May 15 2009

Conflicted Christians

Category: abortion,church,higher education,Obama,religionharmonicminer @ 9:39 am

As previously observed, President Obama will receive an honorary doctorate from Notre Dame in a few days, and address a commencement exercise. And although there is a considerable amount of Outrage Over Obama Speaking at Notre Dame, the plain fact is that 53% of Catholics voted for him, in direct contravention of their bishops’ advice and admonition.

One graduating senior, Matt Degnan, is selling T-shirts he designed that say “Obama? Fine By Me.” When I asked him whether the shirts represented enthusiastic support of the president or merely tacit ambivalence, he simply responded, “I think that the shirts speak for themselves.”

But he told the paper that faculty members have been the most frequent buyers, which comes as no surprise to anyone who’s ever met a college professor.

Furthermore, Catholics themselves helped put Obama in office, after voting for him 53 percent. Obama secured the largest advantage among Catholics for a Democrat since Bill Clinton.

So although I’m empathetic toward the outrage, and a Catholic school honoring a pro-choice activist like Obama is nothing short of outrageous, the numbers tell a different picture. The state of Indiana, St. Joseph’s County, South Bend, and the University of Notre Dame all supported candidate Obama, with alacrity, as did Catholic America.

Right-to-life issues are important, but this supposed scandal is muddied by the inconvenient underlying facts: Obama has huge support here, and some of the groups that are railing against his visit are the very groups that helped put him in office, in a position to then be invited.

But voting him into office was apparently one thing, and allowing him to speak at a college commencement, another. Catholics should get their message straight if they want to regain the kind of influence that makes them a credible voice of reason, compassion, clarity, and morality. Right now they just seem tongue-tied.

Christians should not be tongue tied.   Ever.   They should be willing to speak out on straight-up moral issues, especially those involving life and death of the most innocent.  Shame on us.  And count me as one evangelical who feels more in common with the other 47% of Roman Catholics than with all too many protestants.

In the meantime, here’s a protestant to admire, for his conviction, and his willingness to tell simple, unobstructed, unconflicted truth:

Tags: , , ,

May 12 2009

Deconstructing the Deconstructor

Category: church,religion,theology,Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:44 am

Bart Ehrman’s “Jesus Interrupted” is another in the line of books attempting to challenge orthodox understandings of the nature of the Bible and the validity of faith, more or less on the line of the Jesus Seminar approach.

Ben Witherington has a multipart blog/essay essentially taking on Ehrman on his own ground, in his own terms.  It seems to this layman to be excellent reading, and so I link to it below.

Bart Interrupted: Part One

Bart Interrupted: Part Two

Bart Interrupted: Part Three

Bart Interrupted: Part Four

Bart Interrupted: Part Five

Bart Interrupted: Part Six

Tags: , ,

May 09 2009

Altered States

Category: church,left,mediaharmonicminer @ 9:36 am

At this place, on the front page:

You get this ad for “church,” United Methodist style.

And this one for sex toys, hookups, and pornography.  Don’t bother to click it, I didn’t link it.

I’m trying to remember the last time I saw an ad for church and an ad for sex services in the same place.  Oh, yeah.  The LA Times.  Craigslist.  The Yellow Pages.

But really:  wouldn’t you think ONE of these groups would think this wasn’t the place to advertise?

Oh well.  Welcome to the modern Christian Left.  Crackpot politics, sexual liberty, and a feeling of moral superiority, all in one.

It would seem that the United Methodists really know where to advertise to find like-minded folk.

So I went to “RethinkChurch” (just click the graphic above and you can, too).  In the search engine on the site, I typed in the word “Jesus.”

Here’s what I got:

I typed in “salvation,” and got even less.  So, let’s see.  This is a United Methodist Church website, with no mention of “salvation”, and almost none of “Jesus.”  I wonder if that “Carnal Nation” website links to a seminary.

Tags: , , ,

Mar 08 2009

Catholics under attack in NY

Category: Catholic,churchharmonicminer @ 9:27 am – N.Y. Catholics: Dems Trying to Bankrupt Church

Democrats have declared war on the Catholic Church, with new laws that threaten to bankrupt Catholic schools, hospitals, charities and parishes. Thus far, the worst attacks have come in New York.

“We’ve taken a lot of hits this year,” Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, the policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, tells Newsmax. “Outside the government, the Catholic Church is the largest provider of health, human services and education in [New York]. But some legislators are so driven by malice that they’re willing to see our charities and schools go under.”

The Empire State’s Democrats are attacking on three fronts.

# A proposal to require all hospitals to perform abortions, or lose their state license would put Catholic hospitals out of business.

# Major funding cuts for Catholic schools by Gov. David Paterson, who continues to force the parochial schools to run state-mandated programs at their own expense.

# An effort by Democratic lawmakers to abolish the statute of limitations on sex abuse lawsuits against the Church, allowing people to sue over decades-old cases in which the alleged perpetrators are dead.

The proposed sex-abuse law applies only to private institutions such as the Church and the Boy Scouts. Public schools are exempt. Yet sex abuse is more common in public schools than in private institutions.

Read the whole thing.

But consider:

1) The Freedom of Choice Act, if passed by Congress and signed by Obama (who has already promised to do so), would institute even greater assaults on the freedom of Catholic and other religiously founded hospitals not to do abortion, nationwide, not just in New York. And it would create a situation where no medical personnel would have a “freedom of conscience” protection so they would not be forced to participate in abortions of convenience.

2) The current budget proposal in Congress, favored by Obama, removes the charitable giving deduction from the tax code, which would surely significant reduce giving to all kinds of charitable organizations, hospitals, churches, relief organizations, orphanages, schools, you name it.

So New York State is just a little bit ahead of federal policy… but only a little bit.

The all out assault on the church, which has been gaining steam for awhile now, is on with a vengeance. And make no mistake, vengeance is the intent of the perpetrators.

Tags: ,

Jan 21 2009

The Scandal of New Evangelicalism?

Category: politics,theologyharmonicminer @ 10:48 am

The New Evangelical Scandal, Civitate

Even though the sociology has not yet caught up, the narrative of a new breed of evangelicalism has taken hold among the media and political elites. The narrative is doubtlessly popular in part due to wishful thinking by Democrats and their media-savvy friends; yet as a young evangelical myself, it is impossible to discount entirely. Even if the outline of our theology is broadly the same as our parents, as it is for an increasing number of conservative evangelicals, our ethos is different. And the differences are not strictly political—the political trends among young evangelicals that have received so much attention are grounded in different concerns and emphases that undergird younger evangelicals’ approach to culture and spirituality as well. This new ethos is largely a reaction to the abuses, failures, and excesses of our parents’ generation and contains significant clues as to the future of evangelicalism in America.

It’s a long article, but worth the read, by a 26 yr old evangelical who’s been thinking deeply about it all. You aren’t likely to agree with all of it, but it will stimulate your thinking, at least.

Tags: , ,

Jun 15 2008

Diversity Scolds In Church Leadership

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:11 pm

In Christianity Today’s leadership discussion, Merk DeVimaz quotes approvingly an African-American pastor who says:

“…if you hire or otherwise empower African Americans only to lead your church in worship, you may inadvertently suggest to people, ‘We accept them as entertainers.’ If you hire or otherwise empower African Americans only to work with your children, you may inadvertently suggest, ‘We accept them to nanny our kids.’ And if you hire or otherwise employ African Americans only as janitors, you are quite clearly stating, ‘We expect them to clean up after us.’ It is only when you allow us to share your pulpit, to serve with you on the elder board or alongside you in apportioning the money, that we will be truly one with you in church.”

On the surface, this sounds right. There is, after all, no reason some African-Americans should not be in leadership roles. A little consideration reveals some serious problems, however.

This kind of comment is exactly what churches just beginning to integrate do NOT need to hear, because it paralyzes their ability to naturally and gracefully include African-Americans into their church life in ways appropriate for specific individuals, as the process goes forward.

It engages in a “straw man” argument, by inappropriate use of the word “only”. Most churches won’t “only” do anything in particular regarding African-Americans. To the extent they have African-Americans (I assume this comment was aimed at mixed churches), they may be found in a variety of roles, befitting the individuals in question, not their racial identity. And sadly, this kind of comment, taken too seriously by well meaning, mostly white churches, could cost some deserving, hard working African-American a needed job cleaning the church. I’m sure that unemployed person will be happy that the church only wants to use white people in that capacity, so as not to demean African-Americans.

It implies that leading worship is entertainment. If people think the presence of an African-American suggests that, “We accept them as entertainers,” then you have a much bigger problem than lack of diversity. Your church doesn’t understand the essential nature of worship, and desperately needs to grow in that area before you have any hope of addressing the issue of diversity in worship leading. Your response should not be a feeling of guilt that a talented African-American is leading worship, it should be a feeling of guilt that you have so poorly instructed your congregation about worship.

The comment implies that, in comparison to pastors or deacons, there is some essentially lesser worth for people who lead worship, care for and educate children, or care for the facility. This is specifically non-scriptural, and speaks to a real lack of humility on the part of “leadership”. If that is the perception of the church as a whole, perhaps there is a lack of proper teaching about the body of Christ. This sounds like a product of “leaders” who have bought into the notion of pastors and deacons as little bosses, instead of servants. To be blunt, that doesn’t sound like Christ talking, it sounds like modern corporate leadership theory.

There is no a priori reason to believe that any given pastoral position can automatically be filled by some available African-American candidate, even if the church “wants” one. Churches vary enormously in their needs, in the kind of preparation pastors are expected to have, and in the demographics that have been historically likely to get that preparation. A church that would like to find such a candidate simply may not be able to do so in available time with available resources. That church is not to be condemned for it, but applauded for even looking. And African-Americans in that church who hoped for an African-American pastor need to be reminded, hopefully in word by one of their own number, and in deed by everyone else, that they are one with the body regardless of who is pastor this year.

In a denomination that is energetically reaching out to African-Americans, it may take an entire generation for a sufficient number of African-Americans to undergo the education and developmental process required to develop a selection of possible pastors.

Similarly, in many (most?) churches, deacons or board members are elected, normally from among well-known and respected members who have considerable history with that local body. Assuming good intent on the part of an historically white church with a recent influx of African-Americans, should they rush to elect one of them to the board, when a white person of such recent acquaintance with the church would not be so chosen? It takes time to build the relationships of trust that are necessary for a deacon.

So: if a church has had a reasonable proportion of African-Americans for years who have been faithful and consistent (as deacons are normally expected to be) and for some reason none of them are ever elected to the board, that might indicate a problem for a board of deacons to consider, and perhaps for a pastor to address. But the kind of comment quoted here is guaranteed to intimidate churches that are just beginning that journey.

Lurking behind this comment is the old affirmative action quota system, where numbers of minorities in particular positions are counted, and if they don’t fit some preconceived (but sometimes unannounced) standard, the entire enterprise is declared deficient.

A church with African-Americans leading worship, taking care of and educating kids, and keeping up the place, had better be about the business of making sure everyone is up to snuff on understanding the nature of the body of Christ. Such a church should not feel inadequate if no African-Americans happen to be deacons or pastors, though if there is any reasonable proportion of African-Americans in the church, it’s reasonable to expect it to be just a matter of time… though it may be quite some time, depending on the situation. And that simply has to be OK with all concerned.

hat tip: Enharmonic

Tags: ,

Jun 08 2008

Invisible Link

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 10:35 pm

Today I sat in church with my 10 yr old daughter. Her mom is usually playing the piano, and so my daughter often sits between her grandmother and me. That way, we can both hear her sing. I don’t think the small vocalist knows that we sometimes just listen to her. She probably just thinks we’re tired by the second verse, if she thinks about it at all. Sometimes grandma and I make eye contact. We both know what we’re doing. We don’t talk about it.

Now, not to knock the sermon today; it was great, on Psalm 42. But attention can drift. I expect somebody dozed off during the Gettysburg address, or while Paul was waxing eloquent about unknown Gods. Especially while Paul was going on about unidentified deities. So my mind can wander now and then.

But partway through, I noticed an odd looking purple pen in my daughter’s hand. I don’t know where she got it.

She took my arm, and prepared to write something on it. I thought, oh great, now I’m going to have ink on my arm… But Dads will do anything for love of a child, pretty much, so I let her write. She seemed to write a short word, but apparently the pen wasn’t working… No ink, I supposed, or it was dried up or something.

I shrugged to her, and returned my attention to the sermon. She was doing something beside me, but I wasn’t paying lots of attention… Kids get squirmy in church sometimes, and she wasn’t making noise. Then she tapped my arm, until I looked down. She had turned on a small light on the end of the funny looking pen, and was shining it on my arm, the miracle of “black light”. In kid-scrawl letters, my forearm said, all in lowercase, “dad”.


I know this is probably silly, but the moment took on a luminescent meaning for me. There we were, father and daughter, bonded in many different ways, each partly defining ourselves in terms of the other. She was naming me for what I was to her, and applying the label… But only she could read it. And she wanted me to see the label, too. It was our secretly acknowledged non-secret.

Being metaphorically minded, I could not help but reflect on the invisible bonds in our lives. These chains bind us as surely as titanium steel twisted cable, as unexpectedly powerful as light-weight carbon fiber-reinforced Kevlar. We can stretch our bindings. But they’re still there, drawing us together.

As a father, I have tremendous freedom of action, befitting the responsibility that is mine. There are a thousand ways to be a good father, and about a million ways to be a bad one. It may be odd to say, and it is not usually expressed this way, but I am also her servant, working for her and for the One who put her in my charge, for a little while. Perhaps it is good for servants to wear invisible identification.

Her yoke is easy.

Tags: ,