It’s Still Not 1968

Is this why Hillary Clinton will bring Bill back to the White House?

It’s worth repeating: there is no precedent in modern history for such a mass display of disunity by elected delegates at a national political convention as occurred this week in Philadelphia. Hundreds of people elected at primaries and caucuses not only vacated the Wells Fargo arena, they subsequently staged incendiary acts of civil disobedience and stared down Pennsylvania State Police riot cops—all to express the depth of their opposition to Hillary. Then, on Thursday, swaths of delegates chanted, booed, jeered, and walked out on Hillary during her nomination-acceptance speech. The closest analog may be the infamous Democratic convention of 1968, which erupted into turmoil mainly over the Vietnam War. But that turmoil mostly had to do with external protests met with violence by Chicago police. These acts of rebellion in Philadelphia were carried out by duly credentialed delegates.

The lack of coverage the tumult received, despite its historical significance, is indicative of a wider problem that Sanders supporters have long identified: few members of the elite media are sympathetic to the “Bernie or Bust” movement, which has resulted in disproportionately little media attention. Conversely, the failed #NeverTrump movement had countless devotees active in elite political, media, and ancillary spheres, so it received outsized coverage relative to the actual number of GOP voters who supported that position.

A Gospel for the King Penguin

This is how providence works. The same morning that I finish an article by Jonathan Franzen on his trip to Antarctica (and birding), I finish an interview that Ken Myers did with Norman Wirzba. The latter is trying to help Christians think wholistically about creation and has written a book about (in part) about the language we use. If we call the world out there “creation” instead of “nature,” will we think about it differently, more in relation to the creator? And then, what happens if we remember that Jesus is not merely savior but also creator? Doesn’t that invite thinking of Jesus as savior of creation? At one point, Wirzba even spoke of a gospel for non-human creatures.

That’s when the jaws clenched and the pace (of the constitutional) quickened. I understand the appeal of thinking about creation in broader terms so that Christians might care about the environment. Heck, I’ve read and still admire Wendell Berry and believe that I should try to live in a way that shows some respect for the created order. But that prevents me from venerating or sacralizing it, the classic way that pietists try to make something more important or permanent than it really is. If we can turn a cause into something holy or sacred or redemptive, then we must support it. If it is great instead of merely good, then not to support it is wrong, wicked, undesirable.

Here’s where Franzen came in as the conversation partner Myers and Wirzba need to have. The birds he adores, king penguins, survive by eating krill:

Krill are pinkie-size, pinkie-colored crustaceans. Estimating the total amount of them in the Antarctic is difficult, but a frequently cited figure, five hundred million metric tons, could make the species the world’s largest repository of animal biomass. Unfortunately for penguins, many countries consider krill good eating, both for humans (the taste is said to be acquirable) and especially for farm fish and livestock. Currently, the total reported annual take of krill is less than half a million tons, with Norway leading the list of harvesters. China, however, has announced its intention to increase its harvest to as much as two million tons a year, and has begun building the ships needed to do it. As the chairman of China’s National Agricultural Development Group has explained, “Krill provides very good quality protein that can be processed into food and medicine. The Antarctic is a treasure house for all human beings, and China should go there and share.”

So what would Wirzba propose as the gospel for krill? How does Jesus or his followers “save” krill?

One way that Franzen suggests is by humans being less fertile (which poses a few problems for Christians — Roman and Protestant — who believe the chief function of marriage is reproduction):

It’s true that the most effective single action that most human beings can take, not only to combat climate change but to preserve a world of biodiversity, is to not have children. It may also be true that nothing can stop the logic of human priority: if people want meat and there are krill for the taking, krill will be taken. It may even be true that penguins, in their resemblance to children, offer the most promising bridge to a better way of thinking about species endangered by the human logic: They, too, are our children. They, too, deserve our care.

And yet to imagine a world without young people is to imagine living on a Lindblad ship forever. My godmother had had a life like that, after her only child was killed. I remember the half-mad smile with which she once confided to me the dollar value of her Wedgwood china. But Fran had been nutty even before Gail died; she’d been obsessed with a biological replica of herself. Life is precarious, and you can crush it by holding on too tightly, or you can love it the way my godfather did. Walt lost his daughter, his war buddies, his wife, and my mother, but he never stopped improvising. I see him at a piano in South Florida, flashing his big smile while he banged out old show tunes and the widows at his complex danced. Even in a world of dying, new loves continue to be born.

The article makes perfect sense of the references to Franzen’s uncle here, a person who left the author enough money to splurge on a cruise to the South Pole and endure a long trip with very few young people (as the slide show on the last night of the cruise revealed).

The article also makes sense of a tragic dimension to creation that Wirzba’s inspiration neglects altogether. What if Darwin was right? What if nature is red in tooth and claw? And what if God created and sustained the world to run that way, not in a theistic evolution way, but in a way where critters survive on other critters? Even in a vegetarian world, plants die, humans cut down trees for warmth, and carnivores still eat critters. A gospel of creation does not fix that fundamental problem of survival. Granted, I’ve not read Wirzba’s books (reviews are here and here). But once again I am struck by the way people in the name of Christ blur fundamental distinctions (ecclesiastical-civil, sacred-secular, human-natural, redemption-creation) seemingly to transcend the very creatureliness they recommend.

If To Die is Gain, Is Climate Change Loss?

Here‘s an old-fashioned Christian way of viewing death:

For the faithful—and Mother Mary Angelica was surely that—the day we die is the greatest day of our life on this earth. And even if some final purifications await us, the beatific vision for which we long lies just ahead; the exile in this valley of tears is ended.

Is calling the day we die the greatest day of our life too strong a statement? I have seen some fellow Christians wince when I say this. But in this age of emphasis on worldly comforts, medicine, and the secular, this age in which we rarely speak of Heaven (or Hell), I wonder if we have lost some of our longing for Heaven and cling too strongly to the trinkets of this life.

So do those Christians who advocate care for the creation take proper note of the impermanence of this world compared to the “solid joys and lasting treasures” that await believers in glory (and we know which ones go straight there)?

Or do Christian environmentalists wind up turning creation care into a gospel endeavor to make up for what the Bible teaches about the death of saints?

The former National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) official stated that some on the Left believe it is “our job, our calling” to restore the goodness to creation and that “ours is the work of being good people”.

Recalling a visit with an environmentalist from Maine who claimed the trees sent him, Cizik replied, “For me, it is the salvific work of Christ” that drove special concern for the environment.

Cizik compared climate change skeptics to the biblical persecutor Saul, who in the book of Acts sees Jesus and is blinded.

“Human beings are in rebellion against God and suppress the truth – faith comes by the supernatural work of God’s spirit in regenerating a person – given that they are our friends then (many of whom do follow Jesus) and yet do not see any responsibility to address the care of creation or the coming catastrophe called climate disruption – what gives?” Cizik asked. “What is this blindness?”

I wonder if Mr. Cizik should be more careful throwing around “blindness.”

Would Donald Trump Fire Curt Schilling?

I don’t know much about the tweet that cost Schilling his job with ESPN other than that it made fun of transgender efforts to liberate the nation’s bathrooms from sexual tyranny. I understand that Schilling has a bit of a problem keeping his opinions to himself in the realm of social media.

But I am still wondering why this “issue” is absorbing the attention of state and federal officials (not to mention the news media). If Hillary Clinton can ask, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism? Would that end sexism?”, why can’t other Americans wonder, “If we allowed cross-dressing men to use women’s bathrooms tomorrow, would that put an end to police brutality?” And people wonder why other people find Donald Trump refreshing (emphasis on fresh)?

Are the Democrats that serious about the politics of (make up your own) identity? Michael Lind knows that they are:

The centrality of identity politics, rather than progressive economics, to the contemporary Democratic Party is nothing new. In 1982, the Democratic National Committee recognized seven official caucuses: women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, liberals and business/professionals. Thirty-four years later, this is the base of the Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton. The pro-Sanders left objects to the solicitude of the Democratic Party for Wall Street and Silicon Valley, the sources of much of its funding. But it is safe to assume that most progressives, when confronted with conservative candidates, will prefer incremental, finance-friendly Clintonism over the right-wing alternative. Moreover, the ability or even willingness of Mr. Sanders to help down-ballot or state candidates is doubtful. The next generation of Democrats are figures like Julian and Joaquin Castro and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, who are much more in the mold of the Clintons and Mr. Obama than of the maverick outsider Bernie Sanders.

If true, that means that both parties are guilty of not being serious about politics. I understand when Glenn Loury says he will vote for Hillary. None of the Republican candidates (except for Kasich) seem like three-dimensional candidates who are above sloganeering. But can the Democrats be all that serious a party when they let human private parts drive American understandings of liberty and equality?

Confessing Sin One Church Officer at a Time

The following from Pastor Jonathan Inman (PCA) is a call for his communion to confess its sin of racism by the book — that is, by the Book of Church Order. (Pastor Inman originally submitted this to By Faith magazine but the editors decided against its publication.)

GA Commissioners: Please Lead by Example

To my Fellow Commissioners to the 44th General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in America,

Brothers,

Among the various items of business we have before us this summer, several presbyteries have requested the General Assembly confess and repent of sins past and present. Further, we are being asked to encourage our member congregations and presbyteries to do the same in their local communities. I am writing to urge all who support these overtures, and especially those presbyters who plan to be in Mobile in June, to lead others by example in confessing and repenting of your sin as individuals before your courts of original jurisdiction in keeping with the provisions of BCO 38-1.

I agreed with last year’s momentous decision to refer the matter to this year’s Assembly. A year later, it’s not as though the issues giving rise to this initiative have gone away or abated, and the opportunity for folks to think through the issues and consider how best to address them is welcome. But now it is time to act.

By “act” I don’t mean wordsmithing by committee, perfecting language few will read and fewer still will take as pious advice. Nor do I mean huffing and puffing at microphone 6, bewailing our own or others’ failings, or castigating – if only by implication – those who disagree with us. Nor do I mean we should do much more than we did last year – that is, refer the matter – except in a different direction, with more determined purpose, and with a more realistic expectation of effectual results.

I would like for this year’s Assembly to answer all the related overtures by sending them back to the courts from which they originated to be dealt with according to our rules of discipline. Fully a third of our BCO is devoted to how our courts should deal with our members’ sin, and one section in particular, BCO 38-1, spells out how our courts should receive confessions of sin. I do not begrudge anyone’s earnest attempts to deal honestly and graciously with the sins of God’s people. I am calling upon the officers of the PCA to do so in a fashion to which we’ve all agreed.

If you think you have sinned, and not just a little, or in some ordinary fashion, but in an especially heinous sort of way, then 38-1 is totally the way to go. Serious sins, public sins, sins perpetrated by officers of the church – if ever there were occasion for serious, public and official confession and judgment, wouldn’t this be it? And all without the rigmarole of process!

Leaders in the church who believe they have so sinned – whether covenantally or generationally, jointly or severally – should lead by example by formally confessing their sins before their sessions and presbyteries, and asking for judgment to be rendered. Failure to do so suggests a lack of seriousness, either in their estimate of their sin, or their commitment to their ordination engagements.

No need to wait for the Assembly to give you permission; you’ve already agreed to this when you were ordained. There’s plenty of time between now and GA to get the ball rolling. And if you come to Mobile prepared, having discharged your conscience in conformity to the provisions of our constitution, it is reasonable for you to expect that others who share your concerns will have done the same.

Would you like the entire denomination to deal seriously with the substance of the issues presented in these overtures? Then have our elders, teaching and ruling, humble themselves to confess and seek discipline for their acknowledged sin before their brethren to whom they have promised submission. Have their sessions and presbyteries determine what is a full statement of the facts, render judgment, and mete out any censures. Far from superfluous procedures, these basic responsibilities executed by the courts would provide the blueprint for precisely the sort of appropriate responses on the part of the presbyteries and congregations called for by the overtures.

Whether you are for or against this or that sentiment in this or that version of these overtures, the best way forward would be for living men to lead the way, exemplifying how very concerned we are for Christ’s honor and our neighbors’ well-being.

And yet, if you personally vote to support some version of these overtures at this year’s assembly in Mobile, and if I see you next summer in Greensboro and you somehow haven’t yet invoked 38-1 for yourself, I might be willing to meet you at a lunch counter downtown and let you try to explain why you didn’t.

How To Talk About Sex (in public)

Conor Friedersdorf (via Noah Millman) suggested a way for Christians to talk to non-Christians about the value of sexual restraint:

Let’s imagine a private, residential college in purple America. It was once an explicitly Christian institution, and while now avowedly secular, the faculty still has a few beloved old-timers who retain a sense that part of their job is moral education. There is also a Christian pastor who lives on campus, runs a campus ministry for Christian students, and sits on a collegiate interfaith counsel. Each year, he plays a role in freshmen orientation—initially, to introduce himself to the students and invite any who are interested to join his ministry; and later, as one voice among many in a half-day session on sex and sexuality. He has 15 minutes to share whatever thoughts he has with the freshmen, who’ve already learned where to get free condoms and been counseled in consent and sexual assault. This is the only time he’ll have the whole class as a captive audience until graduation.

What should he say?

Should he say that abstinence is the only acceptable method for preventing unwanted pregnancy, because premarital sex is always wrong and contraception violates natural law by subverting God’s design of the human form? Should he say that while gays and lesbians are as loved by God as anyone and their desires are not themselves sinful, acting on them is immoral? Should he say that gay students should think about a vocation besides marriage, because the institution is inherently procreative and always will be? Or that students who never accept Jesus as their personal savior may be consigning themselves to eternity in hell? Should he say that anyone who aborts a pregnancy is murdering an innocent human? Or that the weight of tradition should cause students to look askance at masturbation? These are all beliefs a particular traditionalist Christian might well hold. You can imagine why he might feel impelled to speak them aloud—to “stay true” to his beliefs, despite their present unpopularity, or to facilitate what he regards as the potential saving of as many student souls as possible.

Should he say that you should imagine your future wife going to one of these parties and thinking of how to encourage men to show her respect?

Here’s part of what Friedersdorf came up with:

Some students will become depressed after hooking up with someone who doesn’t reciprocate the emotional intimacy they sought. Does that fact affect you? How? There’s always a chance that sexual intercourse will result in a sexually transmitted disease or the creation of a new life. What does that imply, if anything, about your own sexual behavior as you try to be good to one another?

There are so many situations you’ll face—so many more questions I could pose.

I don’t pretend that confronting these situations with the question, “How can I be good to others?” will lead all of you to the same answers, let alone to my answers, though I hope that you’ll keep your hearts open to the possibility. But if you really wrestle with that question in every situation that involves sex, romantic intimacy, dating, hooking up, whatever you kids call it these days—instead of thoughtlessly acting in whatever way most people seem to be acting—you’re much more likely to do right by others, much more likely to be proud of yourselves, and much less likely to remember your time here without the regrets that haunt some people, people who look back at their younger selves ashamed of how they hurt others. You’ll also bring about a community with fewer unintended pregnancies, fewer sexual assaults, less depression—just by trying your very hardest to be good to one another!

Can you imagine a chaplain talking like this to students at a Christian college? Of course, not (unless it’s Boston College — ahem).

But can you really imagine Christians talking to other Christians about movies — MOVIES!?! — the way Samuel D. James does (via Tim Challies)?

The first thing I should clarify about my original blog is what I did, and did not, intend to communicate. My aim was to help Christians affirm their conscientious objections to watching simulated sexual acts by offering some substantive reasons why, in my opinion, violence and profanity are not similarly problematic. I was not trying to argue that all sexual content in movies demands the same response from everyone, nor was I making a case that all movies that contain it are equally problematic. There is, of course, a significant difference between talking about the sexuality of a James Bond film and that of 50 Shades of Grey, just like there’s a difference between the violence of The Exorcist and The Human Centipede. My conviction is not that all these films are equivalent or that Christians must treat them as such, but that a consistent ethic of avoiding explicit sexuality in any film is not hypocritical, unrealistic, or even particularly “legalistic.”

The reason I think this is a point worth making is that when most Christians ask about sex in movies, they’re not asking about whether they should walk out of the theater when it comes on, or if they should leave the party or close their eyes or only watch with their spouse and fast forward. Those might be important questions, but in the majority of cases that’s not what is being asked. What is being asked is, “Is it even worth trying to avoid?” And, “Don’t I have Christian freedom to watch if I’m resisting the temptation to lust?” My blog was specifically directed not toward the details but toward the larger point that, yes, for the Christian, avoiding a dramatic encounter with the erotic outside of the marriage covenant IS realistic and IS spiritually wise.

Why can’t Christians talk about sex in public in ways that suggest they’ve read narrative of David and Bathsheba and the Song of Solomon and don’t think those parts of the Bible are dirty?

The Next President?

What he or she should do:

It’s not enough that we elect someone who will defend the religious liberties of Christians. The next president needs to be sensitive to the interests and concerns of many groups who find themselves increasingly in tension with one another and the State: Muslims, atheists, Christians, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, black people, poor white people, and law enforcement. There will be laws, court rulings, and policies established in the next presidency that will help define how these groups live together in the near future. We can expect decisions concerning anti-discrimination laws, illegal immigration and refugees, gender and sexuality in public education, religion and gender in the military, and criminal justice reform. One of the most prized qualities in presidential candidates should be a desire to pursue principled pluralism, not merely protecting the interest of one group.

Sounds like the Bishop of Springfield should be the one:

Still there are others who have distanced themselves because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary, but key among them are race and cultural differences, a sense of gender inequality as well as sexual orientation.

Others have been treated unkindly, impatiently, or rudely by clergy, religious, ministers, and staff of parishes — all which is unacceptable. I ask your forgiveness. I make my own the words of Pope Francis, and say to you, “Believe me, in spite of its slowness, the infidelity, the mistakes, and the sins that may have and may still be committed by those who compose the Church, it has no other sense and aim if not to live and witness to Jesus: He has been sent by (the Father) ‘to bring good news to the poor … to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’” (“An open dialogue with non-believers” La Repubblica, 9/11/13).

This Jubilee Year of Mercy allows us an opportunity to acknowledge our need as a diocese for forgiveness and healing from past sins and hurts, as well as to look forward to the future in hope.

That is what evangelization is all about, looking forward to the future with hope, sharing our hope which is the Good News of Jesus Christ with others, regardless the path of life they walk.

“Evangelizing,” as Blessed Pope Paul VI once said, “means bringing the Good News into all the strata of humanity … both the personal and collective consciences of people, the activities in which they engage, and the lives and concrete milieu which are theirs” (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 18).

The Holy Father went on to explain, that “evangelization loses much of its force and effectiveness if it does not take into consideration the actual people to whom it addresses, if it does not use their language, their signs and symbols, if it does not answer the questions they ask, and if it does not have an impact on their concrete life”(EN, 63).

This fact came across clearly in our diocesan survey. As one person commented, “I believe there is a huge gap between what the priests are doing and what the people need.” Others noted the need for “priests of the diocese to get out among the people … where they are at” because “people are not just going to walk into the churches and rectories.”

There is much truth to these honest reflections; our communities must be inviting and energetic environments, founded both in our traditions but also the reality of everyday life. Such efforts are not just the responsibility of some of us but rather all of us: clergy, women and men religious, lay faithful … we are all in this together; evangelization is, for each and every one of us, our call and responsibility as the baptized. We need to evangelize those who are with us each week for Mass, that they, in turn, may be empowered to become evangelizers themselves.

We need to evangelize those who were once, but are no longer with us: We need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to
make it better and more effective. I would ask you to join with us as a diocese in rediscovering your spiritual roots. While acknowledging disagreements or negative experiences, perhaps we can also reflect on what it was about the Catholic faith you may have loved, what may have brought you comfort and peace, and what you are missing through your absence.