commentary on "the way forward" over at the Religious News Service blog.


COMMENTARY: The way forward is not an escape from troubled times

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Jesus and the stranger

As Professor Richard T. Hughes of Messiah College sees the anti-Islamic rhetoric coming from certain politicians, celebrity pundits, and religious leaders, he reflects on what the Bible has to say about caring for the stranger.

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The threatened Quran burning in retrospect

Earlier this month, as we approached the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, much of the national conversation focused the threat of Florida preacher Terry Jones' threat to burn copies of the Quran. His announced intent created a firestorm of backlash from secular and religious leaders around the world, imploring him to not carry out his threat. Ultimately he announced that he had changed his mind and has since promised that he will never burn a Quran.

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Religion is killing our most vulnerable youth

Bishop Gene Robinson writes in the Huffington Post about the "bright, straight line" between anti-gay theologies and attitudes and the recent string suicides and anti-gay violence.

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Keeping the 'L. Ron' in Christmas

A Vanity Fair reporter recently asked Scientology-affirming actress Juliette Lewis an affable, offhand question: Can a Scientologist celebrate Christmas? Her affable, offhand response:

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Jesus changes society

When Jesus appears, transformation happens:

When Jesus Comes, Everything Changes: An Advent Experience in Cairo
In The Huffington Post

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Patrick Cheng reviews the year

Professor Patrick Cheng of Episcopal Divinity School adds his opinion on the year in review at the Huffington Post.

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Flipping the religious news stories of the year

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, the former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), reflects on the religion news stories of the year in The Washington Post. Currently, Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

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Bishop Lee on the roots of strife in Sudan

Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago says that the roots of the strife in Sudan are political, not religious.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, he says:

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Intra-Faith dialogue is hard

Paul Raushenbush reminds us that not only is Inter-Faith dialogue hard, but also Intra-Faith dialogue is hard, and perhaps harder:

Christian Civility: The Test of Intra-Faith Relations
In The Huffington Post

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David Kato: Person

An editorial in Uganda's biggest daily newspaper, The Daily Monitorought to be unremarkable but stands out because it calls for protecting the rights of LGBT people in a nation whose leadership refuses to recognize that gay people are humans beings. An unpublished op-ed by David Kato shows that he was a person with a voice and a story.

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A breath of fresh air

Theo Hobson, writing in the Guardian, says that he was just about to give up on organized religion because "all major forms of church were full of illiberal assumptions."

But when he explored other forms of church he found that most forms of alternative, post-modern were "run by the dastardly C of E!" After meeting some Christians who stayed away from Church he found that they were "too laidback to do anything, beyond meeting up for a chat."

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Spiking their own guns

Updated. This week's leader at The Church Times said that by not showing up, the conservative primates assured that the Primates Meeting will never become the kind of definitive, authoritative council that they dream of.

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The importance of conversation

Steve Farley, a member of the state legislature in Arizona and an Episcopalian, talks about the importance of conversation especially in a political environment where religion is used to divide people and stir up anger.

He writes:

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Budgets, Leadership, and Public Service

Bishop Lawrence C. Provenzano of Long Island has written about the current disputes between some state governments and their unions. He warns that religious rhetoricis being used to distract the people of God from the real issues of justice and the stewardship of our society's resources..

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What does "humanism" have to teach the church?

David Brooks' piece in the New York Times yesterday, on 'The New Humanism," may offer reflections that might help the church to learn and re-learn from the best psychological research and philosophical reflection. Hat tip to Donald Schell for the heads up on the article.

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More jaw-jaw means less war-war

Bishop Pierre Whalon, writing for the Huffington Post, makes the case for increasing dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews and that an important tool to fight the tendency towards fundamentalism and radicalism is a faithful, critical reading of our holy texts.

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Faith frees us from fear

The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Mark Golliher, writing for the Huffington Post, talks about the relationship between faith and fear, how religion can unwittingly stoke fear and simple ways that ordinary people can utilize faith to overcome fear.

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New ministry do-over

Tom Arthur, writing in Duke Divinity's Call and Response blog, had a chance to serve his first parish twice...a kind of mulligan for ministry. He wonders if that might not be useful for others just starting out in ordained ministries.

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Spirit of Earth Day

Deacon Roxanne Klingensmith reminds us of our responsibility to care for and protect the earth:

Celebrate the spirit of Earth Day

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Creed versus chaos

David Brooks watched the new Broadway musical "The Book of Mormon" and wonders about what really makes religion work.

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A rigorous code of conduct is not the same thing as a rigorous theology

Andrew Sullivan and Mark Silk have each responded to David Brook's musings about "rigorous theology", written after he'd attended a performance of the hit musical The Book of Mormon.

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Baseball, classical music...and the church?

What David Lang writes in The Score, about American composers on creating “classical” music in the 21st century, might also apply to how we understand the church.

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The progressive Christian coalition has changed

Jim Naughton writes in the Guardian about how the progressive religious agenda has moved since Jim Wallis began to speak up for a kind progressive evangelicalism that has also appealed to mainline Christians.

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Malcolm Boyd on what's next

In an essay The Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd, an Episcopal priest and an iconic figure within the civil rights community, reflects on how we managed to get to where we are today and what needs to come next.

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How to respond to the riots?

As England takes stock of where it finds itself as the riots this week seem to be calming down, there's a great deal of discussion online about how to best respond the actions.

Should the state take a hard line against the rioters and their families (in the case of minors)? Should the state respond to the underlying social-economic issues? Should there be a balanced response?

Savi Hensman argues that taking the hard line is going to be counter productive:

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Anger, Revenge and Jesus

Jim Pappas, reflects at Jonathan Hagger's blog, Of Course I Could Be Wrong, on anger, what it has to teach us and when it becomes destructive:

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I am 99%; I am 1%

The Rev. Steve Pankey writes at his blog, "Draughting Theology," about being both "the 99%" and "the 1%." What about you? Where do you fall?

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Anarchic roots of Occupy Movement

The roots of the "Occupy Movement" may be in the philosophy of anarchy:

Intellectual Roots of Wall St. Protest Lie in Academe
Movement's principles arise from scholarship on anarchy
From The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Finding stability in faith community

Beth Wheatley Dyson reflects on stability as people who are always "in-between".

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"Putting the Protest Back in Protestant"

Diana Butler Bass writes that its time for the Protestant churches to remember their heritage. Especially so as many will be celebrating Reformation Day on Nov. 1 (in commemoration of Martin Luther's posting of the 95 Theses on the door of Wittenburg Castle Church).

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The Episcopal Church enters the desert time

The former presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Rt. Rev. Frank Griswold believes that our church may be entering the desert time.

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Gay and vilified in Uganda

Frank Mugisha, the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award laureate and executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda describes in the New York Times what it is like to be gay in Uganda.

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Why do some Catholics "swim the Thames?"

Catholic priest Father Alexander Lucie-Smith wonders out loud why some Catholics become Anglican.

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Made for goodness

Desmond Tutu writes in the Huffington Post that God made everyone for goodness and he tells the story of three people who demonstrate it..

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Religion and politics cannot be separated

BIshop Pierre Whalon says that it is both naive and impossible to separate religion and politics.

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Catholic laity support their nuns, but will they act to support them?

Margaret Susan Thompson, professor of history at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, New York, responds to the crackdown on American nuns by the Vatican. Writing in The Tablet, she talks about the contribution Catholic lay religious women have made to the Church's witness in the US and the support many Catholics feel for the nuns.

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When "none of the above" doesn't fit

Kate Blanchard, writing at Religion Dispatches, reflects on her spiritual journey and finds that none of the usual labels--religious, spiritual or atheist--fit. She proposes an alternative.

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Five phrases not to say

Reluctant Xian says that there are five things that Christians should never say. This is not like George Carlin's classic comedy routine, through, because these never get bleeped.

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Preserving VAWA

Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church, writes about the Violence Against Women Act which is now up for renewal in Congress.

The Episcopal Church has gone on record, along with many other religious groups and leaders, as being opposed to the changes to VAWA as proposed in the House bill.

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Christians witness for LGBT Ugandans

The Washington Post carries an op-ed piece about the plight of LGBT people in Uganda from a pair of unusual advocates: a former ambassador who was also president of a Catholic college, and an evangelical leader.

Thomas Patrick Melady is senior diplomat in residence, The Institute of World Politics, a former U.S. Ambassador to Burundi, Uganda and the Holy See and President Emeritus of Sacred Heart University.

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The Underground Church

Malcolm Boyd looks back at his experience of the underground church that existed on the front lines of the civil rights movement and wonders if the underground church can still exist today.

The Huffington Post:

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What noisy Christianity needs is a conspiracy of silence

Diarmaid MacCulloch, professor of the history of the church at Oxford University, says that noisy Christianity has long resisted silence.

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Is there room for me?

Viv Groskop recounts the story of how a rigid vicar drove her out of her parish church on the day of her wedding.

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A thank you (and rebuttal) to Ross Douthat

The Rev. John Ohmer, rector of St. James' Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Va., respectfully and deftly takes issue with key assertions made in Ross Douthat's New York Times column, Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?. He also agrees with Douthat on certain points:

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Creating spaces of grace and love

The Rev. Jesús Reyes, Canon for Congregational Growth & Development in the Diocese of El Camino Real reflects the questions raised this weekend by Ross Douthat, saying "Yes! Liberal Christianity...and many forms of Christianity...can be saved!"

Canon Reyes shared this with us via e-mail.

Can liberal Christianity be saved?...
Yes, it can, and many other forms of Christianity can be, too.

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Radically faithful to Christian tradition

Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer of the Episcopal Church, wrote to the Wall Street Journal in response to an op-ed that appeared in that paper called "What Ails the Episcopalians?"

He writes:

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Talk more chickin: lots of opinions on boycott/support day

Lots of commentary on Chick-fil-A from all over the country.

Here are some of the opinions and points being made:

1) Bringing politics into unrelated business is not a good idea

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New National Cathedral dean: We are a 'pragmatic, evolving tradition'

The newly selected dean of Washington National Cathedral, the Rev. Canon Gary Hall, believes that mainline churches face "a crisis of credibility." He writes in the Washington Post:

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The tainted case against gay marriage

While it's possible to make a case against gay marriage that does not rely on fear or loathing of gay people, but Andrew Brown says homophobia has made the current case untenable.

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On not being dead

A New York Times essay by Bill Hayes - on being fully alive and alert:

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The power of failure

What if religious leaders gathered around a table and became totally honest about our failures and confessed the risks we took that backfired? Would that create a more accountable, more experimental leadership environment...or would we just hide?

Sarika Bansil writes in the NYT Opinionator blog about the value that leaders of major non-profit charities gain from learning from failure, but first one has to admit it.

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The ‘Christian’ answer to gun violence? Eliminate guns

Dan Webster, an Episcopal priest, writes for RNS:

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Show the difference believing makes

Derek Penwell, writing at Huffington Post, says many of the "nones" turn away from religion, at least Christianity, because of the apparent unwillingness of many Christians to live like Jesus. The question that should be keeping Christians up at night is "So what?"

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Praying for a teachable moment

Chaplain Norris Burkes writes about how God handed him and a visiting pastor a teachable moment.

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How to draw with dynamite

Editorial cartoonist Robert Ariail of the Camden (SC) Chronicle Independent penned a pointed and potentially explosive cartoon about the split between the former Episcopalians in SC and the Episcopal Church. He talks about why.

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On the Yeti theory of faith

Michael Robbins, the author of Alien vs. Predator, looks at popular theories of unbelief.

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Jesuit magazine urges repeal of Second Amendment

An editorial in the latest edition of America/The National Catholic Review urges repeal of the Second Amendment, asking,

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How movements die

David Brooks reflects on what makes movements vital and what makes movements die. One sign of death: closing ranks in a search for purity.

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How skeptics and believers can learn to hear each other

T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford who studies the religious experience of evagelicals, describes the day she went on a Christian radio program to discuss her book and research. Instead she found herself confronted about the state of her soul.

Her experience, she says, sheds light on how believers and skeptics talk past each other and how they might learn to connect.

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Prayer and the focused imagination

T.H. Luhrmann describes meeting people who had an auditory experience of God. Were they crazy or more intensely prayerful? She speculates that prayer both guides and disciplines the imagination.

Her op-ed appeared in the NYTimes:

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This is water

In 2005, author David Foster Wallace was asked to give the commencement address to the graduating class of Kenyon College. The resulting speech didn't become widely known until 3 years later, after his death.

The talk has gone viral and we thought it would be an appropriate reflection during this graduation season and the 49th Day of Easter.

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Keep bad theology out of Oklahoma

The opening lines from Episcopal priest Ian Punnett's op-ed on CNN's Belief Blog:

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Fasting in Christianity and Judaism

Tom Ferguson of Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary (AKA Crusty Old Dean) was recently featured on All Sides with Ann Fisher, a local NPR show in Columbus. Listen to a 13-minute segment to hear him talk about fasting in Christianity and Judaism.

The Church as an engine for global development

Kate Sharma, writing in the Guardian, believes that the church is one the best vehicles for human and societal development.

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Do you really need church?"

Tara Woodard-Lehman creatively takes on a question asked of her in The Huffington Post (excerpt):

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The Comforts of the Apocalypse?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an extensive article in the provocatively entitled "The Comforts of the Apocalypse" by Rob Goodman. Goodman considers both the literary history of such writing, pointing towards our use of the ideas today. An excerpt:

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Why I dropped church and joined The Church

The Rev. Matt Marino makes distinction between "church" and "the Church" in his latest blog post:

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Welcome to "The Missionary Society"

Warning. What follows is really "inside baseball." On the whole, it will affect the average Episcopalian, let alone the average any one else, very little. Which is important to remember when one sees all the energy put into this.

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Peter Wallace: Things I wish I'd known when I was younger

You'll never be younger than you are right this minute, so this list may be worth your time. The Rev. Peter Wallace presents "52 Things I Wish I could Tell My Younger Self," at Huffington Post. It's a pretty wise compilation. My favorite is No. 49, which he notes that he stole from Julian of Norwich, but I like these also, focusing on the world of religion:

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Addressing the embarrassment of theological ignorance

Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian elder and former award-winning faith columnist for The Kansas City Star, says that the church should be embarrassed at the level of theological ignorance among the laity.

He writes in the National Catholic Reporter:

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Bishop Dan Edwards on the shooting at Sparks Middle School

Bishop of Nevada Dan Edwards has written a Pastoral Letter on the Sparks Middle School shooting on his "Bishop Dan's Blog". Here is an excerpt:

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Why go to church?

Ben Myers explains why he goes to church at Faith and Theology:

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Can't wait for movement on poverty...

Greg Kaufmann in The Nation, in preparation for Friday when "48 million people—including more than 21 million children—will see their food stamp (SNAP) benefits reduced", looks at the timing of the cuts, recent history concerning the addressing of poverty, and then says that a "Movement on Poverty" is in order:

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There's a saint for that

In 2011, Miguel Angel Escobar reflected on All Saints Day.

ECF Vital Practices:

Okay. I confess. All Saints Day in The Episcopal Church has always struck me as a bit bland.

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Up in arms

Colin Woodward, writing in Tufts Magazine, says that there’s never been "an America," but rather eleven Americas—each a distinct nation--each viewing violence, as well as everything else, in its own way.

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Why the snark in the face of memory?

Some people are apparently a little weary of all the remembering going on today. Which is strange coming from a tradition built on anamnesis.

Kurt C. Wiesner posts on his blog that maybe this is a day to be kind and to just listen.

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Repairing Christianity’s damaged brand

Sally Steenland, in American Progress, begins by stating the consequences of the Religious Right's grip on public perception of Christianity:

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Tutu on Mandela

Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Nelson Mandela.

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A South African priest in California reflects on the meaning of Madiba

The Rev. Lester V. Mackenzie, a native South African, has written a lovely meditation on Nelson Mandela for the House of Deputies site. Mackenzie, a priest at St. Matthew's in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a clergy deputy from the Diocese of Los Angeles, is a third generation priest whose grandfather was a bishop in the South Africa in the 1990s.

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A Short List for Grief and the Holidays

The Rev. Sue Wintz, a Board Certified Chaplain, says that grieving through the holiday season can be heard for any person mourning the death of a loved one but there experience is different for those for whom the loss is new and for those who have been bereaved for some time.

"It's important to realize that while there are differences in each experience," she says, "both have the potential to become intense during the holidays."

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Should Christians support healthy polygamous practices?

Episcopal priest Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio supports the striking down of part of Utah's polygamy law, in a suit brought by the family of the reality show "Sister Wives". Excerpted from her CNN Belief Blog:

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A resolution worth pursuing

Chris Steadman wonders if in 2014 we might put two pernicious ideas to rest: that atheists are incapable of being moral and that theists are stupid.

Faithestist:

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Why am I not poor?

Dale Hansen Burke, an evangelical Christian and business owner, asks herself if our mythology about pluck, hard work and drive are really all there is to over coming poverty. Her encounter with people in poverty made her ask "why am I not poor?"

Christianity Today:

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Making homophobia history

The Rev. Susan Russell writes in The Huffington Post on what has been happening in Africa concerning LGBT persons:

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On SodaStream, Occupation, and Nuance

In the flurry of Super Bowl ads, you may not have noticed one for SodaStream, starring Scarlett Johanssen, but this one ad stirred up quite a controversy behind the scenes.
Ms. Johanssen was an international ambassador for Oxfam International when she became a spokesperson for SodaStream.

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Understanding Good Friday

Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, recounts how his spiritual journey began one Good Friday long ago.

Thinking Anglicans:

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Priest ponders our selective compassion about distant tragedy

Frank Strasburger, retired Episcopal priest and co-founder of Princeton in Africa, an international fellowship organization, wrote a compelling Washington Post piece this week about our capacity to care about some tragic events that happen far away while we ignore others:

A capsized ship. The cowardly captain first to jump ship. Hundreds dead. I’m talking about the South Korean ferry, right? Or perhaps that Italian cruise ship? Wrong. This is an event you probably never heard about. And you never heard about it because, although the news media have devoted countless columns and viewing hours to those two tragedies, the one I’m talking about got almost no press. Few papers carried the story, and in those that did, it died quietly.

On July 18, 2012, a ferry traveling to Zanzibar, Tanzania, left port in Dar es Salaam in rough seas — rough enough that the captain was advised not to sail. To make matters worse, he had no radio. Two-thirds of the way to Zanzibar, the engines were swamped; at the mercy of an angry Indian Ocean and high winds, the ferry began rocking with increasing violence. Not only were the passengers not warned of any danger, they were told all was well. But the ship capsized, turned over and sank. The official count was 146 dead, but anyone who has traveled on Tanzanian ferries knows they are packed to the gills, well beyond the number on the passenger manifest. Frankly, no one knows just how many people drowned. This, by the way, was the second such ferry sinking in the same waters in less than a year.

He goes on to ask, "why do we care about some people and not others? The Somerville (Mass.) Journal carried a story about this, but only because a local resident (my daughter) survived. Nobody seemed concerned about the Tanzanians who didn’t, or about their families and friends."

Read his full essay here.

Admitting what terrifies us and allowing God to heal

Rhonda Mawhood Lee had a fear of singing in public and in overcoming her phobia she learned "to trust God's power to heal a small yet deeply felt past hurt, {and] understood anew our Christian proclamation that strength is found in vulnerability."

Read her story at Duke's Faith and Leadership blog:

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Will we see our four-legged friends in heaven?

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller doesn't know the answer, but in her On Faith op-ed, she hopes they will be waiting:

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Why Wright is wrong on same-sex marriage

Bishop N.T. Wright rehashed the old arguments in an interview marriage. Tobias Haller analyses the interview and his defense of traditional marriage.

In a Godward Direction:

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Did Archbishop Welby say "Twitter kills thoughtful reflection"?

John Stevens' headline and bullet points in Daily Mail sure are provocative:

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How not to teach conflict resolution

Tom Ehrich watches the conflict going on at the Episcopal Divinity School and observes that this is no way to teach seminarians how to manage conflict.

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Hey religion, your misogyny is showing

From Randal Maurice Jelks' op-ed to CNN Belief Blog:

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"Everyone has an opinion on being poor"

Darlena Cunha wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post provocatively entitled, "This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps". She shares her family's quick descent from wealth into poverty, what they did, and what they felt. A few excerpts:

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Things the church needs to say and do

"Who wants to devote life and loyalty to a religion that debates trifles and bullies the outsider?"

So asks Tom Ehrich in his latest article for Religion News Service (and picked up by Sojourners). He lists eight things we should say and do.

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How to fix the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Michael C. Dorf thinks the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (the statute cited in the Hobby Lobby case) can be fixed. He writes in Verdict on Justia.com:

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A case for "irreverence"

Cindy Brandt explores the virtues of irreverence in Huffington Post:

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"Religious leaders in Ferguson are giving us hope"

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Executive Religion Editor of The Huffington Post, published an article called "How These Righteous Religious Leaders in Ferguson Are Giving Us Hope". An excerpt:

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Is Ferguson an outlier?

Many people have speculated about the climate of Ferguson before the shooting of Michael Brown.

An NPR story by Joseph Shapiro looks at the high court fines and fees:

ISIS and the crisis of meaning

News of the horrific violence perpetrated by members of the group ISIS, or IS, on Muslims, Christians, and other minorities continues to shock the world, and their deft use of social media propels their message. Now comes news that young people from the US and UK are among their most ardent recruits. How do we make sense of this phenomenon?

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, writing for the Huffington Post, sees this as symptomatic of a deeper crisis...a crisis of meaning.

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"American prosperity was built on slavery and torture"

Matthew Yglesias of Vox reviews Edward Baptist' new book: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. The article references the "...bizarre (and since retracted) Economist review that accused the book of being "advocacy" rather than "history" on the grounds of the author's anti-slaveholder bias" that has ironically brought the book welcomed attention.

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LGBTQ folks scare me

Louie Clay (né Louie Crew), of the Diocese of Newark and a founder of Integrity, says that sometimes "LGBTQ folks scare me."

He writes:

LGBTQ folks scare me when we take our sexual orientation too seriously. A priest recently told me, "Homosexuality is the litmus test of spirituality in the church today."

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Elements of a sermon that works

What makes for a successful sermon? Keep it to eight minutes or less, and leave politics out, says the Rev. J. Perry Smith, a retired Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Florida. He writes in the Wall Street Journal:

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"Fight Church" review

Nate Pyle, the lead pastor of Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, Indiana (the Reformed church of America) reviews the movie "Fight Church" on Rachel Held Evans blog.

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Doubt as a sign of faith

Julia Baird, writing in the New York Times, heard the Archbishop of Canterbury admit to his occasional doubts and saw within it a sign of a deeper faith.

She writes:

But Archbishop Welby’s candor only makes him human. He may lead 80 million Anglicans worldwide, but he is also a man who knows anguish, rage, incomprehension and the cold bareness of grief. He lost his firstborn child, Johanna, a 7-month-old baby girl, in a car accident in 1983, a period he has described as “utter agony.” As a teenager he cared for an alcoholic father. When explaining his thoughts on doubt, he referred to the mournful Psalm 88, which describes the despair of a man who has lost all of his friends and cries out, “Why, Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” The psalm reads bleakly: “Darkness is my closest friend.”

Faith cannot block out darkness, or doubt. When on the cross, Jesus did not cry out “Here I come!” but “My God, why have you forsaken me?” His disciples brimmed with doubts and misgivings.

Just as courage is persisting in the face of fear, so faith is persisting in the presence of doubt. Faith becomes then a commitment, a practice and a pact that is usually sustained by belief. But doubt is not just a roiling, or a vulnerability; it can also be a strength. Doubt acknowledges our own limitations and confirms — or challenges — fundamental beliefs, and is not a detractor of belief but a crucial part of it....

...If we don’t accept both the commonality and importance of doubt, we don’t allow for the possibility of mistakes or misjudgments. While certainty frequently calcifies into rigidity, intolerance and self-righteousness, doubt can deepen, clarify and explain. This is, of course, a subject far broader than belief in God.

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