The Briefing, Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TODAY: The Church of England turns down women bishops / San Francisco turns down public nudity . . . partially, maybe / Teenagers disconnected — Hurricane Sandy’s lessons for the digital age / A true Thanksgiving. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. The Church of England Votes Against Women Bishops — What Does This Mean?

“This is a train crash,” said one frustrated priest. Yesterday was a decisive day in the history of the Church of England, but it was also a deeply divisive day. After 37 years of controversy and turmoil, the church’s General Synod turned down a proposal to consecrate women as bishops. The proposal required a two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod in order to pass, and it failed to receive that vote among the laity.

The lay members of the General Synod voted 132 in favor and 74 against, meaning that the proposal went down to a narrow defeat — but a defeat all the same. Tellingly, bishops voted 44-3 in favor (with 2 abstentions) and clergy voted 148-45 in favor. The defeat means that it will take another five years for another proposal can put the issue before a General Synod vote once again.

The vote came almost two decades after the Church of England voted to ordain women as priests. The question of women serving as bishops was more involved, given the fact that bishops supervise other clergy. A strongly traditionalist wing of the church has staunchly opposed women as both priests and bishops, but they were unsuccessful in blocking the ordination of women twenty years ago. The proposal to consecrate women bishops was presented as a “compromise” that would approve women bishops but call for “respect” to those clergy and parishes that opposed women serving in that capacity.

The meaning of that “respect” was never specified, and this led to the proposal’s defeat. The failure of the proposal was a dramatic rebuke to the leadership of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and a warning to his designated successor, Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham. Both men had strongly supported the measure.

Bishop Welby had called for the adoption of the proposal with this argument:

“We cannot get trapped into believing this is a zero-sum decision where one person’s gain must be another’s loss. That is not a theology of grace.”

That amounts to a quintessentially Anglican promise — a vote on such a fundamental question that would settle the issue by some form of compromise. But the current proposal was really no compromise at all, and it never could have been

Actually, that point was made with clarity by the Rev. Janet Appleby, a parish priest who drafted the “compromise” language:

“The trouble is our disagreement is absolute: either a woman can be a bishop or she cannot.”

She is exactly right. The Church of England cannot operate without the universal recognition of its bishops within the church. If women are consecrated as bishops, the entire church will have women bishops.

The debate before the General Synod had mostly to do with the nature of the “compromise” language. The House of Bishops is expected to meet this morning “to consider a way forward.”

Press coverage of the vote, even among the church’s own media and press branches, was free from serious theological or biblical debate. A church that has already decided to ordain women as priests is not likely to return to a confrontation with biblical texts and theological arguments that would limit the teaching office in the church to men.

Those pushing the proposal used cultural arguments, instead. They insisted that the Church of England would have to accept the cultural assumption that all gender discrimination is wrong, or look badly out of date, out of step, and out of order.

One thing is almost certain — a church or denomination that ordains women as pastors will one day vote to appoint them to every office and role. Any compromise in this regard is really a matter of time, and not a matter of principle.

2. San Francisco Votes to Limit Public Nudity — Partially, Maybe

San Francisco is famous for its beauty, its history, its cuisine, and its liberal culture. But will San Francisco accept any limits on that liberal sexual culture? Just consider this lead to a news story released late yesterday:

“What started out as a discussion about whether people could stroll naked through this liberal city’s storied streets ended up Tuesday as a discussion about the role of local government. Faced with complaints about a band of so-called ‘Naked Guys’ gathering daily in the Castro District, Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation last month to ban public nudity citywide, except for at permitted festivals and parades.”

So reported Maria L. La Ganga of The Los Angeles Times. Supervisor Wiener told his colleagues that calls for keeping public nudity fully legal were not coming from straight couples with children. “The dominant demographic expressing concern is gay men,” he explained.

A group of far-left supervisors (keep in mind that is far-left in the context of San Francisco) fought against any new restriction on public nudity. Supervisor John Avalos said that the complaints were only about “inconsequential nudity.”

San Francisco currently outlaws “lewd” nudity and it requires clothing in restaurants, plastic beneath bodies on public property, and some space between nude bodies. Trust me, no one is making this up.

The Washington Post reported that the law approved late yesterday still has significant allowances for public nudity:

“A first offense would carry a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, but prosecutors would have authority to charge a third violation as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in jail. Exemptions would be made for participants at permitted street fairs and parades, such as the city’s annual gay pride event and the Folsom Street Fair, which celebrates sadomasochism and other sexual subcultures.”

Or, as one activist told the Associated Press, “Freedom is not something man gives anyone. It’s something we all — men, women, children — are born with and then people come in and try to erase it from you and if you won’t let that go they want to silence you, they want to banish you and they want to burn you at the stake.”

The Washington Post also reported that many California cities have no laws banning public nudity. You have been warned.

3. Hurricane Sandy Revealed that Teenagers Can Survive (Temporarily) without Digital Connections

Aimee Lee Ball of The New York Times reported that, for many young people on the East Coast, the extended time without electrical power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was their first experience of a non-digital world. In her words,

“Blank screens. Cellphones on the fritz. Wii games sitting dormant in darkened rec rooms. For a swath of teenagers and preteens on the East Coast, the power failures that followed Hurricane Sandy last month represented the first time in their young lives that they were totally off the grid, without the ability to text, play Minecraft, video-chat, check Facebook, or send updates to Twitter.”

For these “digital natives,” who have never known a time without smart phones, iPods, Facebook, and all the rest, the power outage was traumatic — and yet they survived. Ball’s report is must reading for parents and others interested in adolescents, young adults … and the rest of us.

As Ball reported, “the storm provided a rare glimpse of a life lived offline. It drove some children crazy, while others managed to embrace the experience of a digital slowdown. It also produced some unexpected ammunition for parents already eager to curb the digital obsessions of their children.”

4. A True Thanksgiving

As Americans gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, several ironies arise. For an increasing number, there is no giving of thanks to God, but just a general sense of thankfulness. But thankfulness requires an object of that gratitude. In an increasingly secularized age, this gets complicated.

Christians understand the nature of the holiday observance, remembering the historic roots of the celebration among the Pilgrims. But today’s Christians need to keep in mind that the most important day of thanksgiving for us is the Lord’s Day, when corporate thanksgiving to God is central to authentic Christian worship.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing. LISTEN HERE.

The Briefing, Tuesday, November 20, 2012

TODAY: Should Israel put its trust in an Iron Dome? / A day of decision for Anglicans — Women Bishops? / Hindu congresswomen to take oath on Bhagavad Gita / Judge grants injunction in contraception mandate case. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Israel’s Iron Dome — Should Israel Place its Trust in Technology?

Americans seem almost as fascinated as Israelis when it comes to Israel’s “Iron Dome,” perhaps the world’s most sophisticated and accurate anti-missile defense system. The system deploys rockets fired at incoming missiles or rockets, thus avoiding a deadly hit during a rocket attack. Israel has been subjected to a barrage of rockets from Hamas forces in Gaza, with some rockets now hitting the cities of Tel Aviv, Ashdod, and Jerusalem.

Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, has called the Iron Dome “probably the most technologically impressive achievement in recent years in Israel.”

According to recent reports, the Iron Dome system has been hugely successful, neutralizing more than 300 rockets and achieving a success rate of between 80 to 90 percent. The system, created with the assistance of the United States, offers Israel a margin of time once an attack begins. Each interceptor missile costs up to $50,000.

As Isabel Kershner of The New York Times reports:

“Iron Dome shoots down rockets with a radar-guided missile known as Tamir, which was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, an Israeli company. The radar was developed by Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, and another company, Impress, developed the command and control system.

Because each interceptor missile costs $40,000 to $50,000, the system is designed to aim only at rockets headed for populated areas and to ignore those destined for open ground outside cities and towns. Israeli officials say that the cost is offset by the lives and property that are saved.”

In recent days Israeli defense and political authorities have expressed concern that the nation’s citizens may be placing too much trust in the Iron Dome system. They fear that people may begin to ignore or minimize air raid sirens and other warnings, increasing the danger of a deadly strike.

Israel’s current leaders are not the first to sound that alarm. King David sounded a similar concern in Psalm 20:7-8 — “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”

Technology cannot save. Any nation that places its ultimate trust in technology is creating an idol that cannot deliver on its promises — no matter how impressive it may be.

2. A Day of Decision for the Church of England: Women Bishops?

The Church of England will decide today if women are to be consecrated as bishops. The church’s General Synod will vote on a “compromise” measure that seems certain to please almost no one.

As The Washington Post reports:

“While opening the way for female bishops, the proposal before the General Synod also commits the church, when it assigns priests and bishops, to ‘respect’ the position of parishes that oppose them — without defining what respect means in practical terms.”

“Enough waiting,” declared Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, a proponent of women bishops. If the proposal is approved by a two-thirds majority in all three houses of the synod, women will soon serve as bishops. If the measure is defeated, it will take at least five years to bring the matter to a vote once again.

In truth, this is not a compromise at all. If the proposal passes, women bishops will be consecrated throughout the church and must be recognized by all parishes and ministers. Given the fact that the Church of England started ordaining women to the priesthood almost twenty years ago, the elevation of women to the episcopacy was inevitable.

One central argument put forth by the proponents of women bishops demands close attention.

Peter Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden (near London), warned that if the proposal fails, the Church of England would “look completely stupid in the eyes of society.”

Similarly, Rosie Harper, chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and vicar of Great Missenden told The Guardian [London[ that, if the measure fails, “it will seem to people in the country [at large] that the church is operating within a lower ethical framework than their own.”

In other words, let the culture set the demands for the church. Since the role of women in society is no longer up for debate, the church must give way. Otherwise, it will look backwards, unethical, and stupid.

Note the absence of any theological or biblical argument, or even an acknowledgement that the service of women in the teaching office of the church runs counter to clear biblical teachings. The culture is cited as the authority in the matter.

On any question, that move is a sure sign of theological and spiritual disaster.

3. America’s First Hindu Congressperson to Take Oath on the Bhagavad Gita

A sure sign of America’s increasing religious and ethnic diversity will be evident in January when Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii takes the oath of office as the nation’s first Hindu Member of Congress. The Huffington Post reports that Gabbard will take the oath of office over a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, one of several Hindu texts. The Bhagavad Gita is a text of 700 verses and 18 chapters that tells the central Mahabharata epic.

There are an estimated 600,000 to 2.3 million Hindus in the United States. Gabbard will serve alongside at least 2 Buddhist members of Congress.

This development underlines the changing nature of America as a mission field. The world is coming to the United States, and that world brings a universe of worldviews and religious belief systems. Evangelical Christians must see the seating of a Hindu Member of Congress as yet another indicator of that challenge. At the same time, this same development is an affirmation of our American commitment to religious liberty — the same liberty that allows an evangelical Christian to participate in the public life of the nation.

4. Judge Grants Injunction in Contraception Mandate Challenge

Word came late Monday that U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of the District of Columbia has handed down an injunction that prevents, for now, action against Tyndale House Publishers. Tyndale House had sought relief from the contraception mandate ordered by the Obama Administration as part of its health care reform.

Judge Walton said that the mandate “affirmatively compels the plaintiffs to violate their religious beliefs in order to comply with the law and avoid the sanctions that would be imposed for their non-compliance.”

This is a major victory, though it may be short-lived. Judge Walton said that he will consider making the injunction permanent at a later date. The Obama Administration is certain to appeal.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.  Links to all articles cited also provided.