"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton
"You can't conceive, my child, nor I nor anyone, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God."--Graham Greene
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson
Friday, June 30, 2006
The Love that Dare Not Speak Its Name
The issue seems to come down to one of marriage. Neither Archbishop Williams nor Bishop Akinola is willing to condone homosexual marriage. And there, the matter seems to come to an impasse. Why?
Because the problem, we all understand, or seem to, is that The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson is in an open homosexual relationship. But he is not married, because he cannot, in the eyes of the ECUSA or most states in America, be married. Which means he is "living in sin," as the archaic phrase has it. But no one even wants to say that. They just want to talk about homosexual marriage and respect for other members of the Communion, and the like. All of this, let us be clear, is simply code for power. No one ever seeks power directly; they always do so indirectly. No one is ever so nakedly ambitious as to say "I just want to be in control!" Thjey always speak of doing it for someone else, such as taking back control of the ECUSA from the "liberal leadership." Despite the fact the House of Deputies was (as I understand) all laity, and it was the Bishops who baldly exerted, or tried to, control over their lay people.
No one ever acts in the name of power; but in situations like this, all the actions are aimed at gaining power. Nothing more, nothing less. Examine the question of marriage, and homosexual marriage, and this becomes clear.
Homosexuals should not be Bishops, the argument runs, because they are immoral in their actions. But who isn't, we all ask? Yes, but Bishops should be held to a higher standard. Fair enough. But a fair standard, surely? Not an arbitrary one, with one standard for one class of people, another for another? Are we going to return to divisions between men and women based on gender? No. So the standard must be fair. Good.
Why are homosexuals, then, worse than anyone else? They aren't. Archbishop Williams himself rejects that assertion. So that' s out of the way. Now what? Well, we all acknowledge that gay bishops have been ordained. It's not (presumably) even an open secret. It is acknowledged. The focus here, by Archbishop Williams, by Bishop Akinola, is on homosexual relationships. It's a problem of homosexual marriage.
Homosexuals, by definition, cannot marry, unless they wish to lie to themselves and their spouse, and marry someone of the opposite gender merely for appearances sake. But this is back to demonizing homosexuals, and we said we won't do that. Okay, so what can they do? They must be celibate. After all, they cannot marry, and sex outside of marriage is bad. A sexual relationship that is not sanctioned by marriage, is bad. Bad for Bishops, at least. Let us agree on that, for the sake of argument. Let us, arguendo, consider that common ground.
Now, here's the problem: what is marriage? Typically, we think of it as a relationship sanctioned by the church, recognized by the state. Let's go slowly here, though; let's take those one at a time, starting with the last first. Marriage is a relationship recognized by the State. When we say that, we usually mean something like "certified by a marriage license." Alright, so the marriage license is very important, is it? No, actually, it isn't important at all.
I have been married for 29 years now. In all that time, no agent of the State has ever asked me to produce my marriage license, to prove I am married. I've been asked to produce my driver's license, to prove I was authorized to operate a motor vehicle, or my age, or even to prove my identity; but I've never been asked for my marriage license. When I practiced law, I handled divorce cases. We never had to prove the couple filing for divorce had been married in a ceremony producing a marriage license. We never had to show the judge a certified copy of the license and prove that the John and Jane named therein were the same John and Jane standing now before this court. We just said, in court papers, that they were married on this day, in this year, in this county and state; and the judge said "fine." If the judge said anything about it at all. Why? Because even the state doesn't care if you have a marriage license; even the state doesn't think a marriage license means anything; because it doesn't.
Texas has a provision in the Family Code for what most people call "common law marriage," although the Code doesn't call it that. If it can be shown (or, if challenged, proven) that the parties have held themselves out to others as husband and wife, well, then, they are married. That's all it takes. No time limit, no minimum number of years, no minimum numbers of assertion of spousehood (well, in a hotly contested case, you might want more than one, but you get the idea). If two people walk into a court in Texas and say, in a divorce proceeding, that they are married, that's good enough for the State of Texas. And the IRS, and almost any other governmental entity I can think of. And it's good enough for the church, too.
I am ordained in the UCC. When I told them I was married, they didn't ask for my marriage license. In my application for holy orders in the ECUSA, they don't ask for a copy of my marriage license. My transcripts from the colleges I have degrees from, yes; my marriage license, no. Nor do they ask if I was married in a church, although I was. I'm married; they accept it; that's all that matters.
Now, how is that different from two men, or two women, who claim to be married to each other? The difference is, society recognizes one, and doesn't recognize the other. Why? Why, the most famous church answer of all, of course: "Because we've always done it this way!"
Miscegenation was once deemed wholly improper, and though I have no cases to prove it, I'm quite sure was frowned upon by the church, condemned as a sin and never sanctioned or approved by any pastor or priest. In some states, it was illegal. Until, that is, we decided such laws and traditions and rules were nonsense. Until we finally realized the distinction of "race" was an invention of the 19th century. Oddly enough, so is the English word "homosexual."
But before that, didn't we recognize different 'races'"? Didn't the Hebrews distinguish between children of Abraham and Gentiles? And doesn't Genesis condemn the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah? Well, no, that's not right, either. But note that no one is making those arguments, because, again, that goes back to "demonizing" homosexuals, and no one is willing (and rightly so!) to do that. They won't even take a stab at "hate the sin, not the sinner!," though that's what the attempt is, in practice. So what, finally, is the objection?
It is that homosexuals will not be celibate! Which is interesting, because if they are, then they are not homosexuals, are they? Do we categorize the celibate on the basis of who they would have sex with, if they allowed themselves to have sex? No. They are celibate. They aren't supposed to have a "sexual orientation." Except, of course, they do; but we don't categorize them according to it. So the ECUSA has ordained homosexual bishops, and apparently that has not provoked schism. What has? The fact that a homosexual bishop is actually having sex! (or we presume he is). Now, we presume the same thing about heterosexual couples, but no one asked PB Schori how often she and her husband had sex before electing her Presiding Bishop, I'm quite sure. No one even gave it a thought, in fact. But the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson is another matter. And that' s the modern day crux of the issue: the "ick" factor.
We have decided that human beings are primarily sexual beings. Freud and the Viennese school have won, at least in the West, and while we claim to focus on other areas: economic, spiritual, social, intellectual, cultural, etc., it all comes back to sex. We define ourselves as sexual beings, assume that our truest expression of ourselves is in our sexual appetites and how we satisfy them. Sex is why we are here, is the essence of our being, is the most important thing about each and everyone of us. If it were not so, would we even be having this discussion? As the Mad Priest says, we just seem to like this crapola. But it's more than we like it; it is our identity. It is who we are, what we are, what we should be. We are all sexual beings, first, foremost, and foundationally. Nothing else is more indicative of what kind of person we are, than who we do, or want to, have sex with.
It's why sex sells. It's why we use it to promote everything. It's why we are so obsessed with it. And it's why homosexuality promotes in us the "ick" factor.
Because a gay bishop in a relationship, is having sex with another man. Because the fact that he is in a relationship, makes us think about his sex life. I don't think about the sex lives of my friends. But when I define someone as "homosexual," how else am I defining them except by whom they have sex with? And that means I can never escape the "ick" factor. Because when I define that person, I'm thinking, first and foremost, about that person's sex life. I have to. I'm labelling them "homosexual," which means they have sex with persons of the same gender. If they don't have sex, they are either pre-sexual (i.e., children, and thinking about them having sex makes me a pervert, at best), or they are celibate. Otherwise, they are sexual beings. And, well...ick.
And so we stand at this impasse in the ECUSA. Because of the ick factor. Except it can't be that; no one struggles this mightily over "ick." It just isn't that motivating. In fact, it kills motivation. "Ick" makes you want to stop thinking about it, just as you don't want to imagine your parents in the act of your conception. (Got you there, didn't I?) "Ick" does not lead to power struggles. "Ick" leads to going on to another topic, quickly.
So if this threatened schism isn't about homosexuality and "ick," what is it about? Power. Pure and simple. Someone wants control, wants things to go their way, and by God or in spite of God, they're gonna get it. And that's the love that dare not speak its name.
The love of power. The real issue at play in the ECUSA, and the Anglican Communion.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
"This will confuse them," thought Rowan.Update: and, as he says: "Perhaps we actually enjoy all this crapola."
"Perhaps I can get some peace and quiet whilst they try and work it out."
Probably we do(sorry, I can't find a permalink for this one):
There are always controversies. They fade. The church still stands.Amen.
Which started the whole world crying...
For me, this need was illustrated during my 2004 face for the U.S. Senate. My opponent, Alan Keyes, was well-versed in the Jerry Falwell-Pat Robertson style of rhetoric that often labels progressives as both immoral and godless.I should mention here that Sen. Obama is a member of Trinity UCC in Chicago, the largest UCC church in the denomination. What he is claiming is that he is entitled to bring his religion into the public square. What left blogistan seems to be saying is: no, he isn't.
Indeed, towards the end of the campaign, Mr. Keyes said that, "Jesus Christ would not vote for Barack Obama. Christ would not vote for Barack Obama because Barack Obama has behaved in a way that it is inconceivable for Christ to have behaved."
Now, I was urged by some of my liberal supporters not to take this statement seriously. To them, Mr. Keyes was an extremist, his arguments not worth entertaining.
What they didn't understand, however, was that I had to take him seriously. For he claimed to speak for my religion - he claimed knowledge of certain truths.
Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, he would say, and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination.
Mr. Obama says he's a Christian, but supports the destruction of innocent and sacred life.
What would my supporters have me say? That a literalist reading of the Bible was folly? That Mr. Keyes, a Roman Catholic, should ignore the teachings of the Pope?
Unwilling to go there, I answered with the typically liberal response in some debates - namely, that we live in a pluralistic society, that I can't impose my religious views on another, that I was running to be the U.S. Senator of Illinois and not the Minister of Illinois.
But Mr. Keyes implicit accusation that I was not a true Christian nagged at me, and I was also aware that my answer didn't adequately address the role my faith has in guiding my own values and beliefs.
My dilemma was by no means unique. In a way, it reflected the broader debate we've been having in this country for the last thirty years over the role of religion in politics.
It's a curious stance. I can only imagine that these same people think well, at least, of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But they must also think Dr. King was just a man with a dream who really, really didn't like racism. They have, in other words, never read Taylor Branch's excellent three part history of Dr. King's movement. They don't realize how it came out of, was nurtured by, and was almost entirely a product of, the black Christian churches. They don't seem to know that Andrew Young, as much a part of the movement as Jesse Jackson, is an ordained UCC minister. They don't understand how Dr. King's activism was inspired by people like Reinhold Niebuhr, and Dr. King's religious convictions.
In fact, the very idea that religion inspires people to compassion and activism is almost anathema to some in left blogistan. On that thread at Atrios's site I was pulled into an argument when one commenter quoted a claim that religion gives rise only to all manner of foul and debilitating ignorance. When I mockingly said that my religious beliefs had engendered my compassion, which must mean compassion was foul and debilitating, another commenter joined in to decry my implication that only religious people were compassionate. I never, of course, said any such foolish thing, nor have I. But in the knee-jerk anti-religious world of left blogistan, religion is all bad, and no good can ever be allowed to come of it. As I say, apparently these same people think Abraham Lincoln was the sole reason slavery ended in this country. The abolitionist movement was a church centered and Christian one, but don't tell them that.
What we are up against here, with Sen. Obama's speech, is quite simply the limits of tolerance. (Hmmm. Does that sound familiar?) It is a matter of boundaries, of who is allowed in, and who must be excluded out, of the blessed community. And I don't mean "blessed" in the exclusively religious sense, but simply as the community which has the "right" answers and so must be defended as vigorously as possible against corruption from "wrong" thinking. One of the commonplaces of modern thought has become that religion is a private matter. It is an idea that arises in part from the work of Soren Kierkegaard, but more and more it has come to mean religion must be relegated entirely to the household; in some cases, clearly, preferably the cellar, from which it should never be released. Just mention religion at Eschaton and you will spark a discussion as nasty and intolerant as the one still up about Sen. Obama's speech. I don't blame Atrios for this, of course, but his response to the speech presents another issue, one that is, quite simply, irreconcilable, and the problem of religion in the public square.
Any discussion or presentation of Christianity is, at least, a presentation of judgment. This cannot be avoided or ignored. When Sen. Obama says:
This is why, if we truly hope to speak to people where they're at - to communicate our hopes and values in a way that's relevant to their own - we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse.Atrios reads it as a critique of Democrats, and the law of politics all politicians are expected to obey is: Thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow party members. It is this kind of lock-step unity which is supposed to have made the GOP the political juggernaut it is today. And, of course, Will Rogers' quip about not belonging to an organized political party because he's a Democrat, is now the sign that Democrats will never regain power until they, too, can ape the GOP in all matters except...well, politics. So we're back to the question of tolerance. I can tolerate you, but only if you tolerate me; and "tolerate" here means "Agree with me in everything I hold essential." That's a problem for the Anglican Communion. That's a problem for political parties. Politics doesn't like judgment, unless the judgment is used against one's political opponent. Which means politics doesn't like discernment; and despite its shining assessment of itself, left blogistan is very bad at discernment.
Because when we ignore the debate about what it means to be a good Christian or Muslim or Jew; when we discuss religion only in the negative sense of where or how it should not be practiced, rather than in the positive sense of what it tells us about our obligations towards one another; when we shy away from religious venues and religious broadcasts because we assume that we will be unwelcome - others will fill the vacuum, those with the most insular views of faith, or those who cynically use religion to justify partisan ends.
In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, Jerry Falwell's and Pat Robertson's will continue to hold sway.
What did Sen. Obama say in that speech? The Democrats had to seek the support of evangelicals like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson? No. He was making a larger point, a point about religion for the rest of us, for those of us who are both religious and tolerant:
In other words, if we don't reach out to evangelical Christians and other religious Americans and tell them what we stand for, Jerry Falwell's and Pat Robertson's will continue to hold sway.That is not a call to appeal to evangelicals who look to Falwell and Robertson for guidance; that is a call to Christians who don't look to Falwell and Robertson for guidance, but who have been told that their religious beliefs are not tolerated in the public square. In other words, irony of ironies, the intolerant positions of those in left blogistan who do not want religion, by which they invariably mean Christianity (as if no other religion existed in the world) mentioned in the public square, have helped create the very condition they now decry. Sen. Obama does it with statistics, but the simpple fact is, religious practice is as human as seeking food and shelter, as natural as reproduction, as much a part of the human experience as culture, and just as ineradicable as any of those things. It is the blinkered arrogance of the European Enlightenment, the intolerance of the most intolerant, which insists religion (by which, again, these critics most commonly mean Christianity) must be expunged from human history once and for all. It isn't going to happen and in fact insisting on that is part of the reason the atmosphere surrounding religion in the public square is now so poisonous. And you know what? Christianity teaches us just that lesson. It is the lesson Nietszche described: the man who fights dragons too long, ends up becoming a dragon himself. Except the fight against the "dragon" of Christianity, is a fight against a dragon of our own creation. Again, as Christianity teaches, once you lay down your arms and embrace your enemy, once you make yourself wholly vulnerable and love your enemy, you become more than conqueror. You adopt and accept and engage the power of powerlessness. And no, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson don't teach that lesson. But Christianity does. And that is precisely Sen. Obama's point: we have to tell evangelical Christians and religious Americans what we, as Christians, stand for in the public square. Not argue with them, not persuade them to our point of view, not oppose them in a final apocalyptic battle which will establish truth, justice, and the American way in one nation under God, world without end, Amen. But we simply have to stop letting them be the face of religion in America, the public voice of Christianity in America.
And this is a call to religious people; that's another point left out of the discussion in left blogistan. Sen. Obama speaks as a Christian; so do I. But that doesn't mean I would exclude the Buddhist who I knew through my last church, because his wife and children were members there, and he attended regularly with them. That's doesn't mean I would exclude DAS, who regularly comments here with deep and humane wisdom from both his education and his background in Judaism. That doesn't mean I would exclude atheists and agnostics, even as they would wish fervently to exclude me (some of whom I still count as on-line friends, despite their vitriol). But for me, the money quote is here:
I am not suggesting that every progressive suddenly latch on to religious terminology. Nothing is more transparent than inauthentic expressions of faith - the politician who shows up at a black church around election time and claps - off rhythm - to the gospel choir.I think he's right. We really have two choices: reflect the intolerance of those we have labeled our enemies, or reach out to them despite the fact they slap our hands away. The first would be a political response; the second would be a religious response. In America, which has prompted more positive change: religion (abolitionist movement; civil rights movement) or politics? Would it help here to mention that Sunday School began, not as a time for churches to teach children doctrine, but as an attempt to educate poor children who otherwise had no schooling at all? "The idea of the Sunday School caught the imagination of a number involved in evangelical churches and groupings." (although 'evangelical' there does not mean what we mean today; that's another problem of not discussing our religion in public). The religious response of intolerance that has come to exemplify the followers of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson is not the only religious response possible, and it is time for those who are religious, whatever their belief system, to be more public in support of tolerance.
But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. To say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Moreover, if we progressives shed some of these biases, we might recognize the overlapping values that both religious and secular people share when it comes to the moral and material direction of our country. We might recognize that the call to sacrifice on behalf of the next generation, the need to think in terms of "thou" and not just "I," resonates in religious congregations across the country. And we might realize that we have the ability to reach out to the evangelical community and engage millions of religious Americans in the larger project of America's renewal.
There are many reasons to tolerate religion in the public squre; not least of which is, it is already there. As I mentioned before, it was religiously motivated people who started, and continued, the movement against slavery. Schools for freed slaves were started by religious people. The civil rights movement was primarily a movement of religious people. We ignore that history at our peril. And the more we decry religion in the public sphere, the more we cede that sphere to the intolerantly religious. And in doing that, we all lose our public space as a space for all persons.
'Crackpot Religions Ltd. Arthur Crackpot President and God (Ltd)'*
Alright, first things first: if you are at all interested in Anglicanism, or theology, or good humor, go here and just start reading. I'm jealous; I'm really, really jealous. I mean, I'm even jealous of the name of the website.
I'm really, really jealous.
And thanks to jane for turning me on to the Mad Priest. If it isn't the first one up by the time you get there, try this one for an example:
TODAY'S QUIZAnd then there's this (follow the link; I'm not copying everything he does). And then there's this excellent article from South Africa, which I will copy a bit of. The words of Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane:
Which of the following is the number one priority for Anglicans?
a) God, the Father.
b) God, the Son.
c) God, the Holy Spirit.
d) God, the Bible.
Which of the following was created by human hands?
a) God, the Father.
b) God, the Son.
c) God, the Holy Spirit.
d) God, the Bible.
Idolatry is the worship of what?
a) God, the Father.
b) God, the Son.
c) God, the Holy Spirit.
d) Something created by human hands.
We need to be tolerant of difference.As the Mad Priest says:
The Anglican Church in Southern Africa knows what it is to live with difference and otherness. We were born in conflict but, in spite of our problems and disagreements, we have agreed on the fundamentals and recognised that we are together despite our differences. You do not find us today divided into a black church and a white church, for example.
At present there is a lack of appreciation for the governing structures of the Anglican Communion. The worldwide Anglican Church is made up of autonomous provinces which make their own laws.
The Episcopal Church in the USA is one of the most democratic of our autonomous provinces. The Diocese of New Hampshire elected Bishop Gene Robinson democratically, according to their constitution and canons. The same can be said of the recent election of the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Those elections were not illegitimate within the rules of the American church which is an orderly church Â– as is our church in Southern Africa. There was a clear majority in favour of both candidates.
A proper understanding of how the institutional life of the Anglican Communion has served our spiritual life and ministry is fundamental to avoiding a knee-jerk resorting to talk of schism whenever any disagreements arise among us.
I believe it gets quite warm in Cape Town. There are beaches and I wouldn't be surprised if there was an Anglican Convention Centre somewhere nearby. So. Last one in the water's a sissy!Did I mention I'm really, really jealous? And I mean really.
"Blessed is Arthur Crackpot and all his subsidiaries Ltd."
By the way; we can continue the discussion down here, or bring it up here. Your choice.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
The Bouncing Ball Loses its Bounce
Call it a tale of two questions.Yes it is, actually.
A Gallup/USA Today poll finds a clear majority -- 57 percent -- of Americans supporting the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq; while a Washington Post/ABC News poll finds only a narrow minority -- 47 -- percent in favor.
How can that be?
Well, look at the wording.
Here's the Gallup question: "Which comes closer to your view? Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq (or) decisions about withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq should be left to the president and his advisers?"
In other words: Should Congress propose a timetable, or just leave it all up to Bush?
Here's the Post question, with my emphasis: "Some people say the Bush administration should set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. military forces from Iraq in order to avoid further casualties . Others say knowing when the U.S. would pull out would only encourage the anti-government insurgents . Do you yourself think the United States should or should not set a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq?"
That's awfully close to: Are you in favor of cutting and running? What's amazing is that 47 percent of Americans said yes.
But Communion, and my Communion?
What is the current tension in the Anglican Communion actually about? Plenty of people are confident that they know the answer. It’s about gay bishops, or possibly women bishops. The American Church is in favour and others are against – and the Church of England is not sure (as usual).But it's much more fun to paint this as an assault on gays, or a retrenchment of progress, or better yet, a battle between "evil" fundamentalism and "good" liberals.Yet, as Jesus asked: "Why do you call me good? There is no one good but the Father alone." So let's set aside categeories and declarations and consider the issue as the Archbishop sees it.
It’s true that the election of a practising gay person as a bishop in the US in 2003 was the trigger for much of the present conflict. It is doubtless also true that a lot of extra heat is generated in the conflict by ingrained and ignorant prejudice in some quarters; and that for many others, in and out of the Church, the issue seems to be a clear one about human rights and dignity. But the debate in the Anglican Communion is not essentially a debate about the human rights of homosexual people. It is possible – indeed, it is imperative – to give the strongest support to the defence of homosexual people against violence, bigotry and legal disadvantage, to appreciate the role played in the life of the church by people of homosexual orientation, and still to believe that this doesn’t settle the question of whether the Christian Church has the freedom, on the basis of the Bible, and its historic teachings, to bless homosexual partnerships as a clear expression of God’s will. That is disputed among Christians, and, as a bare matter of fact, only a small minority would answer yes to the question.
Unless you think that social and legal considerations should be allowed to resolve religious disputes – which is a highly risky assumption if you also believe in real freedom of opinion in a diverse society – there has to be a recognition that religious bodies have to deal with the question in their own terms. Arguments have to be drawn up on the common basis of Bible and historic teaching. And, to make clear something that can get very much obscured in the rhetoric about ‘inclusion’, this is not and should never be a question about the contribution of gay and lesbian people as such to the Church of God and its ministry, about the dignity and value of gay and lesbian people. Instead it is a question, agonisingly difficult for many, as to what kinds of behaviour a Church that seeks to be loyal to the Bible can bless, and what kinds of behaviour it must warn against – and so it is a question about how we make decisions corporately with other Christians, looking together for the mind of Christ as we share the study of the Scriptures.
Because, of necessity, he sees it differently than the rest of us do. I've been in his position, and I am sympathetic to it. One of the things you learn as a pastor is that you alone are responsible for, and you alone have to see, the "big picture." You have to look beyond what would make your life easier in the short term, what would please or pacify the noisiest person in the pew, the biggest critic, the worst gossip, the most generous contributors, the oldest families, your most diligent opponents, and try to lead the church in the direction God wants it to go. You can't do that autocratically, and you can't do it with an insistence on the purity, or the "prophetic nature," of your vision. You have to be aware of so much it can be paralyzing, or you can seem to be paralyzed. So the Archbishop, in those three paragraphs above, states the crux of the matter as he sees it, and tries to steer a course that will keep as many people involved in the discussion as possible. And he frames it, not as a matter of the acceptance of rejection of homosexuals as persons, or even as priests and bishops; he frames it, as the last paragraph quoted makes clear, as a matter of polity. Ordaining gay bishops in open homosexual relationships is a change of practice for the Anglican Communion, and the question is: who gets to decide that the Communion will change that practice?
There are other fault lines of division, of course, including the legitimacy of ordaining women as priests and bishops. But (as has often been forgotten) the Lambeth Conference did resolve that for the time being those churches that did ordain women as priests and bishops and those that did not had an equal place within the Anglican spectrum. Women bishops attended the last Lambeth Conference. There is a fairly general (though not universal) recognition that differences about this can still be understood within the spectrum of manageable diversity about what the Bible and the tradition make possible. On the issue of practising gay bishops, there has been no such agreement, and it is not unreasonable to seek for a very much wider and deeper consensus before any change is in view, let alone foreclosing the debate by ordaining someone, whatever his personal merits, who was in a practising gay partnership. The recent resolutions of the General Convention have not produced a complete response to the challenges of the Windsor Report, but on this specific question there is at the very least an acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation in the extremely hard work that went into shaping the wording of the final formula.I emphasized that last bit because that is precisely where the conversation is now taking place. Both sides of this debate are loudly declaring their "right" to be "right," and denying the other side any legitimate authority in this discussion. Both sides want the Archbishop to speak for them, because there can be only one truth, and they alone have access to it. I've seen this battle, I've lived through it too many times. What Archbishop Williams says about the battle lines running through, not just the Communion, but through local churches, could just as well be said for the United Church of Christ, where autonomy of the local church is so absolute that it means the UCC's General Synod is equally autonomous, and the two usually act completely seperate from each other (I worked with churches in Houston, trying to keep them in the denomination, that didn't know General Synod had approved the ordination of gays and lesbians years earlier.). In a nutshell, that is the situation the Archbishop is trying to avoid. And he puts is finger precisely on the problem: the hubris inherent in the highly popular "prophetic stance:"
Very many in the Anglican Communion would want the debate on the substantive ethical question to go on as part of a general process of theological discernment; but they believe that the pre-emptive action taken in 2003 in the US has made such a debate harder not easier, that it has reinforced the lines of division and led to enormous amounts of energy going into ‘political’ struggle with and between churches in different parts of the world. However, institutionally speaking, the Communion is an association of local churches, not a single organisation with a controlling bureaucracy and a universal system of law. So everything depends on what have generally been unspoken conventions of mutual respect. Where these are felt to have been ignored, it is not surprising that deep division results, with the politicisation of a theological dispute taking the place of reasoned reflection.
Thus if other churches have said, in the wake of the events of 2003 that they cannot remain fully in communion with the American Church, this should not be automatically seen as some kind of blind bigotry against gay people. Where such bigotry does show itself it needs to be made clear that it is unacceptable; and if this is not clear, it is not at all surprising if the whole question is reduced in the eyes of many to a struggle between justice and violent prejudice. It is saying that, whatever the presenting issue, no member Church can make significant decisions unilaterally and still expect this to make no difference to how it is regarded in the fellowship; this would be uncomfortably like saying that every member could redefine the terms of belonging as and when it suited them. Some actions – and sacramental actions in particular - just do have the effect of putting a Church outside or even across the central stream of the life they have shared with other Churches. It isn’t a question of throwing people into outer darkness, but of recognising that actions have consequences – and that actions believed in good faith to be ‘prophetic’ in their radicalism are likely to have costly consequences.
It is true that witness to what is passionately believed to be the truth sometimes appears a higher value than unity, and there are moving and inspiring examples in the twentieth century. If someone genuinely thinks that a move like the ordination of a practising gay bishop is that sort of thing, it is understandable that they are prepared to risk the breakage of a unity they can only see as false or corrupt. But the risk is a real one; and it is never easy to recognise when the moment of inevitable separation has arrived - to recognise that this is the issue on which you stand or fall and that this is the great issue of faithfulness to the gospel. The nature of prophetic action is that you do not have a cast-iron guarantee that you’re right.The example of Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind here. But Dr. King's stand was not a break with his church, it was an outgrowth from it. His break was with American society, and indeed with other pastors of other churches, but not with his church. A prophet never stands alone; a prophet always stands within a tradition. And the first question the prophet has to ask herself is: is this a hill worth dying on?
The question of the humanity of gays and lesbians is not at issue. The question of ordination, on the other hand, is; and ordination is not the action of a few, or even a majority: it is an action of the entire institution. My New Testament professor led a class at a church where I was a student pastor one year, and he spoke to them about the boundaries around the Lord's table. The UCC practices an open table, accepting all who believe in Christ as lord and savior. All well and good, my professor said, and he agreed with that position. But where, he asked, are the boundaries? If someone comes to your house and puts his feet on the table and smacks his lips and talks with his mouth full and spills the wine...is that okay? Likewise, if they come to communion and chug the wine and put their feet up on the pews and generally behave like a lout in what should be at least a respectful, if not solemn, ceremony...is that okay?Where are the limits of our tolerance, our acceptance, and why? Whose communion is it, anyway? Yours? Mine? The congregation's? The larger church's? The church catholic? Where do we draw these lines, and why?
Communion is not a private action, it is a corporate one, and certain practices are expected of the participants. Ordination is not a private action, either. I do not ordain myself, a la John Ashcroft; ordination is the recognition of elevation to a position of responsibility and authority by a community. But, asks Archbishop Williams, which community? The community of the Diocese of New Hampshire? The community of the ECUSA? Or the community of the Anglican Communion? That is the issue: who ordains whom, and on what authority? This may not be the question some want to consider. But Archbishop Williams is right: the issue here is Anglican identity:
But we have tried to be a family of Churches willing to learn from each other across cultural divides, not assuming that European (or American or African) wisdom is what settles everything, opening up the lives of Christians here to the realities of Christian experience elsewhere. And we have seen these links not primarily in a bureaucratic way but in relation to the common patterns of ministry and worship – the community gathered around Scripture and sacraments; a ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, a biblically-centred form of common prayer, a focus on the Holy Communion. These are the signs that we are not just a human organisation but a community trying to respond to the action and the invitation of God that is made real for us in ministry and Bible and sacraments.And to the extent that doesn't work, something else may be necessary:
But what our Communion lacks is a set of adequately developed structures which is able to cope with the diversity of views that will inevitably arise in a world of rapid global communication and huge cultural variety. The tacit conventions between us need spelling out – not for the sake of some central mechanism of control but so that we have ways of being sure we’re still talking the same language, aware of belonging to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of Christ. It is becoming urgent to work at what adequate structures for decision-making might look like. We need ways of translating this underlying sacramental communion into a more effective institutional reality, so that we don’t compromise or embarrass each other in ways that get in the way of our local and our universal mission, but learn how to share responsibility.I like that emphasis on "shared responsibility." it is something I fear many critics as well as supporters of the Archbishop will miss. We shun responsibility; we abhor it, we abjure it. We retreat behind "tradition" as the protection for our stubbornness, or run to "prophetic witness" as an excuse for our own selfishness and impatience. What we never want to do is take responsibility. And it is that refusal to pay the piper when we want to call the tune, that leads to what is being considered the inflammatory "proposal" of this statement:
The idea of a ‘covenant’ between local Churches (developing alongside the existing work being done on harmonising the church law of different local Churches) is one method that has been suggested, and it seems to me the best way forward. It is necessarily an ‘opt-in’ matter. Those Churches that were prepared to take this on as an expression of their responsibility to each other would limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness; and some might not be willing to do this. We could arrive at a situation where there were ‘constituent’ Churches in covenant in the Anglican Communion and other ‘churches in association’, which were still bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources, but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion, and not sharing the same constitutional structures. The relation would not be unlike that between the Church of England and the Methodist Church, for example. The ‘associated’ Churches would have no direct part in the decision making of the ‘constituent’ Churches, though they might well be observers whose views were sought or whose expertise was shared from time to time, and with whom significant areas of co-operation might be possible.I prefer to quote what the Archbishop said rather than paraphrase it. He says precisely that an unwillingness to take responsibility for actions (and he is clearly aiming that at the ECUSA, not without reason, I think), to "limit their local freedsom for the sake of a wider witness," could lead to the situation of "'constituen't Churches." He is not declaring an answer, he is pointing out a consequence. A consequence that may arise from a principled stance on a contentious issue, but a consequence nonetheless. As the prophets knew and made clear in both their lives and their teachings, you don't get to be a prophet without paying some price for your prophecy, even as you point out the price the community of God must pay, for its faithlessness. If we of the ECUSA are going to insist the rest of the Communion is in some measure faithless on this issue, we must be prepared to pay some price for that stance. And is that price only to be paid in schism, in exclusion? If so, what does that expectation say, about Anglican identity?
I don't know that the Archbishop is stating a solution, or even proposing a resolution. I think he is merely stating the obvious, and laying responsiblity on all involved, as they have acted. Are the African bishops rabidly anti-homosexual? They find no support from the Archbishop. He does not include that stance in Anglican identity. Are the American churches determined to make this a hill they will make the Communion die on? They bear the responsibility for that action. No one, in this scenario, is good; no one but God alone, and everyone, in their desire for power, for control, for authority, is claiming God is on their side. The Archbishop simply recognizes that painful, awful reality, and here calls both sides to see what happens next, or what now might have to happen.
There is no way in which the Anglican Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment. Neither the liberal nor the conservative can simply appeal to a historic identity that doesn’t correspond with where we now are. We do have a distinctive historic tradition – a reformed commitment to the absolute priority of the Bible for deciding doctrine, a catholic loyalty to the sacraments and the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons, and a habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility that does not seek to close down unexpected questions too quickly. But for this to survive with all its aspects intact, we need closer and more visible formal commitments to each other. And it is not going to look exactly like anything we have known so far. Some may find this unfamiliar future conscientiously unacceptable, and that view deserves respect. But if we are to continue to be any sort of ‘Catholic’ church, if we believe that we are answerable to something more than our immediate environment and its priorities and are held in unity by something more than just the consensus of the moment, we have some very hard work to do to embody this more clearly. The next Lambeth Conference ought to address this matter directly and fully as part of its agenda.This is not at all an easy issue; and the solution to it does not boil down to one answer, or the other. The way forward is, as ever, very difficult. Like our own salvation, the Anglican Communion must work out this issue with fear and trembling, and not out of a conviction that we have the power, and we must exercise it. Now, more than ever, the teaching of Christ of the power of powerlessness, must be heeded and exercised.
The different components in our heritage can, up to a point, flourish in isolation from each other. But any one of them pursued on its own would lead in a direction ultimately outside historic Anglicanism The reformed concern may lead towards a looser form of ministerial order and a stronger emphasis on the sole, unmediated authority of the Bible. The catholic concern may lead to a high doctrine of visible and structural unification of the ordained ministry around a focal point. The cultural and intellectual concern may lead to a style of Christian life aimed at giving spiritual depth to the general shape of the culture around and de-emphasising revelation and history. Pursued far enough in isolation, each of these would lead to a different place – to strict evangelical Protestantism, to Roman Catholicism, to religious liberalism. To accept that each of these has a place in the church’s life and that they need each other means that the enthusiasts for each aspect have to be prepared to live with certain tensions or even sacrifices – with a tradition of being positive about a responsible critical approach to Scripture, with the anomalies of a historic ministry not universally recognised in the Catholic world, with limits on the degree of adjustment to the culture and its habits that is thought possible or acceptable.
But, as the Archbishop tacitly recognizes, the likelihood that lesson will be heeded, is nil.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
The sound of one hand clapping
RICH: We know from Howie’s report that the White House did not ask them to step down from the story the way they asked the other two papers. They thought it was fine if it’s in the "Wall Street Journal"."Frum" is David Frum, who I know mostly from commentaries on NPR a few years ago. "Rich" is Frank Rich, injecting more than a bit of reality into what is customarily a reality-challenged atmosphere. Frum's response to that challenge, by the way? "Frank, that's cute."
FRUM: I think it’s pretty clear you guys got it first. And the other papers would have deferred to your leadership. I mean, the "Times" does…
RICH: You really think that our competitors would have deferred to what we did?
FRUM: I think what you have here is you have government officials, both active and retired Democrats, going to papers saying, "This is a huge secret. Please do not publish this in the national interest." Then there’s a kind of moral dilemma.
But the grammar of the story, as I see it reported, suggests that information came to the "Times" first. If they had gone to the other two papers and said, we went to the "Times" and they agreed that this would be putting the nation’s safety and security at risk, that would have been…
RICH: As far as I know that — as far as I know, everything you just said is fictional. I’ve seen nowhere that the "Times" necessarily had it first. I got the feeling that news organizations were going neck and neck. What’s your source for that? What’s your source for it?
FRUM: I got — I got — that’s not what I said. I said when I read the grammar in the story…
RICH: What do you mean, read the grammar? Is it code, holding it up to the light with lemon juice?
Game, set, match: Rich. When all they can do is make up terms like "the grammar of the story," they've got less than zero to work with.
And then, on All Things Considered, we had this. Listen to it. Listen to George Lakoff steal the rhetorical ball from Frank Luntz and proceed to play "keep away" with it as Luntz whines that it's his ball, and he wants it back. Listen to Lakoff not only agree with Michele Norris that it's all about who frames the debate, but listen to him re-frame the debate even as Luntz cries that "it's not fair!" and tries to out meta-Lakoff by pointint out just how effective Lakoff's control of the message is.
It's beautiful, I tell you; absolutely beautiful. Too early to tell Karl to turn out the lights; but I think the fat lady is warming up in the wings.
I wasn't scared, but I just thought, that I had better go....
A majority of Americans say Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday. Half of those surveyed would like all U.S. forces out within 12 months."Cut 'n' run" is one of those phrases which sounds really, really scary, drawing up ideas of cowardice, of panicked flight, of desperate helter-skelter retreat. Only one problem with it: it isn't being perceived that way.
The poll finds support for the ideas behind Democratic proposals that were soundly defeated in the Senate last week. An uptick in optimism toward the war after the killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi earlier this month seems to have evaporated.
Here is the difference: reality is now controlling the narrative, not phrases. Someone mentioned the other day that this war has now gone on almost as long as WWII; but there is no government to topple, no opposite party of equal stature that an sue for peace. We've had our victory: this is the occupation. And unless we are willing to do what the Spanish did in this country, and the English, and finally us; unless we are willing to occupy the land and subdue the native population through means fair and foul, it will remain an occupation, in this same beleagured and bloody state. The Iraqis understand this; the American ambassador to Iraq understands this; and now, apparently, the American people understand this.
This is another nail in the coffin of this "glorious adventure; and yet another indicator that Cheney and Bush are no longer directing the attention of the public, if they ever were.
Hello, I must be going
Author of the forthcoming book "Strategic Terror: The Politics and Ethics of Aerial Bombardment," Grosscup said today: "The Bush strategy for victory is about to begin. U.S. and Iraqi forces have surrounded the city of Ramadi. Food and water have been cut off. Next is the 'Shock and Awe' strategic bombing of the city, to be followed by 'mop-up' operations: ground troops, snipers and aerial 'support.' "It is the hallowed 'Fallujah' model, intended to bring 'stability' by flattening the city with civilian death and destruction. It is a 'clean' way to victory, one supported by Representative Jack Murtha, who would withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq but continue to engage the 'enemy' from far away and from 15,000 to 30,000 feet above with air power. By October 2004, this 'clean war' had killed close to 100,000 Iraqi civilians and thousands more since. But, as any enthusiast of strategic bombing would say, it is the price of victory and somebody has to make the ultimate sacrifice. Terror from the skies, anyone?"And remember: if we kill someone with a 500 lb bomb (like the unnamed and now all but forgotten woman and child who died when we "took out" al-Zarqawi) that's always "collateral damage." If soldiers do the same thing with guns, in the same action, it's at best "regrettable," and at worst, a war crime.
It's all a matter of how impersonal the killing is.
The actual number of dead Iraqis as casualties of this war are unknown. The LA Times put the number at 50,000, which is 20,000 higher than the Bush Administration acknowledges. The Times points out that 50,000 Iraqis is proportionately equivalent to 570,000 Americans. Double that number, as the author assumes here, and you have a proportionate number equal to just over 1.1 million dead. 570,000 would be roughly equivalent to Austin, Texas when I lived there. The population of Houston proper is counted at about 2 million. Or, the equivalent of not just displacing, but killing, everyone in pre-Katrina New Orleans plus about 20%, or killing them all more than twice over.
Just to put those numbers in perspective.
Keeping an eye on the lunatic fringe
Why have those who have continually howled at our treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo met the recent kidnapping and sadistic and brutal murders of our two young soldiers with deafening silence?" the letter began. "Where is your outrage now?" It then stated that the U.S. "should" behead 100 prisoners in retaliation, as well as " editors, commentators, college professors and left-wing congressmen who would suddenly break their silence to come out in support of these enemy jihadists. We need to stop listening to these sanctimonious hypocrites who apply the rules of war only to our side."I've never seen a call for such violence on a blog, either as a post or in comments. And if I did, I expect it would be shouted down by the other commenters, or the blog post argued with, loudly (well, as loud as blogs get). Is this civil? No, but the editor of the Denver Post, which ran this letter, explains:
The decision was that there are extreme opinions out there and censuring them or pretending they don't exist wouldn't reasonably add to the debate.Well, yes, as a matter of fact, there are. And many more of them are "out there" in blogistan, if only because access to the forum is much more certain than access to the letters page of a newspaper. Maybe it's the easier acess which makes blogs seem less civil. But when I read a rant like that, I also realize blogs are much better regulated; by the patrons.
Maybe there are blogs like this letter out there. If so, I'm glad I don't know about them. And it's really hard to say that "asshole" and "wanker" are more inciting, or disturbing, terms than the call for vengeance in this letter. As Mr. Wolman says:
"If a person takes from that a step back and says, 'Holy cow, let's bring this down to Earth' that would be a good thing."Yes, it would. And I wouldn't mind that sentiment being applied a bit more liberally in left blogistan. But it is nice to know the blogs aren't quite as extreme as the letter writers to newspapers. That's something, anyway.
Monday, June 26, 2006
"We're from the government. Trust us."
"We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America," the president said. "What we were doing was the right thing."It used to be one of the "three great lies" (along with "We're from the IRS, we're her to help you" and either "The check is in the mail" or something more scatological I won't repeat) was: "We're the government. Trust us."
"The American people expect this government to protect our constitutional liberties and at the same time make sure we understand what the terrorists are trying to do," Bush said. He said that to figure out what terrorists plan to do, "You try to follow their money. And that's exactly what we're doing and the fact that a newspaper disclosed it makes it harder to win this war on terror."
And the very people who tried to turn that joke into a serious critique of the government, were people like Tony Snow:
"Certainly nobody is going to deny First Amendment rights. But the New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know in some cases might override somebody's right to live," Snow said. "And whether, in fact, the publication...could place in jeopardy the safety of fellow Americans."Power corrupts, after all, and power consumes nothing so quickly as it does idealism. Sometimes I think of it as merely the fuel for power's fire. Holden has Mr. Snow's attempted defense (and refusal to give details, as well) of this program here.
Still no mention from Mr. Bush or Mr. Snow was to what the program is (so apparently the NYT, the WSJ, and the LA Times, got that much of the story right). But I note while they won't tell the American people, apparently they will tell the international banking community, which I'm sure will want more than vague reassurances:
Tony Fratto, chief spokesman for the Treasury Department, said the contacts were made following the disclosure. "We have made a point of reaching out to our partners in the international community to make sure they understand our views and the safeguards we have in place," he said. "We want to make sure it was clear to our partners that we value this program."And then the whole argument turns on the childish notion that, if the American public doesn't know something, nobody knows it, including terrorists:
[NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller] said part of the government's argument was that the anti-terror program would no longer be effective if it became known, because international bankers would be unwilling to cooperate and terrorists would find other ways to move money.
"We don't know what the banking consortium will do, but we found this argument puzzling," Keller said, pointing out that the banks were under subpoena to provide the information. "The Bush Administration and America itself may be unpopular in Europe these days, but policing the byways of international terror seems to have pretty strong support everywhere."
Keller said the administration also argued "in a halfhearted way" that disclosure of the program "would lead terrorists to change tactics."We are, in other words, apparently happy to be treated like children playing "peek a boo!" So long as things are hidden from us, they are hidden from everyone! (Sadly, more often than note this argument works.)
But Keller wrote that the Treasury Department has "trumpeted ... that the U.S. makes every effort to track international financing of terror. Terror financiers know this, which is why they have already moved as much as they can to cruder methods. But they also continue to use the international banking system, because it is immeasurably more efficient than toting suitcases of cash."
The interesting thing is, they keep claiming terrorists were "brought to justice" using this program. But the only terrorist prosecutions I know of, other than the "shoe bomber" and the Hamdi case, are the Miami 7. Mr. Snow refers to the arrest of Riduan Isamuddin, known by his nom de guerre Hambali. According to Wikipedia, Hambali was captured in Thailand, in a joint operation between the Thai police and the CIA. But he is currently being held in secret custody by the CIA, allegedly in Jordan. Which would indicate the government isn't too keen on using the information from this 5 year old "emergency" program to prosecute criminal cases. For that we rely on informants and government largesse. It also means this program is not about using the legal system, but just about using government power.
So when Bush says: "The disclosure of this program is disgraceful," he means you can't protect a democracy from all enemies, foreign and domestic, unless you have absolute power to do so. Especially when one of those enemies is a free press.
Which sounds more and more like the stories of how people wound up in Gitmo; either the wrong place at the wrong time, or simply based on bad "intelligence."
Here is what the 7 homeless Miami men (they were living in an abandoned warehouse) were charged with:
Narseal Batiste and the others are charged with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, conspiracy to maliciously damage and destroy buildings by means of an explosive device and conspiracy to levy war against the government of the United States.And how were they going to do this? With government help:
In December, the informant provided Batiste with military boots he requested for his "soldiers." Two days later, Batiste asked the informant for radios, binoculars, bulletproof vests, firearms, vehicles and $50,000 in cash, the indictment said.Kind of hard to call this a case of anything but entrapment. I might say, or even write, that I "want to kill all the devils I can." But if the government doesn't help me in my cause by providing me the materials I need to do this, very directly, am I really guilty of conspiracy? Is thought alone a terrorist act?
In a February meeting with the informant, Batiste said he wanted to "kill all the devils we can" in a mission that would be "just as good or greater than 9/11," the indictment said.
The same month, he allegedly asked the informant for a video camera for a trip to Chicago and asked the informant to travel with him, the indictment said.
“Left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaida,” Gonzales said. “They were persons who, for whatever reason, came to view their home country as the enemy.”But left alone, General Gonzales, they couldn't have been so much as a danger to themselves. Is this really how you are keeping us safe from terrorism?
And I wish this kind of abuse of police power was peculiar to this Administration.
"What you mean 'we,' white man?"
Paul gets blamed for a lot of things: sexism, misogyny, legalist, that seem to plague Christianity. But Paul never gets blamed for starting the church. Which is odd, because it iwas Paul who first used the term "ekklesia" (the basis for our English word "ecclesiastical," or even "Ecclesiastes"). One very distinctive aspect of Jesus' life: Jesus never tried to found a "church."
There is a simple cultural reason for this, but one that gets lost in modern culture, where we distinctly understand church as distinct from state, and church as distinct from the rest of our lives. Church as an avocation, even a profession (depending on which side of of the Protestant/Catholic divide you are on, in Western Christianity), is something you do. You are a priest, or a lay person, an active church member, or an occassional one. Seldom, and without great strain and effort, do we think of church as something we are. Church is the Body of Christ. Church is the community of believers. Church is the clouds of witness, the communion of the saints. But "church" is always outside of "me." There is, in fact, no English phrase for a collective "we" that would suffice there. Church is not outside of "us." Church is outside of "me," whatever "me" reads that sentence.
Church is something we go to, attend, participate in, join, support, condemn, worry about, praise, curse, seek blessing from....but it is not "us." Not in the sense it was in Jesus' day.
But even that is misleading, because in no sense in Jesus' day did the concept of "church" exist. Jesus didn't even speak of the ekklesia. Jesus only spoke of the children of God. I don't think there's even a mention of the "children of Abraham" attributed to Jesus in the Gospels; at least not in the sense that, say, Paul would mean it. "Church" is the way we understand the working of God, today, in the world. And we still don't understand it properly.
What prompst this reflection? In part, left blogistan. The idea that YearlyKos, or any "movement" by bloggers, be it Eschaton or Firedoglake or DailyKos, is going to form a grass roots movement that will transform American political culture in some kind of new, pure, "people power" "populist" "netroots" campaign. It simply isn't going to happen. And the example of the ekklesia is why.
The complaint against Paul by people who want their Christianity purified, is that Paul co-opted the movement of Jesus of Nazareth, and domesticated it. This is not the complaint of cranks and know-nothings; this is a serious argument advanced by many New Testament scholars, and they do so neither in anger nor in sorrow, but simply in honesty. Jesus was an itinerant teacher who taught that there was no comfortable place for man on earth, except in doing the will of God. Paul planted "house churches," and taught an idea of ekklesia, a Greek word meaning people gathered together for a specific civic purpose. And there we already part company with Paul: "church" today does not gather for a specific civic purpose, because the civic square belongs to all, and we don't want Christians in any way to think they should, or deserve to, dominate it. But that concept is not new and Jeffersonian, as we imagine. It's actually old, and Roman. For Paul to describe his nascent movement of a few families following his teachings as an ekklesia, was for Paul to make a radical (and radically dangerous) political statement, much as it would be today. To use the term "ekklesia" is to claim a public, a civic, privilege for what is essentially a private group, and an intentionally private group, one you cannot enter without accepting certain teachings (at least), and baptism, and adhering to certain practices (the bulk of Paul's letters concern this issue). So even today, to mention the church is to set off alarm bells among some people, and the fact is, they aren't entirely wrong. Church is a threat to the secular community, at least inasmuch as church demands a place in the public square, but resolutely refuses to be wholly a part of the entire public entitled to that square.
But why didn't Jesus establish a church? Because Jesus didn't need to; Jesus had a ready-made community, a nation even: the nation of Israel, the children of Abraham.
This is another concept we have trouble grasping, and it isn't only because we are so accustomed to thinking of 19th century nation-states, those political entities of which the United States is the purest example. But the nation-state is without religious underpinnings, largely because the nation-state is, historically, a Johnny-come-lately, and also because it is a product of the anti-religious Enlightenment. I visited the Spanish missions of San Antonio yesterday. They are about to celebrate their 275th anniversary, and four of the five (the fifth being actually the first, the Mission San Antonio de Valero, the "Alamo") are still active parishes, with Franciscans living on the premises. What struck me in the history of these missions, all established by Franciscans, is how much the Catholic church was an arm of the Spanish government. The Franciscans paved the way for Spanish conquest by teaching the natives Spanish ways, including both Spanish ways of life as well as religion (and this is why every mission had walls and bastions: the Apache and Comanche took the European guns and horses, but not the European culture. They fought back, and recognized the missions as a source of change, of invasion, that they resented. It was a modern-day lesson in empire building: if you wish to do it, you must be willing to live in a new country, and to convert or subdue the native populace. It was interesting how much the Franciscans were willing to do both.) But what Jesus taught was never in compliance with that Rome ordered; nor were Paul's teachings. So where does this leave political movements, especially political movements that seek to act "in his name"? It leaves them trying to build an ekklesia; but not in the sense that Paul meant, and certainly not in the direction Jesus meant.
"Certainly not"? That sounds terribly judgmental, but at some point you have to lay your cards on the table and declare your hand. So this is my declaration of mine. Jesus called many disciples, but some did not choose his way; and yet, he didn't reject them. He did reject those who tried to follow him without an invitation, or at least it seems he rejected them. In Luke 9, one man offers to follow Jesus, but Jesus makes clear he has nothing to offer: "Foxes have their holes, and birds their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Immediately thereafter, Luke tells us, Jesus calls a new disciple, but gets this answer: "Let me first go and bury my father." Jesus doesn't say "Oh, never mind then, I'll wait." But he doesn't say "you're not worthy, " either. He makes it clear, in that case, and in the one just after, another would-be disciple who offers to follow Jesus if only he can finish plowing the field, Jesus makes it clear what must come first: God. All other considerations are secondary. Jesus was never afraid to lay those cards on the table.
But neither did he tell everyone he met to become a disciple. He didn't tell the beggars he healed, the prostitutes he forgave, the tax-collectors he ate with, to become his followers as payment for their cure, forgiveness, recognition. He didn't try to create a following; he tried to create students, to carry on the lesson, but he didn't tell people he helped that they now owed him something, or owed God something. Jesus never workd on the "I scratched your back, now you scratch mine" plan. Which is significant. He wasn't seeking to put things together. As The Last Whole Earth Catalog put it, 30 years ago: "We can't put it together. It is together." Jesus would agree. Which is why he told those two newbie disciples: "Go, and proclaim the kingdom of God." And this, he meant with his rebukes to them, is more important than anything else you can do, or will ever do.
And right after that, in Luke 10, Jesus sends out 72 disciples, and they come back rejoicing at what occurred, at what happened simply by proclaiming the Kingdom of God. And that's all they had to do, and that's all Jesus wanted them to do. And he didn't try to start a movement with them, or a group,or an ekklesia. In fact, he didn't tell them to come back for more instruction; he simply rejoiced in their happiness and told them to keep it up, that good things were coming of it already, universally good things. "I saw Satan fall, like lightning from heaven....Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but that your names are enrolled in heaven." (Luke 10:18, 20) All from saying the Kingdom of God is at hand, and caring for the people nobody cared for.
And those people were already part of a community: they were already the children of Abraham, the ones the prophets said Israel had forgotten to care for once before, and so Babylon came knocking on Jerusalem's gates. How quickly and easily we forget; and yet how simple the solution Jesus offers. And it is not the political solution some may have expected. He does not come as the Messiah who will re-establish the political throne of Israel. At this point I remember, not a Biblical passage (as I probably should), but a passage from "Jesus Christ Superstar," where Tim Rice pressed together most of the events of the Passion Week from the four Gospel sources. Passover, of course, was a huge political celebration for Israel, the cultic remembrance of the liberation of the slaves of Egypt so they could be a nation under God. In the rock opera, Simon Zealotes sings of the power Jesus could command in Jerusalem at Passover, if he only would, and Jesus replies, mournfully:
Neither you, Simon, nor the 50,000
Nor the Romans, nore the Jews,
Nor Judas nor the Twelve
Nor the priests, nor the scribes,
Nor doomed Jerusalem itself,
Understand what power is.
Understand what glory is.
Understand at all.
Understand at all.
And I think of left blogistan when I read another blog that considers itself a "community" that will eventually rise up and overthrow the corrupt political power structure, that will harness the power of the "netroots" and direct it as a force this time for good. Or when it warns its followers not to lose faith in the face of persecutions from David Brooks or The New Republic. In fact, it's laughable, because those are signs of doom, but not in the way the blog supporters think. Those are signs the blogs are being taken seriously; and they are signs the blogs are about to be co-opted.
Remember Paul? The modern-day take on Paul, among critics of Christianity, is that it all went wrong when Paul co-opted whatever one imagine Jesus of Nazareth started, and turned it into a church, a tamed, domesticated servant of the status quo. And certainly there is a great deal of ammunition for that view provided by the Pauline letters. Except that most of that ammunition comes from the Pseudo-Pauline letters, not the authenticated ones. That and the fact that, once again, the critics are dealing with these matters both ahistorically and anachronistically. But when the movement Paul fostered was finally taken seriously, did it transform society? Or did society transform it?
That's a larger question than can be legitimately answered here, and clearly the proper answer is not an either/or. But just as clearly, society transformed the church as much as the church transformed society. Look at the missions in San Antonio as a concrete example. And yet, the example is not an unmixed one. The missions offer masses for victims of AIDS/HIV; such persons are encouraged to contact a priest, and told they can do so anonymously. Their work is for the poor, the suffering; not the glory of the wealthy, the powerful. So one continues to affect the other, and yin and yang it goes along.
Jesus didn't need to found a church. But we do. This is the basic issue of ecclesiology: why do we need a church? And if we do, then what is church for? If it is to be another movement, another means of wielding power in the world, but this time to do good, then frankly I have no need of it. If it is to build community in the world, well...that's another trick altogether. And it's not a one-trick pony. Community is not built because people of like mind enjoy hanging around with each other. That is the fundamental weakness of Protestantism; witness it being played out, again, in the Anglican Communion. But that is also human nature; so pointing it out is not to say that community cannot, or should not, be built. Just be careful assuming you can aim it at anything.
Community is never the weapon it wishes to be. Pat Robertson is better known, richer, and has a larger audience, than Markos Moulitsas. But Pat Robertson has political clout only because Karl Rove courted it, and used it shamelessly and ruthlessly. The same is true for James Dobson and Jerry Falwell. I daresay, even this long after his heyday, that Jerry Falwell still commands a larger audience than Firedoglake, Kos, and Eschaton combined. And yet none of that prevented Karl Rove from playing him like a fiddle, or Ralph Reed from getting deeply involved in screwing over Indian tribes with Jack Abramoff. It is, in fact, in the nature of the business. Power corrupts, and absolutely no one is immune from that maxim. Not "greedy corporate masters," not pure-hearted denizens of the netroots.
If you seek community, that's one thing. If you seek power, that's another. Beware of confusing the two. Paul left us a church because we needed it: it is the preserver of tradition, of knowledge, of the historical presence of God, much as the nation of Israel was for each individual Hebrew, once upon a time. The church is the cloud of witnesses, the body of Christ, the community of believers. But what it is not, is a source of temporal or even secular power; it tried that, and learned the dangers of it (although it will undoubtedly try again and again; it is, after all, only human). There is also another thing it is not: it is not exclusive from the public square, something "purely personal" that only affects me as I live within the confines of my four walls, or stare out through the holes in my skull. It is the ekklesia, the people gathered in the public square for a not wholly public purpose. And to the extent that is a problem for the world: so be it.
Sunday, June 25, 2006
The Hollow Men
The distinction between insurgents and terrorists is one of the key principles in the document, and is in response to Sunni politicians' demands that the "national resistance" should not be punished for what they see as legitimate self-defense in attacks against a foreign occupying power. Principle No. 19 calls for "Recognizing the legitimacy of the national resistance and differentiating or separating it from terrorism" while "encouraging the national resistance to enroll in the political process and recognizing the necessity of the participation of the national resistance in the national reconciliation dialogue."So, this is it? We told ourselves we were not an occupying force, that we would be greeted as liberators, we were told that the people killing our soldiers are "insurgents" who might as well be "terrorists," and yet the Iraqi government we put in place wants to distinguish between insurgents and terrorists, and will announce a plan tomorrow that does just that?
The 19 Senators are starting to look prescient. This is, indeed, how we have to do it. Iraq has to stand on its own, have a government of its own, and treat its people as it wishes to. But either our troops have simply been a fire support base to draw the terrorists out ("flypaper," with human beings as the "paper"), or they have been provoking the insurgency, and the sooner they are withdrawn, the sooner the violence ends. In fact, our presence is actually helping the Sunnis:
"The Sunnis have only one card to play, the insurgency," says the senior coalition official. "They don't have enough population and they're not sitting on any of the resources. Therefore their political identity is almost entirely defined by the insurgency."So the longer our soldiers stay, the more reason we give them to fight us. (This would also be true if we insist on maintaining permanent military bases there, something these articles never mention. When is a "pullt out" not a "pull out"? We may find out before long.) But haven't we been saying this all along? Haven't we said the presence of our troops is the reason for the fighting? Hasn't Jack Murtha said that? Whither now, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly? When the country itself is willing to forgive those who kill our soldiers, why are we staying a moment longer?
What's Dick Cheney gonna say about this? And then there's the other issue of sovereignty (and notice who the Iraqis are looking to for a solution):
The plan also calls for a withdrawal timetable for coalition forces from Iraq, but it doesn't specify an actual date—one of the Sunnis' key demands. It calls for "the necessity of agreeing on a timetable under conditions that take into account the formation of Iraqi armed forces so as to guarantee Iraq's security," and asks that a U.N. Security Council decree confirm the timetable. Mahmoud Othman, a National Assembly member who is close to President Talabani, said that no one disagrees with the concept of a broad, conditions-based timetable. The problem is specifying a date, which the United States has rejected as playing into the insurgents' hands. But Othman didn't rule out that reconciliation negotiations called for in the plan might well lead to setting a date. "That will be a problem between the Iraqi government and the other side [the insurgents], and we will see how it goes. It's not very clear yet."What is going to keep the Democrats from simply saying now: "See? They're a sovereign government, and they want a date set for removal of our troops, and the biggest problem with our troops being there is it inflames the insurgency, so...why aren't we leaving, Mr. President?"
And here's the unkindest cut of all:
The devil will likely be in the details. Everyone agrees for instance that a bomb set off in a mosque is terrorism. But if a roadside bomb is set off targeting soldiers, but killing innocent bystanders—is that resistance, or terrorism? "A lot will depend on the exact wording," says Othman.Bush's idea of justice, when al Zarqawi was killed, was plainly stated: "kill the bad guys." No word how that concept of delivering justice via 500 lb. bombs from six miles up was received by the Iragis in the neighborhood, some of whom might themselves have been killed had the timing been less favourable. But where is justice now, for our soldiers? Well, now we have to accept that it doesn't matter. Now we have to accept that they died for...for what, actually? So I could type this blog? So you could read it? So we could pray on Sunday morning, worship in the church or our choice, or in the synagogue on Saturday night, or in some other way, or not at all? Really? Saddam Hussein threatened that? How, exactly?
"Give war a chance," said Thomas Friedman. "Give war a chance." And by golly, we did.
This is the way the war ends
This is the way the war ends
This is the way the war ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
The Warring Classes
Whereas most terrorism is a form of educated, middle class politics, this particular group clearly grew out of the grievances and resentments of race and class inequality in the United States.This, of course, is where Rush Limbaugh shuts down all discussion with cries of "Class Warfare!"
The sister of one was just on MSNBC saying that he deeply resented Bush spending money to drop bombs on poor people who could not defend themselves, while depriving the poor in the United States of any support. "We are not capable," she said. This is a theory of class war, connecting the poor of Kut with the poor of Miami's inner city. The city, by the way, has horrific levels of unemployment.
The position of the poor and workers in particular is deteriorating in the US, as more and more of the privately held wealth is concentrated in the hands of a white, privileged, few. The unions have been gutted, the minimum wage is inadequate, and racist attitudes are reemerging on a worrisome scale. Cities such as Detroit, New Orleans and Miami continue to witness enormous strains coming mainly from racist attitudes. In this case, the best counter-terrorism would be more social justice.
But tell me what's wrong with this analysis, precisely? Bin Laden is known to come from a wealthy family, one with connections to the Bush clan. And if the situation in New Orleans and on the Louisiana/Mississippi Gulf coast doesn't prove the validity of that last paragraph, what does?
As for the middle one, well, I'm convinced the DOJ is banking on these guys getting really poor court-appointed representation. Because while conspiracy is an "inchoate crime" (i.e., one where intent almost alone can be illegal, a vastly different standard than any other crime), this one seems, just on the news reports, to barely rise to the level of a conspiracy, much less a crime.
Class warfare, indeed. Only the destitute are innocent.
Some days you eat the bear
It's stories like this that make me want to throw up my hands and drink until I'm blind:
Two leaders of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights who have spent the last 18-months helping victims of last year’s Tsunami took a walk through the Lower Ninth Ward Friday.Maybe, in the 19th century, there was an excuse for this. The destruction of Lisbon by an earthquake sent shock waves through Europe's intelligenstia, starting the rejection of God and issue of "theodicy" that culminated in the unofficial atheism of Europe's elite in the 19th century (and beyond). New Orleans drowns, not because of an "act of God" but because of poor engineering and nearly a century of indifference, and this arouses us to....further indifference.
Their reaction was one of shock, because they said they expected to see more signs of recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
“We think of America as being this fabulous, powerful superpower, and it’s exactly like Third World situations,” said Tom Kerr.
“In my personal opinion, I think you should have done much, much faster. It should be much better than what I have seen today,” said Samsook Boonyabancha.
"The fact that the relief and the support for people who live here is so minimal even though there is so much money in this country, it's really shocking," said Kerr.
When was the last time Anderson Cooper asked why New Orleans still looks like it did in September, 2005? When was the last time NPR ran a story that focussed, not on resolute individuals, but asking why the hell people are still living in trailers, one year later? Why the hell is there still debris, one year later? Why the hell does nothing look any different, one year later?
As scout says: "Again embarrassing or ought to be." But I honestly think that, as a country, we are beyond embarassment. The flood of 1927 that Randy Newman memorialized changed the face of American politics, made and broke Herbert Hoover as a politician, and even changed the face of American cities. The destruction of New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast has lead to....?
Apathy. Apathy and embarassment, and the revelation that we are a third-world country, with a military capable of knocking off the government of any (non-nuclear) third-world country we wish, but nothing more than that. What is it, seriously, what is it, that seems to keep us from even caring? What allows us to substitute Anderson Cooper's crocodile tears and Oprahesque coverage of New Orleans for real concern, for real caring, for real true and honest outrage at what hasn't been done, for shame-faced embarassment over what a hollow, empty, rotting Colossus we are only 60 years after we bestrode the world at the defeat of the Axis powers?
Are we truly and simply too busy programming our iPods to care?
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely
As the vice president told CNN's John King this week, when he was asked about his claim that "we would be greeted as liberators" in Iraq: "It does not make any sense for people to think that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans, leave the Middle East, walk away from Iraq, and we'll be safe and secure here at home. 9/11 put the lie to that."In what twisted Hobbesian universe does this make any sense at all? Dowd notes that even close allies of Bush are calling Cheney "an absolute disaster." I still think that's too simple. He is America's id, unrestrained by any ego or superego. He's stopped being disastrous; he's become a danger to the country.
In a macabre metric of improvement, Dr. Death also noted that things were looking up. "There are a lot more Iraqis becoming casualties in this conflict at present because they are now in the fight," he said cheerily.