Thursday, August 7, 2008

Catholics, Evangelicals and Abortion

Ed Kilgore has a fascinating essay at Beliefnet about the fact that Evangelicals are foar more pro-Life than Catholics:

There are variable measurements of this phenomenon, but no real doubt about the basics. A September 2007 Pew survey showed white evangelical Protestants agreeing that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases by a 65-31 magin; Catholics favored keeping abortion legal in all or most cases by a 51-44 margin (with no appreciable difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanic Catholics). On a related issue that helps measure the intensity of anti-abortion views, the same poll showed white evangelicals opposing embryonic stem cell research by 57-31, while white non-Hispanic Catholics favored it by 59-32.

Moreover, the evangelical-Catholic gap on abortion looks likely to increase in the future. An April 2004 Pew survey providing generational breakdowns showed that white evangelicals under 35 favored abortion restrictions by more than a two-to-one margin (71% among those under 25), while those over 65 actually (if narrowly) opposed more restrictions. The generational trend lines among white Catholics moved in exactly the opposite direction.


Ed then explores why this should be the case, given the consistent and forceful teachings on abortion by the Catholic hierarchy. He offers some conjectures, but even he is not very satisfied with his answers:

so whence cometh today's white evangelical anti-abortion ferver? One theory is that these folk are radically alienated from contemporary American culture, and view legalized abortion (along with premarital sex, open gay/lesbian lifestyles, and TV/Hollywood "trash culture") as a symbol of a depraved society. This is undoubtedly the view of some well-known evangelical leaders like James Dobson, who often indulges himself in Nazi analogies for the "Holocaust" of abortion. But objective measurements of evangelical cultural alienation are generally ambivalent, and they are famously enthusiastic about adopting contemporary culture in their own liturgical and missionary practices.

Another theory, for which I can offer little other than plausible conjecture, is that the "framing" of the abortion issue--particular its treament as fundamentally a matter of the reproductive rights of women, or of personal privacy--that underlies the pro-choice argument is simply uncompelling to many white evangelicals. Aside from the strongly anti-feminist bias of much of contemporary evangelical teaching, American evangelicals have become strongly averse to the libertarian traditions of church-state separation and protection of individual conscience that once was a central feature of their own belief system. And perhaps an inability to even hear the pro-choice case has reinforced the impact of such secular phenomena as widely available sonogram images of fetal development.

The bottom line is that I don't know, and I'm not sure anyone knows, if Barack Obama or any other pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-feminist politician or party can make significant inroads into the white evangelical vote by minor tweaks in abortion policies or how they are presented. Evangelicals, of course, care about other issues like the war in Iraq, the economy, the environment, and corruption in Washington, that could incline them towards a vote for a Democratic presidential or congresstional candidate. And that's why (along with chronic disappointment with GOP promises to "deliver" on cultural issues like abortion) so many evangelical leaders like Rick Warren are expressing an openness to two-party competition.


Read it all here.

I doubt that the answer lies in religious doctrine. Instead, I think the answer lies more squarely in culture. Abortion is but one of many issues in which many American Roman Catholics quietly disagree with church teachings.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Political Interlude: The State of the Race


Charles Franklin consistently offers great analysis on politics and polling and this chart is a great example. It compares polling in this year's presidential race to the last two races. It shows that Obama is in better shape now than Kerry and Gore were at this point in the race. But it also shows the extreme volatility in all presidential races inthe final months that means that this race really is too close to call. Democrats who want Obama to be elected presidnet can't be complacant: they need to work hard for the victory.

Here is some analysis by Franklin:

But what about the future? The dynamics of the next 92 days are all important for where we stand on November 4. Since we can't foresee those 92 days yet, let's see what happened during the same time in 2000 and 2004. That gives us a better idea how much change we might anticipate in the next three months.

In 2004, Kerry slowly built a 2 point lead by this time, and held a small lead through much of the summer. But then the race took a sharp turn, with Bush making a 6 point run, taking a four point lead with 50 days to go. Kerry gained back 3 points of that in the polling, but less than 2 points of it in the actual vote, losing by a 2.4 point margin.

In 2000, Bush led in most of the early polls, holding a 6 point lead with 107 days to go. Then Gore moved sharply up, erasing Bush's lead and then adding a 3 point lead for Gore with about 56 days left. Bush promptly reversed Gore's gains with a six point move in the GOP's direction, and led by about 3 points over the last three weeks of the campaign. Of course, the 2000 polls were misleading in predicting a Bush win. Gore won the popular vote by 0.6 points.

So far in 2008, Obama has enjoyed a run up of 5.5 points since his low point in late March. That run is on a par with Bush's in 2004 but still a bit less than Gore's 9 point run in 2000, and on par the Bush's 6 point rebound that year.

Judging from the dynamics we've seen in the past it is quite reasonable to expect the current trend to shift by half-a-dozen points. August and the conventions have been periods of substantial change in both previous elections, so if history repeats itself the next 4 or 5 weeks should be pretty interesting.

The bottom line is neither campaign should be complacent or despondent. There is a lot of time left and recent history shows that both up and down swings of 6-9 points are entirely plausible.


Read it all here.

Its the Creation Stupid

Nick Reeves, executive director of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, has this post on the Guardian's "Comment is Free" blog that argues that religious leaders need to take an interest in environmental issus:

Profiling the award-winning environmental campaign work of Archbishop Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians, Riazat Butt asks if religion can help prevent eco-catastrophe (The pope of hope, June 18). After all, as the archbishop told Butt: "Religious people were indifferent, or even hostile, to science. Scientists and ecologists could see little relationship between their world and the world of faith."

At a global environment conference in London last year, my professional institution, the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, brought together representatives of all the major faiths. There was one matter on which they all agreed: the need to collaborate for action on the environment, and especially on climate change. The leadership of Archbishop Bartholomew was seen as a beacon.

But faith groups have been silent for too long on this crisis, and should do far more to remind us of our moral duty to restore and protect the fragile ecological balance of the planet. As the archbishop said: "We are all culpable. Each one of us has a smaller or greater contribution to the deliberate degradation of nature."

Butt, in reporting the environmentalism of some religious leaders, suggests that an ecological coalition of faiths is possible: "There is hardly a religious leader in the world now who is not preoccupied by the problems of pollution and climate change." And it's true. In the last year or so we have seen faith leaders including the Dalai Lama, the Bishop of Liverpool and Pope Benedict step down from the pulpit and speak directly on environmental issues. This is good news and "God-bothering" of the sort we need for the 21st century.

What the faith groups can offer is a framework - ethical, spiritual, imaginative and intellectual - for the pursuit of all the good that relates to human destiny. Fazlun Khalid, director of the Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, has urged faiths to civilise and change behaviour for a fairer, sustainable world. But they must engage with people and evangelise first - heeding Bartholomew's big idea for an economic model that is about replenishment, compassion and nurturing. In other words: it's creation, stupid!



Read it all here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Doug Chaplin on Scripture and Homosexuality III

In his wonderful series on homosexuality in the Bible, Father Doug Chaplin reaches the critical reference to Romans 1:18-32. I really urge you to read the whole post--it has many themes that are well worth thinking about. But here are some highlights to whet your appetite:

I think Romans is written to a very specific situation in Rome, where there are significant divisions between Jew and Gentile Christians. I think Paul both wants to secure a welcome for himself as a character some saw as divisive, and to encourage them to mend the breach. In the opening chapters he is keen to get both sides to agree that in fact all, Gentile and Jew alike, have sinned. He first expounds a common view of Gentile sinfulness from a Jewish perspective, then a typical Gentile criticism of Jewish hypocrisy. Both of these are examples of a rhetorical device – speech-in-character (prosopopeia). They serve to get heads nodding in agreement first on one side, then on the other, until both have been led together to the conclusion that “there is no-one righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10). From this point Paul is able to introduce Jesus as the pattern of faithfulness to death which both reverses this sinful pattern and provides the means of atonement for it. (Rom 3:25)

On this analysis, Paul’s words on homosexuality are part of what is presented as a typical Jewish attack on Gentile morality.

. . .

This is certainly painted on a larger canvas than previous denunciations we’ve looked at, yet its nature as speech-in-character, and its place in the argument of the letter means that it must be recognisable as commonplace, not as startlingly original Pauline theology. There is, however, nothing to show that Paul wouldn’t share this prosopopeic critique; indeed, there is good reason to suppose that he would hold pretty much the same view as his rhetorical Jewish character.

The passage (and this is one good reason for assuming Paul chose his speech-in-character carefully and to mesh with his broader theological picture) locates itself in a narrative of creation and rebellion, at the heart of which lies idolatry. There are many recognisable parallels between what Paul writes here and Wisdom 13-14 and this is the core of the shared analysis: idolatry, which leads to degrading, unnatural and wicked behaviour. One possibility is that Paul may be alluding to two stories in his treatment of what is unnatural (Rom 1:26 “against nature” = τὴν παρὰ φύσιν). I suspect that behind the accusation against the women is the story of the Nephilim in Genesis 6 where there is a mingling of angels and women. Likewise, I wonder whether the story of Sodom is behind what Paul says about men: otherwise it is a little hard to see what he means in context by “the due penalty for their error”. This would, unlike OT interpretations of the Sodom story, align Paul with Jude 6-7, which also seems to combine the two stories in close proximity. Paul is more explicit than Jude in linking this behaviour to a disordering of God’s creation, presumably a part of what he later refers to as its having been made subject to futility (Rom 8:20). The sexual disordering, however, is a consequence of the primary disordering, which is worshipping the created (idols) instead of the Creator (God). It is as much as anything a sign of human estrangement from God.

. . .

Perhaps one of the oddest things about the passage (and another reason for thinking Paul has these “past events” in mind is that the sexually unnatural behaviour, symptomatic of the disordering of creation, seems to fall between the primal sin of idolatry, and the everyday sins of humanity, where Paul’s list, oddly, includes no sexual sins. “They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.” If you haven’t ever committed even one of those sins, please leave your name in the comments.


Where then does this leave us?



  • Paul’s treatment of same-sex activity doesn’t belong in any straightforward way to his list of sins, It belongs primarily to his narrative of how creation became disordered.

  • Paul’s whole argument in the first half of Romans, into which this speech-in-character fits well, is that the whole of creation is disordered, and is being re-ordered in and through Christ.


  • Exploring that context of order and disorder, creation and recreation in Christ, offers perhaps the most fruitful way forward, and picks up on a concern I’ve noted in looking at some of the other texts.


  • Whatever else Paul is saying, he has influenced the whole Christian tradition in ways which are generally supported by our perceptions of life. The way the world is is not the way it is meant to be. It is deeply problematic simply to read off from where we are or what we are, and say “this is how God made me”.


  • Given that Paul sees same-sex behaviour as a consequence of idolatry, it is hard to imagine how he might respond to the idea of same-sex activity between those who on every other index except this one appear to be faithful Christians.


  • Despite the fact that there is more theological context here, it is not a context dealing with same-sex behaviour, which is part of the argument, not the point of the argument. Thus this is not Paul’s creative and considered pastoral theology. It is, if you like, part of his theological hinterland, which as his missionary and pastoral context calls for, he can either draw upon, and drastically reshape around the Christocentric core of his gospel. It is, I suggest, more a case of “Paul thinks” than “Paul teaches”.


  • Paul’s oft quoted words in the context of this discussion “those who practice such things deserve to die – yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them”are in fact applicable only by implication to the sexual behaviours he references, and directly to a wide range of sins including being gossips, slanderers, haughty, boastful, heartless, ruthless and many more. See why I told you to be nice in the comments!


I will attempt in a subsequent post to pull some threads together and see where we go next, but in my view this text does offer a more significant contribution towards exploring what it means to be caught up in a disordered creation which God is drawing into a new Christ-ordered one. Nonetheless, I find it poses more questions than answers, and we need to consider further some of the biblical, theological and pastoral themes that might help us explore those questions.



Read it all here.

Bishop Kirk Smith on Lambeth

My bishop, Kirk Smith of Arizona, offers some encouraging words about Lambeth:

I was amazed about how well this morning's session went. You may be reading in the press about how fragmented we are. But this is due to the fact that a few hot heads are are quick to cozy up to any reporter they can find. There are two or three American bishops here who would like nothing better than to see the Conference fail. The truth is that there is an (dare I say it?) almost miraculous cooperative and respectful spirit at work here. This morning for example, there was no mention of punishing the Americans. The word "accountability" was not even mentioned. Instead, we talked a lot about the example of a marriage covenant which is based not on punishment but on a spirit of the parties "loving each other no matter what." It was pointed out that the current proposed Covenant with all its provisions for kicking people out of the Communion sounds more like a pre-nuptial agreement than a marriage covenant!

If my group is typical, and from what I can tell, it is, there are some pretty clear themes: 1. There is a desire to stay together, no matter what. Relationships are more important that doctrine. 2. Most want a covenant that is an affirming rather than a disciplinary doctrine. 3. People have little regard for the Primates. 4. We want to meet together more often and work together more closely.

All this seem very positive to me. But remember--this Conference is only a consulting body, there will be no policy declaration issued when we get done. The work we do will be sent onto the Covenant design group that meets in September. They in turn will report to the Anglican Consultative Council at their meeting in May. The ACC has three options: 1)Reject the final draft of the Covenant,2)Send it back for more work, 3)Pass it onto the Provinces for final approval. My guess is that thanks to the work done here, the draft the ACC gets in the spring will look much different than the St Andrew's draft we have before us today.


Read it all here.