Friday, May 18, 2012

The End of Evangelicalism or the Failure of Anabaptism to Take Over Evangelicalism? Part II

Is isolationism and withdrawal better?  Do the Amish have it right?

I ask because Fitch puts forward a neo-anabaptist alternative to conservative politics as the better way for Evangelicals in chapter 6.

Sometimes Catholics say that Evangelicals have no ecclesiology and by that they mean that Evangelicals do not believe that God's grace is mediated to the world via the institutional church centered in a sacramental priesthood and ruled by a hierarchy.  Fitch's neo-anabaptism amounts to a protestant version of the Catholic concept of the Church as the extension of Christ's incarnation.  He writes:
"The church, then, becomes an extension of the Trinity into the world as a participant in this sending, the missio Dei.  By articulating the evangelical belief in Scripture in the terms set forth above - our one true story of God for the whole world, infallible in and through Jesus Christ our Lord - we in essence have the basis for becoming the church Bosch speaks about.  . . . The politic of the church  is shaped by Scripture as the very real incarnational presence of Christ extended by the Spirit into the world - a politic of fulness in the world. (p. 141)
In this chapter (chapter 6) Fitch argues for replacing an inerrant Bible with a divine Church.  It is not a hierarchical church that he envisions and it has the priesthood of all believers instead of a sacramental priesthood.  But it is a view of the Church as the mode of Christ's presence in the world.  (Maybe his language is just loose here - maybe he does not really mean that the Church is a continuation of the incarnation.  That is the impression I got from one quick read and it could be wrong.  I'll argue against the idea anyway though because the idea is wrong no matter who proposes it in whatever context.)

Evangelicalism must resist this theological proposal because the role of the Church is not to be an extension of the incarnation or the presence of God in mission in the world.  The role of the Church is to be a witness to the coming kingdom by preaching salvation through the King - Jesus Christ.  The Church points away from itself to something greater and better.  The mission of the Church is to bear the message of the Gospel to a world in need of the good news of salvation.  If we were to accept (what I think I understand to be) Fitch's proposal we would be abandoning the valid insights of the Reformers of the 16th century. This presumably would not bother Fitch as a neo-anabaptist, but it ought bother Evangelicals who wish to keep faith with their heritage of Biblical doctrine.

Next, Fitch recommends N. T. Wright's challenge to the Reformation doctrine of justification as the way to avoid cheap grace.  He writes:
"Wright's reformulation in essence makes justification impossible for the believer apart from his/her wider participation in the work of God in Christ by the Spirit to set the world right.  I cannot possess this salvation as my own.  I am justified only as I am a participant 'in Christ,' in the righteousness God is working in the world.  There can be no distancing of myself from Christ in accepting God's pardon from sin made possible in Christ. . . . We enter into salvation by entering into the entire work of God in Christ by the Spirit for the mission of God in the world." (p. 144)
I find it difficult to believe that anyone could believe that Evangelical theology has never heard of the clear teaching in the book of James.  We know that justification by faith is true, but we also know that true saving faith results in good works being done by the person who is truly regenerated by the Spirit of God.  So what is Fitch driving at here with his call to move away from the Reformation doctrine of forensic justification?

It seems that he is again moving in a Catholic direction and embracing synergism instead of monergism thus turning salvation into a joint effort in which God and man cooperate.  Maybe he does not mean this.  But why advocate a New Perspective view on justification instead of using the many resources within Evangelical theology that can be deployed to fight anti-nomianism?  It is not like this is a new problem.  Monergism is fully capable of resisting anti-nomianism and has done so for five centuries.  This is why Evangelicalism needs the Gospel Coalition and more good, sound, biblical teaching.  But it is not like we had no reply to anti-nomianism until the New Perspective came along.

In the third section of chapter six, Fitch makes his Catholic theological direction clearer.  Here he makes use of the Catholic theologians De Lubac and Cavanaugh to argue for a doctrine of the visible Church as the body of Christ.  He writes:
"A politic is thus born.  Christ's reign becomes visible as we embody the infinite gifting of forgiveness, faithfulness, and love.  Yet this way of being together births the Kingdom not only among 'us.'  It enables us to resist alternatives politics of violence and isolation, to subvert them, and indeed to draw the world into the restoration of all things, i.e. the Kingdom of God." (p. 157)
Here we see an over-realized eschatology in which the Kingdom is here in the corporate life of the church and is visible for all to see.  It is Roman Catholic ecclesiology radicalized.  I remember David Burrell saying once that if he was not going to continue to be a Catholic he would become a Mennonite, which makes a lot of sense.  In place of the sacramental priesthood mediating God's grace to humankind we have the "community of character" (Hauerwas), the incipient kingdom of God made visible in the quality of moral relationships between members of the church.

What direction is Fitch pushing Evangelicalism? It is obvious to me, having read this book, why he has such a strong animus toward Reformed theology.  It embodies everything he finds distasteful: justification by faith alone, expository preaching, mission as evangelism, and personal repentance and faith as the lynch pin of salvation.  He has clearly detached himself emotionally from Evangelicalism as a tradition and from the theology that undergirds it in both its Reformed and Arminian branches. 

He wants a liberal form of Roman Catholicism: the church as divine presence in the world, salvation as synergism, and mission as moral action in and by the faith community. 

Fitch never considers the possibility that Evangelicals might have a political theology in which the mission of the church is evangelizing the lost and nurturing its members, while individual church members might be responsible to engage in politics in a fallen world as part of their own Christian discipleship rather than as part of the church's mission per se.  Christians are pilgrims in this world; our true home is heaven.  But while we are here we should be good neighbors and good citizens, recognize signs of common grace when we see them and co-operate with all those of good will in making the world a little less violent, a little less unjust and a little less disrespectful of human life, family and the weak among us.  (It might even mean voting for a Mormon as president!)

Such a politics has no grandiose goals of turning a fallen world into the kingdom of God; that is the work of Jesus and he has promised to complete it when he returns.  Such a politics has no grandiose visions of the mission of the Church; she exists to preach the Gospel, bear a witness to Jesus, enfold the lost, comfort the dying and build up the body of Christ.  The Church is not here to make America into the kingdom of God.  On this point, Fitch is right to criticize Evangelical rhetoric because the goal is not a Christian nation in the sense of a nation that is transformed into a church.  But, you know, I have actually met one or two Evangelicals who understand this and who would insist that the rhetoric of civil religion not be over-interpreted.  A Christian nation can be understood as a nation that (1) does not persecute the church, (2) upholds natural law as the basis of positive law and (3) protects the religious freedom of all religions.

Christian Smith, the Notre Dame sociologist who has studied the Religious Right in depth, came to the conclusion that the real goals of the Religious Right was to get America back to the situation of the 1950s (with the exception of the civil rights gains made since).  Now that may not be a very ambitious goal because the 1950s were far from perfect.  But that is exactly my point; conservative politics does not aim for perfection.  The Christian Right doesn't ask for much.  Stop killing babies, teach abstinence to school children, respect the flag, don't impose socialism on the nation.  Only in the fevered imaginations of over-wrought leftists (who I suspect are not sincere), does this add up to theocracy.  If you want to see a real theocracy don't look at 1950s America, look at post 1979 Iran.  Check out Saudi Arabia.  Feminists who call Jerry Falwell a theocrat should have to go live in Iran or Saudi Arabia for a while.  Did you know that women in 1950s America were allowed to drive cars?  Really.  And did you know that there is no record of any adulteresses being stoned to death in America in the 1950s? Seriously.  Maybe the America of the 1950s might not look like the Gulag after the experience of living in a real theocracy.

Politics is not the mission of the church and it is of secondary importance.  Preaching the Gospel is the mission of the Church and it is of ultimate importance.  Turning the preaching of the Gospel into a form of politics is to demean it.  On this fundamental point Fitch and Evangelicalism will remain at odds. 

For neo-anabaptism, the goal is to evolve beyond the Reformation, but the historic mission of Evangelicalism in the West is to revive the church when it falls into dead orthodoxy.  The Trinitarian and Christological dogmas of the first five centuries and the solas of the Reformation are not the problem.  Evangelicalism presupposes them.  Evangelicalism is not doctrinally innovative at its best; its real contribution to the church catholic is to call it back to the truth and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Politics is a matter for Christians who must live in the world while we await a Saviour from heaven.  Politics is a matter of prudence, discernment and compromise.  It is always messy and often dirty.  It is part of living in a fallen world.  But politics is not the Gospel.  The Gospel is Christ crucified to save sinners.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The End of Evangelicalism or the Failure of Neo-Anabaptism to Take Over Evangelicalism? Part I

Note: In this post and the next I'll be reviewing David Fitch's new book, "The End of Evangelicalism: Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission" (2011).  In this post I discuss chapters 1-5, which contain his critique of Evangelicalism.  In the next, I discuss chapter 6 and the Epilogue, which offer his alternative.  

David Fitch does not have much good to say about Evangelicalism.  The first five chapters of his six chapter book, The End of Evangelicalism: Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission, reads like a laundry list of all the sneers and jeers Bill Maher has makes against Evangelicals (minus the profanity).   Honestly, we already knew that there is a lot wrong with Evangelicalism; only a Pelagian would be surprised by the sin, hypocrisy and inconsistencies.  You would think after reading this book that Evangelicalism is the only major segment of the Church that has problems.  After a while it ceases to be critique and descends into caricature.

There is also a disconcerting passive-aggressive flavor to his rants in which he first says: "Now I believe this teaching just like you do," after which he proceeds to rip it apart and accuse most other Evangelical of not really believing it.  He takes what he claims are three central tenets of Evangelicalism, biblical inerrancy, conversionism and the Christian nation, and claims that these are empty constructs that function as ideological markers for people who do not believe them but use them to mark off their political beliefs.  (I say "claims" because the third of these is not fully accurate.  It is just the old liberal "theocracy" boogey man being trotted out for the upteenth time.)  More on that in a moment.

Along the way he employs a lot of pseudo-intellectual, out-dated, Marxist mumbo jumbo appropriated from Slovakian atheist and Marxist, Slavoj Zizek.  Great.  Do we really need an atheist Communist to give us psychotherapy in order to recover from our false consciousness and throw over our false ideology? 

I basically have nothing to say about chapter 2, which is about Marxist jargon.  Some people are into magic crystals, others are into astrology and some just know that UFO's have already visited us.  And then there are those who believe that European Marxists know the key to understanding history and culture and politics.  "Honest," they exclaim, "I learned it in Cultural Studies - which is way easier than actually studying philosophy, history, economics and all those hard, boring subjects."  I think we can leave the Marxist jargon aside; it really contributes nothing important to the book other than making the author look "cool" to a certain kind of scraggly grad student.

In chapter 3, he argues that believing in an inerrant Bible makes us arrogant.  How does he prove this?  Well, you see, Hal Lindsay (stop laughing!) predicted the return of Christ on the basis of believing in an inerrant Bible.  So what, you ask?  Well, that means believing in an inerrant Bible is an embarrassment according to Fitch.  No, David: biblical inerrancy is not an embarrassment to Evangelicals - Hal Lindsey is an embarrassment to Evangelicals.  That whole date-setting thing was not the fault of the inerrant Bible.  If only Hal Lindsey had really believed in an inerrant Bible!  If he had taken Mark 13:35 literally and as true, he would not have gotten into date-setting in the first place.  He didn't do it because it is what you have to do if you believe in an inerrant Bible, he did it to sell books.  If you look in Mark 13:32 it says that the angels in heaven and the Son in his incarnate state don't know the time of Christ's return but only the Father.  It does not say "The Father and Hal Lindsey."  If someone wants to have a serious discussion of biblical inerrancy a good way to get one going would be to pay more attention to B. B. Warfield than to Hal Lindsey.   

Also, I am just tired of the old meme that if you believe in truth of any kind in a tough and serious way, then you are arrogant.  Here is a news flash: arrogance is a besetting sin of both those who believe in absolute truth and those who are relativists.  It is part of the sinful, fallen human condition and we all are susceptible.  But lay off the Bible; the problem lies elsewhere.

In chapter 4, he argues that the evangelical emphasis on the need for personal conversion - the decision for Jesus - means that Evangelicals have no doctrine of discipleship or sanctification.  Now does he interact with Tom Schreiner or John Piper here?  No.  Well does he discuss Calvin or Edwards or Hodge?  No.  So, who does he discuss?  Ted Haggard.  (insert ribald joke and laugh track here)  Yes, he quotes a man with very serious spiritual and psychological problems and who has been ejected from leadership in the Evangelical movement to prove that forensic justification is a doctrine that prevents Evangelicals from having an adequate theology of the Christian life.  He writes:
"Haggard finally says, 'You know Larry . . . Jesus says 'I came for the unrighteous, not for the righteous . . . '  So as soon as I became worldwide unrighteous I knew Jesus had come for me.'  Here in stunning fashion, Haggard presents the language of forensic justification as that which makes a final resolution possible.  It is the 'decision' to be forgiven and pardoned that enables him to bypass the raging duplicitous desires, make sense of the inconsistencies of his life, and come to peace. . . Does this not reveal the contradiction at its core, which says 'Go ahead and enjoy, but be guilty about it and then forgiven.  For that's where the true enjoyment lies'?  Is this not revealing of the lace behind the evangelical belief and practice of salvation: 'the decision'?

So, OK, let's try to get past the fact that treating Haggard as a theological spokesman for Evangelicalism is like judging all 16th century Anabaptists by the violent Munster rebellion.  What about the issue?  Is Fitch right to accuse Evangelicals of anti-nomianism on the basis of our belief in forensic justification?

I'd just like to point out that last week the 4000 members of the Falls Church (Episcopal) walked out of their beautiful and historic building and left it in the control of the neo-pagan pansexualists of the Episcopal Church who have rejected the Bible, sexual morality and all manner of sound doctrine.  These believers paid for the property, which was worth millions of dollars, but they left it behind because they believe that when we come to believe in Jesus Christ and are justified by faith we then, if Christ is really living in our hearts, will begin to walk in newness of life and struggle against our sin and law-breaking through the power of the grace of God given to us in the Spirit.  They believe that sexual sin of all kinds (divorce, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, etc.) needs to be repented of and confessed and that temptation needs to be resisted by the power of the Spirit.  They believe that when a Church begins to justify sexual sin in the name of "inclusion" and "tolerance of lifestyles" then that Church has seriously gone off the rails.  All over North America Evangelical Anglicans/Episcopalians have been making similar financial and emotional sacrifices in order to say that sanctification is not optional for Christians.  This is just one example that to me is far more revealing of the real heart of Evangelicalism than the twisted rantings of one drug-using, homosexual adulterer and ex-Evangelical leader.

In chapter 5, he argues that Evangelicals substitute a concern for a Christian nation for true compassion for the neighbor.  This chapter touches all the bases of typical leftist attacks on conservatism from Jerry Falwell to the Republican Party to George Bush to capitalism to Wal-Mart.  But let's just stop for a moment and ask what does he really want Evangelicals to do?  I get the feeling that he wants us to maintain our beliefs in marriage and against abortion but to do so in a way that is popular with the liberal media.  (Now, I believe in miracles, but isn't this asking a bit much?)  Again and again he quotes such biased figures as Jon Meacham and Sam Harris and at one point writes:
"I suspect that many American Christians under the age of thirty-five refuse to be called evangelical because of the presidency of George W. Bush." (p. 66)  

One has to ask oneself, "Why does the unpopularity of Evangelicalism with the Left bother Fitch so much?"  We know that the Left started the culture wars that have been raging since the 1960s and is engaged in trying to undermine the family and basic morality in the name of preparing the way for the Revolution.  When Evangelicalism came out of its separatist hibernation that followed the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the early 20th century, Evangelicalism reacted defensively against the attempt by the Left to destroy the family, make killing the innocent legal and impose a European-style welfare state. This made us unpopular.  Jesus predicted that in the Upper Room Discourses.

So what should Evangelicals have done?  Should they just stand aside and let the Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wrights and Al Sharptons and the radical feminists and the socialists change America?  Should they say, "It's no concern of ours whether the public schools teach free sex and out condoms to eighth graders?  Should they concentrate on hymn sings, Bible studies and church suppers and have nothing to do with politics?  Or should they vote for the Democratic Party like Jim Wallis wants them to because they "care about the poor"?

Once Evangelicals decided that they had to get involved in politics it was entirely predictable that it would end up messy and that there would be harsh opposition.  And to build a mass movement and a voting block you have to risk having wackos saying embarrassing things (kind of like the Democratic Party has to put up with Joe Biden putting his foot in his mouth every other day).  The Religious Right is not perfect, but if you want Evangelicals to be involved in politics you have to take the good with the bad.  Or you can, I suppose, join the other side.  Or you can withdraw. 

Tomorrow I look at the kind of theological politics Fitch proposes as an alternative to the decision of about 75% of Evangelicals to vote Republican and engage in politics as conservatives. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Global Christianity Will Outline Western Liberalism

Mark Tooley has an excellent analysis of the situation in the United Methodist Church in this article entitled: "United Methodists Transition from Liberal to Global."
The global 12 million member United Methodist Church, now likely the world's 9th largest communion, is no longer a predominantly liberal U.S. denomination. Its quadrennial governing General Conference, which met for 10 days in Tampa ending May 4, refused to alter the church's official disapproval of homosexual practice.

Some news stories huffed disapproval and surprise. After all, the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and United Church of Christ have all surrendered to American culture on sexual ethics. Their membership spirals subsequently accelerated into formal schisms. But United Methodism, unlike these other historic denominations that once dominated American religion and liberalized in the early 20th century, is now a growing church and has a record number of members.

Unlike the other traditionally liberal-led Mainline denominations, United Methodism is fully global in membership. (The 2 million member Episcopal Church of the U.S. does include the small churches of Latin America, Europe and Taiwan but is still 90 percent U.S. persons.) There are 7.5 million United Methodists in the U.S. and 4.5 million overseas, almost all in Africa, mostly in the Congo. With the U.S. church losing about 100,000 members a year (down from 11 million 44 years ago) and the African church gaining over 200,000 a year, the denomination likely will become a majority non-U.S. church in about 10 years or less.

These statistics frustrate United Methodist liberals who have dominated the domination for 50 years or more. Homosexuality has been debated at the church's General Conference every four years since 1972. And the church consistently decreed that homosexual practice was "incompatible with Christian teaching." Over the years, the denomination formally prohibited clergy who were actively homosexual (as well as any clergy sexually active outside traditional marriage) and banned same-sex unions. For the last 12 years it has even supported "laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of man and woman," though normally loquacious bishops and other church elites decline to articulate this stance even as the nation debates it.

United Methodist liberals always assumed their church would follow American culture on sexual permissiveness, just as the church had followed on so much else across the 20th century, starting with divorce and contraception. They always consoled themselves, "If not this time, then next time." Sounding like deterministic Marxist Hegelians, they believed history sided with sexual inclusion.

But this year in Tampa, the church once again rejected any dilution of his disapproval of homosexual practice, despite a full court lobby campaign. Liberal caucus groups pitched a full size tent outside the Tampa Convention Center, served daily lunches to any delegates, mobilized hundreds of volunteers in rainbow stoles, and distributed a full-size daily newspaper, sometimes translated into other languages. As chronicled by the just released Forgetting How to Blush: United Methodism's Compromise with the Sexual Revolution by the Rev. Karen Booth, pro-gay caucus groups have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from non-church philanthropies.

It was largely wasted money. A record 30 percent of delegates came from Africa this time, up from 20 percent just 4 years ago (and 10 percent 8 years ago), and they voted uniformly against any liberalization of the church's sexual teaching. Combined with many Filipino and European delegates, plus U.S. evangelicals, who were themselves about 20 percent of the total, there was an insurmountable conservative majority on key issues. The final vote on homosexual practice's "incompatibility" with Christian teaching showed 61 percent supporting the current stance. 
Read the rest here.

 The title of this piece signifies a very important truth about the nature of the universal church today.  Living in the decadent, late-modern West it is easy to be overwhelmed by the surge of left-wing deconstruction of the pillars of Western society such as the family, marriage, respect for human life and limitations on the power of government.  The church is seduced by the line "If you don't join the left-wing revolution now, you will be left behind in the ash bin of history."  But look where God is at work: Africa, Asia and Latin America.  The universal Church is growing, vibrant and orthodox.  Global Christianity is on the upswing; it is just compromised, Western, modern, liberal Christianity that is in decline. 

If other Protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church in the US or the Anglican Church of Canada were truly ecumenical, they would not exclude the growing majority of Christians from the Global South a voice in ecclesiastical decision-making.  But, it is clear from a look at the world-wide Anglican Communion, that if they were ecumenical they would not be accommodating themselves to the late-modern, secular, sexual revolution against civilized sexual morality.  Liberal Christianity in the West are cutting themselves off from the ecumenical (world-wide) Church.

In order to rationalize away the fact that they are on the losing side of history and really just a group of sectarians, they try to pretend that the rest of the world just hasn't caught up.  A half-century ago they thought that the secularization thesis was undoubtedly true; today it is clearly nothing more than secularist wishful thinking.  Then they were sure that Marxism would win the hearts and minds of the Global South and leave no room for non-Marxist forms of Christianity.  But Marxism is now a failed ideology and has been tossed onto the dust heap of history, which is to say that it is only alive in the late-modern Western university.

What will it take for us to come to the realization that: 1) the Christian position on sexual morality is never going to change, 2) theological liberalism is a sect that will have its day in the sun and then wither away, 3) biblical orthodoxy is never going to die out, and 4) Western secularism itself is doomed and hitching one's wagon to it is not a wise idea?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Satan Gives Commencement Addrss at St. Sincerus

In the wake of Georgetown University's decision to invite Kathleen Sibellius (best known as the persecutor of Catholic and Evangelicals, as well as other faith communities,) to speak at its Commencement Ceremony recently, the Catholic Phoenix decided that mockery would be the most appropriate response. 

So it announced that St. Sincerus University, the 84th largest Catholic university in the US, has invited Satan to be its Commencement speaker.  (Today's liberal Catholic universities do not make satire easy.)
In a move already denounced by Catholic bishops & other leading religious conservatives, St. Sincerus University, the nation’s 84th largest Catholic university, has invited Satan to deliver its commencement speech later this month. Also known as the Prince of Darkness, Lucifer, &, more popularly, the Devil, Satan is a divisive figure among Catholics & other Christians. Several Catholic universities have upset religious conservatives in recent years by inviting controversial figures to deliver commencement speeches, as when the University of Notre Dame, the nation’s largest Catholic University, invited President Barack Obama, who supports a woman’s right to abortion, in 2009. The invitation to Satan by SSU president Fr. Thad Despereaux comes at a time when many Catholics are highly critical of the Obama administration’s attempts to reform health care, which some claim would force Catholic institutions to violate their Church’s teachings by providing contraceptives as part of their health insurance plans. Fr. Despereaux, in comments made to the Daily Sham, SSU’s student newspaper, said that having Satan on campus gives bold witness to a central Catholic principle that God can be found in all things. “The continuing politicization of the faith indicates just how important it is for us to build bridges,” Fr. Despereaux said. “Our whole mission as a university is to bring people together. Satan is badly misunderstood by many people, & we hope to show our graduates that stereotypes, & the hatred they engender, have no place on a Catholic campus. As Catholics we are to hate hate.”
On-campus reactions at SSU have been favorable, as faculty & students alike have applauded the university’s open-mindedness in issuing the invitation. Dr. Sophia Greengrass, Director of the university’s Wiccan Institute, called the invitation a brave attempt to promote the university’s academic integrity in the face of “fascist attempts by the male hierarchy to impose its limited & limiting dogmas,” . . .
 Read the rest here.

Now, Dr. Satan's speech is up.  Here is the beginning. 
Thank you. (loud applause) Thank you all very much. Thank you, Fr. Despereaux. Please, folks (continued applause), please be seated. A little restraint every now & then. . . (laughter).
Seriously, this is quite an honor for me. I can’t say an unexpected honor, as this invitation was in the cards for some time now. And this despite all the non-attention I’ve received from many of your Catholic intellectuals; wasn’t it your own Fr. Cheever in Ancient Near Eastern Studies who said in your student paper that I don’t exist? (laughter). He’s not alone in thinking that, though I take it that after we got to know each other a bit better last night he has a different take on things. Talk about an ashen countenance when I discussed my background! Suffice it to say that he knows a bit more about ancient mythology & sacrifice than he did before we spoke. It really is too bad he can’t be here today, as he’s much in my thoughts, as are all the fine academics at this institution. Much of the work you do is directly responsible for my being here today, & I am much pleased by it.
To honor the graduates of St. Sincerus, I will focus my remarks on the creative gifts God has so richly blessed you all with, as well as on your sacred responsibility to nurture those gifts, despite the heavy costs. As you know, you live in a world in which the majority of people seek to restrain, to control, & even to deny the creativity of the few. Isn’t it a sad irony that such a gift, which can help you to make & remake your world, & which is an expression of God’s image within you, so badly frightens the unimaginative? 

Read the rest here

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

God Changes His Mind on Same-sex "Marriage" - According to His Prophet Obama

Barack Obama's evolution on same-sex "marriage" took a lurch forward today as he announced to the world that he now approves of recognizing homosexuality as equivalent to marriage.  And why did he do this?  Political advantage?  To get Hollywood campaign donations?  Oh no, it was because he realized it was required by Jesus Christ.  Really.

Now that would be the same Jesus Christ, one presumes, who told him to be against same-sex "marriage" in 2008 and who told him to be for it back in 1996. It is all quite confusing, but that is liberal Protestantism, for you.  One day black is black and the next day it is white; it's just God trying to keep up with the Zeitgeist while his prophet tries to get elected.

In the transcript of "Good Morning America" we read how Obama appeals to the cross of Christ to justify his capitulation to pagan sexual deviance:
Roberts asked the president if First Lady Michelle Obama was involved in this decision. Obama said she was, and he talked specifically about his own faith in responding.“This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.”
This is pretty disgusting stuff.  The least he could have done was have the decency to leave Jesus Christ out of it.  He may feel he has no choice but to support the radical base of the Democratic Party or he may be a convinced pagan himself, but to wrap himself in the cross while advocating for one of the many sins Jesus died to pay the penalty for is just sick and blasphemous.

It is time to get liberal theology out of politics.  It is demeaning to the intelligence of thinking people everywhere.  Liberals who support abortion and the rest of the sexual revolution would do so no matter what the Bible says.  They just pretend religion is important to them.  And for them to knowingly and cynically go against the Bible while pretending to be sincerely Christian is just sickening.  They have Marx as their prophet, why do they need Christ?  Other than as a cynical ploy to win a few votes from people who don't know any better, that is.  

Tim Stanley at the Daily Telegraph is not buying the "Jesus told me to do this" line:
 It’s unlikely that Obama is taking a principled stand for civil rights. In 1996, he said he was for gay marriage. In 2004, when he was running for the Senate, he said that Jesus told him it was wrong (Jesus, apparently, changes his mind almost as often as the Pres). In 2008, he repeated that gay marriage was a step too far. Then he started to “evolve” and, like the caterpillar, he turned into a beautiful pink butterfly. Now that he’s for it, his tortuous flip-flopping makes Mitt Romney look comparatively consistent. But more on that later.

The Pres probably has his eye on big campaign dollars from Hollywood, which was causing him havoc on the gay rights issue only last week. North Carolina forced his hand, but in a way that some on his team might calculate is a vote winner. I infer the game plan to be this: 1) make everyone stop talking about the economy and start debating sex instead, 2) mobilise that liberal base, 3) split the Republicans by forcing Romney to reiterate his hard-line anti-marriage position, 4) turn the election into a coalition of the young, women and well educated vs the old, religious and dumb. The bottom line: send people into that voting booth thinking about anything other than their job.
Stanley also thinks Obama has just handed a great gift to Mitt Romney and he undoubtedly has done that:
But will the gay-marriage bait-and-switch work in the fall? Maybe, maybe not. It could help Romney, who has been having trouble convincing the evangelical/Catholic base that he is one of them. Those people might have felt edgy voting for a “moderate Mormon,” but they’ll come out in big numbers to vote against Obama’s social liberalism. Also, Mitt’s reputation for flip-flopping is no longer a problem. Obama just flipped right over his head, did a 180 in the air, and landed on his backside on the other side of the political compass. Flopping is a dead issue in 2012.
Meanwhile, all the evidence suggests that “the folks” (as Bill O’Reilly calls the great middle-class) don’t like gay marriage. Anti-marriage amendments have been passed in seven out of nine of the 2012 swing states – most of them by popular referenda. Propositions have been voted on in 32 states and on every occasion gay marriage has been banned, even in Maine. Maine.
The Romney campaign must be ecstatic; they were not going to win hotbeds of liberalism like New York and California anyway.  So what if Obama ups his winning percentage in those kinds of states from 14 to 15%?  This election will be won or lost in 12 states and most are in the Midwest or the South. Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvannia, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Ohio are key swing states. If Obama thinks taking this stand helps him in these states, he is deluded. For example, Obama won North Carolina in 2008 by less than 1% and it just voted yesterday 61-39 to enshrine marriage in the constitution.  He is toast in North Carolina in November.  As one who prays for a Romney victory even though Romney is a far-from-perfect candidate, I have to think that things are looking up.

There is an interesting parallel between Obamacare and same-sex marriage in that Obama is rigidly sticking to his ideological agenda in the face of voter opposition and he, apparently, is willing to lose big to make (what he imagines to be) irreversible changes to the nation in a leftist direction.  I think his leftist ideology is dead wrong, but I have to admire his political courage.  Are Republicans prepared to lay electoral success on the line in order to bring the nation back in a conservative direction?

Ross Douthat in the New York Times observes that the politics behind Obama's decision illustrate the growing divide between the governing elites and the population as a whole in America:
At the popular level, the country is still divided (and perhaps more divided than polling suggests), but at the elite level and within the Democratic Party’s upper reaches, especially, what was a consensus understanding of marriage just two decades ago has become so associated with bigotry and reaction that a sitting president facing a difficult re-election campaign has been forced to abandon the politically-safer “civil unions yes, but marriage not just yet” position for the uncertain consequences of being for marriage, period. Given the landscape of the 2012 election (and the results yesterday in North Carolina), Obama’s prior attempts to finesse the issue made a lot of sense. But the moral ground had shifted underneath him — to the point where even his own cabinet wouldn’t risk the taint of bigotry in order to give him cover on the issue — and such finesse was no longer an acceptable option.

The consensus in the upper reaches of the Democratic Party is far more radically leftist than the general population of the US and this issue is just one of many that illustrate that divide.  The rulers of any nation cannot get too far out in front of the voters and hope to maintain power.  Today, the Democratic Party, by abandoning yet again any appearance of being representative of the nation as a whole, took a large step toward electoral disaster.  But that, of course, is their problem.

By the way, Billy Graham took a stand in North Carolina in favor of traditional marriage and urged people in newspaper adverts to vote to enshrine marriage in the constitution.  Who do you think is the more reliable interpreter of Scripture: Billy Graham or Barack Obama?  One of them has to be dead wrong on what the Bible teaches and I'm pretty sure it isn't Billy Graham.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wheaton College Joins Opposition to Obama's Infringement of Religious Freedom

Wheaton College has come out against the Obama administration healthcare mandate the infringes the freedom of religious institutions.  The Daily Herald reports:

Wheaton College and other distinctively Christian institutions are faced with a near and present threat to religious liberty.

Last August, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a mandate that the insurance plans for religious institutions (except churches) must provide coverage for all government-approved contraceptives. The list of required contraceptives includes abortifacient drugs — “morning after” and “week after” pills that claim the life of a fertilized egg.

During the period for public debate, the HHS received more than 200,000 comments objecting that the contraceptive mandate would violate the First Amendment rights of anyone who believed — for religious reasons — in the sanctity of human life.

This would be true not only for Roman Catholics who oppose all forms of contraception, but also for Protestants and others who believe that the use of contraception for the purpose of abortion is immoral.
The HHS secretary has been unresponsive to these concerns, and, in fact, has testified to Congress that she did not consider legal precedents for religious liberty in formulating her mandate. In January, she announced that the HHS regulations would be enacted without amendment.
Catholic charities, Christian colleges and other religious organizations still would be compelled to cover contraception in their health insurance plans. And the coverage list still would include abortion-inducing drugs.

In February, these regulations were finalized without amendment. Subsequently, the administration has proposed to offer certain religious groups some sort of accommodation. According to the proposal (which has not yet been enacted), Christian organizations would not have to pay for contraception and abortion; instead, their insurance companies would offer these services for free.
Unfortunately, the proposed accommodation fails to address the religious liberty issues at the heart of the controversy over the HHS regulations. Even if we are not paying for it, institutions like Wheaton College still would be required to cover abortifacient drugs, in violation of our religious principles. Practically speaking, we would still be paying for them, too, as insurance companies inevitably pass along their costs to their customers.

The effect of these regulations on Wheaton College may be dramatic. We are unwilling to compromise our Christian convictions. Will we face punitive fines? Be compelled to abandon medical coverage for our employees?

It is important to understand that Wheaton College is a pervasively Christian institution. Every member of our campus — faculty, staff and student — makes a commitment to live a distinctively Christian lifestyle. Our Community Covenant, as we call it, includes embracing the sanctity of life. As Christians, all of us agree not to commit abortion, alongside other actions we regard as sinful.
Many Americans disagree with our convictions, as is their right. What should not be in dispute, however, is that colleges like Wheaton have the freedom — guaranteed by the United States Constitution — to carry out our mission in a way that is consistent with our religious principles.

It is important to understand that the Obama administration is the hardest left, anti-religious freedom in the history of the United States by a wide margin.  The problem is their working definition of religious freedom in which they substitute "freedom of worship" for "freedom of religion."  What this means is that the only activity protected by the constitution is actual worship on Sunday mornings (or Friday evenings) and not any other organized activity of religious people such as Christian colleges, Christian camps, professional organizations, or any mission agency that mixes social service with soul-winning.  It is as if they want to restrict religion to the most narrow band of life as possible and claim the widest swath of life possible for the sovereignty of the secular state. 

This distinction is critical to the work of the State Department overseas as well.  Under the Obama definition of religious freedom the old Soviet Union has freedom of religion all through its existence.  Of course this is nonsense, but it is dangerous nonsense. 

Every Christian has a duty to stand up to tyranny while the democratic freedom to do so still remains.  One witty blogger said that the dispute between the Obama administration and the churches is about contraception is exactly the same sense as the American Revolution was about tea.  That is right; both are really about restraining tyranny.  All Christians, and all people of any faith, have a compelling interest in opposing the soft totalitarian over-reach of the modern, progressive state.

Cross-posted at The Bayview Review. 

United Methodists Decide to Remain Christian

The United Methodist Church is the largest of the old, declining, liberal Protestant denominations in the United States.  Nevertheless, it still claims 8.6 million members and many of them are Evangelical.  In its General Conference, held every four years, delegates come from the mission churches planted overseas in back in the days when liberal Protestants still did missions.  The African and other overseas churches are growing rapidly and are, unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly Evangelical.  They now number about 4.4 million members.  The Evangelicals in the US plus the mission church delegates from overseas now constitute a majority of General Conference delegates. 

As Evangelical churches continue to grow in the US and especially overseas and the liberals die off, the denomination is expected to become more and more Evangelical.  So, interestingly, the UMC thus constitutes a kind of microcosm of world Protestantism today.  What does the future of world Protestantism look like?  Is is liberal? Ecumenical?  Liberation/Marxist? Feminist?  Or is it conservative, traditional and Evangelical?  General Conference is going on in Tampa this week, so let's drop in and find out. 

The Washington Post reports:
Despite emotional protests and fierce lobbying from gay rights groups, United Methodists voted on Thursday (May 2) to maintain their denomination’s stance that homosexuals acts are “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Two “agree to disagree” proposals were soundly defeated during separate votes by the nearly 1,000 delegates gathered for the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in Tampa, Fla.

Jim Antle at American Spectator notes that the heavily biased, left-wing reporting of the New York Times is downright laughable on this one:
The vote was 61 percent to 39 percent against the change to the church’s "Book of Discipline," indicating little change to the deadlock on an issue the church has been debating for the last four decades. The delegates also defeated a compromise amendment proposed by the advocates of equality for gay members, which said that Methodists can agree to disagree on homosexuality and still live together as a church.  [my bolding]
No,  we are not laughing with you Grey Lady; we are definitely laughing at you!  I wonder if Obama won by 61-39 in November if they would refer to that as a "deadlock"? 

Antle also wonders if the denomination's pro-abortion stance can be turned around by Evangelicals in the denomination.
The votes suggest a working majority coalition between orthodox African delegates and U.S. evangelicals. This has kept Methodists from going in the same liberalizing direction on social issues as the other mainline Protestant churches. It will be interesting to see if this coalition has the votes to yank the United Methodist Church out of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
 It is nice to see the advocates of the secular, sexual revolution get rejected by Christians in favor of the Christian view for a change.  Congratulations to the United Methodist Church!

Cross-posted at the Bayview Review.