Friday, July 20, 2012

Lunch With Dick And Richard

A guilty pleasure read in August, when it comes out, will be Kati Marton's book about the love of her life, the late Richard Holbrooke. Susan Cheever has a preview:
In a bookstore after saying goodbye to Holbrooke [before one of his diplomatic missions], Marton picks up Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, flips to her husband’s name in the index, and finds an infuriating story. She writes, “The President soured on Richard when my husband asked him to call him Richard, not Dick, at the ceremony appointing him special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Holbrooke had explained to the president that Kati, who was in the audience, did not like the nickname Dick. Standing in a Paris bookshop, Marton is furious—how can Obama, who doesn’t like to be called by his nickname, Barry, be irritated that she doesn’t want people to call her husband Dick?

The rich are different from you and me—they are a lot more fun to read about. Marton and Holbrooke’s first date was a three-day jaunt to Chartres and the Chateaux of the Loire Valley at Christmastime in 1993. He was in his 50s, the American ambassador to Germany taking a few days off; she in her 40s was just barely separated from anchorman Peter Jennings, one of the most famous men in the world. They talked about Gothic vs. Romanesque, spoke perfect French, and ate at Chez Benoit where they ran into Holbrooke’s friend Pamela Harriman, the ambassador to France. (Harriman snubbed Marton.) No sweaty groping in cheesy hotel rooms for these two! Holbrooke’s most excited moment was when he and Marton sat side by side in a pew of the great Chartres cathedral. “Just imagine,” he whispered urgently, “the pilgrims’ first reaction to these windows! The power of this place for medieval peasants.” At the end of five days together, they held hands.

Kathy and I met Holbrooke in Bonn in March 1994, when we accompanied Richard Nixon on his last visit to Russia, she as his chief of staff, I as director of his presidential library. On the way back, we stopped in London and caught a performance of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical "Carousel," then enjoying a West End revival. He and Mrs. Nixon (who had died the previous June) had seen it in New York right after World War II with their friend John Raitt (blueswoman Bonnie's father) as Billy Bigelow. In London, we got the last five or six seats in the balcony. When Billy's ghost broke through to his widow, Julie Jordan, and their embittered daughter, Louise, and they both stood to sing "You'll Never Walk Alone," Nixon was mopping his face with his raincoat.

We also popped back to West Germany for a meeting with Chancellor Helmut Kohl. You're allowed to say "popped" when you're riding in the private jet ADM's Dwayne Andreas had lent Nixon for his trip.

Holbrooke, as U.S. ambassador, met us at the airport. Since the Red Army Faction was still a threat, he had a half-dozen men around him toting semiautomatic weapons. We'd been a little late leaving London, and Holbrooke's apparatus was determined to get Nixon to Kohl's office on time. We were in four black Mercedes, virtually bumper to bumper, driving about 120 mph, the cars in front and back bristling with armament.

Afterward we went to Holbrooke's residence for lunch, where Nixon briefed him on his Moscow meetings (which had not included one with President Boris Yeltsin, who got angry at Nixon for visiting one of his political enemies). They had in common their enlightened realism in foreign policy and Diane Sawyer, Nixon's former aide, Holbrooke's one-time lover. Her name did not come up, so far as you know.

W. D. J. Really Think?

The Rt. Rev. Stacy F. Sauls, former bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, now serves as CEO of The Episcopal Church. In a letter published today in the Wall Street Journal rebutting a column by a disgruntled New York layman, Bishop Sauls writes:

The church has been captive to the dominant culture, which has rewarded it with power, privilege and prestige for a long, long time. The Episcopal Church is now liberating itself from that, and as the author correctly notes, paying the price. I hardly see paying the price as what ails us. I see it as what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Many years ago when I was a parish priest in Savannah, a local politician and disaffected Episcopalian began a conversation with me. In that case the subject was homosexuality. It could have been any of the things mentioned last week as our ailments. "I just think the church should not be governed by the culture," he said. I replied that I agreed with him, but that "I just hadn't noticed that the culture was all that hospitable toward gay people." He stammered. "Well, maybe not here in Georgia."

The Episcopal Church is on record as standing by those the culture marginalizes whether that be nonwhite people, female people or gay people. The author calls that political correctness hostile to tradition.

I call it profoundly countercultural but hardly untraditional. In fact, it is deeply true to the tradition of Jesus, Jesus who offended the "traditionalists" of his own day, Jesus who was known to associate with the less than desirable, Jesus who told his followers to seek him among the poor.
The bishop's argument is eloquent but a little off point. Back in Georgia, he delicately maneuvered his friend into admitting that their state was hostile to gays and lesbians. Since then, the U.S. public, led by our young people, has grown far more accepting. Americans' support for gay marriage appears to increase month to month. The elite culture, especially opinion leaders in the media and popular culture, is militantly hostile to homophobia, and rightly so. And though we haven't fully lived into the democratic imperative of honoring the dignity of each individual and offering opportunity to all, it's also an exaggeration to say that our society marginalizes ethnic minorities and women.

Anyway, in our common struggle for human dignity, it's hard to say who's governing whom. Church people have been part of all our great civil rights movements, as have the unchurched. In formalizing equity in law and canon, sometimes secular society has led the way, other times the church. Today, TEC and what Bishop Sauls calls the dominant culture (especially its judges, DAs, and civil rights divisions) are essentially synchronizing.

So with apologies to the bishop, we actually haven't liberated ourselves from the culture. We have, however, pretty much liberated ourselves from members of our own covenant. He appears to be putting the best possible face on what amounts to us Christians' failure to remain in dialogue and community -- left and right, progressive and conservative, gay- and women-friendly and not. One may assign the blame for our separations and schisms however one wishes. But a failure is a failure. Alienation is alienation. While we honor Christ by welcoming all into his body, there are members of the body we don't much care for. The left hand is often appalled by what the right hand is doing, and vice versa. Christianity is a divided house, and we may remember what our LORD said on that subject.

We're all hopeful that the mainline church's center of gravity is shifting to a place where it will attract those who would never have worshiped with us 30 years ago. But will the secular-minded elites who in all sincerity applaud our enlightenment on identity and gender actually come on Sunday morning to participate in our communities, in the sacraments, in practices and disciplines that call everyone, even the exceptionally enlightened, to humility, repentance, and amendment of life? We may say that it's all up to God. But unless they do come, we will also have also liberated ourselves from the imperative of evangelism.

The Episcopal Church is doing better than its critics claim. Many of our parishes and missions are thriving as inclusive, loving, service-driven communities. And yet I fear our secular political partners on a whole array of issues view us progressive Christian soldiers as objects of curiosity and sympathy as much as sources of inspiration. From a secular perspective, Christ's whole church appears to be diffuse in its core message, even dying, in large part as a result of its failure to transcend its internal tensions and contradictions and keep both left and right wings under the mighty shadow of our Creator and the abiding hope of the Resurrection. In the end, Jesus -- who loves unity as well as justice -- might not be quite as pleased with any of us as we may think.

Keep Watch With Those Who Weep This Night

Jacob Stevens, 18, hugs his mother Tammi Stevens after being interviewed by police outside Gateway High School where witness were brought for questioning after a shooting at a movie theater in Denver today. A gunman wearing a gas mask set off an unknown gas and fired into a crowded movie theater at a midnight opening of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises," killing at least 12 people and injuring at least 50 others, authorities said.
AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez

Thursday, July 19, 2012

That's Resurrection For You

Reviewing Geza Vermes's new book about the early church, Rowan Williams argues that theologians, participants in ecumenical councils, and other architects of the church in its first three centuries weren't so much making it up as they went along as doing their best to describe the astonishing mystery of the Christ event:

Someone reading the convoluted texts of early Christian argument might well see them less as a series of baroque elaborations on a theoretical theme than as a series of attempts to capture an elusive but inescapable insight. Each effort generates more unfinished business; and the impetus is not to clarify ideas for their own sakes but to do justice to the sense that whatever Jesus introduces into the world is new and awkward enough to need a new vocabulary.

Hat tip to Norris Battin

Blessings On Blessings

Kathy and I celebrated our 10th anniversary on July 6, and that weekend the kids popped for dinner. That's why I'm talking about. Because my younger daughter, Lindsay, couldn't be present -- she was at work down at Camp Stevens in Julian -- it wasn't quite perfect. But nearly so, thanks to (beginning over my bald head) stepson Dan, future son-in-law Mark, stepdaughter Meaghan, honorary daughter Ciara, Meg's friend PJ, and my elder daughter, Valerie. What can I say but that blessings abound?

Israel's Ring Of Fire

In a tour d'horizon of Israel's borders, Daniel Pipes argues that an age of anarchy may succeed the age of Arab despotism.

Giving Faith A Chance In Syria

My Diocese of Los Angeles colleague the Rev. Canon F. Brian Cox is at work promoting faith-based reconcoliation in Syria. Hat tip to the weekly e-mailed Episcopal News for this link to Christianity Today:
Over the years, Cox has traveled to the world's hotspots to introduce more leaders to faith-based reconciliation. Cox and others worked for eight years before making significant progress in reconciling Pakistani Muslims and Indian Hindus in Kashmir. In the Mideast, he has already worked with Israelis, Palestinians, and Muslim Brotherhood members.

This intensive approach has little competition and gains little official support from government diplomats. In a 2010 report, Cox noted that a high-level official in the U.S. State Department paid his Asian program an unexpected compliment, saying, "Well, nothing else has worked in Kashmir. We might as well give faith a chance."

Cox's model of faith-based reconciliation centers on eight core values: pluralism, inclusion, peacemaking, social justice, forgiveness, healing historical wounds, sovereignty, and atonement. In the Syrian context, it potentially lays groundwork to assist activists in creating and implementing a strategic plan for national healing and reconciliation.

Uncomfortably One

Maggie Shipstead on mayhem at the modern American wedding:

I wonder...if the freewheeling merriment isn’t...rooted in a kind of doomsday solidarity. Binding yourself to another person with the intention of fidelity and the hope of lasting happiness is a daredevil leap of faith, and perhaps the momentum of nuptial risk-taking is contagious, inspiring guests to throw caution to the wind at the table or the bar or in bed. My friends’ weddings have been joyful and optimistic, but we’ve heard so many ominous statistics about the divorce rate that these days a distant rumble of anxiety can be heard at even the most determinedly perfect celebrations.

As a pastor, I experience weddings (also funerals, actually) as blessed foreshadowings of the perfect unity with one another and all creation from which and to which God has summoned us. For an hour or two,we may give ourselves permission to ignore the world's alienation and suffering, all the score-keeping and -settling of our lives, and imagine how God wants us to be and live. That's enough to make anyone go nuts.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

10,000 Holes In The Hoover Building

Reviewing Max Holland's Leak, Athan Theoharis shows how Watergate leaker W. Mark Felt helped destroy both the Nixon presidency and the culture of secrecy at the agency he professed to love, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI:

The investigation of Nixon's role in the Watergate cover-up led to the exposure of his more serious abuses of the U.S. intelligence agencies: wiretapping prominent reporters, covert actions by the White House Plumbers, and, under the proposed Huston Plan, authorizing the use of illegal investigative techniques. In response, Congress in 1974—overriding President Gerald Ford's veto—enacted key amendments to the Freedom of Information Act that allowed reporters, activists, and scholars to obtain highly secret and revealing FBI records. That same year it enacted the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act, which ensured the preservation of the Nixon Oval Office tapes and transferred control over Nixon's presidential papers to the National Archives, and in 1978 it passed the Presidential Records Act, which defined presidential papers as public property and established the conditions and timing for giving the public access to them. And in 1975 it established special House and Senate committees that investigated and then publicized the abusive practices of the U.S. intelligence agencies from the 1930s through the '70s.

Combined, these actions ended FBI officials' absolute control over their agency's records, a change that eventually benefitted the research of Holland and others. Such research has expanded our awareness of how secrecy emboldened officials to violate privacy rights and the rule of law, and as such it offers a powerful, still relevant lesson in the adverse consequences inherent in blind deference to claims of "national security."

St. John's Sky

About 7:30 p.m.

Tricky Mitt

"Oh, dear," was my first reaction. My second was that nobody under 40 will get it. My third was that Mitt Romney's had a terrible couple of weeks.

With The Sisters And Savior In Nazareth

All Holy Land pilgrims enjoy imagining that they're walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. A privileged few, including our recently returned St. John's cohort, can also say that they just may have stood in his living room.

On four trips since 2007, I and my fellow pilgrims have stayed at the guest house of the Religious Sisters of Nazareth, French nuns who began their ministry in Mary, Joseph, and Jesus's home town in 1855. As they began to build their convent, they discovered remnants of an Crusader-era church or monastery as well as a tomb with a rolled stone (like the one that would have been used for Jesus's burial in Jerusalem) that dates from the sixth century before Christ or even earlier. It's shown below with some of our pilgrims. Periodic excavations in the years since have uncovered cisterns, mosaics, and other features, including some from Byzantine times, which is to say from as early as the fourth and fifth centuries.

But the most intriguing finds are now thought to be from the first century, during Roman times -- street surfaces and a portion of a doorway that may have been an entrance to the kind of cave dwelling that would have been common in Jesus's day, when as few as 200 people lived in Nazareth.

That's pilgrim Brenna Hayden above, with the doorway over her shoulder. She's standing in a first-century dwelling in the holy family's tiny home town. You begin to get the picture. Did Jesus visit or perhaps even live in this space?

Let's start with Mary and Joseph. Luke's gospel says they hailed from Nazareth and returned home soon after Jesus's birth. Matthew implies that they were from Bethlehem and says that they took the holy child to Egypt to escape Herod the Great's killers. Returning to Israel after Herod's death, Joseph was warned in a dream to take his family to Galilee (Matt. 2:22), where the Holy Spirit seems to have thoughtfully lined up work. In his archaeological history The Holy Land, Jerome Murphy-O'Connor writes that Joseph's arrival in Nazareth precisely coincided with Galilean tetrarch Herod Antipas's recruiting drive for artisans for a new capital he was building about three miles away, to be called Sephoris.

That would have given Joseph and eventually his young apprentice a way to afford a tidy little cave dwelling for themselves and Mary. But is it the spot under the Sisters? Perhaps not, or so we might conclude just from consulting Murphy-O'Connor. In his entry on the convent, he mentions the Second Temple-era tomb and Crusader ruins (circa 11th century) and also writes that the site was used by Muslims for worship after the Crusaders were driven out. But he doesn't mention any first-century ruins.

But all is not lost. During our visit in June, our guide, Canon Iyad Qumri, tantalized us by reading an excerpt from a seventh-century text describing the experiences of a pilgrim much like us that the Sisters take as evidence of the site's provenance:
The city of Nazareth, as Arculf who stayed in it relates, is situated on a mountain. It is, like Capharnaum, unwalled, yet it has large houses built of stone, and also two very large churches. One of these, in the middle of the city, is built upon two vaults, on the spot where there once stood the house in which our Lord the Saviour was brought up.
The convent and guest house's central location (next door to the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation) and the description of the vaulting character of the site have inclined experts to believe that Arculf could have been talking about the Sisters' spot, whose excavations are over two stories high. The reference to a church could account for the Byzantine ruins modern archaeologists have identified.

Who told Arculf that it had been Jesus's house? No one knows. Here's what we do know. We pilgrims were seeing, in one place, first century, Byzantine, and Crusader ruins. Add the mosque for good measure (remember that Muslims honor Jesus and his mother), and you have overwhelming evidence that the spot has been considered holy for 1500 years or more.

I asked the mother superior, Sister Stephania (shown here with pilgrim Debbie Bamberger), if she had more information about Arculf. She graciously provided a link to the full account of his visit to the Holy Land, which is thought to have taken place around 670.

My next stop was a volume I've rarely cracked since seminary. It turns out almost everything we know about Arculf comes from the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which he completed in 731. Bede writes that Arculf was a French bishop who dictated the account of his travels in the Holy Land and around the Mediterranean to Adamnan, abbot of the famous monastery at Iona. Though he doesn't mention Nazareth, the meticulous Bede devotes three chapters to a summary of Arculf's pilgrimage, obviously considering it a document of considerable value.

So one of the church's greatest scholars put his blessing on a report that his era's Nazarenes were safeguarding the place Jesus grew up. It's a small-to-midsized leap of faith to believe that we were standing there, too. You know what? The place simply feels holy. In the end, if it's good enough Bede and the Sisters, it was good enough for Brenna and the pilgrims.

Is Iran Asking For It?

With Israel blaming Iran for terrorists' murder of six Jews in Bulgaria today, Barack Obama will have a harder time managing the looming Israel-Iran crisis, Jeffrey Goldberg argues:
Prime Minister Netanyahu will be under extraordinary political pressure to retaliate in some serious way, and he will be under more pressure from himself than ever to deal with a regime he believes seeks the annihilation of six million Jews. As Amos Harel put it in Haaretz yesterday, the nuclear clock seems to be ticking more quickly than ever, and the "the key question will be whether...Netanyahu can fulfill his ideological and historical commitment to prevent what he describes as a potential second Holocaust."

I doubt Netanyahu will retaliate for the Bulgaria bombing by launching an immediate attack on Iran's nuclear sites. But there is a good chance he will launch attacks on Hezbollah targets and individuals, and possibly certain Iranian targets as well, and this sort of back-and-forth can only escalate tensions further, which could only bring us closer to an Israelii preemptive strike on Iran.

A House Divided (And Not Beelzebub's)

Covering this week's Christians United for Israel rally in Washington, D.C., Natasha Mozgovaya gets to the nub of the matter thanks to one of the speakers, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who's running for Congress in New Jersey:
Boteach [discussed] the notion that such Christians are interested in Israel only to bring about the second coming of the messiah. "Judaism is clear that action is more important than intention, it's not motivation that matters. I also don't buy it that Christians love for Israel is a pre-condition for the return of Christ. I do believe it's sincere. I think it's based on a true desire to connect to the origins of Christianity,” said Boteach.
While their love is undoubtedly sincere, I don't think there's any question that the main source of conservative evangelicals' relatively new-found passion for Israel's security is what they think the Book of Revelation foretells about Jesus Christ's return at the end of days. In pursuit of their vision, some have made common cause with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel who are planning to rebuild the Jewish temple -- on the Temple Mount, that is. You can make a contribution to the non-profit organization in Jerusalem that is already manufacturing the furnishing and fixtures. Of course there's the small complication that building the Third Temple would require the destruction of two medieval installations to which the world's Muslims are considerably attached, the al-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock, as well as the recommencement of ritual animal sacrifices by temple priests. These Jews are trying to set the stage for the return of the Messiah, too, though they don't think he'll look like Jesus, much as the Rev. John Hagee (who also spoke at the conference this week) may hope and pray otherwise.

The motive behind these Christians' devotion to Israel makes no sense to me, because I don't read the Revelation to John the way they do. Its author was an authority on the tyranny of late first-century Rome, not the geopolitics of the 21st century Middle East. Besides, it strikes me as the height of pride for a pastor, rabbi, or theologian to think that the LORD is going to bring all things to completion in our particular lifetime. It reminds me of believers in reincarnation who naturally prefer the idea that they were someone such as Cleopatra rather than a slave who died one afternoon while chiseling a stone for the pyramids. Nothing like putting yourself and your generation at the climax of the whole story of the universe.

While these Christians are entitled to their interpretation of Holy Scripture, which places Israel at center stage for the end of days, I wonder how much Christian compassion they have for Palestinians who have been living under military occupation on the West Bank since 1967. This population includes Christians whose perspective on Israel differs dramatically from Pastor Hagee's. Those we St. John's pilgrims met on our recent visit to Israel and the West Bank reminded us that Palestinians have been worshiping Christ longer than than anyone -- since the first Pentecost, they like to say, when the Holy Spirit anointed the faithful from all over the region as they gathered in Jerusalem. Scriptural interpretation aside, their two-millennial perspective helps them resist the idea that all things are coming to a head next year or next Tuesday.

Unfortunately, as theological lines are being drawn, so too are political ones. In the mainline denominations, a reflexive tendency to blame Israel is taking hold, in part the result of go-slow policies of the Netanyahu government when it comes to the peace process. Our conservative brothers and sisters seem to be reflexively opposed to the Palestinian perspective. That's not good for anyone. As in all situations where people of faith have the opportunity and indeed are commanded to make the world better, guess who wins when the body of Christ is working against itself to the almost comical extent on display in the Middle East. For extra credit, where did Abraham Lincoln get the idea for his "house divided" speech?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Putting "Gay" In Quotes Is So Gay

Associated Press reporter David Crary, covering today's lamentable anti-gay ruling by the Boy Scouts of America, wrote:

The announcement suggests that hurdles may be high for a couple of members of the national executive board — Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson — who have recently indicated they would try to work from within to change the membership policy. Both of their companies have been commended by gay-rights groups for gay-friendly employment policies.

Stephenson is on track to become president of the Scouts' national board in 2014, and will likely face continued pressure from gay-rights groups to try to end the exclusion policy., a website operated by the American Family News Network, published Crary's article but with some edits that I imagine Crary wouldn't appreciate and that in any event won't earn AFNN a merit badge in journalistic ethics. For instance:

The announcement suggests that hurdles may be high for a couple of members of the national executive board -- Ernst & Young CEO James Turley and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson -- who have recently indicated they would try to work from within to change the policy. Both of their companies have been commended by "gay"-rights groups for homosexual-friendly employment policies. Stephenson is on track to become president of the Scouts' national board in 2014, and will likely face continued pressure from homosexual-rights groups to try to end the exclusion policy.

Sorry, guys, but you lost the battle on the word gay about 30 years ago. Anyway, your readers know what it means. There's no sense in tying yourself in two half-hitches about it.

Perhaps the editor was anxious that the specter of change is lurking just outside the circle of security cast by the campfire. As Crary reports, an 11-member committee worked secretly for two years on the review of BSA's anti-gay policy. A Scout is brave, but not this time. It reminds me of an expression President Nixon liked to use: They labored and produced a mouse. Still, I'm inclined to agree with a thoughtful Scout whose prediction was deleted from Crary's article censored by the American Family News Network:

Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, an Iowa college student who was raised by lesbian mothers, said Tuesday's announcement didn't change his view that eventually the Scouts would relent under pressure from campaigns such as those that he and his allies have mounted.

“I'm sure they'll keep saying this until the day they decide to change the policy,” said Wahls.

Saddleback To Back

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are coming to our neighborhood in August.

E.T. Phone J.C.

A Dominican at Notre Dame thinks outside the gallaxy.

Boom, Bust, Or Stuck Here In The Middle

A wise friend whose 4.0 in undergraduate economics beats my 3.71 (as I recall) in poli sci tells me I'm wrong to believe that paltry U.S. growth rates over the last two years compared to Britain's negative growth mean that we were better off with Keynesian fiscal policies instead of the Brits' massive cuts in public spending. He cautioned me against buying the canard that FDR's big spending ended the Great Depression. World War II did.

I replied that in fiscal terms, the war was a massive government spending program that gave us a booming economy (plus more debt by 1945 in proportional terms than we have today). I await his devastating riposte. In the meantime, Bruce Bartlett suggests that my friend is right, at least to an extent. Bad Keynesianism definitely doesn't work. Bartlett writes that the Obama stimulus barely stimulated:
[I]t appears that only 11 percent of total stimulus outlays definitely added to growth; the rest may have had no effect at all.

I think that much of the criticism of the stimulus legislation on both sides of the political spectrum has been misplaced. Liberals tend to decry the small overall size of the original package, while conservatives say it was too big. But perhaps the very limited allocation for investment and consumption was the problem.

Potentially, we could have had a smaller program that was far more concentrated on consumption and investment spending that would have given us more “bang for the buck,” done more to raise growth at a lower budgetary cost, and maybe made both sides happy.

Barack Obama's greatest error was focusing on health care instead of jobs during 2009-10 and letting Congress instead of the smartest economists he could find (including perhaps my friend) decide how to spend 2009's $800 billion stimulus. Those who want to vindicate Keynesian policies ought to make sure that they make the most of every public expenditure. They should yearn to prove wrong critics who say that government is genetically incapable of making smart decisions about what sectors of a private economy will benefit most from injections of taxpayer cash and create the most jobs most quickly.

Instead, as Bartlett's analysis shows, Obama has enabled his critics to say that the feds are ineffective, even incompetent. It didn't have to be that way. As Detroit roars back and Japanese automakers stall, Presidents Bush and Obama share credit for the amazingly successful bailouts of GM and Chrysler. But the stimulus was a bust, because Congress was in charge of deciding what programs would get funded. Maybe if Obama had served in the Senate longer, he would have known better than to let that happen.

As for Mitt Romney, he opposed the auto bailouts, and he's pledged to dust off Rep. Paul Ryan's hyper-austere, safety net-destroying budget for 2013-14 -- which would give us a chance to try it England's way after all. Dare I say dumb and dumber?

Hat tip to The Dish

Stones' Jubilee

As the Rolling Stones celebrate the 50th anniversary of their first gig, Paste identifies "You Can't Always Get What You Want" as their greatest song. Scrolling down from #50, I thought the winner would be "Gimme Shelter." I hoped it would be "Jumpin' Jack Flash."

Maybe They Should Douthat

Evan Derkacz on Ross Douthat's critique of The Episcopal Church:
[T]he following passage in particular inspired some untoward thoughts in this observer: the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict XVI suddenly adopted every reform ever urged on the Vatican by liberal pundits and theologians.

One is tempted to point out that yes, it is true that had it adopted reforms urged on it by liberal theologians and pundits the institutional Catholic Church would look different: it might see greater equality among women and LGBT members, have avoided or at least minimized a tragic and crippling (not to mention ongoing) pedophilia scandal, and most likely prevented God knows how many deaths associated with AIDS—to mention just a few.

Third Eye Tie-Dyed

Erika Ritchie of the Orange County Register put out a call to readers for photos from last weekend's Fun with Chalk extravaganza in Rancho Santa Margarita, California. Here's my submission.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Great Liberal Awakening?

Replying to Ross Douthat, Diana Butler Bass argues that in the U.S., at least, conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic churches are shrinking, while liberal Christianity is quietly renewing itself through its commitment to social justice and invitation to a deeper personal spirituality:
[T]he accepted story of conservative growth and liberal decline is a twentieth century tale, at odds with what the surveys, data, and best research says what is happening now. Indeed, I think that the better story of contemporary Christianity is that of an awakening of a more open, more inclusive, more spiritually vital faith is roiling and I argue for that in my recent book, Christianity After Religion.

So, Mr. Douthat asks, "Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?" But I wonder: Can Liberal Churches Save Christianity? The twenty-first century has yet to answer that, but I think we may be surprised.
Hat tip to Howard Anderson

Don't Douthat

Everyone seems to be on about The Episcopal Church's recent General Convention in Indianapolis (where it adopted a provisional rite for the blessing of same-gender unions and banned discrimination against transgender people in Holy Orders) and Ross Douthat's reflections on the decline of what he calls liberal Christianity, which concludes:
The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.

What should be wished for, instead, is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence. As the liberal Protestant scholar Gary Dorrien has pointed out, the Christianity that animated causes such as the Social Gospel and the civil rights movement was much more dogmatic than present-day liberal faith. Its leaders had a “deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer and worship.” They argued for progressive reform in the context of “a personal transcendent God ... the divinity of Christ, the need of personal redemption and the importance of Christian missions.”

Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.

Absent such a reconsideration, their fate is nearly certain: they will change, and change, and die.

By equating religious with political liberalism, Douthat misses or avoids what really ails the body of Christ. Profoundly varying ideas about Imago Dei account for our greatest divisions. In the churches which Douthat doesn't think are on the verge of extinction, there are God, the angels, males, and the rest of creation. Almost all growing or stable churches ban women from the pulpit or ordained ministry. These include most megachurches, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches -- as a matter of fact, pretty much everybody. Look at it this way. There are a little over two billion Christians in the world. About two billion worship according to authorities, doctrines, and creeds that marginalize or silence women when it comes to leadership and ordained ministry.

For reasons known best to them, many, maybe even most, of the women in these denominations seem to be okay with being second-class ecclesiasticitizens. Only in a few isolated corners of Christendom -- the mainline denominations in the increasingly secular industrialized world -- have women insisted on the inerrancy of Holy Scripture insofar as Gen. 1:27b is concerned: "In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."

Let's say for purposes of argument that, worldwide, 50 million Christians participate in non-gender oppressive church structures. That's probably optimistic. Even if it's true, then Douthat's liberal Christians comprise less than three percent of the faith. I suppose someone could write an op-ed demanding that churches overseeing the faith lives of the remaining 97% of the world's Christians should (to borrow Douthat's language) change or die. If they were excluding blacks, Latinos, or any ethnic group from leadership and ordained ministry, such a critic would probably get a ready hearing, while pious orations about the true faith coming from those in the oppressor churches would not be especially in vogue.

It does seem to be less of a scandal, compared to other forms of bias and discrimination, that almost every church in the world keeps women down. As it is, most critics of the so-called liberals rarely mention gender. You may think it's because they don't want to call attention to their greatest vulnerability, but they probably don't see it that way. They have scripture and tradition on their side, or so it may appear. Where's the gender equity in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the 12 disciples, or certain Pauline restrictions on the role of women in church?

There are satisfactory answers to all these questions. The narratives and doctrines of orthodox Christianity come from the first five centuries of the first millennium, whereas women's equality (in human eyes as opposed to God's and Christ's) is a modern concept. Fears and misunderstandings about women run deep in human culture. Even the land of the free and home of the brave practiced gender apartheid until 1920, when women got the vote. Oppressive church structures have proved far more resilient.

Christianity's real crisis is whether a wholly Christian sense of a creating, saving, supernatural divinity can transcend the global church's prevailing medievalism. The Episcopal Church took a giant step in that direction in the 1970s, when it began ordaining women as priests. It stands out among other mainline denominations which have taken the same step because it has taken the perilous next step of venturing a modern conception of how gay, lesbian, and transgender people fit into the Imago Dei. Radio talk show hosts will always yuck it up and take cheap shots about gay bishops and priests in drag. But it's exceedingly ironic to spend your Sunday morning in the pew next to women who are banned from the priesthood (not to mention girls who would make great priests when they grow up) and then write articles criticizing The Episcopal Church for its differing application of equality under God.

Again ironically, most of these critics are now on the political right. Laurie Goldstein reported last week that the church's choices about same-sex unions and transgender people meant it was moving further to the left. It's conservatives' shame that affording dignity to individuals in all their God-endowed diversity is now construed as leftist.

This is not to say that Douthat doesn't make some good points. We can make the pursuit of equality for ourselves and the groups of which we're members an end in itself. We justice-obsessed church people can all too easily adopt the language and cynical tactics of the politicians. Even worse, we may be tempted to abandon the language and even essence of orthodoxy.

Many have abandoned the church completely because they can't abide or forgive its legacy of prejudice. Perhaps it's just my own privileged background that enables me to believe we can strip away prejudice while still proclaiming the forgiveness, salvation, and hope obtained for all people by the death and bodily resurrection of the Son of God. As long as Douthat's wondering what will save the church in the 21st century, I'd say it's an inclusive, muscular neoorthodoxy that is less concerned with gender and sexual identity and interfaith alignment, that unapologetically proclaims the unique teaching and saving power of the Incarnation and Resurrection.

And yet what's worse: Soft-pedaling orthodoxy to make the church more attractive to the skeptical, abused, and marginalized, or failing even to admit the unbridgeable contradiction between God's heart for justice and the unjust oppression of women and others still being practiced throughout his global church? Liberal Christianity's critics enjoy comparing attendance numbers and the size of the Sunday collection. And yet I seem to remember our LORD saying something about money and rendering unto Caesar. TEC's struggles are emblematic of a quest for an understanding of the mind of God and his transcendent love for all his people that most of Christ's church in all its prosperity refuses even to contemplate, much less venture. Its authorities and officials, including Benedict XVI, aren't even stuck in the 20th century. They're stuck in the post-Constantinian fourth -- because, frankly, once you let the women back into leadership, God knows what happens next.

My Sunday sermon on these subjects is here. Since people like to say that Anglicans and Episcopalians owe their churches to Henry VIII's divorce, it's important to remember that Jesus's public ministry was ignited by the killing of John the Baptist, which occurred because of Herod Antipas's divorce and marriage to his niece Herodias. That first-century Galilean homewrecker is shown above in Paul Delaroche's conception. Sometimes the church really does seem to be all about sex -- or at least the complexity of human relationship in contrast to the unity to which God calls all his people in Christ.

Riff Notes

Surveying the classics
Hat tip to Gary Baker

Monday Afternoon Bike Rides For The People

While extolling the virtues of idleness to highly educated and compensated persons who are likely to find his New York Times post, writer Tim Kreider does offer a passing dollop of empathy for the really working class -- those with backbreaking and sometimes multiple poorly-paid jobs who aren't busy so much as exhausted and dispirited. No question we should all do fewer e-mails while on vacation in Hawaii or during our Alaskan cruise. But by large his is a prescription available only to those who wish to be members of a healthier ruling class. What dockworker, domestic, paralegal, or flight attendant wouldn't love Tim Kreider's life? Sounds good to me:

I am not busy. I am the laziest ambitious person I know. Like most writers, I feel like a reprobate who does not deserve to live on any day that I do not write, but I also feel that four or five hours is enough to earn my stay on the planet for one more day. On the best ordinary days of my life, I write in the morning, go for a long bike ride and run errands in the afternoon, and in the evening I see friends, read or watch a movie. This, it seems to me, is a sane and pleasant pace for a day. And if you call me up and ask whether I won’t maybe blow off work and check out the new American Wing at the Met or ogle girls in Central Park or just drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long, I will say, what time?