Sunday, November 27, 2005

"Getting Even with the right-wing, neocon, fundamentalist, holy-rolling, snake-handling crazies"

Just what the world needs! Another modern "re-thinking" of one of the Gospels, this time in graphic novel form.

Jesus: A Graphic Rendering. Quote!

"He didn't do it for the most Christian of reasons. Unmoved by Mel Gibson's 'whitewashed' telling of Jesus' life in 'The Passion of the Christ,' New York artist and Episcopalian Steve Ross embarked on a graphic novel based on the Gospel of Mark to shake up the evangelicals who flocked to the flick. 'I said, here's my chance to finally get even with all the right-wing, neocon, fundamentalist, holy-rolling, snake-handling crazies who I feel have co-opted Christianity.'"

At least he's not bitter.


Book shows how Christianity helped us

This just in ... Christianity helped us .... the Indianapolis Star (via AP) is on the case.

Book shows how Christianity helped us ... quote!

"What Has Christianity Ever Done For Us?"

The provocative title of Jonathan Hill's new book might prod Christians to think about salvation from sin, the promise of eternal life, spiritual solace, inspiration, doctrinal truth, moral guidance and community warmth.

But Hill, an Oxford-trained British historical writer, doesn't focus on such impact upon individual souls, but rather on Christianity's role in world civilization. That's signaled by this InterVarsity Press book's subtitle: "How It Shaped the Modern World."

Hill offers an "objective look" at Christian contributions to balance histories that emphasize embarrassments from bygone eras when churches exercised political control -- the Crusades, sectarian wars, inquisitions, witch hunts and oppression of dissenters.

The theme is worth pondering when the European Union's proposed constitution doesn't even mention the religion's historical role. Noting that, and commending this book, Yale historian Lamin Sanneh (an African) says that without Christianity "Europe would be unrecognizable and undistinguished."

Many of Hill's positive points are aspects of Jewish biblical culture that Christians spread across the world.

It would be hard to calculate or contemplate the vast impact of Christianity's teachings about charity and the practical applications to which they have been put over the centuries.

Hill says Christianity's teachings on love and selflessness "fostered some of the most profound and appealing moral approaches that have ever been taught," quite in contrast with nonbiblical ethics from ancient times.

And think about language and literacy. Ninth-century missionaries who brought Christianity to eastern Europe first developed the system for writing local languages that exists today.


Suit claims UC system discriminated against Christians

More from the education wars ... Suit claims UC system discriminated against Christians ... in full ...

The college plans of six students at a Murietta school have sparked a lawsuit that could have implications for academia nationwide.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, contends that officials with the University of California system discriminated against students from Calvary Chapel Christian School in Murietta when they decided that some of the school's religious-viewpoint courses – such as "Christianity's Influence on American History" – do not meet the UC system's admissions standards.

The complaint, pushed by the Association of Christian Schools International, alleges the university's decision violates the First Amendment religious-practice rights of the students, including two who plan to attend UC San Diego.

A Dec. 12 hearing has been set on a request by UC lawyers to dismiss the complaint.

The case is being closely tracked by free-speech advocates, public educators and Christian leaders who are concerned about the impact the case could have on state school admissions policies and the ability of some Christian schools to teach their core beliefs.

The lawsuit "is one piece of the culture war that is ongoing in our country for a number of years," said Robert Tyler, who represents the students and heads the group Advocates for Faith and Freedom. "It's important for our clients to take a stand at this time to prevent the intolerance of the UC and to prevent them from attempting to secularize private Christian schools."

"This appears to be coming in as the first wave in an assault," said Barmak Nassirian, an official with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, who sees the lawsuit as an effort by a special-interest group to improperly shape admissions requirements.

UC lawyers say Calvary Chapel students are free to study as they choose, but they still must take courses approved by the university system – or alternately take an SAT subject test – to gain admission to one of the UC's 10 campuses.

Christopher Patti, a UC lawyer, said that in the past four years, 32 students from Calvary Chapel have applied for UC schools, and 24 were admitted.

The lawsuit "has more to do with the university's ability to set admissions standards than it does with the plaintiffs' ability to teach what they want," Patti said. "We don't try to limit what they teach."

Lawyers for the plaintiffs contend this dispute came up two years ago when UC admissions officials began closely examining Calvary Chapel's courses and texts that emphasized Christianity. Among the rejected courses were biology classes with texts by A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press, both conservative Christian publishers. Courses titled "Special Providence: American Government" and "Christianity and Morality in American Literature" were also rejected.

The lawsuit argues that it is unfair these courses were nixed while others titled "Western Civilization: The Jewish Experience" and "Intro to Buddhism" were approved.

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at Virginia-based First Amendment Center at the Freedom Forum, said the supporters might have a valid complaint.

"I think the university has the right to require entering students to have a foundation on the subjects the university thinks help provide a preparation for higher education," he said "But I think the schools have a point when they say other courses from other institutions are allowed in, but when a course has 'Christian' in the title, it seems to raise a red flag."

Patti said of the roughly 1,000 courses submitted for approval every year, 15 percent are rejected for reasons such as lacking proper content or being too narrowly focused.

It is the Calvary Chapel's biology courses that have sparked the most debate.

Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, which fights attempts to teach intelligent design and creationism as science in public schools, called the biology texts used by the school "unabashedly creationist" books that explain evolution in a confusing manner. Creationism is the belief that God created the universe and all life.

Branch noted that the preface of the Bob Jones University's biology textbook states: "If conclusions contradict the word of God, the conclusions are wrong no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them."

"I don't think the UC is insisting that incoming students accept evolution," Branch said. "They want them to have a good understanding of it. That's the purpose of education."

But plaintiff lawyer Wendell Bird, who argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1987 Louisiana case dealing with creationist instruction in public schools, said it is wrong to interpret the suit solely as a fight over creationism. "This case would exist even if the science course had been accepted" by UC admissions officials, he said, noting other courses also were rejected.

Nassirian said he sees the lawsuit's proponents as attempting to win an academic debate outside the academic world. "You cannot get a victory in court on science, as Galileo learned."


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

How Christianity Thrives in China

When China truly falls to the Gospel, the world will tremble.

Time Magazine outlines How Christianity Thrives in China ... in full ...

President Bush's decision to take time out from his diplomatic schedule to pray with the congregants of the Protestant Gangwashi Church in western Beijing has been greeted as a welcome gesture of support by many of China's estimated 60 million Christians. A tiny, long-embattled minority in a nation ruled by an officially atheist Communist Party, China's Christians face strict limits on their freedom to pursue their faith. Still, since reforms were first initiated in 1978 by Communist patriarch Deng Xiaoping, Chinese Christians have learned to thrive even within official constraints, and their population is many times larger now than it was when the Communists came to power in 1949. In fact, Christians are believed to be China's fastest-growing religious group.

For a look at how Christian communities are growing, check out the small city of Quanzhou. The greatest tourist attraction for Protestants here is not the graceful Buddhist temple built 500 years before Marco Polo visited this part of coastal Fujian province. Instead, they visit a newer structure. "The red cross over the altar is marvelous," says one wide-eyed Christian minister who traveled a hundred miles to see this refurbished Protestant church, which is complete but for installing the pews. "Where did you get the wood for the trim?" asks a fellow visitor. Then comes the burning question. "How did you pay for it?"

The $1.5 million Southern Church, with Ionic columns and a rooftop gazebo, stands as a monument to China's thriving Christians, and shows the extent to which China's Christian revival has been bankrolled by Chinese Christians living abroad. Most Chinese churches, like hose here in Quanzhou, have registered with the government, which sets limits on their activities. Yet Quanzhou's congregations have renovated their churches in ways that make them the envy of their brethren across China. Generous contributions from expatriate Chinese — many of whom emigrated as stowaways to the United States — have helped turn the Southern Church into the biggest Protestant sanctuary in Fujian province, with seating planned for 2,500 people. Their achievement has been made possible by a workable peace with authorities. "There are things we can't do, but many important things that we can," says a church member named Chen who, like everyone interviewed, declined to give her full name.

Christianity is legal in China, but fettered: The country's estimated 50 million Protestants, whose ranks grow by roughly 2 million a year, must submit to the authority of the government's Religious Affairs Bureau. Its officials make sure churches follow written and unwritten rules — no members under 18, no overt evangelical work, no emphasizing the Second Coming and, above all, no questioning of Communist Party rule. Christians who worship in unregistered "house churches" often face harassment, or worse. Last year a woman died in police custody after being detained for distributing Bibles on the street. Police regularly round up members of heterodox Christian sects like Lightning from the East, which believes that Jesus has already returned, as a Chinese woman.

As for Catholics, they're forced to worship in churches approved by the state-run Catholic Patriotic Association, which insists on loyalty to itself rather than to the Vatican. But changes may be afoot: Although the Chinese government assumes the Pope's prerogative by appointing its own bishops, the Vatican has quietly approved of around 90% of Beijing's choices. That means there's little difference between bishops and priests in the official Catholic church and those whose underground flocks worship outside of government control — although the reported arrest of an underground priest and ten seminarians on November 12 shows the dangers of worshipping outside of government restrictions. Vatican officials have said they are moving closer to establishing diplomatic ties with Beijing for the first time since the 1950s. That's expected within the next 18months, and would score a diplomatic victory for Beijing by forcing the Vatican to sever ties with China's arch-rival, Taiwan. For its part, the Vatican would bring around ten million Catholics under its umbrella.

The Protestants at the South Church have had to find their own strategies for expanding their flock without running up against the government. The unusual gazebo on the roof, for instance, replaced a planned steeple that government officials found "too iconographic." And unable to buy new land for expansion, the congregation has used overseas funds to enlarge their existing buildings. South Church ministers don't press the authorities to reclaim for land confiscated during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution (when the church itself was converted into a bucket factory). Instead, their focus is outward, handing guests a brochure with bank account numbers and international transfer codes to take contributions from abroad.

The non-confrontational approach adopted by Quanzhou's Protestants helps them bend the rules. It has, for example, addressed the countrywide shortage of government-approved ministers by running two-week training courses for lay preachers. On a recent day, young men from the countryside swapped stories inside their wood-paneled dorm rooms behind a small neighborhood church. One complains about rules against proselytizing. In reply, another explains how his youth group picks up trash on public streets "while wearing hats with the name of our church," then handing out pamphlets to passers-by who express interest.

Although churches aren't supposed to run expansive youth programs, every July, Quanzhou's Protestants hold a three-day youth festival with children's choirs singing hymns and a theater group acting out the story of Noah. A recent Bible-study class saw 200 people focused on Revelation, Chapter 15, and openly discussing the Apocalypse. The subject of a Sunday sermon was Justification by Faith, the idea that faith in Jesus is the only passport to Heaven — something religious-affairs officials de-emphasize in favor of obedience and good works.

Some practices, though, are too risky for even a Quanzhou service. Time observed 20 church members kneeling on pillows laid on the tiled floor of an elder's apartment for a home-church prayer session. It's the kind of service police can break up, if they choose. For a half hour attendees took turns. "Lord, let China be Christian," invoked one woman. Amen, they said. "China has made economic progress, but the nation is empty." Many voices mumbled affirmation. "Let the country's new leaders hear us and protect us." Hallelujah. Then they recited the Lord's prayer, drank warm water with honey, and departed into the night.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Lest We Forget, Part XVIII

China Arrests Priests, Seminarians

Chinese authorities have arrested a priest and 10 seminarians from that nation's underground Roman Catholic Church, a Vatican-affiliated news agency said Friday.

President Bush, who is due to visit China as part of an eight-day trip to Asia, called on China's leadership this week to give the public more religious freedom and other liberties.

The Rev. Yang Jianwei and the seminarians were detained Nov. 12 in Xushui City in Hebei province, a traditional stronghold of Catholic sentiment in northern China, AsiaNews reported.

Six of the seminarians were released later, but Yang and the four others remain in police custody, it said.


A Nation Under God

Mother Jones, for those of you keeping score at home, is a left-of-center magazine. A Nation Under God is their coverage of a recent American Vision conference featuring (in)famous Alabama judge Roy Moore. In part ...

Let others worry about the rapture: For the increasingly powerful Christian Reconstruction movement, the task is to establish the Kingdom of God right now—from the courthouse to the White House.

... and ...

Traditionally, groups like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority were “premillennial”: They believed that humanity was inevitably headed for Armageddon, which would most likely arrive with a nuclear blast, whereupon Christ would appear in the Second Coming and set things right. “The debate was over whether Brezhnev was the Antichrist,” says the University of Georgia’s Larson.

Reconstruction’s alternative was “postmillennialism”: Christ would not return until the church had claimed dominion over government, and most of the world’s population had accepted the Reconstruction brand of Christianity. The postmillennial twist offered hope to the pious that they could change things—as long as they got organized. (Reconstructionists angrily denounce end-times visions like those of Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series: If these are the Last Days, American Vision’s website points out, “then why bother trying to fix a broken world that is about to be thrown on the ash heap of history? Why concern ourselves with education, healthcare, the economy, or peace in the Mideast? Why polish brass on a sinking ship?”)

For premillennialists, Reconstruction’s revolutionary philosophy offered an opportunity to turbocharge the religious right. Most conservative churches opposed abortion, for example, but Reconstruction-influenced groups such as Randall Terry’s Operation Rescue were willing to field soldiers and take the fight to the enemy. This not only emboldened activists, it gave Reconstructionists a chance to spread their organizing message: If you want to do God’s work, this needs to be God’s nation.

Similarly, Baptist morality focused on personal choices, such as avoiding drinking. But Reconstructionists didn’t tell believers to shun sin. They said to conquer it, even if the price was jail or martyrdom. Paul Hill, the antiabortion activist executed two years ago for the 1994 murders of abortion clinic workers in Pensacola, Florida, had been a minister in the Reconstruction-dominated Presbyterian Church in America.

The old left—the Communist Party and its many splinters—used organizing tactics called popular fronts, in which people were recruited through specific causes into a movement tacitly guided by the Party. Reconstruction has married those Leninist tactics to the causes of the right—abortion, evolution, gay marriage, school prayer. Gary North wrote in 1982, in an effort to reach Baptists,“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty…until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” Nowhere at the Restore America rally did anyone hoist a banner for Reconstruction; those attending came to develop a united front supporting such things as displaying the Ten Commandments in public buildings. But they were also introduced—and recruited—to the broader program.

Reconstruction’s major impact has been through helping to found and guide cross-denominational and secular political organ-izations. The Council for National Policy—a group that holds meetings for right-wing leaders, once dubbed “the most powerful conservative group you’ve never heard of”—was founded in 1981 as a project of top John Birch Society figures (see “The Fountainhead”). Its members included Rushdoony, Gary North, Tim LaHaye, former Reagan aide Gary Bauer, and activist Paul Weyrich, who famously aimed to “overturn the present power structure of this country.”

Christian Reconstructionism pops up in the main-stream liberal media every now an then, mainly when the reporter deems it necessary to scare the crap out of liberals. After all, political movements need boogeymen. For the Right, it is the Godless, gay abortionist. For the Left, it is the Bible-thumping, greedy fascist. Of course, these personas are both caricatures and do little for real political discourse.

That said, the Godless should fear the Christian church, though perhaps not in its present form. To all the athestists, wiccans, pagans, etc.: It's not your government we want, it's your very mind and hearts and philosophies. They all must be shattered and brought into submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. The weapons we will use for the task are indestructible (NOT the sword, or legislation, or the Courts) ... they are love, compassion, grace and forgiveness.


Monday, November 21, 2005

Walk the Line Ignores Cash's Christianity

Walk the Line Ignores Cash's Christianity ... or so says Jack Langer at Human Events Online. This article is worth a read just for the Kenny line below ... quote!

Just as I began contemplating walking out of the new Johnny Cash biopic, Walk the Line—it was when Cash is in the throes of a drug addiction withdrawal scene ripped off from the movie Ray—I turned my head and saw the middle-aged woman next to me dabbing her tears with a handkerchief. I found the display deeply surprising and somehow unsettling; I’ve been more emotionally affected by Kenny’s death in most episodes of South Park than I was by any scene in this movie.

... and ...

In order to establish the tired Hollywood trope that Christians are strange and intolerant people, the movie inserts several incongruous scenes that serve no purpose other than to ridicule Christianity: when Cash’s brother dies young, his unhinged father yells out, “The devil took him! The devil took the wrong son!” Jerry Lee Lewis inexplicably launches into a fire and brimstone tirade declaiming that he, Cash, and all their listeners are going to hell for the songs they sing; and a typical illiberal Christian woman approaches June in a store and, for absolutely no reason, tells her that June’s divorce was an “abomination.” Thus it comes as no surprise when the story of Cash’s real-life conversion into an evangelical Christian is reduced to an insignificant ten-second scene in which he and June walk from a parking lot toward a church.

Due to the filmmakers’ discomfort with Christianity, the film ignores the entire aspect of Cash’s career that was occupied by gospel music. For example, the record producer at his first audition reacts to Cash’s performance of a gospel song by telling Cash that gospel doesn’t sell and that Cash obviously doesn’t believe in all that “I’ve been saved” nonsense anyway. He tells Cash to play something that really means something to him, so Cash plays a secular country tune and gets the contract. The film implies that this marks Cash’s abandonment of gospel, as henceforth it makes no other reference to Cash’s gospel music, except when the warden at Folsom prison self-servingly asks Cash to play gospel instead of his edgy prison-themed songs in order to keep from stirring up the inmates (Cash, of course, refuses). Cash’s real-life decision to leave his original record label partly because it prohibited him from recording gospel albums (of which he would record many throughout his career) is omitted from the film.

Having insulted the religion to which Johnny Cash dedicated much of his life, the movie jarringly ends in 1968, as if the end of Cash’s drug abuse and womanizing left nothing interesting to tell of the following 35 years of his life. It never explores the fascinating duality of Johnny Cash that was reflected so strongly in his music—the outlaw Man in Black who was deeply enmeshed in Christian spirituality. Instead, we are treated to a story whose starring character is essentially Robert Downey Jr. in a black shirt. I suppose there’s a reason why Walk the Line could bring a person to tears, but it lies more in the film’s hilariously trite stereotypes and comically formulaic storytelling than in its critically-acclaimed quality.

This is a shame. What a fascinating story Cash's Christian faith would have made. For more on that read The Man Comes Around: "A Religion Based on Johnny Cash." Perhaps someone will tackle this topic in the future and give the pic a proper title, like: "Ring of Fire."


Letters, We Get Letters

From a loyal reader -- Captain Foghat -- responding to this article -- The Queen Extols the Unique Power of Christianity:

Yeah, we can say "pip, pip" and "cheerio" but we can also say "tripe, tripe" and "so what?" If all Her Majesty has to say about the Christian faith is that it has "lasting significance and purpose" then we shouldn't be too surprised by the anemic state of the Christian church in England, nor by the actions of her ne'er-do-well eldest son. But contemporary evangelical Christians will chew on any bone monarchs and other politicians may throw, and think that because the liberals are upset it must be good stuff. Now if the bone the Queen threw had some meat on it; if she said something of biblical substance, then we might get excited. Then there might be some hope for her country.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Over Cocktails, a Relaxed Give and Take on Catholicism

Love this ... Over Cocktails, a Relaxed Give and Take on Catholicism - New York Times ... in full ...

MANCHESTER, N.H., Nov. 10 - On Thursday night, the Rev. Marc Montminy's pulpit was a cocktail table, and his flock all had their I.D.'s checked by a burly bouncer at the door.

Father Montminy was speaking to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester's Theology on Tap program, a series of lecture and question-and-answer sessions held in bars that engage young adults in discussion about Catholic doctrine.

"You have a beer; it's very relaxed," said Father Montminy, who sipped a Chivas Regal on the rocks after his program, titled "It ain't easy being a Catholic today," where he fielded questions on topics like cohabitation, gay parishioners and the sexual abuse scandal in the clergy.

The goal, organizers said, is to explain and discuss the church's view on topics of faith and social issues, and to dispel any preconceived notions. A drink in a familiar place usually helps loosen up young people reluctant to inquire about touchy topics, organizers said.

"If you go through Christian scripture, where did Jesus encounter people?" said the Rev. John Cusick, a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago. "At the well, where people gathered. This is a culture where people in their 20's and 30's meet one another in bars."

"Bars aren't evil," said Father Cusick, who developed Theology on Tap in 1980 to teach Catholicism in an atmosphere where adults ages 18 to 35 would feel at ease. "They're where people gather. Why can't we take the message to where the people are and not wait for the people to come to us?"

Father Cusick said the program had grown exponentially in the past five years. He believes the renewed interest comes from a generation of young people who do not regularly attend religious services but are hungry for some sort of spirituality or faith.

"With all of the fluidity in the workplace and elsewhere," Father Cusick said, "I think this generation has begun to ask 'What is of lasting value? Is there anything I can really hold onto in this world that's up for grabs?' " Catholic dioceses in 46 states and five countries now have a Theology on Tap program, he said, and about 28,000 people are on their mailing lists. Other denominations have also adopted the program, including the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Boston.

The Rev. Patrick Gray, the assistant priest at Church of the Advent, said, "I think what this program does so admirably is show that theology can be interesting and fun."

Program directors said that they had never had a problem with people drinking too much, and that the importance of designated drivers was emphasized.

"It's not like a drunk fest," said Tod Tamberg, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

The Tampa chapter gave Ann Bayro, 27, an opportunity to reconnect with the church she became disconnected from at college.

"It's different when you go into church alone," said Ms. Bayro, who usually has a soda and a salad during the group's Tuesday meetings at Margarita Mamma's in Tampa. "You don't feel like you have a community. You're just one more person there.

"I needed to get back to spirituality to deal with my daily burdens. This helped a lot, not only because you're going to learn about faith, but you're meeting people who have similar interests."

The San Francisco group started this year, and Maryellen Mullin, 29, attended two sessions, one on feminism and the church and another on immigration. Ms. Mullin said she was most surprised to hear two nuns speak about how the church had changed from a lay-powered community to a male-powered one. Some women challenged men about having power, she said, and a discussion of male versus female roles ensued.

"It was a really positive way to have an open dialogue," Ms. Mullin said.

Mary Jansen, 35, who runs the San Francisco program, said it was directed toward unrooted young adults.

"In our diocese it's really intended for the Catholic not quite attached to a parish community and who might not feel comfortable talking about issues of faith in a church, but would in a bar," Ms. Jansen said.

Tim Casey, 29, of Tampa, said, "A lot of people think of the Catholic Church as a closed, black-and-white-type of religion, but when you have Theology on Tap and an open dialogue, it shows that there's a gray area and room for discussion."

Father Montminy tried to do just that at the Strange Brew Tavern here in front of a crowd of at least 75 people, most of whom were having a pint of one of 40 tap beers. He spoke of the struggles that come with reconciling the secular world and Catholic teaching.

"Is it easy being a Catholic? Absolutely not," he said to applause. "But I'd rather have a church that demands more of me than less."

Those demands include abstaining from sex and cohabitation before marriage, and Father Montminy was asked how he would advise a couple who were abstaining from neither.

"I'd try not to judge them," he said. "For 40 years the media has been telling people to live together. But I'd tell the woman not to live with the guy, because he won't marry you."

Jesse Kurtz, 21, wondered how to get his friends to explore Catholicism, despite the abuse scandal and negative views of the religion.

"It's like showing someone a fruit that's bruised and getting them to eat the good part," Mr. Kurtz said afterward. "But things like this show us we're not alone."

Father Montminy said the abuse scandal, which hit his diocese particularly hard, as it is 55 miles from Boston, tested him as well. "With the whole scandal there were times I was embarrassed to wear my robe and collar," he said, "but I needed to speak the truth. I wanted to lift the church up."

The promise of open dialogue drew in Richard and Karen Mailhot of Deerfield, N.H. The couple, who come to the Strange Brew each week for dinner and dancing, saw the Theology on Tap flyer last month and decided to check it out despite being older - Richard is 53 and Karen is 44. They returned for their third session because they thought the first meetings were honest discussions. Richard, who left the church 20 years ago after a divorce, said the program was spurring him to inquire about Catholicism.

"I might now try to answer some longstanding questions and possibly renew some level of faith," he said. "I'm more likely to put up my hand here than in a church."


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Lest We Forget, Part XVII

Korean Reds Targeting Christians

A woman in her 20s executed by a firing squad after being caught with a Bible. Five Christian church leaders punished by being run over by a steamroller before a crowd of spectators who "cried, screamed out, or fainted when the skulls made a popping sound as they were crushed."

These and other "horrifying" violations of human rights and religious freedom in North Korea are reported in a new study by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, titled "'Thank You, Father Kim Il Sung': Eyewitness Accounts of Severe Violations of Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion in North Korea."


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Queen extols the 'unique' power of Christianity

A couple of items from "across the pond" ... first, the Queen gives props to Christianity in Queen extols the 'unique' power of Christianity ... quote ...

The Queen opened the Church of England's General Synod yesterday with a ringing endorsement of the "uniqueness" of the Christian faith.

In a speech that reflected her personal beliefs as well as her role as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, she contrasted the enduring nature of Christianity with the rapid changes in society.

"For Christians, this pace of change represents an opportunity," she told a packed hall in Church House, Westminster. "When so much is in flux, when limitless amounts of information, much of it ephemeral, are instantly accessible on demand, there is a renewed hunger for that which endures and gives meaning.

"The Christian Church can speak uniquely to that need, for at the heart of our faith stands the conviction that all people, irrespective of race, background or circumstances, can find lasting significance and purpose in the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Well, what can I say but pip, pip ... cheerio ... and all that sort of thing ...

And now for something completely different ...

More Britons believe in ghosts than in God, poll says

Oh well ...


Jesus Christ, Policy Wonk

Catherine Seipp of the LA Times with a sharp tongued -- and humorous -- take on the delicate matter of "rendering unto Caesar" and so forth ... it's called Jesus Christ, Policy Wonk.

The article is worthwhile, if only for the first line. Quote!

I REALIZE IT'S HARDER for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a liberal Episcopalian minister to resist attacking Republicans.

Here's the rest of it ...

Still, there's something fantastically disingenuous about the Rev. George Regas' protests that, contrary to what the IRS suspects, he didn't give an impermissibly virulent anti-Bush sermon at All Saints Church in Pasadena a couple of days before the 2004 election.

The issue came up last week after All Saints received a letter from the IRS warning that its tax-exempt status could be in jeopardy because of Regas' politically charged sermon. But Regas insists that he did not "cross the line" by endorsing one candidate over another.

True, he opened the sermon by saying "I don't intend to tell you how to vote," presumably with his fingers crossed. But it's virtually impossible to read it as anything other than an anti-Bush tirade aimed at sending parishioners to the polls two days later to vote the president out of office.

Although Regas called his sermon "If Jesus Debated Senator Kerry and President Bush," he didn't imagine Jesus sitting there awkwardly on a third stool, like Ross Perot, but as a presence directly criticizing only Bush, never Kerry. (Although you'd think, just out of curiosity, Jesus might have asked what really happened on those Swift boats.)

Instead, Regas' Jesus scolds the president: "President Bush, you have not made dramatically clear what have been the human consequences of the war in Iraq," adding, "now the latest figures say 100,000 Iraqi fighters, women and children are dead." And: "Jesus turns to President Bush again with deep sadness. 'Is what I hear really true? Do you really mean that you want to end a decade-old ban on developing nuclear battlefield weapons?' "

Leaving aside the odd notion of Jesus getting information by checking "the latest figures" (wouldn't he just know?) or hanging around the water cooler ("Is what I hear really true?"), Regas' Jesus is quite a policy wonk. According to the sermon, Jesus is pro-choice, against the Iraq war and vehemently disapproves of the Bush tax cuts (that "50% of the tax savings goes to the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans" would "break Jesus' heart," according to Regas). He's in favor of good prenatal care, "dignified jobs" (does carpentry count?) and affordable housing.

I'm curious what he thinks of gerrymandered voting districts, electricity regulation and making it easier to fire bad teachers, but maybe Jesus isn't really into California politics.

"How Jesus mourns the death of those 3,000 people killed on 9/11," Regas continues. "But Jesus also mourns the death, devastation and loss in Afghanistan and Iraq and Sudan and Israel-Palestine…." Then he conjures up Jesus again: "At the time of the trauma of 9/11," Jesus says, "you did not have to declare war. You could have said to the American people and the world, 'We will respond, but not in kind.' "

Just how Bush should have responded, Jesus doesn't say. But I'd like to know how Regas would have channeled Jesus' foreign policy ideas about Pearl Harbor, for instance, or the Holocaust. Presumably Jesus would have thought the latter, at least, merited some kind of action — if only to keep it from leading to what Regas calls "Israel-Palestine" instead of just Palestine.

"Mr. President," Regas' Jesus continues, "the consequences of arrogance, accompanied by certitude that the world's most powerful military can cure all ills…." And blah-blah-blah-blabbity-blah. This Jesus is awfully wordy, not at all like the terse prophet you may remember from the Bible. Regas apparently thinks Jesus would sound rather like Cindy Sheehan blathering on to the Huffington Post, or maybe like one of John Kerry's speechwriters.

And yet the retired rector insisted a few days ago, on The Times' Op-Ed page, that his sermon "did not cross the line" between religion and campaign politics because "peace and the alleviation of poverty are core values" of his congregation. But peace and the alleviation of poverty are core values of any congregation, and there are plenty that are liberal yet manage to address these issues without attacking particular political parties or candidates.

Now, I hope no one takes this the wrong way, because some of my best friends are Episcopalian, but when it comes to reflexive anti-Bush cant, even the most progressive Pasadena churchgoers are pikers compared to the average Westside Jew. Yet I've never heard anything comparable to Regas' rhetoric at my synagogue — from the congregation, sure, but not from the pulpit.

Somehow the sermons there manage to deal with peace and poverty without electioneering. And if Regas actually thinks his didn't cross a line, I wonder what part of "render unto Caesar" he doesn't understand?

Ms. Seipp is obviously brilliant, and a wonderful writer, but I disagree with her "tsk, tsking" this left-of-center minister. This whole notion of "tax exempt" needs to be blown up. A minister of the Lord Jesus Christ should have every right to address the political and social issues of the day -- through the prism of the Gospel -- without having to look over his shoulder for Uncle Sam. I'm sure I'd disagree with much of what this Episcopalian minister had to say, but he should have every right to say it ... as should every other minister.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

On Abortion, It's the Bible of Ambiguity

On Abortion, It's the Bible of Ambiguity ... not really, but you have to give the NY Times some respect for bringing the Bible to bear on an important question of our day. I imagine the reporter was looking for a little more ambiguity and he gives a serious short-sell to the cornucopia of teachings in Scripture that are against a woman killing her child. Also, as usual with the mainstream media, liberal "theologians" seem to get the majority of play ... but again, a secular pub printing God's word and at least pretending to care about what it says is all good. In full ...

FLIP to the back of any of the fancy, leather-bound Bibles that are so common in evangelical churches these days, and chances are there is an index. Called a concordance, it offers a list of specific words mentioned in the Bible and where they are referenced in the text.

There a reader can find, for example, how many times Jesus talked about the poor (at least a dozen), or what the Apostle Paul wrote about grace (a lot). But those who turn to their concordance for guidance about abortion will not find the word at all.

"I can't take you to text that says, 'Don't commit abortion,' " said Michael J. Gorman, a professor of New Testament and early church history and dean of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary's Seminary and University, located in Baltimore. "It just doesn't exist."

Does that mean the Bible has nothing to offer on the issue? Mr. Gorman, who calls himself an evangelical, cites the early church's opposition to abortion and broader themes that suffuse the Scriptures, rather than specific verses: "There's an impetus in the Bible toward the protection of the innocent, protection for the weak, respect for life, respect for God's creation."

For evangelicals, who are defined in large part by their reliance on the Bible, the question of how the Scriptures should be interpreted is crucial. Catholics depend more heavily on the church's moral teachings, which are often drawn not from the Bible but what they call, "natural law," the innate sense of morality that they believe is written on people's hearts and can be divined by human reason.

But evangelicals - or at least the members of the vocal religious right who have dominated the issue over the last two decades or so - use the words of the Bible to make their case. And in many ways, what the Bible actually says, and according to whom, is where the battle over abortion begins.

One anti-abortion group, Michigan Christians for Life, for instance, sells bumper stickers emblazoned with "Deuteronomy 30:19."

The verse reads: "This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to Him."

But some evangelical scholars say the passage has nothing to do with abortion. Instead, it is an exhortation to Israelites, who fled Egypt and are wandering in the desert, to obey God's word, the way to true life, said John Goldingay, a professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, outside of Los Angeles.

"It's saying to Israel, choosing life means choosing the way of life, choosing to obey God's word, which has been revealed over the last 30 chapters," Mr. Goldingay said.

Like many professors at evangelical seminaries today, Mr. Goldingay teaches his students to pay attention to the genre of the biblical passage they are studying before interpreting specific verses. Some passages in the Bible are written as poetry, full of metaphoric language and imagery, and were never meant to be taken literally, he said. Others, especially in the Old Testament, are written as history and detail God's relationship with his chosen people, the Israelites, and need to be read as such.

"We're always trying to work out legal implications from them, as if they were a legal kind of text, like interpreting a constitutional document," Mr. Goldingay said. "The problem is that wasn't what they were designed to do."

But other evangelical scholars, at seminaries that read the Bible more literally, disagree. "Just because it's not primarily about abortion doesn't mean we shouldn't draw anything from it," said Craig V. Mitchell, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Forth Worth, Tex.

He pointed to a passage in the Book of Psalms, often cited by anti-abortion groups. The verses, from Psalm 139, read: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."

To many evangelicals who oppose abortion, the verses speak directly to when life begins - at the moment of conception.

"I'd summarize Psalm 139 as suggesting that in the womb, from the very first point of conception, it's God at work," said Scott B. Rae, a professor of Christian ethics at Talbot School of Theology and Biola University, an evangelical school outside of Los Angeles.

But, again, other evangelical Bible scholars differ. In this case, the writer of Psalms, which is essentially a collection of songs, is using poetic imagery to celebrate God's special relationship with his chosen people, the Israelites, and his promise to be with them for a thousand generations, said Willem A. VanGemeren, a professor of Old Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, an evangelical seminary outside of Chicago.

"The issue is not so much of when the moment of conception is, or the beginning of life, but rather they cannot see life apart from their relationship with the Lord," Mr. VanGemeren said.

For their part, some abortion rights supporters frequently turn to a passage in Exodus 21 that sets out guidelines for the Israelites on how to resolve a dispute in which a pregnant woman intervenes between two men fighting and is struck: "If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman's husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise."

Abortion rights activists argue that the passage shows the fetus is assigned a lower value than the woman, because if a premature birth occurs, they say, the baby dies. Then, the punishment is only a fine, compared to "life for life, eye for eye" if the woman is killed.

"You can't make everything of that passage," said Paul D. Simmons, an ethics professor at University of Louisville, who once taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "What you can establish is there's a clear distinction between a fetus and a woman."

But Mr. VanGemeren, of Trinity, said that conclusion is shaky, arguing the passage remains shrouded in ambiguity.

"We don't quite understand what exactly happens to that child," he said.

According to Mr. VanGemeren and many other evangelical Bible scholars, no single passage in the Bible clearly supports the anti-abortion stance, but they argue that the broad narrative of the Bible, with its themes of creation, God's blessing on life and humanity bearing the image of God, speak against abortion.

"Of course, nothing addresses abortion directly," Mr. VanGemeren said, "but the biblical inference as accepted over the centuries is a witness that cannot be ignored."

Interpreting the Bible, as difficult as it is, becomes only more so, when theologians are asked how abortion should be legislated, if it should be legislated at all.

Some scholars spoke in absolutes, others cited exceptions. Still others waxed eloquent about the need to turn society away from its individualistic ethos and the need to pay equal attention to other biblical priorities.

In the end, as it turns out, it is a complicated business, bringing a complicated Bible into a complicated world.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Killing in the Name of ... Part IX

Just when you think you've seen everything ... Planned Parenthood has hired a "minister" to prove they are not anti-Christian ... in full ...

Few ministers respond to Planned Parenthood invitation

Hoping to show that it is not anti-Christian, Planned Parenthood's Lexington affiliate is bringing the organization's national chaplain to speak with area clergy this week. But so far, only a handful of religious leaders have agreed to meet with him.

David Bowman, board chairman of Planned Parenthood of the Bluegrass, said it hasn't been easy to spread the word about chaplain Ignacio Castuera's visit.

"Most church organizations would not give me names and e-mail addresses for their clergy," he said. "There were many organizations, both denominational and ecumenical, that didn't want to get involved."

Castuera, a United Methodist minister from the Watts section of Los Angeles and the first Planned Parenthood national chaplain, wasn't surprised.

"The closer Jesus got to the cross, the smaller the crowds got," the chaplain said. "This is pretty close to the cross because people have to take derision, ostracism, all that."

In 2003, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America provided contraception, HIV testing and other services to 2.8 million people and performed 244,628 abortions.

Castuera's position on abortion: "It's always a tragedy," he said. "I don't think it's a sin."

As the largest abortion provider in the country, Planned Parenthood is frequently criticized by Christian conservatives.

Some Methodists say they're embarrassed by Castuera's ties to the group.

"I think it does reflect poorly on the church," said James V. Heidinger II, President of Good News, a Wilmore-based evangelical United Methodist group.

Teresa Scott, president of Planned Parenthood of the Bluegrass, said, "Particularly in the South, the more conservative areas, there is that perception that you can't be pro-choice and believe in God," she said. Castuera's appearance will give people another perspective, she said.

In a letter, board chairman Bowman, an elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, invited "local religious leaders, whether skeptical about or sympathetic to the 'pro-choice' position" to have lunch with Castuera today or Saturday. He also encouraged them to attend Castuera's speech on "sexuality and spirituality" at 2 p.m. Sunday at Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church in Lexington.

"We hope in part to correct the inaccurate perception that Planned Parenthood and its mission are irreligious and anti-Christian," Bowman wrote.

Bill Henard, pastor of Porter Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, is not convinced.

"It's a little bit of a conflict of interest or even hypocrisy for them to say they're not anti-Christian when they oppose basic Christian values of the family," he said.

Organizers don't plan to debate the merits of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion-on-demand in all 50 states.

A "thoughtfully and cordially pro-life" preacher would be welcome, but it's pointless, Bowman said, for "indignantly and self-righteously pro-life" ministers to attend.

Thirty million dead and counting and these clowns think hiring a "minister" is going to clean things up with Bible-believing Christians?


Potent Quotables, Part X

"Enemy-occupied territory – that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage." C.S. Lewis


Finding Said to Boost Proof of Goliath

Finding Said to Boost Proof of Goliath ... in full ...

JERUSALEM - Archaeologists digging at the purported biblical home of Goliath have unearthed a shard of pottery bearing an inscription of the Philistine's name, a find they claimed lends historical credence to the Bible's tale of David's battle with the giant.

While the discovery is not definitive evidence of Goliath's existence, it does support the Bible's depiction of life at the time the battle was supposed to have occurred, said Dr. Aren Maeir, a professor at Bar-Ilan University and director of the excavation.

"What this means is that at the time there were people there named Goliath," he said. "It shows us that David and Goliath's story reflects the cultural reality of the time." In the story, David slew Goliath with a slingshot.

Some scholars assert the story of David slaying the giant Goliath is a myth written down hundreds of years later. Maeir said finding the scraps lends historical credence to the biblical story.

The shard dates back to around 950 B.C., within 70 years of when biblical chronology asserts David squared off against Goliath, making it the oldest Philistine inscription ever found, the archaeologists said.

Scientists made the discovery at Tel es-Safi, a dig site in southern
Israel thought to be to be the location of the Philistine city of Gath.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Lest We Forget, Part XVI

China jails three for illegally printing Bibles


BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Tuesday sentenced a Protestant minister, his wife and her brother to prison terms of up to three years for illegally printing Bibles and other Christian publications, one of their lawyers said.

The conviction of house church minister Cai Zhuohua, 34, and his family by the Beijing People's Intermediate Court came days before U.S. President George W. Bush arrives for a state visit.

In atheist China, printing of Bibles and other religious publications need special approval from the State Bureau of Religious Affairs. Bibles cannot be openly bought at bookshops in a country long criticized overseas for intolerance of religion.

Cai, arrested in September last year, was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of "illegal business practices," attorney Zhang Xingshui said by telephone.