April 28, 2013

Click to Help Repair Washington National Cathedral

Partners in Preservation, an initiative of American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is going to distribute $1 million in preservation grants to institutions in the Washington, D.C., area. Twenty-four historic properties are competing for grants. The winning preservation project will be determined primarily by voting on the Web. (See additional details below.) A person can vote for a favorite preservation project once a day through May 10.

Washington National Cathedral is vying for $100,000 to inspect and repair the ceiling of the cathedral and remove the safety netting that was installed after the disastrous 2011 earthquake. If you haven’t been voting and if you want to see the cathedral whole again as soon as possible, I invite you to vote every day until the competition ends. (Earthquake repairs are estimated to cost $20 million, but every dollar helps.)

Netting inside cathedral
Frame from video showing safety netting now in place inside the cathedral.

You can find a video about the cathedral project here, along with a button that links to a page where you can vote. To vote, you will have to create an account on the Partners in Preservation site or login with your Facebook account, which is probably easier.

The sites seeking grants are listed here, where you can also watch a video about how the competition works. Sites mainly earn points through Internet votes, but, if you visit a site, you can also earn points for its project using Instagram or Foursquare. Grants for non-winning organizations will be awarded by a committee.

For as long as I have been tracking the competition, which began on April 24, Washington National Cathedral has led the pack. Its closest competition had been from Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. Lately, however, Mount Vernon has moved into second place. The home of President Washington could provide serious competition! As I write this, the cathedral has 226,680 votes. Mount Vernon has 213,620. The synagogue has 207,150.

It is easy to forget to vote, of course, but the cathedral will send you a daily remainder via e-mail if you like. Sign up here, at the bottom of the page.

Vote early and often.

Update, 5/15/2013: Washington National Cathedral did indeed win the $100,000 grant. See the announcement here.

April 23, 2013

Time to Sign Up

The Diocese of Pittsburgh today offered an update on the sexuality dialogue. I had been led to believe that the update would include comments from participants, suggesting how the Phase Two session on March 23 (and perhaps even that of April 20) was viewed by those who took part. (You can read my own thoughts on the event here and some additional thoughts on the overall process here. The phases of the project were described in Bishop McConnell’s letter of February 25, by the way.) Today’s commentary included only the following observation:
According to one observer, “at times the atmosphere was electric with collaborative, constructive energy … some participants offered a few suggested tweaks but as a general proposition people communicated that the structure and facilitation were experienced as supporting meaningful, constructive conversation.”
I assume that the “one observer” was a participant, but this is not totally clear. At any rate, the consultants from the Public Conversations Project will not deliver their evaluation of the two Phase Two events until May 13. The team overseeing the sexuality dialogue would have preferred that this briefing be sooner, but participants are being asked to fill out an evaluation questionnaire, and time needs to be allowed for them to do so and for the resulting data to be analyzed, along with the insights from the facilitators themselves.

Readers of today’s update, which carries the headline “Your Opportunity to Participate: Sexuality Dialogue Planning Committee Report,” may be confused by it because it refers to the second dialogue’s being “next week,” whereas it was actually Saturday last (April 20). When initially posted, the piece was undated. It now carries today’s date, but it appears to have been written sometime during the week of April 7.

The primary purpose of “Your Opportunity to Participate” is to solicit participants and facilitators for Phase Three. People who want to participate can sign up here and potential facilitators here. Facilitators will be trained on May 17 and 18. There is no suggestion that facilitators are being screened. Personally, I would prefer that facilitators not be taking on such a role for the first time in their lives. Perhaps we cannot afford to be choosy, however.

I was surprised to read that the forthcoming dialogue sessions are to take place “over the summer.” It is not clear just how many people can be put through the process before the end of the summer, but surely not very many. This may not be much of a concern, however, since the 12-person sessions are to include six “progressives” and six “conservatives.” The implication of “Your Opportunity to Participate” is that if we run out of either progressive or conservatives volunteers, the dialogue will come to an end. On the other hand, the sign-up page for participants includes this question:
Do you consider yourself to be progressive or conservative on the issue of same gender blessings and partnered gay clergy?
        __ Progressive
        __ Conservative
        __ Undecided
Certainly “undecided” is a legitimate answer to this question. Presumably, it is an appropriate answer if you are uncertain about one or the other issue or if you approve of one but not the other. How will undecideds be integrated into the dialogues? I don’t know that those running the dialogue have an answer to that question. Will undecideds be used in lieu of progressives or conservatives if the supply of either of those runs out?

I hope our dialogue ends only after everyone who wants to participate has done so and not when we run out of partisans on one side or the other. If you are a Pittsburgh Episcopalian and haven’t been a part of Phase One or Phase Two, do sign up to be a participant in Phase Three. Do it now before you forget (or have second thoughts).

April 21, 2013

Scots Engage Marriage Questions Seriously

The Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) has published a serious essay on marriage. The essay considers both heterosexual marriage and the possibility of sanctioning same-sex marriage. The report from the Doctrine Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church is “Marriage and Human Intimacy: Perspectives on same-sex relationships and the life of the church.” Unlike the so-called “study document” from the Church of England (CofE) that was issued earlier this month, “Marriage and Human Intimacy” actually is worthy of study. On the other hand, “Men and Women in Marriage,” from the Church of England’s Faith and Order Commission, simply advocates for that church’s current position regarding marriage. It has widely—and justly—been criticized as insensitive propaganda.)

The Preface of the SEC essay explains that
As members of the Doctrine Committee of the Faith and Order Board we represent a number of different views ourselves; we are by no means in full agreement on the important questions surrounding marriage and we by no means possess all of the answers. And yet, we offer this Essay as our attempt to help chart a way forward. We have tried to avoid prejudicing one view over another, and instead have sought to provide an honest appraisal of the various issues which influence the state of debate at present.
This intention seems to have been taken seriously.

The SEC document is substantially longer than the CofE one. The items in its table of contents hint at its comprehensiveness:
  • Preface
  • Historical Perspectives
  • Biblical Perspectives
    • The Old Testament
    • The New Testament
    • A synthesis of Old and New?
    • Metaphor
  • The church’s official teaching
    • Canon Law
    • Ingredients of marriage
    • The church’s Liturgy: marriage as worship?
  • Scientific Perspectives
    • Genetics
    • Brain structure
    • In utero hormones
  • Worldwide Anglican and Ecumenical Perspectives
    • Covenant versus contract
  • Pastoral Perspective
  • Conclusions
  • Appendix
  • Further reading
I won’t offer an analysis of the SEC essay except to say that it is well worth reading. Both conservatives and progressives will find statements to like and not like. In reading it, I learned a few things—I gained some theological perspective and even learned of some scientific findings of which I had beenunaware.

The Ground Game

Has The Episcopal Church been losing the public relations competition with those who have left the church in San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy, and, most recently, in South Carolina? My question is prompted by a story in today’s edition of The Post and Courier of Charleston, South Carolina. The story is titled “African bishops endorse Bishop Mark Lawrence,” and it is based on extensive publicity from Lawrence’s breakaway “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.”

Bishops in Charleston, South CarolinaThe newspaper story reports that four East Africa Anglican bishops visiting Charleston have expressed their support for the departure of Lawrence and much of his diocese from The Episcopal Church. The story reproduces the photo of the four bishops and Mark Lawrence provided by the breakaway group. The smiling quintet of bishops includes (L-to-R) the Rt. Rev. Robert Martin, Diocese of Marsabit, Anglican Church of Kenya; the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, unaffiliated “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina”; the Rt. Rev. Nathan Kamusiime Gasatura, Diocese of Butare, Anglican Church of Rwanda; the Rt. Rev. Elias Mazi Chakupewa, Diocese of Tabora, Anglican Church of Tanzania; and the Rt. Rev. Abraham Yel Nhial, Diocese of Aweil, Episcopal Church of the Sudan.

The visitors are scheduled to speak at various South Carolina churches over the next few weeks. They will be joined in this enterprise by the Rt. Rev. Ken Clarke, Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh, Church of Ireland; and by the Most Rev. Mouneer H. Anis, Primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & The Middle East.

Stories like this encourage the perception by the public that the South Carolina schism and the motivation behind it are widely approved outside the U.S. Never mind that hundreds of Anglican bishops are not expressing their support or that the four bishops pictured were already in the U.S. to attend the New Wineskins for Global Mission 2013 conference. The 99-minute video provided by the Lawrence faction suggests that the bishops’ travel was supported by a pre-schism diocesan grant to the conference that required recipients to visit South Carolina. (Also provided to the media were an audio file, transcript, and photo album, from the same April 9, 2013, event.)

Why hasn’t The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (i.e., the real Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina) not produced a similar demonstration of support from friendly Anglican bishops? Are there no bishops in Canada, England, Scotland, Brazil, the Philippines, South Africa, or elsewhere willing to stand up for the continued integrity of The Episcopal Church and for Anglican comprehensiveness, as opposed to the Evangelical self-righteousness of  newly minted “Anglican orthodoxy” or “Biblical Anglicanism”? I suspect that no public support has been forthcoming because no such support has been requested. If our church cannot actually mobilize the express support of any foreign Anglican bishops, it should rethink its participation in the Anglican Communion.

It would be easy to dismiss the significance of the support offered by the East African bishops. Their opinion does not immediately affect the status of The Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion or bring the schismatic “diocese” within the Communion. It does, however, lend credence to the assertions of Lawrence and his supporters. Visits of the bishops to Lawrence’s parishes will no doubt help firm up support for the South Carolina schism, which is less than universal. News of the bishops’ support may increase the approval of the Lawrence group within South Carolina and perhaps create doubts in congregations that have retained their Episcopal Church identity. Moreover, Anglicans around the world can surely be influenced by what the see (or don’t see) in the press.

The larger question is this: Why has The Episcopal Church not worked harder at cultivating support within the Anglican Communion? Following the General Convention’s consent to the consecration of Gene Robinson, our church took much abuse in meetings of the primates and even in meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council. Why have we meekly taken such abuse, and why have we not sought more support for our positions? The extreme Anglican right has created GAFCON and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Why is there no Fellowship of Progressive Anglicans?

Are we simply inhibited by our pathological niceness? If so, it is time to recognize that our theological enemies—and they are our theological enemies—are playing by different rules. Our Anglican propriety (and dysfunctional collegiality in our House of Bishops) can have long-term consequences—for The Episcopal Church, for the Anglican Communion, and for a Christianity motivated by love, rather than self-righteous. It is time to rethink our ground game in the Anglican church wars.

April 14, 2013

Democracy in the Diocese of Pittsburgh

Cover of “Lets’s Have Democracy in Our Diocese” brochure
In my last post, “Remembering the Bad Ol’ Days,” I called attention to Harold Lewis’s complaint about how Diocesan Council, under the influence of Bishop Duncan, decided that a number of resolutions that had been proposed for the 2004 annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh were declared  to be too divisive to be considered.

As it happened, Harold’s was not a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, which had had a hand in producing the suppressed resolutions, issued a brochure aimed at shaming the diocesan leadership into reconsidering their action and at encouraging deputies to insist on taking votes on Resolutions #4–9.

The cover of PEP’s tri-fold brochure on buff-colored card stock is shown at the left. You can view the entire brochure, which characterized the six “controversial” resolutions here.

As it happens, the resolutions were on the convention’s agenda, but the allies of the bishop were prepared to make sure that none of them passed. The minutes of the convention, which were published in the final 2004 Convention Journal, explain what happened.

Resolution #4 was introduced. Mary Roehrich spoke in favor of the resolution. Then, according to the minutes,
Dave Hoover, St. Peter’s, Uniontown, member of Diocesan Council, moved Resolution #4 be postponed indefinitely; seconded. Mr. Hoover spoke to the motion stating that Diocesan Council has recommended almost unanimously that a vote would cause greater division than what currently exists.

The Bishop stated that our rules of order allow for 20 minutes of debate on each resolution with no deputy speaking more than once.

Debate followed; vote on the motion to postpone indefinitely: voice vote inconclusive; standing – passed.
Resolution #5 suffered much the same fate. In this case, the Rev. Stan Burdock, another Diocesan Council member, offered the motion to postpone indefinitely.

Resolution #6 was also postponed, this time by a motion from the Rev. Linda Manual.

The Rev. Philip Wainwright offered a motion to postpone Resolutions #7–9, but Bishop Duncan postponed entertaining the motion pending the announcement of voting results and instructions for the next ballot. Before resolutions were considered further, however, the bishop announced that the time allotted for convention business had expired, so no action was taken on Resolutions #7–9.

What happened next was simply bizarre. Here is the description from the Convention Journal:
There was no motion to extend debate, and no objection for 5 minutes of prayer with an announcement; the Bishop called the President of the Standing Committee, the Rev. Doug McGlynn, forward to lead prayer with other members of the Standing Committee. Dr. McGlynn requested that Canon Catherine Brall and Mrs. Kathleen Marks join him.

Noting we were at a critical point in our diocese, Dr. McGlynn asked for prayers for reconciliation and a right heart towards one another.

Mrs. Marks read a portion of scripture: Colossians 3:12ff
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, wholly and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of God rule in your hearts since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

A period of prayer followed.

The Bishop then announced that with the advice and consent of the Standing Committee and in light of the continuing civil suit brought by two of our parishes and the deepest desire to turn this from its present course, in order to encourage the process of resolution and reconciliation, if it please God, and in order to open all the means of response possible in the situation, notice was given under Canon 15, Section 6 of the canons of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that consideration of the dissolution of the union between the Convention of this diocese and the parishes of Calvary Church, East Liberty, and St. Stephen’s Church, Wilkinsburg, will be a part of the agenda of the next meeting of this convention whether that be a special or annual meeting. The Bishop stated that he made this announcement with deepest grief, but the Canons require that it be made at an annual convention. The suit has extended for 13 months. He expressed himself the previous day as to what he believes is the proper course. This does not mean Convention will have to do this, but that it’s an un-hoped for possibility.
Some explanation is required here. Calvary Church, led by the Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis, had sued Duncan and other diocesan leaders in 2003 over their attempt to circumvent the Dennis Canon. St. Stephen’s, led by the Rev. Diane Shepard, had joined the suit, which, at the time of the convention, remained unresolved. Clearly, the bishop’s little drama described above was not spontaneous. A passage of scripture on unity was read and prayers were asked as the bishop prepared to threaten Calvary and St. Stephen’s with being thrown out of the diocese. (The canon used by Duncan has since been rescinded.)

What is not reported in the minutes is that the bishop spoke to Harold and Diane before the second day of the convention (November 6, 2004) began and urged them to withdraw the lawsuit. The two rectors refused. The subsequent threat to use Canon 15, Section 6 against their parishes made the request to terminate litigation look a lot like blackmail. Harold and Diane left quickly after the business of the convention concluded. On behalf of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, I immediately telephoned the Presiding Bishop’s chancellor.

Bishop Duncan’s threat was never carried out. By the time of the 2005 annual convention, parties in the Calvary lawsuit (as the litigation was generally called) had signed the stipulation that ultimately assured that diocesan property would stay with The Episcopal Church.

Why rehash all this history now? Bob Duncan has gone, and the Diocese of Pittsburgh has a new diocesan bishop. Well, after major factions of four dioceses have left The Episcopal Church, it should be obvious that (1) Bishops in The Episcopal Church have too much power; (2) the church is reluctant to act in a timely manner against bishops who abuse their power; and (3) the tools for reining in rogue bishops are limited. The task force that is considering changes to the church’s polity should be considering not only how The Episcopal Church can be run more efficiently (read “cheaply”) and how it can enhance its “missionary” character. It should also consider how the church’s polity can be changed to limit the power of bishops and make it easier to get rid of rogue bishops before they inflict too much damage to their dioceses and to the general church. To date, it does not appear that the general church has learned very much from the experiences of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy, and South Carolina.

Update, 4/15/2013. I revised my description of Bishop Duncan’s conversations with Harold Lewis and Diane Shepard. The conversations occurred before the convention session, rather than at the end of it, as my original post implied.

April 12, 2013

Remembering the Bad Ol’ Days

I have spent a lot of time recently trying to eliminate the ocean of paper I have accumulated over the years. Many of the documents I have had to deal with relate to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the efforts by Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh and its allies to derail the race to schism being engineered by Bishop Robert Duncan. I am incorporating paper documents into an electronic archive, thereby allowing me to reduce the volume of the paper ocean.

An important figure in the opposition to the machinations of our former bishop was Harold Lewis, the recently retired rector of Calvary Church. Harold’s most important act was surely his suing Bob Duncan over the attempt to declare that parishes had complete control over their property—why did not someone do this in South Carolina when Mark Lawrence issued his quitclaim deeds, an even bolder move than Duncan’s?—but his rhetorical skills were also important in the battle for the hearts and minds of Episcopalians. I was reminded of this when I came across one of Harold’s “Rector’s Ruminations” in the October 31, 2004, issue of Calvary’s newsletter, Agape.

Agape logo
I want to quote from Harold’s “Conventional Wisdom” in that issue. Much of Duncan’s scheming went on behind closed doors. Most Pittsburgh Episcopalians, and certainly Episcopalians elsewhere, were blissfully unaware of what was being done or what was its ultimate purpose. “Convention Wisdom” exposes one way in which our former bishop manipulated people and subverted rules and conventions to advance his agenda.

Harold’s letter was distributed just before the 2004 annual convention of the diocese, and the essay addresses the agenda of that convention. The most important order of business was a vote on amending the diocesan constitution to weaken its accession clause. After addressing that clearly improper action, Harold moves on to a section labeled “Suppressed Resolutions.” I want to quote that section in its entirety and without very much comment. You should know that Canon Mary Hays, who is quoted in this passage, was responsible for doing much of the bishop’s dirty work. (Harold’s entire essay can be read here. I apologize for the holes in the PDF file; I used to put documents in 3-ring binders.)
It is customary in most dioceses for conventions to go on record as voicing their opinions on issues facing church and society. This mirrors the practice of the General Convention, which has often spoken out against racism, gender discrimination, homophobia and war. In this spirit, several groups in the Diocese have submitted resolutions for consideration at Convention. One such resolution asserts that the Diocese of Pittsburgh is a “constituent and inseparable part of the Episcopal Church.” Another affirms the ministry of ordained women; another decries violence against homosexual persons. At a meeting of the Diocesan Council, that body voted overwhelmingly that these and other resolutions should not come before Convention. The bishop, in supporting that vote, dismissed the resolutions as “inviting a return to the contentiousness of the 70’s and 80’s.” Canon Mary Hays, speaking in favor of the suppression of these resolutions, stated: “In a different time and a different place, the words of these resolutions would be perceived differently, but we are viewing the world thorough a particular set of lenses, the lens of polarization. This makes all of these resolutions divisive and makes it difficult, if not impossible to consider [them].” It is amazing, as Florence Atwood observed at a pre-Convention hearing, that such resolutions should be deemed divisive, whereas a resolution dissociating the Diocese from the National Church should not be considered divisive!
As usual, Harold did a fine matter of getting to the heart of the matter. By the way, the understanding of the current Diocesan Council with regard to convention resolutions submitted to it is that resolutions can only be rejected for being in the wrong format, not for their content.

April 5, 2013

Was León’s Sermon Inappropriate?

“My friend Jane was telling me the other day what a travesty it was that The Rev. Dr. Luis León, Rector of St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, gave such a political sermon on Easter Sunday. St. John’s, of course, is the Episcopal church across from the White House that was attended by the Obama family on Sunday. (Jane is an Episcopalian who watches much too much of Fox News.)

I had not heard about the sermon and suggested that the Republican right was just looking for something to complain about. Over the past few days, however, in part to deal fairly with my friend, I have looked into the matter.

The controversy over the sermon seems to have taken its energy from the story in The Washington Post by pool reporter Hamil R. Harris. In part, Harris wrote
“It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling us back . . . for blacks to be back in the back of the bus . . . for women to be back in the kitchen . . . for immigrants to be back on their side of the border,” Leon said.
Many on the right took umbrage at this. For example, a post on Breitbart titled “Obama’s Easter Service: Pastor Attacks ‘Captains of the Religious Right,’” cites the Washington Post story and ends with
President Obama left his own church in 2008 amidst controversy over his pastor’s incendiary remarks.
thereby seeming to equate León with Jeremiah Wright.

I was somewhat reassured that León had not delivered a political tirade on Easter Sunday by a post by Republican blogger Brian Schoeneman. His essay, “What really happened at St. John’s Church on Easter Sunday,” was a defense of the sermon by a parishioner. He wrote
But it was in this discussion of the dangers of nostalgia that he made the comments that created all the conservative hate on Easter.  He made the point that he is frustrated when “captains of the religious right” want to call us back to times they say were better, but that those times were also times when blacks had to sit in the back of the bus, when women were kept in the kitchen and immigrants on their side of the border. The point was simple and one I’ve said to many people myself—those of us who pine for the “good old days” need to keep in mind that those good old days weren’t always that great for everybody else.
In other words, the “captains of the religious right”—I must admit that I have never encountered this phrase before—want to return to an earlier time, but they are oblivious to the fact that that time was not so good for everyone.

I pointed this essay out to Jane, and, in the ensuing discussion, we decided to look for a transcript of the sermon itself on the Web. (My University of Chicago education always stressed going to original sources.) I did not find a transcript, but I did find a recording of the sermon, which, at least for some purposes, is even better.

We both found the sermon to be well constructed. It is about how we should live as Christians. It is not really about politics. My purpose here, however, is not a religious one. I want to point out just what was said at St. John’s on Easter Sunday. Here is my own transcript of the “controversial” passage. I believe it is correct, but you can listen for yourself. (The passage occurs in about the middle of the sermon.)
I hear all the time the expression “the good old days.” Well, the good old days, we forget, may have been good for some, but they weren’t good for everybody. You can’t go back. You can’t live in the past.

It drives me crazy when the captains of the religious right are always calling people back, never forward, forgetting that we are called to be a pilgrim people who have agreed never to arrive—that’s true to our faith. The captains of the religious right are always calling us back, back, back—for blacks to be back in the back of the bus, for women to be back in the kitchen, for gays to be in the closet, and for immigrants to be back on their side of the border.
So, was León the innocent victim of an unprincipled attack? Well, not quite. Did he attack the religious right? Yes, I think so, but only in passing. The attack, such as it was, was used to illustrate his point that, as Christians, we must move forward. It illustrated what he was trying to say; it was not the theme of the sermon.

Remember that St. John’s Church is in the heart of political America. Probably most parishioners and visitors are involved directly or indirectly in politics. To illustrate a point, it is natural for the preacher to offer a political example, as that would speak most directly to the congregation. León’s charge is hardly remarkable. I suspect that most moderates and progressives would agree. In fact, I suspect that most conservatives—in their heart of hearts, anyway—would agree that León’s characterization of the “captains of the religious right” is on target.

I invite you to listen to the sermon for yourself. You’ve nothing to lose. Whether or not you think the Rev. Dr. León’s comments were out-of-line, you will, at the very least, hear a great sermon.

Rules Have Reasons

This morning, I was reading a post from Public Policy Polling titled “Conspiracy Theory Poll Results.” The piece provides more data in support of H.L. Mencken’s famous remark that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. It summarizes a longer report in a series of bullet points.

Here is the first bullet point, with line breaks placed where they are in the original post:
  • 37% of voters believe global warming is a hoax, 51% do not. Republicans say global warming is a
    hoax by a 58-25 margin, Democrats disagree 11-77, and Independents are more split at 41-51. 61% of
    Romney voters believe global warming is a hoax

The font in the above quotation is small, but that is the case on the Public Policy Polling site. The omission of a final period also reflects the original.

In reading this passage, I ran into trouble at the end of the second line. I was reading quickly, and the exact numbers weren’t too important. In getting the sense of what was being said, 75% and 77%, for example, are pretty much the same. Anyway, I mistakenly read “41-51. 61% of” as “41-51.61% of.” This was, I suggest, an easy error to make. Of course, the next line made no sense, and my first thought was that part of the second line had been cut off. I reread the passage several times before I achieved the correct parsing.

What is the problem here? Quite simply, a rule that I thought was pretty much inviolable was violated. In fact, I am writing this post because I’ve encountered several violations of the rule lately, and I may have spotted an unfortunate trend.

Here is the rule, with examples omitted, from the 16th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style. The rule is number 9.5:
Number beginning a sentence. When a number begins a sentence, it is always spelled out. To avoid awkwardness, a sentence can often be recast.
To a degree, this rule is arbitrary. Knowing the rule, however, one finds it jarring when it is violated. The Public Policy Polling example shows that violating this rule can also present real problems for the reader.

Here’s a polling question that Public Policy Polling should test: “Do you believe that it is proper to begin a sentence with a number?” I don’t know that I want to learn the poll results on that question.

April 4, 2013


I remember the first time I heard someone speaking of googling something. I was already familiar with Google, and I immediately understood the usage, but the incident did give me a start. The verb to google has since become commonplace. Although one could argue that the verb should be capitalized, it usually isn’t, something about which Google should probably be concerned.

Googling jug?
I was even more surprised when I encountered what I thought was a very new word in a nineteenth-century novel, namely, Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Chapter XXIX contains the following long sentence:
The duke he never let on he suspicioned what was up, but just went a goo-gooing around, happy and satisfied, like a jug that’s googling out buttermilk; and as for the king, he just gazed and gazed down sorrowful on them new-comers like it give him the stomach-ache in his very heart to think there could be such frauds and rascals in the world.
My unabridged dictionary does not list google; I don’t know if the usage in Huckleberry Finn was common at the time, was dialect, or was invented by the author. I suspect it was not an invention.

You can amaze your friends by using to google in a sentence in a context that has nothing to do with the Internet.

April 2, 2013

Whither the Sexuality Dialogue?

I am beginning to hear grumblings over the seemingly slow progress of our formal sexuality dialogue in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Recall that Bishop McConnell, even before his consecration was consented to by the General Convention, wrote to the diocese on June 28, 2012, saying, in part:
During the process that led to my election, I consistently stated my conviction that the Diocese of Pittsburgh needed to have a conversation that would lead to a consensus on how to approach both the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordination of those in same-sex partnerships. I also said that I would be an active participant in such a conversation, informing it and helping to guide it, but not dictating its outcome. On this basis, I also have refrained from foreclosing the conversation by leading with my own thoughts on these matters. If we, as a diocese, are to arrive at a common mind, a local sensus fidelium, we cannot reach conclusions on these issues before we begin our inquiry.
At the annual diocesan convention last November, our newly consecrated bishop announced the formation of a team to conduct such a conversation, which was to be assisted in the design of the project by the Public Conversations Project of Watertown, Massachusetts. Target date for completion of the exercise was declared to be Pentecost 2013.

The team, led jointly by the bishop and by the diocese’s ubiquitous process guru Dana Phillips, quickly told the bishop that his schedule was unrealistic. As matters stand, there is no projected completion date.

On February 25, 2013, Bishop McConnell wrote to the diocese to outline the process designed by the diocesan team and the Public Conversations Project. Frankly, his description was a bit fuzzy, but he made it clear that two dozen people would take part in an initial dialogue and that, in a “replication” phase that would follow, it was hoped that “500 laity and clergy will volunteer to take part.”

In fact, two groups of 12 hand-picked participants were identified to pilot the process on March 23 and April 20. (See my report on the first session, “A Day of Dialogue,) That a month will elapse between the first and second event is dictated by the schedules of the facilitators from the Public Conversations Project. From these events, volunteers are to be identified who can act as facilitators at future events. They will have to be trained, of course, and two volunteer facilitators can put no more than 12 people through a session in a week.

Most people in the diocese have heard nothing about our sexuality dialogue since February 25. They are beginning to ask where matters stand and how one can participate. At this point, I doubt that a call for volunteers will be issued before June. If the goal is to involve 500 clergy and laity, it is difficult to see how the process possibly can be completed before November or so. Moreover, it isn’t clear that so many will volunteer or how the process will be carried out if more “conservatives” than “progressives” volunteer or vice versa. How will we determine when this process ends?

Bigger questions remain. Just how does the outcome of our dialogue “inform” the bishop’s decisions on ordaining partnered gays and blessing same-sex unions? How, in fact, do we even define an outcome for such a process? Will we have made any progress at re-integrating the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh into The Episcopal Church if, ultimately, we do not allow for the blessing of same-sex unions? Even the Diocese of Mississippi is doing that!

The delay in making decisions about partnered gay clergy and same-sex blessings is particularly problematic for parishes searching for new rectors. This group includes Calvary, Redeemer, St. Brendan’s, and St. Mark’s, Johnstown. The present uncertainty may make some clergy reluctant to commit to coming to Pittsburgh or may make congregations reluctant to consider certain candidates (e.g., a priest with a same-sex partner). Even if the bishop were to assure parishes will be able to call the priest of their choice, those choices may be limited by the present uncertainty about the trajectory of the diocese. We need greater diversity in this diocese, and the fact that three of our most progressive churches are seeking new clergy is worrisome.

Although the present sexuality dialogue is useful, if only to get people of the diocese to talk to other Episcopalians with whom they have no regular contact, there is no choice for the bishop if the diocese is to move forward with The Episcopal Church and not again become a disgruntled backwater nursing thoughts of schism. Partnered gay clergy and same-sex blessings must be allowed in Pittsburgh. No one is asking that such clergy be imposed on a parish or that any parish be forced to conduct same-sex blessings. The sooner these decisions are made the better. Until then, an uncertainty is developing in the diocese that we have not experienced since the final days of the Duncan regime.

Sex symbols