Thursday, July 31, 2008

Doug Chaplin on Scripture and Homosexuality II

Doug Chaplin has continued his exploration of the Scriptures and Homosexuality. His latest post discusses 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11, both of which seem to include "sodomites" in a list of sins. Here are highlights from Doug's excellent analysis:

Here are 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 from the NRSV.

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers– none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

. . .

Embedded within both lists as one of these “typical” sorts of sinner, is the one the NRSV chooses to translate as “sodomites” – ἀρσενοκοῖται (arsenokoitai). As far as I can see, whether reading conservative authors like Robert Gagnon, or liberal ones like Dale Martin, in the end what we think this word means is a best guess. The argument from etymology (not one I normally like) is, in the absence of better arguments from usage, something to which we have to give more weight. That etymology indicates something like “those (men) who go to bed with men”. It seems to me quite likely that it’s a made up word, possibly within Jewish or Christian circles (based on the language the Greek Bible used to translate Leviticus), and probably as a term of abuse. Since the first use of the word we know about is in these lists, and much of its subsequent usage is also in lists, we don’t have much help in finding out whether it had a precise or a general meaning. It could have a very broad context, and include a wide range of sexual activity between men. It could have a much narrower context, whether in the context of allowing oneself to be a passive partner, the abuse of a slave, rape or the “educational relationships” between men and boys, or something else. The point about a best guess is that we don’t know. Most of the English translations not only make it sound as though we know.

I haven’t said anything about the other word sometimes enlisted in the argument. That malakoi (μαλακοί) means “soft ones” or “the effeminate” is fairly clear. However, since effeminacy could also mean anything from being far too interested in women’s company, and dressing up to seduce them, through cowardice, to being a man willing to be penetrated by another and so on and so on, we need more context to know how to translate it here. It could just as easily be paired with the preceding adulterers (μοιχοί) as the following arsenokoitai (ἀρσενοκοῖται.) It is better, probably, to look for a neutral and inclusive term such as the NJB’s “the self-indulgent” than risk being wrongly specific.

This is where it is important to remember just how much interpretation goes into reading and translation. If “the Bible said” what the NET says: “The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God” – if that was the text, we might all know better where we stood. But it does not, and there is far too much interpretation in such a translation. It is this sort of sure and certain over-interpretation which raises a suspicion (however unjustified) of other influences affecting the reading.

In short, I find that these texts have comparatively little to say. Some form of not entirely clear sexual activity between men is listed in two vice lists, one aimed at distinguishing the behaviour of pre-conversion Gentiles from the life that fits the kingdom of God, the other at distinguishing the sort of sinful behaviour that might characterise false teachers. Both lists appear to be associated with what one can be redeemed from. But whatever the behaviour is, the writer(s) of these vice lists take(s) it as axiomatic that it is wrong, and seriously wrong at that. But in my view that’s part of the problem. There’s no hint of theological reflection at all, so we have no idea why they’re saying what they’re saying about whatever form of sexual activity between men they have in view. We’re not quite sure precisely what is condemned, and we’ve no idea why, not on the basis of these texts. We are however, pretty sure it’s condemned. That makes the task of faithful interpretation more difficult than is often admitted.

Read it all here. Here are links to the other posts in this series:

Gay questions to straight answers

Texts of Queer Terror (1)

The stranger angel: texts of queer terror (2)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tobias Haller on Universalism and Relativism

Tobais Haller has another great post oday about universalism and relativism:

Two of the most common accusations directed these days at The Episcopal Church is that it tends towards a relativistic ethic and a universalist view of salvation. I'm concerned to clarify these terms a bit, for they seem rather vague. I tend, myself, towards absolute moral standards tempered by an ethic based on certain biblical principles elaborated by Jesus and Paul. And I hope for universal salvation, but hope is not belief.

That being said, some further clarity is warranted. As to what moral relativism might look like, would this qualify: "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean." (Romans 14:14 )? I would call that "subjective" — and I suppose one might see subjectivism as a subset of relativism.

But I also think that the actors, situation, intent, and so forth have to figure in any moral or ethical judgment — there are very few acts that in and of themselves are always morally wrong regardless of these other factors.

To use the late Richard Norris' example, it is o.k. for a surgeon to stick a scalpel into someone, but not for an assassin. The act of "knife insertion" is only deemed moral or immoral on the basis of these other factors.

To take an example closer to home, you could not, if shown a photograph of a couple engaged in heavy necking (or more), be able to tell simply on the basis of the photograph if this was a moral or immoral act. You would need to know certain things concerning them and their relationship with each other, and possible others, to make such a determination. But once these other things are known, it is possible to make an absolute judgment, and to stand by it: for instance, assassination and adultery are always morally wrong. (Utilitarian, teleological, or consequentialist ethicists might fudge on these both, given the circumstances; I would rather stick, as Bonhoeffer himself did, with the notion that sometimes wrong acts have extenuating circumstances, but that they are still wrong, and those who commit them are responsible for them. Thank God, God forgave even those who crucified him, and they were about as wrong as wrong gets.)

Which brings me to universalism. Would this, also from Paul, qualify: "For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob." (Rom 11:25-26)?

Paul makes a compelling case for universal salvation (the healing of the wound of sin; not the same thing at all as "going to heaven" whatever that unbiblical phrase might mean), and he bases it on his understanding of the universality of sin itself. It is reciprocal: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Cor 15:22) Just as we did not fall under sin on our own account or by our own actions, so too we are not saved by our own efforts or actions. It is the faith of Christ (even unto death), not our personal faith in Christ, that saves us (from eternal death).* He is the savior, not we ourselves.

That's how it works, folks, and it is a great mystery.

Read it here.

More on Obama's Faith Outreach

David Brody of the Christain Broadcast Network has an interesting post today about Obama's faith outreach. He notes that Obama discussed it with members of Congress yesterday:

The Brody File has learned that the Obama campaign met with over 30 House members and senior staff this morning to strategize on Obama's faith outreach strategy this fall.

A meeting participant tells The Brody File it was a "high level strategy session" that focused on how to stress Barack Obama's family values and how to respond to faith based attacks from his religious conservative critics on the right. The off-the-record briefing was led by Obama's religious outreach team and when the meeting was over, House members and senior staff in the room agreed to host values forums in their district and talk publicly about Obama's family values in their surrogate work. The meeting focused quite a bit on Catholic outreach. According to one member in the room, the mood was very positive and upbeat.

House members present included Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Congressman Tim Ryan (they both have been working on a House bill that would work to reduce the amount of abortions in the country) Congressman Mel Watt, former Congressman Tim Roemer, speaker Pelosi's senior advisor and others. During the meeting, Congresswoman DeLauro told the group the following: "It's a miracle that we're even in this room, as Democrats. But we're not here for show; we're here for work."

And folks, that's the important point to remember here. The Democratic Party is serious about courting faith voters. The tables have been turned. The Democrats are serious about this.

John Kerry wasn't the best candidate to carry out that faith message in 2004. But fast forward to 2008 and in steps Barack Obama. He has a faith narrative that complements what the DNC has been trying to do the last 5 years or so. It's a match made in Heaven so to speak.

read it all here.

Bishop Alan Wilson on the Bible

One of the "blogging Bishops" at Lambeth, Bishop Alan Wilson of Buckingham, has a great post today about what Anglicans think about the authority of the Bible:

  • I have not met anyone here of whom it would be true to say simply that they do not believe in the Authority of Scripture. How we believe in what kind of authority are other questions. Here are some indications of the ways a group of us form five continents, in Indaba, saw our distinctively Anglican use of the Bible. How are we, as Anglicans, “formed by Scrpture?”

  • The Word of God is a person, not a text. In Islam, for example, the Qu’ran is a privileged untransalteable text. For Christians Scrupture has authority as it is interprteed and applied, not as a simple absolute. We are very resistant to idolatry; idolatry of the book, idolatry of reason, idolatry of tradition. All three are resources for the Spirit, not totems or weapons against other children of God. We need to interpret the Scriptures through the icon of Christ.

  • We take the text very seriously in itself, in all of its subtlety, richness, occasional divergence and uncertainty. We begin with what it means in its own terms and historical context. So we establish the Sctipture we transmit and guard, distinguishing it carefully from our response. For example, in the Early Church women were to wear hats and be submissive so as to win their husbands for Christ. How would a woman in any of our various contemporary cultures behave so as to reflect Christ to her spouse and wn them? Absolutizing wearing hats in itself is a superficial and inadequately contextualized response to this text.

  • We then go on to take an honest view of our real world circumstances. Scripture speaks directly to each person, as who they are and where they are. Therefore we need to be aware of our own cultural spectacles as we read, before we try and inculturate any meaning we believe we can derive from the text. The Holy Spirit inspires a process of recognition and sympathetic resonance, by which Christ speaks to us where we are, and as the people we are.

    Our Church community and communion that hold us accountable to the Scriptures, as this process is prayerfully pursued in fellowship. If you want to know what we believe, and how the Scriptures form us, worship with us.

  • There has tendency in the post-enlightenment West to erect Reason into an absolute, or even idol. Even Conservative Anglicans sometimes mine the scriptures for soundbites or notions, then extract them from their context and absolutize them in a way that can even compromise basic principles of Christian discipleship. Sometimes (as in prosperity theology) one element is isolated against others in a distorting way. It is the whole counsel of God we must seek, distinguishing clearly between the use of our mind as a tool for discernment, into which God can speak, and any tendency to engage in merely rationalist discourse, Conservative or Liberal.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Martin Marty on Catholic Change

Martin Marty has a "Sightings" column on the ordination of women. The post focuses less on the merits of the ordination of women than on the argument that Cathoic doctrine is unchangeable:

Whether Catholics should change and begin ordination of women is their business, not mine, at least not here and today, though outcomes of Catholic debates do have huge "public religion" consequences. I can only testify to the manifest blessings so many churches, like my own (ELCA), have received during the past half-century from the ministry of women-ordained. My business instead picks up on Egan's closing paragraph, where he argues against Sr. Butler's reversion to and repetition of the claim that Rome does not change. He orthodoxly celebrates the constancy of teachings from Rome. But: "New questions arise, and new horizons open, cultures themselves are transformed, and the fund of human knowledge changes." His article has no room to provide chapter and verse when he lists understandings and teachings in which Rome "has changed dramatically, in ways that could not have been foreseen."

He offers a short list. You could look 'em up: "on slavery, women's inferiority, the divine right of kings, the uses of torture, the status and dignity of the Jewish people, the execution of heretics, the idea of religious liberty, the moral legitimacy of democratic governments, the indispensability of Thomism, the structure of the universe itself." In all these cases, after Catholic change has been virtually total and quickly taken for granted, one is hard put to think back to when it supported slavery, women's inferiority, torture, et cetera, or opposed the items just listed which it now affirms.

Several years ago Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabbin, editors, corralled eighteen scholars who tracked papal statements which suggest significant revisions and reversals in "understanding and teaching," in Rome Has Spoken. Their authors, for example, tell of "Usury: Once a Sin, Now Good Stewardship." Evolution. Positive views of sexual expression within marriage, changes in scriptural interpretation, ecumenism, and more. Admittedly, the nature and extent of changes on some of these subjects are open to debate and should be debated. But change there certainly has been.

"Religious Freedom" is the change most recognized and experienced by modern publics. Rome Has Spoken quotes a dozen papal prohibitions against religious freedom from 1184 to 1906. Change came suddenly, beginning with Pius XII in 1946, more explicitly with John XXIII in 1963 and then, conciliarly, at the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Just 102 years ago, Pius X was still teaching the following in a papal encyclical: "that the state must be separated from the church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error…an obvious negation of the supernatural order." "Rome" changed, and admitted it did so – and survived. Globally, it flourishes now most where it had persecuted least.

Read it all here.

Of course, many (but not all) items on this list are also true of Anglicans (and other Christian denominations as well). Tradition is important, but it has its limits as a source of authority.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Theo Hobson on Lambeth

I found these comments by Theo Hobson on the Lambeth Conference quite interesting:

Of course it makes perfect sense to avoid resolutions and just talk. This is what should have happened 10 years ago. Instead, the Lambeth Conference passed the divisive resolution condemning homosexuality. It had been on the fence on sexuality, and it fell off. Can it get back on, and resume its drift to a liberal position? Can it move away from its official discriminatory policy, and affirm the right of each province to make its own rules on sexuality? Is this what most bishops want? It's hard to say.

I arrived at the conference with a rough typology of Anglican opinion in mind. The basic division of evangelical and liberal can be sub-divided: there are evangelicals who accept Williams' leadership, and those who don't. Those who don't, of course, have mostly stayed away. And there are liberals who fully support Williams' approach, and those who worry that it's a sell-out. So both the evangelicals and the liberals can be divided into the loyalists, and those who want a new, sharper approach – let's call them the itchy.

Despite the boycott, there are plenty of itchy evangelicals here. Yesterday the Sudanese archbishop urged the Americans and Canadians to repent of their liberalism, and other African bishops are bound to give the hacks similar not-very-new news stories in the coming days. Yet the majority of evangelicals fall into the loyalist camp. They believe the conference will strengthen the communion around the existing orthodoxy.

The majority of the English bishops seem to be loyal liberals. They want a liberalisation of the communion's position on sexuality in the long run, but are wary of pressing the issue – unity comes first. What about the itchy liberals, those who aren't so philosophical about the continuing exclusion of gays, and consider the non-participation of Gene Robinson to be an offence against traditional Anglican tolerance? They hardly seem to exist. You won't find an English bishop wanting to criticise Williams for a failure of liberal leadership.

So why aren't the liberals itchier? This is the big question. Is it because they are too weak to form a protest lobby? No: the answer is more complex. The reason is that the liberals have a deep trust that the communion's position on sexuality will liberalise, given time. Of course they cannot say this – because it contravenes the existing orthodoxy, and also because it would sound colonial – "let's wait for the developing nations to catch up". In other words, they follow their leader's example: bite your tongue and wait for the Holy Spirit to enlighten the communion.

. . .

This is the "unofficial official" line of the conference: reform must come, but slowly-slowly, so that the cause of global evangelism is not harmed, and Anglican unity not further broken. In theory of course, the conference has no "line" at all – bishops will listen to each other, and then a "reflection" statement will be produced that affirms the existing orthodoxy. This is why so many evangelicals have boycotted: they knew that this tacit reformist agenda would be present.

So the whole event is an incredibly delicate exercise in long-distance liberalism. Luckily for Williams, there seems to be a majority view in favour of this. (The Gafcon boycott is actually a Godsend.) Yes, of course there will be evangelical demands that the Americans and Canadians are excommunicated, but these demands will spur the rest into defending unity, and praising the efforts of their leader. You have to marvel at Williams' careful cunning, which of course entails a sort of holy hypocrisy.

Read it all here.

Ruth Marcus on Candy Bombers

This is a name-droppers dream: my law school friend Ruth Marcus (now an opinion writer at the Washington Post) has a column tdoay about Candy Bombers, a book written by my friend Andrei Cherny. (Really, they are both my friends--you can check out my Facebook page for proof. Grin).

In any event, Ruth's op-ed and Andrei's book are both worth reading. Here are some highlights from Ruth's column:

The city is in dire straits -- its economy shattered, its citizens desperately hungry. Random violence is rising, electricity is sporadic. Three years after the invasion, hope for a brief occupation has faded. The mission is to build democracy from the ruins of dictatorship, but sober analysts question whether a flaw in the national character makes freedom unattainable.

This is not Baghdad 2008 but Berlin 1948, which makes the reunified German capital a particularly fitting venue for Barack Obama's speech tomorrow. The lush Tiergarten where Obama will speak was then a wasteland where Berliners struggled to grow vegetables in the shadow of the bombed-out Reichstag.

. . .

The story of the Berlin Airlift and Halvorsen's mission is told in "The Candy Bombers," a new book by Democratic strategist Andrei Cherny. If the plural of anecdotes is not data, the stacking of historical analogies is not sound policy. Yet, as Cherny writes, "Their story has powerful resonance for our own time. In confronting the Berlin blockade, America went to battle against a destructive ideology that threatened free people around the world. In a country we invaded and occupied that had never had a stable democracy, we brought freedom and turned their people's hatred of America into love for this country, its people, and its ideals."

The lessons of the Berlin Airlift are anything but simple, which is what makes it such a useful historical moment. Cherny's book is something of a Rorschach test on Iraq: The message readers receive may depend on the mindset with which they arrived.

Thus, Obama can rightly point to the airlift as evidence that maintaining America's moral voice is an essential component of its foreign policy. The United States stands to gain as much from a modern-day Candy Bomber as it risks losing from Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Those who doubt the capacity of government, in the aftermath of Katrina, to mobilize quickly and implement deftly can take heart from the example of organizational whiz Bill Tunner, who turned a slapdash operation incapable of supplying Berlin into a precision drill that kept the beleaguered city going through a long winter.

Harry Truman's steadfastness in the face of contrary advisers -- some argued for yielding Berlin to the Soviets, others advocated a collision course on the ground -- demonstrated how a determined president, having unleashed the atomic bomb, could then find the narrow path between foolish appeasement and full-scale war. Obama can safely argue that Truman's restrained course was wiser than George W. Bush's rush to war.

But there are lessons from the airlift that should be more unsettling for those, like Obama, who want to be done with Iraq. The impulse of many Americans then, just as now, was to be finished with the entire project. " 'Get Germany off the American taxpayer's back' was the call of conservatives in Congress," Cherny writes.

An occupation that looked irretrievably lost by spring 1948 turned paradoxically into success as the blockade continued. Berliners' misery deepened, but so, too, did their faith in America and democracy. Berliners who had told pollsters since the war's end that they would choose "economic security" over "freedom" changed their attitudes in the face of American kindnesses.

Read it all here.

(For the record, I think the Berlin as Baghdad analogy faulty).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Are Solutions to Climate Change Feasible?

The debate on climate change has seemed to have shifted from whether there is a problem (the overwhelming consensus--except in the Republican caucuses in Congress)--is that there is a problem), to how best to address the problem. do we lower carbon emissions? Or invest instead in dealing with the change?

A study out of Minnesota suggest that reducing climate change is feasible:

The research team, which will release the new study July 22, modeled emissions for Minnesota and found that it is possible to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050 and possibly exceed those numbers if a combination of strategies are implemented, including reducing fuel consumption, increasing fuel efficiencies and fuel carbon content and by using new methods for designing communities. However, the researchers point out that the methods could be applied nationally. In fact, history shows that when one state or city implements environmental policy changes, the nation often follows.

The emission reduction goal is achievable if action starts today," said Bob Johns, director of the Center for Transportation Studies. "By changing the amount of traveling we do, purchasing vehicles with higher fuel efficiency and adopting low-carbon fuel standards we can exceed the goals that the Minnesota legislature has put before us and be a leader in the nation for reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

"This study provides a great starting point for the 2009 legislative session and will help facilitate a thorough debate and good policy development to create cost effective solutions and improve Minnesota's energy security," said Rep. Melissa Hortman, who commissioned the study.

The researchers say that the majority of the changes don't require any costly or new technologies and are applicable in other states too, not just Minnesota.

. . .

For instance, the savings from buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle can offset the added cost of technology in less than a year by using technologies that are already available and manufacturing vehicles that achieve the CAFE standards and even go beyond them.

The study also suggests improving fuel economy for heavy-duty fleet by refining aerodynamics, using lower rolling-resistance tires and reducing speed. Those changes could contribute about 13 percent of the transportation sector's reduction goal by 2015. There could be an even greater emission reduction if goods movement shifts from truck and airplane to rail and boat.

"The technology to make this happen exists, it is just a matter of using it," said David Kittelson, professor of mechanical engineering and study researcher. "The engines we use in our cars are no worse or better than the engines they have in passenger cars in Japan or Germany - the difference is, we put our engines in enormous cars."

Read it all here.

Ignoring the Atheist Vote?

Francis Wilkinson has an interesting post at the New York Times noting that while neither McCain nor Obama are making any efforts to gain the atheist vote, this was not true of past campaigns:

White evangelical and born-again Christians account for nearly one fourth of the electorate — a prize understandably worth fighting over. However, what we won’t see, yet again, this year is either candidate acknowledge — let alone pander to — the 16 percent of Americans categorized by the Pew Forum on Religion and Society as atheist, agnostic or free-range “nothing in particular.” It seems American politicians scarcely think twice about sidling up to the religious fringe — Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama each has had the odd preacher in the attic. But, fearing the wrath of the righteous, they’d rather be struck by lightning than show a glimmer of respect for nonbelievers.

Their forebears on the campaign trail were not all so skittish. At the end of the 19th century, Robert Ingersoll was the most notorious heretic in the land, famous for his lectures debunking Christianity and the Bible. Yet Republicans — yes, the party of George W. Bush and the Rev. Pat Robertson — begged him to campaign in their behalf.
Campaign, he did. For more than two decades, Ingersoll barnstormed across the country drawing huge crowds, including one at an 1896 campaign appearance in Chicago for William McKinley that the Chicago Tribune claimed was 20,000 strong. Ingersoll was not merely a stage attraction but a confidant of Republican leaders — and a highly public one. In a masterful speech, he nominated Senator James G. Blaine for president at the party’s 1876 convention in Cincinnati and nearly won Blaine the nomination. When Blaine lost the contest to Rutherford B. Hayes, Ingersoll stumped vigorously for Hayes in turn.
Ingersoll’s lectures on religion — “Some Mistakes of Moses” was a typical title — left the pious apoplectic. Evangelicals considered his influence so pernicious that they organized a day of prayer for his conversion. (He thanked them for their concern but remained happily heretical.)
His pointed, often comical, impiety probably cost him a cabinet post or ambassadorship, but Ingersoll’s proximity to President Hayes and his Republican successors was nonetheless on open display; they didn’t reach for garlic and crucifixes when “Pope Bob” visited the White House.
Victorian America, that supposedly repressed, high-button era, not only tolerated Ingersoll, it celebrated him, rewarding him with respect and wealth and honors. Mark Twain called Ingersoll a “master,” and Walt Whitman described him as “a bright, magnificent constellation.” But Ingersoll struck a chord that reverberated beyond the cultural elite. Tens of thousands of Americans, from Buffalo to New Orleans, paid money to listen, laugh and learn at the feet of the Great Agnostic, even if they didn’t share his views. Clerics were often spotted in the crowds.

. . .

Looking back from this era in which political discourse is bound by religious strictures, Ingersoll’s legend seems not only distant but tall, as though he were a kind of Paul Bunyan of blasphemy. Today, no major politician would risk association with the brilliant and big-hearted Great Agnostic, whose oratory commanded the late 19th century stage like no other. Devoted father, husband, friend and patriot be damned. Piety trumps all.

Read it all here. It is also worth looking at the wikipedia profile of Ingersoll. Ingersoll was certainly an agnostic and a critic of releigion, but he was much, much more. He apparantly was viewed as the great orator of his day, and he focused on issues beyond religion.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Voices of Witness: Africa

This is a reprint of what I published on The Lead today. This video offers a first look at "Voices of Witness: Africa", a new film by Integrity USA that offers stories of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians in Africa. It will premiere at the Lambeth Conference on July 23rd at 8 p.m. in Keynes Lecture Theatre 1.

Ruth Gledhill was given a preview of the film and her brief interview of film editor Katie Sherrod is at the start of the clip above. Here are her observations after seeing the film:

The result is an incredibly powerful and moving film which is to be sent to every one of the 880 bishops in the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion.

. . .

The stories include a transgendered male-to-female Nigerian, a partnered lesbian activist in Uganda, a transgendered male-to-female Ugandan, a Kenyan who was abused along with his twin brother by an uncle, a gay Ugandan farmer, gay partners in Kenya who dream of having their union blessed and a gay Nigerian who was beaten badly simply for being gay.

Considering the penalties in Africa for being actively gay - in Uganda it carries a life sentence - these people must be applauded for their bravery.

There can be no doubt that the Anglican Communion is moving in the direction of inclusivity. With barely 100 conservative bishops here in Canterbury and 230 boycotting the conference, the conservative voice is unlikely to prevail.

Read it all here.

The full video, "Voices of Witness: Africa", be found at the Integrity USA blog.

Since this was posted by the way, the Anglican right wing has gone bonkers. The themee of their criticism is best summarized by this vomment by blogger Baby Blue on Ruth Gledhill's blog:

An incredibly irresponsible thing to do - which shows us just how ignorant these Americans are about African culture and African politics - they view everything through the prism of their own experience - shame on them. And shame on the Americans for exploiting them for their own political gain. This is exploitation at its worse. It is not the Christians but the Islamic fundamentalists who want to kill these people - remember, Iran says they have no homosexuals and the reason they can get away with saying something so provocative is either because they are all dead or they are threatened with death. For the American Episcopalians to exploit Africans from countries where there are similar efforts underway by Islamic extremists is simply beyond belief.

Friday, July 18, 2008

More from Doug Chaplin on Scripture and Homosexuality

Doug Chaplin is beginning a very thoughtful exploration of what the Bible has to say about homosexuality. He begins with the really tough stuff in Leviticus. The result so far is a very thoughtful explanation of issues that need addressing. As yet, Doug reaches no conclusions. Here are some highlights:

The two texts I want to address in this post are among them. (And yes, dear reader, I know there are other texts, but one post at a time, please!)

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)

. . .

At one level, it seems to me that we can have some agreement about these texts themselves. They say pretty much the same thing, although the second elaborates and adds the punishment. . . .

Moving beyond that to further interpretation is far from straightforward, however. At the most basic level, there is little obvious historical context. The development of the legal materials, the possibility of a separate Holiness Code (Lev 17-26) being incorporated into (later?) P material, the dating of earlier and final recensions all leave much of this lacking a clear cultural context within which to understand it. One possibility might well be pagan temple prostitution, or other cultic sexual activity. But it might not have that kind of connection at all. It may, as with so many other features of the priestly writings, be concerned with a particular construction of what is order, and therefore safe, and what chaos, and therefore dangerous. It could be held that there is a quite rational emphasis on the maintenance of sex for procreation, and procreation alone, at a time when mortality rates made this a matter of elementary survival and the common good. Non-procreative sex threatens the well-being of the community of Israel.

It seems to me impossible to adjudicate between these possible interpretations, and quite likely that there are elements of all three. In every case, the text is implicated in a particular context. The third context is one that some parts of the world can still identify with, and it also raises some awkward questions for heterosexual people, and the ways in which the modern West (at least outside the Roman Catholic Magisterium) conceptualises sex. The second possibility may lead to some of the more interesting and fruitful questions in cross-cultural interpretation. Order and chaos are primal categories, theologically, culturally, politically and psychologically. Saying the text needs interpretation is not the same as immediately kissing it goodbye.

The other issue that confronts and confuses the interpreter however, is one of selection. . . . Everyone selects, and so everyone interprets. These troubling verses are surrounded (staying within the boundaries of the so-called Holiness Code)by some very different ones. It includes laws that are reinforced in the New Testament and are regarded effectively as universal moral laws, such as “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). It includes laws that no Christian even begins to think might be applicable today, such as “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.” (Leviticus 19:27).

It contains laws that the Church now regards as incompatible with its understanding of the will of God: “As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves.” (Leviticus 25:44). Nonetheless, for a large part of Christian history, tradition saw this law as perfectly acceptable. It contains laws that the Church, or modern society, has effectively sidelined, and which are rarely debated: “Do not take interest in advance or otherwise make a profit from them, but fear your God; let them live with you. You shall not lend them your money at interest taken in advance, or provide them food at a profit.” (Leviticus 25:36-37). By contrast with the law on slaves, for the larger part of Christian history, the church thought this law was of ongoing significance, and revealed the will of God for Christian society.

Laws dealing with sex are mixed up with laws dealing with sacrifice, conduct for priests, general ethical behaviour, and other matters. The question of interpretation is not a cop-out, nor a way of avoiding difficulties. It is a necessary response to the nature of the text and in particular to the reading of Leviticus, where the selective and variable nature of Christian interpretation is perhaps at its most obvious. We Christians, at least, do select, and our selections appear to change. The question is “have we made the right selections?” Are our selections truly refracted through the gospel?

Doug promises more--this promises to be a very thoughtful series. Read it all here (including some very good comments already).

Another Post on Children and Happiness

I previously posted about research that purported to show that childless couples are happier than couples with children. In that post, I concluded that "Parenting is hard stuff. It can be very unpleasant at times. It can be boring at times. But, parenting (and loving) a child does give life meaning--and yes, deep happiness as well." Rod Dreher makes a similar point in a post that is worth reading:

By the time I got married, I was really sick of being single, and I didn't regret one bit giving up the autonomy of bachelorhood. Impending fatherhood, though, made me nervous. My sister, who married and started her family long before I did, told me not long before our first child was born,

"You and Julie are going to lose a lot. You won't be able to go do all the things you like to do now. You're either not going to have the time, or the money, or the energy. That part of your life is over now, and there's no sugarcoating it. But what you don't know is that another part is about to start. You really can't know what it's like to spend an entire Friday evening at home, just staring at your new baby, and to be happier than you ever imagined you could be. I can tell you this is going to happen to you, and you might believe me or you might not. But once you've lived it, you'll know what I mean."

So I lived it. I know exactly what she means. Now, with three kids of my own and 10 years of marriage behind me, I tell friends who are single, or who are married and contemplating children, that they really can't prepare for it. Both experiences are so life-changing that it's really hard to make someone who hasn't gone through it understand how much it alters your daily life. But if you go into both experiences with the right spirit, what you lose in terms of personal mobility and individual freedom will more than be made up for in the joy you receive back.

If you conceive perfect happiness as a constant state of maximized choice, then there's no way a spouse of children can be anything but a burden. But that's no way to conceive happiness.

Read it all here. Read a Newsweek article on the topic that started all this discussion here.

New Field Poll on California Same Sex Marriage Ban and a Story of Conversion

A new Field poll released today shows a bare majority opposing the ban:

In a finding that could foreshadow a difficult political battle for a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage, a new Field Poll says more California voters oppose Proposition 8 than favor it.

The new poll, released today, is the first independent statewide measure of public opinion on the proposed constitutional ban since gay men and lesbians began marrying legally in California on June 16. It was also the first time Field Research has polled voters on the official ballot description of Proposition 8. A narrow majority of 51 percent of 672 likely voters said they would vote against a ban, while 42 percent said they would vote for it.

. . .

"Very few initiatives in the history of the Field Poll have started out behind and come from behind to be approved," said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll. "The fact that (Proposition 8) is behind does not bode well for its chances."

. . .

But supporters of the measure still take heart from the Proposition 22 fight, noting that Field Poll projected somewhat less support before the 2000 election than the measure actually received. A Los Angeles Times poll in May found the constitutional ban leading 54 percent to 35 percent among registered voters.

I think this is just the begininng of a hugely important political battle in California. I therefore discount the real importance of the topline numbers above. What I find interesting is this explanation of who opposes the ban:

People who personally know or work with a gay man or a lesbian were much more likely to oppose a ban than those who said they don't.

The new poll and earlier Field results also suggest that some Californians who are uncomfortable with the concept of same-sex marriage still may not support changing the state constitution, DiCamillo said.

That, to me, confirms my own experience: Attitudes about gay and lesbians change dramatically when people actually get to know real gays and lesbians. The Arizona Republic recently gave the example of hard-right Legislator Karen Johnson, whose attitudes changed after befriending two gay legislators:

The 67-year-old's smile faded and her voice cracked as she shook her head. "Why do you have to live to be in your early 60s . . . before you learn a lot of this stuff?" she asked. "I hope I can help my children, who are way younger, to be learning this now so they don't have to wait as long as their mom did to learn some of these things."

When Johnson's legislative career began, following her election in November 1996, she prepared a bill that would have made sodomy a felony and would have banned gay groups from high-school and university campuses. Johnson said, at the time, that she didn't want gays recruiting on campus.

As her legislative duties were coming to a close this June, she was torn over one of her final votes, saying she didn't think it was a good idea to ask voters to ban gay marriage.

Johnson's transformation came about partly because of a seating assignment in the state Senate. In 2005, when Johnson moved from the House to the Senate, she was seated to the left of Sen. Ken Cheuvront of Phoenix and in front of Sen. Paula Aboud of Tucson. Both are gay Democrats.

Some political observers expected fireworks when they found out Cheuvront and Johnson would be seated side by side. "I knew there wasn't going to be a problem sitting next to Ken," Johnson said. "I had no idea that we'd become as good of friends as we'd become. Ken is a very special and very dear person."

Cheuvront said the friendship began slowly, during dead times in the Senate. "And unlike in the House, where all the Democrats are on one side and the Republicans on the other, here they kind of mix you up," he said. "And because of that, you get to know people."

Johnson once thought gay people were doomed to hell. She no longer feels that way. "I'm sure there's a percentage of homosexual people who are going to do just fine because they're good, honest, decent, loving, kind people," she said.

Read it all here. You can read the actual poll here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Post on Lambeth

There is a great deal of press interest in Lambeth, which seems to be demanding some type of action--whether it is a resolution that solves all that ails the Anglican Communion, a fire storm over gay Bishops, or at least some some typical anglican fudge. In other words, the press (and truth be told, many of the faithful) are watching the Lambeth Conference as if it were some political assembly--which it was seemingly in 1998.

But that is not what Lambeth is designed to be this year. As my own Bishop explains, the days are being spent in Bible Study, meditation, and small group discussions. For example, here is how he describes the first day:

We have just finished our first long day. It began with worship together in the "Big Top" at 7:15 AM. After breakfast, we had our first small group Bible study.

There are about six in my group,from England, Australia, the West Indies, and my colleague from Hawaii. Then all the bishops got on buses and for the short trip to Canterbury Cathedral.

We sat "collegiate style" on each side of the nave, and Rowan Williams spoke to us about our ministry as bishops. Each of two meditations was followed by a time for silent reflection in the cathedral. It was closed to the public for this "retreat" so in between being prayerful and still, I wandered around and looked at the building undisturbed. The retreat lasted until about 4 when we finished with Evensong.

It seems to me that the Archbishop of Canterbury has wisely decided that it is time for the Bishops to act like clergy, not politicians.

I find that refreshing.

Christianity Today Readers Favor Obama

Christianity Today is the leading publication for evangelicals in America. Despite my anglo-Catholic leanings, I am a big fan and avid reader. As perhaps an indication of the appeal of Obama to many evangelicals, the Christianity Today political blog is reporting that its readers are suppporting Obama over McCain in their online poll. Now this poll is hardly scientific,and a scientific poll of Christianity Today's readers would likley reach a different result. Still, do you think Kerry ever did as well on this poll?

Here is what the blog has to say:

Christianity Today online readers showed more support for Sen. Barack Obama than Sen. John McCain in our poll this week for the first time since January.

Obama passed McCain (41%) by garnering 51 percent of the vote during our poll that closed yesterday. In June, McCain led Obama 50 to 33 percent. The two were tied in March at 26 percent.

Here's a rundown of results from Jan. 4 (1,613 votes), March 3 (1964 votes), April 1 (2,668 votes), June 9 (3,007 votes), and July 10 (3,189 votes). Be sure to take the polls with a grain of salt - they are conducted online and are usually left up for about three days.

Read it all here.

Europe's Ancestors: Cro-Magnon 28,000 Years Old Had DNA Like Modern Humans

A very interesting report on some DNa analysis done on a 28,000 Cro-Magnon man skelton:

Some 40,000 years ago, Cro-Magnons -- the first people who had a skeleton that looked anatomically modern -- entered Europe, coming from Africa. A group of geneticists, coordinated by Guido Barbujani and David Caramelli of the Universities of Ferrara and Florence, shows that a Cro-Magnoid individual who lived in Southern Italy 28,000 years ago was a modern European, genetically as well as anatomically.

The Cro-Magnoid people long coexisted in Europe with other humans, the Neandertals, whose anatomy and DNA were clearly different from ours. However, obtaining a reliable sequence of Cro-Magnoid DNA was technically challenging.

"The risk in the study of ancient individuals is to attribute to the fossil specimen the DNA left there by archaeologists or biologists who manipulated it," Barbujani says. "To avoid that, we followed all phases of the retrieval of the fossil bones and typed the DNA sequences of all people who had any contacts with them."

The researchers wrote in the newly published paper: "The Paglicci 23 individual carried a mtDNA sequence that is still common in Europe, and which radically differs from those of the almost contemporary Neandertals, demonstrating a genealogical continuity across 28,000 years, from Cro-Magnoid to modern Europeans."

The results demonstrate for the first time that the anatomical differences between Neandertals and Cro-Magnoids were associated with clear genetic differences. The Neandertal people, who lived in Europe for nearly 300,000 years, are not the ancestors of modern Europeans.

Read it here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Obama and Abortion

I wrote earlier about two voices on the pro-life left urging Obama to adopt an "abortion reduction" plank in the platform. In other words, while Obama would remain "pro-choice" on the issue of the legality of abortion, he would propose concrete efforts to reduce abortion.

Steven Waldman reports that many pro-choice voices are not happy:

An important split is emerging within the Democratic Party over abortion. Barack Obama’s reaction to it will tell us a great deal about how he intends to unify people of different views and manage key voting blocs.

A group of progressive evangelicals, including the Rev. Jim Wallis, has urged Sen. Obama to embrace an “abortion reduction agenda” that focuses on improving economic support for women so they won’t feel financially pressured into having abortions. The Rev. Tony Campolo, a member of the Democratic Party platform committee, announced that he’s going to mobilize an effort get an abortion reduction plank into the party platform.

Pro-choice activists have reacted angrily. Kate Michelman, the former head of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Frances Kissling, the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, declared on that Mr. Wallis and company were implying that “given the choice, having a baby is a more moral choice.” Their approach will therefore “be understood for what it is: condescending and sexist.”

To which I respond: since when did the pro-choice position on abortion foreclose the view that abortions are a tragic and unfortunate choice? Since when did being pro-choice mean you have to be pro-abortion? Given that abortion and poverty are highly correlated, what is it about the abortion reduction plank that Michalman opposes? Adoption subsidies? Better access to health care? How is it sexist to want to provide financial support to women facing a difficult moral choice? Heck, isn't the entire "choice" message adopted by abortion rights advocates for the very reason that they don't want to be viewed as pro-abortion?

In my view, it is simply wrong--both morally and politically--to assert the view that the decision to abort a child is a morally neutral choice.

Waldman then proceeds to discuss the political choice facing Obama:

Sen. Obama’s moves on abortion have seemed clumsy. He made news by saying he supported a ban on “partial birth” abortions except if the mother’s life or health was seriously threatened – only to back off and add “mental health” to the list of exemptions.

Sen. Obama’s approach has been to combine pro-choice policies with conspicuous respectfulness of pro-life people. While he supports the Freedom of Choice Act, which would potentially roll back state restrictions on abortion, his Web site declares that he “respects those who disagree with him.” In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” he recounted how a pro-life protester had once offered to pray for him: “I said a prayer of my own – that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that had been extended to me.”

His most evangelical-friendly formulation came in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “Abortion is a deeply moral issue and those who deny there’s a moral component to it are wrong,” he said, adding that he trusted women to make “a prayerful decision” and said sex education needed to impart the “sacredness of sexuality.”

You might think: how can this furrowed-brow strategy possibly work? Pro-life people surely won’t be lured by empathetic words if his policies go the other way. Some won’t but some will. For some centrist Catholics and moderate evangelicals, disgust with the Democratic Party was less about policy than perceived contemptuousness of pro-life people.

Read it all here.

The politics are difficult, but I think the abortion reduction plank reflects the consensus views of most Americans--they are troubled by abortion as a moral issue, but still support leaving the decision to women. By embracing the legal right to abortion, while still offering concrete efforts to reduce abortion, Obama would have a political home run. And even more importantly, he will have done far more to reduce abortions than any pro-Life President.

Let's Get Rid of Darwinism

No, I am not changing my views on evolution. The title of this post is a wonderful column by Olivia Judson about why we need to stop using the term "Darwinism":

Darwin did more in one lifetime than most of us could hope to accomplish in two. But his giantism has had an odd and problematic consequence. It’s a tendency for everyone to refer back to him. “Why Darwin was wrong about X”; “Was Darwin wrong about Y?”; “What Darwin didn’t know about Z” — these are common headlines in newspapers and magazines, in both the biological and the general literature. Then there are the words: Darwinism (sometimes used with the prefix “neo”), Darwinist (ditto), Darwinian.

Why is this a problem? Because it’s all grossly misleading. It suggests that Darwin was the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, of evolutionary biology, and that the subject hasn’t changed much in the 149 years since the publication of the “Origin.”

He wasn’t, and it has. Although several of his ideas — natural and sexual selection among them — remain cornerstones of modern evolutionary biology, the field as a whole has been transformed. If we were to go back in a time machine and fetch him to the present day, he’d find much of evolutionary biology unintelligible — at least until he’d had time to study genetics, statistics and computer science.

Oh, there would be so much to tell him! A full list would take me weeks to write out. But the obvious place to begin would be the discoveries of genetics, especially DNA. We’d have to explain that cells in each organism contain a code describing how to build that organism, written in chemical form — DNA — that evolutionary forces are constantly rewriting. Indeed, the study of DNA allows us to see the action of natural selection on a molecule-by-molecule basis. We can see the genes where natural selection acts to prevent evolutionary change, those where it drives change and those where it has no effect at all.

Then there’s the fusion of genetics with natural selection, which has enormously expanded our understanding of how natural selection can work. For example, it has led to the discovery that natural selection does not just shape individuals — the length of a beak, the color of a fin. It can also act on family groups, and thus drive the evolution of cooperation and other altruistic behaviors.

The reason is that evolutionary success can now be measured in terms of the number of genes an individual contributes to the next generation. Anyone who dies without reproducing does not directly contribute any. But because individuals have some genes in common with their family members, they can make an indirect genetic contribution if they help their relations to reproduce instead of reproducing themselves. Such “kin selection” is thought to have contributed to the evolution of the social insects — especially, ants, bees, wasps and termites — where only a few individuals reproduce and everyone else looks after the offspring.

We’d want to discuss evolution beyond natural selection — the other forces that can sometimes cause (or prevent) evolutionary change. For although natural selection is the only creative force in evolution — the only one that can produce complex structures such as wings and eyes — it is not the only force that affects which genes will spread, and which will vanish.

. . .

To return to my argument: I’d like to abolish the insidious terms Darwinism, Darwinist and Darwinian. They suggest a false narrowness to the field of modern evolutionary biology, as though it was the brainchild of a single person 150 years ago, rather than a vast, complex and evolving subject to which many other great figures have contributed. (The science would be in a sorry state if one man 150 years ago had, in fact, discovered everything there was to say.) Obsessively focusing on Darwin, perpetually asking whether he was right about this or that, implies that the discovery of something he didn’t think of or know about somehow undermines or threatens the whole enterprise of evolutionary biology today.

It does not. In the years ahead, I predict we will continue to refine our understanding of natural selection, and continue to discover new ways in which it can shape genes and genomes. Indeed, as genetic data continues to flood into the databanks, we will be able to ask questions about the detailed workings of evolution that it has not been possible to ask before.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Doug Chaplin on Scripture and Homosexuality

Doug Chaplin is a parish priest in the Church of England who seems squarely in the middle on most issues. He had a post last week defending the ordination of women. I love his blog because he is both unpredictable--and thoughtful. Today he has a thoughtful post on the issues of sexuality that divide the Anglican Communion. He comes to different conclusions than me, but his comments are still worth reading. Here are some highlights:

I have (with considerable trepidation) decided to offer some periodic posts on some of the ways Anglicans (okay – and others) are reading, are not reading, could be reading and should be reading their Bibles about same-sex relationships. . . .

I think we’re standing at a point where, in the light of all our knowledge, it seems reasonable to ask whether this is one of those occasions for the church to engage in the kind of drastic re-reading of texts we thought we knew. This is the relevance of, for example, the admission of Gentiles, or the banning of slavery. In those debates, which were as divisive and acrimonious as the present one, what won the day for the overturning of traditional readings of scripture was the conviction that other readings of scripture were truer both to the overall reading, and to the core of the gospel. That is, even if it remains the case that specific texts and the traditional reading of them did support the exclusion of the Gentiles, or the owning of slaves, they were texts that needed to be placed in the tradition’s archives in the light of reading the text as a Christocentric, salvific and truly life-giving whole.

It does not seem to me that those seeking such a drastic re-reading of the texts have yet made a fully-convincing case, far less a compelling one. Some have simply seen no need to do so. That does not mean that others will never do so. I personally hope they will. Equally, while I think that absent such compelling arguments, the traditional readings need respecting, I have to say that the venom and desperation of some, together with some dubious arguments, suggest to me that the traditional reading not only has its weaknesses, but that it produces some very sour fruit. It is possible, of course, like 1066 and All That’s roundheads and cavaliers, to be respectively right but repulsive, and wrong but romantic. But as Jesus might well have said: “It shall not be so among you.” Repulsiveness is not a Christian virtue.

The true gem in Chaplin's post, however, is not his conclusion that the case has not yet been made to re-read Scripture. Rather the gem is his point that we may be asking the wrong question:

The answers we get are of course shaped by the questions we ask. It seems that the question many are asking is “Does the Bible condemn same-sex practices?” Apart from the dubious idea that the Bible says or condemns anything, I think this is the wrong question, because it is focussed on an abstracted behaviour, not on people. What matters, it seems to me, are the questions about how we can love one another, share God’s love with and for each other, and seek to respond as faithfully as we can to God’s calling. In that light the questions are perhaps better framed as “How do we (given that some of us are gay and others straight) follow Christ faithfully”? and “How do we (given that some of us are straight and others gay) love our brothers and sisters and help them follow Christ faithfully?” The parenthetical part of those questions could easily be omitted (or written vice versa) without significantly affecting most of the answers.

When framed in those terms, it is quite clear that 90% (at least) of the answers we get from our reading of scripture will be just the same in relation to both gay and straight people. Questions of sexuality are a small (but significant) subset about the ways in which we love God and our neighbour. We are not talking two headed Martians but fellow disciples and fellow creatures, alike the favoured recipients of God’s love and vocation. Any attempts to read or re-read scripture that seem to forget or disregard that common graced humanity will not take us very far. There may be better questions than the ones I suggest here, but they’re the best I’ve come up with, and the ones I intend to take forward on this effort at reading.

Read it all here. (By the way, g posted about one scholar's argument that we do need to rethink Scriputure on homosexuality here.

Bishop Kirk Smith's Sermon at St. Albans

My Bishop, Kirk smith, is blogging from Lambeth, and his blog offers the text of the sermon he gave at St. Albans Cathedral in the U.K. last night. Here are some highlights:

The medieval scholars used to say, Ecclesia semper reformanda, the church is always being reformed. In Jesus’ day the Temple worship had become big business, with a complex and expensive bureaucracy of sacrifice, it needed a through housecleaning and reminder that its purpose was to be the house of God, not a currency exchange or a shopping mall. I would suggest that in the case of the Anglican Communion we have become equally derailed by at least a decade of power politics and bickering about structures which have little relevance to the needs of our parishioners, and have for at least a decade distracted the wider church from its Gospel mission. We too are need of a reformation, of a cleansing and purification. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the issues we have dealt with are not important. As practitioners of an incarnational faith, it is right and proper for us to enter into discussions about human sexuality. As members of a body which was founded by Jesus to be radically inclusive. It is essential that we be a place which is totally welcoming and affirming to all sorts and conditions of people, especially those who have been historically excluded from society and the life of the church, women, gay and lesbian folk, children, and those marginalized because of race or class. I am very proud of what the American Episcopal Church has done to include all people. To me, our prayerfully early inclusion of women as priests and bishops, our outspoken involvement in the fight against AIDs/HIV, and our ordination of monogamous gay lesbian people as priests and bishop. All of this is mandated by our baptismal vows. To put it bluntly, if we disqualify certain groups of people from ordination, then why baptize them? For me there can be no second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. Where the Church needs reformation is not in the area of belief, but the way we treat each other. Our problem is not purity of doctrine but lack of Christian charity. Our divisions not only distract us from our real mission, but thy make us a laughing stock to the rest of the world. It breaks my heart to see the time and money we have wasted fighting with one another. I have watched many of my conservative friend’s leave the church because they feel there is no place for them, while many gay and lesbian people have turned their backs because we have not moved fast enough. And now in the latest development, a group of very conservative Anglicans meeting in Jerusalem last week has defacto declared itself to be a church within a church. They have separated themselves, in spite of the rhetoric to the contrary, not because of theology, but because in their eyes certain of God’s children can never be loveable to God, even though one member of the conference claimed, “just because we think gay people should be in jail doesn’t mean we are homophobic.” So what we have left this summer is the Anglican Communion, meeting in Canterbury, and the Anti-gay-lican Communion meeting in Jerusalem. The real tragedy is that while we as bishops attack each other’s orthodoxy, a hurting world goes unheeded. It seems downright demonic to me that while Africa implodes in starvation, epidemic, corruption and genocide, so many of its bishops felt that the best use of their time and money was to travel to Jerusalem to help a small group of a handful of fat cat white churches in suburban Virginia separate from the American Church. The result of the preoccupation with doctrinal purity has resulted first of all in neglect of the desperate physical and needs of the rest of the world. When former Archbishop of Ireland Robin Eames spoke on this topic a while back, he used an image that I will never forget. A starving small child sits in the middle of the world stage, holding a begging bowl. She watches as well dressed clerics cross back and forth in front of her carrying the latest proclamation, covenant, or committee report. So busy are they, that they don’t even notice her stares of supplications. After a while, the child dies, but the clerics, we Christians, keep walking. And we are not only ignoring physical needs, we are failing to meet spiritual hunger as well. I come from a country where 90% of the populations say they believe in God, but only 30% goes to church. 11,000 people a week move to the Diocese of Arizona, most of them unchurched—but who wants to join a church where its leaders lie and steal from one another, and where the air is heavy with insults when the only name we should be calling one other is brother and sister.

Read it all here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Christian Bloggers Network

Do you belong to Facebook? Interested in reading a wide variety of Christian blogs (oe want to add a link to your own blog)? If so, check out the Christian Blogging Network on Facebook.

Anglican Tradition and Women Priests

Ruth Gledhill had an interesting post on her blog this weekend about new evidence that the Church ordained women up until the 12th Century--putting in doubt the notion that women priests are contrary to tradition:

This morning, on Today, US theologian Professor Gary Macy was explaining his theory that the Church ordained women up until the 12th century and that women had episcopal authority until much later. Earlier this week he sent me his entire paper on the subject. I've also put a couple of extracts below.

Macy writes:

'Women in the Middle Ages played a far larger role in the life of the Church than they would in later centuries. In the early Middle Ages, they performed both sacramental and administrative functions that would be reserved to men after the thirteenth century. They celebrated the Mass, distributed communion, read the Gospel, heard confessions and preached. Some abbesses also exercised episcopal power, and indeed, a few were considered bishops. The powerful Abbess of Las Huelgas in Spain continued to wear her miter and exercise administrative episcopal power until 1874. This paper will discuss the evidence for these claims.'

'The Council of NÓmes, held in 394, noting that “women seemed to have been assumed into levitical service,” ordered that “such ordination should be undone when it is effected contrary to reason. It should be seen that no one so presume in the future.” It is quite likely that the ministry of women to the Eucharist was being discussed here, although some scholars have argued that it was the diaconate rather than the presbyterate that the Council intended to forbid. Ninety years later, in 494, Pope Gelasius in a letter to the bishops of southern Italy and Sicily also spoke out against bishops who were allowing women to serve at the altar. Gelasius had heard that “women are confirmed to minister at the sacred altars and to perform all matters imputed only to the service of the male sex and for which women are not competent.'

The full essay, Women and the Shaping of Catholicism, is to be published by Liguori Press in December later this year.

Read it all here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

On the Inspiration of Scripture

Another gem from Father Tobias Haller:

Scripture is the inspired Word of God, but it is always written in a human tongue. People do not speak God’s language, or have God’s knowledge, so God, when speaking to people through inspiration, must employ the human language of the culture and time of the one inspired, in order to impart any knowledge at all. God always “talks down” to us, and our finite human capacity always limits how well we understand the infinite God, and express that understanding. One cannot put the ocean in a bottle; and new wineskins must be used for new wine. As Jesus himself would later say, “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:12-13)

The inspired recipients of God’s word in Genesis believed the sky to consist of a dome, in which the sun, moon, and stars were set, and which had windows to admit the rain stored in the pool of waters above. God, of course, knew that this was not true, literally or in any other sense, but the minds of those God inspired could have no place to hold such concepts as gravity and freely floating planets, stars and moons — or that the earth was not stationary at the center of a revolving universe. They had the evidence of their senses to the contrary, and would not, as Jesus would later say, have been able to “bear” the truth. So God communicated to them in a language that did not seem outrageous to them, that met their expectations, and explained and ratified what they perceived. The primary truth God intended to convey, after all, was not a literal account of the composition of the cosmos, but the theological principle that God is the creator of all that is.

In the same way, the accounts in Genesis 2 through 4 do not present a literal history of the first human beings, but a theologically relevant account, God’s word designed to explain truths to people in keeping with what they perceived, within their time and place — to address the really big questions to which the account provides the answers: primarily, why is it that people do wrong things; why do they die; why do they marry; and why should a perfectly natural thing like childbirth be so painful.

Read it here and join an interesting conversation.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Lambeth Coverage

The Lambeth Conference is about to start. Bishops are flocking to England from all over the world as we speak. You won't see much discussion of Lambeth on this blog--as Anglican as I may be.


Because there are far better resources on Lambeth. Firsy, my colleagues and I at The Lead will be offering detailed Lambeth coverage, and our editor-in-chief, Jim Naughton is already in London. Jim plans to offer "live blogging" from Lambeth once the Conference starts.

Second, my Lead colleague, Helen Mosher, has prepare a tremendous resource that she explains on her own blog:

Last night at the Episcopal Cafe, we posted links to all the blogs we’re aware of written by Anglican bishops. In a fit of “how am I going to keep up with this,” I created a pipeline of the posts and gave it a single feed, which you can subscribe to here:

Hope it’s useful to some of you as well, especially with the Lambeth conference being next week.

Its a great resource--Helen has collected dozens of blogging Bishop feeds and put them all into one feed that captures them all.

The Persistence of Diet

Here is an interesting item for your weekend. Turns out that a group of scientists decided to study the persistence of food chosen by several cultures. It turns out that a particular culture's food choices seem to persist for hundreds of years. (Bad news for the English?):

The research, 'The non-equilibrium nature of culinary evolution', shows that three national cuisines - British, French and Brazilian -- are affected by the founder effect which keeps idiosyncratic and nutritionally ambivalent, expensive and sometimes hard to transport ingredients in our diets.

Using the medieval cookery book, Pleyn Delit, and three authoritative cook books from Britain, France and Brazil, the New Penguin Cookery Book, Larousse Gastronomique and Dona Benta respectively, the researchers from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, compiled statistics which could be compared to see how time and distance effect the three different national cuisines.

. . .

Ranking the importance of certain food types by their frequency of use in each national cuisine and comparing them to ingredients which have an equivalent rank in one of the other two foreign cuisines led to patterns emerging which suggest that all our menus evolve in similar ways.

So, whether it's the Irish with potatoes, the French with frogs' legs, the Germans with sauerkraut, the Ghanaians with plantains or the Japanese with fish stock, it seems a global food culture has not shifted some die-hard culture-based eating habits.

As the authors, from the Department of Physics and Mathematics at Sao Paulo University, write, "Some low fitness ingredients present in the initial recipes have a strong difficulty of being replaced and can even propagate during culinary growth. They are like frozen "cultural" accidents."

Read it all here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Genetics and Human Migration

Scientific American has a terrific article about the use of genetics to trace human migration patters across the globe:

Almost all our DNA—99.9 percent of the three billion “letters,” or nucleotides, that make up the human genome—is the same from person to person. But interwoven in that last 0.1 percent are telltale differences. A comparison among, say, East Africans and Native Americans can yield vital clues to human ancestry and to the inexorable progression of colonizations from continent to continent. Until recent years, DNA passed down only from fathers to sons or from mothers to their children has served as the equivalent of fossilized footprints for geneticists. The newest research lets scientists adjust their focus, widening the field of view beyond a few isolated stretches of DNA to inspect hundreds of thousands of nucleotides scattered throughout the whole genome.

. . .

The fast, relatively predictable rate of “neutral” mitochondrial mutations—ones that are neither beneficial nor harmful—lets the organelles operate as molecular clocks. Counting the differences in the number of mutations (ticks of the clock) between two groups, or lineages, allows a researcher to construct a genetic tree that tracks back to a common ancestor—Mitochondrial Eve or another woman who founded a new lineage. Comparison of the ages of the lineages from different regions permits the building of a timeline of human migrations.

Since 1987 the data bank on human diversity has broadened to encompass the Y chromosome—the sex chromosome passed down only by males to their sons. The male-transmitted DNA carries many more nucleotides than mitochondrial DNA does (tens of millions, as opposed to just 16,000), enhancing investigators’ ability to distinguish one population from another. Analyzing mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA from human populations has turned up hundreds of genetic markers (DNA sites having identifiable mutations specific to particular lineages).

The route humans took from Africa to the Americas over the course of tens of thousands of years can now be tracked on the map as if the travelers were moving, albeit extremely slowly, on a series of interconnected superhighways. Alphanumeric route signs, such as I-95, can be recast as alphanumeric genetic markers. In the case of the Y chromosome, for instance, cross the Bab el Mandeb on highway (genetic marker) M168, which becomes M89 when heading north through the Arabian Peninsula. Make a right at M9 and set out toward Mesopotamia and beyond. Once reaching an area north of the Hindu Kush, turn left onto M45. In Siberia, go right and follow M242 until it eventually traverses the land bridge to Alaska. Pick up M3 and proceed to South America.

. . .

During this decade, researchers have made dramatic discoveries by simultaneously comparing a multitude of variable, or polymorphic, sites interspersed throughout the genome’s three billion nucleotides. The first whole-genome studies earlier in this decade looked at differences among populations in short repetitive stretches of DNA known as microsatellites. More recently, the scope afforded by whole-genome scans has widened further. In February two papers, one in Science, the other in Nature, reported the largest surveys to date of human diversity. Both examined more than 500,000 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)—swaps of one nucleotide for another at a particular spot in the DNA—from the Human Genome Diversity Panel. These cell lines were drawn from about 1,000 individuals from 51 populations worldwide and are maintained by the Center for the Study of Human Polymorphisms in Paris.

The two research teams analyzed the wealth of data in various ways. They compared SNPs directly among distinct populations. They also looked at haplotypes, blocks of DNA containing numerous SNPs that are inherited intact through many generations. The group that wrote the Nature paper also explored a new technique for surveying human variation by comparing repetitions or deletions of DNA stretches of up to 1,000,000 nucleotides long (copy number variations) throughout a person’s genome, consistent with the larger trend to mine the genome for ever more markers of variation. “Any one piece of the genome will have a history that doesn’t necessarily reflect the ancestry of the genome as a whole,” says Noah A. Rosenberg of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and lead author of the Nature paper. But looking at many areas at once, he explains, can overcome that problem: “With thousands of markers, it’s possible to determine the overall story of human migrations.”

Looking at hundreds of thousands of SNPs allowed the researchers to resolve the identities of individual populations—and to see how genetically close relations spread far and wide. Native South American ancestry was tracked back to Siberians and some other Asians. The Han people, China’s principle ethnic group, has distinct northern and southern populations. Bedouins are related to groups from Europe and Pakistan as well as the Middle East.

The findings, which jibed with previous research from anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and biology (including previous mitochondrial and Y DNA studies), also provided a broader statistical foundation for the out-of-Africa hypothesis, supporting the idea that a small population of humans moved out of the continent, then grew in size in a new home until another subgroup of “founders” broke off and moved away—a process that repeated itself until the entire world was settled. These wayfarers edged out archaic human populations—Homo neanderthalensis and Homo erectus—with little or no interbreeding when they met. The new DNA work indicates that each time a smaller group split off, it carried only a subset of the genetic diversity originally present in the African population. So as distance (and time) removed from Africa lengthens, diversity diminishes, providing a means to follow population movements. Native Americans, sojourners on the last major continental migrations, have much less variety in their genomes than Africans do.

Read it all here.

Friday is For Politics III

Obama continues to hold a lead in the national polls, and continues to do well in state polls as well. There has only been a slight tightening in the race in the last month.

The Hotline Eletoral College Mapo this week confirms an early Obama lead, with Obama at 282 and MCain at 245. The Political insider has a summary of all of the major electoral college predicters--all of which show an Obama lead:

Chuck Todd says that while the presidential race remains close, Sen. Barack Obama has opened up a 210 to 189 lead over Sen. John McCain, with 139 electoral votes in the toss-up column.

Base Obama: CA, CT, DE, DC, HI, IL, ME, MD, MA, NY, RI, VT, WA (168 electoral votes)Lean Obama: NJ, MN, OR, WI (42 votes)

Base McCain: AL, AZ, AR, ID, KS, KY, LA, MS, NE, OK, SC, TN, TX, UT, WV, WY (136 votes)Lean McCain: AK, GA, IN, MT, NC, ND, SD (53 votes)

Toss-up: CO, FL, IA, MI, MO, NV, NM, NH, OH, PA, VA (139 votes)

Larry Sabato notes that an exercise like this "has to assume that the election will be basically competitive, let's say with the winner receiving 52 percent or less of the two-party vote (with all third party votes excluded from the calculation). If one candidate's proportion of the vote climbs above 52 percent, then virtually all the swing states will move in his direction, coloring the toss-up white states either Blue or Red."

Solid Obama: WA, CA, IL, MD, NY, VT, RI, MA, CT, NJ, DE, ME, DC, HI (183 electoral votes)

Likely Obama: OR, MN (17 electoral votes)Lean Obama: IA, NM (12 electoral votes) Solid McCain: ID, UT, AZ, WY, SD, NE, KS, OK, TX, LA, AR, IN, KY, WV, TN, AL, SC (144 electoral votes)

Likely McCain: AK, GA, MS, MT, ND (30 electoral votes)

Lean McCain: FL, MO, NC (53 electoral votes)

Toss Up: CO, MI, NH, NV, OH, PA, VA, WI (99 electoral votes) -- which uses the latest polling data to color the map -- shows Obama leading McCain, 320 to 218.

John Zogby also sees the electoral vote race tilting towards Obama, 273 to 160, with 105 still too close to call.

Election Projection has Obama leading McCain, 306 to 232.

Five Thirty Eight has Obama ahead of McCain, 313 to 225.

Read it all here.

Finally, be sure to read this great profile of my good friend Governor Janet Napolitano who should be on any Obama short list for Vice President.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Evidence of Macro-evolution

Critics of evolution often argue (falsely) that there is no evidence of marco-evolution (i.e., evolution of one species into another). They also like to point to flatfish (like sole, plaice, turbot, flounder and halibut) and argue that there is no fossil evidence that explains how flatfish ended up with both eyes on one side of their face.

In the latest edition of Nature, however, a University of Chicago graduate student describes evidence of the evolution of flatfish that he found in museum archives:

Scientists have until now largely assumed the asymmetrical, one-sided eye arrangement was a trait that must have arisen suddenly in flatfish because they could not see a benefit for the fish if it took millions of years for an eye to migrate from one side to the other. Even Charles Darwin had trouble answering critics who used flatfish and their strange eyes as an argument against his evolutionary theory after he published it in 1859.

Fossils of two long-extinct flatfish species found in European museum collections by Matt Friedman, a 28-year-old U. of C. doctoral candidate, should change some minds. Friedman spotlights the two species in his article, "The Evolutionary Origin of Flatfish Asymmetry," appearing in Thursday's edition of the science journal Nature.

The evidence Friedman marshals proves, he said, that it indeed took millions of years for the flatfish to evolve their look.

His findings may not be earth-shattering, but they seem to put to rest one of the oldest puzzles of evolutionary biology.

"Matt's [Nature] article is extremely significant," said Thomas J. Near, a Yale University evolutionary biologist who also studies fish.

"The obvious is that Matt's work shows how the flatfish eye got to the other side of the head," Near said, "and that it was a gradual change rather than a single, mutational big jump.

"It's also another piece of knowledge and evidence that we didn't have before. The creationism/intelligent design movement has always pointed out that there was nothing in the fossil record that showed the [movement of the flatfish eye] in transition. The real scientific impact from Matt's work is that there is now an intermediate form."

. . .

His first "transitional" fossil was an adult specimen he stumbled on in the Paris museum, part of a collection that had been given as a tribute 200 years ago to Napoleon as he fought in Italy. It clearly had an eye socket near the top of the skull, Friedman said, in transit to the other side of the face.

In London, he found a second fossil species of Amphistium, slightly younger than the one recovered in Italy. In London he also borrowed two Amphistium specimens still deeply embedded in Italian sandstone, which he analyzed with CT scans that also revealed eye sockets in transition.

In Vienna, he found misclassified fossils that turned out to be an entirely new flatfish genus he named Heteronectes, or "different swimmer," which he said clearly is in the transitional stage.

After publishing his evolutionary theory, "The Origin of Species," Charles Darwin and the theory came under furious attack by religious leaders. In 1871, St. George Jackson Mivart, a Catholic lawyer and zoologist, published "On Genesis of the Species" as a challenge to Darwin, and prominently used the example of flatfish and their eyes in his argument.

"Darwin feebly responded with a scenario that relied on evolution of inherited traits," said Friedman, and the flatfish argument has been an arrow in the quiver of anti-evolutionists ever since, cited as recently as 2003 in pro-creationist Lee James Best Jr.'s online book "God and Fallacy in the Theory of Evolution."

Read it all here. Read the Science Daily story here.

Children and Happiness

I am the father of a very active and stubborn three year old boy. I am usually exhausted at the end of the day. He makes me smile, but also drives me up the wall sometimes. In other words, I am the typical father of a typical three year old boy.

I was therefore fascinated to read recent research that childless couples are actually "happier" than couples with children:

The cliché refers to newborn children as "bundles of joy," but recent research indicates that bundles of anxiety, or even bundles of depression, might be more accurate.

Sociologists are discovering that children may not make parents happier and that childless adults, contrary to popular stereotypes, may often be more contented than people with kids.

Parents "definitely experienced more depression," says Robin Simon, a sociologist at Florida State University who has studied data on parenting.

I think this misses the point and was pleased to see this response to this research by Jonah Lehrer, an editor at Seed:

This data jives with the self-reports of parents. As Daniel Gilbert notes, "The only known symptom of the empty-nest syndrome is increased smiling. Careful studies of how women feel as they go about their daily activities show that they are less happy when taking care of their children than when eating, exercising, shopping, napping, or watching television." According to the data, looking after the kids is only marginally better than mopping the floor.

And yet, these subjective self-reports also miss something important, I think. The fact of the matter is that it's much easier to quantify pleasure on a moment-by-moment basis that it is to quantify something as intangible as "unconditional love". Changing a diaper isn't enjoyable, and teenagers can be such a pain in the ass, but having kids can also be a profound source of meaning for people. (I like the amateur marathoner metaphor: survey a marathoner in the midst of the race and they'll complain about their legs and that rash and how the race seems like it's taking forever. But when the running is over they are always incredibly proud of their accomplishment. Having kids, then, is like a marathon that lasts 18 years.) The larger point, though, is that just because we can't measure something doesn't mean it isn't important, or that we should always privilege the quantifiable (pleasure) over the intangible (meaning). Real life is complex stuff.

Read it all here. Parenting is hard stuff. It can be very unpleasant at times. It can be boring at times. But, parenting (and loving) a child does give life meaning--and yes, deep happiness as well.