August 27, 2012

The One True Church

While reading stories about Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s opposition to the government’s plan to introduce a gay marriage bill, I ran into the video below. The main message of this piece of Roman Catholic propaganda is that the Roman Catholic Church is the One True Church and that all other denominations are chopped liver. It is arrogant and dismissive of Christians everywhere. See for yourself.

What is also interesting about this video is its use of prooftexting, something one does not usually associate with the Roman Catholic Church. However, this video, from Catholic Answers, is intent on justifying some of that church’s distinctive and most problematic doctrines. Look up some of the biblical citations and see for yourself how well they support (or fail to support) the doctrines in question.

Which brings me back to Cardinal O’Brien. Maybe Catholics use prooftexting (and outright deception) more often than we Anglicans realize. In a letter to be read in all Scottish churches yesterday from the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland (of which O’Brien is the president), we find this:
In all things, we as Catholics look to Jesus Christ as our model and teacher. When asked about marriage He gave a profound and rich reply: “Have you not read that the Creator, from the beginning, ‘made them male and female’, and said: ‘This is why a man must leave father and mother and cling to his wife and the two become one body’.” (Matthew, 19:4-5)
This is a clear instruction from Jesus that marriage must be between one man and one woman, right? Well, maybe not. Jesus was not, in fact, “asked about marriage.” He was asked about divorce. Here is Matthew 19: 3–5 (NRSV):
Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?’ He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”?
The bishops are simply being deceptive and disingenuous here. The passage has nothing at all to say about gay marriage, which, presumably, was not a concern in Jesus’s time.

But let me return to the video. Although it is not an official product of the Roman Catholic Church, I believe it fairly represents the official positions of the church. As such, it offers an important lesson. That lesson is that ecumenical discussions with the Roman Catholic Church (e.g., those carried on by ARCIC, the Anglican—Roman Catholic International Commission) are a complete waste of time and money. The Roman Catholic Church, like the Borg in Star Trek, is not interesting in dialogue—and certainly not in compromise—but only in assimilation.

August 24, 2012

The Library up the Street

Mini libraryNot long ago, a mini library showed up in front of a house a few doors up the street. The little library can be seen in the figure at right. Such neighborhood libraries are part of recent trend I’ve read about, but I was surprised to see one less than a block away.

When I saw the new box next to the sidewalk, I immediately knew what it was, though it did take me a couple of days to investigate. When I got around to examining the library and its contents, a neighbor who was driving by stopped to ask me what the new object was.

My initial scanning of available book titles did not tempt me to take any books. I stopped by at least one other time to look for interesting volumes.

About a week ago, I was looking for something to read and discovered a copy of The Bridges of Madison County lying about. (I’m not sure where this book came from, but I was sure that I had not bought it.) Anyway, I was tired of reading Anglican Communion reports, so the thought of reading a short novel was attractive. I remembered that Bridges had been very popular, but I did not remember why.

A shelf in the library
Bridges tells the romantic story of a brief affair between a National Geographic photographer and a sexually frustrated wife of an Iowa farmer. I enjoyed the book, which had an interesting structure, though I did find some of the dialogue rather unlikely. I suspect that Bridges had more female than male readers.

Having finished Bridges, I had no reason to keep it around, so I decided to head up the street to the new library. I began scanning the shelves, and my eye immediately fell upon a paperback copy of The Phantom Tollbooth. I immediately removed Tollbooth and replaced it with Bridges.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a book dating from 1961 and written for children by Norton Juster. It is illustrated by Jules Feiffer. I had never read it and, until a few weeks ago, had never even heard of it. It was mentioned, perhaps more than once, in interviews on NPR, however. Apparently, the book has been a strong influence on many young readers. The book, which is notable for its clever wordplay likely to be missed by very young readers, is something of a combination of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Lord of the Rings, perhaps with a bit of Pilgrim’s Progress thrown in. It was a quick and enjoyable read.

Now it’s time to take another walk to the library.

August 23, 2012

Bumper Sticker Version 2

Mitt Romney revealed his energy plan today. (See, for example, the NPR story here.) The plan is about what you’d expect and seems to have a lot in common to Sara Palin’s ideas of four years ago.

Romney/Ryan: Drill, Baby, Drill!

August 16, 2012

The Party Is Over

The Party Is Over book cover
AlterNet recently published excerpts of Mike Lofgren’s new book The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted. I have not read the book, and I don’t agree with everything that Lofgren says in the AlterNet excerpts, but I do think he is basically on the right track.

Here is my favorite snippet from what you can read on the Web:
Some liberal writers have opined that the socioeconomic gulf separating the business wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no basic disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far it should go. The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age; the theocrats to the Salem witch trials.
The GOP presidential ticket, of course, has so far emphasized the plutocrat viewpoint—see the bumper sticker in my post of August 12—but they need the theocrats to win in November.

You can read all the AlterNet excerpts from The Party Is Over here.

August 14, 2012

You Can Run, but You Can’t Hide

Now that Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his running mate, he is trying to distance himself from the radical budget proposals of Congressman Ryan. The two Republican candidates appeared together on 60 Minutes Sunday, and Romney declared, “I have my budget plan as you know that I’ve put out. And that’s the budget plan that we’re going to run on.”

Of course, Romney, if he has a budget plan, is not being very forthcoming with details. Moreover, he has been very supportive of Ryan’s budget. The Ryan Lizza profile of Paul Ryan in the August 6 issue of The New Yorker offered this:
“I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget plan,” Mitt Romney said on March 20th, in Chicago. The following week, while campaigning in Wisconsin, he added, “I think it’d be marvellous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and adopt it and pass it along to the President.
Romney can certainly suggest variations on Ryan’s ideas, but it will be hard to run away from Ryan’s budget with any reasonable credibility. Lizza noted that Ryan has been talked about “even as a long shot to be Romney’s running mate,” and concludes his piece this way:
“He’s [Romney’s] already endorsed these things,” Ryan said. “I want a full-throated defense for an alternative agenda that fixes the country’s problems. I want to show the country that we have a solution to get us out of the ditch we’re in, and to be proud about it.”

Ryan seemed unconcerned that pushing his policy agenda on Romney might damage the candidate. “I think life is short,” Ryan said at the end of our final conversation. “You’d better take advantage of it while you have it.”

August 12, 2012

Bumper Sticker

Romney/Ryan: Return America to The Gilded Age

Update, 8/12/2012, 3:25 PM. Embarrassingly, I spelled “Gilded” wrong on my original graphic. Clearly, I was concentrating on design, not text. Of course, I’m not used to copy editing rotated text. Anyway, my dumb error is corrected above. Thanks to Ann for the heads up.

August 11, 2012

Thoughts on Mark Harris’s “Last Thoughts”

A few  days ago, Mark Harris, who chaired the subcommittee that sent the substitute Resolutions D008 and B005 to the legislative floor of General Convention, offered an extended explanation of what, in his view, happened in Indianapolis. (His post is “Last thoughts on B005 substitute and moving on.”) I considered leaving a comment on his Preludium post or on the post about his essay on The Lead. I decided, however, that there was too much that I wanted to say. I will try to say it all here.

Covenant options
Let me preface my comments  on “Last Thoughts” by emphasizing that, although B005 was not the definitive rejection of the Anglican Covenant I would like to have seen, it was nevertheless a vote of no confidence in the Covenant. The Anglican agreement ostensibly was the tool that was going to bring the churches of the Communion closer together, to “intensify” their relationships. If the Covenant was so divisive as to paralyze the decision-making process of The Episcopal Church, how likely is it, really, that it could bring together the diverse churches of the Communion? B005 sent the clear message that our church is unenthusiastic about the Covenant. Moreover, we can be excused our vacillation given the fact that the Covenant was aimed squarely at controlling actions of The Episcopal Church. Global South churches would have considered our rejection of the Covenant arrogant and our adoption of the Covenant cynical.

With that out of the way, let me move on to “Last Thoughts.” In what follows, I will reproduce excerpts from Mark Harris’s essay and follow them with my own comments. The excerpts are presented in the order in which they appear in “Last Thoughts,” but not all of that essay will be duplicated here. If you have not read “Last Thoughts,” you might want to do so before reading on. (See link above.)


The substance of “Last Thoughts” begins with a section titled “Personal opinion and legislative action”:
Regarding the Anglican Covenant, my “thinking process” at Convention was a bit more than a thinking process, it was about being part of a conversation that included people who I strongly disagree with and yet who worked with one another hoping to find common ground.
The conversation, of course, was a conversation within the subcommittee that was tasked with considering resolutions on the Covenant. Members of that subcommittee had a wide variety of views on the Covenant, and the work of the group seemed more about establishing and maintaining harmony within that group than about deciding what was best for The Episcopal Church or even whether the Covenant, objectively considered, was or was not a good idea.
We also knew, and sometimes talked about, the fact that all resolutions are also political and serve some people better than others. We were not without wisdom in noting that agendas within resolutions, even those made by Christians, are sometimes self-serving.

The level of honest discussion in the group was quite amazing. I have seldom been as aware of the gift that is present in the range of opinions, feelings and concerns of others as I was in this group.
I can attest that the subcommittee was conspicuously harmonious, though it isn’t clear that this was a good thing. With a few exceptions, it was very hard to discern what individual subcommittee members actually thought of the Covenant. In other words, the discussion was polite but not frank. The group put its own collegiality ahead of the needs of the church. Perhaps there was more give-and-take in the groups that drafted possible substitute resolutions. I did not think to insist that those meetings should be open, so I did not observe them.
B005 was another matter. The resolution options concerning the adoption of the Covenant seemed to be “yes”, “no”, “not in its present form”, “not at the present time”, “yes, with some work to be done before we can actually sign,” “yes to parts 1,2,3 and more study on 4.” But none of these concerned the reality experienced in the group itself, namely the desire to act in ways that honored the wide range of understandings as to just what the Anglican Covenant, and for that matter the Anglican Communion, was about and the desire to not too easily push us into a win-lose contest.
Taken together, the resolutions themselves and the testimony regarding them were clearly tilted toward “no.” The decision not to decide came from the subcommittee and conflicted with the sense of nearly all the resolutions as originally submitted. Only the last-minute Resolution C115 called for a delay in deciding on adoption. The subcommittee—certainly its chair, anyway—was determined that whatever resolutions were sent forward would actually pass. This represented political wisdom to a degree, but it may also have been an attempt to avoid embarrassment.
What we ended up with was the resolution on the Anglican Covenant that was introduced to the House of Deputies as B005 substitute. It did not say ‘no” [sic] to the Anglican Covenant. But it did say ‘no’ to at least part of the Anglican Covenant game—to that part that said with some urgency “you have to decide for or against the Covenant, now.”
There is no deadline for acting on the Covenant. (More’s the pity!) As far as I could tell, however, the subcommittee never considered when The Episcopal Church might be ready to make a decision. Is there ever going to be a time when all Episcopalians are going to be of one mind about the Covenant? (Not likely!) If the subcommittee did not want to “play the game,” why pass any resolution on the Covenant at all? Why not just ignore the issue?

The next section of “Final Thoughts” is titled “Changing the possibilities of answer”:
 B005 Substitute essentially changed the question of adoption from something requiring immediate response to a question we could answer at our leisure, when we are ready to do so. We changed the assumption of the game plan.
The subcommittee seems proud of its cleverness here, but it did not opt out of playing the game. Instead, it tried to play it better than the other guys.

The subcommittee seems not to have considered the effect of B005 on other members of the Communion. Some will, no doubt, see our position as being passive-aggressive. Others will conclude that our church is a paper tiger lacking the will or good sense to act in its own best interest. Perhaps more importantly, B005 weakens the position of our ACC representatives, who are hardly in a position to say at the fall meeting in New Zealand that we should either terminate or time-limit the adoption process. B005 makes it look as though The Episcopal Church is simply trying to duck responsibility. If, of all churches, the American church cannot make a decision for at least another three years, other churches must need an eternity to decide.
In my mind, the larger Anglican Covenant game involves a sales pitch where the producers of the Anglican Covenant said we needed to buy a particular product (The Anglican Covenant) because we need, or want, or desire, what it can do for us. The product was advertised to make us part of a very special group—the Anglican Communion—if only we would buy and use the product. If we didn’t—well the heartbreak of psoriasis is nothing compared to the heartbreak of second tier life—not an outcast, but not a player either. But the choice was ours—buy or don’t buy. Every province supposedly gets the same offer—yes or no—and on that full inclusion in the Anglican Communion rests. But who make this game up?
If you actually read the Covenant, you find that failure to adopt it has virtually no consequences not directly related to the Covenant itself. (If we rejected the Covenant, we could not participate in punishing sister churches. Many of us see that as a good thing.) We have indeed been sold a bill of goods, having been told, on one hand, that failure to adopt does not remove us from the Communion, and, on the other, that rejection will make us a junior partner in the Communion. This is another of the many matters the subcommittee did not discuss.

Actually, I have no doubt that, irrespective of what the Covenant actually says, there will be a concerted attempt to isolate representatives of churches that reject the Covenant. Will The Episcopal Church stand up for the rights of such churches in Communion bodies? Probably not.
For some of us on the committee and out there in Anglican land it was clear that it [the Anglican Covenant] was the product of the same minds that turned Lambeth Resolution 1988,I.10 [sic—Lambeth Resolution 1998 I.10 was intended] into a litmus test of Anglican purity, and the Windsor Report into a definitive road map. Both those Anglican disasters made the Covenant the clear strategy of those who were and are opposed to anything like inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the life and leadership of the churches. The Anglican Covenant has been widely disliked as an instrument that serves the wrong ends by the wrong means.
And this wasn’t sufficient reason to reject the Covenant? Doesn’t this paragraph imply that the supporters of the Covenant in The Episcopal Church are either misguided or are themselves among “those who were and are opposed to anything like inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the life and leadership of the churches”? And isn’t that inclusion the policy of The Episcopal Church from which there can be no stepping back?
If one played the Anglican Covenant game at all—saying yes or no—one entered the world of the game … accepting either full inclusion in the Anglican Communion with the possible restrictions on vision and movement, or second class citizenship in the Communion with penalties for exercising progressive vision.
Nonsense! See remarks above. Indeed, had we rejected the Covenant, there would have been an attempt to marginalize The Episcopal Church. Perhaps this would have forced our representatives to defend the church (or perhaps not). The fact is that, when not confronted by representatives of other Anglican churches, we act like determined disciples of Jesus Christ. When we have to confront our Anglican detractors head-on, we act like sycophantic eunuchs. This may have had some effect on how members of the subcommittee acted.

The next section is “Refusing to jump into play.” Its first subsection is “The legislative question”:
Most of the resolutions presented to Convention could not, most of us on the committee believed, garner a majority vote in Deputies, particularly if the vote was made a vote by orders. The only possible one was a distinctly clear “no,” and even there the crystal ball of prediction was cloudy. If we presented a resolution that failed, what then? Would we have to consider others of the resolutions? If we passed a close “no” resolution, would the House of Bishops, which apparently has a mind, issue a mind of the house statement thereby splitting the two houses in their response?
The resolution that had the least potential to achieve an ambiguous result would have been a simple adoption (i.e., “yes”) resolution. The House of Deputies would surely have voted this down. The House of Bishops would then not get to vote on the resolution; the matter would have been dead. Any statement from the bishops would have been irrelevant.

And if a resolution from the subcommittee failed, would the convention’s considering other resolutions have been such an awful outcome? Perhaps the will of the convention, not that of the subcommittee, would have been honored.

The next subsection is “The political question”:
But if a clear “no” passed it would put in question any reassuring statement (D008 or any similar resolution) of our continued engagement in Anglican Communion affairs—particularly if we also reduced our support of the Anglican Communion Office and its programs.
Subcommittee member Charles Osberger made the point on the floor of the House of Deputies that rejecting the Covenant would call into question the sincerity of D008. This, of course, suggests that the two-resolution “solution” proposed by the subcommittee to deal with the problem of conflicting resolutions was really a sham; D008 did not, at least in the minds of the subcommittee members, create space to make an honest decision on the Covenant.

Frankly, our last decade of interaction with the Anglican Communion has not endeared Episcopalians to it, cheery stories from ENS notwithstanding. The reality is that the Communion is dysfunctional. To not say so is to be complicit in its dysfunction. Put another way, The Episcopal Church has a codependency relationship with the Anglican Communion. (Codependency is different from mutual responsibility and interdependence.) The failure of General Convention to reject the Covenant is but another instance of our codependent behavior. The Anglican Communion is in need of an intervention. Apparently, that is not going to come from The Episcopal Church.
Many of us knew that funding for the Anglican Communion work was likely to suffer cuts along with other program support in a tightened budget. While a yes vote seemed impossible, a no vote would be hard to separate from decisions about funding reduction for important and valuable Anglican programs. There are plenty of people out in Anglican land who would gleefully grab onto a “no” vote and reduction in funding and say, “see, they have no need of the Anglican Communion. They have said no to the Anglican Covenant and no to the Anglican Communion.”
D008 declared otherwise. The reality is that there are elements of the Communion that will hate us no matter what we do. We cannot let those people determine our actions.

The next subsection is “The pastoral question”:
It was also clear, at least in our subgroup and larger World Mission Legislative Committee, that a “no” vote, particularly a slim majority vote, would be a clear signal to many who both supported the Covenant and a variety of what are called “conservative” concerns that there was no place in the legislative life of the Church where their voice was heard in a positive way.
That a group loses a vote does not mean that those on the winning side have disdain for it. Are we a church of adults or of petulant children? The reality is that the subcommittee decided to put forth a resolution ducking the Covenant adoption issue before it settled on the “pastoral” rationale for doing so. (See my post “Observations and Thoughts about the Legislative Progress of the Anglican Covenant Resolutions.”)
Just as saying the Nicene Creed does not make The Episcopal Church gathered on Sunday morning a conservative church, but it does make it a conserving church, so being in favor of the Anglican Covenant was seen by some as an affirmation of conserving Episcopal and Anglican values. Several members of the committee strongly supported such a conserving view. (This is where I see The Living Church’s essays coming out.) On the other hand, Susan Russell in her statement to the World Mission Legislative Committee strongly disagreed, contending that the Anglican Covenant is not basically Anglican at all.

I must say I agree with her. My argument against the Covenant has been that sections 1, 2, and 3, are conserving of the wrong things, or of the right things wrongly stated, and forgetful of other matters also worth conserving, and that section 4 is not about conservation at all, but about bad process.
Both Russell and Harris are right, of course. Sections 1–3 of the Covenant are slanted to a particular view of Christianity, one different from that of most Episcopalians. Why did not Harris uphold this view in the subcommittee? As chair, he seems to have assumed the role of neutral mediator. Was he designated chair to take his personal views out of the mix? Could he not have been more active in arguing that the Covenant was simply a bad idea? Could anyone have?
I have been a consistent critic of the Anglican Covenant and have good friends who see the Anglican Covenant as antithetical to all they hope Anglicanism to represent. Several of these friends have accused the writers of this resolution as weak and lacking in courage. Being among the writers and chairing the meetings on this I of course can read the tea leaves … the accusations are against me as well. Life has its less pleasant moments, I suppose.
I very much appreciate Mark Harris’s contributions to The Episcopal Church, but, if the shoe fits …
I said what I believed was the sense we had that we were under no obligation to respond to the matter of adopting the Anglican Covenant until we were ready to do so. Of course we could have put it to a vote and it would perhaps have been “done with.” But I think not. I supported the resolution because I came to believe it was not time to force a “no” or “yes.” It was time to let it go and let it rest.
Again, when will the time be right? If the world waited until everyone was of one mind about this or that, civilization would never make any progress at all! It strains credulity to suggest that General Convention could make a decision on same-sex blessings but not on the Anglican Covenant. Or, God forbid, will it take us as long to decide on the Covenant as it has taken to decide on same-sex blessings? A church that is incapable of making a yes or no decision is a church that may not be nimble enough to survive in the 21st century.


Permit me my last thoughts about B005 and its legislative trajectory.

All too often, legislation seems to be about editing the words that arrive in resolutions. Too seldom are the big questions asked: What are we trying to accomplish? What problem are we solving? How is a resolution expected to accomplish its goal? Should we be concentrating on a smaller or larger problem? The subcommittee working on Covenant resolutions concentrated on different questions: What can we pass? How can we avoid offending anyone?

It may seem like a minor point, but legislative committees seemed to be saddled with restrictions that are unhelpful. (I assume that the restrictions under which the subcommittee worked were institutional ones having to do with requirements for resolutions and the deadline for introducing new ones. I do not claim to be an expert on General Convention procedures, however.) In particular, (1) a completely new resolution could not be written, (2) the title of a resolution could not be changed, and (3) the explanation of a resolution could not be changed. Since the substance of a resolution can be completely rewritten, the restrictions might seem odd. I do think it important, however, that the explanation could not be changed. This restriction means that a resolution can be sent to the legislative floor without an explanation of the thinking behind it. This puts legislators at a disadvantage. It is hard to think about such a resolution in advance; one has to rely on a last-minute explanation on the legislative floor.

Finally, what is a legislative committee supposed to do when presented with a resolution that says A and with another that says Not A? This is essentially what Mark Harris’s subcommittee faced. Should the resolutions cancel one another out? Is the proper response a resolution that says that General Convention is too divided to decide the issue? It seems to me that, particularly if a committee believes that there is substantial support both for A and Not A, the committee should forward either an A or Not A resolution or both. Anything else takes the decision out of the hands of General Convention and  allows a handful (or a few handfuls) of people to decide the issue—in this case, a very important issue—for the church.

Update, 8/11/2012, 12:01 PM. It was pointed out to me that, if a “yes” resolution failed in the House of Deputies, bishops would not get to vote on it. I have corrected a statement that suggested otherwise.

Romney Makes His Choice

Representative Paul Ryan
Presumed Republican candidate Mitt Romney has chosen Wisconsin Republican congressman Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate. I suspect that this choice will assure the re-election of Barack Obama. Or, it could lead to the downfall of the Republic.

Anyway, the choice is a very interesting one. Here are some quick observations:
  1. Ryan might help win Wisconsin, and the Romney-Ryan ticket will surely work hard to win the state. Obama took Wisconsin in 2008, however, and is unlikely to lose the state this time around.
  2. The choice of Ryan is a clear indication that Romney is not going to move to the center for the general election.
  3. Ryan is known nationally primarily for his draconian budget, the hatred of which by Democrats knows no bounds. Romney has already embraced this budget. (Arguably, people know more about Ryan’s policies than Romney’s. This is odd.) This means that, perhaps for the first time in history, the VP candidate is going to make a real difference for a ticket. Tea Party types will be elated by Romney’s choice. Moderates and liberals have another strong reason not to vote for Romney.

August 7, 2012

Why Don’t Evangelicals Embrace Regulation?

Yet another banking scandal is in the news today. This got me thinking about the right wing of the Republican Party. I know that the Tea Party and the religious right are not quite the same, but there is substantial overlap between the two groups. This means that there is a large group of politically active (or at least conscious) people in the U.S. who are evangelical Christians fundamentally opposed to government regulation.

Isn’t this odd? Evangelical Christians are supposed to believe that humans are sinful creatures prone to deal dishonestly with their fellow creatures. And yet these same folks seem to believe in a radically laissez-faire economy. Admittedly, market forces can efficiently allocate resources. But unregulated markets that turn a blind eye to those who lie, cheat, and steal do not efficiently allocate resources. They simply reward the least virtuous.

Evangelical Christians should be the most vocal advocates of government regulation of the marketplace to assure that everyone plays by ethical (or, if you prefer, moral) rules. Government is not a perfect referee, of course, but isn’t an imperfect referee better than none at all.? Apparently, many so-called Christians don’t think so.

August 5, 2012

Reviewing the 77th General Convention

Two days ago, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offered her views on the 77th General Convention in a message to the church. Not surprisingly, the PB, who frequently plays the role of the church’s cheerleader-in-chief, delivered an upbeat message. She began this way:
The General Convention which took place in Indianapolis in July offered new and creative responses to the call of the gospel in our day. We saw gracious and pastoral responses to polarizing issues, as well as a new honesty about the need for change.
General Convention seal
“Creative” is the recurring theme of the letter. Jefferts Schori used some form of the word 15 times in 16 paragraphs! No doubt, some of what the General Convention did deserves to be called creative, but other outcomes were simply pragmatic, timid, or evasive, rather than imaginative. Time will tell whether avoiding “win-lose outcomes,” as she suggested we did in many cases, defused, prolonged, or intensified “differences of opinion.”

In particular, Jefferts Schori called General Convention’s refusal to take a stand on the Anglican Covenant a “creative” response to a “challenging” issue. In fact, there is little enthusiasm for the Covenant outside the insular world of the Communion Partners, and the action of the convention seemed more craven than creative. The church passed up an opportunity to drive another nail in the coffin of the Covenant, thereby making its resuscitation from what had seemed mortal injuries more likely.

Then, there is the matter of same-sex blessings. Here is what the PB had to say about that:
The decision to provide a trial rite for same-sex blessings was anticipated by many across the Church—some with fear and trepidation, others with rejoicing, and yet others with frustration that more would not be offered. The decision of General Convention may not have fully satisfied anyone, yet it has provided more space for difference than most expected. The rite must be authorized by a diocesan bishop, which permits bishops who believe it inappropriate to safeguard their own theological position. Some of the responses by bishops with questions about the appropriateness of such rites in their dioceses show creativity and enormous pastoral respect for those who support such blessings. The use of this rite is open to local option, in the same way we often think about private confession: “all may, some should, none must.”
It must be admitted that bishops who object to same-sex blessings have indeed shown creativity in finding ways of allowing the use of the new liturgy while keeping such ceremonies at arm’s length. On the other hand, General Convention has hardly done much to unify the church respecting same-sex blessings, whether philosophically or in terms of practice. The spectrum of diocesan responses bounded by those of the Diocese of New York and the Kingdom of South Carolina is wide indeed. I suppose that bishops can appreciate a scheme that “permits bishops who believe it inappropriate to safeguard their own theological position.” But what about the theological positions of clergy and laypeople? They do not get to exercise any “local option.” General Convention’s “creativity” seems nothing less than a variation on the antiquated practice of letting the religion of the local prince determine that of his subjects.

Of course, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is not wrong in seeing hopeful signs in the work of the 77th General Convention. Both the budget and restructuring, issues that had the potential to produce serious conflict in Indianapolis, were resolved gracefully. Many other matters that have been little remarked upon were handled in a way that should make all Episcopalians proud. The General Convention glass is certainly more than half full. It is not, however, running over.

August 3, 2012


I visited my neighborhood Chick-fil-A restaurant at lunchtime today in the hope of seeing some evidence of the proposed kiss-in. I had no intention of ordering food, but I had my notebook and camera in my pockets.

I was surprisedChick-fil-A logo that I was accosted by an elderly female greeter when I entered the restaurant. This was a new phenomenon. She was preternaturally friendly, and I assumed that she was the restaurant’s queer-early-warning system. We got into a discussion about my sunglasses, from which I extricated myself as quickly as I was able.

Alas, I saw no kissing, either of the heterosexual or the homosexual variety. I hung around for a few minutes and left before I thought I was becoming conspicuous. I killed a little time at the Trader Joe’s next door before taking a second look for unusual activity at Chick-fil-A. Everything seemed normal, however.

As long as everyone else seems to be commenting on the Chick-fil-A matter, permit me to make a few brief remarks.

First, The big-city mayors who have implied that they are prepared to prevent Chick-fil-A from expanding in their jurisdictions need to review the powers that have and (most importantly) do not have. Whether doing so is wise or not, they are free to criticize the policies of the chain. Threatening the company, however, crosses a line that serves no one’s interest. Are the mayors really willing to act outside the law to punish a company of whose policies they do not approve?

 Chick-fil-A and its officers can do or say whatever they want, so long as it is legal and the stockholders do not complain. Apparently, Chick-fil-A is privately held, so the owners and the officers seem to be one in the same. COO Dan Cathy can attack marriage equality, and his company can send millions to anti-gay organizations. I believe that both actions are completely sincere. The chain has cultivated its “Christian” (read right-wing evangelical Christian) image, and, in political terms, Cathy’s recent comments play to Chick-fil-A’s base. He may honestly believe that his remarks will be good for business. I doubt that they are.

Any company that takes a stand on controversial public issues or funds organizations that do so may not be acting in their company’s best financial interest. In the present instance, Chick-fil-A has clearly received substantial support for its activities from its clientele, as evidenced by the long lines at the recent Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day. Its stance has probably even won it new friends. It has also won new detractors, however, among whom I number myself. Long-term, I suggest that the company has created a problem for itself. Supporters of its anti-marriage-equity position may not always remember at lunchtime that they should support Chick-fil-A. Those who find the company’s position hateful and loathsome, however, will have no trouble remembering to avoid the restaurant.

Finally, demonstrations for and against Chick-fil-A are not exactly symmetric. It’s easy to have lunch at a particular restaurant on a particular day. (The long lines did make the experience obnoxious, however.) Taking part in the kiss-in, on the other hand, required commitment, extroversion, and homosexual orientation. On two out of three dimensions, I felt left out. I doubt that my occasional absence at my local Chick-fil-A will not be noticed. I hope that the absence of many people who feel as I do will be.

New Way of Allocating Deputies to be Proposed

Episcopal dioceses have many ways of determining how many lay deputies to the diocesan convention are allocated to each parish or mission. Each allocation method answers, at least implicitly, a number of questions about practicality and fairness. Should every parish have the same representation? Should the distribution of deputies be based on a kind of one-parishioner-one-vote philosophy? What should the balance be between the number of clergy and the number of lay deputies? Does the allocation system assure that all viewpoints are represented?

Pittsburgh has long given more deputies to larger parishes. Under the current scheme, which is specified by Canon II, each parish (including what some dioceses call missions) is entitled to a minimum of two deputies. A third deputy is awarded when the number of “duly registered communicants” reaches 201. Each additional 200 communicants earns another deputy, up to a maximum of 10.

This method of allocating deputies may be attractive to the start-up house church with 15 members, but it might seem less fair to the more established church with 175 members, which sends the same number of deputies to the diocesan convention. Although there has not been an outcry to change Canon II—our diocese has had more urgent matters to deal with—the Committee on Constitution and Canons, which I chair, decided to look for a method of allocating deputies that maintains many features of the current plan but distinguishes between a very small church (say, St. James’, Penn Hills) and a modest, but significantly larger, church (say, Redeemer, Squirrel Hill).

The committee will offer a revised Canon II at the annual convention that will reward a third deputy for a church with 71 members. As the number of parishioners increases, it takes more of them to earn another deputy. The overall effect is to increase the influence of mid-size churches without giving undue power to the largest churches in the diocese. Because the plan increases the total number of deputies, more Pittsburgh Episcopalians will be directly involved in diocesan affairs. As matters currently stand, smaller churches often have trouble recruiting two deputies, while mid-size churches often cannot accommodate parishioners who strongly want to become deputies.

The proposed new Canon II is still being edited, so I cannot post it now, but I hope that this preview will get people thinking about why the current method of assigning deputies needs to be improved.

For Episcopalians from other dioceses who might be reading this, how does your diocese allocate deputies, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of the system currently in use?

Postscript. One can ask—many have been asking, in fact—whether the representation in General Convention’s House of Deputies is reasonable. The House of Deputies has as many clergy as lay deputies, and every diocese has the same size deputation, even though the largest diocese has something like 40 times the number of Episcopalians as the smallest. (See the article by Russ Randle, “At Convention, Some Baptisms More Equal Than Others,” which was published in Center Aisle by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and distributed July 5, 2012, at General Convention.)

August 2, 2012


I was surprised to hear someone using forecasted  as the past tense of forecast in an NPR report this afternoon. I consulted all the dictionaries to which I have access either on-line and in my office. Each one gave forcasted as an alternative past and past participle of the verb to forecast. In language usage, there is always a strong tendency toward regularization, and I wonder if forecasted isn’t destined to replace forecast.

I visited the Mt. Lebanon Public Library to see if The Oxford English Dictionary offered any insight into past forms of forecast. Much to my dismay, the library seems to have deaccessioned its copy of the OED while keeping the update volumes. Dumping the OED is a tragedy, and keeping the updates is nonsensical. (From the update, I was given newer meanings for forecast but learned nothing of the word’s history.)

August 1, 2012

Sarah Hughes Reprise

My most recent post, on the uneven bars, reminded me that one of my first essays as a blogger also involved the Olympics. My introductory post on Lionel Deimel’s Web Log is dated February 9, 2002. Thirteen days later, I wrote about Sarah Hughes’ performance at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

That February 22, 2002, post could not benefit from the archives that are Wikipedia and YouTube. Ten years later, however, I can update my post to take advantage of those sites, and I have now done so. The performance of Sarah Hughes in the long program is the greatest Olympic performance I have ever seen, and I want to share it with others who may not have seen it.

Women’s gymnastics is wonderful to watch, but, however great the athleticism they display, performances can never achieve the pure grace possible on ice skates. Balance beam and floor exercises are invariably episodic. Vault and uneven bars performances do exhibit greater continuity, along with unbelievable physical accomplishments, but they seem incapable of achieving the sheer beauty that ice skaters can display.

Read my updated post “Sarah Hughes,” and watch her spectacular 2002 performance.

Uneven Bars

Last night, I watched U.S. female gymnasts win Olympic gold in the team competition. I have long enjoyed these competitions with a combination of appreciation and amazement. The balance beam has always seemed the scariest apparatus, but performances on the uneven bars invariably have proven to be the most exciting events.

Like many others, I’m sure, I fell in love with the uneven bars when I saw Nadia Comăneci’s perfect 10 performance at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. (See video below) I’ve noticed, however, that both performances and the bars themselves have changed over the years. Performances have become much more athletic and jaw-dropping—this is particularly true of dismounts—and the bars have been moved farther apart. This latter change has made some moves impossible, but it has enabled others.

Nadia Comăneci’s perfect performance at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.

I am hardly a gymnastics expert, so I recommend that anyone as fascinated by the uneven bars as I am to read the Wikipedia article on the apparatus. For a more visual illustration of the evolution of performances on the uneven bars over the years, I recommend viewing the video below.

The Uneven Bars Evolution: 50s – 2010.