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Wednesday, August 30th, 2006
Vox Day recently quoted an article from WorldNetDaily that stated the following:
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has tossed out all sexual moral conduct codes at colleges, private and Christian schools, daycare centers and other facilities throughout his state, if the institutions have any students who get state assistance.
The governor yesterday signed a bill that would require all businesses and groups receiving state funding -- even if it's a state grant for a student -- to condone homosexuality, bisexuality and transsexuality.
There is no exception for faith-based organizations or business owners with sincerely held religious convictions, critics note.
No person in the State of California shall, on the basis of race, national origin, ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, color, or disability, be unlawfully denied full and equal access to the benefits of, or be unlawfully subjected to discrimination under, any program or activity that is conducted, operated, or administered by the state or by any state agency, is funded directly by the state, or receives any financial assistance from the state. Notwithstanding Section 11000, this section applies to the California State University.
"The gates of hell are prevailing against the church," Randy Thomasson, president of the Campaign for Children and Families, told WorldNetDaily. "It's because Christian colleges and churches have ignored the political process for so long. Now the political process, absent religious values, is coming back to assault the church."
11:23 am Pacific Standard Time
Thursday, August 24th, 2006
When it comes to conservative versus liberal arguments, I feel like I've been playing a game of chutes and ladders. Some principles I have held for a long time prove to be in conflict, and one wins out over another. Later, a yet deeper principle reverses the reversal.
This has happened a lot with my reading of Scripture. It is happening now with my reading of the ethical material in the Pauline Epistles. My experience here reminds me of a line that C.S. Lewis quoted from Immanuel Kant, that in matters of ethics, "Experience is the mother of illusion." We tend to take whatever environment we have been in lately as normative. We often do not know how unusual our environment is, given history.
Ethical discussion in Christian circles has undergone changes over the centuries of which many of us are not aware. Stephen Toulmin cowrote a work called The Abuse of Casuistry which talks about the move from casuistry, or a case method of dealing with ethical problems, to abstract moral reasoning. The case method is often very involved. It has been derided for its complexity. The fact that it becomes so abstruse is taken by many to be evidence that it is unethical. For when people get lost in the maze of questions, they can argue their way out of what would otherwise be a clear decision. Some, however, would argue that the fault is with those who reason wrong. That the method itself may be a better method than an abstract method.
The abstract method can also lead to unusual results. We may decide that the Bible has basic principles that we need to argue from. Then we have to ask how those principles are to be found. We may divide over whether we are to find these in General or Special Revelation. More curiously still, we may decide that they are latent in Special Revelation, and that Special Revelation is a sort of raw data that we can observe to create general laws.
When we get to the Pauline injunctions, there is a spectrum of approaches. One person may even apply the whole spectrum of approaches to different injunctions. Some will make everything Paul did normative. Others will make everything Paul commanded normative. Still others will say that some of what Paul commanded was cultural, but that there is usually a universal principle behind it that we must find a culturally relevant way to embody. Then others will say that Paul's ethics are all cultural and that he is just an example of how to apply the Gospel to a given culture.
What happens when a given issue comes up? If someone is arguing against applying a Pauline injunction that we now apply, they are probably labelled a liberal. If they argue for applying one we don't apply, they are labelled a legalist. (Our opponents are never conservatives!)
I read an interesting discussion at Madre's Missives on the wearing of hats by women during the service. Madre made quite a bit of sense to me in her treatment. This is an issue that is pretty dead in California. So dead that I would have assumed that the habit had passed out of fashion eighty years ago, rather than being a live habit still in some churches. This is where experience is the mother of illusion for me. This doesn't mean that I can conclude that women who do not wear hats are wrong in their decision. But it does mean that perhaps they want to weigh the texts rather than assume that the practice they've always seen is unquestionably right.
Certain treatments of the topic strike me as wrongheaded. When someone immediately attacks the very notion that this might be in force as legalistic, I have to wonder. Does the individual imagine that this is legalistic because no injunction about anything material can be pertinent? Whatever our answer, we should not be arguing in such a way that those whose consciences were tender on this issue in Corinth were denying the Gospel by being careful in their following of Saint Paul's commands. No. This could be legalistic on the grounds of making absolute for our culture what was only true of a very different culture. Declaring true for all time what was only true in a given time. But that argument must be made persuasively before we can decide whether the following of the command is legalistic in our own time.
If the outward appearance is an expression of deep convictions about Creation, then what are those convictions? They have to do with authority. This is a matter that may be even more off our culture's radar screen than even the wearing of hats. If we dismiss the wearing of hats as merely one relative cultural expression of this reality, then what will we replace it with? What if we decided to show even more deference in our time than in previous ones? What are some culturally relevant expressions of authority? If our own society is levelled out too much, should we reach into the mythic or the legendary to express this?
The person out there that I most want to refute is the person who is convinced that everything is as it should be and nobody should even be questioning anything to see if it should be changed. I respect people to both the right of me and the left of me when they don't hold that notion. But people who have achieved what they think is a comfortable status quo bother me, especially if feel that they need not be able to provide any rationale for why they do things as they do them. The wrong responses to a question of women and their hats can be either "What? Hats? You'd think it was the 1920's the way he's talking" or "I thought he was Lutheran. To think that that is even an open question for him! Well, those California churches aren't really part of OUR church."
I'm also not persuaded much by the chronological ideas. That we're either supposed to turn back the clock or speed it up. It may be that in some areas we need to return to past practice and in others continue to press for what is called progress.
9:30 pm Pacific Standard Time
Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006
I just read an online news article about a woman teacher of 54 years who was fired by First Baptist Church in Watertown City, NY. She was dismissed on account of the church's adopting a literalist reading of 1 Timothy about a woman holding authority over a man. The pastor noted that he thought she was competent to hold any other job, just not in church.
I found the article interesting. I found the reactions even more interesting. I worry more about readers having a framework for considering this than I do the church doing the right thing here. The mayor of the town responded by saying "If what's said in that letter reflects the councilman's views, those are disturbing remarks in this day and age," Graham said. "Maybe they wouldn't have been disturbing 500 years ago, but they are now." One reading of this would suggest that truth changes with the times. Another would be that we become more sensitive to some issues over time. I think the mayor himself left both readings wide open. Although the latter reading would not disturb me, the former would disturb me greatly.
[I was set straight on this story after posting. I thought the church had fired a teacher from the church school. I cannot find the original version of the story I read, which was different from the one I posted. I chose one where the link would be live for more than a day. The original story I read went under the headline "Baptist Church Fires Teacher for Being Female" similar to the titles here and here, and I took "teacher" to mean "school teacher." Even more information has come to light since I posted, however, as dpulliam at GetReligion notes. I'll leave my discussion below as-is, even if it doesn't exactly match the actual situation. It does match the original headline I read.]
I think this must have been a very hard experience for the woman teacher. I feel sorry for her. I want to state that right off. It would be one thing for a decision early on to have barred her from teaching at that church from the beginning of her teaching career. But to have the decision come at this late date means that even if she finds a new job, she must leave an institution that has been a home to her. Moves like this are traumatic.
But I respect the Baptist church's right to make this decision, assuming they are honoring contracts and agreements. Whether they are right or not about their rationale, I think their authority to make this decision should be recognized, at least in a legal sense. I think it is a mistake to look at a teaching position like this first of all as a generic job and seek to apply standards of fairness from the broader culture to them. No. Positions like this are created to inculcate the values of the institution in question. If we have a problem with their hiring policies, it just goes to show that we have problems with all their values. Why would we want them to be able to hire a teacher to promote those values? Further, if they don't want to hire a particular teacher to do so, it would seem that this was a good thing. If we feel disgust toward their values, we wouldn't want anyone teaching them. Who would invest energy into fighting for some teacher's right to teach at a Nazi school? If we abhor Nazism, it only makes sense to fight to close the school if we find its values disgusting. A kinder, gentler Nazism with fairer hiring practices does no good to anyone.
I fear that the average reader believes that such decisions need to be made on the basis of some kind of cosmic justice scale. And that our only method for resolving disputes as to what is right are democratic ones. So we as a great body of voters will vote in a set of standards as to what can and cannot be taught. There are good reasons to reject such an idea. As an aggregate of voters, we could easily vote in a series of rules that correspond to no value system that exists. If we voted issue-by-issue, there might be majorities on any number of issues that when put together fit the position of no one group. While the majority of the voters might agree with the vote on each issue, the overall philosophy being taught from would be an incomprehensible mess.
The reason voting is so big in our society is that it is a way of expressing the idea of government by consent of the governed. In decisions that we must make as an aggregate body, it makes some sense that we be able to move in a direction that the majority agree with. Otherwise there won't be support. Yet there are reasons not to make more decisions in the aggregate than necessary. Schooling is a case where decisions can be made on a more local or even a more individual level. This allows the governed to decide for themselves what they want. This is a greater power to the people. Most people, given the option, would probably rather make their own decisions for themselves than be tied to the aggregate decision. The chance to have a small percentage of a say in their neighbors' lives is not compensation for losing their own autonomy.
I would rather see schools run according to real philosophies, be they Catholic or Progressive, Protestant or Classical, Jewish or Avant-Garde. Allow the kids to learn the philosophies and then argue their cases with each other. Allow the strongest to win in the marketplace of ideas.
When this Baptist church is allowed to fire the woman teacher, it becomes clear to the public just what kind of school it is. Some parents will pull their children from the school, seeing that it is not the more moderate institution it had been over the years. Other parents from afar will enroll their students there seeing that it upholds standards long ago abandoned. Whoever is right, a certain amount of clarity enters into the situation.
I hope that some other church school similar to the one the woman left can make a home for her that makes her last years of teaching rewarding.
10:30 am Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
I am in love with Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. They're sung in Hebrew. The setting is modern, but modern in the classical tradition. By that I mean that there is a lot of melody, but the melody is freer, as you would find in Romanticism, rather than tighter, as in Baroque or Classical.
I heard the Chichester Psalms performed at Concordia University Irvine a few months ago. Tonight I found a link to St. John's College Choir in Cambridge, where they held an evensong service in which the Chichester Psalms were sung. This is worth hearing.
St. John's Choir Listen On-line
This hit me harder tonight because of where my mind has been for the last couple of days. I've been mulling just how thin our connection is with past ways of doing things. And I have the sense that some people in the church have as their goal the clearing out of the last vestiges of anything ancient. It isn't enough that their lives are corporate for 70 hours a week at their jobs. The one hour that is supposed to remind them that there is another reality has to match those hours as well.
I've been pondering Solomon and his proverbs. What proverbial wisdom is like in a culture. And tonight this took me back into King David's world.
12:36 am Pacific Standard Time
Monday, August 14th, 2006
Do the Constitution and Bylaws of your church state that the Scriptures and the Confessions are the ultimate norms of the congregation? They should. But even if they do, how do we ensure that this is so in practice? How do we avoid readings where whatever is not expressly forbidden in the Constitution and Bylaws is allowed?
Lutherans are averse to reading the Bible as in a lawcode fashion. That is the Zwinglian error. To take the Gospel as a new law. Yet being delivered from the Old Testament Law, we never manage to avoid all law. The trouble is, we always manage to give the most deference to the most lawcodish writing we have available. Especially when we're functioning in groups, since we use such documents for the resolution of disputes.
How often do we really see the Scriptures or the Confessions successfully argued against the Constitution and Bylaws of a congregation? I can imagine it happens occasionally. But I would venture to bet that it happens almost exclusively where Scripture has the explicit nature of specific commands to it, the disciplinary procedures of Matthew 18, for example. Many church constitutions likely have this passage pasted within them. SOME Scripture appears to be formulated to help us through conflict, and where we can identify it, we rightly defer to it. But we don't have a way to weigh other kinds of Scriptures against a Bylaw. Somehow this strikes me as off base.
What is the argument for having a Constitution and Bylaws other than Scripture? I think the answer would be that Scripture is not written for the purpose of dispute resolution. So we need a document which can resolve such disputes. And we need one that would hold up in court if we should, God forbid, fail to resolve our differences in the congregation.
Once we have admitted this, I think we have lost the farm. The very "weaknesses" of the Scriptures for use in what we do might be a sign that what we are doing is not what we ought to be doing. "We don't read the Scriptures as law, because we're not legalists" doesn't wash if we're quoting articles from the Constitution and Bylaws at each other.
"But you don't know what you're saying! How do we figure out how much money we can spend without a vote if we don't have a Constitution and Bylaws?"
Good question. It is a real question for which I don't have one definite answer. Yet I've seen it done. I remember house church situations from childhood where I never saw the kind of fights that exist in Lutheran circles. So I'm not going to be quick to think that our answer is the right one.
I think the fear is that we will end up in disputes and start trying to twist the Scriptures to come up with answers to questions they were not written to resolve. This might well happen. But to make them the real authority in our disputes at least honors them. If too many of our questions cannot be solved from Scripture, it makes me wonder if we aren't spending our time on things that it did not envision us doing.
The deeper question is, How come we have disputes? The short answer is, there are several reasons. Some have to do with doctrine, and some with faith, some with preference.
If we don't agree on doctrine, we will clearly have disputes. So our churches have believed in using confessions. Only those who confess the faith together should be in the same church together. A number of disputes don't happen because of this. I haven't heard of a Lutheran church where they had a live debate over whether or not to baptize infants. That matter is closed.
If we differ in amount of faith, we will have disputes related to risk. Some will trust God, and others money. It would be nice to be able to state this outright and in advance decide all disputes in the favor of faith. But these get tricky. What about a dispute between one advocating an effort to lure people in through a media campaign versus the one who does not. Does the first have faith that God will come through? Does the second object because of a preference for other means or because of a lack of faith? These kinds of questions really do come up. Some people seem to have a combination of more faith in supernatural help combined with less skepticism towards worldly methods. Pit one of those against a purist who also doesn't expect much intervention, and you can have both sides claiming to have purer faith. Ordinarily they won't say this outright. But in any case, we cannot always know in advance which party has more faith. So we do much of our arguing on other aspects of the question.
If we differ over preference, there is no reason to go to Scripture. Everyone has heard stories, whether real or apocryphal, of Lutheran congregations splitting over the color of the carpet. I have heard a first hand account of a congregation spending a half hour arguing the merits of Oreo cookies over Hydrox for coffee hour. (Don't worry. It was an old ALC congregation!) I have heard of a Presbyterian pastor who took to flipping a coin when the matter was trivial but where arguing it might get heated to no good end.
In any of our differences, the challenge is to come to consensus. If we all must move forward together, it is important that we agree. So somehow our policies should be formulated to bring us to agreement. There are many ways to do this. Some of them, like the coin toss, are arbitrary. (Oddly, arbitrary and arbitration share the same root. The word went from judging according to one's own discretion to judging capriciously.) So why don't we use the coin toss to resolve all disputes? If we all agreed to abide by the decisions, we would save ourselves much anger and conflict. The answer is that many questions really demand careful judgment. When the stakes are high, you need to make the best decision possible. So why not just allow the smartest person to make the decision? Because it is believed that there should be a discovery phase in decision-making. Arguments on both sides should be brought forth. And many minds working together are likely to avoid the pitfalls to which a single mind might fall prey.
I think we are weak in our thinking on how discovery should work. Our methods of decision making will often require that a gathering of people decide all monetary decisions down to a point where people are just meddling in affairs one person should have the autonomy to take care of. Yet then again the same methods can keep the voters unaware of what is being decided or how they fit into the decision-making process.
Worse yet, people take on leadership in the church, and think they can learn how things are supposed to function by watching how they do function. This perpetuates dysfunction. First we need to ask what it is that we are involved with. If the answer is "a parish council", we need to know how that relates to anything we read in Scripture. What authorizes us to create one of these? How does it relate to other things that God has clearly instituted? Nothing man-made should be allowed to lord it over something divinely instituted.
I would further suggest a piece of wisdom I learned from professor Os Guinness. He said that whenever you are unsure which way to go, you should probably lean against the prevailing direction in your culture. Our entire culture is becoming more and more corporate. This is the last time in history that churches should be adopting business models for how they operate. Even where we have choices open to us, we should choose against this direction. Why? Because corporate models streamline decisions. Streamlining is done to increase power. The corporate assumption is that power is good, and the more of it we have, the more good we can do. Biblical assumtions are quite different.
After the fall, the FIRST thing that was done was to limit human power. God took from man the tree of life, lest they should eat of it and live forever. Forever sinful. Forever unredeemed. Had God not done that, you cannot imagine the torture chambers man could have devised. Hell on earth would have been the result. You or I could have been born in a man-made oven, designed to punish a past ancestor who spoke out against a political party. The limitation of power was a mercy. When God became man, he himself entered into a humble station, and that did not hinder his ministry. "Streamlining" suggests that we currently have good intentions, and merely lack the power to do all the ministry we would otherwise do. This is a lie. As long as we believe it, we end up serving the beast we create to relieve us of our burdens. And congregation members get attacked when they won't care for the beast.
There have been other methods of decision making and dispute resolution. Some of them are even found in Scripture. The Book of Proverbs is one. In the Ancient Near East, rulers would resolve disputes by learning vast numbers of Proverbs. Proverbial wisdom was applied by the ruler hearing the case of the two factions, and then deciding which proverb best fit the situation.
"But that's so irrational! We can't decide our church business by a Proverb. That's almost as bad as deciding on the basis of a fortune cookie."
Really? I would question this. While we are not commanded to use Proverbs as a dispute resolution tool, I would be slow to fault them in the global manner I have expressed above. If Proverbs cannot be trusted, which promises that it can "give a young man knowledge and discretion," then we are in a bad state. (I personally have problems with certain specific Proverbs, which I suspect were applicable in their time and not now, especially with regard to the raising of children.) That doesn't run as deep, however, as tossing out the whole model. What would you think of a church that not only decided that certain Psalms were difficult to fit into worship, but had rejected singing altogether as silly, or was horrified at the very thought of singing in worship? In light of Christ we may have decided to "sing a new song", but that is a far cry from abolishing music. Likewise, if our world has softened over the centuries to where greater empathy is expected between parent and child, so that we ignore the advice of certain Proverbs, I don't think that dispenses with the idea of accumulating proverbial wisdom. If our level of trust in divine wisdom has sunk to that level, I don't see why we need waste our time in parish council meetings and voters assemblies.
Our trust in business models is superstitious. We haven't bothered to evaluate how tainted they are with anti-Biblical assumptions. They are the norms which must norm our evaluations of any Biblical models. The fact that the Proverbs are so far from being recognizable as dispute resolution tools should scare us a bit. We are so far from any Biblical model of operation that we can't see the Biblical tools as tools. We fail to see that if the tools given don't match the jobs we spend our time pursuing, then perhaps those jobs are themselves without value.
So what should we do? I doubt that any church COULD function by going onto an ancient model in the course of a week. When old forms are dropped, all the accumulated wisdom needed to make them function gets lost, too. I've watched Reformed friends re-institute robust discipline in their churches, only to see them fall into errors no church would make that had never stopped practicing such discipline. What they needed was some old grandparents who could say something like, "I'd let that one simmer a while before I got into the middle of it. Give the truth a bit longer to come out. I don't think you see that whole situation." The guys looked like they wanted to use their congregations as a laboratory to do something they read had been done in 1642 somewhere. But living people don't make good lab rats.
I may post later on what I think we could do. It involves spending some time "playing" with older methods. Not using them on the current live issues. But getting a sense of what they have to offer. If nothing else, this would challenge the current assumptions that today's corporate models are the only way to get things done.
1:36 pm Pacific Standard Time
Thursday, August 10th, 2006
| You scored as Luther. You are Martin Luther. You'll stick with the words of Scripture, and defend this with earthy expressions. You believe in an orthodox Christology. You believe that the bread and wine are the Body and Blood of Christ, but aren't too sure about where he goes after the meal, and so you don't accept reservation of the Blessed Sacrament or Eucharistic devotions.|
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1:29 pm Pacific Standard Time
Wednesday, August 9th, 2006
After hearing about the terror plots in Britain, my first inclination is to look back and see what the terrorists may have been attempting to commemorate.
August 10, 1990
The Arab League meeting in Cairo voted to join the United States in sending Arab forces to defend Saudi Arabia.
Hussein declares a "jihad" or holy war against the U.S. and Israel.
And looking for the above, I happened to run into the following:
August 10, 1948 English apologist C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter: 'We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good; if bad, because it works in us patience, humility, contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.'
Thank heaven for the good we have seen so far. And be thankful for those who followed their vocations in foiling what was foiled.
11:51 pm Pacific Standard Time