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Saturday, November 29


I will add to Mr. Gustafson’s reply to my Same Battle, Same Decisions, this one from Rick Fisher, and respond to them together.

It is impossible to disagree with Mr. Hutchens' attack on the conservatives in the Episcopal church. We are guilty, and we have much to confess and repent. That was made very clear at the Dallas meeting in November. What Mr. Hutchens fails to note or maybe even know is that most of the leadership of the Episcopal church, even the conservative leadership, has hidden the progress of the anti-scripture, anti-Christian movement from the people in the pews. Because of the way the Episcopal church is structured, its overriding clericalism, its leadership can hide facts from those who support them financially. The few of us little people who did come to see what was happening and spoke up were ignored, marginalized or more or less politely asked to leave. The revisionist leaders have allowed Christianity to exist in small pockets in their churches, so long as it has not delayed the progress; we were (and to a great extent still are) looked on as eccentric pets who will die off soon enough but, in the meantime, pay them the money that they want. The conservative leadership wanted to avoid "politics" and unseemly fights in the church. Thyatira and Laodicea.

It is bad. And the fact that some of us whine about it makes it no less bad. It is a good thing, however, that the revisionist left is not as skilled at attacking us, the whining Christians left in the Episcopal church, as is Mr. Hutchens. Many of us are going to leave the Episcopal church, individualy and congregations, once we have a clear sense of where we are to go. Mr. Hutchens' comments are most helpful in our considering where not to go.

I cannot respond to these excellent letters without saying something about my own background and experience. First, to Mr. Fisher’s: When I came into the Episcopal Church from a lifetime of experience in congregationally governed churches, one of the shocks was finding the conditions just as he describes them. The priests seemed to be regarded, by and large, as professionals who were responsible for administering religion to their people and taking care of church matters, just as physicians were expected to see to their bodies, stockbrokers were to attend to their portfolios, and lawyers to look out for their legal concerns. The people were for the most part busy professionals who were willing to be led and instructed in matters of religion by those they paid to do the job, provided it wasn’t too great a drain on their time, most of which was occupied with (and here is, I believe, the center of the Episcopal church’s downfall) more important things. The pastors were assumed competent in their field unless there were clear indications to the contrary, and remarkably passive congregations left religion to the priest and those in their number who had the time and interest to pursue it as a kind of hobby.

This means that it was fairly easy for the clergy to smooth things over, explain things away, and hide a great deal of rot and filth from their congregations. I thought that when the Episcopal Church began to ordain women it would serve as an alarum to many of these people—it should have been enough of a shock to the collective system to make a passive laity see that, given the completely ahistorical character of the innovation, something was very, very wrong on the upper levels of their church. But it didn’t. The obfuscations of the church leadership—hard to see through without time-consuming intellectual labor—combined with the distaste of the ruling class for the noise, crudity, and general unpleasantness of religious conflict, and the expectation that it wouldn’t bother the local congregation too much, combined to keep alarm well below the necessary threshold for decisive, meaninful action.

So yes, conservative Episcopalians must now in the face of this final outrage confront the fact that they have been deceived by their priests and bishops. But it couldn’t have been done where the laity really cared. Mr. Fisher and those like him find themselves in a church where the numbers of those who are like him simply aren’t large enough to save it when it goes into crisis.

Now, Mr. Gustafson: Yes, indeed, your letter to the bishop was the one to which I was referring. I am surprised that such a long one was written with no expectation of reply. As an exercise, perhaps, in shaking the dust off one’s feet? And yes, you are not who I imagined you to be.

Our backgrounds are similar, and we can’t really go back again, can we? We tried at least once, when Grandpa died. The pastor who succeeded him in the last church he planted made it quite clear he didn’t want him buried from there because the funeral was to be directed by my "neo-Evangelical" brother, obviously a defilement to the sanctuary. I have made a great deal of the fundamentalists’ courage—a courage that arises from love—among Christians who seem to me deficient in that virtue, and apt to look down on fundamentalists. But the fundamentalists, courageous as they were, were also ignorant, belligerent, uncultured, and possessed of a ridiculous soteriology that un-Christianed ninety-five percent of the Church, including most of those they considered heroes of the faith. True enough, they do Shakespeare at Bob Jones, and have a fine art gallery, but there are good reasons why people familiar with fundamentalism find this surprising.

Entering a conservative Episcopal Church, with its beautiful liturgy, prayers, and music, its lovely architecture and adornments, its educated, cultured clergy, its lengthy lections from scripture, and if this weren’t enough, fine preaching as well, was something like entering heaven. I didn’t care how much courage its orthodox members had—until it became clear that courage, a great deal of it, was necessary to save the best of all these goods, and that in payment for the freedom to do what was right, the properties would have to be given up. Corruptio optimi pessima.

Where to go? Out of communion. Isn’t this clear by now?. Where to? This is not a question that will be resolved until the decision to leave is, then it will and must be. We are not to “forsake the gathering,” so must go somewhere, perhaps to some place to wait and learn what must be known before the next large step is taken. Some of my friends have become Catholic, some Orthodox. I doubt if I could ever do this. My family attends one of the last Evangelical churches in our area that has resisted the terrible urge to become a repulsive circus in the name of “seeker friendliness.” It’s not beautiful, but there is good, plain fare here, and the best of people, and we are grateful for it. When the plant dies, not all scattered seed lands upon the same ground, but one thing is certain—it cannot stay with the dead plant.

11:57 PM


The subject of Steven Hutchens' "Same battle, same decisions" writes in response:

Dear Dr. Hutchens,

In your comment entitled "Same Battle, Same Decisions", you refer to my correspondence with my Episcopalian bishop (i.e., my long and "much-annotated" complaint, and his short and "dismissive" reply). You ask two questions that I would like to answer:

First, you ask, "What, indeed, had this layman expected?" That's easy. I expected no reply at all. I was mildly surprised that he gave me as much as three sentences. I still don't suppose that he actually read my letter.

Second, you ask, " Where had this ‘faithful Episcopalian’ been for the last forty years"? In fact, for most of that time I have been keeping company (so to speak) with your Fundamentalist grandfather. (I still visit with him from time to time, and he asked me to tell you to come by more often.)

I grew up literally on the campus of Bob Jones University, where my parents were on the faculty (and where they still live in retirement), so I imbibed separatist fundamentalism with my mother's milk. There, the Modernist controversy is not an historical artifact but is an ongoing battle, and growing up there I probably heard as many sermons on the Epistle of Jude as on the Golden Rule.

I graduated from college and moved away from BJU, but I brought much of it with me. For 14 years, until 1998, I was an elder in a Bible Church here in northern Virginia. However, notwithstanding my abiding loyalty to the Christian fundamentals, and my continuing respect for Fundamentalism's defense thereof (which if not always effective is always faithful), I found that Fundamentalism's distance from the historic continuity of the Christian experience was too great. I have long had an affinity for Episcopalian worship, but have never been able to stomach ECUSA liberalism.

In 1998, though, when the Anglican Communion affirmed Christian orthodoxy at the Lambeth Conference, that made me able, I felt, to join a very conservative, evangelical Episcopal parish in my neighborhood. The decision to submit to being formally "received" into the Episcopal Church was a difficult one, but was made easier by the fact that the particular bishop who received me is himself orthodox. Thus, I am a close witness to only the latest stages of the ECUSA's long slide into apostasy.

I think it is safe to say that I am not who you thought I was, but that the concern you addressed--i.e., that conservative Episcopalians should have known better, and that they have yet to show a real purpose to act in accordance with their anti-liberal rhetoric--is a lively concern. I, too, don't quite understand how the orthodox Episcopalians I know could have put up for so long with the horrors that have become commonplace in the ECUSA; and I, too, wonder whether they will really have the willingness to leave all (if one must) and follow Christ. I pray they will.

(If I understand you correctly, you also say that today's conservative Episcopalians have tended to "look down upon [the earlier-departed "continuing Anglicans"] as though their consistency was the result of impulsiveness or some other deficiency. I assume that what you say is true. For what it's worth, though, I have never seen that at my particular parish, where, for instance, the AMiA is spoken of respectfully.)

Having answered your two questions, and having essentially endorsed your main point (I think), may I ask you a question? — What SHOULD one do NOW, in response to his bishop's apostasy? You seem to be saying that Episcopalians should HAVE done things already (like speak up 40 years ago? or leave the ECUSA earlier?), and I guess you're entitled to indulge in a certain measure of "I told you so".

But when that is over, don't you really mean to offer encouragement and support to those who, however belatedly, are in the "same battle" as, and must make the "same decisions" as, your Fundamentalist grandfather? Whatever they did before, orthodox Episcopalians ought to do the right thing now, and ought to be encouraged in their attempts to discern what that is and to do it. Jesus welcomes onto His crew even those who come late in the day; and those who have been working since early morning face the challenge of welcoming them graciously onto the team. (Matt. 20:6-16.)

Of course a layman's letter to his bishop is, humanly speaking, unlikely to have any effect. But sometimes it is our duty to speak (or write) the truth, "whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear" (Ezek. 2:5-7). We admonish the heretic with two warnings (Titus 3:10), even if we think that, humanly speaking, there is no chance that he will take the admonition. Who knows? — it's out of our hands, and maybe God will do a miracle. And if not, if the heretic rejects our warning, then our words will testify against him at the last day.

6:21 PM


It occurs that one point Cynthia Ozick is making in the article quoted in "Updike's God", which I posted yesterday, is that sex is John Updike's way of overcoming Protestantism.

I would think that other Protestants would argue in contrast — as would Catholics — that the godly life is the truly erotic life, the life that brings true union with God and man.

Sex is one of the ways union is achieved, with one other person of the opposite sex, which in turn creates varying, and less intense, forms of union with others: first the children conceived and then all those with whom being a father or mother brings a new relationship. The union created with one other person is both a reality and a parable or anticipation of the union to be achieved with God and man in the next life.

I haven't read Updike in years and can't judge the accuracy of Ozick's reading. When I did read him, I remember often thinking that his characters were much more interesting when they were not in bed.

12:14 PM


The article mentioned in the following blog has the line:

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, is a practicing Catholic who says he and his wife, ketchup heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry, "debate and struggle" with some of their feelings about public policy versus the teachings of the church.

This seems to me a revealing turn of phrase: Kerry feels, the Church teaches.

The article includes another interesting line, interesting for another reason:

Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, both longshots for the Democratic presidential nomination, list their religion as Catholic, although both are divorced, favor abortion rights and support opening marriage to same-sex couples.

That Braun and Kucinich are bad Catholics is not the interesting part. That we expected. What is interesting to me is the dynamics of national politics: here we have two obvious losers, neither a particularly successful politician and neither having any particular appeal to anyone likely to vote, and every news story on the election pays attention to them.

Now, why? What makes them worth the attention, when they have no more chance of winning the Democratic nomination than my daughter's guinea pig? And when they have nothing more intelligent to say than my daughter's guinea pig?

12:04 PM


A friend sent me a Reuters story from November 26th titled “Democrats Seek Winning Mix of Faith, Politics,” written by a Patricia Wilson. He didn’t send the link and life being short I wasn’t going to look for it.

In the article, Howard Dean says:

”I’m comfortable talking about my faith but I don't bring it up unless I'm asked,” Dean said during a recent conversation aboard his chartered campaign jet. "My religion does not inform my public policy, but it does inform my values.”

Which means his values do not inform his public policy. How cheering.

11:57 AM

Friday, November 28


For the literary among you, an interesting article by the Jewish writer Cynthia Ozick on John Updike's "'The Early Stories': Prodigious Updike" from next Sunday's New York Times Book Review. She explains him as a religious writer:

The themes that absorb him above all others are eros and God; or the mysteries of women and death. . . .

His is not a social faith. . . . This singleness, this historyless aloneness, turns up in the essayistic apercus and musings and final exhalations that thread through both plot and plotlessness, alongside the daily vernacular, between, so to speak, the acts. . . .

Among contemporary fiction writers, Updike is the most rootedly American (though of German, not WASP, stock), and the most self-consciously Protestant: the individual in singular engagement with God. The Protestant idea of God, which nurtured and shaped America (at least until Sept. 11, 2001), is the narrowed Lord of persons, not of hosts; he is not conspicuously the Lord of history. This may be the reason the Nobel literary committee, afloat on the turbulent waves of vast historical grievances, has so far overlooked Updike. . . .

It may be that the absence of a brooding and burdensome history in these stories accounts for the luxuriance of their lyrical andantes. Here are lives essentially tranquil, unharried by turmoil and threat beyond the extrusions of plaintively aspiring passions. There may be local and topical distractions, but by and large Updike's scenes and characters express a propitious America, mottled only by metaphysical ruminations.

If, as Adorno tells us, there can be no poetry after Auschwitz, possibly the converse is true: poetry belongs to the trustful calm that is the negation of Auschwitz -- and that, at its bountiful heart, is Updike's witty and incandescent America.

9:12 PM


A reader responds to this morning's "Punctuation Explained" (below):

I haven't read the book and it probably tells the joke:

Panda goes into a bar, orders a sandwich, pulls out a six-shooter, peppers the shelf of bottles and the mirror behind the bar, and walks out. Bartender non-plussed, panda tells him to "look it up." Encyclopedia conveniently stowed under the bar, says

"Panda--bearlike mammal from Asia, eats shoots and leaves."

Don't know if the book makes the point, but this is the apex example demonstrating the impossibility of translating some parts of the oral culture into the written. Once punctuated, the joke dies. Unpunctuated, cheating to protect the joke.

Too, too good.

And of course I agree with your larger point. As I noticed with the Clueless Rector [see "Loosey-goosey vs. logical], some levels of precision and attention have to be outlawed for the outlaws to erode truth. If citizens could recognize the context for and use a semicolon, they could probably identify a hierarchy of ideas and cause-and-effect.

Another campaigner in this vein is Edward Tufte on visual information and lying with graphs of statistics.

8:48 PM


From time to time someone sends me, or I happen upon, a piquant comment or well-turned phrase that really does need to be shared. Here is a first installment.

From James Hitchcock:

For some people uttering strong words in public relieves them of the obligation to act. . . . . For many people taking a principled stand against change is something that in the end they cannot sustain psychologically.

4:13 PM


Let me take the reader to the study of a small Midwestern Baptist parsonage in the early 1930’s. A denominational official is talking to the minister, a promising young family man, not too long out of seminary. What became known as the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy in American Protestantism is in full swing, and sides are being chosen. The official is one of the modernists, and he is on a power-consolidation tour, determining who is on which side, making plans and promises. He tells the young pastor that he is known on high levels, and that important men are interested in him. He is virtually assured of receiving the pulpit of a large church in Chicago (for this is in their gift) if he “plays along.” It is the beginning of the Great Depression, and the minister is poor. The offer is tempting. But the official is shown to the door and firmly told that there will be no playing along, because his cause is evil.

Harry Emerson Fosdick’s fear that the fundamentalists might win was not realized in that denomination. The fundamentalists lost, as they eventually did in every mainline Protestant group, and those who were cast aside when they did, our young pastor among them, cut loose from the denominational name, history, and money, had to make their way as best they could. He grew old in the pastorate, but never really “made it,” professionally speaking. Spending his life planting fundamentalist churches (i.e., churches that believe in the “fundamentals” of the Christian faith”), he died soon after his last congregation reached viability, much beloved of many people, and with a life savings of about five thousand dollars.

This man was my grandfather, Lee Arnold Clinton, and whatever theological disagreements we might have with one another—for he was a Baptist, and I am not—they look small before our mutual allegiance to God in Christ as expressed in those “fundamentals of the faith,” that is, the Articles of the Creed: mere Christianity. Most of us would no doubt regard his courage and willingness to take the lower place for Christ’s sake exemplary, but in another sense, it should be understood as the only thing a Christian could have done.

A true martyr is not someone who puts himself in the way of persecution, but who behaves as a Christian in the face of an intractable choice between truth and a lie. Pastor Clinton knew well enough that the challenge to “play along” with theological liberals was the challenge to accept false doctrine into the church. He was an intelligent man, and knew what they affirmed and what they denied. He understood that their alleged improvements were, as they are and remain in our own day, deformations, perversions, of the Christian faith, and that no good at all could come from maintaining communion with them, or the attempt to deceive oneself into thinking that the religion they espoused was Christianity.

Memories of my grandfather washed over me with great power when I received from a friend a copy of a long letter from a conservative Episcopalian layman to his liberal bishop, complaining in much-annotated detail about the bishop’s defection from his responsibility to uphold Christian faith and morals in his approval of the consecration of the openly homosexual bishop of New Hampshire. The bishop’s reply, which also was attached, was a very brief expression of regret that he felt this way.

What, indeed, had this layman expected? Had I been the bishop, I would have responded with the same dismissive brevity, thinking, “Here's a guy explaining at some length and asperity why his religion doesn't agree with mine as though I were under some obligation to renounce what is obvious to any intelligent person and regress with him to the Dark Ages. Does he expect me to pluck at every thread in this tissue of nonsense? I've got better things to do.”

”And,” my liberal episcopal self might have thought, “ Where had this ‘faithful Episcopalian’ been for the last forty years while we carefully and publicly laid the foundations and carried through the programs for all the things that just seemed to have dawned on him as objectionable? Hasn't he been watching and listening? What’s all the palaver about? Why bother with him now?”

Watching the antics of conservatives in the Episcopal Church, of which this letter is another example, has given me more sympathy for its liberals than I once thought possible, for although the liberals have purchased a lie, they at least have the clarity to treat it as though it were the truth. Among the conservatives, however, I have never seen such contortions of evasion, self-deception, temporizing, cowardice, party spirit, special pleadings, murky thinking, and flight from the aye that is aye and the nay that is nay. What was clear to my grandfather eighty years ago, a thorn in the foot a young Baptist minister had out with no more than a few minutes’ deliberation, has taken Episcopalians with the same essential beliefs two generations of agony to decide upon, and they still haven’t made up their minds on whether they should have it out or leave it in.

They speak in their publications as though they were faced with the intractable choice between truth and a lie, but do not act as though this were the case, and in this disjunction between their own analysis and inaction not only justify those whose beliefs and actions have been appropriate to one another, but condemn their own tendency to look down upon such people as though their consistency was the result of impulsiveness or some other deficiency.

But let us give them credit for this much understanding behind their fears—for the intuition that the end of those who actually carry through will in all likelihood be something like the life of Lee Clinton (or Father Abraham), a true pilgrimage requiring true faith, a departure from a settled and familiar land, from the devil’s promise of a large pulpit in Chicago, to a land that shall not be shown them until they actually enter it.

3:35 PM


An article from Albert Mohler's daily column, addressing the new movement for upscale strip joints: "Moral Degeneracy Goes Mainstream: New Evidence". He reports on a recent article on the subject and then moves on to Britney Spears.

Dr. Mohler's article is more the head-shaking than the analytical sort, but it does include one funny paragraph. Ms. Spears is

not exactly a brain trust. She told Newsweek that she's been into Indian religions of late, and these influenced her new album, "In the Zone." But when asked if Hinduism was one of these religions, the singer was dumbfounded. "What's that? Is it like kabbalah?" Is that question, like, pathetic?

Those of you who read the magazine — hint hint — will find the same subject treated in Fr. Robert Hart's article in the December issue, which I thought moving. The issue should be in the mail.

2:18 PM


A very hepful message from Marc Dvoracek, M.D., in response to "More on Sarbanes", which I posted this morning:

For what it’s worth, the American Medical Association has also passed resolutions against partial birth abortion. They have stated that “(A)ccording to the scientific literature, there does not appear to be any identified situation in which intact D&X is the only appropriate procedure to induce abortion”. Furthermore, “(E)xcept in extraordinary circumstances, maternal health factors which demand termination of the pregnancy can be accommodated without sacrifice of the fetus, and the near certainty of the independent viability of the fetus argues for ending the pregnancy by appropriate delivery.”

Keep in mind that the AMA is hardly a pro-life organization despite the fact that they represent the majority of the country’s physicians who at one time swore an oath to (among other quaint notions) “first do no harm” and “not assist in the procurement of an abortion”. They do not favor parental notification for minors and they are wholeheartedly in favor of furthering science by harvesting human embryos.

I mention this only because it is not just the “pro-life” physician groups that have determined that legalized PBA is not necessary to save mother’s lives.

1:50 PM


For the writers among you, a review from The Daily Telegraph of a new book on grammar, titled (the book, not the review) Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation, by Lynne Truss. The review begins:

I have always had a great affection for the semicolon; it has a certain discreet charm. On the other hand, there is just one word to describe the colon: bossy. A colon says: "Pay attention, this next bit is really important." If the colon is a fanfare, the semicolon is more like a polite cough. It is a nasty shock to discover that it has enemies. Gertrude Stein, who might, in her time, have been considered a bit of a bossyboots herself, suggested that semicolons were simply commas with pretensions.

. . . in spite of the reference in the title to zero tolerance, Lynne Truss remains utterly good-natured throughout. She says she is not a pedant, but a stickler — which is a description that many of us would be happy to adopt.

I like that: a stickler, not a pedant. People who know something about grammar and punctuation and try to uphold the standards find themselves being accused of pedantry by people who don't know anything about them — which is to say, who don't know anything about the craft of writing.

As far as I can tell, the critics think that because they speak English they know enough about the language to blow off those who know more. In effect, they define pedantry as "knowing more than I do." Or perhaps as "caring more than I do."

It is very annoying. It's rather like my assuming that because I understand the relation between depressing the gas pedal and the car accelerating, I know enough to tell the mechanic how to fix the transmission and calling him a pedant when he tries to explain to me the way transmissions actually work.

The mechanic has the advantage that if the anti-pedant ignores his advice, his car will soon stop moving. The writer has the disadvantage that if the anti-pedant ignores his advice, whatever problems his linguistic slovenliness cause will be almost completely invisible (to him), in part because his slovenliness contributes to a general slovenliness, a general acceptance of slovenliness as normal, indeed the ideal, which harms his society's ability to communicate with grace and precision.

12:13 PM


Two views of the possibility of passing a federal marriage amendment, in response to the judicial tyranny of Massachusetts' supreme court:

First, an argument for trying to pass such an amendment from our associate editor Robert P. George, “The case for preserving the definition of marriage” from today’s Wall Street Journal.

Second, an argument against trying to do so from Dennis Teti, ”The Federal Marriage Amendment Is Hopeless”. (He wrote an article on capital punishment for the September, 2002 issue.)

11:56 AM


Fr. Robert Hart sends a short article from on partial birth abortion, which Sen. Sarbanes says must be kept legal in order to protect the health of the mother: “Doctors Groups Say Partial-Birth Abortion Unnecessary, Hurts Women”. For the senator's explanation of his vote against the ban, see here and for Fr. Hart's first response, see here.

According to the article, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists describes it as “a procedure involving overtly dangerous obstetrical techniques on a mid-trimester uterus over a period of two-to-three days.” In a letter to Congress, a Dr. Jane Orient of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons wrote that if a woman in that stage of pregnancy did have a health problem,

her doctor could either perform a Caesarian section or induce labor. "The only purpose of the partial-birth abortion," Orient wrote, “is to assure that the end of the pregnancy is accompanied by the end of the life of a child about to be born.”

Fr. Hart added that the Life News website “is worth visiting on regular basis, or worth a free e-mail subscription.”

11:54 AM

Wednesday, November 26


A helpful article by Albert Mohler: “The Marriage Debate: Is 'Conservative' Enough?”. Dr. Mohler is the president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

In the article, he summarizes two articles on homosexuality and marriage in The Wall Street Journal by two conservative writers, Andrew Sullivan and David Frum. Sullivan is a homosexual apologist, though conservative or conservative-ish in other matters. Frum is not a homosexual apologist, indeed rather the opposite, but still in this matter not satisfactory.

Frum, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, presents a powerful argument against Sullivan's call for the legalization of homosexual marriage. Nevertheless, Frum concedes a great deal of territory when he fails to argue against the normalization of homosexuality itself.

Frum argues that homosexual marriage will encourage a “crazy-quilt of differing systems of 'marriage-lite' across the country.” This will confuse the matter even farther and make the definition of marriage even vaguer — vague to the point of pointlessness — and the practice of marriage even looser.

You will need to read Mohler’s article for the summary of Frum’s arguments about the effects of this on society and particularly on children (not good). But Mohler’s crucial argument is this:

The exchange between Sullivan and Frum demonstrates the limits of an essentially secular argument, even among those who consider themselves conservatives. Secular conservatives place the greatest premium upon the continuity of forms, institutions, and moral principles in the society. During a time of social change, secular conservatives tend to fight over the institutions rather than the principles or morality at stake. In this exchange of articles, both Sullivan and Frum are playing true to form.

. . . Conservative Christians will recognize a great deal of wisdom in Frum’s argument. Like the secular conservatives, Christians are very concerned about the continuity of human institutions, especially the institution of marriage. But the Christian commitment to marriage goes far beyond common ground shared with secular conservatives. We do not see the most important function of marriage as limited to human happiness and social stability.

I think this is an important point, and would go further to suggest that political conservatism is so compromised in various ways that Christians should probably avoid the title. The conservative conserves what exists already, as Mohler suggests in his treatment of Frum’s arguments, but he does so for a variety of reasons.

He may do so because he believes that these things have survived because they incarnate or carry some deeper wisdom about the nature of things (that is, reflect in time the timeless Permanent Things), or he may do so because he believes that these things have survived because they worked well enough and that to change them will cause serious problems, though he is usually happy to let them change radically over time.

In other words, broadly speaking there is “Wisdom of our Fathers” conservatism and “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” conservatism. The two overlap a good deal, of course, and most political conservatives mix the two without distinguishing the Permanent from the prudential. Wisdom Conservatives see the prudential as defending the Permanent, Ain’t Broke Conservatives see the prudential as at least possibly expressing the Permanent.

But the Christian does something else, which throws the whole system out of balance. He accepts a vision of reality given in a revelation. He believes that he knows something of what the world is really like, something that may not be well expressed, and may in fact be opposed, by the most venerable of social institutions.

In this case, he knows what marriage really is. And he knows what homosexuality really is as well. He cannot be satisfied with the accomodationist argument conservatives like Frum offer, which attempt to save the institution of marriage by conceding public acceptance to a perversion. This, it seems to me, is the effect of domestic partnership laws, the line between a marriage and a domestic partnership being in human sexual practice essentially imaginary.

Ideally, I know, the perversity of sodomy ought to be recognized by the natural reason, without the aid of revelation, but as in so many cases we fallen human beings seem to need to aid of revelation to see what is right in front of us. This is especially so, I might add, in a society in which the relation of men and women in marriage has been so perverted, beginning — I am afraid I must step on some toes here — with the use of contraception to make marriage itself sterile. But even Christians who accept contraception have before them a revelation that tells them that homosexuality is a bad thing.

It is important to note that the Christian is not satisfied with accomodationist arguments because he wants society to be Christian, but because he wants it to be healthy. He knows something about health because he knows something about the ideal. He is among the last people to recognize the ideal, but that is not his fault, nor is it a reason to concede any ground to those who no longer see it, such as the accomodationist conservatives.

As Dr. Mohler suggests in his article, being “conservative” is not enough. Christianity is not a form of conservatism, though it is in many ways conservative. What we are seeing in the marriage debate today are the limits to purely conservative arguments, so limited that they are likely to fail to conserve what conservatives want to save.

11:19 AM


Now available from the December issue, as a sort of sneak preview:

— Ian Hunter's "Seeing Thro’ the Eye: The Prophetic Legacy of Malcolm Muggeridge". Dr. Hunter was Muggeridge's first biographer and here offers an entertaining review of his work as a social critic and prophet.

— William Tighe's "Calculating Christmas: the Story Behind December 25th. Dr. Tighe, an historian, exposes the persistent myth that the early Christians adopted the date for Christmas to compete with the pagans.

— My editorial "Ecumenical Exclusion". As the editor of the magazine, I try to explain our approach to ecumenism, in other words, what it means to be "a magazine of mere Christianity" when the divisions run so deep.

You will, I trust, enjoy these articles. And those of you who do not yet subsribe will be encouraged to do so. Give yourself a Christmas present. It's what your husband or wife or parents or children or friends or boss or coworkers would want to give you if they knew about it. You can subscribe by clicking here.

11:08 AM

Tuesday, November 25


In a November 18 Episcopal News Service article, James Solheim reports that the Russian and Oriental Orthodox Churches have reacted strongly to the consecration of the openly homosexual Gene Robinson as a bishop. The Russian Orthodox Church has suspended relations with the Episcopal Church, stating, "We shall not be able to cooperate with these people not only in the theological dialogue, but also in the humanitarian and religious and public spheres. We have no right to allow even a particle of agreement with their position, which we consider to be profoundly antichristian and blasphemous."

Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church's deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations, replied: "We are deeply saddened by the actions of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Russian Orthodox Church with respect to our ecumenical conversations . . . . While we understand their dismay, we would have counseled them to heed the Primate's advice to our own Communion members and 'to avoid precipitous action' . . . .” Epting also referred to an earlier comment by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold who said, "Just as baptism establishes an indissoluble bond between Christ and the members of his body, so too baptism creates an indissoluble bond between the baptized. It is not always easy or comfortable to recognize the presence of Christ in one another. Even so, we are bound together in the same body, like it or not."

Let us pass quickly by the fathomless absurdity of an official of a church that has just elevated a divorced, impenitent homosexual to its episcopacy lecturing those who leave its fellowship for precipitous action. Fathomless absurdity is something Episcopalians are used to, indeed, there are signs they expect it from their bishops and regularly elect those who can give assurance that it will be provided in abundance. But to draw an analogy between the “indissoluble bond” created by baptism, and that which holds the impenitent to Christ and his church—in this case, the homosexual who is proud of his sin, will not own it as such, refuses to stop, and commends it shamelessly in the face of God and his Church--is to say that being baptized into Christ is being baptized into sin.

This is to participate in the Crucifixion, to visit sin upon the sinless Christ, to torture him with it, to force him to bear it perpetually, to bring him into death and hell, to make them persist in and upon him, to take pleasure in this, to do it openly before the face of God, to make the Body of Christ a horror, to make it scream and bleed without relief and without end.

But the Father will not permit it to continue. He will allow his Son, and his Church through the Son, to bear the sin for a while. He allows the waters to cover, but not to persist. He will not be held in them, and will come forth with all those the Father has given him. They will cast off sin; they will come up and out of it, out of the grasp of the demons, who, along with their pleasures, will be broken.

The reason Bishop V. Gene Robinson and Bishop Frank T. Griswold and their principalities will not persist, the reason they cannot and will not hold the elect of God in their fellowship—that they cannot crucify the Lord and his Church forever— is because of the resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized. This baptism is not simply a going in, but finally and forever a coming out.

8:23 PM


Walter Bishop send news of Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, author of "Deadly Choice: Abortion as a War Against Women" in the September issue. (It is not available online, I'm afraid.)

According to the Emory [University] Wheel, Emory professor Elizabeth Fox-Genovese is one of ten people chosen to receive the 2003 National Humanities Medal this year. President Bush presented the award to Mrs. Fox-Genovese, the Eléonore Raoul Pofessor of the humanities, a professor of history and a recent contributor to Touchstone, at a White House ceremony November 14.

Prof. Fox-Genovese, a member of the National Endowment for the Humanities since February, is the first sitting member of the organization to receive the medal. She came to Emory in 1986 after teaching at the University of Rochester and the State University of New York at Binghamton. At Emory, she founded the Institute for Women's Studies and served as its director until 1991. A recent (1998) book of hers, Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South, has received several awards.

Other recipients of the medal this year included Joan Ganz Cooney, one of the creators of "Sesame Street"; actor Hal Holbrook; author John Updike; and Robert Ballard, the marine scientist who located the sunken Titanic in 1985.

We will send her our congratulations. It is an honor well-deserved. And she has promised to write for us, too.

1:28 PM


A reader, Beau Wagner, writes in response to yesterday’s ”The Neville Chamberlain approach to marriage”

I read with interest the blog about DeBeers new ad campaign: “Appease the Goddess and she'll let you live another year.”

The same ad caught my attention early one morning in Manhattan, about two weeks ago. Perhaps it was the lack of caffeine or lack of sleep but I had an immediate reaction. I thought "No thanks. I'd rather die now and be with Jesus". Perhaps a moment of grace?

By the way, the first engagement ring I gave my soon to be wife was my high school ring. It was not until seven years later I was able to buy her a sapphire (with small diamonds). I had the great pleasure of being able to propose all over again.

Giving your fiance your high school ring is rather romantic, I think. But then I suspect that most traditional Christians, at least of the Touchstone sort, are romantics at heart. That is is one reason we are all so hard on the utilitarian and pragmatic proposals of modern liberalism: they're often the coward's way out of the problem, not the hero's.

1:24 PM


Something from the International Institute of Culture that may interest those of you living near Philadelphia.

December 5, 2003 at 7:30 pm

Read a Renaissance Painting: "Hugo van der Goes’ Portinari Alter in Florence": A Lecture by Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Podles

Considered by some as the greatest Netherlandish painter of the second half of the 15th century, Hugo van der Goes lived in Bruxelles from ca. 1436 and 1482, the year of his death. No paintings by Hugo are signed and his only securely documented work is his masterpiece, a triptych of the Nativity known as the Portinari Altarpiece (Uffizi, Florence, c.1475-76).

This large triptych constitutes the basis for a reconstruction of the artist's entire oeuvre. It was painted in Bruges and was commissioned to the artist by Tommaso Portinari, an agent of the Medicean bank who resided in the city with his family. The work was transported to Florence and it immediately caused a sensation among the people and attracted a considerable following among contemporary artists. The triptych had an enormous impact, noticeably influencing the art of manuscript illustration in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries as well as illustrious representatives of Umbrian painting like Luca Signorelli.

Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Podles is former curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art at the Walters Gallery in Baltimore. She holds her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and graduate degree from Columbia University in Art History. Her additional professional positions include Sotheby’s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery.

The speaker is, by the way, the wife of our senior editor Leon Podles. The International Institute of Culture is led by John Haas, who is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

10:15 AM

Monday, November 24


One of our associate editors, Thomas Buchanan, who is a scientist, sent round a provocative article from an Australian newspaper: "Outrage at academic's selective breeding call". Helmuth Nyborg, a Danish psychologist teaching at Aarhus University said that intelligence is hereditary and therefore:

"The 15 to 20 per cent of those at the lower levels of society — those who are not able to manage even the simplest tasks and often not their children — should be dissuaded from having children. The fact is that they are having more children and the intelligent ones are having fewer."

He insisted his proposals could not be likened to policies under the Nazis. "Hitler didn't believe in eugenics. He just wanted to exterminate individual groups, and in fact exterminated the most intelligent among them," he said.

As Tom remarked,

So, Hitler didn’t believe in eugenics because he killed smart people instead of dumb people. I wonder which group this professor falls into.

11:20 PM


A friend, now in his sixties, sent round a piece by George Carlin on aging, which included the interesting point that:

you BECOME 21, TURN 30, PUSH 40, REACH 50 and MAKE it to 60. You've built up so much speed that you HIT 70!

I don’t know what this says of people who say “I’ve hit 50.” What it does suggest is that most Americans don’t age well.

These are words used by people who, consciously or not, think of aging solely in terms of physical decline. They do not think of it in terms of intellectual and moral advance, in terms of growth in knowledge and wisdom, in exchange for which the wise man will trade the loss of his jump shot and even — unamerican thought coming — his abilities as a sexual athlete.

I would say that we ought to think of ways to honor age and to speak as if we did. But then I think of all the old people whom it is impossible to respect, so little respect have they for the virtues that make age respectable. I think of Bob Dole pushing viagra and my good intentions vanish.

11:07 PM


From reader Jonathan Pavluk, responding to the Russian Observations Upon the American Prayer Book I mentioned last Wednesday:

The Prayer Book version that the Russian theologians were commenting on in their “Observations upon the American Prayer Book” (1904) was the Book of Common Prayer from 1892. It is interesting to note that some of their complaints were remedied in the 1928 or the 1979 revisions of the Book of Common Prayer, and others were not. Thus, of their two principal complaints regarding the American Episcopalian observance of the Lord’s Supper, one was definitely resolved in the 1979 (at least in Rite II), the other was not.

Resolved is the 1892 (and predecessor books’) indefinite expression of the reality of the Body and Blood of the Lord. All four of the newer forms of the Eucharistic Prayers (A, B, C and D) now rather definitely include prayers for, and statement of belief in, the Real Presence.

The other fault found by the Russians with the American liturgy was our failure to present the idea of the eucharistic Sacrifice in all its traditional fullness, and related to this, failure to uphold a fullness of faith in the saving power of the Sacrament for those on whose behalf it is offered. This deficiency remains in all the Episcopalian liturgies.

I am not sure what impact the criticisms expressed by the Russian or other theologians outside the Anglican tradition may have had in the choice to revise the liturgy in 1979, but the outcome does seem remarkably characteristic of the essential attitude of the ECUSA since. Here is a Church that has as its central act of worship a firm expression of the Real Presence in the form of the Sacrament, but yet holds back from any firm expression about its redeeming power.

Is this not the very same possession of a form of godliness but denial of the power thereof that Paul warned about (2 Tim. 3:5)? And has this attitude not become the hallmark of the ECUSA? Speaking of such men as these, Paul says, “Have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim. 3:5).

11:01 PM


From the New York Times, of all places, an article on C. S. Lewis, the 40th anniversary of his death we observed last Saturday: "A Mind That Grasped Both Heaven and Hell” by Joe Loconte of the Heritage Foundation.

11:00 PM


Regular reader Fr. Robert Hart writes in response to the preceeding blogs (which though posted earlier follow this one on the page):

This bit from the letter by Senator Sarbanes (against whom I have voted every six years since the 70s) is worthy of note:

<< "While S. 3 would allow a partial-birth abortion to be performed when it is determined to be necessary to save the life of a mother that is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury, it does not provide an exemption when the health of the mother is at issue." >>

I can see the logic. Obviously, once the child is extracted from her womb, even a child who can live outside of her womb thanks to the advances of medical science, it may be necessary for a woman's health that this child be killed. It may be equally necessary for her health that she be allowed to take an ax, and give her mother forty wacks; and once she sees what she has done, to give her father forty one.

It is all a matter of how you define the word "health." Some psychiatrist some where must be able to explain why it is healthy to vent one's frustRations with the occasional homicidal act. It can make some people feel so good.

Fr. Hart has an article appearing in the December issue, now at the printer, and another in the January/February issue. He is a priest of an Anglican church and is, for those interested in this sort of thing, brother to our contributing editor Fr. Addison Hart, who is Catholic, and to the theologian Dr. David Hart, who is Orthodox.

11:00 PM


Reader Michelle Hagerman writes:

I saw an ad from DeBeers (the South-African diamond folks) on a Chicago bus shelter late last week. Pictured was a three-stone diamond ring (with very large stones), and under it was "Appease the Goddess and she'll let you live another year."

In other words, if a man doesn't get his wife something really good for Christmas, she'll either leave him or make his life hell?

This is from the same company that started the now industry-standard "two months salary" as a guideline for how much a man should pay for an engagement ring. I'm happy to say I'm now part of a parish where the men are not ashamed to buy their financee's engagement rings in line with their means, which means a modest ring. Better than going into debt out of guilt, or trying to keep up with the Joneses.

Even better, just buy a wedding ring and wear it on the right hand. I don't know if this is an actual custom anywhere, but friends of mine did it. Or do as my wife and I did and forget the engagement ring completely (we thought we could use the money more wisely, and more enjoyably to boot, and we were right). Big diamonds don't have much to do with marriage.

Two months salary? Why oh why do people live by standards grubby businessmen create solely to make more money for themselves?

Those interested in the subject may want to read a blog from early October, "Victims of almost marriages" and the article linked there.

9:58 PM


The Orthodox Peace Fellowship wrote a letter to Maryland senator Paul Sarbanes protesting his vote against the partial birth abortion ban. The pro-choice Sarbanes is an Orthodox layman, and one whom his hierarchs have honored. Here is the letter:

September 22, 2003

Senator Paul Sarbanes
309 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Sarbanes:

The council for the Orthodox Peace Fellowship/North America is writing to express our distress at your support for abortion, even partial birth abortion.

You are a prominent member of the Church, an Archon. You have worked to promote the virtue of honesty (e.g., Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002). You have stood for human rights (e.g., the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act). These are tremendous accomplishments. However, your promotion of abortion is a grave scandal to the faithful. For many, the stand taken by you and other Orthodox Christian politicians (e.g., Senator Snowe) has led some Orthodox to believe it is morally acceptable for women to abort their unborn children, and that this is not a matter of concern to the Church‹despite the Church’s responsibility for the moral education of society. Without the moral guidance of the Church, uninformed people are more easily convinced by the contemporary culture to commit the sin of abortion.

The Church from the earliest times (e.g., the Didache, the disciplinary canons) has always viewed abortion with horror and, when giving penances during confession, treated it as murder. For an essay detailing the very firm ancient Christian opposition to abortion, we recommend “Abortion and the Early Church” by Michael J. Gorman. We also quote a recent statement issued by the Holy Synod of Greece, “Abortion does not constitute an individual right, but an ethically unacceptable act, and its legalization, direct or indirect, an impermissible social deviation.”

Tragically, many of the faithful have failed to comprehend our Church’s teaching that all human life is sacred. Thus, when they see an Archon (one “who [is expected to] conform faithfully to the teachings of Christ, and the doctrines, canons, worship, discipline, and encyclicals of the Church 3), like yourself supporting abortion, they are confirmed in their poor understanding of the Christian faith. High public officials who support pro-abortion bills are complicit in the sin of murder committed in each abortion performed under their legal protection. This is especially disturbing when these legislators are Orthodox Christians. We pray that you will reconsider your views in the light of the Orthodox faith and the Church’s consistent teaching, and you will change your vote when the bill comes out of conference.

Because of the great need for clarification of your position on abortion, we want to make this letter available to Orthodox Christian media in the United States thirty days from now, allowing you time to respond. Of course, your reply will be made public at the same time as our letter to you.

As brothers and sisters in Christ, and as constituents, we would very much like the opportunity to meet personally with you. We also promise you our prayers.

Here is Senator Sarbanes’ response, as relayed by Frederica Mathewes-Green. It is clearly a form letter and, as she notes, does not refer to the OPF’s concern that he supports partial birth abortions though he is an Orthodox Christian. Sarbanes, or someone on his staff, writes:

Thank you for getting in touch with my office to express your support for legislation that would prohibit late-term abortion procedures. The continuing debate about this issue reflects a deep division among Americans who hold sincerely felt, but conflicting views, as to the permissibility of abortion procedures. I join with many Americans in their deep concern about late-term abortions and the complex and disturbing issues this question brings before us.

As you may know, S. 3, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, was introduced in the Senate on February 14, 2003 and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar. This legislation would amend the Federal criminal code to prohibit any physician or other individual from knowingly performing a partial-birth abortion. While S. 3 would allow a partial-birth abortion to be performed when it is determined to be necessary to save the life of a mother that is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury, it does not provide an exemption when the health of the mother is at issue.

In light of your comments, I would be less than frank if I did not inform you that I have consistently voted against measures that would ban all late-term abortions if they do not include exceptions to protect the life and health of the mother. During Senate debate on S. 3,1 supported an amendment that would have banned all post-viability abortions except where necessary, as determined by the doctor, to preserve the life and health of the woman. Unfortunately, this amendment was defeated by a vote of 60 to 35. Because S. 3 failed to include provisions to protect the life and health of the woman, I voted against the bill and its conference report when it came before the full Senate, where it passed by a vote of 64 to 34 before being signed into law by the President on November 5,2003. I remain convinced that a mother and her physician would face the prospect of such a serious predicament with sober deliberation and responsibility.

Again, I appreciate your taking the time to share your views regarding this complex matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me about other issues of concern to you.

With best regards,
Paul S. Sarbanes

9:52 PM

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