Thursday, December 27, 2007

Values Voters

Thanks to a debate occurring among several bloggers about why lower income/lower status voters seem attracted to social conservatives such as Mike Huckabee, I discovered a nearly year old analysis by Garance Franke-Ruta, a former senior editor at the Prospect. She explores some recent polling data, and explains a much more nuanced view of what is happening on "values" issues in the American public.

The article is very rich and well worth a read, but I will highlight three points.

First, she explores how the public is moving on two different axis of a matrix: authority versus individualism on one axis and fulfillment versus survival on the other. The polling data should give no comfort to wither conservatives or liberals:

Between 1992 and 2004, for example, the percentage of people who said they agree that “the father of the family must be the master in his own house” increased ten points, from 42 to 52 percent, in the 2,500-person Environics survey. The percentage agreeing that “men are naturally superior to women” increased from 30 percent to 40 percent. Meanwhile, the fraction that said they discussed local problems with people they knew plummeted from 66 percent to 39 percent. Survey respondents were also increasingly accepting of the value that “violence is a normal part of life” -- and that figure had doubled even before the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks.

. . .

But the real meaning of those trends was revealed only by plugging them into the “values matrix” -- a four-quadrant plot with plenty of curving arrows to show direction, which is then overlaid onto voting data. The quadrants represent different worldviews. On the top lies authority, an orientation that values traditional family, religiosity, emotional control, and obedience. On the bottom, the individuality orientation encompasses risk-taking, “anomie-aimlessness,” and the acceptance of flexible families and personal choice. On the right side of the scale are values that celebrate fulfillment, such as civic engagement, ecological concern, and empathy. On the left, there's a cluster of values representing the sense that life is a struggle for survival: acceptance of violence, a conviction that people get what they deserve in life, and civic apathy.

. . .

Over the past dozen years, the arrows have started to point away from the fulfillment side of the scale, home to such values as gender parity and personal expression, to the survival quadrant, home to illiberal values such as sexism, fatalism, and a focus on “every man for himself.” Despite the increasing political power of the religious right, Environics found social values moving away from the authority end of the scale, with its emphasis on responsibility, duty, and tradition, to a more atomized, rage-filled outlook that values consumption, sexual permissiveness, and xenophobia. The trend was toward values in the individuality quadrant.

Any reader remotely familiar with American popular culture will immediately recognize the truth of this analysis. Ariel Levy recently grappled with one aspect of it in her book Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture, writing about a hypersexualized culture that encourages its young women to be Girls Gone Wild and its young men to be piggish voyeurs. She describes a new anti-feminist vision of “liberation” that eschews both traditional constraints and any concern for gender equality. “Despite the rising power of Evangelical Christianity and the political right in the United States, this trend has only grown more extreme and more pervasive,” notes Levy.

. . .

“While American politics becomes increasingly committed to a brand of conservatism that favors traditionalism, religiosity, and authority,” Adams writes, “the culture at large [is] becoming ever more attached to hedonism, thrill-seeking, and a ruthless, Darwinist understanding of human competition.” This behavior is particularly prevalent among the vast segment of American society that is not politically or civically engaged, and which usually fails to even vote. This has created what must be understood at the electoral level as a politics of backlash on the part of both Republican and Democratic voters: Voters of both parties, Environics data show, have developed an increasingly moralistic politics as a reaction to the new cultural order.

Second, the resulting cultural disruption has had far more impact on lower income Americans than the affluent, which is why social conservatism has more success with lower income voters than the affluent:

Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle class people they want to be like. It should come as no surprise that the politics of reaction is strongest where there is most to react to. People in states like Massachusetts, for example, which has very high per capita incomes and the lowest divorce rate in the country, are relatively unconcerned about gay marriage, while those in Southern states with much higher poverty, divorce, and single-parenthood rates feel the family to be threatened because family life is, in fact, much less stable in their communities. In such environments, where there are few paths to social solidarity and a great deal of social disruption, the church frequently steps into the breach, further exacerbating the fight.

Finally, she gives an example of how one progressive Democrat was able to tap into these "values voters" without changing his views on key issues. To the contrary, he used the language of values to defend a very "liberal" position on the death penalty:

Incoming Democratic Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, a former Christian missionary in Latin America, learned the importance of cultural appeals early in his campaign. Kaine, Virginia's first Catholic governor and one of the two major Democratic electoral success stories of 2005, had worked as a court-appointed attorney for inmates on death row while a young attorney. This, he knew, would be a major strike against him in his bid to run a state whose citizens overwhelmingly support the death penalty, and in a contest against the state's attorney general, who would inevitably accuse him of being soft on crime and a bleeding-heart liberal.

In the spring of 2005 Kaine's pollster, Peter Brodnitz, of the polling firm Benenson Strategy Group, decided that the campaign needed to develop a strategy to handle such charges. It convened a focus group of white, conservative, religious voters, and explored different ways Kaine could reach out to them. The result was startling. Brodnitz found that once Kaine started talking about his religious background and explaining that his opposition to the death penalty grew out of his Catholic faith, not only did charges that he was weak on crime fail to stick, but he became inoculated against a host of related charges that typically plague and undermine the campaigns of Democratic candidates. “Once people understood the values system that the position grew out of, they understood that's he's not a liberal,” says Brodnitz. “We couldn't even convince them he was a liberal once we'd done that.”

Strategists who had been predicting Democratic success with a more values-based approach considered themselves vindicated. Virginia elected its second Democratic governor in a row, and its first one to survive opposition to the death penalty in an electoral fight. “People appreciate that I have a moral yardstick, and, even if they don't have the same one, they appreciate that I have one and it's not all about what a speechwriter puts in front of me or what a pollster tells me,” the governor-elect told the Prospect. That moral yardstick may be just the tool Democrats need.

Read the entire article here--it is very rich.

So what does this all mean? I think that the message here is that the appeal of social conservatives such as Huckabee should not be dismissed simplistically as the result of the power of the religious right. This ignores the fact that there is a real coarseness to our culture that affects lower income Americans more than others. And it also ignores that the economic solidarity provided to these voters in the past by institutions like unions are gone--and largely replaced by the church by default.

As I have said before, Democrats need to be careful that we create a theocratic appeal from the left, but we should also not be afraid to engage with these voters (who on virtually every specific issue should be our voters) in language that has meaning with these voters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

After an aching loss, a healing gift

One of this blogs readers is John D'Anna of the Arizona Republic, who has a very moving and truthful story of a mother's loss in yesterday's paper. It is well worth a read, but here are some highlights:

Her name is Monica and Isaiah was her baby boy.

She named him for the prophet who foretold the gift of the Savior's birth.

. . .

When he was 9, Monica began to notice that he would sometimes zone out. She'd ask what was wrong and he'd say, "Mom, I've got a bad taste in my mouth."

She didn't think much of it.

About two weeks later, Isaiah was riding in the back seat of the car with his older brother, Gino. Monica heard him gasping and thrashing, the nylon of his winter coat swishing against the seat and car door.

She couldn't see him in the mirror so she asked Gino what was going on. He nonchalantly replied that Isaiah did that all the time in his sleep. Monica pulled over, and her training as a nurse told her Isaiah was having a seizure.

. . .

But Isaiah never let the seizures define him. He played basketball and baseball. He went swimming, hung out with friends and cared for his baby sister. He got a job because he wanted to contribute, not be a burden.

All the while, Monica did what a mother does. She harped on him about his medications and checked on him every night when he was sleeping. Sometimes she cried. Mostly she prayed.

Isaiah's 18th birthday came and went. The seizures stayed.

. . .

Around Christmastime last year, Isaiah said something else out of the blue. Monica had just picked him up from class at Paradise Valley Community College, and he said, "Mom, I am going to be an organ donor."

Monica's heart sank. Was he giving up the fight against the seizures?

She put on a brave face and told Isaiah that she wanted him to give, but not that way. That his little sister would need him after Monica was gone.

"Just in case, Mom, I am going to give my heart, my lungs, my kidneys and my liver."

"You can't give your heart, Monica replied. "Your heart is what makes you so special."

He said, "OK Mom, I won't give my heart."

"You can't give your lungs because every breath you take is special to me," Monica said.

"Mom, OK, if something happens to me, I will just give my kidneys and my liver."

Monica awoke early on Saturday, July 7. Her first thought was to check on Isaiah. She looked in on him so often that he accused her of stalking him, but this time she decided to let him be.

Then a loud knock startled her. It was Gino pounding on her door.

"Mom! Mom! Mom! It's Isaiah! . . . He's not breathing!"

. . .

The next day, she was in the cafeteria with her husband, Willie, when she was asked to come upstairs. She was met by Isaiah's neurologist, a variety of internists and the hospital chaplain.

They said they were sorry, the tests showed no brain activity.

She thanked each one and said they reminded her of a verse in the Gospel of Matthew. That caring for a stranger was God's will, and those who fulfill it are brothers and sisters in the Lord.

That night, doctors removed 19-year-old Isaiah Rashad Stewart from the respirator.

Monica was asked to consider donating Isaiah's organs, but she couldn't bring herself to say yes right then. She would need to sleep on it.

On Aug. 26, Monica was flipping through the TV channels and saw a news report that hit her like a fist.

It was about a man named Carl Johnston, who had just celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary with his wife, Elaine. It was a day neither thought he'd live to see.

Johnston, an Air Force veteran, had suffered from lung disease for years and relied on oxygen 24/7. He'd been living under a virtual death sentence until July 12, when his transplant surgeon called. A pair of donor lungs was available.

Isaiah's lungs. The ones his mother didn't want him to donate because every breath he breathed was special to her.

A few days earlier, Monica had received a letter from Carl Johnston.

He thanked her for Isaiah's gift, but it was hard to find comfort in his joy.

Her grief was too raw, her loss too fresh.

It still is.

She kept the letter, though, and placed it in her memory box.

Perhaps some day she'll meet the man who breathes each special breath with her baby boy's lungs.


But for now, Monica Charles finds comfort in family. And prayer. And faith in the Lord. And in the healing power of Isaiah's gift.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Faith and Hope

E.J. Dionne has a very appropriate Christmas column today on faith and hope. Here are some highlights:

Even more than faith and love, I think, hope is closest to the heart of the Christmas story. In an anthropological sense, Christmas celebrates new life and birth, a theme that crosses cultures and traditions. This sense of Christmas has a beauty all its own and embodies a nearly universal quest for renewal.

But in the theological sense as understood by Christians, the holiday is even more radical. Christianity -- drawing on the Jewish scriptures, particularly Isaiah -- revolutionized the concept of the divine by putting aside deities who dominated humanity in favor of a God who entered the world in human form.

. . .

I'm not trying to convert anyone here, but I do want to suggest that Christmas might help us see that both Christianity and Judaism are fundamentally progressive traditions. I do not use "progressive" in a narrow political sense. All great religious traditions are, in some ways and necessarily, both progressive and conservative.

But it's quite clear that the Christmas, Easter and Exodus stories are about freedom and liberation. All promise that the distance between God and humanity can be overcome, that deliverance is possible.

. . .

That's why I dissent from Christopher Hitchens's bold assertion in the subtitle of his bracing atheist polemic that "religion poisons everything."

On the contrary, for all of the sins committed in the name of religion -- yes, there are many -- the great faiths were indispensable in pointing us down a path toward liberty and justice. If I may borrow from Jesse Jackson, these traditions helped us, in dark times, to keep hope alive.

The Christian message is frequently drained of this larger meaning and interpreted, often by Christians themselves, as being solely or primarily about personal salvation. But this sells the tradition short.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI issued a fascinating encyclical on the idea of Christian hope in which he explicitly disputed the idea of "the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others." Drawing on the theologian Henri de Lubac, Benedict argued that "salvation has always been considered a 'social' reality."

Read the whole thing here. It is well worth reading.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Why People Leave Church

Like many churches tonight, Trinity Cathedral was pretty crowded. We actually get quite a crowd most Sunday's, but in almost every church, Christmas really brings in folks who only attend once or twice a year.

I therefore thougt that the comments of Phillip Richter, and English scholar who looks at why people leave the church to be very interesting:

Up to 40% of the British population, according to recent Anglican statistics, are likely to make their way to church over Christmas. For many, it may be their only visit to a church all year. For others, it may be a chance to sample churchgoing again and give it another try. One of the messages of our new book Gone for Good? is that there are a surprising number of former churchgoers. Churches have not always been very good at keeping their members or encouraging them back. For our research, we took the trouble to listen to hundreds of church-leavers.

Most people have their own hunches about why the churches are getting emptier. Some people lay all the blame on loss of faith. Others berate the churches for just not being relevant enough. Gone for Good? checked out the actual reasons that people gave. And it was true that some people lost their faith and stopped churchgoing. But this was a factor for only a third of church leavers.

The research identified 14 other clusters of reasons and suggested that churches should abandon "one size fits all" strategies for stemming church decline. Over a third of church leavers drifted away because of changes in their lives - like moving to a new area, going away from home for the first time, illness, marriage break-up or increased family commitments. It wasn't necessarily the church's fault that they had left. And they reported that they might one day come back.

It's possible to predict, on the basis of this research, those most likely to reactivate their church-going. It all depends why they left in the first place. People who had left because of pressures of work, because they found it difficult to adjust the change in the church, because there weren't enough people their age, or because of changes in their lives, are all more likely to become returnees.

People leave, and sometimes return to, church for different reasons. So we advise a new "multiplex" model of church. Just as cinemas successfully reinvented themselves by offering different screens under the same roof, churches need to cater for diversity. But no one church is likely to be able to meet everyone's needs. Churches need to be more prepared to point church-leavers to another church that might suit them better, rather than risking them dropping out altogether.

Read it here.

This raises an interesting question for every church and every denomination. Do we find what we do really well in attracting one part of the population, and focus on that? Or do we try to develop a diversity of options to attract as many different folks back to the church as possible. In the Episcoapal Church, this decisaion often comes down to whether we should loosen our litergical focus. This research suggests that we should think hard before we do so.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Most Important Climate Change Chart

Paul Klugman has managed to create a chart that best captures the challenges in trying to contain and reduce carbon dioxcide.

The original is here.

He gives some comment in another post:

So the headline today says that the United States, under pressure, has agreed to — well, not to actually do anything about climate change, but to talk about doing something about climate change.

Meanwhile, doom marches on. I was recently looking at these data on carbon dioxide emissions from the Energy Information Administration[.]

. . .

I picked 1997 because that’s the year of the Kyoto Protocol. America — despite full knowledge of the risks to the climate — just keeps pouring ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Future generations will not forgive us. And China’s economic success is an environmental disaster.
I just thought you should know.

That comment is here.

A Graphical Look at the "War on Christmas"

RMJ at Adventus has a fun post on War on Christmas through graphic art. Here are some of his posters:

Find them all here.

The Advocate on the Episcopal Church

As you can probably tell, I have largely stopped blogging about the ins and outs of the anglican soap opera. Heck, I did not even blog about the decision of the San Jacquin Diocese to leave the Episcopal Church and join the Southern Cone. I am doing so for several reasons. First, there are many, many bloggers more informed than I who have far more intelligent things to say about this. Second, I find that a focus on church politics is bad for my soul--my treasure is in Jesus and God, not in church politics.

Still, ever so often, I read something that reminds me what this whole struggle has been about. Teresa Morrison, a non-Christian lesbian offers some thoughts in The Advocate from an outsiders perspective that are well worth reading:

I firmly believe that within a generation the antigay hate speech Bishop Schofield so freely espouses will receive as little tolerance as we do today, and I look forward to a time when men like him will wish they had quietly harbored hatred rather than staking their reputations on it. Meanwhile, Bishop Jefferts Schori and other proponents of inclusion will be credited with having furthered the integrity of their faith institutions as dynamic, relevant forces in the 21st century.

Non-Episcopalian gays and lesbians might not think we have a dog in this fight, but we all have a vested interest in the outcome. We find ourselves in a very rare position here, one so unfamiliar to LGBT people we can scarcely grasp its significance: In the determination of the U.S. Episcopal Church to take a stand for our equality and inclusion, we have everything to gain and nothing to lose, while the folks fighting for us risk their political and financial footing in the Anglican Communion, the third-largest Christian body in the world, which is far more sympathetic toward your Bishops Schofield than to the progressive platform embraced by Bishop Jefferts Schori and the majority of her church’s 2.5 million members.

We never asked Episcopalians to take up our fight. Rather, it seems, their spiritual path has led them to believe that we aren’t any less deserving of ministry or recognition or even consecration simply because we happen to be unpopular sexual minorities. I wish that weren’t an extraordinary concept in 2007, but it is. And Bishop Jefferts Schori has hardly blinked in a year of denominational strife that has seen her character and her commitment to her religious office questioned, challenged, dismissed, and maligned.

In this age of gay bashing from all sides, it isn’t often we encounter a religious leader -- or any leader -- willing to bulldog for our rights, especially when faced with such a potentially high cost to herself and the institution she represents. What I wouldn’t give for such genuine representation in our elected officials.

Read it all here.

To Be Fair to Mitt Romney

I was recently very critical of Romney's speech because rather than argue for the separation of church and state, he embrased the conservative theocratic arguments against such a separation. I was also critical because his speech seemed to put atheists and agnostics outside the scope of good Americans.

To be fair to Romney, after the speech, he answered some questions by Tim Russett about atheists in public light that takes a different view:

MR. RUSSERT: But when you say freedom requires religion, can you be a moral person and be an atheist?

GOV. ROMNEY: Oh, oh, of course. Oh, of course.

MR. RUSSERT: And participate in freedom?

GOV. ROMNEY: Oh, of course. Yes, this...

MR. RUSSERT: So freedom doesn't require religion?

GOV. ROMNEY: Well, this--the, the context was talking about the, the founding of the nation and the, the sense in this case of John Adams describing the fact that our constitutional form of government and this American experiment required morality, which in turn required religion. And, and yet, of course, on an individual basis, you have many individuals of great morality and--that, that don't have any particular faith.

MR. RUSSERT: So if you determined that the most qualified person for the Supreme Court or for attorney general or secretary of education happened to be an atheist or an agnostic, that wouldn't prevent you from appointing them?

GOV. ROMNEY: Of course not. You, you, you look at individuals based upon their skills and their ability, their values, their intelligence. And there are many who are agnostic or atheist or who have very different beliefs about the nature of the divine than I do, and, and you evaluate them based on their skills. But I, I can tell you that I, I myself am a person of faith and, and respect the, the sense of the common bond of humanity that comes from that, that fundamental belief.

MR. RUSSERT: But there'd be no litmus test?

GOV. ROMNEY: No, no. There's no litmus test of, of that nature.

Read it here. Hat Tip to Get Religion.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Peter Carey is A Priest!

My fellow Episcopal blogger (and now YouTune v-caster), Peter Carey, was ordained as a priest yesterday. Be sure to visit his blog and congratulate him. And while you are there be sure to read his very interesting and thoughtful posts!

Rod Dreher on Romney and Faith

Rod Dreher is a social conservative and a Christian (Orthodox) believer. He had a column on the entire issue of faith and politics in America that is well worth reading. Here are some highlights.

First, while he believes that Mormonism is not Christian, he does not believe that social conservative Christians should use this as an excuse to reject Romney:

1. Mormons aren't Christians. I don't mean that as a criticism, only as a descriptive phrase. When Mormons claim Jesus Christ as their savior, there's no reason to doubt their sincerity and good will, or even to deny that they are in some way followers of Christ. Yet Mormonism rejects foundational doctrines of traditional Christian orthodoxy, such that it is impossible to reconcile with normative Christianity.

. . .

3. Theologically, this is a big deal. But politically, so what? Mormons vote like Southern Baptists and come down on the same side of most issues of public morality like conservative Christians do. If you're a socially conservative lawmaker, wouldn't you rather have a Mormon in your legislative foxhole than a Kennedy-style cafeteria Catholic or progressive mainline Protestant? I'm no Romney fan, but is there really no meaningful political difference between Good-Mormon Mitt and Bad-Catholic Rudy, to say nothing of Liberal-Protestant Hillary?

4. There are plenty of good reasons for conservative Christians not to vote for Mr. Romney, but his religious beliefs are not among them. Do Christians want to be in the position of rejecting a candidate whose political views and moral values they agree with, solely because they don't like his religion? On what grounds would they condemn secularists for rejecting Christian candidates?

5. "If Mitt Romney believes what Mormonism teaches, no telling what he'll believe," say more than a few conservative Christians. Oh? Non-Christians have to overlook the fact that Christian candidates profess to believe that God became man, was murdered and rose from the dead. They have to ignore the fact that some Christians believe that same God-man mysteriously appears as bread and wine under certain circumstances, and others believe that the universe was created in seven literal days. The content of a religion's doctrinal teaching is not a reliable guide to the overall judgment of one of its adherents.

Rod then addresses Romney's argument that freedom requires faith. I think that he comes to a conclusion far more nuanced than Romney's:

8. Does freedom require religion, as Mr. Romney asserts? Superficially, no, unless you wish to argue that post-Christian Europe is unfree, which is plainly nuts.

But we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss John Adams' observation that the U.S. Constitution is made "only for a moral and religious people" and will not work for any other. His point was that maintaining political liberty requires a people capable of governing themselves and restraining their passions for the greater good. He might have said "moral" people, and left it at that, because in his day and in ours, one can find morally upright men and women who have no religious faith and believers who are morally corrupt.

9. But the crooked timber of humanity is frail indeed. If God doesn't exist, then by what standard do we decide right from wrong? If a society recognizes no independent, transcendent guardian of the moral order, will it not, over time, lose its self-discipline and decline into barbarism? The eminent sociologist Philip Rieff, who was not a believer, said that man would either live in fear of God or would be condemned to live in fear of the evil in himself.

10. Adams' pronouncement raises the question: "Whose morality, and whose religion?" The American constitutional understanding of the rights of man and human dignity come out of both the Enlightenment and Judeo-Christian tradition. The American constitutional order, and the American civil religion, is inexplicable outside of both, together, in creative tension. Religion is not sufficient for securing liberty, but religion, restricted by boundaries required by a pluralist democracy, is necessary to maintain it.

11. Mr. Romney, as a Mormon, may not be a Christian, but his values are deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Christians who judge a candidate's fitness for the presidency based on his particular profession of faith should reflect on the quality of governance our devoutly evangelical president has provided over the last seven years. Martin Luther is supposed to have said that he would rather be governed by a wise Muslim than a foolish Christian.

Smart man, that Luther. For a heretic.

Read it all here.

Clearly, my atheist friends would not agree with Rod's ultimate conclusion. I would argue, however, that even American atheists are part of the "Judeo-Christian tradition." They don't believe in a God, but they largely accept the same values that arose in this tradition.

And to paraphrase Luther, I would rather be governed by a wise Atheist than a foolish Christian.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Tax And Spend Messiah

This is a very funny video about the battle among Presidential candidates for the "Jesus Endorsement"


Father Greg Jones on Homosexuality

Father Greg Jones is a self-proclaimed centrist on the issues that divide the Anglican Communion, and he has expressed support for the Windsor process. He is also one of my favorite Episcopal bloggers. His post today responding to what Mathew Kennedy had to say about homosexuality is well woth a read. Here are some highlights:

In terms of homosexuality, it is a stretch to say that Paul has 'teaching about homosexuality.' Paul assumes, as does Kennedy, that all human beings are 'naturally heterosexual' and that any physical passion between persons of the same sex is a choice made from that same proud desire to worship one's self and not God. I agree with Paul that the sin of the human being is indeed that deep seeded urge to worship and serve the self and not the Lord God. However, with many modern people, and the overwhelming majority of the scientific community, I believe that persons who wish to form committed relationships of monogamy, fidelity, and life-long tenure with persons of the same sex are not doing it out of perverted desire to worship themselves, but as a result of their being ordered that way naturally, and that gay Christians are looking to enter into a covenant relationship and share in the kind of steadfast loving that God seeks for us to model and share. Moreover, many of witnessed it that when Christian persons who are so ordered do commit themselves to faithful relationships of life-long tenure, lives of grace are born out.

While Christians must always be careful not to replace the authority of God mediated through Scripture and Tradition with human reason -- Anglicans have always believed that God gave us reason as a tool for interpreting God's will from Scripture, the tradition of the Church, and the Spirit which speaks through the Eucharistic community of the faithful.

As such, just as many faithful Anglicans no longer believe the world is less than 6,000 years old -- despite what Scripture 'says' and because of what Spirit-touched Reason has discerned -- and just as many faithful Anglicans no longer believe that wives should be 'subject' to their husbands more than husbands should be 'subject' to their wives -- despite what Scripture 'says' and because of what Spirit-touched Reason has discerned -- many faithful Anglicans today (and Christians in other denominations) are beginning to say that maybe the Church should look for new ways to honor and include gay people without condemning them or consigning them to lives in mental hospitals, prisons or in forced isolation from loving partnerships. Indeed, many are saying, "these folks should be included in all orders of ministry just as women ought to be, and just as divorced persons ought to be permitted to remarry."

Read it all here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

David Kuo on the War on Christmas

David Kuo and I come from very different backgrounds--both politically and theologically. Still, more often than not I find myself nodding in agreement with his postings. Here is the latest example:

I used to be in the ticked off camp. Christmas is, after all, the big deal of the holiday season. More people - by far - celebrate it than celebrate any of the other holidays. It isn't even close.

But I don't think that anymore. It really doesn't matter what retailers do. It really doesn't matter what governments do. At Christmas it matters what churches do. At Christmas it matters what families do.

We waste too much time and too much energy focusing on things that aren't important to faith.

What does it matter if stores and governments acknowledge Christmas as the celebration of Christ's birth? It simply doesn't. These issues are a grand distraction to our faith. They are things that can make Christians feel good about their faith without requiring anything of them.

That is the opposite of the faith that Jesus instructed his followers to live. Jesus said his followers should expect hardship and trials and oppression. He didn't tell them to expect Sears to have a Christmas tree. He told them to sacrifice and serve and give and love. He didn't tell them to expect governments to celebrate is birth.

Perhaps de-Christianizing Christmas is the best thing for the Christian faith IF it forces Christians to focus more on their own spirituality and less on the nation's spirituality.

Read it all here.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Romney and the Republican Theocracy

I have been meaning to post something about the Romney speech on Faith in America, but wanted some time to reflect. Here are my thoughts:

First, I think it rather stunning that Mitt Romney had to give this speech in the first place. Some context here is important--the opposition to Romney because he is a Mormon does not come from concern that he will impose his faith on the country if elected President--indeed, much of the energy here come from certain elements of the Christian right who are largely aligned with the LDS on social policy. Rather, the objection to Romney's Mormon faith is purely theological--certain voters object to Romney because of the theological views (largely about the nature of Jesus Christ) of his Church.

And, do you have any doubt that Mike Huckabee is doing his very best to take advantage of the theological discomfort of many by noting that he is a true believer?

Here is a very honest admission of this fact by an influential evangelical leader:

I don’t think most evangelicals are afraid that a President Romney will impose his esoteric Mormon morality on the rest of us. We’re not really worried he’ll try to ban caffeine (though Huckabee might), or hand out tax breaks for special underwear.

We’re afraid that nominating a Mormon will legitimize a cult.

(Posted by David Kuo on his blog here--but the comments are not David's).

This is very, very disturbing--this is as close to a religious test as you will see.

Second, in light of this context, perhaps it is not surprising that Romney did not give a Kennedy-type defense of the Separation of Church and State--to the contrary, Romney largely gave a standard conservative critique of the principle of separation. (He managed to talk about the founding fathers without once mentioning Thomas Jefferson--quite telling).

Why? Because his audience were members of the religious right. In essence, Romney was saying, "Don't woory. I am a Mormon, but my theocratic agenda is the same as your theocratic agency." To this end, I think New York Times columnist David Brook's analysis is right on.

As Brooks explains:

Romney borrowed the conviction that faith is under assault in America — which is the unifying glue of social conservatism. He argued that the religious have a common enemy: the counter-religion of secularism.

He insisted that the faithful should stick stubbornly to their religions, as he himself sticks to the faith of his fathers. He insisted that God-talk should remain a vibrant force in the public square and that judges should be guided by the foundations of their faith. He lamented the faithlessness of Europe and linked the pro-life movement to abolition and civil rights, just as evangelicals do.

. . .

Before yesterday, most pundits thought Romney was making a mistake in giving the speech now. But in retrospect, it clearly was not a mistake. Romney didn’t say anything that the Baptist minister Mike Huckabee couldn’t say, and so this one address will not hold off the Huckabee surge in Iowa. But Romney underlined the values he shares with social conservatives, and will have eased their concerns.

Yet, as with me, it is the very success of this speech in calming the theological fears of the right that alarms Brroks:

When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.

The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I’m assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press.

The second casualty of the faith war is theology itself. In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand. In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics.

In Romney’s account, faith ends up as wishy-washy as the most New Age-y secularism. In arguing that the faithful are brothers in a common struggle, Romney insisted that all religions share an equal devotion to all good things. Really? Then why not choose the one with the prettiest buildings?

In order to build a voting majority of the faithful, Romney covered over different and difficult conceptions of the Almighty. When he spoke of God yesterday, he spoke of a bland, smiley-faced God who is the author of liberty and the founder of freedom. There was no hint of Lincoln’s God or Reinhold Niebuhr’s God or the religion most people know — the religion that imposes restraints upon on the passions, appetites and sinfulness of human beings. He wants God in the public square, but then insists that theological differences are anodyne and politically irrelevant.

Romney’s job yesterday was to unite social conservatives behind him. If he succeeded, he did it in two ways. He asked people to rally around the best traditions of America’s civic religion. He also asked people to submerge their religious convictions for the sake of solidarity in a culture war without end.

Read it all here.

And that leads me to my third and final observations. I think that the separation of church and state has served our nation very, very well. Perhaps the best evidence of this is to compare the experience of the American Muslim community to the Muslim community in Europe. And quite frankly, while I am a Christian, I have never seen any relationship between faith and qualities as a political leader. Some of the political leaders that I most admire are or were quiet nonbelievers. Some of the Presidents that I think deserve historical disgrace (like the present occupant of the White House) are sincere believers.

But, I think it equally worthy of note that the separation of church and state in the U.S. has also served our church(es) (and synagogues and mosques and ashrams) very, very well. In Europe, where there is an established church in most countries, religious faith is lifeless. In the U.S., faith is vibrant. (And, indeed, in those parts of Europe that are ending the established church monopoly, faith is coming back alive? Why? Because as Brooks observes, the intermingling of church and state leads to a bland, Government approved form of faith. That is certainly the history of prayer in schools. If that happens, what's the point?

Friday, December 7, 2007

Rev. Peter Carey Does an Advent Video

The latest video from Peter Carey. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Teen Birth Rate Rises

Bad news. A decade long trend of reductions in the teen birth rate is reversing:

After falling steadily for more than a decade, the birth rate for American teenagers jumped last year, federal health officials reported yesterday, a sharp reversal in what has been one of the nation's most celebrated social and public health successes.

The birth rate rose by 3 percent between 2005 and 2006 among 15-to-19-year-old girls, after plummeting 34 percent between 1991 and 2005, the National Center for Health Statistics reported.

This is concerning," said Stephanie J. Ventura, who heads the center's reproductive statistics branch. "It represents an interruption of 14 years of steady decline. Now unexpectedly we have an increase of 3 percent, which is a significant increase."

Ventura said it is too soon to know whether the increase was an aberration or the beginning of a trend. But she said the magnitude of the rise, especially after many years of decline, is worrisome.

"This early warning should put people on alert to look at the programs that are being used to see what works," Ventura said.

. . .

Other experts said many factors could be playing a role. It could be, for example, that complacency has set in, or that the increase reflects of a broader trend cutting across all ages. Birth rates have also increased for women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s.

The teen birth rate rose sharply between 1986 and 1991, when it hit an all-time high of 61.8 births per 1,000 girls. The increase led to a massive campaign to counter the trend, and the rates of both teenage sexual activity and teen births began falling steadily every year. Locally, teen birth rates followed that trend, plummeting between the 1990s and 2005.

This summer, however, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the long decline in teenage sexual activity appeared to have stalled nationally, raising fears that it could presage an increase in teen births.

The most recent data come from birth certificates nationwide. While the birth rate among 10-to-14-year-old girls continued to fall, the rate for those ages 15 to 19 increased from 40.5 per 1,000 girls to 41.9 births per 1,000 in 2006. [Read the Full Report]

"It's a pretty astounding increase," John Santelli, who studies teen health issues at Columbia University. "It's really a sea change, since it's been going down and getting better for so long."

Advocates noted that despite the 14-year decline, U.S. teens are still far more likely to get pregnant and have children than those in other developed countries, and teenage mothers and their children are far more likely to live in poverty.

"The vast majority of teenage mothers never finish high school," said Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "Teen pregnancy and child care is directly related to poverty, both for the mother and the child. This should be a wake-up call for a renewed focus on preventing teen pregnancy."

The increase was greatest among black teens, whose birth rate rose 5 percent between 2005 and 2006, reaching 63.7 per 1,000 teens. That was particularly disappointing because black teens had previously made the greatest gains, with the rate among 15-to-17-year-olds dropping by more than half.

"There had been dramatic, dramatic improvement in that community," Brown said. "All of us had hoped it would continue to decline."

Read it all here.

Bali Day Two: Scientists Speak

At the second day of the Bali conference on Climate change, a large number of the leading climate change scientists released a manifesto urging action on the problem. Climate Feedback has the story:

For the first time this week at the UN conference on climate change, scientists today sounded their views on the specifics they believe the road from Bali should lead to if we are to avoid catastrophically changing the climate.

Signed by more than 200 of the world’s most eminent climatologists, the ‘Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists’ issues a stark warning to negotiators that unless they take immediate, bold action on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, many millions will be at high risk of some of the most sinister effects of global warming including extreme sea level rise and increased drought and heatwaves.

“This declaration makes a clear and unambiguous statement about what our emissions targets have to be. To achieve these targets, we need action now, this week, here in Bali, said Matthew England, climate modeller at the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Specifically, the document states that atmospheric GHG concentrations need to be stabilised long-term at 450 ppm CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) or lower to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius. Formally announced at a press briefing in Bali this morning, the declaration calls on governments to reduce emissions “by at least 50% below 1990 levels by the year 2050”.

Though the science is taken from the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the signatories comprise the most prominent IPCC authors, the policy-prescriptive statement is distinct from the UN process which simply assesses the current understanding of climate change. “This is simply outside the charge of the IPCC process”, said Richard Somerville, meteorologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

. . .

The declaration advises stabilising at 450ppm CO2e, yet this would only give us a 50% chance of avoiding dangerous climate change, explained Pitman. To increase that chance to 75%, we would need to bring atmospheric levels down to 400ppm CO2e. With emissions steadily increasing, the urgency of the situation is brought home by the fact that we are now GHG levels close to those at which the scientists recommend we stabilise.

Developed nations party to the Kyoto Protocol agreed in Vienna in August that emissions should be cut by 25-40% cut by 2020, based on 1990 levels. England confirmed that the target announced today is in line with this figure.

But the scientists won’t go as far as to say when the targets should be implemented or how nations should go about reducing their emissions. “We don’t have recommendations for how the negotiations should proceed”, said Somerville. He added that there is no magic bullet and that all approaches to reducing emissions will need to be considered.

As for whether their recommendations are likely to be taken on board, it’s probably too early to say. Diana Liverman, climate policy expert at Oxford University, UK and signatory of the statement, said that she hasn’t seen any evidence of the talks derilaing yet and that a consideration of stricter targets than those under Kyoto may come next week.

On being asked for his response to the consensus document, US Senior Climate Negotiator Harlan Watson said that he wasn’t aware of it. He added that the US administration wholly approved of the IPCC, but that they wouldn’t endorse any specific scenarios from the latest report.

Read it all here.

Benjamin Myers: A few things I could never believe

The post by Ben Myers at the Faith and Theology Blog is priceless:

In his delightfully pessimistic song, “Everything Goes To Hell” (2002), Tom Waits sings:

There’s a few things that I never could believe:
A woman when she weeps
A merchant when he swears
A thief who says he’ll pay
A lawyer when he cares
A snake when he is sleeping
A drunkard when he prays…

So that got me thinking. And here are a few things that I never can believe:

A telemarketer who wants “just a few moments.”
A politician who talks about “our way of life.”
A church which describes itself as “Bible-based.”
A record company which produces “Christian music.”
A theologian who uses the word “tolerance.”
A TV preacher who says “glory to God!”

Read it here.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bali Day One Reports: A Rocky Start

Climate Feedback is reporting a rocky start to the Bali conference on Climate change--due in large measure to differences on the fundamental issue of what the conference is all about:

The road to building a Bali roadmap was looking increasingly rocky today, as the vastly differing expectations of what will emerge from the two weeks meeting of the 13th conference of parties (COP) to the UNFCCC became increasingly apparent.

One of the biggest bones of contention, of course, is whether the roadmap will include an agreement on the need for binding emissions targets from 2012, which signals the end of the second period of commitment of the Kyoto Protocol.

At the opening plenary talk on Monday, Yvo de Boer, UNFCCC Executive Secretary said that “A marriage contract is not something to discuss on a first date”, eluding to the fact that the willingness of nations to co-operate must first be established here before they get down to the nitty gritty of asking parties to act on their promises.

But many feel this is a COP-out. Today, Matthias Duwe of Climate Action Network, a worldwide association of some 400 NGOs, retorted to De Boer’s comment, saying “These parties have been dating for over 15 years now, so we’re not exactly on a first date here”.

. . .

De Boer compared setting targets first to being asked to swim across the Atlantic without knowing whether you’d have a team, be allowed breaks, use rescue equipment etc. Basically, you’d hardly sign up for the task without knowing the details beforehand.

This approach, however, would be a flip on the order in which the Kyoto Protocol was agreed, which set targets first and then looked at how to achieve them. And that’s bound to ruffle feathers.

. . .

Among all the political wrangling and finger pointing, there has been some light hearted relief takes on the Bali talks, such as the giant thermometer erected by Greenpeace outside the conference venue and the Fossil of the Day Awards announced each evening by the Climate Action Network. The prize is in recognition of the efforts of countries that block progress at the conference.

Yet again, Saudi Arabia won first prize today for complaining that the protocol has an unfair focus on CO2 (and then called for prioritisation of CCS, which is concentrated on CO2). And secondly, for saying that article A "should not attach an economic element to the noble cause of fighting climate change"--when for years, they have been trying to undermine the fight against climate change specifically by campaigning by alleging adverse economic effects!

Read it all here.

The big news in the opening session is that Austrialia--which had until recently joined the U.S. in opposing the Kyoto treaty--used the opening session to urge the U.s. to join the rest of the world:

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd urged the United States to follow his country's lead and ratify the Kyoto Protocol, while rich and poor nations appeared divided Wednesday over what a future climate change pact should look like.

Rudd signed documents this week to formally adopt the accord that caps greenhouse gas emissions, reversing a decade of Australian resistance and leaving the United States as the only industrialized country to refuse to sign on.

"Our position vis-a-vis Kyoto is clear cut, and that is that all developed and developing countries need to be part of the global solution," the newly elected prime minister told the Southern Cross Broadcasting radio network in Australia.

"And therefore we do need to see the United States as a full ratification state," he said.

His comments put further pressure on the United States at the U.N. Climate Change conference in Bali, where nearly 190 nations hope to launch a two-year negotiating process that will result in a pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

Failure to continue reducing emissions, experts warn, will almost certainly lead to catastrophic droughts and floods, and deaths linked to heat waves and disease.

The 175-nation Kyoto agreement of 1997 requires 36 industrialized nations to reduce their emissions of heat-trapping "greenhouse gases" — carbon dioxide and some other industrial, agricultural and transportation byproducts — by an average 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

The United States says it wants to be part of the negotiations on a follow-up accord, but refuses to endorse mandatory cuts in emissions favored by the European Union, choosing instead to focus on funding renewable energy projects and improving energy efficiency.

The Associated Press offer other setails as well:

While the conference is in its early days, differences already were emerging, mostly over what should go into the "Bali roadmap," which will lay out the subjects for discussions in the years to come.

Japan, for example, offered up a proposal that doesn't include targets, while the EU has come out with a detailed wish list that includes demands for industrialized countries to take the lead in approving mandatory cuts, strengthening the carbon market and boosting funding to help poor countries adapt.

Meanwhile, delegates and activists say poor countries led by the Group of 77, which represents 132 mainly developing countries and China, have demanded that rich countries speed up the process of providing them with technologies that would help reduce pollution or improve energy efficiency.

They also want funds to adapt to the impact of global warming.

Meena Raman, chairman of Friends of the Earth International, said marathon debates over the issue, some running late into the night, indicated that the West wasn't taking their concerns seriously.

"How on earth can you talk about targets if you don't want to engage on the scope, the depth and need of technology?" she asked reporters. "In the last two days, the sincerity and urgency that is needed and goodwill from the (West) is not happening."

Read it all here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

More on the War on Christmas

I t appears that I am not the only Christian that wants to put an end to the War on Christmas craziness. Bill Berkowitz reports that there is a coalition of clergy forming to try to put an end to this silliness, and to remind us all what the real threats to Christmas really are:

Last year, the Alliance Defense Fund, American Family Association, Focus on the Family, and Concerned Women for America banded together for a special Christmas Project. "Chief on its agenda," Religion News Service reported at the time, "is a list of `nice' retailers that use the word `Christmas' in their stores and catalogues and `naughty' ones that do not."

The "War on Christmas" apparently has been good for the bottom line of several conservative Christian organizations. In 2006, the American Family Association maintained that it sold more than 500,000 buttons and 125,000 bumper stickers bearing the slogan "Merry Christmas: It's Worth Saying." The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal aid group that boasts a network of some 900 lawyers standing ready to "defend Christmas," says it has moved about 20,000 "Christmas packs" - two legal pins and a three-page legal memo given for a $29 donation. And Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm affiliated with the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, said it distributed for free 16,000 legal memos on celebrating Christmas.

The problem with Christmas in the US of A, according to an "Open Letter to Christmas Culture Warriors" -- signed onto by a group of Catholic social justice leaders, priests, religious sisters and evangelical Christians -- is not that some department stores use "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" in their holiday advertising. Nor is it so-called efforts to removal of Christmas celebrations from the public square by liberals/atheists.

"We believe the real assault on Christmas is how a season of peace, forgiveness and goodwill has been sidelined by a focus on excessive consumerism," the letter states. "The powerful message Christ brings to the world is `good news for the poor.' Instead, Christmas is being reduced to a corporate-sponsored holiday that idolizes commerce and materialism."

Read it all here. You can read more about this response, called "The Christmas Campaign," here. Hat tip to Melissa Rogers who sums this up well: "For Christians, Christmas should not be about coercing others to recognize our religious holiday. For Christians, Christmas should be about the miraculous love of Jesus Christ and how that love transforms us, causing us to serve and love our neighbors."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Bishop Kirk Smith Reviews Beowolf (the Movie)

Bishop Smith reviews Beowolf and gives it a thumbs down:

Last week I had the opportunity to see the hit movie Beowolf. As a sometime medievalist and Anglo-Saxon period history buff, I looked forward to this special effects treatment of the earliest English writing. As pure entertainment, I would give it an A, but as history or literature, an F would be generous. The story as told by Hollywood has only the slightest resemblance to the great 8th Century poem. What was intended as a epic portrayal of the struggle of good and evil has been turned into a predictable sentimental love triangle. Gone is the poetry,the mystery; what remains is bland dialogue and Angelina Jolie as a naked water demon in stilleto heels.

What was especially disappointing was how Hollywood has turn a Christian story into an anti-Christian polemic about how the age of heroes has been replaced by simpering Christian whimps. It is hard to believe that the writers ever even read the original story!

But my biggest sadness is that now millions of young people will think they have seen and understood the story of Beowolf without ever experiencing the brillance of the original epic. Do yourself a favor, rummage through your old college textbook collection and enjoy it all over again.

I love that I have a Bishop who blogs. Check out his blog here.

U.N. Conference on Climate Change Begins

Worls leaders began meeting today at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Bali. The point of the conference is to discuss "next steps" beyond the Kyoto Framework. One of the more interesting developments at this conference is that one of the U.S. allies opposing the Kyoto Frmaework, Australia, has had a change of heart due to a change in Goverments.

The climate change blog has this report:

The long-awaited United Nations Conference on Climate Change kicked off this morning on the idyllic island of Bali, where some 10,000 delegates from 187 nations will spend the next two weeks discussing how to reach an international agreement on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012.

International governments are now feeling the pressure for urgent action on climate change as the world watches in hope of a Bali breakthrough. At the opening address of the conference, Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s environment minister and newly appointed president of the thirteenth session of the conference of parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP13) said “We now have a better understanding of the complexity of the climate problem. What we need is political will. I hope that Bali can deliver the breakthrough the world is waiting for”.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, described the mood as “very upbeat and encouraging”. He highlighted Pakistan’s statement on behalf of the G77 member states and China indicating their willingness to engage in international dialogue on climate change.

Up until now, failure of two of the world’s largest industrialised nations, the US and Australia, to ratify the Kyoto Protocol has been seen by many as a major obstacle to its success. And buy-in from both nations is believed to be crucial to agreeing a workable ‘son of Kyoto’.

One day into the talks…and half of that goal has already been achieved. Newly elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who defeated conservative leader John Howard nine days ago, today pledged to ratify Kyoto just hours after being sworn in. Rudd also announced his intention to attend the talks in Bali next week.
De Boer described the response from delegates to the news as “an emotional and spontaneous reaction to a very significant decision on the part of the Australian government” . He said that “the long applause reflected people’s appreciation for Australia to engage even more strongly internationally on climate change”.

But achieving the other half is likely to prove much more difficult. The shift in Australia’s stance will undoubtedly leave the US feeling out in the cold in Bali, but not enough to pressurise the Bush administration to change its stance on ratifying Kyoto.
Responding to the announcement, Harlan Watson, US Senior Climate Negotiator and Special Representative, said today in Bali that it was “up to each individual nation how to move forward” and that the US “respected the decisions of other nations and likewise expected them to respect their decision”.

Watson wouldn’t comment on what the US may be willing to agree to, but said that that it “wants a regime that is both environmentally friendly and economically viable” and that any agreement must “include all major emitters and developed and developing nations”.

Judging from various statements made at the plenary session this morning, it seems that many expect the Bali conference to lead to a very general rather than detailed roadmap on how to proceed on climate change over the next two years. While this may be the only way to get the US on board, it hardly seems like the urgent international response that it being called for. While the EU is very strongly in favour of binding international commitments that can be monitored, President Bush has made it clear that he favours a voluntary approach to cutting greenhouse gases.

Read it all here.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

I See Gay People

As you can probably tell, I have largely grown quite tired of the Anglican soap opera--the attention of this blog, and even my Sunday posts on The Lead, are elsewhere. Today in church, however, it struck me once again that my perspective on the GLBT issues that divide the communion is very much informed by my own experience, and that of those who have a different view is similarly informed by their own experience.

In reading the comments of the various conservative Anglican blogs, it is pretty clear to me that when the commentators there think "gay" or "lesbian" they imagine some scene out of the 1980s San Francisco bath scene or some of the more flamboyant participants in various Gay Pride marches.

My experience has been radically different, and the image in my mind is very different. Trinity Cathedral has, for many years, been an inclusive church. While I am sure that we have many faults as a community, we are a diverse bunch with a large number of openly gay and lesbian members who are integral to this thriving faith community. When I think about GLBT people, I think of particular members of the Trinity Community. I think of a lesbian couple in a long term committed relationship that are raising two wonderful adopted boys from Haiti. I remember how very helpful they were when my wife and I were going through the adoption process and how supportive they have continued to be as we try to raise an African-American child.

And I think of a longtime gay member of our Church, who must devote more time to our church than he does to his real job--he sings in the choir, serves on Chapter and is always in charge when it comes time for a feast. And I think of countless others--including two of our deacons who are are truly devoting a life of service.

I ask myself: can the lives these people are living really be sinful? Would Jesus really condemn them? Are they doing any harm? My experience leads me to come to the conclusion that no, the committed relationships that I see are positive, not sinful. What is sinful is that we have put burdens in their way. For example, a GLBT couple cannot take advantage of the tax benefits of marriage, and thus have less funds to raise a child. And a child raised in such a family is assumed by the law to have only one parent. Thus, if there is a separation, that child will not benefit from the "best interest of the child" standard used to evaluate visitation and custody--and child support.

And let's be clear--what we are talking about in the great Anglican debate is not acceptance of the stereotypical promiscuous San Francisco bath scene of the 1980s, but instead acceptance of the very real life of committed partners, parent and Christians that I see at Trinity every Sunday. These are, after all, the committed relationships whose blessing is really at issue.

Paul makes it very clear in his letters what he thinks about homosexuality. But Paul, as great a Saint that he was, was a fallible human who was as subject to the cultural norms as we are. We no longer accept his views on the normalcy of slavery, and I would suggest that we be as sceptical of his views on same sex relationships--especially since he was likely not exposed to the type of healthy relationships that I see at Trinity. Instead, he saw only the coercive and unhealthy relationships common in the Greek world. And he saw threat from the use of sexual rituals by competing faiths.

I try to imagine what Jesus would have say about all this. It seems to me that he would rebuke Paul, like he repeatedly rebuked Peter, for not seeing the full picture. Jesus, after all, called into question many cultural norms of his time. He would see the love of these relationships, and ask that we judge them by their fruits.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Advent Calendar 2.0

The Diocese of Washington has a wonderful online advent calendar that includes art, music, reflections, the Daily office and a suggestion giving activity (today's action was
Give a family milk-producing animals).

If you are not too busy shopping ort organizing a battle in the War on Christmas, check it out here.