Monday, August 31, 2009

Litigation - Diocese of Milwaukee

At present there is just one lawsuit pending in the Diocese of Milwaukee, brought by ECUSA and the Diocese against those whom it contends are the rector and vestry members of St. Edmund's Anglican Church, in Elm Grove, Waukesha County. As is ECUSA's custom in such proceedings, the lawsuit names each of the members of the vestry individually, when the whole parish -- not just the vestry -- voted on December 29, 2008, by an overwhelming majority (75 in favor, nine against), to be the first parish to leave the Diocese, and consequently also the Episcopal Church (USA). And also as usual in such cases, the Diocese wants to claim a parish's property for its own by rigid application of the Dennis Canon, so that the church buildings can lie vacant and not be used, since nine members do not a congregation make.

There are lots of background details to the dispute in this local news story. Prior to voting to withdraw from the governance structure of the Diocese and of ECUSA, the parishioners adopted a Declaration which encapsulates the quintessential reasons for making such a resolve. There are more background details and links to documents in this article, as well.

As and when the court documents for the lawsuit become available, I shall put up further posts.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Your Stimulus Money at Work

Here is a lesson we know already. It should not bear repeating, because every time it happens again, we are the greater fools for having allowed it yet one more time. The lesson:

Do not give politicians a slush fund.

The so-called "Stimulus Bill" was a giant slush fund -- the biggest of all in history to date (at least until President Obama gets some of his programs enacted, like Cap-and-Trade). We were told that the economy was on the brink of collapse, and that the Stimulus Bill just had to be passed to save us from chaos and disaster.

Well, what is the result? There has been economic downturn, unemployment, and a dearth of capital, I grant you that. Does that mean that the Stimulus Bill worked, and saved us from chaos and disaster? Hardly -- it's like the man who goes to sleep each night in his suburban home with an elephant gun under the bed. "It works," he says when asked why -- "I've never had to shoot an elephant."

The politicians, meanwhile, have been having a field day handing out the stimulus money to their cronies. From an AP story today (sorry, can't link, because of AP's policy -- go to Google News and type in "Montana checkpoint"; it will be the first story), we learn that a small border checkpoint in Montana, which normally sees just three people a day crossing into or from Canada, will receive $15 million to upgrade its facilities, thanks to the efforts of Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats from Montana.

Meanwhile, another checkpoint in Laredo, Texas -- which serves 55,000 travelers per day, and sees 4,200 trucks go through every 24 hours -- has been passed over for funds. (Hint: guess the political party to which both of Texas' senators belong.)

The Nogales border station in Arizona is receiving almost $200 million, which is five times more than any other border station in the country. Now you might think this disproves the point of my other examples, because both of Arizona's senators happen to be Republicans. But I have a trump card to play: border stations are under the purview of the Department of Homeland Security, and the home state of its Secretary Janet Napolitano is -- you guessed it -- Arizona.

Do not give politicians slush funds. Do not give politicians slush funds.

Meanwhile, the Customs and Border Protection Agency refuses to make public the original list it developed to rank all the country's border crossing checkpoints in terms of their need for funds to upgrade their facilities. The reason (well, at least they are being honest): "Because then the public and Congress could see whether the Stimulus money is going to places other than those which were ranked highest on the list."

Other uses of the stimulus funds documented to date: to fund research by Professor "PETA" Singer and others that deduces the life of one teenager is worth the lives of fourteen 85-year-olds; to produce government-sponsored pornography; to save the habitat of Nancy Pelosi's favorite rodent, the salt marsh harvest mouse; to pour yet more taxpayer dollars into that astoundingly useless monument to ego and waste, the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria Airport (be sure to watch the video if you haven't already); and many, many other boondoggles too numerous to list, and which Congress itself needs Google's aid to find. The Democrats in Congress, you see, did not want there to be any way to track their slush funds, so they doled out the money to individual departments with no strings attached. Then they can lean on individual department heads to influence how the funds will be spent.

You can track just how effective the stimulus funds are being in curbing the rise in unemployment by looking at this post. It shows a graph that displays first, the unemployment rates which the Obama Administration projected its recovery plan would produce, compared to what it projected would happen if there was no recovery plan. Then it plots (in red) the actual unemployment numbers as they have come in over the past few months:

(Click to enlarge.)

Result: we are now far worse off than Obama told us we would be if his "recovery plan" had not been put into effect!

How much longer are we going to play Charley Brown to the politicians' Lucy? Repeat after me:

Do not give politicians slush funds. Do not give politicians slush funds. Do not give politicians slush funds.


Here's hoping we vote them all out in November 2010. In case this post hasn't motivated you to respond to their greed and arrogance, then be sure to read this.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday TED Talk: Eric Giler and Wireless Electricity

Here is another talk from the TED 2009 Global Conference which I attended this summer in Oxford, and which illustrates the "T" in TED ("Technology, Entertainment and Design"). Eric Giler, whose start-up company WiTricity is about to bring this MIT-inspired invention to market, demonstrates in just ten minutes some of the amazing things that wireless electricity will be able to do in our world:

Eric Giler is WiTricity's CEO; its founder, Marin Soljačić, an MIT Professor who invented the technology, won a MacArthur Foundation fellowship last year. (Memo to Dean Knisely of Entangled States, Tregonsee, and the other physicists who drop in here from time to time: you would be fascinated by the work he did which led to the award -- read the whole article.) You may read more about Giler here, and WiTricity's website has much more about its astounding technology. This talk may be watched in hi-res video here, and may be downloaded in that and other formats from this page.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Glimmer of Hope for San Joaquin

[Click to enlarge the image.]

This order, entered by the Fifth District Court of Appeal yesterday, affords a glimmer of hope for Bishop John-David Schofield in the San Joaquin litigation that the Court will agree to review the decision granting summary adjudication by Superior Court Judge Corona, which I discussed in this earlier post. Bishop Schofield had filed a petition for review with the Court on Friday, August 21.

Bishop Lamb and his attorneys now have until September 15 to file an "informal" response to Bishop Schofield's petition, and the latter will then have until Monday, October 5 in which to file a reply. (Monday, October 5 will also be a red-letter day in other Episcopal Church litigation. It is the first Monday in October, when the United States Supreme Court officially returns from its summer recess, and thus is probably the day on which we shall learn whether or not the Court has agreed to review the decision by the California Supreme Court in the litigation between the Parish of St. James in Newport Beach and the Diocese of Los Angeles.)

The reason the Fifth District Court uses the word "informal" in its order is that it simply wants to hear from the other side (and then have a reply to that response) before deciding whether to grant full review of Judge Corona's decision. So nothing is certain yet; we will not know the Court's decision in that regard until sometime after October 5. Most petitions for early review are denied; and most of those which are denied are denied immediately, without even asking for a response from the other side. To have made it to this point is at least to have the case deemed worthy of a full set of briefs before a decision to grant review is made.

If the Court decides to grant review, it will probably calendar a hearing date, and set a schedule for formal briefs to be submitted before the hearing. If the court grants review, it could also enter a stay of the proceedings in Judge Corona's court until it acts on the merits of the petition -- i.e., decides whether to reverse Judge Corona's decision, to modify it in any way, or to let it stand.

I will have further to say about the arguments on both sides after Bishop Lamb and his diocese have filed their informal response.

One way or another, the California Fifth District Court of Appeal might be the first appellate court ever to decide whether or not a diocese has the legal ability to withdraw from the Episcopal Church (USA). No higher court to date has ever been presented with the question.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

U.S. Finances in Real Time

There is now a way to view the current situation of the United States -- its balance sheet and P/L statement, as it were -- in real time. At US Debt, you may view the income and outgo of the U.S. government in constantly updated dollars, together with items such as the total national debt (including the portion of it held by foreigners), gross domestic product, total tax revenues, defense spending, Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid outlays, debt service and the like. The site explains how its numbers are derived (click on the image to be able to read it better):

The clocks are both mesmerizing and disturbing. Be sure to bookmark the page, and to send links to it to your friends. There is nothing like watching the country go up in smoke in real time!

(H/T: John Moser, No Left Turns.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In What Sense Are the Angels Like Us?

A friend recently gave me a transcript of an old Firing Line program in which William Buckley interviewed Mortimer Adler on the topic "In What Sense Are Human Beings Angelic?" (The transcript -- and a DVD of the program -- are available by special order from this site.)

I have to say: I was stunned by the quality and character of the discourse -- this was television, mind you, albeit in March 1982. Mr. Buckley, apparently in line with his format, had invited also an "examiner" in the person of a former mentor: Ernest van den Haag, the John M. Olin Professor of Jurisprudence and Public Philosophy at Fordham University.

Mr. Adler had recently published his study, The Angels and Us, and this program was the counterpart (in 1982) of a celebrity interview to promote his recent book. What a difference 27 years can make!

Take, for instance, this exchange:

DR. ADLER: . . . [T]he dominant mood in Western thought has been more and more materialistic. It began with [Thomas] Hobbes, of course, in the 17th century, and the materialists . . . make two errors, not just one. The first error they make is to suppose they have a sound argument for denying the existence of incorporeal beings. Their first proposition is: Everything that exists is corporeal. . . .

MR. BUCKLEY: That's a self-sustaining definition, isn't it?

DR. ADLER: It's an assumption, totally unproved and unprovable.

MR. BUCKLEY: Yes. You say it can't exist unless it's corporeal; therefore, by definition, it doesn't. . . .

DR. ADLER: Nothing exists except corporeal things. And their second proposition is that angels are by definition incorporeal things. They're minds without bodies. Therefore, they say -- and this is the fallacy of their reasoning -- therefore angels cannot exist. Their conclusion, to be sound, should be: Angels do not exist. They could deny the reality of angels on the assumption of their major premise, but it doesn't follow at all that because nothing exists except corporeal things, that angels cannot exist. . . . There is nothing inconceivable or impossible about an incorporeal substance; otherwise, God would be inconceivable too.
Forget about angels for a moment -- can you conceive of such a philosophical discussion taking place on any program on any channel on television programming as we have it today? Or that, if it could take place, it would be followed by this?
MR. BUCKLEY: All right now, my next proposition . . .: Why a belief in angels?

DR. ADLER: . . . First of all, the reason for the belief is scriptural evidence. Insofar as --

MR. BUCKLEY: Scriptural evidence or revelation?

DR. ADLER: Revelation. I mean the passages in scripture, the numerous passages, in the Old Testament, in the New Testament and in the Koran . . . in which angels manifest their appearance to human beings. . . .

MR. BUCKLEY: That's as corporeal manifestations?

DR. ADLER: Purely corporeal manifestations, and the most important thing the theologian tells us about those bodies with two pairs of wings or four pairs of wings in shining raiment and effulgent light [is that they] are purely disguises. The angel is a purely spiritual being, a mind without a body . . . As St. Thomas says, "That's an assumed body," . . . but that's because they must make a sensible appearance to the human beings that they are carrying God's message to . . . . The more interesting question I think, Bill, is: Why did God create angels? And the answer to that has a danger to it. It is that the universe would be less perfect without them.

MR. BUCKLEY: On the assumption that you have to have anything that's conceivable?

DR. ADLER: That all possibilities should be realized. But if you say that the universe in which all possibilities are realized is therefore the best of all possible worlds and God, being infinitely good in His intentions, must create the best of all possible worlds -- if you argue that way -- you end with a theologically obnoxious conclusion, namely that God was necessitated to create this world, denying free choice or freedom on God's part. So that St. Thomas . . . asks two more questions. Could God have created some other world than this, some other universe? The answer to that is flatly yes. Secondly, could God have created a better world than this? And the answer to that is flatly yes. So that what we have here is though another and better world than this could have been created, what perfection this world has comes from the fact that there isn't a tremendous gap in the hierarchy of beings, from inanimate, inorganic things to plants to animals to human beings, which are bodies with minds, to minds without bodies, in an ascending scale, to spirits up to God. . . .
Here Mortimer Adler is referring to Arthur O. Lovejoy's scheme in The Great Chain of Being, "a magnificent book", as he acknowledges later in the interview. But what I find fascinating is the sheer level of philosophic discourse, in which the concepts of St. Thomas Aquinas are thrown about as readily as are those of Gottfried Leibniz, without either participant experiencing any difficulties of reference whatsoever.

Of course, I cannot help but notice that the dispute between Leibniz and Aquinas to which Dr. Adler refers -- that as an all-benevolent being, God would have created the best of all possible worlds, and yet as an omnipotent being, He could not be forced to create such a world -- has been made irrelevant by advances in quantum physics, which were not as widely understood in 1982. Hugh Everett, then a graduate student in physics, proposed his "many-worlds hypothesis" in 1957 as his doctoral thesis at Princeton. It has since been taken up by many other physicists, including Prof. Frank Tipler, as I discussed in this earlier post.

The many-worlds hypothesis makes the Leibniz-Aquinas debate beside the point by stating that all possible worlds that could be created are indeed created. We may find ourselves at this given instant in a world that is not (by some agreed criteria) the best of all possible worlds, but the hypothesis entails that there is a world (universe) which does reflect our agreed criteria, and which is the best of all possible worlds, according to our understanding of what that would be. (And by the same criteria, there would be a worst of all possible worlds. However, since no set of criteria could be omni-universal, or applicable to all possible worlds in the same degree, it would not be possible to specify one single universe which was the best or the worst of all the possible universes which are created under the many-worlds hypothesis.)

Now, add the concept which Hugh Everett and other physicists could not allow themselves, but which Frank Tipler freely does: that there is a Creator of all these possible universes, and you have bypassed the dispute between St. Thomas Aquinas and Leibnitz. God does not create just the best of all possible worlds, but he creates all possible worlds -- without exception.

As the interview with Mortimer Adler went forward, he and William Buckley got into some fascinating discussions, to which I shall return in subsequent posts. For now, I just want to set the stage a bit: since, under Dr. Adler's view, angels are minds without bodies, and as pure minds obedient to God's will they cannot sin, how, then, did Lucifer first sin?

This is akin to, but not the same as, the question of how the perfectly created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden came to sin. Unlike angels, Adam and Eve had bodies as well as minds, and bodies are subject to feelings, desires and passions, while intellect -- the pure intellect of the mind -- is not, since it is not (at least in the case of angels) tied to a body.

This discussion, as you can imagine, is fraught with traps for the unwary, so we shall proceed carefully, with Mr. Buckley and Dr. Adler as our capable guides (joined later by Dr. Van den Haag). For now, then, I would like just to pose the question: If angels are pure minds without bodies, and as pure minds can do nothing but God's will (i.e., the concept of "free will" as we understand it for humans can have no reference to angels), how did Lucifer come to sin? And in precisely what did that sin consist?

(To be continued.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Meanwhile, Back at the Ol' Ball Game . . .

An unassisted triple play. In the ninth inning, to end the game.

(I'm putting this up without delay, because MLB will probably force it off YouTube, even though it's just 53 seconds long -- and the play itself is the first 15 seconds. Watch it while you can. [UPDATE 08/24/2009 (noon): Well, as you can see, MLB has once again interfered with the dissemination of what makes baseball great, and demonstrated that it puts its royalties ahead of your ability to view even a few seconds of baseball history. The video can no longer be embedded; to watch it at the MLB site, click here.])

It's happened only once before in the ninth inning -- in 1927. And only 17 times in all of baseball's 130-year history. Andy McCarthy was there with his seven-year-old son, and explains how it was so special this time.

(H/T: Steven Hayward, No Left Turns.)

Does the Truth Change with Time?

During the debate over sexuality at the Lutheran convention last week, all of the postmodern arguments about the relativity of Biblical truth were on view. Here are just two samples out of many that could be gathered:

From Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (download here), p. 18:
On the basis of conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that the scriptural witness does not address the context of sexual orientation and lifelong loving and committed relationships that we experience today.
From Background Essay on Biblical Texts (same site for download), p. 17:
As far as we can tell, the biblical writers knew nothing about “homosexuality” as a sexual orientation.The concepts of “homosexuality,” “homosexual,” “heterosexuality,” and “heterosexual” are modern, first articulated in the latter part of the nineteenth century. As strange as it may sound, it can be said that the Bible teaches nothing concerning homosexuality.
There is an unspoken assumption in these opinions. It is that humans are on a continuous line of "progress" in scientific knowledge and understanding -- not only of themselves, but of the world around them. By assumption, therefore, we of the twenty-first century do not have to listen to writers of the first century and earlier, who could not have had the same grasp of human nature that we do.

But this begs the very question at issue here: does truth change over time? Can something have been true for the first century which is no longer true for ours?

Not in the sense that 1 + 1 = 2, of course. That was as true in A.D. 50 as it is now.

Well, what about human institutions -- such as slavery? Slavery was a fact of life in the first century A.D. Does that mean it was in some sense "true" or "right" back then?

Not according to the Old or New Testament. In Exodus (6:6), God heralds his unique covenant with the people of Israel by proclaiming his feat in delivering them out of slavery in Egypt. St. Paul reinforces the accomplishment in Galatians 5:1, when he writes: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."

The fact that the Bible in certain passages acknowledges that slavery exists, therefore, cannot be taken as an endorsement of the institution as moral. Jesus was explicit that slavery was not a moral good: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin." (John 8:34; and see also 8:35: "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever." The abiding relationship -- the one that determines proper behavior -- is between father and son, or parent and child, not master and slave.)

Well, what of other moral precepts? Are the Ten Commandments less valid today than they were when Moses brought them down from Mt. Sinai? Do they, like parts of the Purity Code, apply today only to orthodox Jews, and not to the rest of us? But if so, why have they been singled out over the centuries? Does "honor thy father and thy mother" mean something different today than it did in 1100 B.C.? Does "adultery"?

And then there is divorce -- but again, most people who bring it up as an example of how the Church has changed its attitudes over time care little for the bigger picture. Jesus acknowledged that divorce had been permitted under Moses (Mt 19:8), so what has changed over time about divorce? Only the justifications for it have changed: we have gone from "hardness of heart" (i.e., unwillingness to conform to God's plan) in Moses' day, to "sexual immorality" in Jesus' day (Mt 19:9), to "no fault" today. Even that is not much of a change from Jesus' time; according to the Mishnah, some rabbis allowed a man to divorce his wife "if she spoiled a dish for him", or "even if he found another fairer than she." (Gittin 9:10.)

In other words, grounds for divorce used to be accepted as necessary, even though that did not allow the divorcees to consider themselves as free to marry someone else without committing adultery (Mt 5:32, Lk 16:18). Now we have removed the need to cite grounds -- but that does not elevate divorce into a moral act. On the contrary: divorce remains a tragedy that is grounded in moral failing. The stigma of adultery for a remarriage after divorce is not lifted; proper pastoral practice, however, calls for thorough counseling before entering on a second marriage. Even Jesus' hard saying cannot be understood to mean that a second marriage is an ongoing adulterous relationship. (He does not say "he who lives in a relationship with a divorced woman commits adultery . . .", but "he who marries a divorced woman . . ." [Mt 5:32, Lk 16:18]. Thus it may begin in the sin of adultery, but the partners may repent and commit themselves to a new and permanent marriage in accordance with God's plan.)

Thus, the Church's teaching about divorce and remarriage has not changed. Its pre-nuptial counseling may not be what it once was, and it may be marrying many people who are not taking the commitment seriously enough, but no responsible scholar argues that "Jesus understood 'marriage' to mean something different from what it means today." Similarly, those who contend that "the Church should get out of the marriage business altogether" fail to acknowledge the centrality of Christian marriage to Christian life.

People who argue that there is no such thing as absolute and unchanging truth contradict themselves, of course. To say there is no absolute truth is to deny its existence by asserting an absolute truth. Moreover, theologians understand God Himself as absolute truth -- immutable, indivisible and eternally the same. As such, God is incapable of speaking an untruth. Thus to assert the relativity of all truth is not only to contradict oneself, but it also is an indirect way of denying that God is, in contradiction of what He tells us (Ex. 3:14).

Thus the answer to my title's question is: "No, truth by definition is absolute and unchanging. It cannot be otherwise and still be called truth."

And where does that leave us with the debate over whether the Bible forbids same-sex marriage, and homosexually-partnered clergy? Again, no one can logically say that the truth of the Bible has changed in any respect. What changes is not its truth, but man's interpretation of that truth. And not the interpretation of mankind in general, but only that of a relatively small segment of postmodern thinkers. If we were to eliminate at the outset any argument for same-sex marriage made by someone who cannot admit the existence of absolute and unchanging truth, I think the number of legitimate defenders of the concept would shrink dramatically.

Thus the entire argument comes down to scholars who say: "Your interpretation of the passages in the Bible that touch upon same-sex relations -- and the reading of those passages given by Christians since the time of St. Paul -- is simply wrong. Understood properly, there is no such 'truth' expressed in them." To which I respond: "Given the nature of tradition and reason, you have to admit you are in the minority on this issue. So what makes you so certain that the truth as revealed to us by God actually validates same-sex marriage?"

I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer to that question. While I can cite Scripture and tradition in support of my position, the argument on the other side comes down to generalizations drawn from commandments such as "Love your neighbor as yourself", or inferences drawn from Biblical passages such as those about David's love for Jonathan (and Saul). There are, to be blunt, no passages in the Bible which directly support same-sex love. The ones that do refer to same-sex relationships are either construed as condemning it, or (in the eyes of postmodern Biblical scholars) as not addressing it in particular, at least in the sense we understand such relationships today.

Even more free from any scriptural foundation are the arguments based on the claimed identity of sentiments: that same-sex monogamous partners share the same feelings of love, fidelity and respect as do a man married to a woman. Such an argument goes way too far, because it would justify equally well polyamory, or marrying one's dog or cat.

Let there be no misunderstanding: I am in no position to say that my interpretation of Scripture is right. I think that it was wise of the authors of the Background Essay on Biblical Texts (cited above) to conclude as follows:
The Bible is the primary place to which Christians turn to discern God’s will, but on the basis of the foregoing paragraph, it should be clear that decisions within and for the church concerning “homosexuality” and its attendant issues cannot be arbitrated by biblical scholars alone. Their role must remain modest. They are able to help clarify issues by bringing evidence, arguments, and proposals to the table. But finally their contributions are only one part of a larger discussion among those who seek the mind of Christ in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
This passage properly acknowledges the existence of an eternal truth which God reveals to us, and man's own fallibility in discerning that truth as well. Nevertheless, in the present debate, both tradition and the Church fathers, as well as much contemporary scholarship (from Richard B. Hays to Robert Gagnon), seem to me to hold the upper hand. And if that is the case, I would be very chary of taking the Church to shipwreck on the possibility that all of those people might have gotten it wrong.

Postscript: here is a short video that effectively makes my point in reverse -- by showing how those in the "majority" can be quite wrong:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Dispatches from Behind the Lines (Continued)

À propos of the news from the Lutherans this weekend, I judge it time to continue with my excerpts from an outstanding manual for our time -- How to Win the Culture War, by Prof. Peter Kreeft of Boston College.

From the report of a triumphant speech given by Satan to his assembled minions, in celebration of all their recent victories in the culture wars, as reported from behind the lines (pp. 74-81):

Our [next] principle is one that has proved effective beyond our wildest dreams. I call it "Satan's Spectacularly Successful Seven-Step Sexual Strategy." . . .

Step 1: The summum bonum, the ultimate end, is to win souls for hell. They almost always forget this -- the thing the war is ultimately about. We do not. That is our first advantage.

Step 2: One powerful means to this end is the corruption of their society. . . . You see, a good society is simply "a society that makes it easy to be good" . . . The satanic corollary is therefore also true: a bad society is a society that makes it easy to be bad. Has there ever been a society in which people have had more and easier opportunities to be bad?

Step 3: The most powerful means to destroy society is to destroy its one absolutely fundamental building block, namely the family. That's the only institution from which most of them ever learn life's most dangerous lesson: unselfish love . . . .

Step 4: The family is best destroyed by destroying its foundation: stable marriage.

Step 5: Marriage is destroyed by loosening its glue: sexual fidelity.

Step 6: Fidelity is destroyed by the sexual revolution.

Step 7: And the sexual revolution is propagated mainly by the media, which are now massively in our hands. In fact, the revolution is over, and we've won. . .

The simple tactic of getting to their hearts through their hormones has proved incredibly easy. In fact, that's been the main reason they've embraced the Big Lie, denying objective truth. They don't deny objective truth when it comes to sticks and stones, only when it comes to morality. And even in morality, they don't deny objective truth about good and evil when it comes to anything else but sex. . .

For instance, they don't defend murder, except murder in the name of sex. That name is "abortion," of course. If abortion had nothing to do with sex, we could never have sold it. If storks brought babies, there would be no Planned Parenthood. Abortion is backup birth control, of course, and birth control means the demand to have sex without having babies.

So they are even now willing to murder to defend their so-called sexual freedoms. And to murder the most innocent among them, the only innocent among them. And the most tiny and weak and defenseless of all. And in the teeth of nature's strongest instinct: motherhood! A triumph of incredible and undreamed-of proportions.
. . .
But the late twentieth century sexual revolution gave us an effortless solution to an impossible dilemma. . . It made the easiest sins to tempt them to the most respectable, the most masked by the new philosophy[:] . . . since you can't raise your practice to your principles, you should lower your principles (make them "realistic") to your practice. In this way alone you can avoid hypocrisy, which is the greatest evil.

It's amazing how easily they fell for this packet of fallacies. . . . [H]ypocrisy doesn't mean not practicing what you preach; hypocrisy means not believing what you preach. But it's easy to confuse them about that too, because they don't care much about what you believe, only about what you practice. . . .

What could have dulled their brains so much that they don't see these transparent lies? Sex, of course. So now they not only fornicate, contracept, sodomize and abort; they also justify it, sanctify it and glorify it with Perversion Pride weeks and Sin Satisfaction seminars and Daring Degenerates days. And it feeds on its own success. "Everybody's doing it" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. . . .
. . .
Our greatest worry, of course, is the Church of the Enemy's Son. But in the last half century this has been the place of our most surprising victory . . . .
. . .
[The sexual revolution has] also produced the greatest generation gap in history. Nothing more sharply separates parents and children than opposite sex ethics. And once the generation gap is widened enough, society is gonzo, without the glue of tradition to hold it together.

Finally, even their science is skewed by their sexism. . . Evolution is their new dogma because they need it to justify acting like dogs. They ape the apes they think they are. The modern Darwinians are more fanatical and closed-minded than the medieval Aristotelians were. The bishops and the scientists have changed places: it's the scientists who refuse to look through the bishops' telescopes. What fun to watch! They're standing on their heads and they think their critics are upside down.

So here we are, sitting pretty -- that is, ugly. What next? More, more, more. Nothing can stop us, and nothing can stop the mudslide, the sweet, sweet sight of civilization swirling down our sinkhole . . .

The whole point of Dr. Kreeft's little book is, of course, that something can stop the forces that are destroying civilization, and in the chapters that follow what I have just quoted, he explains just what that something is. (Hint: it has to do with fighting as the saints fought -- and never, never, never giving in.) I have probably tested the limits of "fair use" with my quotations thus far, however, and so if I have whetted your appetite for more, I urge you to buy the book and read it. Then buy some more copies (they're only ten bucks!) and give them to your fellow warriors. Saintly ammunition, indeed!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday TED Talk: Elaine Morgan and the Naked Darwinist

Today's TED Talk from the 2009 TED Global Conference at Oxford is given by Elaine Morgan, who set a record by being (at 85+) one of the oldest speakers to address a TED audience. (As she notes toward the end of her talk, "I am older now than George Burns was when he said, 'At my age, I don't even buy green bananas.'") She demonstrates in just seventeen minutes her feisty personality, which has equipped her for her one-woman crusade over the last thirty-odd years to get scientists to come to terms with the so-called "Aquatic Ape" Hypothesis, first suggested a half century ago by marine biologist Sir Alister Hardy as an evolutionary explanation for why humans have much less skin hair than apes, and a layer of subcutaneous body fat, and are bipedal. He hypothesized that unlike their nearest ancestors, who remained in the trees, humans had come down from the trees and had undergone an aquatic evolutionary phase before returning to dry land. The idea has never attracted scientific support, and as you listen to Elaine Morgan tell her story with wit and charm, you can almost buy into the David-and-Goliath picture she describes:

But be wary: while most scientists have more things to do than to answer her arguments, there is at least one Website which makes a serious effort to do so. (See also this post, by anthropologist John Hawks; and note that anthropologist Nina Jablonski, whom I featured in an earlier Friday post, and who specializes in the study of the evolution of skin, does not buy into the hypothesis either). Elaine Morgan was a highly successful TV writer in her day, and so she knows how to put together a good story (a bio with links is here). She writes as entertainingly as she speaks: her latest book, The Naked Darwinist, can be downloaded as a free .pdf file from her own Website. (Be sure, however, to take a look at Jim Moore's detailed critique of it also.) It is not often that you can find such an entertaining point-counterpoint debate taking place between supporters of evolutionary theory.

As always, you may watch Elaine Morgan's talk in high-res video from this link, and you may download the talk in other formats from this page.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Culture Wars: Dispatches from Behind the Lines

Extracts from a speech by Satan to his assembled minions, reported from behind the lines by Peter Kreeft in How to Win the Culture War (2002: InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL), pp. 66-73:

Even if they [Christians] stop hating each other, even if their hearts reunite, their heads can't. Their divisions are eternal. In fact, they are doomed to divide forever, until eventually there are as many Christian churches as there are Christians. And that's the religion where the more sincere you are, the fewer converts you make: the worship of yourself.
. . .
But it gets even better. The division between churches is only one of three great divisions we've fomented. A second is the division within each church between the faithful and the "dissenters." (Back when they still believed in truth, they called them "heretics." People who call moral laws "values" call heretics "dissenters.") . . .

And there's a third division. We have set their two absolutes against each other: truth and love, justice and compassion. . . . And we have done that by politicizing their religion into Left versus Right, or liberal versus conservative. . . .

In the past, we religionized their politics, and that got us some nice mileage, like persecutions and religious wars. But our current policy of politicizing their religion is proving even more successful. We've gotten most of them to classify themselves as liberal or conservative and then use these political categories to classify their faith, instead of vice versa. They now use the world's categories to judge the Church instead of using the Church's categories to judge the world.
. . .
You've got to get them educated before they'll fall for the Big Lie[, . . .] the very essence of hell's philosophy: absolute relativism.

This was the philosophy behind my original glorious rebellion against the Enemy, when I refused to let him define reality or truth or goodness for me. I am who I am; I am the measure of all things -- of what is real, of what is true and of what is good; of the origin, of the meaning and of the end; of the creation of being, of the design of being, and of the appreciation of being; of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
. . .
. . . Indeed, the Enemy's Son spoke the truth when he said, "Search, and you will find." So our essential task is not just to block the finding but to block the seeking; not just to get them off the right roads and onto the wrong roads for a while, but to get them to throw away all their road maps, their principles, their belief in objective truth, especially about good and evil.

Now their masses have not yet been massively suckered. You still can't fool a farmer half as easily as you can fool a scholar. But at the beginning of the century there were ten farmers for every scholar; now there are ten scholars for every farmer. The teachers buy our lies much more tamely than the students -- and soon they'll all be teachers!
. . .
The three main sets of teachers in their society today, the three main mind-molding establishments, are formal education, informal education (that is, entertainment), and journalism. (They call these last two the "media.") All three are eating out of our claws. See why it's working? Once you get the teachers, you soon get the students. . . .
. . .
. . . If your philosophy tells you that there are no real absolutes, then there can be no real war. If you reject the idea that there is any real evil worth fighting, and any real good worth fighting for, you reject the idea of fighting, the idea of spiritual warfare itself. What a terrific advantage this gives us on the battlefield: most of our Enemy's troops don't even know it is a battlefield.

In the past, our strategy was to get them to vastly overestimate our power, fostering fear and terror. That was great fun. But our current strategy is working much better: they so vastly underestimate us that they don't even think we exist! We are as invisible to their minds as we are to their eyes.

A wise old military adage said, "Forewarned is forearmed." That is the policy of the hawk. The corollary of this adage is "Unwarned is unarmed." That is the policy of the dove. Result: just put a hawk and a dove together and you see the result.

[To be continued. Meanwhile, buy the book! It's as essential a manual for the culture wars in the Church as Little Stone Bridges.]

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Further Look into ECUSA Finances

In a post last week I discussed how some of the exhibits presented to the Court in the Pittsburgh litigation offered a window into the fast track available to certain insiders within ECUSA who signaled their willingness to cooperate with the Church's litigation strategy: never acknowledge that a Diocese has withdrawn, but organize those remaining and "recognize" the insiders as quickly as possible in order to give the appearance of an ongoing entity. Then use that claim of an ongoing entity to have it take on the role of plaintiff in a lawsuit against the departed Diocese.

As I have pointed out in this post concerning the similar strategy being followed in San Joaquin, ECUSA is playing a very high-risk game. It is staking everything on the success of its being able to prove to secular courts that dioceses are not at liberty to withdraw from the voluntary association which is the Episcopal Church (USA). Not only does this argument ignore the very nature of voluntary associations, but it violates First Amendment principles of free exercise and freedom of association as well.

A chief reason for this strategy is probably this: the Dennis Canon provides no means or argument with which ECUSA can go after the property and assets of departing dioceses. By its terms, the Dennis Canon addresses only property held by or for the benefit of individual parishes. Thus to maintain any claim to the assets of a diocese, ECUSA has to act as though the diocese never left, and is coming into court to take back from those who did leave that which (it says) they had no right to take with them.

ECUSA's concerns for property are thus shaping its legal arguments, and that is not a healthy dynamic. In this post, I want to underscore that point by showing how another of the Pittsburgh exhibits demonstrates that ECUSA appears (on the surface, at least) to disregard the terms of trusts to which it is subject: namely, the gifts, bequests and devises that have been left to it over the years. You will see below how, to suit its immediate needs and purposes, ECUSA at first would seem to twist and contort the terms of individual bequests to enable it to carry on with its misguided litigation strategy. But then a surprisingly different possible interpretation suggests itself, as I also spell out below. Which interpretation is correct? You will have to be the judge.

I gave a link in the earlier post to the first of three downloads of exhibit volumes filed with the Court. It is a large download, and probably not worth your trouble for my present purposes, since I want to focus on just one exhibit, which I shall quote here in full: Exhibit 35, which is a two-page copy of a resolution adopted by the Church's Executive Council at its meeting in Helena, Montana in October 2008, as certified by the Rev. Dr. Gregory Straub, the Council's Secretary. It begins:

November 3, 2008

The following is a true copy of a Resolution adopted by the Executive Council at its meeting on October 20 - 23, 2008, in Helena, Montana, at which a quorum was present and voting.

Resolved, That up to $700,000 of undistributed accumulated income and appreciation be made available in calendar year 2009 from one or more of the following trust funds established to support the missionary work or mission work of the Church,

TF# 756 Lloyd, Ethel S., Bequest of (1966)
TF# 200.02 The St. Leger Fund (1909)
TF#492 Hopkins, Theresa B., Bequest of (1936)
TF# 723 Zabriskie Memorial Fund (1961)
TF# 814 Boyd, Lizzie E. Fupd (1978)
TF# 656 Monteagle, Lydia Paige, Bequest of (1953)
TF# 678 Olden, Sarah E., Bequest of (1955)
TF# 860 Gregg, Ellen F. and David McM. Memorial Fund (1982)
TF# 540 Seager, Schuyler E, Gift of(1941)

and be it further

Resolved, That these funds be used to provide fmancial assistance during calendar year 2009 in the Diocese of San Joaquin, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and other similarly situated dioceses for clergy salaries and other expenses; and be it further

Resolved, That in the light of the action of the Presiding Bishop in deposing the Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan as Bishop of Pittsburgh for abandoning the Communion of this Church, the Executive Council joins with the Presiding Bishop in recognizing the Rev. James Simons, the Rev. Jeffrey Murph, and Ms. Mary Roehrich as the current Standing Committee of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and designates a portion of the funds referred to in the first Resolve be used to provide financial assistance during calendar year 2009 to the current leadership of the Diocese of Pittsburgh for clergy salaries and other expenses; and be it further

Resolved, That the Executive Council joins with the Presiding Bishop in recognizing The Rev. Keith Axberg, The Rev. Glenn Kanestrom, Ms: Cindy Smith, Mr. John Ledbetter, The Rev. John Shumaker, Mr. Richard Jennings, Ms. Beryl Simkins, and The Rev. Tim Vivian as the current Standing Committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin and designates a portion of the funds referred to in the first Resolve be used to provide continued financial assistance to the current leadership of the Diocese of San Joaquin, as well as to the leadership of other similarly-situated dioceses, for clergy salaries and other expenses during the calendar year 2009 . . .
Now this seems rather transparent, does it not? In order for ECUSA's legal theory to succeed in court, we need to have some official "recognition" of the remnant groups by the Church itself. So the Executive Council obligingly passes a resolution attesting to its "recognition" of certain individuals as constituting a "Standing Committee". Never mind that there is, as yet, no formally organized association in the eyes of the law to which such a "Standing Committee" could belong. (Pittsburgh had, as of October 2008, not yet held its "Special Convention", and San Joaquin's, called in March 2008, had been improperly noticed and lacked a legal quorum.)

"Recognition" is one thing, but what is this in the Helena Resolution about pulling out "up to $700,000 of undistributed annual income and appreciation" from certain trust funds to pay for "clergy salaries and other expenses"? Why should there be any "undistributed income" at all, if the trust fund is designated for a particular purpose? And what does it mean that there is "undistributed" appreciation? Since when is the increase in the value of a trust fund regarded as something to "distribute"? (Obviously, if a trustee kept paying out the yearly appreciation in a fund along with its income, it could never grow at all. And in years when it went down in value, it could never come back later, if any subsequent gains were distributed as they occurred.) Intrigued by the references to specific trust funds in the Council's Resolution, I decided to do some further digging.

It turns out that, as a consequence of all the brouhaha over the embezzlement of millions by a former treasurer of the Church, ECUSA was required by the Attorney General of New York to do an audit of its funds held in trust. As part of the audit, it agreed "to prepare an annual trust fund book and promptly provide copies of it to members of the church who request it." Now, this was news to me; I had not seen any such "annual trust fund book". I went looking for it on ECUSA's official Website, and what do you know -- I found it. (Caution -- the link is to a 308-page .pdf download of the last such book published, for calendar year 2007 [the most recent year for which there are audited figures]).

This "Annual Trust Funds Book" provides a wealth of information about the wealth of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America -- which is the official name of the incorporated arm of ECUSA, organized under New York law in 1846 (but existing in earlier form ever since 1820). The DFMS was modeled on two similar predecessors established under the Church of England: the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, and the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. In accordance with those models, the main purpose of the DFMS was to facilitate the work of missionaries and the spread of Church missions both domestically and in foreign countries, and it was through its efforts that ECUSA became a national church that affiliated over the years with a number of foreign dioceses.

Over those same years, a great deal of money was given to further the missionary work of the DFMS. The 2007 Trust Funds Book reports the total value of all funds it currently holds in trust at $363,218,308 as of the end of that year. All of the individual bequests are pooled into a common investment fund, which is allocated 72% to equities, 20% to bonds (mostly of the United States), and 8% to other types of investment, chiefly hedge funds (see the tabular breakout on page 6).

The Trust Funds Book also lists each separate bequest it tracks, and classifies them by the purpose for which the income from the bequest (and principal, in some cases) may be used. The largest single such category is Category 200: "General Purposes of the Society" (listed at pp. 235-240). The listing in the Helena Resolution quoted above identifies the nine funds by their individual numbers in the main listing of all funds in the book in chronological order (the higher the number, the more recent the gift). Of the nine, six are in Category 200, two are in Category 210 ("Program"), and one in Category 211 ("Domestic Missions"). Here are their individual descriptions as they appear in the main body of the book, again in chronological order:

200.02 St. Leger Fund (1909) A Special
First Section: Two-thirds [Trust Fund No. 200.02] for general missionary work; one-third [Trust Fund No. 200.01] for hospital work in Alaska in memory of Captain Isaac Waite. . .

Shares in Pool: 18,799.212 Category: 210 (Program)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $428,899 12/31/2007: $452,670

492.00 Hopkins, Mrs. Theresa B., Boston, MA (1936) No. 1, Bequest of
Income to be used for general missions. Principal may be used as well, but only for a pension system for unordained missionaries.

Shares in Pool: 8,992.529 Category: 200 (General Purposes)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $205,162 12/31/2007: $216,533

540.00 Seager, Schuyler F., Berkeley, CA (1941) Gift of, A Special
In memory of Leila Betts. Established under terms of trust agreement. Income to go to a life beneficiary. Upon her death (beneficiary died September 16, 1953), income for missionary work of the Society.

Shares in Pool: 1,798.521 Category: 200 (General Purpose)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $41,033 12/31/2007: $43,307

656.00 Monteagle, Lydia Paige, San Francisco, CA (1953) Bequest of, A Special
When Mrs. Monteagle died in 1930, her will established several trusts. The Society was bequeathed the remainder of one trust, subject to a life income interest. The life beneficiary died in 1953, and under the terms of the will, the Society received the principal "to be used by it for such Missionary work as it may determine."

Shares in Pool: 4,968.089 Category: 200 (General Purpose)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $113,346 12/31/2007: $119,628

678.00 Olden, Sarah E., New York, NY (1955) Bequest of, A Special
The income from this fund was restricted by the donor to missions within the United States.

Shares in Pool: 4,373.153 Category: 211 (Domestic Missions)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $99,772 12/31/2007: $105,302

723.00 Zabriskie Memorial Fund, New York, NY (1961) A Special
Received from the Helen and Reginald Zabriskie Memorial Fund. Income for specific projects of missionary work in the United States and foreign countries.

Shares in Pool: 9,875.932 Category: 210 (Program)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $225,317 12/31/2007: $237,805

756.00 Lloyd, Ethel S., Detroit, MI (1966) Bequest of, A Special
To establish the "Memorial Fund." Given "to the glory of God and in loving and grateful memory of Thomas Lloyd and Emily B. (Pulling) Lloyd, by their children: Arthur H. Lloyd, Bertha E. Lloyd, and Ethel S. Lloyd. Income for the missionary expansion of the work of the Society in the United States and throughout the world."

Shares in Pool: 141,111.113 Category: 200 (General Purpose)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $3,219,413 12/31/2007: $3,397,845

814.00 Boyd, Lizzie E., Richmond, VA (1978)
Income to be used in such manner as the Society may from time to time deem best in furtherance of its missionary work.

Shares in Pool: 7,694.097 Category: 200 (General Purpose)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $175,539 12/31/2007: $185,268

860.00 Gregg, Ellen F. and David McM., Memorial Fund, Pennsylvania (1982) Bequest of George S. Gregg
Income is be used perpetually for general missionary work. This fund resulted from the bequest of the remainder of a residuary trust under the decedent's will, subject to the life income interest of an individual beneficiary. The income beneficiary died in 1981, and this trust was set up with the proceeds received by the Society.

Shares in Pool: 3,116.406 Category: 200 (General Purpose)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $71,100 12/31/2007: $75,041

In these descriptions of the individual bequests, time and again one reads that they are "for the purposes of the Society", and for "general missionary work". One is restricted for "domestic missionary work" -- Fund #678, the Sarah E. Olden Bequest -- but none of the others have geographical restrictions on them. Now let us look at the rest of the text of the Helena Resolution, and see how the Executive Council justifies the appropriation of the "undistributed income and appreciation" from these funds for "clergy salaries and other expenses" in the putative dioceses of Pittsburgh and San Joaquin:

Resolved, That the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church commends the work of all those involved in supporting the efforts by Dioceses to exercise their pastoral and fiduciary responsibilities in regard to the ownership of properties and funds; and be it further

Resolved, That the disbursement of these funds from one or more of the above trusts be made by the Presiding Bishop and the Treasurer.

Some members of the Episcopal Church in the Dioceses of San Joaquin and Pittsburgh have opted to leave the Church. The remaining members of these dioceses -- lay and ordained -- find they have reduced resources from which to care for one another and to reach out to those who do not know the Gospel of Christ. Ordained ministers, who provide an ongoing pastoral presence to the continuing Episcopalians, now face insecurity with respect to their salaries.
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ -- through prayer and worship, proclaiming the Gospel, and promoting justice, peace and love. These dioceses have become fertile areas for mission work.

The Executive Council authorized a draw of up to $500,000 to fund similar work in 2008. Through October, nearly $421,000 had been expended to support mission in the dioceses of San Joaquin, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh. These disbursements were reviewed and approved by legal counsel, who confirmed that the disbursements complied with the terms and conditions of the trusts.

The undistributed appreciation in the above named trust funds totaled an estimated $3.0 million as of 09/30/08.
(Except for the word "Resolved", I have added the bold emphasis to the original.) Note that only the disbursements totaling $421,000 made through October 2008 had been "reviewed and approved by legal counsel" --- not the $700,000 which the Executive Council authorized to be disbursed by this Resolution. The total market value of all of the nine funds at the end of calendar 2007 comes to $4,833,400, with nearly two-thirds of that coming from the Ethel S. Lloyd Fund, a gift made in 1966. Thus, according to the Treasurer, nearly two-thirds of the market value of the identified funds is available for use by ECUSA.

But available for what purposes? For "general missionary work" -- meaning to keep clergy preaching to the remnants in Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and San Joaquin? And to pay unidentified "other expenses" -- such as legal fees, perhaps? It seems to this attorney, based just on the descriptions given in the book, somewhat irregular that ECUSA would decide that the nine funds it identifies could be used for such a purpose. Especially when one considers that the book lists the following fund (to take just one example I found):

663.00 Clergy Sustentation Fund (1953) A Special
This fund was established by an anonymous gift. The donor directed that "this fund as well as the income from it, is to be used exclusively for the payment of ministerial salaries, with preference to be given to those localities where clergy of the Catholic Apostolic Church now exist or formerly existed and where members of that church now reside, notably in the Dioceses of New York, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, and California." The income and/or principal is to be appropriated by the Presiding Bishop at his discretion. [Note: The principal of this fund had previously been described (in the 1993 Trust Fund Record) as donor restricted, but it is clear that the Presiding Bishop has discretion to apply both principal and income to the specified purposes. The donor's expression of preference for certain dioceses does not restrict the Presiding Bishop's discretionary authority.]

Shares in Pool: 81,950.182 Category: 109 (Presiding Bishop's Discretionary Fund)
Market Value, 12/31/2006: $1,869,672 12/31/2007: $1,973,296

There is nearly $2 million of which both principal and interest may be used at the discretion of the Presiding Bishop for clergy salaries in any diocese whatsoever, without restriction. And yet this fund is not tapped, but instead the funds chosen to be used are ones designated for "general missionary purposes".

Do you see what is being hidden here? The attorneys for ECUSA approve the expenditure of missionary funds in the areas of San Joaquin, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh. These "dioceses" are not -- and probably will never be, unless and until they win their respective lawsuits and gain access to the funds of the majorities who voted to leave -- self-supporting, even though the dioceses which left each allowed those remnants to keep their own properties and bank accounts. But that is inadequate for them to keep their own clergy paid while the suits are pending -- because all of the individual parish pledges and plate collections must go 100% to the payment of the cost of maintaining the current lawsuits. Thus there are no local funds available to pay clergy, and the helpful DFMS must step in.

At the same time, however, the attorneys for ECUSA do not authorize the use of moneys from a trust fund specifically designated for the payment of "ministerial salaries". And why not? Look again at the description of the trust's purposes as stated in the Trust Fund Book and quoted above. It speaks of specific Dioceses where those funds are to be used -- "New York, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, and California" -- although counsel have opined that the Presiding Bishop is not restricted by that listing.

I ask myself: could the operative word here be "Dioceses"? And could the fact that the groups in Fort Worth, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh and Quincy have yet to prove in a court of law that they are fully legal and duly constituted dioceses of ECUSA have anything to do with what is going on here? Might it just be that conservative legal advice pointed out that, until that question is finally resolved in the courts, it would be imprudent to use funds to support clergy who might not be in dioceses, but in missionary areas? (The New York Attorney General has the power to order Church officials personally to refund any moneys that are expended in violation of the specific terms of a trust.)

I do not pretend to know the answer, since I have no access to the original trust documents. But it certainly is an interesting distinction which the Executive Council has drawn: missionary funds are to be used in what are currently only missionary areas (even though the Council will never admit that they are), while funds designated for clergy in specific dioceses accumulate unspent back in New York.

Moreover, the Church's missionary funds are drawn down to support operations in what the Church clearly wants to be regarded as full-fledged dioceses, with already established parishes. That, in fact, satisfies no definition of "mission" of which I am aware -- and it denigrates nearly 200 years of honorable and outstanding work by actual missionaries to spread the Gospel to those who are unaware of it.

The question, at any rate, is certainly worth asking. Now, will anyone at ECUSA step forward and provide an explanation?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday TED Talk: Emmanuel Jal and the Redemption of a War Child

The talk below, from the 2009 Global TED Conference at Oxford last month, was one of the most deeply heartfelt and moving of them all. Emmanuel Jal, a self-confessed "war child" who lost much of his family to civil war in the Sudan, was conscripted as a child soldier at the age of eight. He was one of the few survivors of a forced march, in which he had to find snails and other desert delights to eat rather than succumb to cannibalism. He finally escaped to a refugee camp, where he was adopted by an English relief worker, Emma McCune. As he tells his story, listen to the difference which she made in his life, which he makes visible and audible in his rap lyrics and song:

Emmanuel Jal is now touring to promote his amazing autobiography, "War Child" (also made into a movie), the proceeds from which support his African charity, GUA-Africa, which is trying to save other African children and families from the devastations of war and poverty. You may read more about Emmanuel Jal here and here. The high-resolution version of his TED talk is here, and the page from which you can download it in other versions is here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Brave Start

In a post last Sunday, I offered a "Modest Proposal" for orthodox dioceses to go forward within the Episcopal Church (USA). The gist of my proposal was that the orthodox plow ahead, keeping true to their own traditional path, and simply ignore the bureaucracy at 815 and elsewhere -- because the bottom line is that they can do nothing to a diocese that stays in the Church. Neither 815 nor General Convention nor the Presiding Bishop has any power to compel a Diocese within the Church to do anything. And if enough orthodox dioceses were to come together in a mutual protection plan, even threatened depositions could be effectively countered to the point where ECUSA would sink in a morass of litigation.

Now it appears that the Diocese of South Carolina might be embarking on the first steps toward such a brave strategy. Bishop Mark Lawrence addressed his assembled clergy today, and included the following statement of intention:

The Standing Committee and bishop will be proposing a resolution to come before the special convention that this diocese begin withdrawing from all bodies of governance of TEC that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture; the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them; the resolutions of Lambeth which have expressed the mind of the Communion; the Book of Common Prayer (p.422-423) and the Constitution & Canons of TEC (Canon 18:1.2.b) until such bodies show a willingness to repent of such actions. Let no one think this is a denial of the vows a priest or bishop makes to participate in the councils of governance. This is not a flight into isolation; nor is it an abandonment of duty, but the protest of conscience. . . .
Some have already questioned whether this means that the Diocese of South Carolina will be following the path of the Dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and Quincy. After all, one of the bodies that has given its assent to actions contrary to Holy Scripture is General Convention itself, and would not a withdrawal from General Convention be a withdrawal from the Episcopal Church (USA)?

Not necessarily. I do not claim to be privy to South Carolina's intentions and strategies, but like the next Episcopalian, I can read Bishop Lawrence's statement in context. Had he meant to propose a resolution to withdraw from ECUSA, he could have said so; but he did not. He spoke of beginning to withdraw from "all bodies of governance of TEC" which have assented to actions contrary to Scripture, to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as received by the Church, to the resolutions of Lambeth expressing the mind of the Communion, and to the Constitutions and Canons of ECUSA -- a comprehensive list. Then he stated "This is not a flight into isolation, nor . . . an abandonment of duty . . .".

There is no one at ECUSA, as I stated, who can compel the Diocese of South Carolina to send deputies to the next General Convention in 2012. By not sending a deputation, and by Bishop Lawrence staying away from the House of Bishops himself, the Diocese could in effect withdraw from General Convention without withdrawing formally from ECUSA. They could wait until 2012 before making any decision, and keep their options open until then.

South Carolina has no members on the current Executive Council, so it does not have to do anything there. And indeed, a quick check of national CCAB's (Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards) does not show South Carolina with members on any of the likely suspects for violation (such as the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice, or the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, or the Title IV Review Committee). As for the House of Bishops, none of its committees appear to include Bishop Lawrence, either. In fact, the overall paucity of South Carolina representatives on the Church's Standing Commissions, Committees, Boards and Agencies might even be deliberate, considering that their membership (other than the Executive Council) is mostly picked by the President of the House of Deputies or by the Presiding Bishop. It would appear that 815 has already largely distanced itself from the Diocese of South Carolina, making the task of Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese that much easier.

The Diocese of South Carolina might want to consider at least one amendment to its Constitution, however. For it has one of the more unusual accession clauses of any Episcopal Diocese:

The Church in the Diocese of South Carolina accedes to and adopts the Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and acknowledges this authority accordingly.

"Accedes to" -- that is standard. But "adopts"? Which version of the national Constitution and Canons can the Diocese be said to have adopted? After all, it was one of the original founding churches that joined to create General Convention by meeting together in 1785, and eventually signing on to the PECUSA Constitution in 1789. And just what is "the authority" of whichever version of the Constitution and Canons of PECUSA have been thus adopted? Unless they are the latest version, they cannot have much authority to recognize.

This will become an even more important question on July 1, 2011, when the changes approved to Title IV of the Canons at General Convention 2009 are scheduled to go into effect. For at that point the entire disciplinary structure of ECUSA will undergo a major transformation, and it will be important to see whether South Carolina will implement the required changes as well.

Until July 2011, any attempt to charge Bishop Lawrence with "abandonment" will have to be for "abandonment of the Communion of this Church", and not for "abandonment of The Episcopal Church", as I discussed in this post. And from the remarks he made to his clergy, it seems pretty clear that he has no avowed intention of "abandoning his duty" to the Church, but of fulfilling that duty as openly as possible.

Were the bishops to entertain such charges, they would be faced again with all of the issues that divided them on the "deposition" of Bishop Duncan. Would the Presiding Bishop still present a resolution of deposition if she could not get the consent of the three most senior bishops in the Church to inhibit Bishop Lawrence? And would she rule again that the "majority of the whole number of Bishops entitled to vote" means just a majority of those Bishops actually present and voting?

If so, any such move should be taken as a signal by the last orthodox bishops remaining to stand together, or not stand at all. (For a starter, I would suggest that funds be collected to provide transportation to the House of Bishops meeting for as many retired bishops as necessary to defeat the resolution once and for all. Typically there are only around 100 bishops attending and voting on such measures. There are 200 more who could vote if they showed up. Not all will be on the orthodox side, but perhaps a sufficient number would join in a "Custer's Last Stand" against the tyranny of the Presiding Bishop.)

Bishop Lawrence's greatest danger between now and July 2011, however, will not be from facing charges of "abandonment", but of having the Presiding Bishop unilaterally declare one of his public statements to be a "renunciation" of his vows, as she most outrageously did with Bishops Iker and Scriven. Against such lawlessness there is scarcely any protection for as long as the members of the House of Bishops refuse to call her on it. The one difference in this case is that it looks as though there will not be any proposal before the Diocese to leave the Episcopal Church (USA).

So will the Presiding Bishop be so foolish as to try to make a move against Bishop Lawrence? She has certainly shown herself capable of being so rash. But if Bishop Lawrence immediately reaches out to the other orthodox bishops (both active and retired), and shows by his continued words and deeds that he is doing no more than calling his colleagues to faithfulness in the Church, then maybe -- just maybe -- he will be able to make such a move very difficult for her.

One thing is certain: Edmund Burke never said it, but it remains a true statement that "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We Have Lies, Damned Lies, and Then We Have Politics

The federal budget deficit will hit $1,800,000,000,000 ($1.8 trillion) by September 30. And that is just in President Obama's first year. Here are his projected shortfalls for this and the next three years through September 30, 2012, compared with the shortfalls in all eight years of President Bush's two terms:

(Click on the graph to enlarge it in a new window.)

So, President Obama, how is that plan of yours for "a net spending cut" going?

There could be no finer proof of why one should never vote for a politician based on his promises.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Modest Proposal for Going Forward

There is much soul-searching going on in the Anglican Communion, as well as within the Episcopal Church (USA) itself, about what proper response can be made to the actions taken by General Convention, and by various dioceses which have adopted same-sex blessings and nominated persons in same-sex partnerships for ecclesiastical office.

Well, I have a modest suggestion to make, for those who might be at odds, and uncertain as to what to do --- at least, on the diocesan level.

I shall take as my point of departure the text of today's Gospel reading, from St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (4:25 - 5:2):
25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
St. Paul first says, "Put away falsehood, and speak the truth." Very well --- here are some truths:

1. The organization which calls itself "The Episcopal Church", by itself, is not a church. At the national level, it is an abstraction, a mental construct which takes in donations from its members and employs people in bureaucratic tasks.

2. There is no Supremacy Clause in the Episcopal Church Constitution. The much-touted "authority of General Convention" is a delegated authority, coming from the individual dioceses which are its members. It does not run the other way: General Convention is powerless to tell a Diocese what to do --- and if it tried, it would have no means of enforcement, anyway. (Secular courts will not enforce or get involved in matters of religious discipline.)

3. The Episcopal Church (USA) is no longer "episcopally led"; instead, it is episcopally suffused. It is "Episcopal" only in the sense that its bishops give consent to the ordination of other bishops. Even that, however, is not an exclusive function: Canon III.11.6 allows the ordination of a Bishop to be performed "by any three Bishops to whom the Presiding Bishop may communicate the testimonials" (italics added). And as will be seen below, one does not even have to go through the Presiding Bishop, if ECUSA refuses to cooperate.

4. Nor is the Episcopal Church (USA) canonically governed. Its Bishops, and especially its Presiding Bishop, routinely defy (and defile) the Canons. The much-touted changes in Title IV approved by the recent General Convention did nothing to stop the abuse of the Abandonment Canons, for example. Because retired bishops kept their right to vote, it is now next to impossible to depose any Bishop canonically, since the Canon calls for a majority vote by the full 300-odd bishops having a right to vote. That will not stop the illegal depositions, but they will remain illegal; and those bishops who vote for them are violating the canons.

So much for speaking the truth. Now, what follows? Listen to St. Paul again: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."

In light of that message, here is what I suggest for orthodox dioceses still within ECUSA: let the ECUSA bureaucracy, and let General Convention, go their merry way. Apply the Peter Principle to what they have done, and are doing, and allow them to rise to the level of their own incompetence. They are so incompetent that they cannot touch you, if you keep in mind the simple truths noted above. ECUSA is a voluntary association, with no authority over its member dioceses. It is, I repeat, powerless to order a diocese as such to do anything. The Emperor, in other words, has no clothes, and it is high time for everyone to recognize that fact.

If deposition is threatened, it has to be (under Title IV as now revised) for "abandonment of The Episcopal Church" (emphasis added). Refer to truth statement #1 above: the Episcopal Church (USA) is not a church, and as such it cannot be abandoned by any diocese remaining orthodox, and which refuses to withdraw. ECUSA maintains that dioceses cannot withdraw, anyway. So call their bluff: "You say we cannot withdraw, and so we are not withdrawing. So how can we be said to be 'abandoning' the Episcopal Church? We're not abandoning it; we're staying."

Isn't that marvelous to contemplate? By acquiescing in their asserted power to keep you in, you turn that power against them. If taken to an extreme, I suppose General Convention might have to vote to disaffiliate from you, and not the other way around. And would not that be the height of irony? Imagine the headlines: "ECUSA Votes to Kick Out Diocese; Warns Others Against Leaving."

If instead they try to proceed by "deposing" the diocesan, hold their feet to the fire. Demand the specification of charges detailing just how the act of staying in constitutes "abandonment." Round up all the retired bishops (where there are many more orthodox) to come to the meeting and vote against the proposed "deposition". If the vote still succeeds, it will nevertheless be invalid unless passed by the canonically required majority, as I mentioned, and so can be ignored. How can the Presiding Bishop purport to "derecognize" a Standing Committee if it has taken no vote to withdraw? And how could she convene a "special convention" to do her bidding so long as a majority remains to oppose it? (If she demands a "loyalty oath" to ECUSA in order to participate, sign it --- you are remaining loyal to ECUSA.) So long as you stay in, you hold all the power of the Diocese; the national Church, as I say, has no power whatsoever.

I suggest that the orthodox, along with any who suffer "deposition", organize their own legitimate House of Bishops, which is sworn to uphold the Canons as actually written. Invite the other ECUSA bishops to attend, and when they do not, have ten members lay before your House a presentment indicting every ECUSA bishop who joined in the illegal vote to "depose" Bishop Duncan; every ECUSA bishop who makes a practice of offering communion to the unbaptized; and every ECUSA bishop who has misused the Abandonment Canons to rid themselves of troublesome clergy.

But don't stop there. Let the orthodox dioceses, and any led by bishops who have been "deposed", assemble and adopt a new Constitution which spells out the principles of diocesan autonomy in a voluntary association for all to see. Let the new Constitution also make express the principle espoused by PECUSA founder Bishop William White of Pennsylvania: "That no Powers be delegated to a general ecclesiastical Government, except such as cannot conveniently be exercised by the Clergy and Vestries in their respective Congregations." Eschew any creation of a "General Convention"; it is not necessary to try to rival ECUSA in the slightest. Should an occasion or question arise that requires a convocation of the member dioceses, let any diocese then call a convocation, and see who comes. Because it is a voluntary association of autonomous dioceses, the convocation is purely representative in function, and will have no power to bind any diocese which does not consent to any action it may decide to take. This will have the merit of encouraging a full consensus before any such decisions are taken.

Ignore ECUSA; let its bureaucracies, as I say, rise to the levels of their incompetence. The new association I suggest is not intended to supplant ECUSA so much as fashion a subset of dioceses who genuinely want to work with each other in going about the true business of a church, and who have no preoccupations with power or status. If it becomes the new paradigm, then rejoice; but in the meantime, do not have concern for the structure. As many observers have remarked about the current schism, the people in the pews are not concerned with the power struggles in the higher corridors; they simply want to come to services on Sunday and worship in the company of their friends and neighbors. Adopting Bishop White's principle quoted above will ensure that the business of the congregation is attended to at the congregational level, and the diocesan business at the diocesan level.

Moreover, by defining itself in such a way, and being governed by Bishop White's principle of subsidiarity, here is the real genius hidden in the proposed organization: it defines itself into nothingness. There is no national organization, no national legislative body (except when the member dioceses all agree to come together for that purpose), and no national bureaucracy. In short, there is nothing to attack, nothing to accuse, and hence also nothing to blame, and nothing to have to fund. There is a kind of "House of Bishops", but even it is still just a collection of bishops who assemble for episcopal functions: its only function is to approve episcopal elections and assign ordinations, to the extent ECUSA's House of Bishops refuses to accept orthodox candidates.

And should bishops who ordain an orthodox colleague without the consent of their heterodox colleagues be charged by the latter with canonical violations, then two can play at that game, as I mentioned earlier. For they are not following the canons either, and are liable to presentment and deposition in the same manner. The result will either be a stalemate, or a backing off by the heterodox, because no one can win (or even profit) from such a confrontation.

As for pensions and retirement, the current contributions will have vested, and nothing ECUSA can do will touch them. I am greatly concerned, individually, for the economic future of this country, and I would be chary (if I were in a position to be affected) of continuing the status quo. Nevertheless, since the dioceses will remain in ECUSA, I see nothing that the ECUSA bureaucracy could do to prevent them making further contributions to the Church Pension Fund. Should they somehow manage to find a way to block such further contributions, then use the occasion to obtain professional advice about establishing an inflation-proof plan which the member dioceses could establish on their own for all future contributions (the ones already made, as I say, are vested). I am not informed about what ACNA is doing in this regard, but maybe there would be found a spirit of willing cooperation in addressing that question jointly.

As for new ordinations: again, I stress, let ECUSA go its merry way. Let the new orthodox House of Bishops confirm ordinands and perform all ordinations to which the heterodox refuse their assent; their orders will be every bit as valid, and if ECUSA chooses not to recognize them, that is its loss, not yours. ECUSA has increasingly cut itself off from the rest of the Anglican Communion, so let it continue to do so, and do not interfere. The historical test of ordination is the laying on of hands by three ordained bishops in the apostolic succession, and that will have occurred, in every case I can envision.

Now, here is my most radical suggestion of all: do not give this sub-organization of orthodox dioceses within ECUSA a new name. I hate adding to the proliferation of acronyms, anyway. This organization I am proposing is still ECUSA, only it is just those parts of ECUSA who want to remain orthodox and canonical at the same time. By not giving itself a new name, it cannot be said to be something which intends to supplant ECUSA. It is simply the distillation, if you will, of it into a more orthodox form. Besides, because nothing is to be done at the organizational level that will have any binding legal effect, there is no need for a new name. When it acts, it will be the member dioceses acting collectively, in exercise of their autonomous powers. There are already informal names, like "Communion Partners", or "Windsor Dioceses", which express adequately that collective aspect. So do not worry about what to call yourselves; you are already the dioceses that you are.

Here is the whole point of this exercise: the orthodox in ECUSA just want to be orthodox, and practice their faith at the parish level, under the guidance of a diocesan committed to the same goal. I will have more to say in a later post about the options for parishes who unluckily find themselves in heterodox dioceses. For now, it is best to get an organization going among those dioceses who can and who want to participate in joint action for their own protection. Once that is a fact on the ground, how ECUSA chooses to deal with it is irrelevant. The organization as created is self-defining, and since it consists of already established ECUSA dioceses, it will be self-authenticating, as well. It does not depend on any other entity, least of all ECUSA's bureaucracy, for either "recognition" or authenticity.

This is just a suggestion at this point, and needs a lot more fleshing out. I submit that in doing so, we keep uppermost in mind again the words of St. Paul with which I began:

31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.