28 March 2007

Bishops Down The Rabbit Hole.*

lmost two months ago, our parish family began a discernment process – a time of prayerful and thoughtful reflection on the mess (what better word is there?) that is the Episcopal Church these days and how to be faithful to God in such times. While we borrowed (gratefully) the “Forty Days of Discernment” program developed by the Falls Church and Truro Church in Virginia, we had said from the beginning that no decision would be made until after Easter; rather, we would, and will, meet together and discuss together until some consensus might be reached among us as to what options might be desirable or even possible, and until we are ready to make a decision together “in the fullness of time.” Nonetheless, it may be helpful at this stage to offer, from my perspective, a progress report.

Since we began our discernment process, two major conversation-changing events have occurred in the life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The first of which should by this time be thoroughly familiar to you, so I will just sketch it here (if it's not, you have been delinquent in your participation; consider yourself firmly rebuked!). At their meeting in Africa, the Primates of the Communion called on the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops unequivocally to confirm that moratoria are in place on the consecration of partnered homosexuals to the episcopate and the blessing of same-sex unions, and to provide that confirmation by September 30th. Further, the Primates enacted a “pastoral scheme” wherein a Primatial Vicar would provide alternative primatial oversight to those Episcopal dioceses and congregations not able to accept to current leadership and direction of the Episcopal Church. It is to be remembered that the Primates proposed this plan in the hope that it would actually facilitate reconciliation within the Episcopal Church and between the Episcopal Church and its sister churches in the Anglican Communion. The Primates acted more decisively than just about anyone expected, and in so doing validated the concerns of and gave hope to those of us who have wanted to be faithful Anglicans in the Episcopal Church. There seemed finally to be a way forward that was realistic and marked by faith, hope, and charity, and this of course greatly affected our conversation and the direction of our discernment, particularly given Bishop Bauerschmidt’s strong affirmation of the Windsor Report and the Primates’ proposals: “The Primates have given us a Pastoral Scheme that allows us to move ahead, holding up before us the possibility of continuing as the Communion of Churches that I am convinced we are called to be.”

And then came the March meeting of the House of Bishops in Texas. While not responding to either of the requested moratoria (though bishops from all sides of the controversies have indicated that response will be a loud “No.”), the bishops passed resolutions not just rejecting but actually condemning the Primates’ pastoral scheme as “injurious to the Episcopal Church” and “spiritually unsound.” It is tempting to dilate upon that rejection, but the bishops said one more thing that I believe portends far worse for the Episcopal Church. According to the bishops, the initiatives of the Primates had to be rejected because “The meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church is determined solely by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.” Here are the lines from the Preamble to which they were referring:
The Episcopal Church . . . is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.

You can see the import of these words: Anglicanism, catholicity, communion with Canterbury – these things are defined only by the latest meeting of the General Convention. The bishops are committed to a principle of unfettered autonomy in an ecclesial Wonderland where, as Humpty-Dumpty told Alice, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.”

I recently read an essay concerned with what John Henry Newman long ago called “the idea of a University,” particularly with how a university might maintain a distinctively Christian identity and vocation. The author wrote,

The Christian University requires a structured form of conversation, both affirmative and critical, with a particular community of Christian faith. In the absence of such accountability – an accountability that is not imposed but freely sought – the Christian university will most likely succumb to the institutional and theological dynamics of other kinds of universities.

I’ve not thought very much about the evolution and devolution of our institutions of higher learning, but this observation about Christian universities seems a very fine analogue for what has happened in the Episcopal Church.

Perhaps you remember the rest of Alice’s and Humpty-Dumpty’s conversation. “The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things,” said Alice. “The question is: which is to be master - that's all,” responded Humpty-Dumpty. Can the Episcopal Church recognize any master beyond its own structures and its own will? And – not too fine a point on it – if not, will it recognize the Master when he returns (or vice versa; Mt. 7.21-23)?

The Primates have called – pleaded with, even – the Episcopal Church to return to a relationship of mutual accountability within the Anglican Communion, a relationship and an accountability “that is not imposed but freely sought,” that “structured conversation” wherein difference may be engaged and truth discerned. Absent such relationships of accountability, the cruel dynamics of human willfulness take over: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17.6).

What does all this mean for our discernment? The bishops’ words seem to me to be fairly definitive, and they clearly recognize that the consequence of their self-assertion may well be separation from the Anglican Communion (a price they confess themselves willing to pay). Yet again, we are in the difficult position of waiting for events to unfold and clear leadership to be provided. In light of the decisiveness shown by the Primates at their Tanzania meeting, I do not think that they will be cowed by the House of Bishops. I hope and pray that they will set in place Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar even without the Episcopal Church’s participation – and there is good reason to believe they will.

I had hoped by this writing to have heard of some response to the House of Bishop’s meeting from Bishop Bauerschmidt [since promulgated, see below] and Bishop Duncan (on behalf of the Anglican Communion Network) [see below]; as soon as (and if) those responses are made, I will communicate them with you.

Again, we had said from the beginning of this process that we would wait till after Holy Week and Easter to make any decisions. Why? Because it is in Holy Week and Easter that we come to the very heart of our salvation – those great deeds whereby God in Christ has acted to redeem us, those matters of "first importance" which ahave received from the Apostles (1 Cor. 15.3-5). I encourage you to let this letter be the last you think of these Church controversies until after Easter, and I will try to do the same.

Feast of the Annunciation (tr.)
*From a letter to the parish.

The Future Of Reading?

Heaven forfend. David Skinner considers the new Sony Reader book gadget.

Advertisements for the Sony Reader, a hand-held device for perusing e-books, show pretty, natural settings where fans of literature might go and read away to their brain's content. The marketers of portable technology have long suggested a kind of objective correlative between the pleasure one takes in their products and the places they are used. So marking up spreadsheets on your laptop while reclining on a tropical beach is much more like reclining on a tropical beach than it is like marking up spreadsheets.

Readers should be less susceptible than others to such hidden persuasion. First, it's not as if books themselves aren't, for the most part, already portable. And second, location is usually irrelevant to the quality of one's reading experience. The new Mitch Albom is going to be just as awful to read on the subway as in a deck chair, feet up, overlooking the crystal waters of Lake Tahoe.

So the virtues of portability are being exaggerated, but the Sony Reader has other selling points; above all, its potential to reduce the clutter of books. For me, the perfect advertisement for this device would be a picture of my bedstand without its ever-present leaning tower of literature. More reading, the tagline would say, fewer books.

The Reader, which I have been test-driving for a couple of weeks, makes clear that books are becoming less necessary to a life of reading pleasure. It also makes clear that the gadget-makers have a ways to go in fine-tuning their product. And they know it.

The Reader currently sells for $350, literature not included. At 7" by 5" it's close to the size of a smallish paperback. Slim and light, it's much easier to carry or pack than a hardback. Its screen alone earns Sony bragging rights. Unlike a computer monitor with its backlighting, uncertain depth, and poor resolution, Sony's E Ink display scans almost as well as ink on paper. It requires outside lighting just as paper text does--which means it offers nothing new to readers in bed positioned next to a sleeping body--but reading an entire novel on it presented no unusual problems. And the style of literature matters less than you might think. In separate sessions, both lasting several hours, the long, embroidered sentences of Jonathan Swift were as easy to take in as the hammer-and-nail prose of Elmore Leonard.


" "

"We shouldn't call a critic a murderer just because it is his duty to sign death certificates."
Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Die Anwalte der Literatur (quoted in Clive James, Cultural Amnesia)
Cited by arts critic Terry Teachout.
I'll resist applying the above to the Episcopal Church.

27 March 2007

A Little Further Ahead.

The Rev'd Dr. Ephraim Radner continues the line of thought begun below:
It is a maddening time within American Anglicanism. Even in the last few days, there is a new restlessness born of the energies of sorrow and hope both, as they seek some resolved path ahead. A few days ago, I wrote about the need to take this time seriously indeed. I wrote in terms of conservative presence within the Episcopal Church, and its now apparent incongruity with the official structures of our leadership. “Normative Christianity” (as one friend has put it) has been demoted and even banished: the Episcopal Church has declared independence. We must take our stands.
Thus, we are no longer in a position to avoid making conscious and determined choices regarding our vocation as Anglican Christians within the Episcopal Church. From one perspective, that has always been the case. The faithful are called to know what they are about, to “count the cost” of their following of our Lord. But at least from the perspective of the larger church of which we are a part – the Anglican Communion – some of those choices have remained provisional, in large part because, although the stakes have been clear enough, the paths offered for acting responsibly and in concert with brothers and sisters within the larger church have not been practically articulated. Many individuals and congregations have therefore been in a position of choosing their way in a fashion that has, by the nature of the moment, been more or less idiosyncratic. This time of obvious provisionality is now past.
We must now choose our way with respect to the Communion, and choose it in a manner that can be evaluated rather clearly according to the Communion’s own calling. This is so because the Communion has moved through very important, articulated and clear phases of reflection and action, especially most recently at Dar es Salaam. For that we are profoundly grateful.
The key now is to work with the Communion in as focused and effective a way possible. In this case, “the Communion” has offered a way, and they have done so in as clear and unified a fashion possible. All Primates agreed to the Communiqué, both African, Western, Northern and Southern. They may in fact go home to play another tune – we know that this happens all the time with meetings. Nonetheless, the agreement stands, and it represents in fact a rather surprising unanimity on matters concrete and disciplinary within this varied gathering of churches. The agreement stands, and it is up to the Primates to hold accountable their colleagues. It is also up to people like us, simple laborers in the vineyard, to hold up to our leaders the shape of that calling they themselves have voiced, and to do what we can to further its accomplishment. It is past time to claim technical difficulties or polity constraints – after all, the communiqué was not a debating piece, but rather offered a way forward for a part of the family all had agreed had acted preemptively, if not also in clear contradiction to the faith and teaching as received in this church.
It is clear that the official structures of TEC have rejected the plea made to them, or have begun to do so in respect of what was, if we be honest, a critical effort at peace-making: the Pastoral Council and Primatial Vicar scheme. Will the Bishops by 30 September agree to other requests made of them or are we seeing the handwriting on the wall? I fear the answer to that seems virtually foregone.
To this degree, then, we now stand apart from them, and our work stands apart from theirs. If this puts us in conflict with these structures and their representatives, so be it. How one chooses to respond to this conflict represents the options I listed earlier: one can understand its reality in one’s heart, yet choose to avoid it, by retiring to a protected space within the battle; one can seek a place apart from the center of the conflict, by transferring one’s structural allegiance to a group outside TEC and (one hopes) thereby avoiding direct confrontations with the Communion-recalcitrant of the Episcopal Church; one can, on the basis of a judgment that the conflict itself is without evangelical or perhaps more personally, emotional merit, discern the life of the Church as calling one into another tradition altogether. As I wrote, each of these choices, made in the face of now open conflict with the official structures – in this case, the very “mind” of our bishops gathered – has things to recommend as well as to criticize it. But the choice, to repeat, is about what is now an open conflict with the structures of TEC as they stand apart from the communion in Christ we understand to order our ministries.
As I wrote earlier, my own sense of this moment – one I share with many colleagues – is one that remains consistent with long-standing commitments:
a. As an Anglican Christian, I continue to wish to give myself to the vocation of Anglicanism within the larger Church, one of embodying a faithful Scriptural and ministry to Christ Jesus within the difficult yet glorious discipleship of “communion”. I continue to believe that this is an imperative gift to offer the larger Church in a time of wrenching human confusion and uncertainty in the trust of the Gospel within the world. I remain an Anglican, because I believe that God continues to give us work to do.
b. Because the Primates – as those asked to respond to the threats against this Anglican vocation – have offered together a way forward, I believe it is best to follow this way as far as one can from within the position God has placed us – in this case, Americans within TEC. How do this, if TEC’s own bishops as a group have rejected this way?
i. Those bishops who do not in fact share the “mind” of the House of Bishops, must say so openly and separate themselves from that mind; they must have a different mind, a mind that is at one with the larger church’s.
ii. They must respond positively to the Primates’ request, by publicly acceding to their recommendations, both in word and deed: clarifying their own commitments on matters under dispute, and following through with the request to gather and nominate a Primatial Vicar to a Pastoral Council – now seemingly capable of being made up only of 3 persons, given TEC’s refusal to participate. What the Council does with this rests in their hands; but “communion-minded” American bishops must at least do their part.
iii. Individual congregations and clergy and laity within TEC should encourage Communion-minded bishops to this work, by urging them forward and committing themselves to the Pastoral Scheme as it unfolds under the direction of the Communion and the Communion-minded. Such a commitment could be given in a number of ways, but it should be done openly and clearly.
iv. Communion-minded bishops and their supporters may indeed face sanctions from the official structures of the TEC – other bishops, the legal offices of 815 and the Executive Council. This will represent the practical side of the conflict now upon us. But be of good cheer – He has overcome the world.
v. We must in all things act together, and not apart. Shall there perhaps be a moment on October 1st when we shall stand as one mind and one heart? But if this is to happen, the choices we make today must move in this direction and not another.
Some have wondered if I am counseling us to “leave” the Episcopal Church. There are certainly ways to do this that are unambiguous, and I am not in a position to judge those who take such an unambiguous path. However, for those like myself who are committed to the Communion path outlined above, “leaving” is not as clear as it may seem. We have not moved; last week, our bishops as a House have moved.
In such a situation, the readjusting of relationships will, as I have said, engage an inevitable conflict. This could well “feel” like leaving to some, I have no doubt. It will certainly be filled with anguish, as I feel every day. But steadfastness in this course is not flight or abandonment of anyone. We can respect the choices of our House of Bishops as choices made openly and honestly.
But our own choices can likewise be made with integrity, precisely as they remain consistent with the vows we have all taken to “the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” and the “heritage” of the Great Church God would have rise up again the sight of all the world.
–The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner is rector of Church of the Ascension, Pueblo, Colorado, and a fellow of the Anglican Communion Institute. Dr Radner wishes to thank Christopher Seitz and Philip Turner for their input on this piece.

From The Network.

I've been asked (and have asked others) when we might hear from Bp. Duncan and the Anglican Communion Network leadership re the House of Bishops' meeting. The following from the Network came via email today:
Bishop Robert Duncan, moderator for the Network, is meeting with various leaders in the orthodox Anglican movement to pray about and discern the Lord's mind for a biblical, missionary and united Anglicanism in the U.S. that remains in full communion with the Anglican Communion. They ask for your prayers, your continued support and your trust at this critical time.

Bp. Bauerschmidt re H.O.B.

Bishop Bauerschmidt on the House of Bishops' meeting:

Though I appreciate the canonical concerns of my colleagues which led to the rejection of the Pastoral Scheme, I believe it is possible for the Presiding Bishop to participate in the Scheme within the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. In spite of the failure to move ahead with nominations to the Pastoral Council, I recognize the willingness of the House "to work to find ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the Primates" in some other way. I hope this will be possible, though in the absence of new proposals I am not sure who is taking responsibility for advancing this work. I am also unsure whether the House will be able to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates’ Standing Committee, or what our agenda would be.

Furthermore, I am unconvinced by the historical arguments advanced by the Bishops’ Letter to the Episcopal Church as reasons for not participating in the Primates’ Pastoral Scheme. As statements which function to define who we are as a Church, they are of limited usefulness.

I am not sure that we are well served by a historical perspective that links the founding principles of the Episcopal Church to our experience of "liberation from colonialism", as if this were a distinctive feature of our Church. The American Revolution "liberated" the Episcopal Church from much of its assets and influence, perhaps rightly, but at the end of the day it is hard not to argue that the Episcopal Church had a very ambiguous relationship with the Revolution. At the very least, this linkage fails to bear the weight thrust upon it.

At the same time, the American Revolution was distinctly different from the revolutionary movements that flourished in Africa and Asia after the Second World War, in the greatest post-colonial period. The experiences of Christians in the societies of the post-colonial Third World are very different from our own. Our own American experience was marked by the emergence of a national and even imperial consciousness which is largely absent from these others. It is difficult to equate our experiences with those of other post-colonial societies, or even to place their struggles on the same ideological continuum. It is ironic that this appeal to our "liberation from colonialism" takes up issues addressed by the Primates, many of whom are from the this post-colonial Third World.

The appeal to our "English Reformation heritage" also goes wide of the mark. The "local governance of the Church by its own people" was neither the intent of the Reformers nor was it an actual result of the Reformation. Instead, the Reformers appealed to Scriptural truth; while the Monarch appealed to the Royal Supremacy over the Church. At times, both Reformers and Monarch asserted the principle of a national Church, but neither subordinated this to their more primary concern, of faithfulness to Scripture or the demand of Royal Supremacy. Neither espoused "the local governance of the Church by its own people". In fact, the Reformed Church of England in Tudor and Stuart times was characterized by policies that excluded this governance, for fear that it would result in either Romanism or radical Protestantism.

The appeal to Christian origins and the early days of the Church is a far more central part of our "English Reformation heritage" than is a particular Church polity, apart from Episcopal order (which itself is rooted in the appeal to Christian origins). It is difficult to privilege the life of "national churches" when we look to early Christian sources. The dialogue there is between two poles of life: the local, particular Church, centered in the Eucharistic Assembly, and the universal, world-wide Church. The communion of the bishops with each other, as leaders of each local Eucharistic Assembly, was a key piece in holding these two poles together.

I agree that the cutting off of relations between Christians is spiritually unsound. I agree that the keeping of vows to each other is crucial. I too am concerned about the division of the Episcopal Church.

A this point in our life, Anglicans, and not just Episcopalians, need to pay more attention to ecclesiology, the consideration of what the Church itself is. We’ve not done a very good job of this in the past, because our experience in the English Reformation allowed us to simply accept the Church as a given without much need for consideration. But as Anglicanism has spread to many different contexts throughout the world, our situation has become more complex, our challenges more pronounced, our opportunities much greater. It is precisely at times of challenge like this that development and change takes place.

We need ways in which the Communion can hold together in spite of difference, and pursue a common life. Those ways will come through consideration of the Church, "that wonderful and sacred mystery" (BCP, 291). I’m sure that the Church referred to in this prayer is a worldwide phenomenon with its roots firmly planted in the earliest times, growing and reaching out to the future. A Communion in which there is no way to reach a common mind about the extent of difference will not be able to grow together. Or even hold together Insisting that our present differences are not enough to divide us will not convince others who believe differently. Instruments are needed by which we can engage each other and hold each other accountable, and not simply be Churches that are talking past each other. I believe that those Instruments of Unity are at hand.

Here's the whole thing (.pdf).

26 March 2007

Birthday Party.

The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City hosted Elton John's 60th birthday party last night:

The bacchanal for 400 guests included $18,000 worth of exotic flowers, 1,000 bottles of champagne and a large dessert mound of sticky toffee pudding - Sir Elton's favorite.
The stars which came out to sparkle for John's big night included Bette Midler, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, Donatella Versace, Michael Stipe, Jon Bon Jovi, Michael Caine, Richard Gere, Barbara Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Kid Rock, Liv Tyler, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rod Stewart.
Diane Sawyer and Emma Thompson showed up giggling arm and arm, and newlywed Elizabeth Hurley even cut short her honeymoon with hubby Arun Nayar to join the fracas.
The dress code was "elegant black tie" - a far cry from Sir Elton's 50th-birthday shindig, when he showed up for the costume ball in a $100,000 Louis XIV outfit, complete with a towering white wig.
This time, the affair was to be a lot more muted. Tasteful white flowers filled the church. And in keeping with the religious atmosphere, tables were adorned with silver drinking chalices.
The altar was set up as a stage for the performers, which included the trendy rock group Scissor Sisters, Sting and Paul McCartney.
Here's the whole fabulous thing, via David Virtue.

Independence! Autonomy! Self-Determination!

Jordan Hylden on the House of Bishop's meeting:

Unfortunately, last week the Episcopal Church apparently decided that it will be bound by nothing beyond itself—not Scripture, not tradition, not worldwide Anglican councils, not anything. And it said so with a vehemence that was surprising, even to many of its supporters.

In their statement, the American bishops accused the global Anglican primates of “unprecedented” spiritual unsoundness and solemnly spoke of the Episcopal Church’s “autonomy” and “liberation from colonialism,” which they understood to be threatened by the creeping rule of “a distant and unaccountable group of prelates.” Apparently, they were serious. With no sense of irony, the bishops of an overwhelmingly white, wealthy, and liberal American church actually saw fit to accuse their fellow Anglicans—many of whom are from poor third-world countries—of “colonialism.”

It is all very sad. One cannot read the bishops’ statement without sensing their anger and impatience. And what is worse, one cannot read the statement without sensing that the bishops have decided, for now and for always, to leave the Anglican Communion and cut conservatives out of the church.

. . .

Discouraging as all this is, it gets worse. This is the reason the bishops gave for their rejection of the Pastoral Council: “The meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church,” they solemnly intoned, “is determined solely by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church.”

While that may seem opaque to the casual observer, it is actually a bold and sweeping statement that, if acted upon, will lead directly to a final split with Canterbury and destroy the idea of Anglican catholicity within the Episcopal Church.

To make clear the radical nature of the Episcopal bishops’ new claim, the constitution’s preamble is worth quoting: “The Episcopal Church . . . is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces, and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.”

By stating that the meaning of this sentence is determined solely by General Convention, the Episcopal bishops are doing nothing less than claiming that what it means to be Anglican, what it means to be in communion with Canterbury, what it means to be a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church and hold to the historic Christian faith—that all of this is to be decided solely by the democratic vote of clergy and laypeople once every two [sic - 3 years] years in a Marriott hotel convention room, with reference to nothing and nobody. It is breathtaking in its arrogance.

Here's the whole thing.

22 March 2007

Good Eats.

Like hotdogs? Yes.
Bacon? Of course.
Aerosol Cheese? Check.
Just about anything deep-fried? You know it.

That's why as soon as Lent's over, I'll be fixing a few of these.

Fat Lady Singing?

Ephraim Radner on options for traditional Christians in the Episcopal Church:
To a certain kind of faithful Episcopalian, things may indeed look bleak. The recent House of Bishops meeting in Texas seems to put a seal of finality to the fraying hopes many of us had for the renewal of our common life. To be realistic, however, is not to lose hope; rather, it is see more clearly where our true hope must lie.

As for reality: There is clearly no real place left for conservative Christians within TEC’s official structures. It is obvious to me that, not only are the vast majority of the denomination’s leaders personally hostile to conservative commitments, but they have reached a point where they are quite open and brazen in their exclusion of conservative presence and influence within the councils of TEC. It is increasingly less likely that appointments of conservatives are made to diocesan, provincial, and national committees (the only way, for a long time now, that such a presence has even been possible); and it is certainly no longer likely that conservatives will be voted, by diocesan or national conventions, onto decision-making councils. Most of our seminaries apply, openly or surreptitiously, the gay-test (and probably do so in both directions, depending on the school). God forbid one should actually have a paper trail that marks one’s views. When conservatives are appointed to Communion committees and councils, they are subjected from within TEC to howls of protest and to negative campaigns, engaged in not simply by concerned individuals, but by bishops and diocesan representatives.

The recent House of Bishops meeting made clear that the alienation between TEC’s leadership and the Anglican Communion as a whole, at least as represented by its Instruments of Communion, has become currently unbridgeable. The bishops of TEC are convinced that their policies of gay inclusion are non-negotiable, and even the Presiding Bishop has made clear that there is “no going back” on actions and commitments made on this score. The clarity of the bishops’ and Executive Council’s and General Convention’s statements around this subject give the lie to any claim that TEC’s leadership is interested in “listening”, let alone learning from the rest of the Communion, or that they perceive their commitments even to be a part of some “reception” process of testing. They have made their decision regarding the absolute imperative of the Gospel on this score (as they see it), and no amount of conferences and dialogues on biblical “hermeneutics” and “cultural perspectives” will budge them from their perceived duty. Those within the church who disagree may be granted some measure of space to live out their ministries (although who knows?); but it has now been made very clear that they have no standing to oppose, for their views have been judged illegitimate. There is no place to go, in their view, but either towards an embrace of their now settled convictions, or away to the fading margins of their domain.

How should the Communion’s councils deal with this now defined reality? Here we may see where hope is leading us. In general, the Communion should simply allow TEC to go its own way for the present, and withdraw indefinitely its invitations to participate in general councils, such as Lambeth, the ACC, and the Primates’ Meeting. This was Katherine Grieb’s suggestion recently made to the House of Bishops, though her proposed limited time-frame should be left open-ended. Perhaps in 5 or 10 or 25 years, there will be movements that will change this drifting and now deliberate walking apart; but certainly they will not come about through a process of engaged dialogue. I think that the participation of any American in these councils and structures – whether bishop, clergyperson, or layperson – should be left undetermined at present. If individual invitations or petitions are tendered with respect to the Communion, let them be dealt with on an individual and ad hoc basis. TEC and its membership, as represented by its House of Bishops, Executive Council, and General Convention, have made it clear that they are committed to their own life, teaching, and discipline and on their own terms. This can and should be respected. The Communion should move on.

What then will happen to conservative Christians in TEC? There are several potential paths:

a. they can continue to gather, worship, and witness as they have, and with all the integrity they can muster, although with the clear sense that they have no directional place and probably future in this church. It is possible that, as leaders and congregations, they will simply “die out” in the coming years. For clergy who are near retirement, this may prove a peaceable option. For dioceses as a whole, there is a possible future of stability and fruitful ministry, perhaps even growth. There are real doubts about the ability to maintain appropriate episcopal leadership in such dioceses, however, in the light of the embarrassing fiasco of South Carolina’s failed consents, and simply the reality of larger social and ecclesial pressures working against maintaining coherent theological focus over the long haul.

b. they can organize, unilaterally as it were, a version of some “pastoral scheme” with a group of TEC bishops willing to step forward as a group. In effect, this would end up being a kind of alternative or parallel Anglican Church, although without yet a desired formal schism or separation. Bishops would still be members of TEC’s House of Bishops, for instance, assuming they were not brought up on presentment charges. Such an alternative church could, in theory, continue for a long time. Just as Grieb suggested that TEC should carry on in a “parallel” way with the Communion, so too this group could constitute a parallel to the TEC. This might or might not involve a Pastoral Council precisely organized as recommended in the Dar es Salaam Communiqué, although minus the input from TEC. But:

i. this would have to involve negotiation with the main representatives of TEC. Are there people of such good will still among us?

ii. and if such negotiation failed, it would involve either civil disobedience or litigation, or both. Are there people willing to face such things?

c. they can leave TEC and their properties (or negotiate buying them from their dioceses), and join some existing group that is not generally engaged in litigation, e.g. the AMiA (who has admirably, if not wholly consistently, avoided such things by simply leaving property behind and acquiring new buildings and planting new churches), or those individual congregations who have left property and gone under foreign jurisdictions.

i. These groups may or may not seek to join with one another into a common alternative Anglican church, which may or may not be recognized by the larger Communion as a whole. The challenges to this are enormous, especially beyond the short-term, as existing theological and disciplinary differences among conservatives emerge. The ecclesiological outlooks among several of the existing separated groups are vastly different, and to this point the differences have been obscured by the sense of struggling with a common adversary.
ii. the Communion as a whole will have a hard time recognizing such an alternative Anglican group “in the place of” TEC, unless the Communion leadership itself coheres more readily around a common vision, such as the Covenant. Hence, any recognition of a completely new Anglican church in America will probably have to wait several years.

d. they can leave Anglicanism altogether, and enter other Christian denominations and communions. There is anecdotal evidence that this has been a predominant response by conservatives to the present, although hard evidence is lacking.

Alternatives in themselves are useful only as they mark out parameters for discernment. What then is the best way among these alternatives? There are arguments to be made for and against each option. But let the Gospel guide our hopes!

In general, I would counsel complete avoidance of litigation – in concert with the explicit teaching of the Gospel – and instead encourage civil disobedience in cases where Christians choose to oppose the depredations of TEC leadership. But is this even a witness we are called to make? Anglicanism has its own sorry history of intolerance and injustice within its midst – we remember the whole-scale driving out of clergy in and after the English Civil War by both sides – and these kinds of conflicts among self-styled followers of Christ have long-lasting and scandalizing results. Simply leaving, however, is something that grates, though perhaps primarily against our pride. I recall only several months ago, at the diocesan convention of Colorado, that a diocesan leader (now appointed by the bishop to a Taskforce on our “common life”) publicly confronted me and demanded that I “and my kind” “leave the church and let [them] get on with ministry”; we were nothing but “dying embers” bringing division and sowing anger within the church. Part of me would like to prove these kinds of affronts simply wrong. Such a motive, however, would be base. There is no point dying with the church, unless one is ready to struggle for the truth. But there is no point struggling for the truth if the struggle leaves one bitter and hostile, aimed against adversaries instead of praying for them in love. If one is not called to the radiancy of joyful sacrifice, it is better to leave. And hope is radiant and ready.

In the end, however, I would urge our continued hope that the larger Communion – and not simply this or that individual leader or group, whose own discernment is often rather limited – will offer the kind of encouraging and supportive direction we seek, indeed that they shall in fact come forward with a Pastoral Council capable of meeting the needs of Anglican witness within the United States such as the Communiqué recommended. This would require the kind of corporate vision and courage (not Don Quixote individualism) on the part of “Camp Allen Principled” bishops that is necessary for them to step forward, offer their own readiness to work with such a Council, and suffer the consequences of their witness and leadership. We are now in the fullness of time for such a demonstration of hope! And we shall all need to hold steady in seeking this direction and support, and come together with a common sense of its need and usefulness.

I was struck, at the recent House of Bishops’ meeting, with the open abuse, often personally directed, thrown at the Primates by many of our bishops. Turning to them, it appears, means turning away from the majority of the TEC’s leadership. Some will ask, of course, “is this not a form of giving up?”. But if we do not do this, if we do not continue to hope in the larger Church, we are all being thrown back on individual conscience – a noble, but weak reed indeed that, on its own, can never save us. And it is far too easy to confuse our conscience with the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is the following of Him and Him alone – not by ourselves alone, but as the full Body of Christ! — that we seek to accomplish. May this Savior – who is “our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1) — come to our aid!

–The Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner is rector of Church of the Ascension, Pueblo, Colorado, and a fellow of the Anglican Communion Institute

Calvert DeForest, R.I.P.

From the L.A. Times:

Calvert DeForest, the roly-poly character actor with the black-framed glasses and seemingly clueless delivery who developed a cult following as Larry "Bud" Melman on "Late Night With David Letterman" in the 1980s, has died. He was 85.

DeForest, who continued appearing with Letterman under his own name after the late-night comedian moved from NBC to CBS in the 1990s, died after a long illness Monday at a hospital in Babylon, N.Y., a spokesman for Letterman's production company said."Everyone always wondered if Calvert was an actor playing a character, but in reality he was just himself: a genuine, modest and nice man," Letterman said in a statement Wednesday. "To our staff and to our viewers, he was a beloved and valued part of our show, and we will miss him."

Here's the whole thing.

Howe Re The House.

Interesting comments from the bishop of Central Florida re the HOB meeting:

There has been much discussion of both of these requests, and a number of individual Bishops have very clearly expressed their unwillingness to agree to either of them. But there has been no official action taken by the House as a whole regarding them. The tenor of the discussion makes it clear (to me) that whenever we do address them (presumably in our September meeting), there will be an overwhelming decision to say No.

. . .

The proposals for the formation of a "Pastoral Council" and the "Pastoral Scheme" have been thoroughly rejected as incompatible with our Constitution and Canons. (Please note: I do not believe they are incompatible, and I voted against this rejection. But that is the opinion of the great majority of our House.) The Presiding Bishop was asked whether she still has the authority to appoint a "Primatial Vicar," and her answer was Yes.

So that may still happen, but it will not be within the framework envisioned by the Communique.

Bishop Howe - one assumes - misspeaks here. The PB does not, according to the Primates' plan, appoint the Primatial Vicar; rather, she appoint two members of the Pastoral Council, while the "Windsor Bishops" nominate the Primatial Vicar (who will then presumabley be confirmed by the Council.

Here's the whole thing, via Stand Firm.

Read All About It.

Press coverage of the House of Bishops' meeting:

The Tennessean picks up the AP story and tacks on this local bit:

"I'm disappointed," said the Rev. Jerry Smith, rector of Nashville's St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church. "It will cause difficulty in us creating an ongoing conversation. I'm afraid that (the bishops') failure to accept the communiqué will be an excuse for schism."

If that were to happen, Smith said he has faith in the newly installed local bishop, the Right Rev. John Bauerschmidt, to steer the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee.

The 15,000-member diocese is believed to be largely conservative theologically but also has members and clergy who strongly support the bishops' affirmation of same-sex unions.

"I believe he will be able to lead us through this if we let him," Smith said. "I believe some people will not let him do that."

The Rev. Bob Cowperthwaite, the rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Franklin, said that while he had not read the entire bishops' statement, "the things I've seen so far I feel very comfortable with."
Cowperthwaite cast a vote in favor of the consecration of the openly gay New Hampshire bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2003.


All 4 Jesus.

An interesting new Christian youth movement in Alaska finds it way to the Supreme Court:

In a better world, the phrase "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" would take its place in the library of eternal mysteries alongside "Bye-bye Miss American Pie," "I Am the Walrus" and "It's Alright, Ma, I'm Only Bleeding." Instead, it fell Monday to the Nine Interpreters of the U.S. Supreme Court to deconstruct "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" and decide for the rest of us whether it falls inside the protections of the American Constitution.

Perhaps an explanation is in order.

Here's the whole thing.

21 March 2007

Skateboarding: Crime Or Not A Crime?

A better question might be, "Skateboarders: Obnoxious or Not Obnoxious?"

She probably should have handled it differently, but I'll be contributing to this officer's legal defense fund. Here's the video, and here's the article.

20 March 2007


Every attempt of mine to characterize the House of Bishops' response to the Primates' Tanzania communique yields something too colorful for a family blog like this one. Anyway, here's the ENS article:
The request came as the second of three "mind of the house" resolutions adopted by the bishops on March 20. The resolutions [full texts here] were debated during the business session scheduled during the House of Bishops' annual spring retreat meeting.
In the afternoon's first resolution, addressed to the Episcopal Church's Executive Council, the House of Bishops "affirms its desire that The Episcopal Church remain a part of the councils of the Anglican Communion" and "pledges itself to continue to work to find ways of meeting the pastoral concerns of the Primates that are compatible with our own polity and canons."
Stating that "the meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church is determined solely by the General Convention," the resolution also declares that "the House of Bishops believes the Pastoral Scheme of the Dar es Salaam Communiqué of February 19, 2007 would be injurious to the polity of the Episcopal Church and urges that the Executive Council decline to participate in it."
The Primates' "pastoral scheme" seeks to establish a pastoral council and a primatial vicar whom the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop would name to provide alternative oversight of dioceses -- seven of the Episcopal Church's 111 -- that have requested such a provision.
A third resolution -- a longer text -- enumerates four reasons why the bishops, hoping "we will continue to be welcome in the councils" of the Anglican Communion "nevertheless decline to participate in the Primates' Pastoral scheme for many reasons."
Here's the whole thing.

17 March 2007

Mission In The New Old World.

Philip Jenkins weighs in on the Christian Vision Project's theme of mission: What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world?

All of which prepares us poorly for the world of the emerging Christian churches, which have rediscovered the basic semantic truth that liberation and deliverance are actually the same thing. To be credible, any presentation of the Christian message must offer the prospect of freedom from the oppressive forces of this world and the other worlds. We should not be startled when global South evangelicals are "conservative" about abortion or homosexuality but also demand forceful state intervention to fight poverty, even if that means regulating the free market. And we should not expect that newer churches will respect the walls that separate styles of worship and belief among Europeans and North Americans, between churches that are evangelical and catholic, liturgical and charismatic.

In short, Christians of European descent should learn that they are not necessarily the norm within the Christian tradition, still less the authentic core; nor, perhaps, have they ever been. And whether they like it or not, the rules will continue to change and evolve, because that is the nature of growth. This principle was well expressed by a Chinese scripture that so often parallels Christian insights, the Dao De Jing of Laozi:

A man is supple and weak when living, but hard and stiff when dead. Grass and trees are pliant and fragile when living but dried and shriveled when dead. Thus the hard and strong are the comrades of death; the supple and the weak are the comrades of life.(Ch. 76, translated by D. C. Lau)

As the companions of life, of course newer churches remain flexible and bend our familiar dividing lines. Perhaps by observing how they do this, we can find our way back from a faith that has been, on occasion, too hard and strong to flourish.

Here's the whole thing, and well worth the read.

St. Patrick & The Hope Of Eternal Life.

From his Confession:
55. But I see that even here and now, I have been exalted beyond measure by the Lord, and I was not worthy that he should grant me this, while I know most certainly that poverty and failure suit me better than wealth and delight (but Christ the Lord was poor for our sakes; I certainly am wretched and unfortunate; even if I wanted wealth I have no resources, nor is it my own estimation of myself, for daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises. But I fear nothing, because of the promises of Heaven; for I have cast myself into the hands of Almighty God, who reigns everywhere. As the prophet says: ‘Cast your burden on the Lord and he will sustain you.’
56. Behold now I commend my soul to God who is most faithful and for whom I perform my mission in obscurity, but he is no respecter of persons and he chose me for this service that I might be one of the least of his ministers.
57. For which reason I should make return for all that he returns me. But what should I say, or what should I promise to my Lord, for I, alone, can do nothing unless he himself vouchsafe it to me. But let him search my heart and [my] nature, for I crave enough for it, even too much, and I am ready for him to grant me that I drink of his chalice, as he has granted to others who love him.
58. Therefore may it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing.
59. And if at any time I managed anything of good for the sake of my God whom I love, I beg of him that he grant it to me to shed my blood for his name with proselytes and captives, even should I be left unburied, or even were my wretched body to be torn limb from limb by dogs or savage beasts, or were it to be devoured by the birds of the air, I think, most surely, were this to have happened to me, I had saved both my soul and my body. For beyond any doubt on that day we shall rise again in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ Jesus our Redeemer, as children of the living God and co-heirs of Christ, made in his image; for we shall reign through him and for him and in him.
60. For the sun we see rises each day for us at [his] command, but it will never reign, neither will its splendour last, but all who worship it will come wretchedly to punishment. We, on the other hand, shall not die, who believe in and worship the true sun, Christ, who will never die, no more shall he die who has done Christ’s will, but will abide for ever just as Christ abides for ever, who reigns with God the Father Almighty and with the Holy Spirit before the beginning of time and now and for ever and ever. Amen.
61. Behold over and over again I would briefly set out the words of my confession. I testify in truthfulness and gladness of heart before God and his holy angels that I never had any reason, except the Gospel and his promises, ever to have returned to that nation from which I had previously escaped with difficulty.

16 March 2007

"Null & Void."

Katherine Jefferts-Schori has declared the Diocese of South Carolina's election of Fr. Mark Lawrence "null and void" because of technical problems with some of the consents (there were a sufficient number of positive responses to confirm the election). Here are some resources:
In the conflicts that have beset our Church since the General Convention willfully ignored the rest of the communion, we have set our course with very simple and well-stated parameters:

1) We are Biblical, Creedal, and Apostolic. The Scriptures have authority. The Scriptures are interpreted in light of Sacred Tradition. The Tradition has been received from the Apostolic Church. No Christian has the right to alter this deposit of Faith and still call himself a catholic Christian. When bishops, conventions or seminaries attempt to change the received doctrine, we will protest and resist.

2) We are both evangelical and catholic. Our Evangelical hearts require us never to cease in our quest to take the Gospel to all people. Our Catholic sense of order reminds us that the church is never merely the local community, but the whole people of God connected through a common Faith and the Apostolic Succession to Jesus himself. Therefore, we understand that “independent” Anglicanism is impossible. Our request for Alternative Primatial Oversight had nothing to do with schism. On the contrary, it was clear to us that the American Church, by its unilateral actions, had in fact created a de facto schism with the rest of the church. It was our very catholic ecclesiology that would not allow us to stand for such a breach in communion. But even as we registered our strong protest against American unilateralism, we never once took a single uncanonical action, nor have we threatened to do so.


The Carthusians Cometh.

For some months now, I have been looking forward to seeing the documentary film, Into Great Silence. Fr. Neuhaus was able to see it last week in New York, and liked it:

It is nearly three hours of nearly silent filming of the life of the monks at Grand Chartreuse, the Carthusian monastery founded by St. Bruno in 1084 in the Swiss Alps near Grenoble. The film was a big hit in Europe but is showing here in only one theater, the Film Forum over on West Houston (For non-New Yorkers, that’s Howston.) It was scheduled for a week, then held over for another week, and is now held over indefinitely. The lines to get in are long and steady, and let’s hope theater owners elsewhere will recognize its potential. I understand it will be out in DVD in a few months, but this is something that should, if possible, be seen in the theater.

The packed house was almost preternaturally silent as people were caught up into a way of life radically directed to the transcendent, to God. For me, the film made a deep and, I expect, lasting impression. If you have the opportunity, I suggest you not miss it.

From here.
Here's the trailer.
I read somewhere that the film is finally coming to Nashville - at the Belcourt, for a week in May - but now I can't find that info.
Also, again I recommend this wonderful account of Carthusian life, An Infinity of Little Hours.

Apocalypse Ireland.

Earlier this week came shocking news that the consumption of Guiness is in fairly steep decline in Ireland. Now, apropos of St. Patrick's Day, National Revieiw Online justifies its existence with a symposium on the crisis:

It was a summer night and we talked and walked for a good while, and she answered that yes, the grass really was that green. The Guinness? “Better back home than here.” And I could just taste it: creamy-topped brown-black Irish Guinness pulled long and slow in a dark thatchy pub. Lip-licking perfect, and not too many steps later I thought it was nice when she asked about my America, a place where we agreed a true Guinness pint was not to be found. “Been yet to California?” “Work in any of these buildings here we’re passin’?” Soon enough we were discussing my living situation, which back then was occasionally at my parents’ house and the rest of the time was elsewhere. I noted that when I was back home in Queens that I slept on the floor in my old bedroom, which had been taken over by my younger brothers who had stolen the beds. “No bed, but I make do,” and as I said this I felt the strong simple Irishman inside me emerge. But I had fouled, apparently badly, and the mythical Irish beauty (when you didn’t look) beside me altered in haunting way.

“You Americans are always complainin’ bout sumthin’, aren’t yeh?” snipped the Hag. “Be thankful y’have space enough for sleepin’ at all.” That savor in my mouth — brought on by the imagined perfectness of the perfect pint in Ireland — vanished. I was a Joycian creature lost in the night, tasting the hollow dryness of anguish and anger.


15 March 2007

Famous Last Words.

Absurd Episcopal quote of the day:
“It’s not an ultimatum unless you think it is.”
From Episcopal Church spokesperson Jan Nunley.
Here's the whole thing; via TitusOneNine, where comments ensue.

Barth Comes To America.

In the Weekly Standard, Ernest Lefever gives an interesting account of an evening spent with Karl Barth and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (and other "the bright young men close to President Kennedy"):

Time magazine's April 20, 1962, cover story on Karl Barth announced that the great Swiss theologian would visit the United States for the first, and what turned out to be the only, time. Given Barth's well-known anti-American stance, the visit caused a stir in the White House. President Kennedy, then in his second year, was grappling daily with Soviet threats and Khrushchev's boasts. JFK had already suffered two serious Cold War reverses--the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba and Khrushchev's raising of the Berlin Wall. Given these realities, Kennedy was not about to welcome Barth to a country whose history Barth had said he loved but whose current "way of life" he professed to scorn.

Barth said among his reasons for coming here were to visit the Gettysburg battlefield (he was a Civil War buff) and to meet several of "the bright young men close to President Kennedy." He specifically mentioned Arthur Schlesinger Jr., then a White House aide.

Given Schlesinger's death on February 28 at age 89, it seems appropriate to recall his encounter with Barth, which took place in my home in Chevy Chase. Since coming to Washington in 1955, I had felt impelled to get religious and political leaders to talk with one another--my rationale for establishing the Ethics and Public Policy Center in 1976.

Among Schlesinger's other credits is delivering the commencement address at my college graduation. Fr. Neuhaus has a rather devestating "appreciation" of Schlesinger's career.

14 March 2007

My Bracket.

Very lame, I realize, to put all four #1 seeds in the Final Four, but I just couldn't figure out where any of them might lose. As with term papers in college, I applied the F.L.O.D. method (first, last, & only draft).
ESPN reduces the Madness to numbers:
  • $1.5 billion: Amount of lost workplace productivity due to the tournament, according to the consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas
  • $2.5 billion: FBI's estimated amount of illegal wagering in office pools and other bets
  • $37.39: Cost for a half-case of HammerMill color copy paper at Staples
  • $109.99: Cost at Staples for a two-pack of toner cartridges for a Canon ImageRunner 9070
  • 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 to 1: Odds on picking a perfect bracket according to Pregame.com
  • $15,452.75: Average annual cost to attend the No. 1 seeds if you live in state
  • $28,101: Average annual cost to attend the No. 1 seeds if you live out of state
  • $14,469.75: Average annual cost to attend the No. 16 seeds if you live in state
  • $19,734.75: Average annual cost to attend the No. 16 seeds if you live out of state
  • $70,322,772: Average athletic budget at the No. 1 seeds according to Blue Ribbon
  • $9,056,728.75: Average athletic budget at the No. 16 seeds according to Blue Ribbon
  • $1.36: Salary you wasted your employer by reading this list

Dealing With Squirrels.

The Spring anti-squirrel campaign has begun in my backyard in earnest, so I was very interested to hear about this device (video link). Remember, this is a serious instrument of pest control and not at all funny. It would be inappropriate in the extreme to laugh as the squirrel is flung out of the yard.

From here, via The Corner.

Canterbury & York On The Slave Trade.

"The Archbishops of Canterbury and York reflect on a visit to the Anglican Cathedral in Zanzibar; site of the former slave market. Slave pits have been preserved, including the chains used. On Saturday March 24th both Archbishops will be taking part in a Walk of Witness in London, marking 200 years since the UK's abolition of the slave trade."
From the Lambeth Press Office.

13 March 2007

Titles, Odd.

A British publishing industry trade magazine lists the ten oddest titles of the year:
  • "Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan"
  • "How Green Were the Nazis?"
  • "D. Di Mascio's Delicious Ice Cream: D. Di Mascio of Coventry--An Ice Cream Company of Repute, with an Interesting and Varied Fleet of Ice Cream Vans"
  • "The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification"
  • "Proceedings of the Eighteenth International Seaweed Symposium"
  • "Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence"
Yes, that last is an apparently serious moral-philosophical argument for the extinction of the human race (or of any particular human being).


Don't Know Much About Religion.

Professor Stephen Prothero re religious literacy (or the lack thereof) and why it matters - and what might be done about it:

For the past two years, I have given students in my introductory religious-studies course at Boston University a religious-literacy quiz. I ask them to list the four Gospels, Roman Catholicism's seven sacraments, and the Ten Commandments. I ask them to name the holy book of Islam. They do not fare well.

In their quizzes, they inform me that Ramadan is a Jewish holiday, that Revelation is one of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, and that Paul led the Israelites on the Exodus out of Egypt. This year I had a Hindu student who couldn't name one Hindu scripture, a Baptist student who didn't know that "Blessed are the poor in spirit" is a Bible quote, and Catholic students unfamiliar with the golden rule. Over the past two years, only 17 percent of my students passed the quiz.

. . .

In debates about the fate of the Middle East, the propriety of gay marriage, and the politics of Islam, the stakes are too high to defer to politicians and pundits. Given the ubiquity of religious discourse in American public life, and the public power of religion at home and abroad, we Americans — whether liberals or conservatives, believers or unbelievers — need to learn about evangelicalism and Islam for ourselves, to see for ourselves what the Bible says about family values, homosexuality, war, and capital punishment, and to be aware of what Islam says about those things, too.

Each of the world's great religions has wrestled for centuries with the foundational questions of life and death and whatever (if anything) lies beyond. Each has developed sophisticated theologies for making sense of other religions, for regulating war, for fighting injustice. But we as a nation are forgetting those hard-won theologies, replacing them in many cases with bromides that only an advertising hack could be proud of — bromides, it should be noted, that are themselves ripe for replacement whenever a sexier advertising pitch comes along. Moreover, the politicians and pundits eager to exploit those bromides for partisan purposes — to turn God, Jesus, and Muhammad into pawns in their political and military games — are legion.

From this nation's beginnings, it has been widely understood that the success of the American experiment rests on an educated citizenry. Today it is simply irresponsible to use the word "educated" to describe college graduates who are ignorant of the ancient creeds, stories, and rituals that continue to motivate the beliefs and behaviors of the overwhelming majority of the world's population. In a world as robustly religious as ours, it is foolish to imagine that such graduates are equipped to participate fully in the politics of the nation or the affairs of the world.

Here's the whole thing.
Via Mere Comments.

Abortion & Political Ambition.

Rich Lowry on the life-issue convictions of the presidential candidates:

And these peregrinations are from the candidate who prides himself on fearless straight-talk. None of this is by way of dumping particularly on Giuliani, but to illustrate the governing principle of abortion politics in America: Almost no major politician really cares about it.

What are the odds that every Democratic politician with presidential hopes who once expressed pro-life sentiments — Jesse Jackson, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, even the fringe candidate Dennis Kucinich — would have epiphanies on abortion that would send them all in the pro-choice direction? Or that both George Bushes would become more pro-life as it happened to suit their ambitions?

It is a little like the athletes who earnestly insist they’ve always wanted to play for a given team in a given city — but that team almost always happens to be the one that offered the most money.

. . .

Politicians aren’t like you and me. Most of them consider (to the extent they must — they’d prefer not to think about it) one of the most profound moral issues of the day and see primarily a potential obstacle or boon to their ambitions. That’s just a fact of life. Sincerity would be nice, but on abortion, it often has to be optional.

Here's the whole thing.

Whither The Humanities?*

Scholar, novelist, essayist Thomas Mallon asks ten questions about the future of the humanities in America:

5. How can the contemplative mind survive in the multitasking, ADD-inducing world of digitization? Are we willing to face the downside of this great electronic boon? Do we really want students reading electronic texts of the classics that are festooned with more links than a Wikipedia entry? Aren’t a few moments of quiet bafflement preferable to an endless steeplechase across Web page after Web page?

6. Are we willing to consider the irony that our unceasing communication with one another — the dozen extra phone calls that we all now make each day; the two dozen pointless e-mails — is making us less human? And that we might have more important things to say if we could re-master the lost art of shutting up, for at least a half hour every now and then?

7. Are American writers, artists, and thinkers truly prepared to admit that Islamofascism is a real, and even imminent, threat to everything they are accustomed to thinking, saying, and creating?

Here's the whole thing.
*Highbrow entry of the day - back to chicken-eating cows anon.