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Friday, December 3


Because the United Church of Christ reportedly disputes the claim made earlier today about having prior knowledge of a refusal by three network of its controversial ad, that paragraph has been removed from Rev. David Runnion-Bareford's press release (the one posted earlier today).

By the way, you can see the ad for yourself by going here.

4:15 PM


Earlier today I wrote: “In a refreshing display of clear thinking, on Dec. 2 a United Methodist jury in Philadelphia found the Rev. Beth Stroud, a self-proclaimed lesbian, guilty of 'practices incompatible with Christian teaching.' The decision was 12-1.”

I also noted that her ministerial credentials were removed. But now I find out that the vote to remove them was 7-6. Had one juror switched his/her vote, you would have had a trial conviction of a minister for “practices incompatible with Christian teaching” yet allowing her to remain to minister, whatever it is she is ministering.

For some reason I now suspect the guilty verdict might have been closer as well, had not the judge in the case insisted that the jurors vote on simply the bare facts of whether her lesbian conduct violated the laws of the church, which it explicitly does.

But apparently 6 of 13 think her conduct OK for a minister, and hence that the laws of the denomination, one would assume, are the problem.

2:49 PM


Joseph Richard Ravitts responds to my comments yesterday (Tolerating Nightmares) about the immature “you hate me” response by homosexuals when they are not allowed to have their way with “gay marriage”:

During my adolescence, a cereal manufacturer, I think it was Quaker Oats, introduced two new cereals for kids, with cartoon-superhero characters to personify them in some animated commercials which really were quite witty. One hero, "Quake," was drawn fairly realistically, as a grown and muscular man wearing a miner's helmet (since he lived at the center of the Earth). The other, "Quisp," was a small, flying extraterrestrial, who seemed to be drawn in a much more slapdash manner than his rival. I say "rival" because, although both cereals were made by the same company and were actually advertised together, the characters of Quake and Quisp were shown as competing in their activity as superheroes. Not hostile to each other, but rivals.

I'm not certain if the manufacturer and its advertising people realized what they were doing; but what they were doing was presenting the TV audience with a sort of election campaign, pitting adulthood against childhood. Did kids want to be powerful by growing into the adult Quake? Or did they wish to have comparable power, but continue to be children in size and maturity, like Quisp?

Having always played at being responsible men, I greatly preferred the character Quake (though I'll confess that I hardly ever ate either of the cereals in question). But, not for the last time in my life, I turned out to be swimming against the tide. By the time the two cereals had been on the market for something like three years, Quake had thoroughly LOST the competition. Kids, apparently, were buying Quisp and ignoring Quake.

This was one of the earliest intimations I had (while still a teenager myself) of a trend which was to grow relentlessly from then to now: the trend for young people to expect as a right what I think only very small or very spoiled children would seriously have desired in past generations--the impossible ability to go on being children, and refuse all adult responsibilities, while nonetheless enjoying all the freedoms and privileges of adulthood. To demand this, of course, is to demand what simply cannot be--as if one demanded that triangles should henceforth have four sides. Unfortunately, during all of my lifetime, the subjectivist and postmodern academic trends that originated before I was born have increasingly encouraged exactly such nonsense. Young people have been taught that they are allowed to resent reality itself for the very fact of its being real. How dare truth be true? That interferes with our self-gratification!

Thus it is that we now can have homosexuals demanding, as a supposed constitutional right, the oxymoronic notion of a same-sex coupling being something which by definition requires both sexes. How dare biology be biology, and interfere with our self-gratification? And it is not only gays who conjure up this fraudulent indignation against the natural order of things. Every repackaged Marxist who tries to reduce all economic issues to a question of redistribution is choosing to hate and reject both the practicalities of productivity, and the moral principle that temporal success (unlike eternal salvation) should be earned. And they accuse us Christians of being unrealistic!

2:45 PM


Rev. David Runnion-Bareford, a United Church of Christ pastor and Executive Director of the Biblical Witness Fellowship, responds to the UCC TV ad in a press release:

"The rejection of the UCC Ad would indicate that God is certainly still speaking and the message is clear. The commercial has been rejected because it sends an arrogant and negative message that the UCC stands apart from the rest of the Christian church who are portrayed as rejecting people based on how they look.

“The ad directly conflicts with the UCC's founding identity statement "That All May Be One" by which the denomination sought unity with all other Christians in the common cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Obviously this campaign exposes nothing other than the fact that the UCC is in the midst of an identity crisis.

“In reality most transformational churches are far more welcoming of all regardless of race, sexual experience, or social status than the affirmational churches who pride themselves on being "inclusive." The invitation to be transformed by the saving power of the atonement of Jesus Christ is far more compelling than a superficial affirmation of one's lost condition.

2:42 PM


Doug LeBlanc of GetReligion rounds up coverage of a growing media circus: the three major network's rejection of a 30-second ad by the United Church of Christ:

The three major broadcast TV networks stepped in a deep cowpie by turning away a witty ad from the United Church of Christ, and the UCC likely will gain more attention through news reports than it would have through the ad.

News reports in three major dailies -- The Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle (where it appeared on the front page, below the fold) -- focus on different finer points of the story.

The 30-second ad makes a favored point among liberal Christians: that some churches, by stressing Christianity's historic teachings on homosexuality, are being exclusive, turning people away or otherwise being spiteful. The ad takes that idea up a notch by depicting a church as excluding a gay couple, a young Latino man and an African American girl.

The ad's humorous genius is in how it illustrates the concept: two muscular, bald, black-clad bouncers stand outside a church and behind a proverbial velvet rope. One says in a voice of deadpan contempt: "Step aside, please," "No way, not you" and "I don't think so." What American who loves fair play and underdogs could watch this commercial and feel anything other than revulsion for these goons (or the one white married couple they let through the rope)? Is this a church, or Studio 54?

In Michael Paulson's report for the Globe, one striking detail is that UCC officials did not expect that the commercial could be taken as criticizing any other church:
[The Rev. Nancy S.] Taylor [president of the UCC's Massachusetts Conference] said the ad is not intended to criticize other denominations. She said she showed the ad to members of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, an umbrella organization of Protestant and Orthodox churches, where it drew no criticism.
That detail may say more about the goo-goo atmosphere in councils of churches, even at the state level, than it does about the ad's content.
And, for news hounds, there's even more on this story with Ted Olsen reporting out at Christianity Today's Weblog.

1:46 PM


Something I neglected to post from Thanksgiving, from the Daily Telegraph (London):

More than a million people from all over Europe are to deliver a petition to Tony Blair and fellow EU leaders calling for changes to the constitution recognising Europe's Christian heritage.

Refusing to accept a secular "fait accompli" from Brussels, a Christian coalition is demanding that each EU state publish its version of the constitution's preamble, with references to God if desired.

Already armed with 1,149,000 signatures and with thousands more pouring in from Holland since the murder of the film-maker Theo van Gogh, the group claims that most states want some reference to Christianity but were blocked by France.

The move is keenly backed by Pope John Paul II, who has repeatedly condemned the "moral drift" of Brussels. "One does not cut the roots to one's birthright," he told pilgrims this summer.
The reference to murder above is the killing of a Dutchman who made a film critical of the way Islamic women are often treated. Van Gogh was killed by a Muslim.

The secular Left routinely accuses the church or Christianity of repressing people throughout history, of executing dissenters. Religion in general is the bad man of history, the brute from whom they would protect us. A thoroughly modern European constitution must be thoroughly secular. (As if "Europe" were really a country at all, and to the extent that it has coherence, it is because it was once a part of Christendom.)

While I don't know how much good references to its true past history as Christian will do for the present or future of the European Union, Christians there certainly should not be cowed by the secularists, French or otherwise. After all, it's not religion that should be ashamed of its past, but secularism. The European ideologies that eschewed Christianity or even went so far as to aggressively suppress it have not exactly been peaceful. From the secularist nightmare of the French Revolution through the French-induced upheavels of the 19th century, the Bolshevik purges of the 20th, the Nazi Final Solution, the body count of secularist or anti-Christian European ideologies far surpasses anything ever done by either saints or sinners in the time of Christendom.

But it's an old dodge, noted by Steve Hutchens in his July/August editorial, "Reversing the Charges": your opponents, guilty of something dreadful, will deny it and turn and accuse you of the very same crime.

12:15 PM


The reaction to David Brooks's New York Times op-ed on John Stott continues, with a clutch of letters to the editor, mostly negative---how surprising---and blog commentary from various quarters. One of the wittiest of the latter mentions a name that our fearless leader David Mills has enjoined us never to use henceforth in Touchstone, for fear of putting our readers to sleep. So I will merely link to it without attempting to summarize.
[Update: see also this on the unmentionable one.]

11:44 AM


In a refreshing display of clear thinking, on Dec. 2 a United Methodist jury in Philadelphia found the Rev. Beth Stroud, a self-proclaimed lesbian, guilty of "practices incompatible with Christian teaching." The decision was 12-1.

Stroud, who confirmed in the church trial that she was sexually active with another woman, who attended the trial with her, had argued through her defense that the jury should make a pro-gay statement by finding her innocent. United Methodist church law requires that clergy be celibate if single, or in a heterosexual marriage. The retired bishop, Joseph Yeakel, who presided over the trial, according to a press release from the Institute on Religion and Democracy, told jurors that they were "bound to consider only the facts of the case and apply the church's policies to these facts."

A bishop at the time Stroud publicly announced her immorality testified that "he urged her to consider the possibility of celibacy or transfer to another denomination, both of which she declined." He then filed a complaint against her, which resulted in the trial.

One of her defenders, a retired minister, argued that equal rights for homosexual clergy trumped church teaching on the matter. She was also "well-liked and effective," and therefore should be allowed to continue as a Methodist minister. Her ministerial credentials have been removed.

10:54 AM


Writing for The New Republic Online Joel Kotkin and William Frey found another group that voted for Bush: Parents. (The article is only available to TNR subcribers, by the way.)

It seems the Democrats carried a number of the childless big cities, places where the population is largely in decline (brings to mind images of that sad town in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"). President Bush cleaned up in areas with high rates of birth, including fast-growing suburbs near Dallas, Columbus, Ohio, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., where he took between 56 and 83 percent of the vote:

But the problem for Democrats isn't that they are losing among families now. The real problem is that the electoral importance of both nuclear families and the communities where they are congregating is only growing. According to Phillip Longman, a demographer at the New America Foundation, Bush states had a 13 percent higher fertility rate than their blue counterparts, whose base, as he puts it, is essentially "non-replicating."

10:02 AM

Thursday, December 2


Christian conservatives, it seems, according to an article by James Bowman for the Ethics and Public Policy Center, continue to darken the dreams of some of our citizens:

This is the fantasy of a nightmarish world of theocratic rule from Washington by fanatical Christian fundamentalists who, at least according to Garry Wills in The New York Times are all but indistinguishable from the fanatical Islamic fundamentalists who blew up the twin towers and killed 3,000 Americans on September 11th, 2001.
I would point out to Mr. Wills and company that Christians do not accept suicide nor terrorism as morally acceptable means toward any end. If he can't make this distinction, then one wonders what business he has instructing readers about the contours of American religious life. Have fanatical pro-life suicide bombers been darkening the skies and sidewalks of American cities since Roe v. Wade became the de facto law of the land?
It becomes easy to believe that those who would vote against your right to marry must also hate you, which in turn means that they are disposed to hurt or even kill you, or to look with indulgence on those who do.
There is some truth to the latter part of this, for our Lord linked hatred to murder. But voting against allowing something wrong is not hatred. The “you hate me” response is the response I have heard from teenagers when not allowed to do something you think (you know) is bad for them. It's not a mature response, and is certainly self-centered.

Moving from prohibition to hatred to hurting to killing to approving the killers: is this simply inevitable? It's in this context that tolerance must operate. I might disapprove of “gay marriage” and more basically disapprove of “gay” itself. I might even (wrongly) hate some of those pushing this “gay” agenda. But it's exactly here that real tolerance must step in: I can only tolerate something that I find offensive. I can only “bear with” something that I am allowed to think is wrong or at the very least bothersome. I tolerate by not acting on my revulsion and certainly not on any hatred. I do no harm, no violence, no murder, and let live. That's tolerance.

But tolerance today simply means “to make no objection to” either by thought, word, or deed. You are not “being tolerant” if you even think homosexual practice to be wrong. It's just another example of the corruption of moral discourse, the inversion of meanings. Something we should not tolerate.

5:58 PM


Among Hugh Hewitt's comments for The Weekly Standard on that horrific story out of Holland Jim Kushiner noted earlier:

This is either a low point, or a point of no return. The establishment of "independent committees" to dispatch non-consenting humans is nothing but a death penalty committee for innocents. Once begun, it is impossible--simply impossible--to limit the concept with any bright line. Abortion, of course, has always been limited by the physical act of birth, and once out of the womb, only the most extreme "reproductive rights" advocates have argued that the baby's natural right to live can be compromised by the mother. But now the Netherlands has gone farther--much, much farther. If the "severely retarded" may be killed upon appropriate motion, second, debate, and majority vote, why not the moderately retarded? Why not the mildly retarded? Why not, in fact, anyone the "independent committee" deems as usefully dispatched.

Incredibly, the nation's elite media has turned a collective blind eye to this story, though the Los Angeles Times did, on the day following the Drudge headline, find time to put on the paper's front page, above the fold, the story that Salmon and Steelhead May Lose Protection, but not a column inch of ink for a radical leap past Kevorkian land into the regions of Mengele.

5:21 PM


The Touchstone website was down for six hours yesterday and for an equal amount of time today. Both interruptions were caused by a crashed router our Internet Service Provider uses to host the website. We apologize to our readers for these outages.

2:41 PM


From Jonah Goldberg's National Review Online column:

I ... detest the tendency of Americans, Westerners, or "Moderns" to boast of how they've customized their religious views to fit their lifestyles. "I don’t believe in organized religion, but I’m a very spiritual person." Yuck. It simply strikes me as intellectually offensive to pretend that the engineer of it all goes out of his way to let individual people order off-menu their religious preferences in just such a way so as pretty much everything they do is exactly how God wants it. And, even if that were the case, even if God customizes the heavens, space, and time so as to make every personal indulgence divinely inspired, the trend of people being their own priests is not one I celebrate. I’d hate to sound like I'm lending my voice to that chorus — I’m not. Indeed, my belief that religion is important depends on it being a social institution. If everyone has his own church, each designating himself a personal messiah, we’ve slipped out of the realm of faith and, ultimately, into the arena of the übermensch where whoever has the religion which condones the most barbarity, wins.

2:31 PM


In a follow-up essay to his recent (and entertaining) rips on "hotness" and "relationshipism", Roberto Rivera, a Touchstone contributing editor, meditates on the pursuit of happiness. In these essays for Boundless, Roberto takes pop culture out for a spin—the former HBO series Sex and the City plus a film from last summer, Before Sunset—and, with the help of Mortimer Adler, Aristotle and others, exposes a trinity of bad ideas that cause marriages to fail (sometimes) before they begin.

11:19 AM


There are many reasons why I do not admire much of what Europe is becoming, and here's one of them: euthanasia for newborns. Of course, of course, we must realize that only the most strict and the highest ethical guidelines will be followed, for after all, these are decisions being made by highly-trained medical doctors and the parents.

American lives were lost in driving Hitler back to his bunker in Berlin to meet his end, but some his ideas, it seems, have taken hold.

11:18 AM


Touchstone's former designer, Sam Torode, writes for Boundless on why the last generation's talk about sex (reducing the act to an animal-like satisfaction of urges) pales before the wonders of male-female attraction and affection. Meanwhile, Sam's wife, Bethany, continues to draw Christian wisdom from the quotidian. Here's what she learned from a spider in a parked car outside a grocery store.

10:32 AM


Some things just speak for themselves. This, for example. But be sure to enjoy the remarks of the "art expert" when he speaks of "the dynamic nature of art today and the idea that the creative process that goes into a work of art is the most important thing," and that "the work itself can be made of anything and can take any form." Yeah, right. How moldy-old and utterly, stupefyingly boring so much of the twentieth century's great "breakthroughs" now seem. Which makes the sponsorship of this business by Gordon's Gin, the Ford Focus of distilled spirits, an absolutely splendid and inspired touch.

9:49 AM

Wednesday, December 1


In the wake of the election, you will be reading and hearing more about the need to fight back against the "religious right." Here is a story about this from The Boston Globe that begins:

Liberal religious figures, concerned about broad moral issues such as world poverty as well as the perception that ''moral values" helped win the election for President Bush, are stepping up their organizational efforts to support left-leaning candidates and their causes to prepare for the 2006 midterms and the 2008 presidential election.
I think they are just "being divisive."

5:54 PM


It must be frankly acknowledged by orthodox Christians that many of the things most hated by western liberals about the faith of Islam, they also believe. As uncomfortable as we might be with the idea, we are not free to pretend that what appears on its face to be the genocidal bloody-mindedness of the terrorist is by definition unethical, or that someone like Osama bin Laden, who wishes to kill people in God's name, is for that reason alone an evil man. Simply put, the Christian faith long ago confirmed that the God of the Old Testament is unreformedly the God of the New.

To the liberal mind there is nothing worse than suffering and death, for this is the antithesis of what is to him the highest human good--a long and happy life in the world. (Conservative Protestant rejection of the "social gospel" in the twentieth century was based on the apprehension that liberal Christianity had lost, with its belief in miracles, belief in life beyond death, so that its preoccupation with amelioration of the human condition was better evidence of apostasy than goodness.) Both Christianity and Islam radically reject this idea and its hedonistic ethic, believing in a God who has ordained a life beyond this one, and for whom even the most terrible suffering and death, particularly when done in the service of God, is a small thing compared with the joy of eternal life.

The Christian, with the Muslim, believes in the virtue of martyrdom, while the liberal, despite his use of the word to describe those he thinks have died for a good cause, believes that the loss of human life is a waste--his willingness to kill fetal life being connected in this way to his fundamental intuition that every human life is, because of the ultimacy of death, lived in vain. The Christian thinks the terrorist a murderer because he takes life unjustly, not because he causes the Ultimate Discomfort to people who have the reasonable prospect of quality life before them. Life is precious to the liberal to the degree it offers the prospect of happiness, but to the Christian, and the Muslim, because it is the gift of God.

Here the liberal who lodges in the back of my own mind rises to bring the charge of hypocrisy--hypocrisy, in fact, of the grossest and most shameless sort. Who am I to reproach him for his reasonable love of happiness in this world, when what Islam and Christianity offer is the same, amplified, in another? Didn't even Christ endure the cross for "the joy that was set before him"? How dare I impose a genetic distinction upon what I want and what he wants by putting things as I have?

I answer him thus: There is a sameness to our desire for joy in this regard, but also a fundamental difference, for Christianity and Islam agree that understanding the highest Object of human desire as outside this life results in a different ordering of life itself--its actions and its values--than placing it within. The essence of sin and the activity of evil are themselves the disruption of this order. As St. Paul said, if in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable. One of the reasons is because this life cannot be ordered properly upon itself--an ethical notion Immanuel Kant believed was strong enough to demonstrate the existence of God.

There is nothing wrong, for example, with knowing good and evil, of eating of the fruit of its tree, for this is an attribute of the God who planted it and called it good. There is everything, everything, wrong with eating it out of order, against the command--of thinking and acting as though what is proper for one time and place by the will of God, is proper for another, by the mere will of man. It is therefore wrong, and futile, to place in this world what is proper for the next, and cannot be obtained except through death--something with which the scriptures tell us the Lord was constantly tempted by Satan. This is why we give a bad name to the attempt to do it. On these matters Islam and Christianity, against western liberalism, are in essential accord.

3:38 PM


Several people have written to ask for more information about John Stott. One could certainly begin with the website of Stott's organization, which has a brief biography (overly brief, I think, reflecting Stott's personal modesty), a partial list of publications, and access to free online devotional materials drawn from Stott's work, which I have myself used for years with great profit.

11:39 AM


NRO's Ramesh Ponnuru says they can and they did. In this year's presential election, particuarly in areas where the Catholic bishops were "outspoken about voters' moral obligation to protect unborn human beings," the Catholic vote helped President Bush to a second term. The story contains links to additional coverage of this year's Catholic voter.

11:37 AM

Tuesday, November 30


According to this report from the Associated Press, a hospital in the Netherlands has admitted euthanizing infants. The hospital is proposing guidelines for the practice.

3:25 PM


Readers interested in a discussion of the nearly eternal subject of worship should look at the "Pontificator's" How to fix the modern Western rite and the long discussion that follows.

1:28 PM


George Will based his column in Sunday's Washington Post on recent studies and surveys indicating, among other things, that "far left" to "liberal" professors outnumber "far right" to "conservative" professors seven to one in the social sciences and nine to one in the hard sciences at America's universities:

A filtering process, from graduate school admissions through tenure decisions, tends to exclude conservatives from what Mark Bauerlein calls academia's "sheltered habitat." In a dazzling essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University and director of research and analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts, notes that the "first protocol" of academic society is the "common assumption" -- that, at professional gatherings, all the strangers in the room are liberals.

It is a reasonable assumption, given that in order to enter the profession, your work must be deemed, by the criteria of the prevailing culture, "relevant." Bauerlein says that various academic fields now have regnant premises that embed political orientations in their very definitions of scholarship:

"Schools of education, for instance, take constructivist theories of learning as definitive, excluding realists (in matters of knowledge) on principle, while the quasi-Marxist outlook of cultural studies rules out those who espouse capitalism. If you disapprove of affirmative action, forget pursuing a degree in African-American studies. If you think that the nuclear family proves the best unit of social well-being, stay away from women's studies."

This gives rise to what Bauerlein calls the "false consensus effect," which occurs when, because of institutional provincialism, "people think that the collective opinion of their own group matches that of the larger population." There also is what Cass Sunstein, professor of political science and jurisprudence at the University of Chicago, calls "the law of group polarization." Bauerlein explains: "When like-minded people deliberate as an organized group, the general opinion shifts toward extreme versions of their common beliefs." They become tone-deaf to the way they sound to others outside their closed circle of belief.
Will's brilliant economy with words may leave some readers wanting more. Mark Bauerlein's essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education can be found here. Bauerlein further explains how conservatives are kept off faculties and sifted out of graduate programs by the very nature of contemporary academic studies:
No active or noisy elimination need occur, and no explicit queries about political orientation need be posed. Political orientation has been embedded into the disciplines, and so what is indeed a political judgment may be expressed in disciplinary terms. As an Americanist said in a committee meeting that I attended, "We can't hire anyone who doesn't do race," an assertion that had all the force of a scholastic dictum. Stanley Fish, professor and dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, advises, "The question you should ask professors is whether your work has influence or relevance" -- and while he raised it to argue that no liberal conspiracy in higher education exists, the question is bound to keep conservatives off the short list. For while studies of scholars like Michel Foucault, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri seem central in the graduate seminar, studies of Friedrich A. von Hayek and Francis Fukuyama, whose names rarely appear on cultural-studies syllabi despite their influence on world affairs, seem irrelevant.

Academics may quibble over the hiring process, but voter registration shows that liberal orthodoxy now has a professional import. Conservatives and liberals square off in public, but on campuses, conservative opinion doesn't qualify as respectable inquiry. You won't often find vouchers discussed in education schools or patriotism argued in American studies. Historically, the boundaries of scholarly fields were created by the objects studied and by norms of research and peer review. Today, a political variable has been added, whereby conservative assumptions expel their holders from the academic market. A wall insulates the academic left from ideas and writings on the right.

One can see that phenomenon in how insiders, reacting to Horowitz's polls, displayed little evidence that they had ever read conservative texts or met a conservative thinker. Weblogs had entries conjecturing why conservatives avoid academe -- while never actually bothering to find one and ask -- as if they were some exotic breed whose absence lay rooted in an inscrutable mind-set. Professors offered caricatures of the conservative intelligentsia, selecting Ann H. Coulter and Rush Limbaugh as representatives, not von Hayek, Russell Kirk, Leo Strauss, Thomas Sowell, Robert Nozick, or Gertrude Himmelfarb. One of them wrote that "conservatives of Horowitz's ilk want to unleash the most ignorant forces of the right in hounding liberal academics to death."

Such parochialism and alarm are the outcome of a course of socialization that aligns liberalism with disciplinary standards and collegial mores. Liberal orthodoxy is not just a political outlook; it's a professional one. Rarely is its content discussed. The ordinary evolution of opinion -- expounding your beliefs in conversation, testing them in debate, reading books that confirm or refute them -- is lacking, and what should remain arguable settles into surety. With so many in harmony, and with those who agree joined also in a guild membership, liberal beliefs become academic manners.

11:27 AM


Mere Comments reader, Gintas Jazbutis, sent the following in response to the NRO article on adoption:

An even better reason than the 15 given: when you
adopt, you give an already-existing child the home and
family they need.

9:46 AM


Just when you thought it was safe to stop reading the New York Times altogether, along comes a fine op-ed by David Brooks to upset your expectations. Brooks notes the fact that television talk shows always call on the same tiresome figures (e.g., Jerry Falwell, Al Sharpton) to represent the views of religious Americans, while the most admirable, and in fact widely and genuinely admired leaders, are ignored, their names being almost entirely unknown in ignorant and incurious newsrooms.

Case in point: the great British evangelical John Stott, whose name apparently has not once appeared in the pages of the Times for the past fifty years, but whose worldwide influence has been enormous. Brooks does a great service in devoting the rest of his column to a sympathetic and insight portrait of Stott. It is a great service, but not merely because Stott deserves the attention, a calculus that he would himself reject. (One reason media people don't know his name is that it is almost unimaginable that Stott would ever deem it appropriate to appear in a venue such as "Meet the Press.") Rather, it is a great service because people who do not know Stott's works may be moved to investigate them now, and in doing so, will discover one of the peerless apologists for the Christian faith. I count myself blessed to have been introduced at a critical point to his Basic Christianity by an Episcopal rector, a Brit very much in the Stott mold himself. That book---whether because of timing or inherent worth I cannot say---probably did more to open the riches of the Christian faith to me than any other single book I've ever read, and I've benefitted from countless other Stott works. And it is a great tribute to Stott's catholicity that the value of his work is not tied in any essential way to the particulars of the evangelical Anglicanism that he so graciously embodies.

Brooks could, of course, have mentioned many other things about Stott, but the chief thing I would want to add is the fact that Stott has been deeply interested all along in the fate of the non-Western world. Not only that, but he saw, decades before others, the eventual emergence of the situation that Philip Jenkins has describe so compellingly in his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity---the situation that is now being played out in the fissures of the Anglican Communion, where the formerly colonized are now the chief exponents of the faith being abandoned by the former colonizers. Stott was way ahead of everyone else in understanding that dynamic.

But what is most remarkable about this article, which is apparently based exclusively on a reading of Stott's published work, is how well it reflects the man himself, as those of us who have had the honor of meeting him can attest. This says something about the force of written words. It strikes me that television, particularly television as it has become, could not possibly present a man like John Stott fairly and accurately. Nor, even, do audio tapes of his very intelligent but somewhat flat style of speaking really explain the high regard in which he is held. (The one part of Brooks's account that rings false is his statement that Stott's voice is "the" voice of evangelicalism.) But written words, which claim far less immediacy than these other media, can reflect the truth more faithfully. Vox audita perit, littera scripta manet. Which is one reason why the work of John Stott will survive. But his tireless evangelistic efforts, particularly in the "two-thirds" world, also deserve to be known and remembered and celebrated.

8:29 AM

Monday, November 29


November (what's left of it) is National Adoption Awareness month and National Review's Jennifer Roback Morse offers 15 lucid and light-hearted reasons why adoption is preferable to assisted reproductive technology.

2:43 PM


Almost anyone who's not an expert on Christianity in China will learn something from this story in the Sunday editions of The Washington Post. In "Chinese Christians Are a Force: But What Kind?" Joshua Kurlantzick writes:

Though the Communist Party all but destroyed the Protestant and Catholic churches when it took over in 1949, scholars estimate that the country now has at least 45 million Christians. Dennis Balcombe, pastor of Hong Kong's Revival Christian Church and an expert who has studied Chinese Christianity for two decades, believes that there may be as many as 90 million Christians in China.

There's a tendency among some outside China to see the spread of religion as speeding political change and creating an ethical bond with the world beyond China's borders. "As cultural and social traditions evolve, Christianity is poised to provide new ethical and moral foundations for the emergence of a modern Civil Society and State," Sister Janet Carroll of the U.S. Catholic China Bureau told the Congressional Executive Commission on China in September.

But the fastest growing religious movements in China seem unlikely to provide salvation for the country. Though Catholicism, which in China comprises both a state-sanctioned church and underground churches loyal to the Vatican, is becoming more popular, the majority of new Chinese Christians are Protestants. And while the state-sanctioned Protestant church is growing, most Chinese Christians are joining underground "house" churches. These churches are generally found away from city centers, in outlying regions, hidden within communal areas and marked only by discreet signs of faith.

Many house church services are so passionate that they would surprise even the most committed American evangelicals. Many house churches hold prayer meetings, at which they recruit new members and affirm their relationship to God, that last for several days, even up to a week. The Crying School, a house church that reportedly has at least 500,000 members, holds three-day retreats at which adherents wail and cry en masse, repenting in anticipation of the apocalypse. Another underground movement known as the Shouters believes in screaming for hours on end, to attest to one's faith. The Shouters reportedly shriek out a shortened version of the Lord's Prayer while stamping their feet.
Kurlantzick has even more to reveal in a surprising and encouraging account of a church that's thriving and spreading in ways both strange and subversive.

1:07 PM


We recently received word of the death of Victor L. Walter, a man great of body and spirit, and an inspiration to all of us at Touchstone who knew him. Vic did some much-appreciated writing for us in the early nineties, giving conservative Protestant support to an understanding of biblical authority as indissolubly connected to the authority of the Church. He spent most of his life in pastorates in Colorado and Wyoming, and as a district superintendent (read "bishop") of the Evangelical Free Church in Oregon.

I knew him, however, as a professor of pastoral theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School during the late seventies and early eighties. He was one of my favorite teachers--a paragon of sanity, a master of dry, ironic humor, and a great refreshment to my wife and me during seminary years. A man of penetrating insight who had the gift of delivering unwelcome truths in the least offensive way, he could do this primarily because of his self-effacing humor. (He made fun of his weight, much of which he apparently lost in later years, by collecting elephants. His office was full of them.) Never leaving the impression he was delivering judgments from on high, he appeared to recognize himself as one of the problems he had been placed on earth to work upon.

This made him eminently approachable. He had a reputation among us as a kind and practical man, and was sought out by those who knew they could only be helped by the surgery of truth. One of the brightest minds on the faculty, he was also one of the most pastoral, and so embodied the best of what the school hoped it stood for.

I can't say I miss him any more now that he has gone home, for I have missed him for more than a quarter century now. He is one of those men who, any time they pass from your life, leave the impression of irreparable loss. They are also of the sort, however, that make one think when they put off their mortality an important building stone has been returned to the hand of the Maker.

These are hard days for those who loved him, but I think we can hear at least dim echoes of welcome-trumpeting from beyond the mountains. Sounds, in fact, a bit like elephants to me.

12:00 PM


On November 14, as reported here, some Evangelicals spoke at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, made remarks that have upset some Evangelicals, and the story has been covered by the Baptist Press.I will comment just on this one quote from Mouw in response to some critics:

"In none of this am I saying that Mormons are 'orthodox Christians.' But I do believe that there are elements in Mormon thought that if emphasized, while de-emphasizing other element[s], could constitute a message within Mormonism of salvation by grace alone through the blood of Jesus Christ," Mouw wrote. "I will work to promote that cause.”
As stated, this will raise some red flags, especially the bit about “within Mormonism.” If one imagines that downplaying some things in a heretical sect while playing up other things can make it Christian--in the evangelical sense of teaching "salvation by grace alone through the blood of Jesus Christ"-- I think a mistake is being made. In church history, at least it seems to me, the error of a past council, bishop, or teacher has to be named and repudiated as it is. If Mormons can be accepted as evangelical Christians by an adjustment of emphases, then Joseph Smith can be recast as an evangelical in some sense. But Mormonism was never about the Church's gospel, but about J. Smith and the teachings of his Book of Mormon. And that's a problem that has to be faced, honestly.

10:15 AM


Thomas Woodward, author of Doubts About Darwin (reviewed in our July/August issue on Darwin), reviews a recent National Geographic feature article on Darwin. It's posted at Christanity Today.

If we imagine the "clash of two theories"-the older notion of "separate creations" by a supremely wise designer, versus Darwin's "common ancestry" of all life, driven by natural selection-it appears here that the younger system has utterly crushed the older. Sketched in terms of a basketball tourney, [the author] paints a complete rout-a 118-0 shutout.
I think Darwinists and cultural liberals who have been venting since the recent election are frustrated for very similar reasons.

On the part of Darwinists,it's been nearly 80 years since the Scopes Trial and public school education has now for a long time followed Darwin--but the religious bumpkins still don't get it. They just won't give up non-Darwinian thinking.

On the part of the cultural Left, in great pain since the election, their frustration surely must stem from the fact that it's been a long time since "the Sixties"--and Roe. v. Wade--and since then news media, the film industry, the colleges and universities (with rare exceptions), and the public schools have largely promoted the Sixties party line about sex and morals and religion--and stillthe religious bumpkins hang on to their outdated myths and beliefs and mores. (This last point is not entirely true, of course, so much have even "conservative" believers been modernized, but that is the subject of a longer article.)

"What do we have to do to get you people to give up these outdated beliefs?" one can almost hear some of them saying. After controlling the media, the schools, the arts and you still can't beat them, what else can you do? (Go ask the Communists.)

On the other hand, you might want to consider that religious believers are on to something. After all, the effects of the sexual revolution are not very pretty to look at.

As for Darwinism, survival of the fittest is no happy principle upon which to build any sane society. And besides, people who believe in Darwinism, I would wager, have a below replacement level birthrate. That means as far as ultimate survivability goes, Darwinism is a loser. And so are the The Sixties.

10:00 AM

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