The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thomas a Becket

Today, December 29, is the anniversary of the murder of Thomas a Becket, perhaps at the orders of King Henry II, certainly to the great relief of that most protean and impetuous of Kings. As I wrote two years ago (crikey!):
Imagine my surprise when, years later, I found out that one of the most pressing grounds for the conflict between Becket and Henrywas the treatment of "criminous clergy" who committed offenses against the laity; in the face of years of inaction by the ecclesiastical authorities, Henry wanted the right to try such clerics in the secular courts.

There was much more to it than that, of course. The real Thomas Becket may have been headstrong and arrogant, but he was also seeking to preserve the institution of the Church as it was entrusted to him, and to resist a King who was re-making the political institutions of his day and centralizing power in the King's person.

As to Becket's murder, the King's role in it has always been sharply disputed--the authenticity and meaning of the infamous quotation, "will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" have been debated for centuries. (An excellent account is contained in W.L. Warren's biography, Henry II).

Regardless of the merits of their dispute, there's no denying that the story of Becket has given rise to much great art. My personal favorite is the admittedly ahistorical play by Jean Anouilh, brilliantly filmed with Richard Burton as Becket, and Peter O'Toole as Henry:

Great though the movie is, it does considerably less than justice to either Henry (who fought a civil war to a standstill to become King) and Becket himself.

And, of course, T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral is a great favorite of mine since Fordham College (thanks, Dr. Antush!), and one which combined great insight into human nature and into theology. For me, the lines that hit home most are the scenes between Becket and his Tempters. So, the Fourth Tempter offers him the power of martyrdom:
You hold the keys of heaven and hell.
Power to bind and loose : bind, Thomas, bind,
King and bishop under your heel.
King, emperor, bishop, baron, king:
Becket sees this trap, and responds:
Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cognitive Dissonance?

This Times Magazine profile of Catholic Natural Law expert Robert P. George highlights my fundamental inability to understand relate to much of conservative Christian thought. George, widely regarded as " the reigning brain of the Christian right," (it took, of course, the rise of women's rights and the concomitant legalization of abortion to overcome the distaste many evangelicals have long held for "popery"), has successfully urged that fellow conservatives, especially RC bishops should narrow their focus:
He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care — “matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will,” as George put it.
Or in other words, fulminate, enact moral standards into law, but on poverty and justice issues--just empathize. This is utterly opposed to what a good friend of mine, a Deacon in the Episcopal Church calls "trench theology." And he has pretty good warrant for it, too. The Daily Office reading for Saturday, the same day I get the NYT Magazine? Matthew 25: 31-46:
31 'When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." 37Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?" 40And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."a 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, "You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me." 44Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?" 45Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'
The moral disjunction here seems pretty straightforward to me. George seems all too eager to focus attention that matters onto policing the morals not just of his co-religionists, but of his fellow citizens.

And George, who is a follower in his Natural Law beliefs of Aristotle and Aquinas, surely knows that Aristotle believed abortion to be permissible in the first three months of pregnancy and that Aquinas did not believe abortion was homicide until "ensoulment," post-conception, and that indeed the Roman Catholic Church itself did not hold his position until the early 19th Century. Thus, George is in the somewhat odd position of arguing that his position is the universal objective truth to be obtained by reason, despite the fact that neither of his two leading lights of Natural Law reasoning held the same position. Thus, we should adopt Aristotle and Aquinas's philosophical framework, but their specific failure to reach objective truth as George would have it does not undermine its universal quality. Yep. All clear and self evident. Meanwhile, on the actual Gospel imperatives? Nothing. Or rather, sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Back to Barchester

The summer before I started college, I first read Anthony Trollope's The Warden and its sequel, Barchester Towers. Its depiction of Nineteenth Century clerical life was a delight to me, and the depth of the character-drawing made me a fan for life. (Still am!)

At the time, I somehow missed the BBC's adaptation of the two novels. Viewing it now, it holds up quite well--Donald Pleasence captures the goodness and naive quality of the Rev. Septimus Harding,and endows him with a gentle, pawky sense of humor; Nigel Hawthorne is funny and credible as his choleric son-in-law, Archdeacon Grantly, and a young Alan Rickman is superb as the slippery Mr. Slope. The women are excellent, too; Susan Hampshire is positively delicious as the charming but naughty Signorina Madeline Vesey Nata Stanhope, and And Geraldine McEwan shines as Mrs. Proudie, the bishop's domineering wife.

Trollope is unique in English literature, in that he can make the goodness and gentle good humor of Mr. Harding credible, and not cloying. (CP Snow thought that only Dostoevsky made goodness more believable). Admirable though Rev. Harding is, I regret that I often am more like the Archdeacon--quick-tempered if well meaning.

Enjoy, but be careful--one trip to Barchester is never enough, and there are four more novels after these. And, then, of course, there are the the Pallisers:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Abp. Williams and the Untempered Schism

I think Cantaur is lining up with the traditionalists. At least, unless the Telegraph has it seriously wrong:
Dr Williams has admonished the Episcopal Church (again) for another provocative act in deepening Anglican schism. “It confirms the feeling that they’re moving further from the Anglican consensus,” he tells me. Can there ever be a consensus in which biblical traditionalists can be in communion with homosexual bishops? The man who has committed his archbishopric to unity pauses: “I’m not holding my breath.”
However, he does, if tepidly, finally get around to condemning the Ugandan legislation:
And there are those who seek to make a moral equivalence between Los Angeles and Kampala, asking why the Archbishop upbraids the Episcopalians while failing to condemn the Ugandans. Added to which, some American traditionalists have markedly failed to condemn the Ugandan proposals.

“Overall, the proposed legislation is of shocking severity and I can’t see how it could be supported by any Anglican who is committed to what the Communion has said in recent decades,” says Dr Williams. “Apart from invoking the death penalty, it makes pastoral care impossible – it seeks to turn pastors into informers.” He adds that the Anglican Church in Uganda opposes the death penalty but, tellingly, he notes that its archbishop, Henry Orombi, who boycotted the Lambeth Conference last year, “has not taken a position on this bill”.
Not much in the way of comfort here on the part of TEC and our sympathizers.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pockets, E.D. Just Pockets

"Most of Jesus's parables were free market parables...:

As E.D. Kain writes (linked above):
It just strikes me as a remarkable example of how absurd the conservative movement really has become. (There are so many examples but this brings them all under one roof.)

….or has it always been this way?  Have the intellectual pockets of conservatism always been just that – merely pockets?

Watching Schlafly try to reconcile free markets and Christianity is just sad. It’s exactly why thoughtful proponents of free markets run into such jaded and hostile reactions from people on the other side of the fence. I think Christianity and free markets are reconcilable but only with the addition of some form of safety-net-state. The Christian Democrats understand this concept over in Europe.  Americans like Schlafly think Jesus was the first coming of Milton Friedman.

It just makes me throw my hands up in the air. I try too hard to retain the word “conservative” – to hold on to some other sense of its meaning, some other definition that the American right has no hold over. I have great admiration for the paleocons, but I would never really fit in even with that idiosyncratic bunch. I’ve tried to come to terms with the idea that the movement can be changed for the better but I’m beginning to doubt myself even there. The invention of the modern Tea Party only reveals how deep the fraud runs.

Or, tp put it more succinctly, this is not a faithful adaptation of the Gospels, although the denouement captures the GOP view of Christianity pretty neatly:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Curse of the Grand Tufti

Well, here we go again. After persistently holding only one side--the Episcopal Church--accountable in the widening schism, even though we are in fact the only "side" that has observed the moratoria requested until now--Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is threatening consequences to TEC if it approves the Diocese of Los Angeles' selection of Mary Glaspool as Suffragen Bishop. Williams' comment:"The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold."

Meanwhile, Archbishop Williams remains utterly silent on the violations of the moratoria by more conservative provinces making geographical incursions into TEC's jurisdiction and on the utter failure of these churches to participate in the so-called "listening process" to hear the concerns of gays and lesbians. (It's all here). Moreover, Williams has been for two months silent on the ghastly proposed Ugandan legislation which seeks a death sentence for "aggravated homosexuality," and prison sentences for all--parents and priests included--who become aware of a person's homosexuality, and fail to expeditiously report it to the government. Notably, this legislation is fostered by American right-wingers, a fact noted by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in her denunciation of the legislation.

Abp. Williams managed to denounce the selection of a lesbian suffragen within a day; the persecution of gays and lesbians with support (albeit equivocal) from the Anglican Church of Uganda does not rate a mention. Sadly, this is typical of Rowan, as I observed in the links at the beginning of the post. He should remember that for the bonds of mutual affection to hold, he needs to be seen as someone worthy of our affection. I for one doubt this proposition, and am more and more inclining to welcome the impending schism.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Beat Goes On....

Further and better particulars on the Roman Catholic Church's 40 year cover-up of systematic and pervasive child abuse on the part of the Archdiocese of Dublin. The Times (London) has the quick summary:

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland connived with the authorities in a cover-up spanning decades to shield paedophile priests from prosecution, an official report concluded yesterday. Hundreds of crimes against children were not reported as the four archbishops of the Archdiocese of Dublin remained wedded to the “maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church and the preservation of its assets”.

Instead, the church hierarchy shuffled the sex offenders from parish to parish, allowing them to continue to prey on victims. In some cases paedophile priests were even promoted. The 750-page report by the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse on the Dublin archdiocese — the second significant inquiry this year to expose appalling levels of sexual abuse of minors in Ireland under the aegis of the Roman Catholic Church — said that it had uncovered a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy throughout the period that it investigated between 1975 and 2004.

It said that the State had helped to create the culture of cover-up and that senior police officers regarded priests as “outside their remit”.

“The State authorities facilitated that cover-up by not fulfilling their responsibilities to ensure that the law was applied equally to all and allowing the Church institutions to be beyond the reach of the normal law enforcement processes,” it concluded.

When considered in conjunction with the evidence of Vatican condoning of such cover-ups even in papal statements on the issue from John XXIII to Benedict XVI (pre-papacy for him), one must ask finally, what does this tell us about the Roman Catholic Church?

This, I think: That its ecclesiology is fundamentally flawed in it's agoraphobically top-down model, one which prizes the interests of the institution so highly, and which cannot ever admit error or failure--individuals fail the Church, the Church itself cannot err. By identifying itself completely with the Body of Christ, the Church heavily disincentivizes itself from acknowledging systemic problems--the "rogue priest" model is the only one that the Church can bear to recognize, because to do otherwise sets up a cognitive dissonance between its theological claims and its behavior. That gap, perceived outside the Church as the rankest hypocrisy, is in fact denial of the most psychologically necessary kind. To believe it, one must shift the topic from the cover up to the offense itself, perpetrated by a number of priests not much greater than that percentage of abusers in society at large, a defense the Church has made at the highest levels. But it is, of course, the concerted cover up over decades by men widely deemed holy and even heroic within Christendom--John XXIII, a hero to liberal Catholics, and John Paul II, a hero to conservatives, to name but two. Or, one can, as did British MP Ann Widdicombe in the Intelligence Squared Debate I linked previously, de-emphasize the cover up, and the sex abuse, and spin it as overly authoritarian discipline typical of the time, and even (as did Widdicombe) accuse Church critics of a double standard, by unfairly demanding that the RCC know better than the times. (This of course set her up for the deadly riposte of Stephen Fry: if the Church cannot be expected to better than secular institutions, he asked, his voice rising for the first time in the debate, then "What are you for?").

The fact is, having one man, and a small circle of princes, responsible for the preservation of a 2,000 year institution which it believes to be the true incarnation if Christ's Body on Earth is to put an insupportable burden on that man and that circle of men. It cannot be maintained, because it attributes perfection to the necessarily imperfect. And that leads to covering up the gap between the Heavenly Image and the Earthly Reality.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

C.S. Lewis and The Four Loves

Today is the anniversary of C.S. Lewis's death, and a good opportunity to remember him. I first encountered his writings in high school, under the tutleage of the Marianist Order. We read The Four Loves, and I knew I was in the presence of great writing--clear thought, fluently expressed, delivering the material in an accessible, but not condescending way. Lewis's work is one of the great treasures of Anglicanism, and The Four Loves is thought-provoking as well as meditative.

But Lewis was above all a superb scholar. Here he is talking about his friend Charles Williams:

His death, on the same day as John F. Kennedy's murder, and the death of Aldous Huxley, received very little coverage. His life and work, however, continue to fascinate.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Gore Redux

A recent comment on an older post reminds me to recommend heartily Charles Gore's two volume commentary on Paul's Letter to the Romans. For those who (like me) have struggled with Paul's more, er, Calvinist overtones, Gore does an exceedingly useful job of putting him in his historical context, and elucidating this rich, sometimes contradictory, and occasionally daunting text. He is particularly good with Romans 8, one of my favorite Biblical texts, but one which springs from the paean to hope, to the introduction into Christian thought of predestination. Gore:
There is, I think, no point on which St. Paul has been more misrepresented than on his teaching about predestination. He teaches plainly that it is God's purpose to ' have mercy upon all': that He 'willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth....The election of this catholic body to be the heirs of salvation and to bear the name of God in the world was, it would have been held, a selfevident fact. St. Paul reasons not up to this fact but from it. He uses the admitted fact to strengthen its individual members under stress of trial. They must bear earthly troubles because they form the appointed discipline for the individuals who form the select body. Let men but love God, and then all outward things whatsoever work together for good for them. The fact that they love God is the sufficient evidence of their election. Those who love God are also those who are ' called according to His purpose.' But, we ask, Have none received the call and rejected it? were none called, who do not love God? is it not true, that ' Many are called and few chosen' ? St. Paul says not a word to the contrary. But that is not the question he is considering. The members of the Christian Church, devoted to God, to whom he is writing have been called. This call of which they have become the subject is, St. Paul assures them, no afterthought, no momentary act of God, which as it came into being in a moment so may pass away. It is not a being taken up by God and then perhaps dropped again. His gifts and calling are without repentance on His side, because they represent an eternal will.
In other words, Paul is urging boldness and confidence upon the Christian community--be sure that you are loved, and will always be loved--and not claiming that others are excluded from that same love. This brings Paul into consistency with Jesus's declaration, judge not, that ye be not judged.

A first rate work of exposition by one of he finest minds in Anglicanism. Well worth your time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mark Twain Tonigh!

Here is Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain on Man: the Reasoning (?) and Religious (?) animal:

And a glimpse of the genuine article:

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ah, to be in England...

when Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens team up:

Intellectual demolition derby, with manners.

From Intelligence Squared; hat tip: Andrew Sullivan, himself a Catholic, who writes:
You can forgive the pro-Catholic side for losing the debate in Britain on whether the Catholic church is a force for good in the world. Ann Widdecombe and Archbishop John Onaiyekan were up against Hitch and Fry. What you cannot forgive is the sheer intellectual shallowness of the defense. Just listen to the small speech above, I mean: really, this is the best we've got?

The problem with the theoconservative take-over in the Catholic priesthood is not so much its extremism as its mediocrity. And it is mediocre because it has been trained not to think, not to argue, and not to engage the modern world. It has been trained solely for obedience - blind, dumb, unquestioning, intellectually moribund obedience.
Actually, I think the extremism and the mediocrity are both problematic.

God's Work?

The head of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, says that he and his firm are "doing God's work." As Washington's Blog asks, however, is this true?
There have been widespread, credible allegations that Goldman Sachs and other giant banks have broken the law (see this, for example).

Indeed, one of the first things God asks of us is to do justice:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

While many churches and synagogues have become obsessed with other issues, many have arguably ignored this most important of God’s demands of us. As pointed out by a leading Christian ministry, which rescues underage girls trapped as sex slaves in third world countries:

In Scripture there is a constant call to seek justice. Jesus got upset at the Pharisees because they neglected the weightier matters of the law, which He defined as justice and the love of God . . . Isaiah 58 complains about the fact that while the people of God are praying and praying and praying, they are not doing anything about the injustice.

God demands that we do everything in our power to act as “God’s hands” in bringing justice. And as Saint Augustine reminds us, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”

Moreover, there have been credible allegations that Goldman Sachs and other giant banks manipulate the currency and other markets....Proverbs 11:1 also provides:

Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight.

So to the extent that the giant banks have engaged in any dishonest acts or the manipulation of currencies, they are violating scripture.

Of course, any bankers who charge usurious interest rates should remember the little story about Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables
The whole essay is worth a read, and a thought. One needn't go all Matt ("Goldman is a giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money") Taibbi to ask, as this essay does, what the connection between our faith and our economic system--or, worse, the disconnect between them. How many of us (including me!) can truly claim to be loving justice, doing mercy, and walking humbly with our God?

(Hat tip: Naked Capitalism

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Your GOP at Work

Here is Rep. John Shadegg putting his own stupidity into the mouth of a baby, from whom he thinks we should take policy advice:

Here's Shadegg a few years ago, when he had thoughts of higher office:

Some guys never learn...

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Bitter Taste of Kool-Aid

Let me see if I've got this crystal clear:

1. Dede Scozzafava, who lives in the District and has previously served in the State Assembly, wins the Republican nomination for NY's 23rd District, a traditional Republican stronghold.

2. Conservative Republican launch a more conservative candidate against her, denouncing her as a "RINO," a "leftist" and seeking to tie her to ACORN. GOP Celebrities such as Sarah Palin, Fred Thompson and Tim Pawlenty supported her conservative rival, Bill Hoffman. Although nominally supporting her, Meanwhile, the RNC formally supports her, but provides no financial support. Money pours into the district in support of Hoffman. Even Newt Gingrich called it a "purge."

3. Outspent by both Bills, Scozzafava withdrew from the election, a move Steele praised as "unselfish," allowing the NRC to join the roster of its luminaries officially embracing Hoffman.

4. Yesterday, Scozzafava, a lifelong Republican endorses Owen. The GOP's response? State Party Chair Edward Cox:“Dede Scozzafava’s endorsement today represents a betrayal of the people of the North Country and the people of her party." Similarly, Dick Armey (who supported Hoffman, by the way), “She basically put aside any pretensions and threw in with the Democrats.”

Now, isn't this rather like saying that Julius Caesar betrayed Brutus with his dying words?

And isn't this the fate of moderate Republicans in the modern era? To serve as a reassurance to the less extreme elements of the party, to be used by the dominant, increasingly, er, frothy, hard right, and then discarded and dismissed as traitors when they have the temerity to resent being cast aside? (Remember my Whitty Awards? Named after Chriistie "It's My Party, Too" Whitman, it's gone not only to Colin Powell, and Matthew Dowd, but even to George W. Bush).

Like all good cults, conservatism needs its scapegoats.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rector takes the High Roast

As opposed to my own rather dyspeptic take, Rev. Bill Tully responds in a manner that matters to be both irenic and ironic:
Pope Benedict's invitation to Anglican (including Episcopal Church USA) priests and parishes to become part of the Roman Catholic Church, retaining our liturgy and some customs, is fine with me.
In fact, I think it's wholly fair.
I'm an Episcopal parish priest, so my reaction is less about the cosmic implications, if any, of this initiative.


But fair is fair. For most of my ministry, beginning in 1974, I've been in parishes that are uncharacteristically (for Episcopalians) interested in membership growth. When I work to put out the welcome mat to serious spiritual seekers, the result is usually a heavy preponderance of Roman Catholics, at least 50% in most years.
So, fair is fair. We have a principled approach to Christian practice that takes the Bible, tradition, and human reason with balanced seriousness. On the ground, we like ritual, think and act sacramentally, and for a variety of historical reasons have a euphonious liturgy. Roman Catholics resonate with that.
What most who come to us want to get away from is centralized, exclusively male authority structures and the top-down insistence that some moral and practical questions are settled for all time. When they hear the Pope say the question of the ordination of women as priests cannot even be officially discussed, they are often ready to join a different conversation. Fair enough. We've been doing the inviting for years. We welcome the Pope to the business of welcome.
Well played, sir.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wrong Welsh Wizard

So Rowan Williams gets sucker-punched by the Vatican (a sneak attack from a German? Who'd ever expect that? OK, I mean again. Actually, I give the Pope some credit--this time Belgium isn't involved). What's his response? To make nice in a joint statement, in which he lauds the move as "a response by Pope Benedict XVI to a number of requests over the past few years to the Holy See from groups of Anglicans who wish to enter into full visible communion with the Roman Catholic Church, and are willing to declare that they share a common Catholic faith and accept the Petrine ministry as willed by Christ for his Church."

Um, did The ABC just sign on to Petrine Primacy?

No; but the statement can easily be misread that way, and worse, depicts the Vatican's move as
further recognition of the substantial overlap in faith, doctrine and spirituality between the Catholic Church and the Anglican tradition. Without the dialogues of the past forty years, this recognition would not have been possible, nor would hopes for full visible unity have been nurtured. In this sense, this Apostolic Constitution is one consequence of ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
Aye, thankee, Rowan. Ecumenicism with Rome means submission to Rome. Well played. Where's the real Welsh Wizard when we need him?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Scalia, Again?

Yesterday's oral argument in Salazar v. Buono demonstrated that Justice Scalia's onetime sensitivity to First Amendment values (remember Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989) has disappeared into thin air. Rather unbelievably, the choleric Justice chastised a lawyer for advancing the "outrageous" proposition that a cross might not be seen by Jewish veterans as an appropriate memorial for their service:

Mr. Eliasberg said many Jewish war veterans would not wish to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.”

Justice Scalia disagreed, saying, “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead.”

“What would you have them erect?” Justice Scalia asked. “Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star?”

Mr. Eliasberg said he had visited Jewish cemeteries. “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew,” he said, to laughter in the courtroom.

Justice Scalia grew visibly angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”

According to Tony Mauro, "[i]n the audience, several people were offended by Scalia’s comment about the cross as 'the most common symbol' for the dead, said lawyer Jeffrey Pasek, who authored a brief against the constitutionality of the cross for the Jewish Social Policy Action Network. 'A lot of people were surprised at the insensitivity of that comment,' Pasek said."

I'm actually just finishing up Martha Nussbaum's fine study of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses, Liberty of Conscience (2008), and one of her major points is that the creation of an "in-group" whose orthodoxy is treated as normative, "even if not coercively imposed, []is a statement that creates an in-group and an out-group. It says that we do not all enter the public square on the same basis: one religion is the American religion and others are not. It means, in effect, that minorities have religious liberty at the sufferance of the majority, and must acknowledge that their views are subordinate, in the public sphere, to majority views." Id., at 2.

In brief, that is exactly why it is Scalia, not Eliasberg, who made an "outrageous" statement in the oral argument. Back in 2006, I posted an entry raising the question of Scalia's increasingly emotional, self-interest referencing jurisprudence. I did not find that an easy post to write, as I had previously respected Scalia for what seemed to me to be a sincere effort to build a jurisprudence of originalism--as exemplified by his concurring in Texas v. Johnson, above. But here, he is turning the Establishment Clause upside down, denigrating not just its text but its intent--and damning as "outrageous" all those who point out that the Cross, the supreme symbol of his own Catholic faith, is not universally emblematic of all faiths, especially the Jewish faith, with which it has, at best, a rocky history.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Duncan Demarche Deux

It's only a trial court ruling, but it's well reasoned and thorough: Robert Duncan and his ersatz Diocese lose the property.

I say it's well-reasoned, because the notion that the departure of a diocese's leadership could extinguish the pre-extant denomination's diocese defined by its membership in the denomination is an extremely weak contention under neutral principles of law. (It's like a franchise holder claiming not just the right to open his own burger joint, but to exclude the corporate parent from which he is defecting from his territory under the original franchise agreement).

I still believe we should look for a better way than litigation, but as a First Amendment scholar, as well as a mmeber of TEC, I am glad to see the majority of decisions actually following the law.

Monday, October 5, 2009

That Old Time Religion...

is just too liberal for today's conservatives, who have decided to re-write the King James Bible, editing out all those squishy "liberal" parts--like, y'know, Jesus Jesus forgiving the woman taken in adultery, which is increasingly cited, the conservatives claim, by liberals. Why? :
The answer lies in its liberal message: do not criticize or punish immoral conduct unless you are perfect yourself. Liberals cite this passage to oppose the death penalty, a misuse that has been criticized. But one need not be perfect before he can recognize wrongdoing in himself. The Mosaic laws clearly state death as a punishment for sin. So the argument that an individual must be perfect is not relevant. The God-ordained government has the responsibility for punishment. Civilized society may not depend on stoning to deter immoral crimes, but it does depend on retribution enforced by people who are themselves sinners.
Also, the Gospels as presently extant are not sufficiently pro-free markets.

If this is a hoax, I'm deeply impressed. If not, I expect them to sue TEC for property.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The "Loyal" Opposition

Conservatives exult at America's defeat in the competition to host the 2012 Olympics.

What a surprise. After all, as long as Obama loses, that's all that counts.

It's a trivial matter, but reflective of where we are as a nation. As I have written elsewhere, the institutional GOP has chosen to try to de-legitimize Obama, and that they are playing with fire. We're not talking about isolated provocateurs here--the Chairman of the Republican Party as I linked on my more political home a plethora of governors and senators have been flirting with birtherism, and feeding the fire that Obama is a raging evil pretender to the throne. It's one thing to disagree with the guy, and to denounce his policies, but the appeal to revolutionary rhetoric is so crazed that even Tom Friedman, who is a centrist with neo-con leanings, and a Bush supporter on many issues, recently published a column worrying that the GOP is fueling an atmosphere like that which led to Rabin's assassination:
Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination


Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face. There is no more “we” in American politics at a time when “we” have these huge problems — the deficit, the recession, health care, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that “we” can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective “we” at work.
Now, please don't get me wrong. I'm not (unlike Friedman in his Op-ed) calling for legal sanctions against those who are on the crazy end of the spectrum. What I am suggesting is that they are becoming mainstreamed in a way that could lead to a breakdown in our ability to govern. Tactics--the "who won the day?" approach--has a place. But strategy--the long term picture is far more important. That's why, to pick a great conservative to make my point, Winston Churchill's many tactical blunders (opposing Normandy, his "soft underbelly" fixation in World War II, to name just two), are dwarfed by his seizing of the truth long before anyone else: that Nazi Germany had to be defeated, not appeased. He kept his eye on the goal, and was willing to work with anyone--even his bete noir, Stalin, to attain that goal.

We need more Churchills, not cynical, vapid Becks and Steeles.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Death in the Family

Growing up in Floral Park, we knew all of our neighbors. One of them, who became close to my family after my grandmother's death in 1977, was a cross-grained, crusty man, who nonetheless had buried (sometimes deeply buried) wells of affection in his nature.

He died today, after three years of being in a nursing home, where he relentlessly refused to engage in any kind of activity. My mother, who had been named by him as power of attorney, cared for him, visited him, and did everything anybody could to soften the harshness of those last years. (You understand, I hope, that he was hardly a ray of sunshine before this, right? Just checking).

Part of his tragedy was that he wore the "hey kids get off my lawn" mask so long that it became impossible to discard. But sometimes I did see beyond that, and could forgive his rudeness to my family, to me, and sass him right back. And I remember an unexpected phone call, a decade ago, when he shared with me a deeply personal hurt, one which, I believe, helped him to don the mask of disappointed, angry man. He wore that until almost the end, although when I visited him, he would occasionally smile, and respond to the sort of sarcastic banter that had marked our friendship since I was a boy. He taught me, in a way that no other experience I have had could have, the truth of a profound statement by Kurt Vonnegut, in Mother Night: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be." Or, more to the point, if you insist on turning your back on life, it will, eventually, turn its back on you.

But no piece of a life reflects its whole. I remember pool games, Thanksgiving dinner (when he would, sometimes, show up briefly, chat for a while, take a plate and go home, despite my mother's repeated invitation to stay for dinner,or at least dessert. Over the years, this became a stylized kabuki drama of hospitality, with Mr. L refusing to come over, and my sister or I (or both) bringing the plate over, and on certain propitious years, him turning up at the end of the meal), and other occasions. We are not, after all, only our masks.

Rest in peace, old friend.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thought for the Day

"The Christians are right when they render unto Caesar and unto God, but keep the tributes apart. All rule must be secular. When God enters politics, he turns into his opposite. Always has. Always will."

---Anthony Burgess, The Kingdom of the Wicked at 355 (1985).

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Company One Keeps

Many self-styled reasserters who hold to traditional church teaching on the subject of same-sex marriage (and indeed relationships generally) feel unfairly branded as "homophobic" by us "reappraisers." They argue that what is often decried as prejudice in fact reflects fidelity to scripture and tradition.

Well, I can see that if you are a believer in a certain vision of scriptural authority, that position would seem right. And I don't doubt that this position compels many who are acting in good faith, and yet who strive to be pastoral toward gays and lesbians--I've previously commended Peter Ould's more irenic writings, to take one example.

But there is a vehemence, and a nasty edge to many prominent reasserters in their denunciation of homosexuality, as well as in their willingness to go beyond ecclesial and moral positioning and support bigots who advocate secular persecution of gays and those who care for them. Even Andrew Goddard, in 2007, acknowledged discomfort with the anti-gay atmosphere he has sometimes encountered.

To take an extreme but sigificant example: CANA, "a mission of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican)." Founded by Archbishop of All Nigeria Peter Akinola, and his "missionary bishop" Martyn Minns. Akinola's personal homophobia has been documented by himself: "The way he tells the story, the first and only time Archbishop Peter J. Akinola knowingly shook a gay person’s hand, he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done."

This prejudice has been elevated into Anglican Communion politics by the Report on the Listening Process submitted by the Church of Nigeria as part of the Windsor Process. The Nigerian "listening" consisted mostly of decrying the people they were supposed to have been listening to, and urging their impisonment:
The Primate of all Nigeria has said “Our argument is that, if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar. We argue that it is a blatant lie against Almighty God that homosexuality is their God-given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration.

In Nigeria the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act 2006 is passing through the legislature. The House of Bishops has supported it because we understand that it is designed to strengthen traditional marriage and family life and to prevent wholesale importation of currently damaging Western values. It bans same sex unions, all homosexual acts and the formation of any gay groups. The Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria has twice commended the act in their Message to the Nation.
Minns, by the way, when he was trying to convince his flock to depart TEC, denied a report that Akinola is "an advocate of jailing gays", which he described as "not true." The Nigerian Listening Process Report belied Minns' words after he made the statement; prior to Minns' statement, Akinola had released a similar statement himself.

This was brought back to mind for me today when I saw over at Thinking Anglicans Abp. Akinola's latest paean of praise, in which his own "Diocesan Communicator" lauds him with a level of adulation that is rather startling:
Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but anyone who does not think that Akinola’s primacy is a resounding success will have an uphill task for a better comparison, as the Church has never had it so good. In fact, Archbishop Akinola has succeeded in putting the Primacy of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) at a level that will take a very long time to equal nationally, regionally and globally. By the foregone indications, he has immensely endowed the future generation of Anglicans in many unprecedented ways.
Perhaps the best we can do is pray for a worthy successor who will be humble enough to continue the good work already started by building on the foundation already laid. Such a successor will, of course, have to identify those areas of the vision that call for a general review, taking cognisance of today’s peculiarities and faithfully implementing them so as to take the church to the next level.

As always, Father Jake has more.

Friday, August 28, 2009

St. Augustine's Day

Today the Episcopal Church commemorates St. Augustine of Hippo, the learned, disputacious, and ultimately very human "Doctor of the Church." His Confessions tells the story of his coming to faith, and sketch out his theology; his City of God goes further in, and sketches the respective roles of Caesar (who reigns over the City of Man) and Christ (who reigns over the City of God). But Augustine did not preach American-style separation of Church and State, although separation can be found in City of God.

He came to eschew many human goods for fear of diverting his attention from the love of God, and lived a life of denial that, to many modern eyes is excessive. And yet, he knew his own teperament, his sensuality and emotionally labile nature. Augustine could love easily, and could even--as his charitable remarks regarding Faustus, the greatest Manichean disputant, and one fervently opposed by Augustine, show:
he might still have held the truth of piety, had he not been a Manich├Žan. For their books are full of lengthy fables concerning the heaven and stars, the sun and moon, and I had ceased to think him able to decide in a satisfactory manner what I ardently desired—whether, on comparing these things with the calculations I had read elsewhere, the explanations contained in the works of Manich├Žus were preferable, or at any rate equally sound? But when I proposed that these subjects should be deliberated upon and reasoned out, he very modestly did not dare to endure the burden. For he was aware that he had no knowledge of these things, and was not ashamed to confess it. For he was not one of those loquacious persons, many of whom I had been troubled with, who covenanted to teach me these things, and said nothing; but this man possessed a heart, which, though not right towards You, yet was not altogether false towards himself. For he was not altogether ignorant of his own ignorance, nor would he without due consideration be inveigled in a controversy, from which he could neither draw back nor extricate himself fairly. And for that I was even more pleased with him, for more beautiful is the modesty of an ingenuous mind than the acquisition of the knowledge I desired—and such I found him to be in all the more abstruse and subtle questions.
(Conf. Bk. V, ch. 7 v. 12).

This is pretty fair-minded, considering the virulence of Augustine's campaign against the Manichees (who were so completely suppressed that, until CRC Allberry's translation of a part of a psalm book in 1938--a rarity, and about the only one I own--almost all that was known of them was Augustine's own broadsides against them. More background here. If CP Snow's fictionalized depiction of Allberry, his close friend, as Roy Calvert in The Light and the Dark is accurate on this point, Allberry had a personal devotion to Augustine, whose faith he could not share, but whose honesty he respected profoundly).

Augustine was one of the first advocates of religious tolerance by Christians as opposed to religious tolerance for Christians. Alas, as the Western Roman Empire fell, and the candle of civilization seemed to be in danger of going out, Augustine became an increasingly strident advocate of coercion of heretics. Still, by the standards of his day, and in view of his cultural context--look how belief in free speech radically diminished after 9/11 before you judge Augustine too harshly!--he was a deep thinker, a lover of truth and of reason as a guide to finding truth.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Death of a Titan

Senator Ted Kennedy died last night, felled by the brain tumor diagnosed in summer 2008. Others will write of his storied, 46 years long career in the United States Senate, of his remarkable ability, despite the increasing toxicity of American politics, to reach across the aisle and forge alliances with Republicans to deliver legislation, of his plethora of bills passed into law, and of his leadership of the liberal wing of the Senate. Others may focus on his difficult, sometimes messy, personal life, getting one last shot in at an old political foe. (These will be, I suspect, mainly those who did not know him).

I remember his leading the charge against the confirmation of Robert Bork, starkly pointing out the implications of the stunted vision of constitutional rights Bork had espoused if ever it commanded a majority on the Court. Senator Kennedy
declared that
Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, and schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of Americans.
[The Times suggests that this characterization was somehow unfair; however Bork had, in his writings, declared that only purely political speech was entitled to constitutional protection, had also described the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prior to its enactment, as embodying "a principle of unsurpassed ugliness," a quote he tap-danced away from under Kenendy's questioning. Bork (see previous link) did deny the existence of a constitutional right to privacy, and did essentially hold the view that, as Kennedy said, the Constitution did not protect the citizenry from the abuses Kennedy listed.]

Also, I'll remember Ted Kennedy shouldering the burden of being the last knight of Camelot, and of passing the legacy on to our current President, in his last great public appearance, a surprise appearance at the DNC last year:

Watch CBS Videos Online

The burden of the Camelot Mystique may have contributed to the shadow side of Kenendy's life. Certainly, no one else in the family has come close to the late Senator's bearing of the legacy. Like Porthos at the end of The Man in the Iron Mask, he lays down the burden, saying only, "Too heavy for you."

Monday, August 24, 2009

St Bartholomew's Day

Today is the Feast Day of St. Bartholomew the Apostle, of whom our Rector is fond of telling us, almost nothing is known. (Tradition has him going off to India, being flayed, and standing around rather insouciantly with his own skin in his hands, but, yes, pretty much nothing known of him. No, really.).

Although, I can for one give thanks that his name is commemorated in a place of great beauty and holiness, where God is worshipped and the poor housed and fed every day of the year.

Not a bad memorial, St Bartholomew!

(photo credit:
David Shankbone)

Monday, August 10, 2009

On Taking the Leap of Faith

My friend Nathan Humphrey has answered, in a manner far more gracious than the way in which I initially posed it, my question regarding whether the Covenant is, from a progressive standpoint, a suicide pact. As is his wont, Nathan skillfully finds a way to pose the question to both sides of the debate, urging us to transcend anger, frustration, and distrust:
It doesn't really matter, then, that some people are attracted to the Covenant because they want to use it as a bludgeon. If it's a real Covenant, then that means that those who enter it will be equally responsible to be committed to each other. What this means for the various agendas of either left or right is uncertain: In the current political atmosphere, the left is betting that a Covenant would hinder their agenda, while the right is betting that a Covenant would further theirs, but God has a funny way of turning the tables on both the left and the right if given half a chance. And that's what a Covenant does: it gives God a chance to work in all of our lives at once, rather than only here or only there. I can't say how God will resolve our current conflicts. But I can say that if we trust in God and demonstrate our trust in God through a Covenant, greater things than we can either ask or imagine will happen.

So, for instance, with Gamaliel's counsel in Acts 5:38b-39: "[I]f this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!" If SSBs and all that is of God, then it seems to me that it is better that we all be committed anew to each other in a covenanted life as God works it out than that we should be impatient and untrusting, either of each other or of God, and try to go our own way and do what we're sure is God's will and to hell with the rest of the world.
There is much wisdom here. I would suggest, however, that there are two difficulties here which need to be addressed. The first is, what are the terms and conditions of the actual Covenant, and will it allow for the Primates or other juridicial bodies to be used as means of oppression? The current draft suggests perhaps so; but we do not have a final text, yet, and therefore speculation is premature. How can we agree to a Covenant in the abstract?

Perhaps a more fundamental problem can be gleaned from traditional contract law theory. (I'm a lawyer, remember? Deal). In The Paper Chase, fictional contracts Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr. described a "spectrum of relationships" across which, with varying levels of difficulty, parties could reach functioning agreements. To his students' surprise, relationships which were the most intimate were the hardest; those where the parties thoroughly distrusted each other were marked by greater (external) civility and, far more importantly, cooler and thus more pragmatic levels of dealing with each other. Interestingly, C.S. Lewis, in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, posits something rather similar--the smaller the doctrinal difference, the more heated the debate.

Here, of course, we have a combination of family-level intimacy (bad for cool negotiating) and a lack of trust (surprisingly helpful). But the problem is that the entire Covenant process has been on a "trust me" basis, with the Archbishop of Canterbury as the only negotiator. In other words--and here we're back with Lewis at pp. 20-21)--neither side feels heard, and thus each keeps shouting the louder.

Which leads me to ask: During the period in which the Covenant is knocked into its final form, why shouldn't the Archbishop, or some neutral figure, launch a series of reconciliation dialogues with TEC, the Church of Canada, his own progressive wing--and the reasserter wing? Not, I beg, the much-vaunted, but ultimately meaningless "Listening Process," which reasserters have watered down to the point of hilarity. (Remember Nigeria's response, which can best be summarized as "Shut up. I'm listening to you.") No, real face-to-face discussions at which we seek to find out what we need from each other, not to reach doctrinal agreement, but to maintain some form of relationship across the lines of doctrinal conflict--and let these discussions shape our relationships, whether Covenantal or "two-track" Communion.

A Covenant, in short, is a contract, and the best contracts are organic, drafted with the actual needs and desires of the parties taken into account, even though neither side ever gets all that it wants. A contract of adhesion--one imposed from above by one party, in a take-it-or-leave-it fashion, as the Covenant is now, is usually only grudgingly accepted, and rarely is a basis for a healthy, ongoing relationship.

So what, at this stage, do I say in reply to Nathan's response to my question? That he has convinced me that we are far too early in the process to refuse to do the hard work to try to keep relationships alive, and that we need to be more active in seeking to find out if accord is possible, and what that accord can and should look like. Also, that we owe it to God and to each other to approach this work in the spirit of Christian optimism and faith, and not in a spirit of fear.

I would urge, though, that all parties--liberal, conservative, "reappraiser" or "reasserter" start thinking in terms of directly engaged discussions with each other, with a goal of finding what common ground we can stand upon. That could provide the context for a Covenant, and create the meeting of the minds necessary for a contract to really exist.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Shaw and Schori

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has been has been catching a lot of flak (I know; big surprise) for her opening statement at General Convention 2009 that:
The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention
Interestingly, her view in this matter seems to me quite consistent with the Gospels, a thought that is captured for me in Bernard Shaw's Preface to Androcles and the Lion:
If we ask our stockbroker to act simply as Jesus advised his disciples to act, he will reply, very justly, "You are advising me to become a tramp." If we urge a rich man to sell all that he has and give it to the poor, he will inform us that such an operation is impossible. If he sells his shares and his lands, their purchaser will continue all those activities which oppress the poor. If all the rich men take the advice simultaneously the shares will fall to zero and the lands be unsaleable. If one man sells out and throws the money into the slums, the only result will be to add himself and his dependents to the list of the poor, and to do no good to the poor beyond giving a chance few of them a drunken spree. We must therefore bear in mind that whereas, in the time of Jesus, and in the ages which grew darker and darker after his death until the darkness, after a brief false dawn in the Reformation and the Renascence, culminated in the commercial night of the nineteenth century, it was believed that you could not make men good by Act of Parliament, we now know that you cannot make them good in any other way, and that a man who is better than his fellows is a nuisance. The rich man must sell up not only himself but his whole class; and that can be done only through the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The disciple cannot have his bread without money until there is bread for everybody without money; and that requires an elaborate municipal organization of the food supply, rate supported. Being members one of another means One Man One Vote, and One Woman One Vote, and universal suffrage and equal incomes and all sorts of modern political measures. Even in Syria in the time of Jesus his teachings could not possibly have been realized by a series of independent explosions of personal righteousness on the part of the separate units of the population. Jerusalem could not have done what even a village community cannot do, and what Robinson Crusoe himself could not have done if his conscience, and the stern compulsion of Nature, had not imposed a common rule on the half dozen Robinson Crusoes who struggled within him for not wholly compatible satisfactions. And what cannot be done in Jerusalem or Juan Fernandez cannot be done in London, New York, Paris, and Berlin. In short, Christianity, good or bad, right or wrong, must perforce be left out of the question in human affairs until it is made practically applicable to them by complicated political devices; and to pretend that a field preacher under the governorship of Pontius Pilate, or even Pontius Pilate himself in council with all the wisdom of Rome, could have worked out applications of Christianity or any other system of morals for the twentieth century, is to shelve the subject much more effectually than Nero and all its other persecutors ever succeeded in doing. Personal righteousness, and the view that you cannot make people moral by Act of Parliament, is, in fact, the favorite defensive resort of the people who, consciously or subconsciously, are quite determined not to have their property meddled with by Jesus or any other reformer.
Well, one might ask, where does Shaw--let alone Schori--get that from? Surely it is consistent with, one might even state compelled by, to pick but one source, Matthew 19:16-24:
And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?

And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.

He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,

Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
Shaw, like Schori, is trying to articulate the more that Jesus demands of us before we can rest easy. Shaw's point, that personal righteousness within the rules of a corrupt society is no more than what John the Baptist demanded of publicans and soldiers before the sdvent of Christ, is, I think, well taken, as his larger point that such "righteousness" can be, viewed in isolation, a way of eliding the broader scope of Jesus's teaching--a way of cutting it down to a comfortable size. Hence his .statement that "after 2000 years of resolute adherence to the old cry of 'Not this man, but Barabbas'.....'This man' has not been a failure yet; for nobody has ever been sane enough to try his way. But he has had one quaint triumph. Barabbas has stolen his name and taken his cross as a standard."

If the Presiding Bishop is a heretic she appears to me to be in good company.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Surrender, Dorothy!

From the Archbishop of Canterbury comes this most disturbing document, "Communion, Covenant and Our Anglican Future," subheaded "Reflections on the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention from the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion." (If I'd known this was coming, I'd have saved the title Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye for it. Ah, well. Turns out Florence King beat me to it, anyway).

In that earlier post, though, I'd suggested that both "sides" of the dispute have a right to feel as if they have been baulked by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This continues to be the result of Archbishop Williams' lucubations. I for one am appalled at several rhetorical moves in the Archbishop's writing that suggest to me that the Episcopal Church is being asked to submit to subordinate status within the Anglican Communion, while remaining its milch cow.

1. The One Way Door

First, in no place of his reflections does the Archbishop note the repeated,and indeed now systemic breach of the Winsdor recommendations which were intended to serve as reciprocal promises to the moratoria asked of TEC. As I have recently pointed out, the much-vaunted "Listening Process" has been paid only the barest lip service; the requested suspension of incursions by other provinces into TEC have not been even paid lip service. The defamation of the Episcopal Church and the claim that it is not a Christian Church likewise go unaddressed, as does the pain of gays and lesbians who find their relationships derogated by the Archbishop to "a certain choice of lifestyle" which "has certain consequences" for membership in the Christian community. (Williams par 9). Indeed, the Archbishop explicitly rejects the arguments for same sex marriage rites (let alone consecration or ordination) based upon justice or civil rights. (Id. par 4-6).

Weirdly, there is a fleeting reference in par 20 to "the current appeal for a moratorium on cross-provincial pastoral interventions," but with no reference to the status of these interventions.

But what does Williams find worth responding to? Despite describing "[t]he relationship between the Episcopal Church and the wider Communion" as "a reality which needs continued engagement and encouragement," the Archbishop finds that "The repeated request for moratoria on the election of partnered gay clergy as bishops and on liturgical recognition of same-sex partnerships has clearly not found universal favour." Everything else that he finds commendable at General Convention (and it's a healthy list), fades into irrelevance: "My way or the highway."

In other words, the only party to comply with the morotoria shall be swiftly put in the dock for possibly not continuing to comply; the violators shall go unrebuked--indeed, unmentioned.

2. The Shape of Things to Come

Additionally, the Archbishop's rejection of the case for same sex rites is pitched in a way that makes future success well-nigh impossible:
7. In the light of the way in which the Church has consistently read the Bible for the last two thousand years, it is clear that a positive answer to this question would have to be based on the most painstaking biblical exegesis and on a wide acceptance of the results within the Communion, with due account taken of the teachings of ecumenical partners also. A major change naturally needs a strong level of consensus and solid theological grounding.

8. This is not our situation in the Communion. Thus a blessing for a same-sex union cannot have the authority of the Church Catholic, or even of the Communion as a whole. And if this is the case, a person living in such a union is in the same case as a heterosexual person living in a sexual relationship outside the marriage bond; whatever the human respect and pastoral sensitivity such persons must be given, their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church's teaching sanctions, and thus it is hard to see how they can act in the necessarily representative role that the ordained ministry, especially the episcopate, requires.

9. In other words, the question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity. It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences. So long as the Church Catholic, or even the Communion as a whole does not bless same-sex unions, a person living in such a union cannot without serious incongruity have a representative function in a Church whose public teaching is at odds with their lifestyle.
Clearly, Cantaur has raised the bar--we need to bring around not just a majority of the Communion, but its entirety, and, seemingly, that of our ecumenical friends, the RC Church and (I suspect) the Orthodox. So much for Article XXXVII; the Bishop of Rome hath jurisdiction not only in this relam of England, but in this realm of the United States! And so do a lot of other people. Who knew?

Moreover, the Archbishop asserts--absent any citations, and I think this is because there are none--that to allow the local settlement of these issues "would be to re-conceive the Anglican Communion as essentially a loose federation of local bodies with a cultural history in common, rather than a theologically coherent 'community of Christian communities.'" (Williams para 18). Er, that's a pretty slim difference, and the notion that we've been "theologically coherent" is a bit steep. Certainly the Archbishop is going well beyond the classic Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral here.

But how lovely he makes it sound:
For those whose vision is not shaped by the desire to intensify relationships in this particular way, or whose vision of the Communion is different, there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness – existing relationships will not be destroyed that easily. But it means that there is at least the possibility of a twofold ecclesial reality in view in the middle distance: that is, a 'covenanted' Anglican global body, fully sharing certain aspects of a vision of how the Church should be and behave, able to take part as a body in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue; and, related to this body, but in less formal ways with fewer formal expectations, there may be associated local churches in various kinds of mutual partnership and solidarity with one another and with 'covenanted' provinces.
Williams par. 22.

After all, the Archbishop is merely describing "two styles of being Anglican, whose mutual relation will certainly need working out but which would not exclude co-operation in mission and service of the kind now shared in the Communion." Moreover, "[i]t should not need to be said that a competitive hostility between the two would be one of the worst possible outcomes, and needs to be clearly repudiated."

Of course! Those who refer to our Presiding Bishop as a heretic, and call us the Episcopal Organization, and a social justice club--or, to quote Robert Duncan "Babylon" for short--would never be hostile or competitive.

In other words, Americans, we'll take your money and mission efforts, but please--do keep your lowly, second-class place.

3. Enabling Bigotry

Beyond the description of homosexual committed partnership as "a certain choice of lifestyle" which "has certain consequences," this vision is one which sacrifices the interests, dignity, and position of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters on the altar of unity and centralization--the Archbishop concedes that any of the centralization he describes can only claim about a half century of history, and yet we should in the interests of such unity reduce the acceptance of our brothers and sisters to the lowest common denominator within the Communion.

In return, the Archbishop offers a tepid, non-specific condemnation of anti-gay bigotry. Of course, he immediately denatures that already weak sauce by finding within the expressed need for "penitence" on the part of the Communion no implication for the discipline of the Church:
10. This is not a matter that can be wholly determined by what society at large considers usual or acceptable or determines to be legal. Prejudice and violence against LGBT people are sinful and disgraceful when society at large is intolerant of such people; if the Church has echoed the harshness of the law and of popular bigotry – as it so often has done – and justified itself by pointing to what society took for granted, it has been wrong to do so. But on the same basis, if society changes its attitudes, that change does not of itself count as a reason for the Church to change its discipline.

Simply put, this seemingly moderate document asks TEC in the politest possible way, to buy peace with the tears and blood, if the Church of Nigeria has its way) of our brothers and sisters. If we love them, we will answer firmly "No deal!" Or, more pointedly, "here I stand. I can do no other."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My World With John Houseman

When I was a boy, I stumbled on the film and series The Paper Chase, and was quickly engrossed in it--something about the relationship between the professor and his students, the thrust-and-parry of the dialectic, and the way in which a welter of details could build up to a picture of right and wrong, gripped me. When PBS broadcast the old series, and added panel discussions of legal questions to fill out the hour, I was even more hooked. I began looking for books on law in the library, and found a handful of Supreme Court reporters containing decisions of the 1970s (in a funky red binding I've never seen since) and formed my political views from reading the opinions of Justices. I quickly learned to distinguish the pompous nonsense of Warren Burger and the tendentious writing of William Rehnquist from the often blunt but always grounded reasoning of William O. Douglas. I grew up a lawyer and a politics addict in a family that had neither on either side.

In high school and then much more in college, I found theater, and loved acting, working backstage, even assistant directing. That's when I discovered the enormous contribution Houseman made to the theater, both before and after his collaboration with Orson Welles. I saw Houseman lecture twice; once at Molloy College and once at Fordham, where I got to meet him. He was charming; funny, self-effacing, anecdotal, and with great manner with a punch line. I've read his memoirs, and they convey something of that quality.

So why do I mention this now? Because I've just finished the two volumes of a three volume biography of Welles published to date by Simon Callow. They are awfully good, and in volume 1, Callow draws off a deathbed interview with Houseman. The stories are more tinged with sadness as Callow tells them; he feels for both men, caught in a highly emotional partnership, which grows and dies in a few concentrated years.

And Houseman? His own feeling that he was a chameleon, playing a series of roles in his early life is one which any lawyer--or, I should think, actor--can identify with. We lose ourselves in the parts. But, at some point,we have to find the essential person behind the personae. I don't know if Welles managed it. The last volume of Houseman's memoir suggests that he did.

And me? Ah, that would be telling.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Back in DC

The recent er, exposure, of South Carolina Mark Sanford, John Ensign, and, now, Rep. Charles Pickering, Jr., have brought to light their membership in a secretive mutual aid society and frankly pretty weird "Christian" organization (I'm pretty sure that approving references to Hitler, Genghis Khan, and a worship of secular power earn you scare quotes).

According to Jeff Sharlet, members include Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.), as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.). And that's in addition to Pickering, Sanford and Coburn.

Hmm...theocracy, neo-fascism and adultery, with a Christian veneer. Sounds like a Russ Meyer film that never was.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

And Away We Go...

Yesterday's vote by General Convention to affirm that “any ordained ministry” is open to gay men and lesbians (as the New York Times puts it; the actual text of D 025 does not overturn B 033 but does significantly undermine its authority) has already been seized upon as by Bishop N.T. Wright as " telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other 'instruments of communion' that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops." Bishop Wright goes on to state that:
They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion). They were formalising the schism they initiated six years ago when they consecrated as bishop a divorced man in an active same-sex relationship, against the Primates’ unanimous statement that this would “tear the fabric of the Communion at its deepest level”. In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart
For all my very sincere respect for Bishop Wright, I have to ask, who is he kidding?

TEC is one of the very few churches to actually observe the Windsor Report's recommendations to date. While we have complied with the request "to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges," both in fact and in policy, what has happened to the reciprocal requests made of those provinces who took exception to TEC's decision to grant consent to the consecration of V. Gene Robinson?

The requested moratorium on cross-boundary interventions has been flouted by Nigeria, Kenya, the Southern Cone, and Uganda. (A helpful timeline is here). Now, the various Anglican spin-offs are trying to create an alternative North American province to entirely supplant TEC as the "Anglican entity" in the United States. I think we can call that one Windsor recommendation most effectively dustbinned.

Well, how about the Listening Process? You know, the joint provincial agreement that "We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.” To take but one example, Nigeria, the final report--ten years after Lambeth 1998--stated "The Primate of all Nigeria has said “Our argument is that, if homosexuals see themselves as deviants who have gone astray, the Christian spirit would plead for patience and prayers to make room for their repentance. When scripture says something is wrong and some people say that it is right, such people make God a liar. We argue that it is a blatant lie against Almighty God that homosexuality is their God-given urge and inclination. For us, it is better seen as an acquired aberration." It commended the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act (2006) "because we understand that it is designed to strengthen traditional marriage and family life and to prevent wholesale importation of currently damaging Western values." The Act, according to the Church of Nigeria, "bans same sex unions, all homosexual acts and the formation of any gay groups."

Nice listening, folks. Very in the spirit of Lambeth. But aberrational, right? Not according to conservative Peter Ould
there is huge frustration amongst revisionists that many parts of the conservative elements of the church simply haven’t bothered to engage with listening, even five years after the ACC in Nottingham and ten years after Lambeth 1998. When they hear statements such as "We do not have homosexuality in our country", what they hear is a refusal to even engage with the issue at hand. It is blatantly clear to all those with just a smidgeon of anthropological and sociological understanding that homosexualities exist in every single part of the world. The refusal to admit as much is not to take a clear moral stand on the issue, but rather is a pastoral failure of the highest order, because it is evidence of an unwillingness to engage with people where they are at.


Listening though is more about just hearing stories. It is also to do with, once having listened, building and affirming relationships. What is so often disappointing in the past few years is the failure of those who have had the opportunity to influence, who have had the public ear, to use that privilege to affirm the humanity and dignity of those they disagree with theologically. We all know the websites that refer to "polysexual sodomites", but it is not just the cruder forms of language in this discourse that are a sign of no real intent to listen and build relationships. Despite the fact that there exist texts like Goddard and Walker’s "True Union in the Body" which attempt to engage with the best arguments in favour of monogamous gay unions, some conservatives insist on producing writing that condemns not the best examples of gay life, but the worse. Do we need chapters of books denigrating the promiscuous lifestyle of some, when our opponents are actually those who believe very strongly in "Permanent, Stable, Faithful"? Do we need to concentrate on the way that some in our western society want a "plasticisation" of sexuality and cross-generational affection, when the leadership of Integrity and the like are joined with us in condemning paedophilic and ebophilic relationships of any form, consensual or otherwise?

Unless we as the conservative church are willing to admit that we have sometimes (often?) failed in the call of the Lambeth ‘98 resolution to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian people (and post-gay and post-lesbian, for the conservative church is still shockingly ignorant in how to deal pastorally in this area) then we have no right to ask those whom we disagree with to take such resolutions seriously themselves. What we need at this point then is a serious, critical self-examination. Can we truly say that in all cases we are the ones sinned against? Can we really stand clean in front of the Lord and argue that we have not ourselves sinned in this conflict?
Sadly, Ould's principled remonstrance has not garnered any support--anti-gay slurs abound on "reasserter" websites and TEC is subject to widespread ridicule, accused of being un-christian, mockingly referred to as TEO [for "the Episcopal Organization," d'ye see, because, of course we can't believe in GOD if we want to include the you-know-whos].

For Bishop Wright to accuse TEC alone of "walking apart" reflects at best stupendous ignorance coupled with arrogance, and at worst confirms my suspicions that, for reasserters, rules, agreements and other strictures only count when they are directed at TEC, and not at themselves.

There's more to be said about Bishop Wright's misguided column, but Rev. Scott Gunn does an admirable job of saying what needs to be said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, meanwhile, seems to be ready to join Bishop Wright in holding only one side--TEC--accountable. It would be of a piece with his abandonment of his friend Jeffrey John, whom he forced to resign promotion to a bishopric to appease the conservatives in the Communion. If schism is indeed upon us--and I think it clearly is--Dr. Williams may go down as its Neville Chamberlain.