Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Film Resurrects Interest in Mary Magdalene

Film Resurrects Interest in Mary Magdalene:
By RICHARD N. OSTLING
The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 28, 2006; 2:08 PM


"Redeemed sinner, prostitute, wife of Jesus? Mary Magdalene's image has gone through myriad incarnations over the centuries, and this Lenten season she's drawing new attention thanks to the upcoming movie version of "The Da Vinci Code," a slew of books and Internet arguments.

But those looking for a salacious side to the biblical figure will be disappointed: Serious religious scholars agree characterizations that stray from faithful disciple and witness to the Resurrection are bogus...."
With all the hype surrounding The Da Vinci Code, the movie version due out late Spring, and now a lawsuit charging theft of the plot from an earlier book, it is refreshing to see an article that deals with matters of fact.

Richad Ostling attempts here to separate what is known about Mary Magdalene, and what is speculation.

Much of what we know about Mary Magdalene comes from Luke 8 and the resurrection accounts. She is first named in Luke as one of several women who accompanied the disciples and supported them financially. Immediately preceding the account in Luke 8 about the women is the story of a woman who approached Jesus while he was visiting the house of Simon, a Pharisee. Simon says to himself that if Jesus were truly a prophet he would know what kind of woman this was. (Luke 7:36-50)

Many people assume that this woman was Mary of Magdala, but she is not named here, nor is the nature of her sin. Mary IS named in the beginning of chapter 8 as one of those who supported the ministry of Jesus and the Twelve. She is described as one who had 7 demons.

In the 6th century A.D. Pope Gregory the Great preached a sermon relating how Mary Magdalene, a notorious prostitute, repented after meeting Jesus. Ostling makes considerable sense when he points out that this came from a mistaken identification of the woman who encountered Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee with Mary Magdalene whom we meet for the first time in Luke 8:1-3.

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The Oracle Suggests a Truce Between Science and Religion - New York Times

The Oracle Suggests a Truce Between Science and Religion - New York Times:
[free registration required]
By WILLIAM J. BROAD
Published: February 28, 2006


"It may seem that the longstanding war between science and religion is entering a new phase: Darwin versus intelligent design, religious opposition to stem cell research, Western secularism versus Islamic fundamentalism. All around we see growing tensions between the scientific demand for truth through reason and experiment, and the religious desire for consolation and revealed truth.

What seems like a clear trend, however, in fact misrepresents the underlying reality. We have indeed seen many conflicts over the centuries, vividly in the case of Galileo versus the church.

But the truth is that science and spirituality, rather than addressing similar ground, speak to very different realms of human experience and, at least in theory, have the potential to coexist in peace, complementing rather than constantly battling each other...."
This New York Times essay raises some points that need to be considered in the "cultural war" between science and faith. The author holds that the scientists who make "sweeping metaphysical claims" are a vocal minority, but in my opinion, the members of the faith community who believe that scientific pursuits have little to offer are just as wrong.

Mark Noll, in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, makes the point that evangelicals of an earlier age had a deep respect for science, and saw it as a valuable way to engage with God's creation.

William Broad suggests that both sides need to realize that they are complementary in their pursuits, and to avoid the power struggle that drowns out the more reasonable voices.

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Word and Deed, Again and Again - Christianity Today Magazine

Word and Deed, Again and Again - Christianity Today Magazine:
Five months later and counting, Katrina continues to change the lives of both victims and volunteers.
by Deann Alford | posted 02/27/2006 09:00 a.m.


"Last August, Travis Todd was wrapping up seven nonstop years of ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ in Southeast Asia. He was looking forward to some down time in Alabama and his hometown of Pass Christian, Mississippi.

Meanwhile, pastor Christopher Colby was poised to launch ambitious fall programs at Pass Christian's wealthy Trinity Church. And hundreds of miles north in Evansville, Indiana, a semi-retired Greg Porter, who had founded a successful maintenance company, was focused on improving his tennis game.

But for all three individuals, God and Hurricane Katrina had bigger ideas...."
Here is a moving story about how life has radically changed for many people affected by Hurricane Katrina. The major relief organizations are pulling back, but there is up to two years more work that needs to be done, and this story estimates that 95% of the volunteers are Christians.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Another Take on Gospel Truth About Judas

Another Take on Gospel Truth About Judas:
[Washington Post -- free registration required]
The first translation of an ancient, self-proclaimed "Gospel of Judas" will be published in late April, bringing to light what some scholars believe are the writings of an early Christian sect suppressed for supporting Jesus's infamous betrayer.

If authentic, the manuscript could add to the understanding of Gnosticism, an unorthodox Christian theology denounced by the early church. The Roman Catholic Church is aware of the manuscript, which a Vatican historian called "religious fantasy."
This article outlines the "Gospel of Judas" contention that since Judas was acting as a part of God's overall plan, he was not to be condemned for what he did. While Scripture indicates that Judas felt remorse after the fact, it is a bit of a stretch to consider his betrayal of Jesus as anything but craven. It might be useful to speculate as to whether or not he was beyond redemption, but that would be arguing from silence.

There is a reason why the Gnostic writings were not considered canonical by the early Church. They portray a movement that relies on "secret knowledge", sees the physical world as something to be despised (including human bodies), and appears to rely on human seeking to achieve spiritual knowledge.

One of the gnostic scriptures, the Gospel of Thomas, while showing many similarities to the canonical Gospels, has some unusual things to say about women. In addition, it suggests that the only way to achieve the Kingdom is to abstain from the world -- a view that is not shared by either the Old Testament or the New Testament. For further reading, read the translation provided by Patterson and Robinson.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

The Daily Princetonian - Revisions presents Christian viewpoint

The Daily Princetonian - Revisions presents Christian viewpoint:
By Euphemia Mu
Princetonian Staff Writer


While humor, political and literary publications abound across campus, religious writing has had little outlet until recently.

Revisions magazine, first published last spring, hopes to fill that void with articles written from a Christian perspective.

"We felt that the Christian viewpoint was underrepresented, if at all," Revisions editor Andrew Matthews '06 said. "We wanted to show Christianity is academically viable and rationally founded."
This student-led initiative is refreshing. It is good to see that these students are recognizing that Christianity does not require a disengagement of the intellect.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Small Is Huge - Christianity Today Magazine

Small Is Huge - Christianity Today Magazine:
"...I admire big ministries. At Christianity Today, we often report on large ministries like World Vision, the Salvation Army, and the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board. All of them have amazing capacity to take on large projects and to deliver the goods. After Hurricane Katrina, the Salvation Army and the North American Mission Board fielded enormous teams in a coordinated fashion to deliver huge amounts of help. Because of their experience, they brought organizational expertise to other groups that were trying to minister to those displaced by the hurricane. By the end of September, the North American Mission Board had served 5.1 million hot meals to Katrina victims. That's amazing capacity.

Ministries with great capacity also foster small, high-contact ministries at the street level. Those and other small independent ministries like Emmaus tackle everyday disasters that aren't easily reached by the giants of compassion. People battered by hurricanes of schizophrenia and stds, alcoholism and family dysfunction, poverty and prejudice call for no less expertise. Indeed, they demand the kind of vision, commitment, and sheer grit that come from being part of a small, mutually supportive ministry—one small enough to be untouched by corporate-think or by the reduced expectations we sometimes call "realism." Such ministries attract and hold people who are willing to believe that the impossible can be accomplished.

Small churches, also, can serve, nurture, and rescue people in ways that only small-church intimacy can provide. Big churches have large capacity for innovation and setting trends, and they can create specialized ministries for special audiences. But there is an advantage to smallness...."
I suspect that most of the mission of the Church takes place at a small scale. The job of national church organizations is to "think globally", but the local congregations are able to react more quickly to the problems in their community and, more importantly, are far more aware of the needs than people at the denominational level. This is not to minimize the need for, say, the PC(USA) offices in Louisville -- they provide valuable support and can act as a clearinghouse for information and volunteers -- but they rely heavily on people at the grass roots to do the neccessary work.

In 1969 I travelled with an Exporer Scout contingent to Nelson County, Virginia to help clean up after Hurricane Camille. We camped and worked with local people and shovelled mud and did other more unpleasant tasks. A national organization whom I respected (and still respect) came in a day or so after we arrived, and pretty much irritated the local people by assuming that they (the national organization) knew what was needed. A local Mennonite group had been working since the hurricane and they did it without setting up a command post. They just showed up in work clothes and started working.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Kruse Kronicle: Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Chapter 1

Kruse Kronicle: Toward an Evangelical Public Policy: Chapter 1:
(This is the first in a series of sixteen posts summarizing, for discussion purposes, a collection of sixteen essays edited by Ronald J. Sider and Diane Knippers on public policy.)

Toward an Evangelical Public Policy

Part I – Learning from the Past

Chapter 1 - Seeking a Place: Evangelical Protestants and Public Engagement in the Twentieth Century. By John C. Green, Professor of Political Science, University of Akron.

Green gives a brief history of political engagement by Evangelicals over the last century. He categorizes identifies three avenues of engagement:

* movement politics – challenges to political institutions
* quiescent politics – detachment from political institutions
* regularized politics – adaptation to political institutions


Mike Kruse of the Kruse Kronicle has started a series of posts summarizing the 16 essays in Toward an Evangelical Public Policy.

This discussion is open for comments and I suggest that if this topic intrigues you, go on over and be a part of this virtual book discussion.



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Execution of Killer-Rapist Is Postponed After Doctors Walk Out - Los Angeles Times

Execution of Killer-Rapist Is Postponed After Doctors Walk Out - Los Angeles Times:
[free registration required]
Court-ordered anesthesiologists refuse to participate in the process, citing ethical concerns.

By Louis Sahagun and Tim Reiterman, Times Staff Writers


"SAN QUENTIN -- The scheduled execution of convicted murderer-rapist Michael Morales was postponed this morning after court-ordered anesthesiologists refused to participate in the process. The prison warden abruptly changed plans and announced that the inmate would be executed with a lethal dose of barbiturates.

At 2:55 a.m., Warden Steven Ornoski announced that the prison indends to carry out the execution at 7:30 p.m. today with an unprecedented single dose of sodium pentothal, a lethal barbiturate, rather than the standard three-chemical potion.

Injecting Morales with five grams of barbiturates was expected to lengthen the execution from the usual 11 minutes to as long as 45 minutes...."
This article was a little unclear as to what, specifically, the physician's ethical issues were, but they felt that they could not participate in the lethal injection to as great an extent as they were being asked to.

The American Medical Association had aleady spoken out against the new protocol, since it required active participation in the execution of the the death sentence against Michael Morales.

My personal views on the death penalty have evolved from support in the early 1970s to questioning in the 1980s to opposition from the early 1990s on. These views are influenced most heavily by my faith, but there is plenty of evidence that the death penalty is applied in an arbitrary manner throughout this nation, and has been disproportionately inflicted on the poor and minorities.

I commend the anaesthesiologists who refused to participate in this case, but I suspect it will only result in a short postponement of Morales' death.

UPDATE (February 21, 2006 21:25 CST)
:

California has postponed the Morales execution indefinitely, as the ethical issues of court-ordered physician participation were too thorny to resolve in the time remaining on the current death warrant.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Sioux City Journal: Lawsuit over prison religion program goes to judge

Sioux City Journal: Lawsuit over prison religion program goes to judge:
"DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- A Christian prison program is unconstitutional and should be shut down, lawyers for an advocacy group said Friday in closing arguments.

The InnerChange Freedom Initiative has been operated at the Newton Correctional Facility since 1999.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Des Moines against Iowa prison officials and Prison Fellowship Ministries, which sponsors the program, claiming it violates the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause, while receiving state funding...."
I'd like to know a little more about this program as well as the similar programs in Kansas, Minnesota and Texas.

The proponents of such programs say claim that the program is open to all who choose, and that behavior is improved and recidivism is reduced, thus providing benefits in the near and long term.

The Americans United for the Separation of Church and State do not rebut those claims in this article; intead they focus on what they perceive as coercion and discrimination against non-Christians, as well as the predictable constitutional issues.

Another story, titled Faith-based Prison Program Case in Judge's Hands, appeared in the Des Moines Register and closes with this:
"...Americans United also alleged the program's inmates receive special privileges not afforded to other prisoners, including an opportunity to complete treatment classes required for parole earlier than they could otherwise.

Defense lawyers disputed the allegations, saying no one is forced to participate and they receive no preference for paroles.

"Inmates of all faiths and no faiths are welcome," said Anthony Troy, a lawyer for Prison Fellowship. Catholic inmates who join the program are permitted to pray the Rosary and attend Mass; Native Americans may attend the sweat lodge and pray to the Creator, and Muslim inmates may observe Ramadan and Jumah, defense lawyers said."
Well, here we have questions of fact, and it remains for a judge to evaluate which side is more truthful.

Pending any further information, my gut response is that we know what doesn't work in the American penal system. These programs do seem to work, and as long as the criteria for joining the program are even-handed, and the criteria for dismissal are based on behavioral choices rather than adhering to a "proper" set of beliefs, then why not?

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Friday, February 17, 2006

Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted - Los Angeles Times

Bedrock of a Faith Is Jolted - Los Angeles Times:
(free registration requred)
"From the time he was a child in Peru, the Mormon Church instilled in Jose A. Loayza the conviction that he and millions of other Native Americans were descended from a lost tribe of Israel that reached the New World more than 2,000 years ago.

"We were taught all the blessings of that Hebrew lineage belonged to us and that we were special people," said Loayza, now a Salt Lake City attorney. "It not only made me feel special, but it gave me a sense of transcendental identity, an identity with God."

A few years ago, Loayza said, his faithwas shaken and his identity stripped away by DNA evidence showing that the ancestors of American natives came from Asia, not the Middle East...."
The tensions between religion and science have been with us for hundreds, and perhaps thousands of years. Copernicus and Galileo both proposed models of the universe that were at odds with what was then considered "revealed truth" and Galileo, in particular, faced serious consequences as a result.

In 1970 I took my first college-level biology course using Keeton's text Biological Science. I still remember a statement in the introduction about the different ways people search for truth, and how science differs from faith. Paraphrasing Keeton, he said that making one's faith dependent on any aspect of the physical universe open to study, puts such faith at risk for having science destroy it.

Is this what is happening here?

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Bread for the World: What is this Offering of Letters About?

What is this Offering of Letters About?:
"A movement of the Spirit is sweeping through nations of the world. In recent years—in churches, on campuses and in community groups across the United States—tens of thousands of Bread for the World members and other concerned people of faith and conscience have rallied together, raising their voices on behalf of hungry and poor people around the world. Those voices have been heard: Together we have helped win significant increases in effective development assistance to help reduce poverty globally...."
Bread for the World is gearing up for its annual offering of letters. These letters go to lawmakers in an effort to see that resources are directed toward poverty and hunger issues in the US and world-wide.

Bread for the World is a non-partisan Christian organization that "...seeks justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers."

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Scout is Reverent

The twelfth point of The Scout Law states simply "A Scout is Reverent."

It does not specify what religion a scout must have, nor does it specify how one expresses one's faith. It is assumed that a scout will do his duty to God with due reverence.

The Boy Scouts of America National Council has a fact sheet on the Scout Oath and Law which states that "A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others." (emphasis mine)

Toward the end of September 2005, some cartoons were published in a Danish paper. The received little notice until a few weeks ago (although bloggers were aware of them), but now they are a major topic of news reports. This controversy has not brought out the best in people. Many bloggers found it necessary to repost and continue reposting these cartoons, in some cases making it clear that it is intended to ensure that as many people as possible see them. People have been killed over these cartoons. Property damage has been substantial. Forgeries have been diseminated across the Middle East, as if the genuine cartoons weren't insulting enough.

Many harsh words have been spoken about this issue, yet ridicule has all too often been a part of discussions about religion.

The same people who are calling for violence in retaliation for the cartoons think nothing about hateful caricatures of Jews and Christians that are prevalent in the Muslim world. Christians have ridiculed the beliefs of others for many years. Some of the artwork of the Reformation era shows the contempt in which Protestants and Catholics held each other, not to mention their joint contempt for Jews. Many people find it amusing to take the fish symbol and give it legs, and if that is too subtle, to write the word "Darwin" inside the outline.

When did it become acceptible to ridicule the symbols of another's faith? When did it become acceptible for Presbyterians to use ridicule as a weapon in our internal debates? When did it become acceptible to retaliate in kind for another's insults?

Maybe the Boy Scouts have a clearer concept of reverence and respect than most people.

A Scout is Reverent -- A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Budget Battle - Christianity Today Magazine

Budget Battle - Christianity Today Magazine:

Christian leaders split sharply over the 2006 federal budget and deficit-reduction bill. They differed not just on how Washington can help the poor, vulnerable, and aged, but also the extent that government should.

The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 on February 1. The spending measure trims $39.5 billion from the federal budget over five years. The largest cuts target Medicare and Medicaid. The act also reduced $343 million for foster-care programs and $5 billion over 10 years to states for enforcing child support.

Many Christian leaders condemned the spending reductions as immoral. "Today's vote was a callous vote," the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said in a statement on February 1. "In spite of five straight years of increasing hunger and poverty, this Congress decided to cut aid for the poor to help finance tax cuts for the wealthy."

Well, it's not quite a simple as the Rev. Mr. Beckmann paints it, but he is correct in that the needs are becoming greater as the safety net becomes skimpier.

One of the most attractive things about Bread for the World is their appeal to both sides of the political divide. It's not a simple tradeoff between tax cuts and aid to the poor. It is a question of priorities. When the tough choices need to be made (as any reasonable person recoognizes), organizations such as Bread for the World, proceeding from a clear sense of the Lord's calling, ask our policy makers to see to the poor among us as a top priority.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Prebyterian Outlook: Belhar Confession: Does it speak To PC(USA)’s challenges?

Belhar Confession: Does it speak To PC(USA)’s challenges?:
(free registration required)
Leslie Scanlon, Outlook national reporter
02/13/2006


"During the Sunday morning coffee hour, the Confession of Belhar probably isn’t at the top of the conversation list.

It’s not in the Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), so lots of Presbyterians have probably never read it.

But this confession – adopted in 1986 in South Africa during the heart of the struggle over apartheid – is beginning to draw renewed interest among Reformed Christians in the United States and internationally. South African churches have been urging the rest of the world to read it for years, saying it has a message Christians need to hear.

For while it was written in a particular time and place, its themes are unity, reconciliation and justice – exactly, some contend, the issues confronting American churches in the 21st century...."

While the Confession of Belhar is not as all-purpose as the Apostle's Creed or Nicene Creed, nor as comprehensive as the Westminster Confession, it's focus on unity and equality makes it worth reading.

It may not warrant a space in our Book of Confessions, but there are many documents that have not attained "official" confessional status for the PC(USA), but are useful nonetheless. The Confession of Belhar, while not as well-known as other confessions, is certainly in this category.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Pope: Religion, science compatible

Pope: Religion, science compatible:
Reuters
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.11.2006


"VATICAN CITY — Science made such rapid progress in the 20th century that people may sometimes be confused about how the Christian faith can still be compatible with it, Pope Benedict said Friday.

But science and religion are not opposed to each other and Christians should not be afraid to try to understand how they complement each other in explaining the mystery of life on Earth, he told the Vatican's doctrinal department...."

The "Vatican's doctrinal department", or "The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith", is probably better known by its former name "The Inquisition".

Benedict XVI had developed a reputation for rigid doctrinal stances in his 25 years with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, but in his early months as Pope, he has shown a more conciliatory tendency.

Judge Tosses Case of Atheist Vs. Priest

Judge Tosses Case of Atheist Vs. Priest:
By MARTA FALCONI
The Associated Press
Friday, February 10, 2006; 11:03 AM

"ROME -- An Italian judge has dismissed an atheist's petition that a small-town priest should stand trial for asserting that Jesus Christ existed, both sides said on Friday.

Luigi Cascioli, a 72-year-old retired agronomist, had accused the Rev. Enrico Righi of violating two laws with the assertion, which he called a deceptive fable propagated by the Roman Catholic Church...."

Well, this silliness is halted for the moment, but Cascioli vows to take it to the European Court of Human Rights.

What I find odd is that this was filed as a criminal complaint, rather than a civil complaint, and that the apparent "crime" was that the priest said that Jesus was an historical figure.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Vice of Centrists

Gruntled Center:
"...The vice of centrists is complacency.

Liberal and conservative activists seem to enjoy feeling righteously indignant so much that I think that is half the appeal of having an ideology in the first place. But to feel really righteous in our outrage, we have to grossly simplify the issues and options, to eliminate the middle positions and proclaim culture war...."


Beau Weston has posted three good articles this week on the strengths and shortcomings of liberals and conservatives.

The first, with the lengthy title of "The Vice of Conservatives is Believing that Conservatism is a Morality Test; The Vice of Liberals is Believing that Liberalism is an Intelligence Test" was followed a day later with "What Conservatives and Liberals Did Right".

Beau's article today is in response to a comment to the first in the series.

Go on over and read the full articles. They, and their comments, are worth thinking about.

Air Force Issues Revised Guidelines on Religion

Christianity Today Magazine:
Air Force Issues Revised Guidelines on Religion
Interpretation varies on what one-page "interim" document means.

by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

"The Air Force issued revised guidelines on religious expression Thursday, reiterating its official neutrality on matters of belief but making subtle changes in language that drew both criticism and praise from disparate groups.

Religious activists gave diverse interpretations of whether and how the guidelines address some of the most controversial issues, such as whether Christian chaplains can evangelize and say public prayers "in Jesus' name," as many are accustomed to doing.

"We will respect the rights of chaplains to adhere to the tenets of their religious faiths and they will not be required to participate in religious activities, including public prayer, inconsistent with their faiths," the new document reads...."

I was a military dependent for 20 years, and my family lived on base while my father was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. The housing area chapel alternated between Protestant and Catholic services, and Jewish services were held in the chapel at the other housing area. The chaplains were Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, respectively. It seemed to me, and continues to make sense, that this is entirely appropriate, where the people attending services are there by choice, and are presumably of the same religion.

I suppose where the problem lies is not with base chaplains, but with unit chaplains, who might be called upon to minister to military personnel who may not be of the same religion.

It is hard for me to say what the issues are here as the rhetoric from both sides sounds a little suspect to me, but on the face of it, the statement seems to be fair to all sides while preserving the idea that minsters should be allowed to ... minister.

A similar situation arises in the Boy Scouts of America, where many, if not most units are composed of boys and leaders who represent a range of religions. In the troop where my son is a scout there are Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish families represented. One of my roles in scouting is that of a trainer, and we emphasize that religious services should always be provided when activities involve Sunday morning, and that such services need to be non-denominational when there are boys of varying religions. This is entirely reasonable. The Boy Scouts of America has a long history of expecting "Duty to God", but has always recognized that each boy will have his own way of performing that duty.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

TomPaine.com - Evangelical Mutiny

TomPaine.com - Evangelical Mutiny:

The New York Times posted an article yesterday about 86 prominent evangelicals who signed a statement urging steps to reduce greenhouse emissions that may lead to global warming, as part of our stewardship of God's Creation. That article also noted that a smaller group of 22 equally prominent evangelicals signed a statement in January urging that no stand be taken on this topic, as it had not achieved consensus among Christians. I commented on the NY Times article yesterday, as did Mike Kruse of the Kruse Kronicle. Mike has a somewhat different perspective on this than I, but his opinions are well formed. For further information, visit Mike's section on the environment.

Paul Waldman writes in this article how the split between evangelical Christians on global warming represents an opportunity to drive wedges in the conservative community, and should be exploited as part of an effort to destroy the conservative movement:
"...So why should progressives be glad about the NAE’s retreat from one prominent element of what is known as “Creation Care”? Not just because it exposes a split within the organization, but because that split reveals the forces now threatening the unity of the conservative movement. Progressives should be on the lookout for divisions among religious conservative, and between religious conservatives and other conservatives, to find wedges that can be driven home to crack the conservative movement to pieces...."

What Waldman doesn't acknowledge is that the number of signers opposing the recent statement on global warming is about 1/4 the number of signatories of that statement. And I suspect that there are many members of the NAE who DO support environmental stewardship.

In addition, he seems to make the all-too-common assumption that "evangelical" = "right wing conservative". It doesn't, as any evangelical knows. There is an evangelical left and center, as well as a right -- and they are well-represented in the Christian environmental movement.

But perhaps Waldman's most disturbing attitude is his apparent willingness to use this issue to weaken a key consituency in the stewardship of the environment. People forget that it was conservatives in the early years of the last century who were the movers behind the modern environmental movement. If we are to make progress in caring for the environment, it would not be wise to alienate any segment of our society. The concerns about the environment are far too pressing to permit political ideology get in the way.

Global warming may not have reached consensus among evangelical Christians, but neither has it reached consensus among scientists. The preponderance of scientific opinion is that it IS a clear danger, but some feel that it is part of a natural cyclical phenomenon. Reasonable people do have differing opinions about this.

What should not be a mattter of dispute is that there ARE environmental concerns that need to be addressed. Overgrazing in the Third World as well as in some of the more developed areas, water pollution, air pollution, solid waste, toxic runoff, and others have been and continue to be major issues in the quality of life. We take things for granted in this country. I travelled to another country's capital a few years ago for a meeting. My eyes burned, and my nose itched from smog. I had not experienced that in over 30 years, and I have done enough travelling inside the US to have an informed opinion about air quality. We have no done so well with water quality, but things are improving.

As Christians we are are called to have dominion over God's creation. Not domination. Not to consume it voraciously. To care for it so not only we can enjoy it, but our descendants.

U2 Wins Five Grammys

CNN this morning had an article about the Grammys. U2 took five awards, including Best Album ("How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb") and Best Song ("Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own"). This is their second Best Album award, having won for 1987's "The Joshua Tree".

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative - New York Times

Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative - New York Times:
(Free registration required)
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Published: February 8, 2006

"Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors."

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."
..."

This is a hopeful sign. There has alway been support for environmental stewardship among evangelicals, but that fact has not always been acknowledged in the press, nor played up by the evengelicals themselves.

The list of people supporting this initiative tends toward the center of the evangelical spectrum, and there have been some high-profile people such as Chuck Colson and James Dobson that oppose taking a stand. There have been equally high-profile people such as Rick Warren and Duane Litfin, Wheaton College president, who are in support of this initiative.

There are legitimate scientific questions that need to be addressed, such as whether we are seeing a cyclical event that will eventually swing the other way, or whether we are seeing permanent change. Hopefully science will trump ideology as people strive to deal with these issues.

Happy 96th Birthday, BSA!

On this day in 1910, the Boy Scouts of America was founded.

Over the past 46 years of Boy Scout History, I have been proud to be a part of such a successful program. I started out as a Cub Scout in BSA's 50th year, and I look forward to celebrating its 100th year in 2010.

Overtures reveal major issues for GA action in Birmingham

Overtures reveal major issues for GA action in Birmingham:
(The Presbyterian Outlook has free registration)
Leslie Scanlon, Outlook national reporter
02/07/2006


"Skimming the early batches of overtures submitted to the 2006 General Assembly is sort of like watching a one-minute highlights show of the controversies of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Divestiture.
Gay ordination.
Churches withholding per capita.
Non-geographic presbyteries.
The Theological Task Force.

It’s all there – and more, in the first opportunity the church has had in two years to ask the assembly to take a stand.

But these overtures also reflect a real desire that the PC(USA) be a light of hope to a hurting world – that it be a denomination not afraid to wade in to troubled waters in places like Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

So far, more than 60 overtures have been formally submitted, with more surely on the way. Here’s some of what lies ahead...."

It sounds like the 2006 General Assembly has some work to do. Leslie Scanlon has done a pretty good job of summarizing the overtures to date. For those who wish to go to the source, the 217th General Assembly web page has a page listing the overtures received to date. The Outlook article mentions many that are not yet on the PC(USA) list, but I expect the page will be updated as new ones are received.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

PC(USA) News: MRTI on divestment

PC(USA) News: MRTI on divestment:
MRTI won’t have any recommendations
for GA on Israel/Palestine divestment issue

Several presbyteries expected to submit
overtures urging reversal of '04 decision

by Toya Richards Hill

"NEW YORK CITY — Almost two years after getting its assignment, the committee overseeing possible divestment from corporations whose business practices promote violence in Israel and Palestine isn’t ready to make recommendations on the issue to the upcoming General Assembly...."

I was the elder-commissioner from my congregation to the meeting of the Prebytery of Missouri Union on Saturday (2/4/2006), and we voted on an MRTI-related overture. This was not to reverse the 2004 action, but to provide a new charge to the committee: to focus on actions that would enhance the well-being of both sides of the Israel/Palestine conflict. My assessment of what was being proposed was that it was more affirmative in its thrust than the 2004 action. It passed on a voice vote, without dissent.

I have been concerned for some time with the apparent imbalance of PC(USA) actions in the Middle East, and I would like to see our response to the conflict be a little more pastoral than punitive.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Bono Waxes 'Prophetic' - Christianity Today Magazine

Bono Waxes 'Prophetic' - Christianity Today Magazine:
Rock-star/activist inspired by Leviticus and Isaiah.
by Sheryl Henderson Blunt | posted 02/06/2006 09:45 a.m.

"While every celebrity seems to have a cause, few stars get their inspiration from Scripture.

That is what sets lead U2 singer Bono apart. Sporting his trademark tinted sunglasses, the rock star spoke to an audience of more than 3,000 at the National Prayer Breakfast February 2, imploring them to respond to the United States' urgent responsibility to help "the least of these."

Two passages drive his message, Bono says: the call in Leviticus 25 for a Year of Jubilee and debt forgiveness, and the command in Isaiah 58 to share with the hungry and provide for the poor.

"Thus sayeth the Lord: 'Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring forth, then your Lord will be your rear guard," Bono quoted from Isaiah 58:7-8...."

There is no question about Bono's dedication to the cause of suffering in the world.

His involvement in such organizations as The ONE Campaign intersects with the Presbyterian Church's interests in the relief of suffering in the world. It also resonates with my personal interests as chair of my congregation's Mission Committee. We recently researched a covenant relationship with Bread for the World for our congregation, and wrote out a rationale for joining with this organization, which also partners with The One Campaign.

What impresses me about The ONE Campaign, Bread for the World, and Bono's involvment is that fact that they recognize that the problem is multifactored, and therefore the solution must deal with the various factors that lead to hunger, poverty and disease.

Twenty some years ago Mike Kruse, who blogs at the Kruse Kronicle, introduced me and my wife to this group called U2. I'll admit that it took a while for the music to grow on me, as my tastes run more to Bach, Mendelsohn, and that ilk, but my wife really likes U2, so we have most of their albums. U2 has grown on me, but more than that, my respect for Bono has grown, and I hope his continued involvement in relief of suffering gets more people, politicians and nations involved.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Author worries sports becoming America's new religion

Author worries sports becoming America's new religion:
Sunday, February 05, 2006

By RAIN SMITH
Reporter


While absent public bathhouses, slave trade and emperors, you'll find one ancient Roman tradition thriving in modern America, especially on "Super Sunday" –– organized athletics.

But, according to a retired East Tennessee State University professor, Americans should re-evaluate how much stock is put in sports. If not, he says, the country risks paying the consequences.

"Think about the role of athletics in our society, and compare that to the role of athletics in other societies that aren't around anymore. There might be a reason for it," said Johnson City's Jack Higgs, 73. "I would invite comparison to the role of athletics in the British Empire, Nazi Germany, the fall of Rome, the fall of Greece, and on and on."

Higgs has an interesting analysis of how the pervasive influence of sports on our lives raises some serious questions.

(Of course, my views are skewed by the fact that the Broncos didn't make it in...)

I agree with Riggs in that sports, by itself, is not the problem. It is how we allow it to pervade our lives that we need to recognize and deal with.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bono, after years of skepticism, finds partner in religion

Bono, after years of skepticism, finds partner in religion:

By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service


"WASHINGTON - Born to a Roman Catholic father and a Protestant mother in the sectarian strife of 1960s Ireland, U2 frontman Bono has more than a few reasons to distrust organized religion.

Far too often, Bono did not see his experience of Christian faith reflected in what he saw as a preachy moralism that neglects the poor and usually "gets in the way of God."

So Bono was as surprised as anyone to find himself the keynote speaker at the Feb. 2 National Prayer Breakfast. Not only that, he was extolling churches and faith communities for their efforts in his global crusade to rescue Africa from disease, debt and economic destruction...."


A good article about how Bono has "finally found what [he's] looking for."

After years of avoiding "organized religion" he is realizing that the Church is indeed a powerful force for changing the world -- and come Christian groups have been historically involved in the things to which Bono is lending his considerable influence and expertise.

A rock star?!? Well, that gets him an audience not only among his fans, but also among the powerful, including President Bush, who is quoted in this article as saying "The thing about this good citizen of the world is he's used his position to get things done."

This article touches on another issue that I have been concerned about for many years -- the diversion of our resources and energies to fight battles over political and sexual issues in the PC(USA) and other denominations. If we all can be diverted from our personal agendas and unite in the caring for the "least of these", then the Church can make a tremendous difference in the world today, instead of continuing to decline.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Reporters often not prepared to write about religion

Scripps Howard News Service:
Reporters often not prepared to write about religion

By TERRY MATTINGLY
Scripps Howard News Service
01-FEB-06


"It's a law. Whenever the Vatican issues a papal encyclical, journalists have to figure out what the pope was trying to say.

To do this, we contact scholars, politicos and clergy for background information and edgy quotes. Thus, a reporter recently called Father Richard John Neuhaus of the journal "First Things" to discuss Pope Benedict XVI's "Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)."

During this interview Neuhaus referred to the pope as the "bishop of Rome." The reporter then said, "That raises an interesting point. Is it unusual that this pope is also the bishop of Rome?"

(Sound cue: One comedy-club rim shot.)..."

Terry Mattingly, in his usual witty way, tells why he thinks reporters make so many mistakes when reporting about religion.

As a Presbyterians know well, there is often a large gulf between what General Assembly does, and what the press says it did.

It is, perhaps, unreasonable to expect reporters to understand the finer points of Presbyterian polity, but maybe our spokespersons can take a litle extra time to explain things.

Mattingly merges Occams Razor and something C.S. Lewis said: "Do not multiply explanations when ignorance will suffice." Or as a friend of mine says from time to time, "Assume positive motives."

[UPDATE: Terry Mattingly has also blogged on this story at GetReligion.org]

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Learning from Fools - Christianity Today Magazine

Learning from Fools - Christianity Today Magazine:
Learning from Fools
The safe thing to do with power and possessions.
by Andy Crouch | posted 02/01/2006 09:00 a.m.

"When I tell my grandchildren about America at the turn of the century, I will tell them about houses and wars.

I will tell them about houses in places like Wheaton, Illinois, a one-time center of mild, middle-class, Midwestern evangelical Christianity, where grand teardown mansions loom where bungalows once stood. I will tell them about the heady days of option ARMS, cash-out refinancing, and homebuilders whose stock prices made the front page.

I will tell them about our wars, fought with blustering confidence and dubious competence, ambitious and precarious, like a teardown on a tiny lot.

Then I will tell them two of Jesus' most misinterpreted parables.

In Luke 14, Jesus tells the stories of a tower builder and an embattled king. In many English Bibles, these twin parables are labeled "The Cost of Discipleship." But Jesus' first hearers would have known that label was exactly backwards. For these stories are not about disciples, but fools...."

Crouch's take on this is a little outside standard interpretations, but he makes some good points. He wants to make this the cost of non-discipleship by focussing on poor stewardship and planning. There is no reason why that can't be the case, since, like much of Jesus's teaching, it can be taken on more than one level. In the group that heard him speak, some probably nodded their heads in agreement that yes, it WOULD be pretty imprudent to start a construction project without the resources to finish it. Others might have realized that the costs of following Jesus were more than they could bear. And some might have weighed all that they heard, and followed Jesus, knowing full well that Jesus wanted their entire being.

As Crouch points out, we have more possessions than we know what to do with, and that leads us to believe that we are self-sufficient. We think we have the resources and power to do anything we want, including building structures, businesses, empires, fighting wars, and so on. What we are forgetting is that unless what we do is God's plan, then all we do is in vain. We need to count the costs of what we do as well as what we fail to do.

I may not agree with all that Andy Crouch says, or the emphases he places on different aspects of these parables, but he certainly provides stimulating ideas to consider.

Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”