Monday, December 29, 2014

What Episcopalians Have Lost

Episcopalians (referring only to those in the Episcopal Church [USA], and not those in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina) could have heard a Christmas sermon like this:
From Mabel's Christmas Letter:

Now when I remem­ber Christ­mas I think of the trees and lights and dec­o­ra­tions and I recall all the busy shop­ping for presents. But most of all I remem­ber my friends, most of whom have died or are as fee­ble as I. And I remem­ber my fam­ily, my father and mother and sis­ters and brother, and my dear dar­ling hus­band, Hank, and of course my chil­dren, grand­chil­dren and great grand chil­dren spread out over this great coun­try of ours. And I remem­ber singing car­ols at the church. Oh how I used to love that Can­dle­light ser­vice. But mostly now I think of my Lord.

I don’t know what peo­ple do who cel­e­brate Christ­mas with­out the Lord Jesus. They must feel ter­ri­bly empty when they wake up the next day with presents unwrapped, the food eaten and life back to nor­mal. No won­der the doc­tors say so many folk get depressed dur­ing the hol­i­days. I think peo­ple have for­got­ten that Love came down at Christ­mas. God’s Love! God’s Son—our Sav­ior! He did not grow up out of this ancient world of ours as if he was the best we had to offer. No, dear friends, He came down from heaven—God looked down and saw our need and so He sent His Son. That is why we call him, Immanuel, “God with us”. It is odd how you learn new things about that. Twelve years ago when my hus­band died it was my first Christ­mas in 54 years with­out my dar­ling Hank. I was all alone in my liv­ing room and I said, “Lord, I don’t think I can go on. I’m so alone.” Then the room seemed to grow unusu­ally quiet and the Lord seemed to say to me, “Mabel—you are not alone—always there will be two of us. Oth­ers may leave but I will stay.” That’s what Christ­mas means to me. God is with us—God is with me.

So go ahead. Dec­o­rate your trees and houses. I sup­pose it puts us all in a more cheer­ful mood. Give the chil­dren their gifts. Fill your stom­achs with all the deli­cious foods. But lis­ten to an old lady, if only for a moment. Sooner or later a per­son has to real­ize he is not going to live for­ever. No mat­ter how hard we try to live upstand­ing lives there is a lot we do in this life for which we need to be for­given. When we stand before God’s judg­ment every­one needs a Sav­ior....

But instead, the Christmas sermon Episcopalians heard was this one:
The altar hanging at an English Advent service was made of midnight blue, with these words across its top: “We thank you that darkness reminds us of light.” Facing all who gathered there to give thanks were images of night creatures – a large moth, an owl, a badger, and a bat – cryptic and somewhat mysterious creatures that can only be encountered in the darkness.

As light ebbs from the days and the skies of fall, many in the Northern Hemisphere associate dark with the spooks and skeletons of secular Hallowe’en celebrations. That English church has reclaimed the connection between creator, creation, and the potential holiness of all that is. It is a fitting reorientation toward the coming of One who has altered those relationships toward new possibilities for healing and redemption.

Advent leads us into darkness and decreasing light. Our bodies slow imperceptibly with shorter days and longer nights, and the merriness and frantic activity around us are often merely signs of eager hunger for light and healing and wholeness.

The Incarnation, the coming of God among us in human flesh, happened in such a quiet and out of the way place that few noticed at first. Yet the impact on human existence has been like a bolt of lightning that continues to grow and generate new life and fire in all who share that hunger.

Jesus is among us like a flitting moth – will we notice his presence in the street-sleeper? He pierces the dark like a silent, streaking owl seeking food for hungry and defenseless nestlings. He will overturn this world’s unjust foundations like badgers undermining a crooked wall. Like the bat’s sonar, his call comes to each one uniquely – have we heard his urgent “come and follow”? ...

O, foolish Episcopalians! How you have squandered your treasures!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Beethoven Benedictus

(Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Conductor; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Chorus)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Why the Persecution of Christians Must Increase

From the Gospel according to Matthew, ch. 24 (all translations in this post are from the New English Translation):

 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. 10 Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, 12 and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the person who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. 
And indeed, we see more and more headlines each day about the increasing persecution of Christians around the world. It is a consequence of the reach of our modern technologies that there are more Christians alive today than at any previous time in history. But it is also a consequence that as their numbers grow, so their persecutions grow.

Yet even more can be said. If what the Bible tells us about God's purpose for this age is accepted as true, then it follows logically and inevitably that the persecution of believers -- along with their deplorable apostasy and falling away -- must increase with time. Let me try to explain.

According to standard interpretation of "end-times" Biblical passages (the technical name for which is "eschatology"), this is the Age of the Gentiles, when God's word is commanded to go out into all the world of the non-Jews, so that "in the fullness of time" all nations may come to God.

Jesus tells a series of parables in Matthew chapter 13 to illustrate how the word of God will fare in these days:

He told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. The one who has ears had better listen!” 

To his disciples, Jesus explains the meaning behind the story:

18 “So listen to the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. 21 But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing. 23 But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.” 
Then he immediately told them another parable, thus:
The Parable of the Weeds
24 He presented them with another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the plants sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. 27 So the slaves of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ 28 He said, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the slaves replied, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ” 

These two parables illustrate what is happening in the world with God's Word today. The missionary efforts to spread it are greater than ever before, but the Enemy's efforts to see that it does not take hold, and to increase the number of weeds in the mix, are also increasing.

The results of this struggle may be expressed by a simple equation. If we let x stand for the cumulative total of all those who have heard God's Word, starting with the birth of the Church at Pentecost and continuing right up until yesterday (or the end of last month, or the end of last year); if we let y stand for the number of those who have been introduced to God's Word between that date and today; and if we let z express the portion of (x + y) who have for whatever reason become apostate, or who never accepted God's Word after hearing it, right up until today -- then we may consider the expression

+ y - z

and ask: is it growing larger, staying the same, or decreasing from one day (or month, or year) to the next? To answer this question, let's calculate the periodic increase in z from one date to the next, by subtracting the value of z at the end of the previous day (or month, or year) from its value today, and let us call that value Δz. 

The answer then turns upon which of the two quantities y and Δz is greater. So long as y -- the number of new converts since the end of the previous period -- remains greater than  Δz (the number who have been lost since the end of that period), the sum will keep getting larger, i.e., more and more people will be hearing God's Word. But when Δz starts to be constantly larger than y, that number will grow smaller than it was the day (or month, or year) before. And that should be cause for concern in heaven.

Why? In Romans 11:25-26, the apostle Paul tells us a key fact about the age of the Gentiles -- it is happening because of the temporary hardness that keeps Israel from absorbing the good news:
For I do not want you to be ignorant of this mysterybrothers and sistersso that you may not be conceited: A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be savedas it is written:“The Deliverer will come out of Zion;he will remove ungodliness from Jacob.
"All Israel will be saved" -- but not until "the full number of Gentiles has come in." And once that has happened, Israel will be saved in this manner when the Deliverer comes out of Zion -- that is, when the Second Coming takes place.

The "full number of the Gentiles" may be expressed by the sum (+ y - z) given above. So long as the number is increasing, its "fullness" has not yet been reached. But for the Second Coming to take place, and for all Israel to be saved, that day must certainly come when the sum has reached its maximum -- and will never get any larger.

And what will have to happen for that sum to start getting smaller? Well, the number of apostates from the Word will have to be larger than the number of converts to the Word. And one way to increase the number of apostates (or, what comes to the same thing, to decrease the number of converts) is to persecute all those who hear God's word.

That is not the only way to make the number smaller, of course. It is also a truism that the more the missionaries do to spread God's Word, then the fewer peoples there will be to reach -- and increasingly so, with today's technologies. So at some point -- and who knows, we may already have reached it -- the total of the sum will start to increase by less and less each day, until finally it stops increasing, and starts growing smaller.

"No one knows the hour or the day" the end times will start -- not even the Son, but only the Father. We may not know just when the sum (+ y - z) will start to get smaller, because we do not know the exact numbers of its individual components, which change from day to day. But the Father knows them, and knows them exactly.

So as the persecution of Christians increases, it is a sign of the Enemy's putting Christians to the test, to see whether or not they will hold fast to the saving Word. But at the same time, it is a sign of the commencement of the end times, when there will be fewer and fewer left to be saved. As it is written in 2 Pet. 3:9 (with my emphasis added) --
The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slownessbut is being patient toward youbecause he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Deo sit gloria.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Decision in South Carolina Case Expected Soon

Today, at the request of Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein, both sides in the South Carolina case are submitting proposed forms of a final decision and order for her to sign. She will most likely use one of the two versions as a basis for her own written decision, which she could issue as early as next week.

The South Carolina decision, when it comes, will not be written on a blank slate. As a trial judge, Judge Goodstein is bound to follow and apply precedents of the South Carolina Supreme Court. In 2009 that Court handed down its decision in the case of All Saints Parish Waccamaw v. Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and thereby established that church property disputes in the State are to be decided under "neutral principles of law."

In the context of the present dispute, this means that the Court will base its final decision upon a close examination of the various deeds and other documents evidencing ownership and title, as well as the governing documents (constitution, canons, articles and bylaws) of the parishes, the Diocese, and of the Episcopal Church (USA) itself.

As to the ability of the Diocese to withdraw from ECUSA, it would seem that it has already been finally adjudicated (by the courts of Illinois) that there is no language in the Constitution or canons of ECUSA which would prevent a Diocese from withdrawing. That is also a decision drawn under neutral principles, and so is in harmony with the method shown in the All Saints Waccamaw case. I should think that Judge Goodstein will find the reasoning of those two cases both persuasive and binding upon her.

Resolution of that question will not, however, necessarily resolve the issue of property held in trust. Under the Waccamaw decision again, an express written trust of some kind will be required -- one that satisfies the Statute of Frauds under South Carolina law (it must be in writing, and signed by the actual owner of the person so placing the property into a trust). The Dennis Canon alone will not work -- that was one of the express holdings in the Waccamaw case which will be binding upon Judge Goodstein.

There was no evidence of any such trust document or documents offered at the trial, to my knowledge. Consequently, the decision on this point, while open, should not be a difficult one under neutral principles.

That leaves as a final question whether each parish duly followed South Carolina law and procedure in amending its articles and bylaws so as to remove any affiliation with ECUSA -- although I cannot see how it would be crucial, if the Court decides that the Diocese properly withdrew. It is the Dioceses, and not the individual parishes, that make up the actual membership of ECUSA itself.

A parish affiliates with ECUSA by virtue of being a member of an ECUSA Diocese, and when that Diocese withdraws, the parish's affiliation is thereby terminated as well -- as long as the parish chooses to stay a member of the withdrawing Diocese. Here the Diocese freely allowed its member parishes to choose which affiliation they wanted to keep, and did nothing to prevent the withdrawal of those that wanted to remain with ECUSA.

One hopes, therefore, that neutral principles will again show the logical way to resolve this unfortunate dispute, which was started when those who were allowed to remain Episcopalians decided, in league with ECUSA's leadership, that being allowed to retain their own properties was not enough -- they just had to have it all. (The Diocese sued ECUSA initially only to keep its own name and trademarks; it was ECUSA, and later its rump group, that broadened the suit so as to lay claim to all of the diocesan and parish real and personal property.)

Stay tuned -- we should know shortly what the Judge decides.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Church that Sues Itself Is a Church?

The highly litigious Episcopal Church in the United States of America ("ECUSA") has settled a lawsuit with itself, according to a press release from its rump group (which cannot legally be called a "diocese") in South Carolina.

Shall we run that one by our eyes again? ECUSA has settled a lawsuit which it brought against itself.

OK, technically I should say: one arm of ECUSA has agreed to take money from another arm of ECUSA in settlement of a dispute the two arms had with each other, and that went to court. Is that clearer?

No? My, but you are being picky. Let me try one more time, in a bit more detail.

ECUSA is this epiphenomenon that is rather like the village of Brigadoon. One day or so you suddenly see it (if you're lucky enough), and then for a very long time, you don't. It arises (when it does), not out of its own doings, but of those of its constituent members.

Oh, you may think you see ECUSA far oftener than that, for if you follow lawsuits, ECUSA is perpetually in the news. Every time you see or hear of ECUSA in that sense, it is as the plaintiff in yet another lawsuit against one of its own churches, or dioceses.

But the ECUSA who files suit as a "plaintiff" is not the real ECUSA that the Rev. Dr. William White and others formed in 1789. It is simply the Presiding Bishop and her personal attorneys.

Apparently, they have allowed matters to get out of hand -- to the point where this Anglican Curmudgeon must duly report that one arm of ECUSA has agreed to pay money to another arm of ECUSA so that the two arms can dismiss the lawsuits they filed against each other.

Enough about "arms": let us name names. One branch of ECUSA involved in this imbroglio is what ECUSA was forced by the South Carolina courts to call "the Episcopal Church in South Carolina", or ECSC for short.

ECSC has quite a speckled history. Thanks to the machinations of the Presiding Bishop and her enablers, it came into formal existence only at the end of January in 2013 -- but its roots go back much farther than that, as I detailed in this earlier post, in this one, and in this one.

It was formally organized in January 2013 out of the bits and pieces that wanted the Diocese of South Carolina to go the way of General Convention 2012. That would have meant authorizing same-sex partnered clergy and bishops, same-sex marriage blessings and church ceremonies, and all the miasma that ensues from such endless appeasing of the current culture.

As is their wont, the progressive minority who wanted to have everything their way ignored the rules, and took the law into their own hands. They sent out emails purporting to come from the diocesan office; they appropriated the diocesan name and corporate seal; they erected a Web site that purported to be the official site of the Diocese of South Carolina.  They acted as though they had already triumphed over the vast majority that refused to accede to their Kultur-driven agenda, and that instead (under their faithful Bishop) resolved to hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints.

As a consequence of the minority's lawlessness, Bishop Lawrence and his corporate diocese brought suit against them to halt their misappropriations of his seal and the diocesan name and trademarks. And lo and behold! They capitulated almost at once, and agreed to an injunction against their further misbehavior.

But they were still the defendants in a suit against them alleging that they had engaged in wrongful behavior. So like any good Episcopalians, they tendered the defense of that lawsuit to the Church Insurance Company of Vermont. That insurer is one of the Church Insurance Companies set up by the Church Pension Fund of the Episcopal Church (USA) to provide low-cost liability and other forms of insurance to Episcopal parishes and dioceses.
Wait -- "dioceses", you say? But I thought you said earlier that the rump group could not qualify as the Diocese of South Carolina under South Carolina law -- so how did they qualify to be a diocese of ECUSA for purposes of the Church Insurance Company's policy?
Simple -- the Presiding Bishop headed up the rump group's organizing convention in South Carolina. Her attorneys, the Executive Council and the Church Insurance Companies could, after that, scarcely fail to recognize the rump group as a full-fledged "diocese" within ECUSA, and so it was. And as a full-fledged Episcopal "diocese", it got its liability insurance policy, and paid its premiums.

The money went to the Church Insurance Companies, but that is really an outfit which (like its parent, the Church Pension Fund) depends for its existence upon ECUSA and its parishes that are its customers. Any "profits" (the excess of premiums paid in over expenses, including monies paid out to satisfy judgments and settlements) earned by the insurance company stay within the larger Pension Fund, and contribute to the ability of that Fund to pay benefits to retired Episcopal clergy.

Now one of the coverages provided under the Church Insurance Companies' general liability policy is  described in their booklet as follows (scroll down to page 12):
Advertising Injury Liability  
Exposure: Liability for plagiarism or piracy of one’s copyright or trademark  
Example: Another business claims that the policyholder’s logo is confusingly similar to its own.
Notice the wording of that example? "Another business" -- in ECUSA TECSpeak™, that would mean what we lay people call "another church" -- "claims that the policyholder's logo" -- that would be the seal used by the rump group -- "is confusingly similar to its own."

"Confusingly similar"?  How about identical? As in, "You stole that from us!"

So the Church Insurance Company liability policy obtained by the rump group had coverage for the particular injury which the plaintiff Diocese of South Carolina claimed the rump group had done to it. The rump group promptly filed suit against its insurers in the federal district court for the District of South Carolina.

The Insurance Company argued that it was not liable to cover willful acts of trade mark infringement, and that under South Carolina's laws, acts of infringement had to be willful to generate liability.   However, the federal judge ruled that liability could be established under South Carolina law for unintentional conduct that amounted to trademark infringement, and so held that the Insurance Company had to pay for the rump group's defense (up to the policy limits of $1 million).

The rump group sued the insurer not only to force it to provide a defense, but also sued it for bad faith denial of coverage -- which claim, if proved, could lead to substantial damages in excess of the policy limits, and based on the entire net worth of the insurance company! The court ruled that it did not have enough evidence before it to rule on that claim, and left it for a future trial.

But stop and think for a moment: in the world of ECUSA, it is nothing for one arm of the Church to sue another arm of the same Church, and claim that it is a victim of bad-faith dealings by its fellow member -- entitling it to wipe out that member's entire net worth! I suppose that all the vestries and rectors whom ECUSA has sued personally for punitive damages and bad faith should take some small amount of consolation from the realization that for ECUSA, it's nothing personal, and nothing that ECUSA wouldn't hesitate to use against its own.

What a Church! What a Christian example to fellow Christians!

And now we learn that the lawsuit by ECUSA against itself has settled -- for the payment of an undisclosed amount of money. Well, that certainly must come as a relief to ECUSA's pensioned clergy, who otherwise might fear that ECUSA's ever-increasing lawsuits would end up preventing the Pension Fund from being able to fund their pensions. At least they have one less such suit about which to worry -- even though they don't know (and will never be told) how much it cost them.

What else is left for ECUSA's clergy to say, in the face of such mind-boggling, imperially-sponsored carnage at the peons' expense?

Ave imperator, morituri te salutant.