Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday TED Talk: Stephen Wolfram on the Computable World

Stephen Wolfram is the creator of the amazing software called simply Mathematica, now in its seventh major iteration, and used by scientists and engineers throughout the world. Mathematica reduces all computation problems to a question of appropriate inputs: it is the opposite of "GIGO" ("[If you put] garbage in, [you get] garbage out"). If you frame an appropriate query to Mathematica, it will relieve you of all the mechanical boredom of brute computation, and give you what you are most interested in: the answer.

For example, remember the famous old story about the reward asked of a sultan by the inventor of the game of chess? He asked for a grain of rice to be placed on the upper left hand square of a chessboard, for two grains to be placed on the next square over, four grains on the third square, and so on -- doubling the quantity of rice grains with each square, for a total of 64 squares. So how much rice did he ask for? The question calls for an appropriate input. You are starting with 20 = 1 grain of rice, then asking the sum of 20 + 21 + 22 + 23 grains, plus . . . on up to 263 grains on the final square. So you want the sum of the terms of the geometric progression 2n, where n ranges from 0 to 63. Mathematica makes this extremely simple to program as a question, and in a fraction of a second you have your answer: it tells you that the inventor asked for a total of 18,446,744,073,709,551,615 grains of rice.

Now you need to apply some practical wisdom to the result you have been given. First, name that number: it is eighteen quintillion, four hundred forty-six quadrillion, seven hundred forty-four trillion, seventy-three billion, seven hundred nine million, five hundred fifty-one thousand and six hundred and fifteen grains of rice. Next, take a rough guess as to how many grains of rice are in a sack weighing one hundred pounds -- if one gram of long-grain rice has about 50 grains in it, then one pound (equals 453.6 grams) has 22,680 grains, and so a 100-pound sack would have 2,268,000 grains of rice in it. Now divide the eighteen quintillion number by 2,268,000 (again, Mathematica makes it simple, and gives you the answer in a split second): you get 8,133,485,041,318.14 hundred-pound sacks of rice -- that is more than eight trillion such sacks, weighing a total of more than eight hundred trillion pounds. Obviously that quantity of rice was not to be had in even the richest of kingdoms, and so the inventor's request would have bankrupted the sultan.

In the TED talk given below, Stephen Wolfram explains his lifelong love of making information computable, and the way in which he has brought his dream to fruition through the amazing Website called Wolfram Alpha, which builds on all the programming wizardry he has developed and incorporated over the years into Mathematica. For example, the chess-rice problem can be computed at the Wolfram Alpha site by copying this simple formula into its box, and hitting "Enter":

sum (2^n), 0 <=n <64

--- where the notation "2^n" stands for what we write in mathematics as 2n, the word "sum" tells the engine to add up all the individual terms of the series in the parentheses, and the expression "0 <=n <64 " instructs the engine to compute the sum letting the variable n range through all the values from zero up to (but not including) 64.

As you watch what Wolfram Alpha can do, I guarantee you will be astonished, and will not want to delay to see what questions of yours it can answer, and what relationships among data it can display:

Here is a link to more information about Stephen Wolfram; I have given the links to his software and to the Wolfram Alpha site above. You may watch his talk in its high-resolution version at this link, and you may download his talk in that and other formats from this page. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oral Arguments in the Fort Worth Case

This case, about which I have written previously here, here and here, was argued today before the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, Texas. (Please refer to the earlier posts just linked for a summary of the issues involved.) Father Christopher Cantrell was there, and has put up a report of what he saw and heard, at this link. A partial account:

We got 15 minutes, they got 15 minutes, and then we got 5 minutes to rebut. The peanut gallery was full on both sides of the central aisle. Oversimplifying greatly to summarize - Mr. Brister argued well for us that the court should and could rule in the matter before it on neutral principles of law. Mr. Gilstrap wanted the court to let TEC call all the shots deferring because TEC is hierarchical. We rebutted by reminding the court that we are talking about a Texas corporation and therefore the court could look at the matter and decide. We also clarified that TEC is not cleanly hierarchical - A diocesan convention cannot be called without a bishop and Standing Committee. An outside bishop cannot just come in and take charge - a reference to the PB's interference here. Someone has already asked me how I thought we fared. I would not venture to guess, I am not an attorney, nor do I play one on TV. I think we made good points, our guys seem pleased with how it went. But the tribunal was rightly guarded in their reactions. One judge did say to Gilstrap that he seemed to be arguing against his own argument at one point.
[UPDATE: Commenter Mike Watson has provided this hyperlink to the Court's page where the audio recording of the oral argument may be downloaded for listening and reflection. And this is the direct link to the .mp3 file of the oral arguments. The Diocese of Fort Worth (Bishop Iker) released this statement about the arguments:
Representatives of the Diocese and Corporation appeared before the Second Texas Court of Appeals today in support of the Petition for Writ of Mandamus filed last November. Also present were attorneys associated with the local TEC diocese. The appellate court panel was headed by Justice Lee Ann Dauphinot; also serving were Justices Ann Gardner and Bill Meier. Seating provided for observers was full, and several latecomers were obliged to stand.

Each party had 15 minutes to present its case, with an additional five minutes for rebuttal by the Diocese. There were no surprises in the arguments made to the justices, who posed questions to each side.

Scott A. Brister, representing the Diocese, argued that the question of name identity can be decided on neutral principles of law, without reference to church doctrine. As a practical matter, both parties cannot have the same name, he said, because it makes any ruling in the case confusing and ineffective. The plaintiffs, he said, “filed this suit as [if they were] the diocese formed in 1983, and that's not them.”

Frank Gilstrap, of the Arlington, Texas, law firm Hill Gilstrap, countered that the court must defer to the decisions of TEC, which, he said, has sole authority to name the diocesan bishop and the trustees of the Corporation. “All the court can do is accept the church's decision,” Gilstrap told the justices.

A ruling will be issued at a later time. By the court's order, all proceedings in the case remain stayed.

The brief notice by the ECUSA group is here.]

A decision is not to be expected for several weeks, if not longer.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It Was a Perfect Day!

For all of my friends back East, here is what a real Western-style wedding looks like, on a perfect Western day:

(My thanks to Christopher Seal for the photo.) As you can see, the weather was perfect, the setting beautiful, and the Stetsons dominated the groom's side. A justice from the California Court of Appeal conducted the ceremony; the ring-bearer (studying the lucky horseshoe he carried) was the bride's two-and-a-half-year-old nephew; the flower girl was the groom's four-year-old niece.

Afterwards, we sat down to a wonderful dinner in this beautifully decorated barn (again, Easterners, we're out West here, remember?):

Beautifully planned, beautifully executed -- and once I had escorted my daughter down the aisle, my tasks were done! It was a truly memorable day.

Normal blogging will resume in a few days. No one can be a curmudgeon when basking in such warmth and love. My thanks to all those who have sent their congratulations and best wishes.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Brightly Dawns our (Daughter's) Wedding Day

No blogging this weekend -- please share our happiness, expressed in this little gem of a madrigal by Sir Arthur Sullivan. The mock sadness in the libretto stems from the 30-day sentence of execution seeming to hang over the groom's head -- but all turns out well by the operetta's end, never worry. As for us, we join in its opening sentiment: "Joyous hour, we give thee greeting!"

Brightly dawns our wedding day;
Joyous hour, we give thee greeting!
Whither, whither art thou fleeting?
Fickle moment, prithee stay!
Fickle moment, prithee stay!
What though mortal joys be hollow?
Pleasures come, if sorrows follow:

Though the tocsin sound,Though the tocsin sound,Though the tocsin sound,Though the tocsin sound,
ere long,ere long,ere long,ere long,
Dingere long,Ding
Though the tocsin sound,dong! Ding dong!Though the tocsindong! Ding dong! Ding
ere long,Dingsound, ere
Though the tocsin sound,dong! Ding dong!long, sound, ere long.dong! Ding dong!
ere long,
Ding dong!Ding dong!Ding dong!Ding dong!
Ding dong!Ding dong!Ding dong!Ding dong!

Yet until the shadows fall
Over one and over all,
Sing a merry madrigal,
Sing a merry madrigal,
Sing a merry madrigal,
Fa la la la la, etc.
(Ending in tears.)

Let us dry the ready tear,
Though the hours are surely creeping
Little need for woeful weeping,
Till the sad sundown is near,
Till the sad sundown is near.
All must sip the cup of sorrow —
I to-day and thou to-morrow;

This the close ofThis the close ofThis the close ofThis the close of
every song —every song —every,every song —
Dingevery song —Ding
This the close ofdong! Ding dong!This the close ofdong! Ding dong! Ding
every song —Dingevery song,
This the close ofdong! Ding dong!this the close.dong! Ding dong!
every song —
Ding dong!Ding dong!Ding dong!Ding dong!
Ding dong!Ding dong!Ding dong!Ding dong!

What, though solemn shadows fall,
Sooner, later, over all?
Sing a merry madrigal,
Sing a merry madrigal,
Sing a merry madrigal,
Fa la la la la, etc.
(Ending in tears.)

Exeunt Pitti-Sing and Pish-Tush.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Friday (TED Talk): Hans Rosling Succeeds!

Hans Rosling writes: So it did happen! Just hours ago World Bank president did completely change the World Bank data policy.

This story shows the power of Ideas worth spreading. The story runs in 5 acts:

1. My TED2006 talk yielded Google's acquisition of software from Gapminder.

2. Tim Berners-Lee adds pressure for free data at TED2009.

3. In 2010, Google launches Public data explorer with moving bubbles and a few of the free indicators from World Bank.

4. On 20 April 2010, president Bob Zoellick of World Bank gives up the old habit of selling public data. The change in policy is comprehensive and includes the right for institutions and companies to redistribute the data.

5. In Zoellick's YouTube video, at 1:46 min, the moving bubbles from my TED2006 talk (in their new Google format) form the background for the spread of ideas from the stage at TED in 2006 to World Bank in 2010.

Archimedes said: Give me a fulcrum, and I shall move the world!

Rosling says: Give me a TED talk and I shall move the world!

Kind regards from a happy Hans.

(H/T: TED Blog)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Latest in iPad Technology

For some of those who have made the leap and sprung for one of the new iPads from Apple, a knotty problem has arisen: with all that great content now available, how does one print from an iPad?

Fear not -- the solution (by an iGenius) is at hand (H/T: Endgadget; see also PCWorld):

And for those who cannot afford the jump from an iPhone to an iPad, there is also a quick fix at hand (H/T: appadvice):

And who knew the iPad would be such a great vehicle for the entertainment of pets?

Something tells me the world will never again be the same.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Darren Marks on "The Mind Under Grace"

[UPDATE 04/20/2010: See below, at the end, for an evaluation of the statement of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the 4th Global South to South Encounter in light of the post that follows.]

Catching up on my print reading this weekend, I came across this wonderful article in Christianity Today by Prof. Darren C. Marks at Huron University College, part of the University of Western Ontario: "The Mind Under Grace." Although he speaks of "American Christianity" rather than its individual denominations, Prof. Marks delivers about as good a diagnosis as I have read anywhere of the current ills that infect ECUSA.

The article's subtitle is "Why a heady dose of doctrine is crucial to spiritual formation." Prof. Marks teaches an introductory course in theology, and early in the article he draws a fascinating distinction between theology and doctrine:
I see doctrine not as a boundary but as a compass. Its purpose is not to make Christians relevant or distinctive but rather to make them faithful in their contexts. Doctrine is a way of articulating what God's presence in the church and the world looks like. . . .

In addition, I believe the crisis in the Western church is not about information itself but about the kind of information we absorb in our churches. Philosopher James K. A. Smith put it best: "Theology is not some intellectual option that makes us 'smart' Christians; it is the graced understanding that makes us faithful disciples."

I'm using the terms doctrine and theology interchangeably. To be exact, doctrine is more or less settled theology. You find doctrine in creeds and statements of faith. Theology or "doing theology" is about the process and rules we use to talk about things that may end up as doctrine. A doctrinal statement (Jesus is "true God from true God," as the Nicene Creed testifies) is always a theological statement. But not all theological statements become doctrine. Still, in this essay, I will use doctrine and theology to refer to our intellectual grappling with the faith, which, as Smith notes, can give us graced understanding and lead to faithful discipleship. Doctrine, while static at times, is meant to help us think about our lives more deeply by considering alongside other Christians the implications of our thoughts and deeds. Doctrine is wisdom that helps us clarify our mission.
Ponder those words. Savor them. Let them slowly sink in, one by one, to your understanding. Think what it means to say doctrine is "not a boundary but a compass . . . [it] is meant to help us think about our lives more deeply by considering alongside other Christians the implications of our thoughts and deeds. Doctrine is wisdom that helps us clarify our mission." With this article, you are in for a real intellectual treat. You will come out of reading it far better equipped to deal with the daily onslaughts on Scripture and doctrine that so infuse the words of most of ECUSA's leadership in these times.

Now, as you read the next passage, think of ECUSA's recent brush with Buddhism in the Diocese of Upper Michigan (not confined to that diocese, but actually cross-linked to many others, as I documented in this post):
Sociologist Steve Bruce has observed that Western spirituality is "Buddhist by default": that Westerners, even Christians, are obsessed with what goes on inside, with spiritual experience. We don't usually welcome any external testing of our thoughts or actions. Subjectivity takes the ethical and doctrinal teeth out of every religion. Doctrine can help us think.

Bruce does not mean that we are actually Buddhists. We don't practice its asceticism. Instead we prefer a pallid, easy Buddhism, a series of feel-good statements supposedly culled from the Buddha. Our culture does this with all religions, Bruce says. It boils them down to one basic principle: Do what makes you feel good about yourself, and preferably in 10 minutes or less. As religious consumers, we warp every tradition by subjecting it to our needs. The Christian West's consumer needs, he notes, have by and large led us to abandon traditional Christianity, and the Eastern spirituality we adopt is actually the vapid form of Christianity created by modernity. This is a Christianity of self-experience.
I added the italics for emphasis -- is it beginning to sound as though the author is describing something familiar -- and disturbing at the same time?

Dr. Marks is a professor of theology, and he knows his subject well. Thus please do not be put off when you hear him bring up the 19th-century German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher; he is only doing what he does for a living, and making the past relevant for our benefit. As you will see in how he develops this next point, one could say of much of what passes for Christianity today that "We are all followers of Schleiermacher now" (just as President Nixon once said: "We are all Keynesians now"):
In this sense, Western Christians are children of Friedrich Schleiermacher, the 19th-century Enlightenment thinker who built his theological system on the foundation of spiritual experience. In many cases, we find his influence unwittingly embedded in our church leadership, our seminaries, and our theological faculties. A theology grounded in experience ultimately fades into soft moralism, humanism, or, in the unique case of American Christianity, a civic religion wherein God and country are easily confused. . . .

At the heart of Schleiermacher's work lay an important quest: to understand how to be faithful in a particular context. Schleiermacher and his progeny wanted much to be relevant Christians. The problem lies in where he started.

Schleiermacher thought that the essence of Christianity was its spiritual impulse, not its doctrine, which seemed to cause most of the problems. [Doctrine] had fueled violent conflicts between Catholics and Protestants and threatened to stifle scientific progress and human achievement. For Schleiermacher, as for many today, if one could boil ideas down to a common essence, differences would dissipate and humankind could move forward in harmony. That essence was religiosity—a connection to God that every human being has the capacity to feel and experience. We might call this spirituality or awe in everyday parlance.

Schleiermacher began with internal experiences of God and built theology around those experiences, reconfiguring doctrine as needed. He assumed that by starting with ourselves and our desires, we would glimpse a purer vision of God and perhaps a more relevant church.
The odds are great that not one in ten of those who call themselves Episcopalians could correctly identify Friedrich Schleiermacher, let alone describe his subjective brand of theology. Yet just as John Maynard Keynes once famously remarked that "Even the most practical man of affairs is usually in the thrall of the ideas of some long-dead economist", so it is that much of Christianity (and ECUSA, in particular) today finds itself in the thrall of the long-dead German theologian. Prof. Marks goes on to explain:
Take what has been called the only empirically verifiable Christian doctrine, the doctrine of original sin. For Schleiermacher, sin is not primarily about trespassing against God's laws or a moral debt we owe to a divine being. Sin is misspent energy. If we only paid better attention and had better information and better situations, we would naturally want to be spiritual. This kind of thinking defines sin as a mis-education or mis-direction of our innate sense of awe. A sinner is one who is out of continuity with his own sense of self, and a religious founder is one who is aware of higher spiritual truths and awakens them in others.
Is this starting to resonate yet? Now add the next paragraph into your consideration (emphasis added):
In this trajectory, Jesus becomes a sage who, among others, came to tell us about our potential and awaken our religious sensibilities. Jesus Christ is a spiritual avatar who may be called the Son of God but is different from us only by degree, not by kind. He is certainly not the unique God-man. Church becomes a kind of group therapy we attend to be told we are all right, to share in the piety of Jesus' example. While there is much positive here, the question remains whether God matters as the agent of changed lives. In the final analysis, core Christian beliefs, even those about Jesus, have to feel authentic or they are discarded.
And now Prof. Marks delivers his summation of how and where Schleiermacher's legacy has betrayed us:
In hindsight, we can see that the belief driving Schleiermacher's entire theological machine needed correction. Schleiermacher led us astray by proposing that we interrogate theological ideas rather than allow ourselves to be interrogated by them. The emphasis on spiritual experience put us, not God, in the driver's seat.

As far as we remain the children of Schleiermacher, we either unconsciously or actively transform Christianity into something that, while seemingly relevant, is bereft of spiritual vigor.
As it happens, however, Prof. Marks was just warming to his subject. For now he gets to the real heart of what needs to be said today to Christians who are lost on the sea of Schleiermacher's subjectivity:
The sharp-eyed reader will note two things missing from my argument so far. One is positioning the Bible as the only guide to Christian faith. The other is looking at the role of the Holy Spirit. Both are integral to theology. Without them, doctrine and theology become propositions or proof-texting. The opposite of experience is dogmatism, staid religious scholasticism that sucks the life out of a relationship with God.
It was at this point in my reading that I mentally shouted "Hear! Hear!" Contrasting the subjective theology of experience (think about all the "justifications" offered for same-sex relations in the postmodern Church, pace Fr. Haller) with the proof-texting of those who simply cite Leviticus or Romans in opposition to that kind of thinking is simply brilliant. Neither approach has left me satisfied, and now, as I read further, Prof. Marks explained why:
We have to begin by acknowledging a reality that rightly makes us nervous: All Christian theology helps us interpret the Bible. Theology is what helps us read disparate writings that span thousands of years and arise out of cultures very different from ours. Further, the Bible comprises many texts that address specific problems in specific places (e.g., sexual immorality in Corinth). It presents ideas that at times seem current and at other times obscure. One seemingly crystal-clear verse (Gal. 3:28, "There is neither Jew nor Greek …") or book (Philemon on slavery) can be interpreted by the faithful in a variety of ways. The earliest Christians knew this all too well.

The first three centuries of Christianity featured a running dialogue with the Bible. In their theology, the earliest Christians had to avoid reading the Bible as too Jewish, too Gentile, too focused on Peter, too focused on Paul, too focused on faith, or too focused on works. To read the Bible through only one interpretive lens could lead to false conclusions, like denying the Trinity or Jesus' humanity or divinity. In each case, a simple reading of a passage, usually through the reader's cultural lens, resulted in a distortion of Christian life. Those who found little biblical evidence for what was emerging as the doctrine of the Trinity, for example, usually ended up with a Christ who never knew humanity (docetism) or a Jesus who was not fully God (Arianism). Thus, doctrine became a yardstick by which to measure various readings and help Christians pinpoint the essentials.
I found this framing of the early debates in Christian theology especially helpful. Too often, those debates are portrayed as the ebb and flow of ideas, with the winning memes vanquishing all the others in a sort of Darwinian "survival of the fittest," and then rewriting Church history to make it appear as though their triumph was inevitable (or foreordained) -- pace Prof. Bart Ehrman. But that kind of evolutionary analysis (favored by so-called objective historians) leaves out the most important factors: how did Scripture itself, inspiring Christians through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, influence the final outcome? What, in short, made the "winning memes" really win? Professor Marks makes the very same point in the passage that follows, to which I have added the italics:
To some people, this will sound like the Bible is not primary, that theological discourse needs to correct Scripture. This could lead some to see the Bible as an interesting historical document to get us started, not the active Word of God that shapes us. And some argue that Christianity is more a communal practice than a personal relationship with the living God. (Schleiermacher would likely agree with that statement.)

But, at its best, Christian theology has never understood itself to be merely a human reflection on contingent truths. The best theology grounds itself in Scripture as the revealed Word of God, not in the religious experiences of ancient people. Scripture's authority is not something that the community relates to first with its own experience. . . . Scripture interrogates the community. Because it can be a difficult task to hear Christ speak clearly in Scripture, the church has used theology to test that interrogation. Some may read or hear Scripture in a new manner under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as the 18th- and 19th-century abolitionists did regarding slavery. Theology tests such new readings by asking questions of both the text and the church, helping to clarify the movement of the Spirit.
This is such a crucial point, and yet it has been wholly forgotten in today's subjective-objective debates. "Theology tests such new readings by asking questions of both the text and the church . . .".

Those who do their theology only subjectively never get around to asking the hard questions of why, if the theology is Spirit-inspired, the Church is shrinking in attendance, while it is growing everywhere that the traditional Gospel is preached. And those who rely on old-time, objective argument through proof-texting never ask themselves why, if such argument were truly sufficient, or unanswerable, legions of modern Christians are repelled, instead of drawn to worship, by such literal doctrine. The latter should take to heart what Prof. Marks said earlier: "The opposite of experience is dogmatism, staid religious scholasticism that sucks the life out of a relationship with God."

Let him explain a little further:
The church's theological task has never been only to comprehend an impersonal piece of literature intellectually. Theology has always understood itself as being under God's providential grace. It is the result of faithful Christians grappling with Scripture in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jacob wrestled with God, so have Christians wrestled with Scripture as they have sought to articulate core beliefs about the God active among them, active in and through Scripture itself.

In our conversation with the Bible, we've developed shorthand (though imperfect) to articulate what it reveals. We say God is the Trinity and Christ is Savior, and we talk about sin, heaven, and church. We use those meanings to understand Scripture even as those core beliefs have come from Scripture. These are not esoteric abstractions but fundamental ways in which Christians cross-index their spirituality (their relationship with the God who is present) with a faithful reading of the Bible.
I find that conclusion so crucial and convincing that it is worth repeating, with bold emphasis. Think about what he is really saying:
These are not esoteric abstractions but fundamental ways in which Christians cross-index their spirituality (their relationship with the God who is present) with a faithful reading of the Bible.
And now Dr. Marks brings the discussion around again to what he said earlier about the baneful influence of Schleiermacher, and repeats his language for emphasis (this time I have put it in bold, as well):
This theological method inverts Schleiermacher's. We do not start with "my spirituality" and then identify core beliefs. Instead, we begin with core beliefs—those discovered by the church as it has intellectually wrestled with the truth of Scripture in the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit. These beliefs, which come from outside myself, correct and shape my spiritual experience.

The best theology grounds itself in Scripture as the revealed Word of God, not in the religious experiences of ancient people.
What does this really mean -- theology grounded in "Scripture as the revealed Word of God, and not in the religious experiences of ancient people"? He might just as well have said: "not in the religious experiences of contemporaries." To admit Scripture's authority as the revealed Word of God is to deny the preposterous fallacy as expressed recently by one now infamous (and former) Episcopal bishop: "The Church wrote the Bible, and the Church can change it." No, it cannot. To change (i.e., rewrite) Holy Scripture is not a human prerogative. Moreover, it makes theology, per se, impossible -- because it can no longer provide an accurate map (which is why all attempts to ground the new theology of inclusivity in a "fresh" reading of Scripture divorced from all context cannot gain traction):
[Dietrich] Bonhoeffer knew, as did Calvin, Augustine, and many others, that dry, seemingly irrelevant ideas like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, and eschatology are crucial elements of our spiritual formation. Theology helps map a reading of Scripture as Scripture interrogates its readers under the guidance of the Spirit.
And now comes a magnificent peroration to conclude this splendid article -- read it slowly, and savor the meaning of each sentence:
For the past 200 years, many parts of Western Christianity have labored as Schleiermacher's children. The mainline traditions have hoped to achieve relevance. The evangelical and free-church traditions have hoped to read the Bible unadulterated and alone. Both traditions, however, have made our feelings—which are, by definition, slippery and transitory—primary. Mainliners have eschewed theology for fear that it imposes another's context and assumptions, while evangelicals have eschewed theology because it might compete with the pristine Bible or become a rigid boundary. Both traditions forget that theology is a kind of memory that allows us to hear God's Word by clarifying our experiences.

Many complain that the church has become incapable of cultivating Christian habits in its people. No wonder, when for so many the starting point is not God but spiritual experience. How can we sustain any spiritual growth if it is grounded in something as transitory as what we feel, individually or corporately?

The decreasing lack of interest in core Christian beliefs is due in part to church leaders who chase after relevance over substance—focusing on the feeling that something is meaningful rather than the truth that something is meaningful. It is also due to church members who imagine that their experience is the touchstone of truth about God, rather than learning to evaluate their experience in light of Scripture and theology.

Over the years, I have found that the students in my classroom grow in understanding by studying "dusty" and "dry" doctrine. They learn to interrogate their experiences, asking how they may find a "theological existence" or mission. I hope that [my students] learn that they cannot have spiritual formation without doctrine, that theology is that business of graced understanding that makes us faithful disciples of Christ.
To which the only appropriate response is: Amen!

P.S.: Plus, you might consider a subscription to Christianity Today. I find it consistently carries some of the best current writing on Christianity.

[UPDATE 04/20/2010: This entire article must now be re-read in light of the message of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Fourth Global South to South Encounter, which you may read at this link. In the face of ECUSA's (and ACoC's) intransigence, what does he urge?
But I hope also in your thinking about this and in your reacting to it, you'll bear in mind that there are no quick solutions for the wounds of the Body of Christ. It is the work of the Spirit that heals the Body of Christ, not the plans or the statements of any group, or any person, or any instrument of communion. Naturally we seek to minimize the damage, to heal the hurts, to strengthen our mission, to make sure that it goes forward with integrity and conviction. Naturally, there are decisions that have to be taken. But at the same time we must all...share in a sense of repentance and willingness to be renewed by the Spirit.

So while the tensions and the crises of our Anglican Communion will of course be in your minds as they are in mine, I know from what you have written, what you have communicated about your plans and hopes for this conference, that you will allow the Holy Spirit to lift your eyes to that broader horizon of God's purpose for us as Anglicans, for us as Christians, and indeed for us as human beings.
I find this statement positive, in recognizing that ECUSA's actions (and ACoC's -- from now on, take the one to mean both in what I write) have caused "wounds to the body of Christ" -- the Archbishop does not, in other words, join in the Episcopalian meme that "the Holy Spirit is doing new things in the Church." It is additionally positive in that the Archbishop recognizes that a response is required, and that he is "in discussion with a number of people around the world about what consequences might follow from that decision, and how we express the sense that most Anglicans will want to express, that this decision cannot speak for our common mind."

The Archbishop, in short, has run out of rope to give ECUSA, and is, after bringing (as he himself recognizes) the rest of the Communion to nearly universal exasperation, prepared to let ECUSA hang itself with the rope he has already given it. Like the hanging of Judas, any such self-execution will be of its own making -- a fact which no one will be able to deny, after both he -- and out of the respect and deference afforded him, the rest of the Communion -- have given it so many chances to return to the common path. In this respect, and only if it turns out that ECUSA hangs itself, Dr. Williams will in the end be seen as having maintained the high road throughout this ordeal. But if he fudges the consequences even one more time -- or if he refuses to lead where all the others are now, after seven years of patience, prepared to go -- then he will become a mere footnote to Anglican history. Even Our Lord, after washing Judas' feet, came to the point where he said: "What you are about to do, do quickly."

This, I submit, would be the only path that is true to the verity expressed in Professor Marks's article. For if the Holy Spirit is guiding the present events, then ECUSA will be led to do what it is going to do, and will do it quickly. And if that is what happens, then the rest of the Communion will be freed to explore "the graced understanding that makes us faithful disciples."]

Saturday, April 17, 2010

With Forkèd Tongue (II)

The nominal bishop of what he calls the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Bishop Jerry A. Lamb, says:
On Friday March 26, the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin filed a lawsuit against the former members of St. John’s, Porterville. This lawsuit is a continuation of the Diocese’s litigation efforts seeking the return of property from a number parish Churches that are currently occupied by former members of The Episcopal Church who have sought to affiliate with a different denomination. On February 8, a suit was filed against the former members of St. Francis, Turlock, A similar suit was filed against former members of St. Michael’s, Ridgecrest on February 26. A third lawsuit was filed against former members of St. Columba, Fresno on March 11.

Unfortunately, such litigation became necessary after the invitations of the Diocesan Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb, to discuss the orderly return of the Churches were largely ignored. . . .
The lawsuit against St. John's, Porterville was thus the fourth such action brought by Bishop Lamb against former parishes of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. But the Rev. Lee Nelson, of St. John's parish in Stockton, which is the next in line to be sued by Bishop Lamb, says:
I am saddened to report to you that the Episcopal Church USA and its local affiliates will soon be filing litigation against our parish in an effort to shut down St. John’s and to seize all of our property and our operating funds. Despite our best efforts to reach out to them and to find a resolution, our efforts have been rebuffed and we have been informed that they have no interest in anything other than shutting down our parish, seizing our church property, and confiscating our operating funds.
Bishop Jerry A. Lamb says (emphasis added):
The litigation is focused on returning the properties and assets to the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.
St. John’s was independently established more than 160 years ago. Captain Charles Weber, the founder of the City of Stockton, granted the very first residents of Stockton this very parcel of land for the purposes of establishing an Anglican parish church. St. John’s existed long before the Diocese of San Joaquin or, for that matter, any Episcopal Bishop in California. When Bishop William Ingraham Kip, the first missionary bishop of the Episcopal Church, first visited our congregation, he found a worshipping congregation of 300 souls, producing prayerbooks from their pockets and meeting in a courtroom. Our parish was built, funded, and operated by generations of Stockton families committed to preserving the unique Anglican tradition in our community. We have never, ever received so much as a single penny of support from The Episcopal Church USA—though they cannot make the same claim in the other direction. . . .

There is no dissenting Episcopal congregation to install in our church building. (Indeed, the existing Episcopal parish in Stockton is itself barely viable.) If The Episcopal Church USA were to succeed in its efforts to seize our church, it will likely sell it—assuming, of course, it can find a buyer in this market—as it has done so elsewhere in the United States.
[R]egardless of whether or not litigation is pending, the Diocese remains committed to working with any parties to facilitate the return of the properties so that we can all be about the work that Christ has called us to undertake in His Name.
They have refused to even speak with us about settling our differences, despite two attempts on our part to invite them to meet with us.
We are called to continue the ministry that Jesus began. We are called in the same way as the disciples were called to follow Jesus to learn from him and then continue to proclaim his uniqueness. We are to live our lives in a manner that makes Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection manifest to a world that does not know him.
[ECUSA's] bishop, Jerry Lamb, is nothing more than a puppet administrator controlled by his handlers in New York, tasked with destroying the Anglican Diocese and its constituent parishes. Funded by The Episcopal Church, he has sued the Bishop of San Joaquin, Bishop John-David Schofield, in Fresno Superior Court, frozen the financial assets of the Anglican Diocese, and engaged in a “scorched earth” litigation campaign against the Anglican Diocese and its parishes. It is almost impossible to fathom that a Christian clergyman, who fashions himself a shepherd ministering in the name of Jesus Christ, could engage in such malicious behavior, so clearly contrary to the Gospel injunction against Christians suing each other in the civil courts.
It has been pointed out to me that some blogs are falsely claiming that I am not resident in the Diocese of San Joaquin. Let me assure you that Jane, Mark (the dog) and I do live in Stockton. We have been here continually since April 10, 2008. We have a rental home, a fenced back yard for Mark, and furniture provided by friends and yard sales. We plan to live here for the duration of my ministry here in the Diocese of San Joaquin.
A little over a year later, he told them:
The Standing Committee met last Friday and the Diocesan Council met this last Wednesday. At both of these meetings, I presented a request that we revisit the issue of how much time I am spending here in the Diocese of San Joaquin. As you know, after the Special Convention in March 2008, Jane and I returned home to Las Cruces, New Mexico to take care of matters concerning our retirement home. . .

. . . Given the budget at the national church, we cannot expect funding to stay at the level that it was for 2009. We will need to look closely at every proposed expenditure for 2010, and there may be savings in the area of the Episcopate.

Here is the proposal I made to the Standing Committee and the Diocesan Council. I will return to Las Cruces on December 1, 2009, and come back to the diocese for a period of 15 days every two months. . . .
In 2008, Bishop Lamb swore under oath in Fresno County Superior Court that he was the only lawful "Bishop of San Joaquin", having been duly elected to that position "at a special meeting of the Diocese of San Joaquin" in March of that year. To be validly elected, however, the "special meeting" had to have a quorum of canonically resident clergy present, and there were only 21 recorded as present (two of whom had been brought in from other Dioceses, and so were not canonically resident in San Joaquin). And that was just one of the irregularities about that "special meeting."

Later in 2008, Bishop Lamb used his claimed position as "Bishop of San Joaquin" to pronounce the deposition of 61 clergy who he asserted had been canonically resident in the Diocese, but who had "abandoned the communion of this Church" by transferring to other provinces in the Anglican Communion. But 21 + 61 = 82 clergy who were canonically resident in San Joaquin before the "depositions" (giving the benefit of the doubt to the two outsiders). Under the Diocesan Constitution, which the group under Bishop Lamb purported to re-adopt, minus some changes made under Bishop Schofield, a quorum of 82 clergy is one-third of that number, or 28.

Thus by Bishop Lamb's own act, he proved that he lied under oath to the court in Fresno. There was no proper quorum, hence no proper "special meeting", hence no valid election of a "Provisional Bishop of San Joaquin." Bishop Lamb may be a bishop in the Episcopal Church (USA), but he is no bishop of no see.

In pronouncing the 61 sentences of "deposition", Bishop Lamb said:
I find the actions I was forced to take last Friday and Tuesday to be heartbreaking. I have known a few of these clergy personally and others by the stories I have heard about their ministry. But, the fact is, they chose to abandon their relationship with the Episcopal Church. . . . They declined to ask for a release from their ordination vows, and I had no option but to bring the charges of ‘Abandonment of the Communion’ to the Standing Committee last year and take these final steps today. It is a sad day.
Just weeks earlier, Bishop Lamb wrote to his clergy and parishioners these words (emphasis added):
In all this, we must remember our brothers and sisters who attempted to leave the Episcopal Church. We are rightly pleased with recent court decisions, but others will find them devastating. We should be reaching out to our friends and acquaintances who are suffering. Many members of the Episcopal fellowships remember vividly what it is like to lose your church. We cannot allow others to undergo that feeling of rejection or violation.
"Attempted"? Does Bishop Lamb mean that no clergy can validly leave ECUSA without the permission of a valid bishop, allowing them to do so? And that, unless they obtain such permission, their only choices are to "renounce their ordination vows" or face deposition?

Apparently not. For to him of the forkèd tongue, even a valid permission to leave ECUSA depends on who issued it. One of the 61 clergy whom Bishop Lamb claimed authority to "depose" in 2008 had been issued letters dimissory by Bishop Schofield in October 2007, and had transferred to, and had his letters accepted by, the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese to which he transferred. All of this happened before the House of Bishops voted to "depose" Bishop Schofield in March 2008; i.e., the letters were issued by a bishop in ECUSA who was fully recognized by ECUSA at the time of their issuance.

But after the fact, Bishop Lamb claimed retroactively "not to recognize" the validity of the letters, and proceeded to "depose" the priest in question anyway. Thus Bishop Lamb cannot recognize valid acts of the Church to which he belongs, because if he did, he would also have to recognize that his own position and authority are not valid.

Bishop Lamb is also well-known for his practice of opening communion to anyone who kneels at the rail, regardless of whether they have been baptized or not. This is despite the very explicit language of Canon I.17.7 ("No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this church"). Canons have meaning for Bishop Lamb only when they let him do something he wants to do, like depose clergy who ought to have showed up to elect him. Even then, however, what the canons mean is to be ignored if that meaning would get in the way of the result desired. (As opposed to "process theology", this must be termed "outcome-based theology".)

Another example: when Bishop Lamb came to San Joaquin, Diocesan Canon 33.01 read as follows:
Sec. 33.01: All members of the clergy of this Diocese shall be under the obligation to model in their own lives the received teaching of the Church, and specifically that all clergy are to abstain from sexual relations outside of Holy Matrimony.
But this language prevented all sexual relations between clergy and laity of the same sex (or even between -- or among -- clergy of the same sex). Under Bishop Lamb's pastoral guidance, certain of his clergy (or was it laity??) proposed a change in this canon on the ostensible ground that "the canon in question puts sexual sins in a higher category than lying, gluttony, etc, because it is the only one mentioned." Specifically, they introduced a resolution at their convention to amend the canon by striking the second clause (all the words after "Church"). But if that were the reason for the change, then why could not this canonical change have been made years before, under Bishop Schofield?

Moreover, the justification offered for the change was that the Canon "as currently drafted is in conflict with the Canons of the Episcopal Church, under 'Rights of the Laity' (Canon 1:17.5) and 'Rights of the Clergy' (Canon 3:1.2), which forbid discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, disabilities or age. The proposed deletion of the language in the subject canon would remove any actual or potential conflict with the Canons and Constitution of the National Church." So the only possible conclusion to reach, as I detailed in this earlier post, is that relations among the clergy and laity would be more, ah, flexible than they were under Bishop Schofield.

The amendment passed on his watch, in October 2008. Bishop Lamb must read the Seventh Commandment to mean something different than Bishop Schofield. But that would be no problem for someone who cannot read Canon I.17.5, either.

When the Fresno Superior Court announced its tentative decision in his favor, Bishop Lamb wrote to his clergy and parishioners, urging them to "reach out to our friends and acquaintances who are suffering", as I quoted above. At the end of that message, he wrote:
Once again, I direct your attention to the prayer attributed to St. Francis in the Prayer Book (BCP p. 833). I urge all clergy to use this prayer as an additional post communion prayer at all services.
Let's see. The prayer of St. Francis referenced is as follows:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
An "instrument of your peace." Yes, that would certainly describe a bishop who has instigated no less than five lawsuits against his fellow Christians, and who has a sixth on the way.

"Where there is hatred, let us sow love." Yes, exactly as when you decided to treat Bishop Schofield's perfectly valid letters dimissory as invalid, because they prevented you from deposing someone you needed to depose.

"Where there is injury, pardon." Oh, yes -- exactly as you did with the other 60 clergy whom you "deposed."

"Where there is discord, union." The unity that is sowed by multiple lawsuits is just amazing to behold.

"Where there is doubt, faith." As when you allowed your clergy to remove any doubt over their extramarital relations by sowing the faith of the New Teaching.

"Where there is despair, hope." As when you announced that you would no longer be a full-time resident in the "diocese" that elected you, and encouraged them to seek a new leader.

"Where there is darkness, light." As when you brought your practice of open communion to the unbaptized in San Joaquin.

"Where there is sadness, joy." As when you committed the cash-strapped "diocese" you led to borrowing another $125,000 from the DFMS (on top of the $200,000 it loaned you in 2009) so that your lawsuits could continue in the hope of eventually recovering some property you could sell for cash, or (better yet) bank accounts you could drain.

"Grant that we may not seek so much to be consoled, as to console." Yes, certainly, you offered consolation to those 61 clergy when you assured them that it broke your heart to remove them from holy orders.

"To be understood, as to understand." Ah, yes -- you surely showed your ability to understand Father Fry.

"To be loved as to love." No one could ever accuse you of wanting to be loved as a result of your actions in San Joaquin, that's for sure. How those actions show your love, however, is one of those infernal mysteries.

"For it is in giving that we receive . . ." No doubt; for what you have given to ECUSA, you have certainly received a lot -- that trip to Lambeth 2008, for instance.

". . . it is in pardoning that we are pardoned . . ." Just as you pardoned those 61 clergy, so shall you be pardoned.

". . . and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." Amen.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday TED Talk: David Gallo Shows Amazing Sights under the Sea

In this six-minute talk given at TED 2007, David Gallo shows some amazing footage of the huge variety of life that occupies our oceans -- from the depths that can be reached only in a bathysphere to the tidal shallows. Along the way, he demonstrates in slow motion the astonishing camouflage capabilities of octopi, squid and other cephalopods as they adapt to different environments:

Read more about David Gallo at this page, where there is a link to another of his spectacular TED talks. Then, if he has whetted your appetite, follow this link to a fascinating and very entertaining lecture about octopi given by Michael DeGruy aboard the recently completed Mission Blue voyage to the Galapagos -- a TED-sponsored oceangoing seminar designed to brainstorm ways to halt the deterioration of our marine environments, and to act on Sylvia Earle's TED Prize wish "to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, hope spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.”

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Notes from Oral Arguments in the Virginia Cases

Exclusive to the Curmudgeon -- Commenter JeffH was at the oral arguments in the Virginia Supreme Court last Tuesday, and took substantive (though not word-for-word) notes, which he has graciously sent to this blog for publication:

Supreme Court of Virginia – Oral Argument – April 13, 2010

NOTE: The following is not a word-for-word transcript. The Supreme Court of Virginia does not allow attendees at oral argument to bring electronic devices into the courtroom, so I am working from handwritten notes. The Court also does not publish transcripts of oral argument or make audio recordings of oral argument publicly available. I have aimed to capture the “gist” of what each speaker was saying. However, others present may have interpreted statements differently.


Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell, Sr.

Justice Lawrence L. Koontz, Jr.

Justice Cynthia D. Kinser

Justice LeRoy F. Millette, Jr.

Senior Justice Elizabeth B. Lacy

Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church, et al. (30 mins, divided)

George Sommerville, for the Diocese

George Sommerville: Three Issues:

1. Adjudication of church property disputes in Virginia must begin with a “neutral principles of law” analysis that includes examining the general church’s contractual rights in the property, as outlined in the Norfolk Presbytery and Green cases.

2. Virginia Code Section 57-7.1 validates denominational trusts such as that asserted by the Diocese and TEC here.

3. 57-9(a), as applied by the trial court, violates both the federal and Virginia Constitutions.

Justice Kinser: So you contend that 57-9 doesn’t apply at all if the general church has an interest in the property?

George Sommerville: Yes.

George Sommerville: First, 57-9 as applied is unconstitutional because it treats churches with different governance schemes differently.

Senior Justice Lacy: Are you confusing the way churches hold property with the way they are governed?

George Sommerville: No—the way churches hold property is merely one manifestation of the way they are governed, and the statute makes an unconstitutional distinction on the latter issue.

George Sommerville: The “neutral principles of law” approach is a clearly constitutional option, and the Supreme Court of Virginia has adopted it. The principle of neutrality toward religions, in contrast, is a constitutional mandate—not an option.

George Sommerville: Second, 57-9 as applied is unconstitutional because it prohibits the proper application of the “neutral principles” approach, confining that analysis to cases that fall under Section 57-15. It singles out churches and applies to them rules that don’t apply to secular organizations.

Justice Kinser: Didn’t Jones v. Wolf approve of church-specific statutes, and even statutes that allowed for church governance by majority rule?

George Sommerville: There were two questions at issue in Jones. The first was “whose property is this?” and the second was “who is the church?” The U.S. Supreme Court did approve of a majority-rule statute, but only with regard to the second question. Jones also provided an “escape hatch” for churches, by allowing them to modify their constitution and canons to make clear that a contrary rule would apply.

Justice Koontz: You argue that you don’t get to these issues if there wasn’t a “division” within the meaning of the statute, correct? Was there a division? The parishes say you conceded that a division occurred.

George Sommerville: The statute only applies to a “division” declared by the general church, which in this case would require action by TEC’s General Convention.

George Sommerville: Third, 57-9 as applied is unconstitutional because it embodies a state-imposed preference for congregational governance that purports to override the church’s own internal rules.

Senior Justice Lacy: Are you attacking the statute as interpreted because it favors a form of governance that other churches use? Are you critiquing it as expressing a preference for other religious groups?

George Sommerville: No, we critique it because it unfairly harms the church at issue here by interfering in its internal rulemaking.

Senior Justice Lacy: If you win, can the state do anything with regard to ownership of property by religious groups? In other words, must the state always defer to whatever the internal rules of a religious group happen to be, simply because it’s a religious group?

George Sommerville: Generally, the state must defer. There might be some instances in which the state has a sufficient interest to override a church’s own rules, but in general it cannot.

Senior Justice Lacy: But the “neutral principles” approach involves rules that apply to everyone, religious or secular. Aren’t you saying that if a law is neutral and generally applicable but happens to interfere with the internal rules of a religious organization, it’s unconstitutional?

George Sommerville: When a statute imposes a form of governance on a religious body, the state has expressed a denominational preference, and it cannot do that.

George Sommerville: Fourth, 57-9 as applied is unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court’s test established in Lemon v. Kurtzman. The Circuit Court said the purpose of 57-9 was to protect the voting rights of the congregation. That’s an Establishment Clause violation. 57-9(a) imposes congregational governance on hierarchical churches. This is unconstitutional under this Court’s holdings in Norfolk Presbytery and Green.

George Sommerville: We contend that 57-9 is unconstitutional, but we also contend that it does not apply to these facts.

Senior Justice Lacy: Why should the “neutral principles” analysis precede the application of 57-9? The statute refers to property held “by trustees” of a local church. Why doesn’t the inquiry start and end there?

George Sommerville: That’s the inquiry raised by the “neutral principles” approach. The point is that the statute fails to take into account any beneficial, contractual, proprietary interest in the property that may exist in someone other than the trustees who hold legal title.

Senior Justice Lacy: But the statute doesn’t mention other possible interest-holders.

George Sommerville: That’s why we believe the statute is invalid.

Steffen Johnson, for the Parishes

Steffen Johnson: The U.S. Supreme Court has approved of neutral default rules for church property disputes. Georgia, whose laws were at issue in Jones v. Wolf, left the older deference approach of Watson v. Jones behind. Under the approved approach, competing claims to church property may be resolved by majority vote, or in other ways. Denominations can opt out of the default rules by changing title to the property. Other religious groups in Virginia, and even the Diocese itself, hold title to property. The diocese says the Virginia General Assembly repealed the Free Exercise Clause and that TEC can opt out of the default rules by making unilateral changes to their internal rules. But under this Court’s ruling in Reid v. Gholson and under Jones v. Wolf, that is not enough.

Justice Kinser: But in Jones, the U.S. Supreme Court only approved of majority rule in addressing the question of who constituted the church, correct?

Steffen Johnson: The two issues in Jones were not separate issues. Under Georgia law, they were treated the same. The Presbyterian Church’s proposed basis for both determinations was denominational rules, and the question was whether Georgia could adopt a neutral principles approach instead. Property issues are actually better suited for applying majority rule, because who constitutes the church is more of a doctrinal issue than how the church holds property.

Steffen Johnson: The Diocese says that “neutral principles” is a rule of formal neutrality. Actually, the U.S. Supreme Court and this Court both define “neutral principles” in terms of statutes governing church property disputes. That’s constitutionally acceptable, as this Court recognized in Reid, in which it applied 57-9(b) without a word in its constitutionality. The Diocese’s position would invalidate all of Chapter 57, including Section 57-15 and other parts that the Diocese wants to apply.

Justice Kinser: What about the “preference for one form of governance” argument?

Steffen Johnson: Both 57-9(a) and 57-9(b) provide a default rule. The only difference is who’s entitled to vote, and that only changes based on how a church is set up. This isn’t imposing congregational governance on the church, because the church can opt out of the statute by changing title to the property. The Diocese claims the Circuit Court’s approval of the parish votes represent a confiscation, but the Circuit Court’s order lists ownership of the property as shown on the deeds, and title is in the trustees of the individual congregations.

Senior Justice Lacy: Why can’t others with alleged interests in the property come in and contest the trustees’ assertion of legal title?

Steffen Johnson: Under Virginia law, religious trusts are set up for the benefit of congregations. Others can claim an interest in ownership—that’s what the votes are for.

Senior Justice Lacy: The Circuit Court looked at the deed. If a deed shows that church property is held by trustees for a local congregation, does that end the inquiry, to the exclusion of other alleged interest-holders?

Steffen Johnson: The Diocese and TEC conceded title. The issue was the whether alleged denominational trusts trumped the statute, but the statute provides for a constitutionally approved method of resolving disputed claims: have a vote.

Justice Koontz: You said that once it’s determined that the property is held in trust by the congregation’s trustees, then all that happens is a majority vote by the congregation, correct? From that point, any alleged interest of the general church is ignored?

Steffen Johnson: Well, it can be represented by part of the congregation in the vote—in these votes, it turned out to be a minority of the congregations at issue.

Justice Koontz: Do the canons of the general church have any impact in this analysis?

Steffen Johnson: No, the statute rather than the canons is dispositive.

Chief Justice Hassell: You’re saying that the canons have no role whatsoever, because of the statute?

Steffen Johnson: That’s correct.

Steffen Johnson: When it enacted 57-9, the General Assembly recognized that the old “departure from doctrine” rule was incorrect, and the state can’t look at which faction is holding more closely to the religious beliefs of the church, or any similar inquiry.

Chief Justice Hassell: Justice Koontz is asking whether there’s a difference between 57-9(a) and (b).

Steffen Johnson: The difference is one of scope. The two subsections apply the same default majority rule to two different kinds of churches, but the rule must be applied slightly differently just because the churches are set up differently.

Solicitor General Duncan Getchell, for the Commonwealth on behalf of the Parishes

Duncan Getchell: 57-9 as applied is constitutional. Under Jones v. Wolf, states may choose either a rule of deference or a rule of neutral principles. The latter involves no deference whatsoever to the internal rules of religious bodies. The church’s canons here do not provide the rule of decision. The rule of decision is provided by the statute, and that rule is one of majority vote. Jones establishes that if you have nondeferential default rules, the church must be able to get out of them, and they can, by retitling the property. This is permitted in Virginia. On the difference between (a) and (b), it’s important to note that the statute as originally adopted wasn’t divided into (a) and (b)—it’s simply one rule with several different applications. The rule applies when there’s a “division” into “branches.” States and state courts understand real property very well. Under Jones, the U.S. Constitution permits states to exercise this expertise without deference, as long as they do so in a way that is religiously neutral. In Jones, Georgia had a broad approach based on neutral principles. This was approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. If a state takes this approach, the church can’t change or override its sovereign laws.

Justice Koontz: Is CANA a “branch” resulting from a “division” within the meaning of the statute?

Duncan Getchell: My role is to defend the constitutionality of the statute.

Justice Koontz: But if there’s no “branch,” then the statute doesn’t apply, correct?

Duncan Getchell: That is correct, but these terms must be given their plain meaning, and there’s no question that the circumstances here fit within that.

Justice Koontz: But if the branches separate, are they really branches any longer?

Rebuttal by George Sommerville

George Sommerville: First, majority rule is not a neutral principle of property ownership—it’s a neutral principle of governance, and imposing it on a hierarchical church is unconstitutional.

Senior Justice Lacy: Doesn’t 57-9 make majority rule a neutral principle of ownership? It applies equally to all kinds of churches.

George Sommerville: No, it wouldn’t be applied in any other dispute, for instance, to a dispute in a secular organization.

George Sommerville: Second, neutral principles has a constitutional basis, and as such overrules contrary state laws. Virginia recognizes contractual, beneficial interests in general churches, notwithstanding the statute.

Third, our position would not overrule all of Chapter 57, but only those parts of it that, as applied, burden churches’ free exercise of religion.

The Episcopal Church v. Truro Church, et al. (30 mins, divided)

Heather Anderson, for TEC

Heather Anderson: I will first address constitutional issues of free exercise, and then turn to the inapplicability of 57-9.

As to constitutionality, what’s at issue here is the use and control of property acquired and maintained by generations of Episcopalians. As such, it’s Episcopal property and can’t be diverted to other uses. TEC’s canons state that parishes may not vote to depart or to take Episcopal property.

Justice Koontz: Didn’t you have the opportunity to retitle the assets in the name of the Diocese or TEC?

Heather Anderson: Jones didn’t require that, and to say that it did is a gross misreading of the case. Jones gave churches the right to set their own rules, which can then be applied by civil courts.

Senior Justice Lacy: Jones includes language that says “At any time before the dispute erupts, the parties can ensure, if they so desire, that the faction loyal to the hierarchical church will retain the church property. They can modify the deeds or the corporate charter to include a right of reversion or trust in favor of the general church.” That means the neutral principles approach gives general churches the option to resolve the dispute before it happens, right?

Heather Anderson: The Jones opinion continues, right after that section, to give general churches the ability to adopt canons establishing an express trust over parish property. The U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of Virginia allow churches to set the own rules, and interference with those results in a “total subversion” of free exercise. This was recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving a dispute over whether Russian Orthodox churches in America would be under the Soviet Russian Orthodox authorities or under American authorities.

Justice Koontz: Must a “division” be in the national church to trigger the statute here? Was it, here?

Heather Anderson: There was no division here, within the meaning of the statute. You have to have a “division” into “branches.”

Justice Koontz: And you say a “division” means what?

Heather Anderson: A structural split under the rules and procedures of the general church.

Justice Koontz: And TEC has rules that provide for such a split?

Heather Anderson: Yes. The Presiding Bishop’s chancellor testified to that at trial. General Convention has rules that provide for that eventuality.

Justice Koontz: Assume that some “division” has occurred within the meaning of the statute. What about a “branch”? What does that mean?

Heather Anderson: It means a branch of TEC.

Justice Koontz: Is CANA a “branch”?

Heather Anderson: No, it’s part of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, not TEC, so it’s not a branch.

Senior Justice Lacy: What about the Anglican Communion? There’s evidence in the record that Bishop Lee was in communication with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and that Primates of other Anglican provinces were involved. Is that a connection of which CANA is a branch?

Heather Anderson: There are historical and theological connections to be sure, but the Anglican Communion has none of the indicia of a church or religious society.

Senior Justice Lacy: So there’s no attachment within the Anglican Communion at all?

Heather Anderson: TEC is a province of the Anglican Communion, but the Communion has no legal governing body, or other elements of a church.

Senior Justice Lacy: What about the Primates’ Meeting, Lambeth Council, and other Communion-wide bodies and events? Are those just part of the historical connection?

Heather Anderson: Correct. Those are just part of a shared tradition and affinity.

Justice Millette: So there’s no hierarchy in the Anglican Communion?

Heather Anderson: None.

Justice Millette: What if the parishes had left TEC and said “We’re the real TEC?” Would that be different?

Heather Anderson: The congregations can’t impose a division on the general church.

Justice Millette: Assume it’s a division. Would the congregations be a “branch” if they claimed to be TEC?

Heather Anderson: I can’t say. I don’t have an answer.

Justice Millette: So you’re saying that because they joined the Nigerian Church, they didn’t join a “branch”?

Heather Anderson: Correct. It’s a separate church, and there can’t be overlapping of jurisdictions.

Senior Justice Lacy: What if they’d joined the Anglican Church of Canada?

Heather Anderson: One church can’t become a branch of another within the same geographic jurisdiction as the other church.

Senior Justice Lacy: But that assumes TEC’s definition of “division” is correct. What about the Anglican Communion? Are you arguing that for what happened here to be a branch, there must have been a division in the Anglican Communion?

Heather Anderson: No one’s arguing that here. What’s at issue is whether there’s been a division in TEC.

Steffen Johnson, for the Parishes

Justice Koontz: Are you only arguing there’s been a division in TEC?

Steffen Johnson: No. The statute refers to a church that’s experiencing a division. We say there’s been a division at the Anglican Communion level, the national church level, the diocesan level, and at the parish level. This dates from at least 2003, at which point there began to be large numbers of individuals and congregations separating from TEC because of theological disagreement.

Justice Koontz: Is this documented in the record?

Steffen Johnson: Yes, there are specific historical records of these divisions. CANA came out of TEC, and it’s an offshoot of TEC. TEC’s own expert admitted that a “branch” can be something that grows out of another entity, and that may not have any remaining legal connection to the parent entity.

Steffen Johnson: “Branch” used in 57-9 means different things in other circumstances, but here, it means “offshoot.” The congregations came out of TEC and the Diocese of Virginia. They voted to divide from TEC and join CANA and the ADV. These bodies were created to receive people coming out of TEC.

Justice Millette: So you’re not claiming these entities are still part of TEC?

Steffen Johnson: No.

Justice Millette: Well then how are they a branch?

Steffen Johnson: A branch means an offshoot. It may not have any legal connection to the original entity.

Justice Koontz: If the parishes had left and become Baptist, could that still be considered a branch?

Steffen Johnson: Yes. The theological distinctives aren’t what matters, and civil courts aren’t supposed to examine doctrinal issues anyway. What matters is where the branches came from.

Justice Millette: If the parishes have joined a branch of another tree, how can they claim a part of the original tree?

Steffen Johnson: The deeds say the parishes own the property. 57-9 settles disputes over church property among beneficial claimants. According to TEC, 57-9 must be interpreted differently according to the polity of the church at issue, which means you’d have a different statute every time.

Senior Justice Lacy: The statute talks about a “division in a church.” What’s the church here? The Anglican Communion? TEC? The Diocese?

Steffen Johnson: There has been a division into branches at all three levels. Again, a branch is an offshoot. It doesn’t require denominational approval.

Justice Koontz: Once there’s a vote to depart, how are these parishes part of a “branch” of the original church?

Steffen Johnson: Because of the history. They came out of the original church.

Justice Koontz: The congregations claim they aren’t part of TEC. For purposes of the statute, you’re saying they’re still a branch?

Steffen Johnson: Correct. I would point the Court to the testimony of Dr. Mark Valeri, who explained the meaning of “division” and “branch” as they appear in the statute. To be a branch, there is no requirement of legal connection. The branches may, by definition, not recognize the legitimacy of each other. That’s the nature of branches that result from a division.

Senior Justice Lacy: What about the requirement that the parishes vote to determine which branch “of the church” to join?

Steffen Johnson: The “division” here is not one that is approved or consensual. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to read “branch” as requiring a continued legal connection.

Justice Millette: But doesn’t the language make clear that you have to have two competing factions within TEC, still under TEC’s authority? They’re not still claiming to be in TEC, are they?

Steffen Johnson: That’s not what the statute means.

Justice Kinser: Why is this different from leaving to join the Baptist church, for instance?

Steffen Johnson: It’s not—as long as they qualify under the statute, then the theological distance traveled is irrelevant.

Justice Kinser: So we’re talking about them joining a branch of what?

Steffen Johnson: The key is that it’s a branch from TEC.

Senior Justice Lacy: The language says “which branch of the church.” If they form a new denomination, isn’t that by definition not a branch?

Steffen Johnson: Again, “branch” means offshoot. It’s the source that’s important, not whether there’s a continuing legal connection, or a recognition of authority.

Senior Justice Lacy: But they do have to join some kind of branch, right? Would it be different if they just stayed an independent parish?

Steffen Johnson: The parishes here joined a separate denominational structure, and that’s what the statute envisions.

Solicitor General Duncan Getchell, for the Commonwealth on behalf of the Parishes

Justice Kinser: How do you interpret “division” and “branch”?

Duncan Getchell: By their clear meaning. 57-9 was enacted in part as a response to nonconsensual divisions within the Methodist Church into not two but three separate Methodist denominational structures. They had no legal connection and didn’t recognize one another’s authority. The statute was designed to provide ground rules for resolving property issues arising from such disputes.

Justice Millette: So these Methodist groups weren’t still attached to the church they divided from?

Duncan Getchell: The connection was historical. Once there was a division, they had no continuing connection but were considered branches from the original church.

Justice Kinser: What if the parishes here directly joined the Anglican Church of Canada, or the Church of Nigeria? Would that be a branch of TEC?

Duncan Getchell: Yes, because those would be competing jurisdictions, like the Methodists had.

Justice Kinser: But those didn’t arise from TEC, right?

Duncan Getchell: No.

Justice Kinser: So they could go to an existing denomination, like the Baptists, and the statute would still apply?

Duncan Getchell: In theory, yes. The point is that they used to be in TEC, then divided from TEC.

Rebuttal by Heather Anderson

Heather Anderson: CANA was formed by the church of Nigeria. It’s not a branch of TEC.

The Supreme Court of Virginia has required that denominational trust clauses be enforced, and the Circuit Court was required to follow that rule.

[End of oral arguments]

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