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Showing posts from June, 2007

Father Jones on the (Near) Future of the Anglican Communion

Father Greg Jones thinks schism is near--both of the Episcopal Church and in the larger Anglican Communion. I agree with his analysis:

I keep wondering how best to describe what is so clearly unfolding. With the news that the Anglican Church of Kenya has now appointed a second American (formerly Episcopal) priest as a bishop for missionary work in North America -- it is quickly becoming obvious what is happening. The announcements from Kenya that Murdoch and Atwood will be bishops with missionary oversight in America, and their welcome reception by the Anglican Communion Network's Bob Duncan, indicate that the long-awaited 'orthodox' and 'new' North American 'Anglican' province is on its way. It must deduced that while no such clearly worded announcement has been made by anybody -- all new facts on the ground point to the fact that a new alternative brand of Anglicanism is being offered under the guise of traditionalism on North American soil. It is indeed …

American Multiculturalism

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Mark Lilla, professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago, has a review of a new biography of Alexis de Tocqueville, in The New Republic. The review is quite critical of the biography, but I was more taken with Lilla's brief description of the development of democratic multiculturalism in the United States. In short, Lilla argues that the United States developed democratic multiculturalism better than other countries because it was paradoxically initially quite homogeneous. We had to learn toleration and equality first within this homogeneous community before we could extend it to individuals from other groups:
Tocqueville was neither a racist nor a chauvinist; Brogan tells us that he broke with his trusted aide Gobineau when the latter began publishing his bizarre theories about racial inequality. But Tocqueville did believe that every civilization begins at what he called a point de départ, out of which its prejudices, habits, and characteristic passio…

Supreme Court Reverses Course on Gitmo

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Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will hear argument on the issue of whether Guantánamo detainees have a right to challenge their detentions in American federal courts. This is surprising since in April the Court had ruled that they would not accept this case. The Court seems to have a solid five justice conservative majority--this order suggests to me that at least one member of this majority is having second thoughts about the issue.

Here is the report from the New York Times:
The United States Supreme Court reversed course today and agreed to hear claims of Guantánamo detainees that they have a right to challenge their detentions in American federal courts.

The decision, announced in a brief order released this morning, set the stage for a historic legal battle that appeared likely to affect debates in the Bush administration about when and how to close the detention center that has become a lightning rod for international criticism.

Lawyers for many of the 375 men now h…

More Bad News about Mainline Church Declines

The Religion News Service is reporting further declines in the membership of several mainline Christian denominations in the United States:


Three mainline Protestant denominations--the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of the Brethren--have experienced steady decreases in U.S. membership rolls, continuing long-term trends, according to separate June reports.


A "state of the church" report issued by the UMC said its U.S. membership fell to 7.9 million--a loss of nearly 6 percent--from 1995 to 2005. In Africa and Asia, however, Methodist numbers are growing, with 200 percent increases on each continent during that decade.



UMC membership dropped about 1.4 percent in 2006, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.



Active membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) fell by more than 46,000, to 2.27 million in 2006, according to the church's Office of the General Assembly. Almost 1,000 fewer adults, and 230 fewer children, wer…

Ten theses on Dietrich Bonhoeffer: theologian, Christian, martyr

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Benjamin Myers Faith and Theology blog has a guest post by Ray Anderson of the Fuller Theological Seminary about German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In just one post, Anderson manages to provide a great deal of thought-provoking information about this theologian and martyr.

Here are some highlights:

1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian theologian. Rather, one should say that he became a Christian theologian. Eberhard Bethge, his former student and biographer, notes the year 1933 as a “transition from theologian to Christian.” In 1936 Dietrich wrote to a girlfriend and confessed: “I plunged into work in a very unchristian way.… [T]hen something happened, something that has changed and transformed my life to the present day. For the first time I discovered the Bible…. I had often preached. I had seen a great deal of the church, spoken and preached about it, but I had not yet become a Christian” (Bethge 2000, 203-5). By his own admission, his two most scholarly writings, Sanctorum Co…

Michael Gerson on Faith and Politics

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In his weekly Washington Post column, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson offers advice to Democrats on how to appeal to religious voters, and then offers more general advice to how Christians should look toward their faith on public policy issues. I think that his advice to Democrats is wrong. His advice to Christians, however, is spot on.

First the bad advice. Gerson, using Obama's speech to the UCC as a starting point, offers this advice to Democrats:
For Democrats, the speech was a class in remedial religion. But Obama still missed an opportunity. By speaking at a gathering of the United Church of Christ -- among the most excruciatingly progressive of Protestant denominations -- he was preaching to the liberal choir. And he did not effectively reach out to an evangelical movement in transition.

John Green of the Pew Forum describes that transition in generational terms. Survey research shows that evangelicals under 30 tend to be more concerned about the environment than ar…

Children of Incarcerated Parents

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Before my wife (the one on the right in the photo) decided to stay home to care for our toddler, she worked in the office of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano (the one on the left of the photo) on a wide variety of issues. One of the issues that she grew quite passionate about was the forgotten children of incarcerated parents. Despite the fact that these children are greatly at risk of becoming incarcerated themselves, they are largely forgotten by everyone. My wife worked hard to develop a wide variety of interventions--including expansion of mentoring programs. And she worked hard to make sure policymakers took these children into account when they made decisions. (Note to legislators: moving prisons hundreds or thousands of miles away from families is very, very bad for the children of those incarcerated in these prisons, and that, in turn, is bad for future victims of crime).

I was therefore pleased to see in Episcopal Life Online that several Episcopal dioceses have taken on the …

More on Liberation Theology

Mike Ion, a Labour member of the British Parliament, has a post on the Guardian's "Comment is Free" group blog that argues that the Catholic Church needs to accept a new "Liberation Theology":
"Aspire not to have more but to be more." These were the words of Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated in 1980 by the pro-US military junta who then ran El Salvador. Romero was an advocate of what became known as liberation theology, a movement which took root throughout Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s and focused on helping the poor and oppressed, even if that meant confronting political powers. It was a theology that was later to be severely criticised as a "fundamental threat" to the church by one Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now better known as Pope Benedict XVI.

Romero spoke out for a theology that preached about the "preferential option for the poor". Ordained priests like Gutiérrez, Sobrino and Bo…

More on Lambeth

Ruth Geldhill of The U.K.-based Times is reporting that Bishop Robinson will indeed be invited as a non-voting guest at Lambeth:
A number of Anglicans in England have been writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury in protest at his decision to leave Gene Robinson off the invitation list to Lambeth. I have been 'leaked' one of the letters sent back in response. Signed by Canon Flora Winfield, of his office for International, Ecumenical and Anglican Communion Affairs, it reflects on the Archbishop's concern about the 'canonical impediment' to Bishop Robinson's consecration. The letter concludes: 'The Archbishop is therefore exploring inviting Bishop Robinson to the conference in another status.' Full text printed at the end of this post.

A source tells me he will indeed be invited as an official guest, with a voice but no vote, in the same way that eight TEC delegates were invited to the ACC meeting at Nottingham. Ecumenical guests would fall into the same ca…

Father Matthew Goes to Italy

It has been a while sionce I posted a Father Matthew video, so here goes. Father Matthew describes his vacation to Italy--including an audience with the Pope.

Growing the Mainline Church

Economist and Episcopalian John Chilton has a very interesting post at Episcopal Cafe about why mainline churches have declined relative to more conservative churches. Like the true economist that he is, John looks at the data.

John notes that at one time the growth of more conservative churches was indeed due to higher fertility rates, but then observes that other factors are now more important:
The relative decline of mainline denominations could of course be due both to differences in fertility and in evangelism. My commenter pointed me to what he admitted was a somewhat dated paper here. From that tip I was able to find a more recent paper, “The Demographic Imperative in Religious Change in the United States” by Michael Hout, Andrew Greeley and Melissa J. Wilde, The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 107, No. 2. (Sep., 2001), pp. 468-500 [JSTOR, subscription only].
Hout et al. have individual records on religious affiliation at birth, change in affiliation and fertility rates of wom…

Evolution and the Soul

The New York Times normal tuesday Science section is devoted to evolution. One of the more interesting articles is on how cognitive scientists and evolutionary scientists are beginning to find a biological basis for moral behavior and emotions that make us human. This raises an important issue--what does this developing science mean for our theology of the soul. Here are some highlights:
But as evolutionary biologists and cognitive neuroscientists peer ever deeper into the brain, they are discovering more and more genes, brain structures and other physical correlates to feelings like empathy, disgust and joy. That is, they are discovering physical bases for the feelings from which moral sense emerges — not just in people but in other animals as well.

The result is perhaps the strongest challenge yet to the worldview summed up by Descartes, the 17th-century philosopher who divided the creatures of the world between humanity and everything else. As biologists turn up evidence that animals…

Obama on his Faith

Barak Obama's speech to the United Church of Christ convention has gotten a great deal of press about his statements about the religious right. It seems to me, however, that the more personal story of his conversion is far more interesting:
I was not raised in a particularly religious household. My father, who I didn't know, returned to Kenya when I was just two. He was nominally a Muslim since there were a number of Muslims in the village where he was born. But by the time he was a young adult, he was an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was one of the most spiritual souls I ever knew. She had this enormous capacity for wonder, and lived by the Golden Rule. But she had a healthy skepticism of religion as an institution. And as a consequence, so did I.

. . .

So it's 1985, and I'm in Chicago, and I'm working with these churches, and with lots of laypeople who are much older than I am. And I found that I recognized in these f…

A Southern Baptist Looks at Liberation Theology

Pastor Benjamin Cole of Parkview Baptist in Arlington, Texas is a Southern Baptist minister who thinks Evangelicals have much to learn from liberation theology. His blog post on liberation theology is worth reading in full, but here are some highlights.
Southern Baptists are perhaps inordinately fearful and thoroughly ignorant of Liberation theologies. Whether the Black liberationism of James Cone, or the Roman Catholic liberationism of Gustavo Gutierrez, or the Feminist liberation of Rosemary Reuther, or the Gay liberation of Marcella Althius-Reid, or the Jewish liberationism of Marc Ellis, Evangelicals as a whole, and Southern Baptists in particular avoid investigating and assessing the contributions and dangers of Liberation Theology, much to our own peril.

During my entire course of study at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and briefly at Southwestern, I know of no serious engagement with Liberation Theology. There was the passing reference in Systematic Theology, and an o…

Democrats and the Catholic Vote

Catholics were once a core constituency of the Democratic Party. that is true no longer. Bush won the Catholic vote despite the fact that his opponent, John Kerry was himself Catholic. As U.S. News and World Reportnotes, however, the Democratic Party is taking some serious steps to win back at least some of the Catholics that have voted Republican in previous elections:
A Roman Catholic nun who leads a social justice advocacy group called Network, Simone Campbell rarely got a phone call from Capitol Hill before the 2006 election. Campbell, based in Washington, D.C., says she "wore her knuckles bare" fruitlessly knocking on lawmakers' doors, particularly those of Democrats who should have been natural allies on issues like raising the minimum wage and comprehensive immigration reform.

Then came last year's midterm elections. Campbell joined a new Catholic voter-turnout operation working to reverse the wilting Catholic support Democrats had seen in 2004. After her effort…

Faith, Reason, and Science, Part IV: More on the Moral Law Argument

I had previously written that I thought that the Moral Law Argument for the existence of God--which is argued by both C.S. Lewis and Francis Collins--is in danger of the "God of the Gaps" Fallacy. It appears that my concern has merit--altruistic behavior is not uniquely human, and this suggests an evolutionary explanation. Here is the Science Daily report:
Experimental evidence reveals that chimpanzees will help other unrelated humans and conspecifics without a reward, showing that they share crucial aspects of altruism with humans.

Debates about altruism are often based on the assumption that it is either unique to humans or else the human version differs from that of other animals in important ways. Thus, only humans are supposed to act on behalf of others, even toward genetically unrelated individuals, without personal gain, at a cost to themselves.

Studies investigating such behaviors in nonhuman primates, especially our close relative the chimpanzee, form an important cont…

More on Religion As a Source of Evil

Christopher Hitchens' book God is Not Good has, as one of its focus, the undisputed history of evil done in the name of religion. As I wrote earlier, I think that this has more to do with human nature and not religion per se. British journalist Edward Pearce offers a further response in a commentary on the Guardian group blog:
All the evidence taken together makes religion look dreadful. But religious faith, the prime mover of evil?

The response to such a grand, archdeacon-annihilating sweep of the arm must be a prolonged, grown-up "Steady on." Rebuttal begins at personal goodness. Put in evidence San Carlo Borromeo and William Mompesson. Both, Catholic Archbishop and Anglican Vicar, discharged for puritan views, faced bubonic plague - in Milan 1576 and Derbyshire 1665/6, respectively. Borromeo refused to follow the great body of the well-to-do into the clean air of exile, but stayed, cared and expended his own fortune - something he had already done during a major famine…

Canadian Anglicans Narrowly Defeat Same-Sex Blessings

It was a momentous week in Canada, with the General Synod of the Canadian Anglican Church first narrowly accepting a resolution that affirmed that the blessing of same sex unions is not in conflict with core doctrine, and then narrowly rejecting a resolution that would have permitted dioceses within the Canadian Church to authorize same sex blessings. In each case, the clergy and laity approved the resolutions by large margins, and in both cases the vote by the Bishops was as narrow as can be.

My colleague Andrew Gerns at The Lead has an excellent summary of today's events:
The decision shocked many same-sex supporters who thought the motion would pass since earlier in the day Anglicans voted same-sex blessings were not in conflict with the church’s doctrine.

Much of the sixth day of the synod was taken up with debate on the two questions, with dozens of people approaching microphones in the plenary hall to voice emotional opinions.

Both supporters and opponents agree that the two …

Tony Blair To Convert to Catholism

Prime Minister, a member of the Church of England, will convert to Catholicism in the next few days after a visit with the pope. The Guardian has some details:
Tony Blair will tomorrow travel to the Vatican to meet the Pope in preparation for his conversion to Roman Catholicism as sources in London and Rome said the outgoing prime minister had taken the decision to seek admission to the church.
All that remained uncertain was the timing of the announcement. It was not intended that it should take place in Rome, and might be made either before or after Mr Blair left office next week.

According to informed sources, Mr Blair has been readied for this milestone in his spiritual life by a Royal Air Force chaplain, Father John Walsh, who for the past four years has been quietly slipping into Chequers, the prime minister's country residence, to say mass for the Blair family on Saturday evenings.
Mr Blair has been attending Catholic services for many years, and regularly worshipped at the 5.3…

Tom Friedman on the Senate-Passed Energy Bill

The Senate passed an energy bill, and the surprise is that the Senate ultimately did not cave into the automobile industry and the coal industry as many had expected. But as Tom Friedman points out, this is damning by faint praise. The bill is hardly a serious plan to confront climate change:
The whole Senate energy effort only reinforced my feelings that we’re in a green bubble — a festival of hot air by the news media, corporate America and presidential candidates about green this and green that, but, when it comes to actually doing something hard to bring about a green revolution at scale — and if you don’t have scale on this you have nothing — we wimp out. Climate change is not a hoax. The hoax is that we are really doing something about it.

No question, it’s great news that the Democrat-led Senate finally stood up to the automakers, and to the Michigan senators, and said, “No more — no more assisted suicide of the U.S. auto industry by the U.S. Congress. We’re passing the first bil…

How the West Lost God

Mary Tedeschi Eberstadt,a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, has a very interesting essay in the Hoover Institution's Policy Review. She argues that the West has become more secular, and less religious, because we stopped having families. In otherwords, she reverses the usual causal relationship between family anf God. She argues that we lose our faith when we stop having children. Some highlights:

For well over a century now, the idea that something about modernity will ultimately cause religion to wither away has been practically axiomatic among modern, sophisticated Westerners.1 Known in philosophy as Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous story of the madman who runs into the marketplace declaring that “Gott ist tot,” and in sociology as the “secularization thesis,” it is an idea that many urbane men and women no longer even think to question, so self-evident does it appear.2 As people become more educated and more prosperous, the secularist story line goes, they find themsel…

Democrats and Abortion

Without much doubt, the Democratic party is much more of a pro-choice party than the Republican party is a pro-life party. Melinda Henneberger has a provocative op-ed in today's New York Times that makes the case that Democrats need to recognize most voter's complicated beliefs about abortion. Here are highlights:
Over 18 months, I traveled to 20 states listening to women of all ages, races, tax brackets and points of view speak at length on the issues they care about heading into ’08. They convinced me that the conventional wisdom was wrong about the last presidential contest, that Democrats did not lose support among women because “security moms” saw President Bush as the better protector against terrorism. What first-time defectors mentioned most often was abortion.

Why would that be, given that Roe v. Wade was decided almost 35 years ago? Opponents of abortion rights saw 2004 as the chance of a lifetime to overturn Roe, with a movement favorite already in the Oval Office and…

Limbo and The Problem of Salvation

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The First Things blog "On the Square" has two very interesting posts today on the Catholic Church's International Theological Commission’s (ITC) Report on Limbo, “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized.” The two posts are worth reading even by non-Catholics.

What is quite interesting is that the ITC was faced with the nearly impossible task of reconciling a pastoral problem (what to tell the parents of unbaptised infants who die about the eternal life of their children) with clear Church teaching and tradition about the importance of baptism to salvation. The solution, not uncommon in any discussion of salvation, is this: “Our conclusion is that [there are] . . . grounds for hope that unbaptized infants will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision” , but “the church does not have sure knowledge about the salvation of unbaptized infants” because “the destiny of . . . infants who die without baptism has not been revealed to us, and the church teache…