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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Chuck Colson Supports Sharia

A group of religious leaders has released a statement making clear its distaste for gay marriage, abortion and so forth. You can click up top to read it. But let's be clear: This is, to put it mildly, not big news. After all, a group like this releases a statement like this every couple of years. And it wasn't as though we thought Bishop Dolan was going to rush out and start performing same-sex weddings.

There are some things worth mentioning about this particular document, though. In ascending order of significance, there are these:

First, it is called "the Manhattan Declaration." Not that they were trying to provoke anybody by naming their statement after the gayest place in America. It's just that the Gomorrah Marriott was booked that weekend.

Second, the people who signed it form a large group, and many of them are perfectly respectable representatives of major church bodies, especially the Romish and Baptist. But quite a number are oddballs or worse: consider Bob Duncan and Martyn Minns, the Anglican schismatics; Peter Akinola, the Nigerian bishop whose hatred of gay people is such that he has moved to deny them such basic civil rights as freedom of speech and assembly; Jerry Falwell's kid; Dinesh D'Souza (man! Remember that guy? Who knew he was still around?); Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson and Iraq war promoter Michael Novak. (Also, a seminary classmate of Father A.'s, whom we always suspected of being a bit dopey.)

Oh, and another thing about the signatories. Not a single one is identified as a Lutheran. Were we on the board of ALPB, LCMC, CORE or Lutherans for Life -- not to mention a member of the Missouri Synod -- we might be a little offended.

Third, the statement itself is comically long at 4,800 words. (That's about 20 pages, if it were typed and double-spaced). Heavens, people! How self-important are you, to imagine that we have enough time in our lives to actually read something like that? You could have released a document that said, "We don't like gays or want them to have civil rights, we don't like abortion and don't want it to be available" and we could all have said, "Quelle surprise," and it would have had the same impact.

Fourth, it makes a specious claim to a place in the civil rights movement, invoking the name of Martin Luther King and laying out a platform of civil disobedience. This final paragraph is worth mocking in detail:

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted

suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

Where to begin with this piece of intellectually dishonest drivel?

First off, it seems that the signatories have forgotten where they live. They imagine a nation in which basic human freedoms, such as religion and free speech, are not guaranteed by law -- Akinola's Nigeria, perhaps. In the United States, there is a significant body of legal discourse devoted to keeping the claims of God separate from those of Caesar. It is, frankly, impossible to imagine any situation in which a member of the clergy (much less Dinesh D'Souza) was "forced" to bless anybody's marriage. The authors surely know this; they are simply resorting to the sort of scare tactics best left to the anonymous emails debunked on Snopes.

What very well may happen, of course, is that certain religious institutions -- hospitals, for example -- may be required to forgo government funding if they don't want to follow the government's rules. Heck, no subjunctive is required; this already happens, left and right. And guess what? Nobody really cares, except for the researchers who don't have access to stem cells and the women who need a different hospital. And maybe hospital administrators, desperate to make their balance sheets add up. This is a serious commitment, a kind of institutional asceticism -- but it ain't exactly Birmingham Jail.

In fact, their claim regarding civil rights depends upon a twisted vision of how rights, including he rights of religious communities, actually work in a secular society. Here's a sample:

No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality—a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. [Blogger's note: Insert here technical query regarding common-law marriages. They are by definition non-covenantal, and yet recognized by law.] If it fails to do so, genuine social harms follow.

First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized.

Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes as “marriages” sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically non-marital and immoral.

Third, the common good of civil society is damaged when the law itself, in its critical pedagogical function, becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends.

You do see the idea here, don't you? The argument boils down to this: (1) marriage is not defined by a legal covenant, but by a divine ordinance which the law is obliged to respect; (2) religious communities have a right to have their convictions incorporated not only into civil law but also into other public institutions, such as schools; (3) the good of society depends -- even absent empirical evidence, which may exist but which they do not present here because they aren't making an empirical argument -- upon the acceptance of their particular religious views.

The implicit assumption of this document is that civil laws must be shaped by divine laws, a traditional position, but one difficult to maintain in a society without an established religion.

The objections are obvious. While D'Souza is a notorious opponent of church/state separation, his Baptist co-signatories are heirs to a long and distinguished history in that department. They have just thrown it out the window.

At a practical level, it is the sort of thinking on display here that gives a foothold to practices that would surely appall the signatories. We are thinking, specifically, the claim of Muslim minorities to be governed by Sharia rather than civil law, or, as those minorities grow in number, to insist that the rest of society be legally required to conform to Islamic standards.

This is neither hyperbole nor reductio ad absurdum. To the degree that religious principles are allowed to shape civil law, above and beyond the private conscience and popular consent of the governed, a society risks the freedom of each religious community from the other.

Or, to put it bluntly, the Manhattan Declaration is Step One toward the outlawing of Mohammand cartoons -- and the legal establishment of polygamy in America.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies and Campaign Biographies

Since the presidential election, we at the Egg have done our best to lay off the team that lost. It seemed unsporting, not to mention redundant, to kick McCain and company while they were down.

The problem with our strategy is Sarah Palin. Clearly intoxicated by the bright lights of national attention, she has made little secret of her thirst for more. Yes, we thought it was weird that her first move was to quit her job -- being the governor of a state is often considered a pretty good base from which to organize politically. But of course, that only works if you are planning to run on a platform which includes actual accomplishments. If you actually believe (as Palin does, and not without reason) that the winning campaign will be composed of sound bites and airbrushing, then the tedious meat-and-potatoes of budgets, legislative deals, and re-election are all a big waste of your comparative youth. Don't get old behind a desk -- get out and attack your enemies!

So she wrote a campaign biography, which is by now one of those tedious ritualistic exercises undertaken by presidential aspirants, about the way lower-level politicos kiss babies and cut ribbons. Nobody really believes anything you write in these books, any more than they believe you love their pwecious or personally paved their road. You just do it so that you'll have something to talk about.

All this being true, a lesser literary figure than Sarah Palin might have stuck to a few heartwarming stories about gutting moose as a child and visiting wounded infantrymen when her handlers set it up in advance. Easy enough, right?

But not our Sarah. No, she has apparently resolved to settle some scores in this biography -- to launch a strike at anybody who might be a publicity problem later. Like, you know, her family.

Click up top for a HuffPo report on Palin's former brother-in-law, Mike Wooten. Her book apparently includes some claims about him, which he in turn claims are actually lies. This would just be a case of he said/she said, except that an ethics panel (consisting overwhelmingly of Republicans) has already investigated the case, and found Palin to be in the wrong. She and her family have spent years attacking this guy and trying to get him fired, for what are clearly personal reasons. But rather than let it drop, she just keeps coming back, requiring more people to shoot her down. Like this:

In Going Rogue, Palin ... cites many charges that were brought against Wooten that were subsequently dismissed. She contends that there were "ten different" citizen complaints field against Wooten--without acknowledging that all of them were filed by members of her family or close friends. ...

In an interview conducted in Alaska this past summer, John Cyr, the former Alaska Public Safety Employees Association Executive Director, confirmed Wooten's charges:

Not one complaint has ever been made about Mike Wooten's professional performance from any member of the public other than the Palin/Heath family and their closest friends. The troopers that I've talked to that have worked with Mike tell me Mike is the kind of guy they'd go through a door with. That he does his work. He's a professional. You know, just no complaints out there about Mike's work.

"It's the product of an ugly divorce and custody battle," Cyr said of the complaints against the State Trooper. "It's nothing more than that."

Perhaps we should admire her persistence, if not her ethics or judgment.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Chicago Massacre

By now, most Egg readers are doubtless aware of the sudden and significant cuts in staff made recently at ELCA headquarters in Chicago.  Forty positions were eliminated -- on top of others, like the archivist, which had already been eliminated in recent months.  This is a significant 

We have few details to share, although the excellent blog Pretty Good Lutherans, linked above, does.  In particular, it posts a partial list of the actual positions which have been cut (although, mercifully, not the people who held them).

Now, PGL seems somewhat upset about the fact that two positions dealing with racism were cut -- one in the PB's office, one in Church and Society.  This, it is suggested, reflects a weakening of the ELCA's commitment to multiculturalism, and a willingness to remain what it is, an overwhelmingly white, English-speaking church body.

First, let's register an objection on principle.  Nobody enjoys layoffs, least of all in the more-or-less friendly environs of a church office, and we assume that the various managers who were forced to make the individual decisions did so with heavy hearts.  Until we hear otherwise, we will assume as a matter of course, and in keeping with the Eighth Commandment, that the decisions don't reflect anybody's desire to restructure the church's commitments, but rather dire necessity and a realistic assessment of what it takes to keep a denominational HQ running.

Clear?  Good.  But, all that said, the list includes six staff positions in the Global Mission unit.  Six.  That's three times as many as two.

For those who don't know, GM is bureaucratic shorthand for the part of the church office which selects, equips and coordinates the foreign missionaries, most of them in Africa but many others in the Middle East, Asia and the Americas, and a few of us -- ahem -- in Europe.  

It's not an especially large team, because, let's face it, the heyday of Anglo-American missionary work is behind us.  Earlier generations were successful in planting national churches all over the world, and those churches no longer need (although some still want) the classic malarial zealot with a Bible in one hand and a suitcase full of cash in the other.  He has been replaced by a much smaller team of experts in things like public health, water resources and accounting.  A very small number of these experts, usually committed to long-term service, is supplemented by a larger number of young, eager volunteers, deployed for comparatively short periods to do more general work.  Fairly few -- your correspondent is an exception -- do classic church-planting and pastoral care.

But that said, even the new smallish team  needs to be recruited, trained, supervised, and coordinated.  Team members need help with everything taxes and visas to medical evacuations and hostage situations.  Companion church officials need somebody to call when there is trouble -- not just the PB or his secretary, but somebody with specific expertise and a command of the details.

So if we accept the logic that the ELCA no longer cares about racism, we must also believe that it is running away, and fast, from its foreign mission work.  Here at the Egg, we don't think that's true.  But we also think that cutting six people from a single department is awfully harsh.  And we hope we don't need help with our taxes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

MIssion Accomplished: Moldovan Style

More than 1000 Moldovans have contracted A1H1, with 90 more reported each day.  In the past two weeks, 24 soldiers have fallen ill.  (We don't know what percentage of the Moldovan army this represents, but we suspect it may be surprisingly high).

But never fear, because help is on the way:

Defense Ministry chief doctor Col. Sergiu Vasislita says about 0.9 ounces (25 grams) of onions and 0.5 ounces (15 grams) of garlic will be added to each soldier's daily diet. That roughly corresponds to a small onion and a couple of garlic cloves.

What was it Groucho said about military intelligence?

On the Subject of Narcissistic Hypocritical Blowhards

(See our own comments to the previous post)

Rudy Giuliani is still thinking about a run for the Senate.  Apparently, polls show that he could beat Kirsten Gillibrand (also know as "Who?") in a race for her seat, but would lose to Andrew Cuomo in a duel for the governorship.

Giuliania, for those who have forgotten, is a thrice-married serial adulterer who publicly humiliated his last wife and whose own children would not support his abortive run for the presidency.  And -- having accidentally dropped the image of abortion -- we may as well mention that he has waffled on this, as he has on various other matters of (homo)sexuality, playing liberal to the hometown crowd and conservative to the national one.

Yes, the same Giuliani who, as mayor of New York, made the brilliant decision to override recommendations from law-enforcement professionals and locate his emergency command post not in an inconspicuous Brooklyn warehouse, but in the World Trade Center -- the only building in America, up to that time, to have been successfully targeted by foreign terrorists.

He also promoted his old pal Bernie Kerik to be the Homeland Security advisor.  You know, Bernie Kerik -- who has since become the first NYC police commissioner ever sent to jail, the one who has since pled guilty on corruption charges which have cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, and will now send him to prison for years.

We're not saying Giuliani is an amoral unprincipled power-mad thug with incredibly poor judgment.  We're just saying -- oh, right.  We are saying those things.

More CORE Lies

Or anyway, fibs.  Or "failures to do quite what they said."

Apparently, when the CORE people elected to wait a year before deciding to forming a new denomination, they didn't really mean wait a year, to see how the ELCA's decision would play out in real life, and perhaps let tempers cool.  They meant decide now, even absent a positive vote to do so, and spend a year actually forming the new denomination.

Perhaps that's not fair.  Strictly speaking, they weren't lying at their convocation; they have simply changed their minds since then:

ELCA had asked members who opposed the change to hold off on taking action, and CORE delegates had agreed to wait a year before taking steps to split from the ELCA. But Ryan Schwarz, chairman of CORE's Vision and Planning Working Group, said congregations had grown impatient.

"When we talked about waiting a year, we never intended to sit around for a year and just contemplate," he said. "We expected to do planning. Now we're also going to be doing the legwork in terms of creating a new church body.

Note the construction:  "we expected to do X; now we're [also] doing Y."  In other words, we're not doing what we said we would; we're doing that and something else.

No big deal, really.  No sane observer could have doubted that CORE would create its own denomination sooner or later.  We point out the change in plans only as a further instance of the unreliability demonstrated by the organization and its leaders during this gestational period -- call it public service for our friends who may be inclined that way.  Caveat emptor, and so forth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lutheranism's OTHER Greatest Gift to Popular Culture?

(Besides Davy & Goliath, obviously.)

Diana Krall has long been our favorite living jazz vocalist.  And yes, we are well aware that some jazz aficionados (a notoriously cranky and obsessive bunch) argue that "jazz vocalist" is a contradiction in terms.  But they just haven't listened to enough Diana Krall. 

And when the Guardian asks what got her started on the path of musical excellence, she answers:

My family. My dad's mum and dad were coal-miners; they had a piano, and loved music like Fats Waller. Then on my mother's side, there were 10 kids, all Lutherans – so I had the whole Lutheran hymn influence on top of that.

She also takes her kids on tour, and washes their clothes in the sink and gets up early, even after playing a late-night show.  We were deeply in love before we read this brief interview, but now we feel the emotion more powerfully than ever.  Readers may feel fortunate that they cannot see Father Anonymous, mooning about eastern Europe like a lovesick calf, stars in his eyes and a song on his lips, irritating his reverend and dear wife.  (Mostly because of the song, which he can't sing on key to save his own life).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Well. That Explains It, Then

Per the AP, an hour ago:

TAMPA, Fla. — Florida police say a man arrested for repeatedly calling 911 looking for sex claimed it was the only number he could dial after running out of cell phone minutes. Tampa police said 29-year-old Joshua Basso made sexual comments to the 911 dispatcher and asked if he could come to her house. Investigators say she hung up, but he called back four more times.

The Fort Hood Atrocity

We at the Egg, like most other Americans, are still reeling from the horrors of the Fort Hood shooting, in which an Army psychiatrist named Nidal Malik brutally slaughtered 13 people not far from our wife's hometown.

Living abroad, we have been spared the worst of TV's so-called "news" coverage, which no doubt consists, as usual, of a momentary report of the facts, followed by a stage-managed four-minute brawl among talking heads.  We feel no abiding sense of loss.

But we did click through a series of op-ed pieces collected by Arts & Letters Daily.  A series of conservative writers -- David Brooks at the Times; Forbes' Tunku VadajaranDorothy Rabinowitz of the WSJ, and  anti-Islamic polemicist Ibn Warraq -- offer variations on the same argument.  They claim that Americans, who combine a "swaggering" pride in our ability to assimilate immigrants with a knee-jerk political correctness, were quick to point fingers at all the wrong things:  the racist abuse to which Malik had been subjected, the nature of the wars abroad to which he would be deployed, and so forth.  Come on, say the editorialists.  The guy was a radicalized Muslim who shouted "Allahu akbar" as he began firing.  Let's cut the PC nonsense and admit that the Army, like the rest of American society, has been pussyfooting around the question of who our real enemy is.  Or something like that.

Frankly, they have a case.  We have long believed, and said, that it is essential to recognize the religious element in the wars America is fighting.  This includes both the Islamist conviction of the Taliban and al Qaeda and the far-less-commented-upon rise fundamentalist Christianity in the US armed forces.  Ignoring matters of hegemony and petroleum, many combatants on all sides imagine that they are fighting a religious war.   No analysis which ignores this deserves to be taken seriously.

So it is easy to see Malik as a sort of fifth-columnist, because he has made it pretty clear that he wants to be perceived as one.  And religion clearly does play a role in this.

But what role, and how much of one?  It will probably take a while to figure it all out.  While we wait, let's toss the ball around.  The Turkish Muslim Mehmet Ali Agca shot John Paul II.  Was he the leading edge of worldwide jihad, or a just a crazy man?  Lee Harvey Oswald had lived in Russia for nearly three years -- but does that make his various crimes here acts of Soviet aggression, or just more homegrown American violence?  The juries are still out in both cases, but the smart money is on craziness.

More pointedly, what about those Americans who believe that are fighting, on behalf of Christianity, a religious war against the enemies of God?  Does their claim, simply by virtue of having been made, make itself true, and thereby vindicate the warning of the various mullahs that our troops are modern-day Crusaders?  We hope not.

What we're getting at, perhaps inelegantly, is that not every madman is part of a conspiracy -- even when they want to be.  Sometimes they are pawns, sometimes they are wannabees, sometimes they are just plain crazy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New York: It's Rough Town, Withal

The following missive was recently sent by one of our sacerdotal colleagues to another.  Names have been omitted to prevent embarrassment.  Otherwise, res ipse loquitur:

Dear Pastor X,
 A suggested beginning for your sermon Thursday -
 In the beginning was the L--- family and the L--- family was with Pastor X for parish dinners and with Pastor Y for parish dinners; and behold it came to pass the sexton of Pastor X's congregation struck with a chair upon and about the head an esteemed member of Pastor Y's congregation; and following thereupon, the mother of both the striker and strikee joined rank with those of the faithful departed; and therefore be it acknowledged by all pursuant to this notice that Pastor X will offer full and unconditional public apology before the funeral gathering to all offended parties both the quick and the dead within the hold of Pastor Y's charge for all offenses both real and imagined emanating from and pertaining to the premises of Pastor X's congregation perpetrated upon the inhabitants and incumbent members of Pastor Y's congregation.
 Or something like will do just fine.  Looking forward to our 10am Thursday joint funeral efforts.
Pastor Y

The News from Lake Wobegon

So what's up in the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan region, you may ask?  It happens that we know.  These are just some of the headlines in the current edition of the local Forum:
  • Semi hits four cows on Clay County road
  • Valley folks take on region's eating challenges
  • Experts say mild weather to linger
  • ND hospital makes changes after babies switched
  • Lutherans forget divine grace
Well, they all look interesting, don't they?  So let's run 'em down.  Good news is that the semi driver was not injured, although the cows were killed.  The eating challenges in question have nothing (directly) to do with poverty, but rather with the ability of a human being to consume a three pound cheeseburger or a 12-egg omelette.  The babies were switched back in September, and the mistake was discovered within and hour.  Still, it's a scary thing, and the story never actually specifies which procedures have since changed.  For shame, Williston Mercy in Bismarck. The weather does look nice so far, but we're sobered by the national Weather Service fellow, who when asked about spring flooding answered, "Anything at this point is simply literally a guess."

As for the Lutherans, it seems that First and Hope, both in Fargo, have decided to hold back their benevolence from the ELCA.  Readers will surely not be surprised to learn that the reason is, in a word, gays.  No news there.

What did catch us off guard was that we learned it from an open letter to the congregation councils, linked up top, by the Rev. Arthur W. Johnson, a retired pastor and former member of First.  He's pretty unhappy, too.  Specifically, he says

What courage you have exhibited to so strongly condemn another’s behavior and commitments[!] I would like to know if you consulted the faithful members of your congregations who are GLBT and included their judgments in your resolutions and if you invited your congregations to vote.

Since you seem so clear and firm on the issue of homosexuality and your Bible’s condemnation of such, what pronouncement are each of your councils preparing for this month? The Christian Bible makes a goodly list: the rich, divorced, women, slavery, enemies, war, imprisoned, foreigners and of course children (Psalm 137:9) to name only a few topics to cut your moral teeth on.

The letter isn't exactly Ciceronian in its rhetoric.  Johnson's "goodly list" is a kind of tired trope by now, and we aren't sure there is a Bible that isn't the Christian Bible.  And when he says, further on that, that left-handed children were killed in the Middle Ages for being "born sinister," he's just wrong.  But cavils aside, we appreciate Johnson's passion, and his willingness to speak publicly about to what must be painfully divided congregations.

We are struck by the possibility, raised by Johnson, that the decision to hold back benevolence was made by the congregation councils, without a vote by the membership.  Can this possibly be the case?  If so, it seems to us a bit hubristic.  Lutheran polity clearly puts major financial decisions -- not to mention decisions about how a congregation shall be aligned with its denomination -- in the hands of the Congregational Meeting.

We don't know the facts, although First has posted an online statement of its own, um, sexual position, which begins by saying that it was adopted "by the unanimous consent of the 24-person council ... with the unanimous support of the Pastoral Staff."  It adds that "this unity has probably become as important as the statement itself."  Well, probably so, and we don't doubt the results of congregational vote.  But did one occur?  Readers in the know are encouraged to tell us.

So that's the news from you-know-where.  Oh, and Gov. Tim "Hawkeye" Pawlenty shot a buck, but was thereafter unable to find the wounded animal, leaving it to limp and bleed its way through the snowy woods and eventually succumb to predators or die a slow death from infection.  Obviously a candidate for the Dick Cheney Sportmanship Award.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Note the New Links, Left

Observant readers have probably found that the list of links on the left side of this page is rarely updated.  There's a good reason for this, and medieval moral theology gave it a simple name: sloth.

Old Father Anonymous is a lazy, lazy man.  So in four years of blogging, he has changed those links maybe twice.  Even though it's pretty easy.

But today, he has added three new links, and hopes that you'll take a look at them:
  1. The English Ministry of the Lutheran Church in Romania.  Two American pastors descend on Eastern Europe; one of them is good-looking and the other has a cute kid.  
  2. Pietati, the English Ministry's blog, which offers a less formal picture of what's happening in Transylvania;
  3. Pastor Joelle's Skating in the Garden in High Heels Under My Alb.   And man, has she got some sharp words for CORE today. 

In America, This Wouldn't Have Happened

It was a grand ecumenical celebration of the Reformation, in a Transylvanian city.  We drove to the church, stepped out of the car, and saw this sign:  "Blueball Real Estate."

Father A. began to laugh.  When his bishop asked what was so funny, perhaps he should have maintained a tactful silence.  But does that sound like him? 

The bishop roared, and as we entered the vestry, made a point of sharing this new and off-color bit of English slang with the assembled clergy.

A German observed that his language had no corresponding word.  All agreed that Germans are a lucky, lucky nation.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"For the New Generation of Priests and Laypeople"

Or, alternatively, neither.  Paging PeaceBang and fast!

We happily tip our biretta to Father Rock de Starr for this one.

And although the beautiful Mother A. has declared herself unfit for this fit, she offers a nihil obstat to the Rev. Mother in Missouri.  We ourselves demur, but then fashion is -- let's be gentle, friends -- not our forte.  We give thanks daily that our cassock obviates the need to make difficult sartorial decisions.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Our New Hero


So many of you have forwarded this that posting it here is almost redundant.  But what if, somewhere in America, there is somebody who hasn't seen it?  No!  Such a condition must not stand.  So if you haven't yet, then by all means do: