Monthly Archives: August 2008

An issue of life…


Annunciation

Annunciation

Despite all the buzz in the Christian world–or more appropriately in the secular press about the Christian world–about no longer voting based on single issues (for most folks, that single issue would be or would have been abortion), there is no doubt that which direction many Christians go at the polls in November will fundamentally hinge upon their answer to the question of which party has greater respect for human life.  For some, the answer is still obviously the Republican party, while for others, the movement of the Democratic party on issues that relate to the demand for abortion, as well as the policies of the Republican party on the environment and war have led them to the conclusion that it is the Democratic party that supports a more broad-based pro-life agenda.  While many want to deny the continued importance of abortion as a political issue, I don’t believe it is becoming less important.  If anything it is becoming more important as it now seems as though some Democrats at least, want to make their party safe for pro-life people.

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting write up of the Democrats rightward (or middle-ward) creep on this issue entitled “Tiptoeing to the right on abortion,” by Suzanne Sataline.  Basically, the issues raised in the article have to do with the increased prominence and voice given to some pro-life democrats and to the organization Democrats for Life.  Kristen Day, the executive director of of that organization put it this way:

“In 2004, we couldn’t get a word in. This time, they reached out to us,” says Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, a six-year-old advocacy organization that sponsored a convention gathering that featured antiabortion Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee. “The big tent is opening up.”

There are those who disagree with this assessment, and believe that the party is actually moving to the left in some ways (you can read about that here).  But whether the movement is real or merely perceived, the reaction is certainly real and these changes are not being happily received in some quarters, as evidenced by the response of those in pro-abortion organizations.  One response in particular stood out to me, that of Marjorie Signer:

“It pains me that our party holds this pro-life view,” says Marjorie Signer, a spokeswoman for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national nonprofit group made up of groups from 15 denominations. “I have a big problem reducing the number” of abortions. How would that be achieved, she asks — “by cutting off access and making [abortion] impossible to get?”

Leaving aside the fact that someone would seemingly call the democratic position unequivocally pro-life despite the fact that the Democratic Party platform “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade,” and “a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion,” I was very interested in Signer’s reaction because of the group she represents.  Some of the readers of this blog may remember the fact that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church chose to affiliate our entire denomination with this group.   At General Convention 06 the Diocese of Tennessee was one of several Dioceses to introduce resolutions to remove the Episcopal Church from that organization.

This is the language and position that Ms. Signer finds so objectionable:

But it asserts that the party “also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education” that “help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” About 1.2 million abortions are performed each year in the U.S.

This platform, for the first time, acknowledges and supports a decision to exercise choice in a different direction, to carry a child to term,” says Michael Yaki, the national platform director for the Democratic National Committee. “The core value, a woman’s right to choose, has not been compromised at all.”

This begs the question–as though there wasn’t a question before about affiliating an entire body of Christians with a lobbying group that unabashedly takes a position contrary to historic Christian teaching, and does so in a radical way–as to whether the Episcopal Church (or any of the other 15 denominations/religious groups) ought to be affiliated with an organization that believes the position of the Democratic party on Abortion is too pro-life.

Some of us here in the Diocese of Tennessee and at least three other Dioceses of the Episcopal Church  were upset enough about this to submit resolutions at General Convention 2006 to rescind our membership in the RCRC.  Perhaps as their ideology is shown to be out of step with even democratic orthodoxy this subject will receive a new airing.  I pray so.

{read the entire WSJ piece}

Here’s the text of the original TN resolution which was tabled at GC2006:

Continue reading

The best thing about Sarah Palin | Culture Making

The choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate has all sorts of interesting political implications, which are being diced and parsed as I write. But I’m more interested in the long-term cultural implications of the choice of Palin, whether the McCain–Palin ticket wins or loses in November, for one of the most vexing horizons of impossibility in our culture: the abortion rate among unborn babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

Upwards of 85 percent of parents who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome elect to terminate the pregnancy, according to several studies in the peer-reviewed journal Prenatal Diagnosis. A 1999 British study in that journal found the termination rate to be between 91 and 93 percent. When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I remember seeing many people my age and younger who had the distinctive facial and behavioral characteristics of Down children. These days I rarely see a Down Syndrome child at all.

The best thing about Sarah Palin | Culture Making

HT: More than 95 Theses

St. Peter’s Confession and Donald Miller’s Prayer

I was interested to see today that Donald Miller gave the benediction at the Democratic National Convention.  I had heard before that Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant magazine had pulled out of offering a prayer there because he felt like he couldn’t be seen by his subscribers as taking a political side.  I didn’t really consider who they might ask instead and was a bit surprised that Donald Miller was the replacement–I suppose I expected a more run-of-the-mill liberal Christian.

Gavin posted Miller’s prayer and I share his observation that many of the reactions to it are sadly predictable.

Leaving aside the politics for a moment, I believe that Miller’s prayer at the DNC is reflective of some things I touched on in last Sunday’s sermon.  One of the primary points I emphasized Sunday was the importance of Peter’s confession of Jesus as Christ/Messiah and Son of God (Matthew 16:16), being revealed to him; this was not something he simply came to believe because of evidence and reason, but had been brought about by a deeper spiritual knowledge.

The implications of this are important for Christians, especially as we consider how we’re to interact with those non-Christians (and not a few people who call themselves Christian) who are not yet able to say with Peter “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  The key is that they are not yet able to confess this.  There was a time when Peter was not able to confess it either, nor the other disciples.  It was revealed to them as they followed Jesus, heard his teaching, observed the the miraculous events that he initiated as signs of the Kingdom, and most of all, had their hearts opened to the work of God which revealed the truth to them.  They were not convinced, finally, by reason or evidence, or even by signs, but by this work in their hearts.

This is why it is important that Jesus asks the disciples who the people say that he is first.  We learn that the society at large sees Jesus as John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets; in other words, as a great teacher or miracle worker, but not as the Messiah.  This attitude is not far from the general belief abroad today that Jesus was a good teacher or spiritual leader like Buddha, or Gandhi etc… but that he was not the Son of God.  Often Christians are tempted to call people out on such a belief and try to force them to say that Jesus was the Son of God or a fool, taking away any middle ground.  Taking a page from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity we are often tempted to hammer people with the liar, lunatic or Lord syllogism.  While I have nothing against Lewis’ proof, and one cannot take away from Mere Christianity as a work that has brought many to (or back to) faith, I think Lewis himself would be the first to admit that you have to gauge the receptivity of your audience before using what amounts to blunt instrument in so many cases.

I find it interesting that I can’t think of an example where Jesus chastises anyone for having an insufficiently strong or positive view of who he is.  Certainly he gets exasperated at the density of the twelve at times, but they are his closest followers and as such, ought to have a greater understanding.  When it is reported that some people believe him to be John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets, Jesus does not rail against the stupidity of the masses, or send his disciples out directly to confront and correct them, but instead asks the pointed question, “but who do you say that I am?”

You see, there are some people for whom the statement that Jesus was a “good teacher” is simply a crutch, or a means to avoid the question because their heart is already at the point of confession, but their head won’t allow them to get there.  For those people, Lewis’ syllogism is an appropriate response.  But for others, who’s hearts are not to the point of being receptive, the use of a logical argument may have the opposite effect of pushing them to reject even the limited positive view of Jesus they have.  Christians are called to the difficult task of discerning where others are at when we share the gospel with them, and depending on where they are, the means and level of that sharing may vary.

But the task of the Christian is always to hold before the eyes of others the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord.  And this is where I believe Miller’s prayer is important.  I appreciate his explanation of praying at the DNC, as something as simple as “when someone asks you to pray, you pray.”  Before making his appearance Monday night he said was not afraid of talking about God to this particular audience.

Donald Miller: I make one statement that says, ‘God we know you’re good.’ And I know there are people in the convention hall who don’t believe in God. I want them to consider God. And I understand how that doesn’t sound sophisticated to an intellectual group. I understand that. I hate saying, because I feel like I wanna sound sophisticated too, and yet I believe – what am I supposed to do with that? I believe in God.

What I appreciate about Miller’s prayer is that it affirms what is good in the DNC platform and asks for God’s help in overcoming pride and indifference.  Some have said that Miller should’ve used the platform as a means to challenge the DNC on other issues (notably abortion).  But do people really think such a fiasco would be effective in any way?  That it would cause any movement but an entrenchment?  Think about the people that Miller is praying with/for.  A huge percentage of the Democratic party faithful are secular and their view of religion–especially Christianity–isn’t necessarily a positive one.  So is Miller supposed to go in there wearing sackcloth and ashes and expect to change their hearts and minds?  That would’ve done nothing but slam shut the doors of their hearts.  Which brings me to another criticism: Miller hedged too much when he finished his prayer, by saying “I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice.  Let Him be our example.”  Personally, I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t a compromised prayer that left out the name of our Lord. Of course, saying Jesus gave his life against the forces of injustice isn’t a sufficient explanation of what happened, but it is a true one, and fits well with the location.  Again, remember where he is folks, he prayed in Jesus name at the DNC.  Yes, he made it a point to say that he was making these requests in the name of Christ, assuming that others were not, but would you rather he’d lied about where he was and said they were ALL praying in Jesus name, even those who have not a shred of belief in Christ?

Another, more nuanced critique of Miller’s participation can be found here at Inhabitatio Dei where Halden writes:

It may be that I have finally drifted too far afield from my initial questions about the political and theological logic of Miller’s participation in the DNC. Ultimately the question revolves around political content of the gospel. Insofar as we allow the promissory imagination of the gospel of Christ to be circumscribed by the political logic of the earthly city we are failing to truly embody our theopolitical calling as the ekklesia of of the triune God. And in so failing we become simply another branded commodity to be bought, sold, and fetishized in the ubiquitous market of global capitalism. I fear that Donald Miller, by casting in his lot where he has may have done just that.

The primary issue I have with Halden’s critique is that it would seem to leave Christians with no option for involvement in the generally accepted political apparatus because to participate in them would be to commodify one’s Christianity.  I certainly agree that such commodification can and has happened (more often than not on the other side of the political aisle in God’s Own Party, but the Democrats are catching back up, especially over the last two election cycles), and while I accept the fact that the Church is political in its very nature, I cannot accept what seems to be his understanding that not participating in the established political process would somehow free us from the danger of commodification.  In some ways I feel about this argument the way I felt about the marxist-feminist professors I had in college who got excited about their book deals.  I only met a few who ever understood the irony of that.

In the end, I think Miller did the right thing by holding Christ up to the assembled delegates as an example, in the way that he did because, as we learn from the Gospels, no one can truly and honestly follow Christ’s example without at some point having who he is revealed to them and professing “You are the Christ, the Son of God.”  I pray that such things begin to happen in the Democratic party.

Watch the video by clicking below:

Continue reading

Colleges offer survival training course | tennessean.com

This is quite a change from the sort of default passivity that seems to have become the mainstay of so many of our institutions.  Maybe assertiveness will trickle down and younger children won’t be so institutionalized as to sit by and do nothing while, say, an older student rapes a younger one on the school bus.

Hundreds of colleges across the nation have purchased a training program that teaches professors and students not to take campus threats lying down but to fight back with any “improvised weapon,” from a backpack to a laptop computer.

The program — which includes a video showing a gunman opening fire in a packed classroom — urges them to be ready to respond to a shooter by taking advantage of the inherent strength in numbers.

It reflects a new response at colleges and universities where grisly memories of the campus shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University are still fresh.

“Look at your environment through the lens of survival,” said Domenick Brouillette, who administered the course at Metropolitan Community College, which serves more than 20,000 students. “Survivors prepare themselves both mentally and emotionally to do what it takes. It might involve life-threatening risk. You may do something you never thought you were capable of doing.”

{Read it all}

John One Five: Burning the Scroll

In December 604 B.C., Jeremiah was ordered by the Lord to write down all his prophecies on a scroll. The prophecies included many threats against the nation of Judah and its rulers and people, which would be enacted if they did not repent of their rebellious ways. Jeremiah, prevented from entering the Temple, sent his secretary Baruch to read the scroll to the people. The populace had gathered in the Temple for a fast. When they heard what Jeremiah had written, certain officials became interested and asked that the scroll be read in their presence too.

When Baruch complied, these officials took the words seriously and said that the king must be informed. Knowing that the king would not welcome the prophecies, they suggested that Baruch and Jeremiah go into hiding. The scroll was then taken into the king’s presence and read to him by a servant named Jehudi.

Since it was winter, there was a brazier with fire in it to heat the apartments. “Each time Jehudi had read three or four columns, the king cut them off with a scribe’s knife and threw them into the fire in the brazier until the whole of the scroll had been burned in the brazier fire” (Jeremiah 36:23). The king then ordered the arrest of Jeremiah and Baruch, but they had been hidden. The Lord ordered Jeremiah to write the scroll over again; it is likely that what he wrote now comprises the bulk of his prophecies that we find in the Bible. As we know, the king and his successor did not repent, and the threats in the prophecies of Jeremiah were fulfilled.

{Read it all}

Fr. Tony Clavier: A New Chapter Begins | Covenant

This is from several months ago, but I thought Fr. Tony’s reflections on language might be pertinent to the earlier discussions of intelligability in Bible translations.

On Sunday I was delighted that we had the largest congregation for a normal service in years. It was a wonderful beginning to a new ministry. I slipped back into Rite One, eastward position as if it were an old shoe. I am not at all convinced that old English is any more inaccessible than “modern” English to those who are not “churched.” The concepts expressed are just as unfamiliar, whatever rite used, even odd to people who have not grown up in the Faith or come to know Jesus within the context of a liturgical church. People slip into the bizarre vocabularly of football or computers almost unconsciously. They equally slip into the church’s vocabulary as long as liturgy lives and is done well.

Fr. Tony Clavier: A New Chapter Begins | Covenant.

A Word in Time: An Open Letter to the Anglican Communion | Covenant

A number of the authors at Covenant have been working on an open letter in recent days.  The following is the final version which has been posted over at Covenant.  Please read it all.

August 25, 2008

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We the undersigned contributors to Covenant-Communion.com believe that “a word in time” is now needed in order to assist the Communion to move forward in a constructive manner following the Lambeth Conference. We would like to speak such a word by specifically addressing the points Bishop Bob Duncan raises in his email to Bishop Gary Lillibridge, which has now been made public with Bp. Duncan’s permission. Our reflections are offered with all due respect for Bishop Duncan as a dear friend to some of us, and one whom those of us who know him personally admire as a stalwart in the faith. Bishop Duncan’s words are quoted in italics with our reflections following.

A Word in Time: An Open Letter to the Anglican Communion | Covenant

First Things » Blog Archive » Abandoning the Frightened and Depressed

A disturbing piece from First Things, but it needs to be read.

A story just published in the UK’s Guardian is a diary account of the euthanasia death of Mieneke Weide-Boelkes, a woman with brain cancer, written by her son Marc Weide, who made it public. As such, and because it is so awful, it seemed to me that public comment is warranted.

The story of Weide-Boelkes’ euthanasia amply demonstrates the abandonment that assisted suicide/euthanasia consciousness generates in society, within medicine, and among families. And it proves clearly that the “protective guidelines” are utterly meaningless. It also demonstrates that once mercy killing is sanctioned, families become almost remote bystanders to their loved one’s end.



To cases: One of the supposed requirements of Dutch euthanasia is that there can be no other way to alleviate suffering other than killing the patient. Yet, in this actual case, the woman who would soon be dead wants to die for fear of going bald during life-extending chemotherapy. From the story:

The prognosis is she could live another year if she undergoes chemotherapy. But she won’t. “I’m not going to go bald,” she says. “I don’t want people saying, ‘How sad, that beautiful hair all gone.’ Never.”

Despite the ability to extend Weide-Boelkes’ life, and the driving motives of worries that she will not be pretty (and hence not worthy of being loved?), and fears about losing the ability to engage in enjoyable activities as the reasons for wanting euthanasia, the doctor agrees to kill.

{Read it all.}

Three Hierarchies: Eating Involves Killing — No Matter What

A very interesting blog post from Three Hierarchies about the desire of vegetarians (and others) to change the world, and the challenges inherent in their position.  He brings in some very interesting contrasting thoughts from Buddhism as well. Perhaps most interesting are his thoughts regarding God giving humanity permission to eat plants and animals. It is an interesting insight and, I believe, has some consequences for how we view stewardship.

Like all world-changers, vegetarians are convinced that with a few simple adjustments, a life without inflicting harm on anyone are within our grasp. I have my doubts. Maybe it is because I sometimes feel uneasy swatting mosquitoes or crushing ants in my house. (And then I do it anyway and feel uncomfortable.) And when I have planted a plant, I have a deep-seated reluctance to kill it; especially if it seems to have a strong desire to live, despite frequent blows.

Maybe I’m just nuts, but I also have a feeling that the permission granted men and animals to eat plants worldwide in Genesis 1:29-30, and for Adam to eat Eden’s plants in 2:16, and the extension to animals (including creeping things like worms and insects) of Gen. 9:2-3 was not just pro forma, that without God’s specific permission it really would be wrong to eat plants. After all He made them and they are also our fellow creation. Do they actually belong to us?

{Read it all}

Brad Drell on Likely Prospects For The Anglican Communion: Continued Sluff And Obfuscation

I’m tired of arguing with the likes of the Anglican Bishop in the Great Divorce. They don’t get it, they don’t want to get it, and don’t even see there is a problem. So, why be a part of this mess, this continued sluff and obfuscation?

Jonah had to go to Ninevah. I guess I have to go to Anaheim. But, Lord, why?

{Read it all}

I feel his pain.