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May 5, 2005
Today’s edition of The Wall Street Journal features a debate over the so-called “Religious Right.” James Taranto, editor of the paper’s excellent Web site, OpinionJournal.com, defends the involvement of conservative Christiansin national debate. Taranto, who identifies himself as a social moderate who is “not a Christian, or even a religious believer,” makes a strong case: “One can disagree with religious conservatives on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, creationism and any number of other issues, and still recognize that they have good reason to feel disfranchised. This isn’t the same as the oft-heard complaint of “anti-Christian bigotry,” which is at best imprecise, since American Christians are all over the map politically. But those who hold traditionalist views have been shut out of the democratic process by a series of court decisions that, based on constitutional reasoning ranging from plausible to ludicrous, declared the preferred policies of the secular left the law of the land.” Journalist Christopher Hitchens–always ready with sarcasm–cites the late Sen. Barry Goldwater as his model of a secular conservative. As his opposing article makes abundantly clear, Hitchens wants nothing to do with the followers of “the possibly mythical Nazarene.” The Right should disavow Christians and Christianity, he urges, and return to the atheistic views of Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss. And as for Christians, “I have never understood why conservative entrepreneurs are so all-fired pious and Bible-thumping, let alone why so many of them claim Jesus as their best friend and personal savior. The Old Testament is bad enough: The commandments forbid us even to envy or covet our neighbor’s goods, and thus condemn the very spirit of emulation and ambition that makes enterprise possible. But the New Testament is worse: It tells us to forget thrift and saving, to take no thought for the morrow, and to throw away our hard-earned wealth on the shiftless and the losers.” Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair magazine. John Bunyan would understand the irony.
May 5, 2005
Jane Fonda’s autobiography, My Life So Far, has hit the bookstores and–no surprise–Jane has hit the talk shows. In the [largely fawning] interviews, Jane is often identified as a Christian, with some reference to an experience that started her on this new path. Yet, given much of what she believes and the causes she champions [feminism, condoms for teenagers, etc.], many wonder what Jane believes Christianity is all about. Now, in an interview published at Beliefnet, Ms. Fonda provides considerable insight. She wants nothing to do with a “patriarchal” religion. “Come on! When we talk about — depending on how you talk about it — God, the Almighty, Sophia, a greater power, whatever — can’t you understand that this is beyond gender? This is beyond anything that we can imagine. I mean, we can’t even describe it. I understand why people latch on to gender things, but this is not a man. But because people have taken it so literally, it becomes gender and hence, hierarchal. And it just made my teeth grate. The more I studied, in the very kind of linear, fundamentalist way, the more I felt reverence leaking away from me.”
May 5, 2005
Most Americans are blissfully unaware that this country is fast becoming the world’s retailer of reproductive technologies. Procedures that are rightly considered immoral in other nations are readily available here–at least for those able to pay. Sex-selection abortions and embryo sorting are available here, along with virtually unlimited and unregulated access to a market for sperm and eggs. Suzanne Leigh reports in USA Today that women are coming to the U.S., seeking to become pregnant. As she explains: ” The women are mainly from Canada, Australia and parts of Europe, where tough laws forbid the payment of egg donors and limit those seeking to become pregnant to using eggs from a young friend or family member or from a small pool of unpaid donors. Waiting periods of several years are not uncommon. But in the USA — dubbed the Wild West of reproductive technology by bioethicist Arthur Caplan — there’s an abundance of egg donors who set their own fees as well as a plethora of IVF clinics in many states, which makes pregnancy for even the postmenopausal a possibility. About 50% of IVF procedures using fresh embryos from donor eggs in 2002 resulted in a live birth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Costs including drugs, IVF and donor compensation start at around $20,000 and vary widely from clinic to clinic.” Follow the money.
May 4, 2005
Russell Moore takes an interesting angle on the ‘Emergent’ church movement in an article posted at the site of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement. In “Bugs Bunny Meets Brian McLaren: Christianity, Pop Culture, and the Quest for Hip,” Moore makes some interesting points. As he sees it, “the problem is not simply with the postmodern fuzziness of Brian McLaren and his devotees. The problem instead is that American evangelicalism long ago sold out to cultural accommodation to the consumerist, therapeutic ethos of contemporary American society. Now that side of evangelicalism is as “lame” in the eyes of the culture as a Looney Tunes cartoon from the 1960s. And so, evangelicalism ‘reinvents’ itself—in the image of a brooding, angst-ridden twenty-something coffeehouse culture.” More: “Of course, there is more than one expression of the ‘emergent’ phenomenon—and not all of it is bad. The call to community and authenticity in life together are as old as the New Testament. Some of the worship practices that are emerging from the emergent church are an improvement on the canned infotainment of standard evangelical fare. But within the McLaren wing of the ‘emergent’ church, the simultaneous rejection of propositional truth and Christocentric revelation—-coupled with a suspicion of authority in general-—result in a Christianity that just happens to coincide with the cynical milieu of reality television, NPR-style religious pluralism, and the postmodern fads of the local university English department.” What does all this have to do with Bugs Bunny? Go here to find out.
May 4, 2005
Andreas Kostenberger, Professor of New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the author of a new book, God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundations [Crossway Books]. It’s really an excellent book, combining an extensive engagement with the biblical text and a keen eye for application. Consider this paragraph: “Fundamentally, children, like all people, ought to be considered spiritual individuals who are uniquely created by God and yet are fallen sinners, so that the task of parenting is not merely that of behavioral conditioning but spiritual nurture and training . . . . In reality, only those children and young people who experience personal regeneration through faith in Christ and receive the indwelling Holy Spirit can truly and permanently live a life pleasing to God and benefit as their parents guide them toward greater wisdom. This, however, does not do away with parental discipline and training prior to a child’s conversion. It does mean, though, that parental efforts can only go so far unless aided by the internal, supernatural enablement in the respone of the child. Thus the child’s conversion is truly an important aspect of parental guidance.”
May 4, 2005
The election of a conservative pope has sent Catholic liberals into fits of outrage and anxiety. Benedict XVI–formerly Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger–is everything liberal Catholics feared. The self-styled progressives wanted a pope who would liberalize the Catholic church and make it, in essence, more secularized. Writing in The New Republic, Ross Douthat argues that this has been tried before–by liberal Protestants. His article, ‘Strict Construction,’ offers real insights for conservative evangelicals. Douthat understands the progressives’ argument. As they see it, the church must align itself with a secular postmodern culture or die. Douthat’s not buying this argument: “But in fact, exactly this experiment has already been carried out–by the mainline Protestant denominations, which have spent the last half-century moving to ordain women, accept homosexuality, endorse birth control, remarriage, and even in some cases abortion, and to permit local congregations to manage their own affairs with little or no interference from above. And over the same progressive half-century, mainline Protestantism has endured a slow-motion collapse–in influence, prestige, and membership.” He offers the Episcopal Church (USA) as evidence. In his words, “The Episcopal Church offers the most striking example of this phenomenon, since it would seem to embody everything that a Garry Wills or a Maureen Dowd would like Catholicism to be–the liturgy and tradition, that is, without the sexual prohibitions and inconvenient dogmas. Yet in an era when John Paul II supposedly alienated so many otherwise faithful Catholics, it’s Episcopalianism, not Catholicism, that’s been hemorrhaging members, dropping from over 3.5 million American communicants in 1965 to under 2.5 million today. Far from making itself more appealing and more relevant, the Episcopal Church’s reforms seemed to have decreased its ranks in the United States.” Evangelicals, on the other hand, are growing. “Tellingly, only Protestantism’s Evangelical churches, which tend to be as morally conservative as orthodox Catholicism, can claim a surplus of clergy. Only Evangelical Protestantism, too, can claim growth rates that outstrip the Catholic Church. Some of this growth is the fruit of conversions–from Catholicism itself, but largely from the dwindling mainline churches. Some, too, is simple demographics: It doesn’t help the would-be-liberalizers’ hopes of embodying the future of Christianity that they’re less likely to have large families than more conservative believers.” Interesting observations–and from an unexpected quarter.
May 3, 2005
Bishop Gene Robinson, the Episcopal Church USA’s first openly-homsoexual bishop, recently addressed a Planned Parenthood “prayer breakfast” and national leadership conference. According to The Washington Times, Robinson told the crowd that liberals must offer a “religious defense” against conservative Christianity. “Our defense against religious people has to be a religious defense. . . . We must use people of faith to counter the faith-based arguments against us,” he said. In his article, reporter Jon Ward revealed that Robinson “took aim at traditional interpretations of the Bible.” In the bishop’s words: “We have allowed the Bible to be taken hostage, and it is being wielded by folks who would use it to hit us over the head. We have to take back those Scriptures . . . You know, those stories are our stories. I tell this to lesbian folk all the time: The story of freedom in Exodus is our story. . . . That’s my story, and they can’t have it.” So, the Exodus is his story. The biblical account of the rescue of the Children of Israel from the hands of the Eyptians becomes a narrative of homosexual liberation. How does he get to this? Look at his principle of biblical interpretation: “What an unimaginative God it would be if God only put one meaning in any verse of Scripture.” Ah, imagination. It certainly takes a great deal of imagination to get to Bishop Robinson’s interpretation of Scripture–especially those texts that so clearly condemn homosexuality as sin. Back to the issue of abortion, Robinson explains his “pro-choice” position on the Planned Parenthood Web site. When asked, “Are you pro-choice?,” Robinson answers: “Absolutely. The reason I love the Episcopal Church is that it actually trusts us to be adults. In a world where everyone tries to paint things as black or white, Episcopalians feel pretty comfortable in the gray areas. I’m sure there must be individual congregations, and certainly individuals, who are off the deep end about this issue, but for the most part, the stance that we have taken speaks to our people as a mature and adult way of dealing with this — that we protect a woman’s right to choose but also say that obviously there are very deep things involved here. So we encourage our folks to take this very private issue seriously. We urge them to talk to their priests about it and to think through all the questions they might have. And then we absolutely stand behind a woman’s right to choose. I think that’s a responsible place to be.” Finally: “Planned Parenthood is an organization that I have always admired and respected. It does such extraordinarily fine work, and I’m very happy to be associated with it.” And, Planned Parenthood is clearly happy to be associated with Bishop Robinson. Here we find true guilt by association.
May 3, 2005
The Louisville Courier-Journal is at it again, publishing an editorial today decrying Southern Seminary’s shift to a consistent model of biblical counseling. According to the editorial, “Orthodoxy’s March,” this continues the seminary’s “retreat from the mainstream of American life,” making it “more like the insular Bible college that some would like it to be.” Furthermore, the paper slams the move as “part of a national trend toward Christian exclusiveness.” In the following sentences, it links the seminary’s shift in currciulum to the fact that a Jewish cadet at the Air Force Academy was accused of “killing Christ.” Next, we can expect to be blamed for earthquakes in Asia and UFO sightings in Alaska. The Courier-Journal continues its tirade against biblical Christianity. Christianity is fine, in their view, so long as you sing a secular tune. The changes in our counseling program are the result of our determination to train ministers for churches, not therapists for private practice. In addition, we cannot in good conscience teach psychological principles and therapeutic approaches that are incompatible with our theological convictions. The paper published a major front-page article on the curriculum changes in Sunday’s edition, characterizing the context as a battle between the Bible and “science.” [See also this related article.] The paper concluded its editorial today with these words: “As for the seminary, comfort may come from fundamentalist purity, but the long-term relevance of degrees students earn is in question. Meanwhile, Louisville watches, with sadness, as a once important local educational institution follows an ever narrower path.” From this side, we’ll watch as a once important newspaper follows its path into absolute irrelevance.
May 3, 2005
The pattern of “church shopping” has become tragically common within American Christianity, with many people visiting church after church without ever making a commitment to congregational life and responsibility. This concept of Christianity is antithetical to that of the New Testament. Suzanne Hadley knows this, and her article published recently at Boundless offers an antidote to the “church shopping” phenomenon. In “Designer Church,” Hadley takes readers back to the New Testament church where, she reminds, “there wasn’t much choosing going on.” Indeed, “The New Testament says a lot about the early church, but you don’t read about style or preference being considerations for attending. Instead of a ‘What can my church do for me?’ perspective, we find the opposite attitude: ‘What are my responsibilities to the church?’” She also insists that the early church was rightly concerned with the primacy of sound doctrine. Today, she expains, “Many people prefer attending a church where the messages are comfortable and the pastor sticks to ‘safe’ topics that don’t offend. But Scripture is clear that one of the church’s top priorities should be to preach the truth and protect itself from the poison of false teachings.” Sadly, sound doctrine is just not much of a concern to many church shoppers. Suzanne Hadley’s article deserves a wide circulation. Her conclusion is a resounding refutation of a consumerist mentality. “True self-expression will take place only as I seek to reflect Christ in every area of my life and commit to investing in a community of believers. Christ’s body is not something to be molded into my image. It’s a place where I can be molded into His. I want Christ’s body to be more than an accessory -— I want it to be my heart.” Pass this article to someone who needs it.
May 2, 2005
The Washington Post published two rather remarkable articles on marriage over the weekend, and this deranged duo of articles reminds us, once again, that we now live in world of upside-down morality. Consider this: The paper published an article by Stephanie Coontz, a well known feminist writer, who declares, “Marriage is no longer the main way in which societies regulate sexuality and parenting or organize the division of labor between men and women.” Alert the media. Her article, “For Better, For Worse,” argues that marriage must be updated in terms of expectation and structure. Oddly enough, she is on to something in her analysis. She correctly traces the rise of a romantic notion of marriage which promises “love, intimacy, fidelity and mutual fulfilment” as a modern development. Before this romantic vision gained hold, couples considered marriage a binding institution and covenant–regardless of whether they felt fulfilled or even deeply in love. Now, with individuals demanding personal fulfillment [by their own definition] as the basis for marriage, divorce naturally provides the way out of an unfulfilling relationship. Coontz warns that a return to “traditional values” just isn’t going to happen. “People may have revered the value of universal marriage in the abstract, but most have adjusted to a different reality.” Modern persons are just unwilling “to waive their personal rights.” As she concludes, “Marriage is no longer the institution where people are initiated into sex. It no longer determines the work men and women do on the job or at home, regulates who has children and who doesn’t, or coordinates care-giving for the ill or the aged. For better or worse, marriage has beeen displaced from its pivotal position in personal and social life, and will not regain it short of a Taliban-like counterrevolution.” Guess what that makes those of us who are pushing back against the tide? Head-scarves, anyone? In an even stranger piece, Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas report on their research among young unmarried mothers. In “Unmarried Because They Value Marriage,” the authors argue that many of these unmarried mothers simply value marriage so highly that they do not marry. Are you following that argument? These women are trying to “balance their marital aspirations against their strong moral views about the conditions under which it is right to marry.” Those conditions? Most are economic, and these women believe that they cannot trust a man to provide that economic security. Furthermore, they hold “a strong aversion to divorce,” and do not want to marry only to divorce shortly thereafter. Note this: “For poor single mothers, marriage has not lost its value. Quite the opposite: They revere it too much to sully it with a foolish union. The standards they expressed echoed those of middle-class Americans. The women we met wanted to wed, but they insisted on marrying well. This, in their view, is the only way to avoid divorce. Until young women have access to the trusting relationships and secure financial futures their privileged counterparts demand, they’ll invest their dreams for the future in their children, but they won’t be walking down the aisle first.” Two big lessons from these strange articles. First, when marriage is defined in terms of personal fulfillment and romantic aspiration, distress, lack of fulfillment, and the waning of romantic attraction are enough to destroy the union. We must return to a far more biblical understanding of marriage as an objective good, regardless of emotional fulfillment. Second, when men are undependable and fail to fulfill their responsibilities to protect, provide, and lead in the marriage, women will not invest trust in the relationship. How much more evidence do we need?
May 1, 2005
Philip Pullman, author of the best-selling “His Dark Materials” trilogy, makes some rather incredible statements in an opinion piece published in today’s edition of the Los Angeles Times. Pullman is something of a C. S. Lewis in reverse–an author who uses literature to attack and subvert Christianity. Given that his primary audience is young teenage readers, this should be of concern to parents. In his article publshed today, “A Subtle School of Morals,” Pullman bares his teeth at Christianity, claiming that secular literature is a sounder teacher of morality for the young. “I don’t profess any religion. I don’t think it’s possible that there is a God; I have the greatest difficulty understanding what is meant by the words ‘spiritual’ or ‘spirituality.’ But I think I can say something about moral education.” He argues that literature and the theater should be the teachers of morality to the young. Christianity is to be avoided at all costs, since it inevitably leads to “theocratic absolutism.” He attacks the Bible and any concept of heresy, apostasy, etc. Where, we might ask, would he find the morals he is so ready to teach the young? In stories, which “show us human beings like ourselves acting in recognizable human ways, and they affect our emotions and our intelligence as life itself affects us.” Well, no risk of absolutism there. It is all relative to which stories you read, after all. This article reveals a great deal about Philip Pullman. Its presence in the opinion section of the Los Angeles Times tells us a great deal about that newspaper. More on this later.
April 30, 2005
The conviction of a lesbian minister in the United Methodist Church has been reversed by an appeals panel, The New York Times reports. The Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud was removed from the ministry after a Methodist court had found her guilty of violating the Book of Dicipline of the United Methodist Church by announcing that she was in a lesbian relationship with another woman. The Book of Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus and excludes “practicing homosexuals” from the ordained ministry. Following the sad example of other liberal church courts, this panel, which voted 8-1 to reverse the conviction, ignored the clear instruction of the church. In this case, the panel declared that the denomination had never defined the phrase “practicing homosexual.” By now, all must know that a determined band of homosexual activists will not rest until homosexuality is normalized, even in the ministry. They will ignore the clear teachings of Scripture, the discipline of their churches, and the integrity of the English language. When “practicing homosexual” needs further definition, sanity has left the room. Rev. Ira Gallaway of The Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church released the following statement: “The Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals has refused to follow the teaching of Scripture, two-thousand years of Judeo-Christian tradition, and the clear teaching of The Book of Doctrine and Discipline of The United Methodist Church with regard to homosexual practice. Beth Stroud is a self-avowed practicing lesbian living in a relationship with another woman by her own testimony. By reversing the Clergy Court verdict, the Jurisdictional Committee has brought great harm to The United Methodist Church. Surely the Judicial Council will take a careful look at this action and reverse this decision. The Council has already ruled in 2004 that a clergy person found to be a practicing homosexual by a Church trial may not be appointed to serve as a United Methodist pastor. How tragic that a radical minority within The United Methodist Church seem determined to divide the Church.” Tragic, indeed–but the tragedy is not limited to one denomination. Furthermore, the UMC language is abundantly clear. It’s Book of Discipline reads as follows: “While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” In a footnote, the text stipulates a definition: “‘Self-avowed practicing homosexual’ is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.”