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Saturday, June 14

CHRISTIANS CAN BE ABUSED, THOUGH MUSLIMS CAN'T:

In "The Last Acceptable Prejudice", Charles Colson reviews Princeton University's revealing response to an exhibit it put up in a gallery in the Woodrow Wilson School of anti-Christian art. Titled "Ricanstructions" (the artist is apparently of Puerto Rican descent),

One piece depicts a torn image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Another features naked female torsos arranged in the shape of a cross. A third links together sacred Catholic devotional items under the title "Shackles of the AIDS Virus."

Catholic students protested to the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, Anne-Marie Slaughter, who admitted that the school would not have tolerated a similar assault on Islam. But instead of ordering the pictures taken down, she applied the two standard dodges of academics who want to apply one set of principles that contradict another set of principles they want to apply in other situations: she called a meeting where everyone could talk about it and then declared that the works had "educational value."

In other words, she used certain academic standards to justify violating community standards. Had the exhibit abused Islam in the way it abused Christianity, she would have used community standards (respect for others, etc.) to violate academic standards. (The two sets of standards are not easily reconcilable, of course, but we can be fairly sure the dean did not act as she did because she could not resolve the contradiction.)

The advantage of this is that the victim can't easily protest his mistreatment without looking bad. In this case, by asking the offensive exhibit to be removed - by doing what Muslims, or Jews, or Blacks, or almost any other group would have done in the same place - the Christians would seem to reject open discussion and educational freedom, to be afraid to take their faith into the arena, to let it be tested in conversation with others. Etc. The dean who lets Christianity be slandered when she would protect Islam appears, with her endorsement of dialogue and ringing insistence on "educational value," to be if anything rather courageous

It's a "win-win situation" for the dean and for those she represents. But not, of course, for any truly impartial public square at Princeton. Colson - who is a Baptist - concludes:

This is bigotry squared. Imagine, if you will, an exhibit that links together Islamic crescents and calls it the "Shackles of Terrorism," or a collage of pink triangles entitled "Shackles of Sin," or a Star of David interspersed with dollar signs named "Shackles of World Poverty." There is absolutely no chance you would see "art" like this at Princeton or anywhere else. But Christians are fair game. Historian Peter Viereck once said that "anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals."

If Princeton is serious about showing equal respect for all, Dean Slaughter should do one of two things: either apologize or explain why defaming Catholics is acceptable while an attack on anyone else is a conduct code violation.


The article includes a useful set of links to related articles, by the way.


4:35 PM


THE ALMOST GODLESS PARTY, AGAIN:

From the Catholic World News "Off the Record" blogsite, a revealing paragraph offered

In case you've ever wondered why Republican administrations seldom succeed in implementing the pro-family platform on which they were elected.

The blog also includes a useful analysis on one of those homosexual damage control stories we are now used to seeing in the mainstream press and the liberal Catholic press, in which the writers try very hard to hide the obvious. The blog begins (its quotations are marked with << and >>):

From a Rachel Zoll story:

<< Researchers have identified a pattern in the molestation crisis afflicting the Roman Catholic Church: most of the victims are older boys. >>

The cops knew it. Margaret Gallant knew it. Yet researchers have now "identified a pattern" in the self-congratulatory way of the astrophysicists who first noticed binary stars.

<< Noting this trend [!], some high-ranking Catholics have concluded that many abusive clergy are gay, and some church members have suggested purging the priesthood of homosexuals. But abuse experts say that's a simplistic approach that will not end the threat to children. >>

Well, as simplistic approaches go, I'd say it's one of the best. Moreover, even though most of us can do the arithmetic necessary to understand that getting rid men who like 14-year-olds will not eliminate the threat to five-year-olds, we're willing to accept it as a step in the right direction.


We all know very simple-minded people, who make very simple-minded suggestions, but I think that nevertheless we ought to question any use of "simplistic" in a newspaper or magazine article, because it so often signals the evasion of the obvious. (As here.) As Ronald Knox said somewhere, we may suspect simplicity in the minds of our opponents, when the simplicity really lies in the facts. If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck and swims like a duck and lays eggs like a duck and quacks like a duck, it often is a duck.

Or I said somewhere, calling something "simplistic" is often simplistic.


9:22 AM


BAD MAN:

A friend sent me this from the New York Times (he didn't give the reference):

In many areas along its long run, the Great Wall, China's most cherished landmark, is suffering, and the primary culprit is man.

He remarks:

Note that the word remains "man" when they're talking about evil.

This reminds me of a story I heard of a conservative Episcopal priest, forced to endure hours of instruction on "inclusive" language at a clergy retreat. The instructors, beamed upon by the bishop, stressed how language shapes thinking and how "gender stereotypes" and traditional generic language distort our understanding of men and women, and how they all had to go.

At the end of the day, this priest raised his hand and asked the bishop, "Does this mean that we can renounce Satan and all her works?" I am told all the clergy collapsed laughing, even the liberals.


9:05 AM


Friday, June 13

CONSIDERING SEXUAL HISTORY:

Writing to an unidentified English newspaper - I suspect the Church Times, the paper of the Church of England's establishment - our contributing editor Peter Toon bravely commented on its claim that a man's (or person's, this being the CofE) history of sexual immorality should not count against his (or her) being promoted.

He is referring to the case of Dr. Jeffrey John, an Anglo-Catholic theologian appointed by the Bishop of Oxford to be a suffragan bishop despite his having lived with a boyfriend for over twenty years. He is now, Bishop Harries claims, celibate. The Archbishop of Canterbury was quoted by one of the newspapers as saying he knew nothing about it, but no one I know there believed him. (I knew about it, and I am only an American with friends in England, so it is rather unlikely that Archbishop Williams didn't.)

Dr. John, by the way, may be celibate, but he still speaks for a reversal of the Christian moral tradition on the matter of homosexuality, to which the CofE still clings by a thread. (The statement their house of bishops agreed to some years ago permits the laity to form homosexual couples, but not the clergy.) In other words, whatever his background, Harries wants to give some of his people a bishop who views St. Paul would have condemned out of hand.

Peter writes:

Sir,

In your editorial of 13 June on the nomination of Jeffrey John to the bishopric of Reading, you write: "People might have questions about his earlier life, but sexual history is not usually something with which the Church concerns itself. Most couples now cohabit before marriage, and yet the Church does not consider marrying them confers some approval of thisü".

You are suggesting that it is not necessary or appropriate to consider the (publicly known) sexual history of one who is either to be ordained/consecrated or married in church. Perhaps in most cases with respect to marriage it is "not necessary"; but, in the former case of consecration to the episcopate it is "necessary". How a priest has behaved publicly and what he has taught in the Church certainly ought to be "something with which the Church concerns itself" in choosing a bishop.

Your argument may well fit into a modern church morality based on human rights and be the norm in some dioceses for the choosing of ordinands. However, the Church of yesterday had a different approach. One has only to look at canon law to see this. Not only was repentance of heart and mind looked for but also public penance was imposed for sins, offences & irregularities against God's law and Church law. Such penance included non-admission to Holy Communion and/or suspension or removal from an office of ordained ministry.

Fornication and adultery of any kind are still sins as far as God, the Bible and the Formularies of the Church are concerned. And they are still sins when committed by affable, attractive and gifted persons.

What is not considered in your editorial is this possibility - that for the eternal salvation & spiritual health of the person himself, as well as for the holiness, edification and good name of Church of God, he who has been a fornicator or an adulterer [or involved in a sexual partnership] while ordained, be not considered for any preferment, even if he has turned from that sin, sought forgiveness and has been through a period of penance.

Ordination or consecration is not a human right but a gift of the exalted Lord Christ to his Church for the edification and holiness of that Church, and it has always been the case that certain irregularities constitute the possibility of exclusion or expulsion from the sacred Ministry. In this day and age, it can surely be argued that for the true good of the Church of God and for the man's own spiritual and moral progress, a priest who has been in a homosexual partnership or an adulterous relationship or is divorced [and remarried] ought to be excluded from preferment to the office of bishop. He may be an excellent person in terms of gifts, abilities and energy but he has no right to preferment because of them. Let him in penitence excel in the presbyterate and therein reveal the mercy of God.


Peter, of course, will never be appointed to a bishopric. This is not the sort of thing one says.


12:58 PM


BIOETHICS UPDATE:

From this week's edition of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity's always useful "Weekly Update", some interesting news stories. For example (see the site for others):

- Belgium: All Hospitals "Must Permit Euthanasia" reports that Belgium's new government wants to require every hospital, even Catholic hospitals, to provide doctors who will kill patients who request it. (This illustrates the principle that whatever moral innovation a society allows, it will eventually, and often pretty darn soon, require.)

- Mom's Care Changes Baby's Genes for Better, Study Hints found that

The way a mother cares for her baby can determine how stressed out the child will be as an adult because her nurturing can permanently change the way the infant's genes operate, new studies on rats suggest. The studies, presented Sunday at a conference on the fetal and infant origins of adult disease, found that baby rats who were licked by their mothers a lot turned out to be less anxious and fearful as adults and produced lower levels of stress hormones than those who were groomed less. The scientists found that the mother's licking caused the baby's brain to crank up a gene involved in soothing the body in stressful situations.

I must say that, presuming that what works for rats works for humans, as a Christian I find it quite pleasing that God should have so designed us that love can change our bodies. It's like a present.

And:

- Canada: Woman Ruled to Be a Mother Despite Not Carrying Fetus reported that a Canadian couple were thrilled that a court ruled that she should be named on the birth certificate of her two-year-old son (a product of her own egg) even though she had another woman carry him to birth.

I do not know much about bioethics, but I always find this site and its weekly and monthly updates informative and helpful. You might also check the site for their upcoming conference, "Remaking Humanity?", to be held in Chicago next month.


12:46 PM


Thursday, June 12

LITTLE YAPPY DOG: GAY BISHOP, part 3

IN an interview with the Episcopal News Service that has to be read to be believed, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop-elect in the Episcopal Church (whose election will have to be ratified by General Convention this summer) says:

So this [election process] was a very much more exciting moment for me, and also dangerous, in that it was a very odd feeling sitting among your colleagues, laity and clergy, and knowing that they're voting on you. And wondering what that's going to be like if the answer is no. I would often go into St. Paul's Church where the election was going to occur and try to imagine what that would be like.

I woke up that morning and said my prayers, and from that moment until the results of the election were announced I felt incredibly calm and at peace with what was going to happen. I felt in God's care, and the love of people around me, and even had they chosen someone else to be their bishop, it was going to be okay.


Dangerous? This seems to me to drip with self-absorption. I cannot imagine St. Timothy saying such a thing, or Paul and Barnabas when selected by the Holy Spirit in Antioch to go on a mission. Others (e. g., Leon Podles) have written about a narcissistic quality in many male homosexuals. And then:

ENS: How is your family reacting to the news--and the attention?

ROBINSON: They have been so supportive. They have been on this journey with me for the last 10 years and they were just speechless and in tears and overjoyed. It's a special joy that we, and now our new son-in-law, share.

Just to put all this in perspective, so people don't think this [election to the episcopate] is the only important thing going on in my life: We're about to be grandfathers! Right in the very middle of General Convention, our older daughter Jamee [25] is expecting our first grandchild, and we are thrilled.

My former wife called me two days before the election to wish me well and that she hoped that I was the next bishop of New Hampshire, and she was one of the very first to call and congratulate me on my election.


Is it only me, or does this seem just a bit tacky for a bishop? For those who haven't been in on this story, Robinson was married, had two daughters, divorced his wife, and has taken up with a man. Apparently he and his "partner" considered themselves about to be "grandfathers."

And finally, in case you think I am unduly put off, read this, and tell me that you wish your bishop (or pastor) would talk like this:

ENS: How long have you felt called to the episcopate?

ROBINSON: About 10 years. God has been like a little yappy dog nipping at my heels about this, like the "hound of heaven."


Well, at least I can say that Robinson and I know very different Gods.


3:07 PM


THE LIFE OF JESUS AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY:

I've just returned from nine days in England. I will be sharing things I picked in the English newspapers as I make my way through the bag of clippings I brought home. (A bag stuffed to overflowing with newspaper clippings is something guaranteed to make the people at the security station look at you funny. The explanation "I'm a writer" seems to satisfy them, though.)

If you go to England, do go to the National Gallery and take the taped "Life of Christ" tour. You pick up a cd player and headphones at the desk just up the stairs from the front entrance, and it directs you to selected paintings around the museum - seventeen, I think - showing the life of our Lord. At each painting, you get an interesting commentary on the painting. (The museum does not ask for a set fee for the use of the sets, but only a contribution.)

A friend said that the commentator, Neil Macgregor, is a practicing Christian (a Catholic), and one would have suspected that anyway from the commentary itself. He explains at the beginning of the tour that these paintings were made not merely to be enjoyed but to demand of the viewer a response to the events they portray. After he describes how each painting works as a painting, he often finishes by asking the listener what sort of response he feels like making to the event he is seeing.

For example, one painting - I'm afraid I can't remember which one - shows the apostles arranged in an oval, but with the part of oval facing the viewer unoccupied. This has the effect, Macgregor said, and I realized he was right as I looked at the painting, of making the viewer want to move into the picture and fill the unoccupied space. The painting looks, viewed simply as an arrangement of forms, unbalanced, but as a religious work it encourages the viewer to balance the form himself. It asks the viewer to join the apostles.

I thought Macgregor's way of speaking of the paintings "jolly clever," to borrow a phrase from my English friends. He said nothing the least bit propagandistic or preachy, nothing to make the secular viewer feel got at. But simply by looking at the paintings as their creators meant for them to be looked at, and then asking of the modern viewer the painters' questions, he helps secular viewers - the spiritually open or sensitive ones, at least - to understand more deeply and face more seriously the Christian story.

By the way, an advantage of the cd-players and headsets is that you can get a commentary on most of the paintings in the museum. You just punch in the painting's number. The commentaries I listened to were always helpful and helped me see things in the paintings I would not have seen on my own.


12:00 PM


SUMMER BLOGGING:

A note to our faithful readers: during the summer, you will see fewer blogs than you have seen in the last eight or nine months since "Mere Comments" really got up and running. It being summer, most of us will be away now and then. We should post at least one a day, but there may be times when everyone is away and no one posts anything for a few days. Please just keep checking.


11:58 AM


EVEN GLORIA STEINEM?

The Beverly La Haye Institute's latest posting notes the increasing evidence (is it really needed?) that women and children suffer much more abuse when they live outside of a traditional family context. Of course this is not the message of popular culture:

"Love em and leave 'em" the old saying goes. The new power women of the 90's -- from 'Charlie's Angels' to the working women of HBO's 'Sex in the City' -- jump in and out of bed with the hot man of the moment, no strings attached, before proceeding to conquer the world. Women like Rachel, the independent single mom, on the popular sitcom 'Friends,' choose not to marry the father, but rather strive to prove they can make it on their own. According to the typical script, they all live happy, secure lives without having to commit or depend on a man. Indeed, a popular prime time refrain is "Who needs a man?"

ü According to a study conducted by the Heritage Foundation in 2002, marriage offers the best protection against violence toward women and children.

* Mothers who have never been married experience domestic violence at more than twice the rate of mothers who have been or currently are married.

* Never-married mothers also suffer from violent crime at three times the rate of mothers who have ever been married.

* When a mother cohabitates, a child is 33 times more likely to experience serious abuse and 73 times more likely to suffer fatal abuse than a child with married parents.

* A Heritage Foundation study in 1997 found that due to the disintegration of the family and community, about 2,000 of America's infants and young children -- 6 per day -- die each year.

This is reality.


Janice Crouse, senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute of Concerned Women for America, notes, "The argument that pushing women toward marriage could lead to violence collapses under the research. While there are horrible and lamentable exceptions that must be addressed, the research is unequivocal, marriage is the safest place for women and children."

As social scientists and government agencies continue to study societal ills, they will only increasingly find that the very thing routinely portrayed in popular culture (and in most of the academy) as dangerous and oppressive toward women-Christianity in its traditional "patriarchal" form-is where women in fact are the safest.

The article concludes:

Feminists and the Hollywood media portray women who want marriage and a family as having what they call a "patriarchal sexist mentality." However, real "girl power" goes far beyond the delusional game of serial sex and self-indulgent "liberation."

Even feminist Gloria Steinem, who married for the first time after age 60, discovered "being married is like having somebody permanently in your corner, it feels limitless, not limited."


Even Gloria Steinem? Well, life is full of surprises. Let's hope one of the next ones will be a general realization that the sexual revolution was really subversion and that it's time to repudiate it widely.


11:38 AM


Tuesday, June 10

CROSSING THE THRESHOLD: GAY BISHOP, part 2

In the wake of the story referred to in yesterday's blog, The Episcopal News Service reports, there have been many reactions to the election of a gay bishop in New Hampshire, pro and con, as one would expect in a church divided over the issue of homosexuality. A couple of pro comments:

"Canon Robinson is a fine priest and, we believe, will make a fine bishop," said the Rev. Michael Hopkins, president of the lesbian and gay affinity group Integrity, in a statement released by email shortly after the news of Robinson's election broke. "We do not believe it was primarily about sexuality. Nevertheless, we rejoice that this threshold--the election of an honest and open gay person living in a committed relationship--has been crossed. The emphasis should be on the words 'honest and open.' Canon Robinson will certainly not be the Church's first gay bishop.

"We regret that this election is the source of pain and controversy to some in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion," the statement continued, but it called on the leadership of General Convention to "enable a fair process for the confirmation hearings and votes in the two Houses of the Convention."

üFrom the opposite coast, the first to welcome Robinson's election was the first openly gay priest elected dean of an Episcopal cathedral. The Rev. Robert Taylor of St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle called it "a Holy Spirit moment."


Note how a "threshold has been crossed." There is a word for that, of course, is an old word you don't hear much in some churches: transgression. When what one side calls a transgression is called by the other side the work of the Holy Spirit, it would seem that a conflict of a major scale in on the way. That is, if people really mean what they say. I don't see how those two positions can exist side by side. Maybe someone else can, but I would bet his name wouldn't be St. Paul or St. John the Apostle.


3:56 PM


Monday, June 9

THE (GAY) BISHOP AS NEIGHBOR

Someone might say of this story from the Episcopal News Service, "So what else is new?" Yet this is a (another) first for the Episcopal Church USA:

(ENS)The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, canon to the ordinary for the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire since 1988, was elected bishop coadjutor on the second ballot in an election held June 7 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Concord, New Hampshire. Robinson is the first openly gay man in the Episcopal Church to be elected as a bishop.

A bishop coadjutor is consecrated to become the next bishop of a diocese upon the retirement of the diocesan bishop, and assists the diocesan bishop until retirement.

... Robinson described accepting Christ "as my personal Lord and Savior" at the age of 12 in a Disciples of Christ congregation in rural Kentucky. He became an Episcopalian while in college, was ordained in 1973, and served his first parish in Ridgewood, New Jersey. In 1975, he and his wife left the parish for New Hampshire.

It was in New Hampshire, Robinson said, that he "answered God's call to acknowledge myself as a gay man. My wife and I, in order to KEEP our wedding vow to 'honor [each other] in the Name of God,' made the decision to let each other go. We returned to church, where our marriage had begun, and in the context of the eucharist, released each other from our wedding vows, asked each other's forgiveness, cried a lot, pledged ourselves to the joint raising of our children, and shared the Body and Blood of Christ.

"Risking the loss of my children and the exercise of my ordained ministry in the Church was the biggest risk I've ever taken, but it left me with two unshakable things: my integrity and my God," he continued. "It won the hearts of my daughters, whom I feared losing, and, later, the love of a wonderful partner, with whom I've made a home for the past 13 years." The father of two grown daughters, Jamee and Ella, Robinson lives with his partner Mark Andrew outside Concord, New Hampshire.

Asked to describe three "contemporary saints," Robinson cited a local priest, the Rev. Carl Schaller; Bishop Barbara Harris, the first woman elected bishop in the Anglican Communion; and public television's Mister Rogers: "'Won't you be my neighbor?' Not a bad role model for a bishop!"

Robinson identified three questions as indicators of key trends in the life of the Episcopal Church: "Can we live together while we fight? Will our faith have children? Are we a people in community, or is it 'us' versus 'them?'"

Answering the last question, Robinson wrote, "There is no room for 'them' and 'us' in the Church, because in God's economy, there is NO 'them.' A bishop ought not only to preach that message, but with God's help, to embody it in his or her ministry."

The ECUSA General Convention must consent, however, to the election of this bishop. I have no idea whether it will sail through convention or be resisted, even successfully blocked. I wouldn't bet on the latter. The convention meets in Minneapolis in July.

Can Christians fight and still "live together?" Well, yes, sometimes. But not when it involves denying the faith. Why couldn't Arius and Athanasius just get along? Perhaps because they didn't have a gay bishop who could get along with everybody and everything (except orthodoxy).

Meaning no disrespect for those bishops who may still view their ministry as somehow related to handing down what was received from the apostles, I pose the question: if this is the sort of bishop the Episcopal Church prefers, might it not be wise to change its name? The Neighborly Church? Replace the purple shirt with a purple cardigan, the crozier with a walking stick? Poor Episcopalians. But those in New Hampshire elected him on the second ballot.


8:13 AM


Sunday, June 8

CHRIST THE ENTERTAINER:

Americans want bread and circuses. The church is part of the circus.

One of the banes of the Post-Vatican II Catholic Mass is the mass as entertainment and the priest as MC. Americans consider Las Vegas to be the summit of culture, and insofar as an event resembles an Las Vegas night club act, it is not boring. Folk groups stand up and sing folk songs that not one of the folk has ever heard before. Priests try to outdo themselves ² long time readers may remember my blog on the basketball dribbling priest in Lake Placid.

Protestants go even more astray. The Naples Daily News reports on a Convention of church entertainment experts:

It's not exactly a thunderbolt from the heavens, but high-tech wizardry that can match it in sight and sound is changing how the faithful worship the Almighty at many churches.
Giant video screens, cameras, pyrotechnics, high-tech lighting and digital sound systems are becoming almost as common as baptismals. The technical capabilities at some churches border on the amazing...


Horizon Community Church, which meets at Cincinnati County Day High School, uses technology to create a service "almost like a dramatic production," said operations manager John Kirby.
"Thirty years ago, the pastor would have said, 'Can you picture being on a mountaintop?'" Kirby said. "Today, it's very economical to use a (video) clip to take you to a mountaintop."


Lest anyone possibly think I am just being a grump, I think there is a place for Christian entertainment. St. Charles Borromeo invented the oratorio to bring the Christian message to the concert hall, using all the effects of grand opera. A few months ago a Christian group from the Philippines brought fire and sword dancing to Florida ² now there's entertainment, not some silly nun prancing around in leotards. But worship and entertainment are distinct, and both Catholics and Protestants frequently forget that the focus of worship is God, and He does not need to be entertained ² He has the spectacle of human folly to contemplate should He ever feel the need for amusement.


3:29 PM


STATUA VAGANS:

Catholics have, among their curious practices, the practice of the Pilgrim Statue. A parish will have a statue of Our Lady of Fatima which goes from house to house. Neighbors will gather in the house for prayer in front of the statue. This custom leads to notices in church bulletins, such as the one in the bulletin of my Florida parish, St William's in Naples:

HAVE YOU SEEN OUR LADY OF FATIMA STATUE?

The statue of our Lady of Fatima which travels from home to home within our parish is missing. If you have any information regarding the whereabouts of this statue, please; call the coordinator
.


3:08 PM




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