Friday, September 29, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - WMD seeks reassessment of Mission Initiative fundraising campaign

PC(USA) - News Service - WMD seeks reassessment of Mission Initiative fundraising campaign:
"LOUISVILLE — Exploring whether the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts & Hands (MIJHH) fundraising campaign is the best way to finance international missionaries and, if so, how to keep the campaign itself funded, is the focus of action slated to go before the General Assembly Council (GAC) on Friday. ..."
Important Note: For those unfamiliar with Presbyterian alphabet soup, the WMD in the article (and blog post) title stands for Worldwide Ministries Division.

There is more detail in this article that was in a previous Outlook article (MIJHH update: Trust, stability of mission program affects giving; operating costs shortfall) that I blogged on two days ago.

The problem is not simply that fact that most of the money received is designated (and not for operating budgets). There are other things going on ranging from a less than satisfactory working relationship between the Joining Hearts and Hands initiative and the Worldwide Ministries Division to a paradigm shift over the past couple years in how Mission is to be funded and administered.

If gifts are designated, then that designation is honored. This can lead disparities in funding that are awkward -- such the MIJHH situation where donations are designated for specific programs, but not for the administrative functions to see to it that the money gets to its proper destination.

The General Assembly Council has some tough choices to make, and one of them may be to find a way to administer the designated funds already received, even if MIJHH was to be fully self-funded by this time.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

MIJHH update: Trust, stability of mission program affects giving; operating costs shortfall

MIJHH update: Trust, stability of mission program affects giving; operating costs shortfall:
"LOUISVILLE – Here’s the good news, according to Jan Opdyke, director of a major fund-raising campaign for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Presbyterians are willing to give generously to support the mission work of the church. Missionaries are eager to serve – “they’re ready to get on a plane” if money can be found to send them, she said in an interview.

So far, more than $25 million has been pledged for the $40 million Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts and Hands campaign, with about three-quarters of that coming through partnerships with seven presbyteries, Opdyke told the General Assembly Council’s Executive Committee Sept. 26. People are saying, “We love the church, we want to support it, we want to put new mission personnel in the field.”

But that ties into the bad news: right now, there doesn’t appear to be enough money to pay the campaign’s operating expenses in 2007, because so much of the money being given to the campaign is being restricted by the donors for specific uses. ..."

It will take a while to build up trust again, but in the meantime, I hope people can send enough undesignated money to keep this initiative going.

Another factor in all this is that people, understandably, want to donate money to a particular mission or missionary that they can pray for by name and have personal interactions with.

There is nothing wrong with that, but if I understand correctly, there are agencies within the PC(USA) that handle that already -- The Outreach Foundation and the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship work closely with each other and support mission efforts worldwide.

Joining Hearts and Hands " a five-year campaign in partnership with individuals, congregations, and presbyteries to raise $40 million for national church growth and the expansion of our mission work abroad" , and if designated gifts accumulate in one area to the detriment of other areas under their purview, then it effectively cripples the entire program.

General Assembly Council is meeting in Louisville this week, and this issue has been placed before them. Prayer is always appropriate, and is acutely needed at this time.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Press, The Pope, and the Truth

This just keeps getting stranger and stranger -- not because more smoking guns in Benedict XVI's speech have been discovered, but because what has been reported is becoming more and more obviously a creation of the press.

My surfing this evening began with a posting on GetReligion titled "Read Pope Benedict XVI's Lips". This led me to a variety of blogs and other sources that have taken the time to go to the sources themselves to discover what Pope Benedict XVI actually said -- and didn't say.

To begin: What was reported by the various US media was from an English translation of an original German prepared text for Benedict XVI's remarks at Regensburg. Can you see where this is headed? But note that this was a prepared text -- the Pope gave a talk closely resembling the prepared text, but differed somewhat at various points. You can hear a portion of his talk (auf Deutsch) from YouTube:

Now we go to Timothy Noah of Slate Magazine, who posted "What the Pope Said" on September 18, 2006, and noted that the English translation had changed, causing him to suggest that the Pope had "revised and extended" his remarks in an attempt to deflect some of the criticism.

The original prepared Vatican text showed the Pope saying this:
"...Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. ..."
The revised Vatican version says this:
"...Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. ..."
Horace Jeffery Hodges, who blogs at the Gypsy Scholar, has listened to the talk in German and posted "What the Pope really, actually said in Regensburg...". If you understand German, or can follow it, the words in question begin at about the 2:40 point in the YouTube video (linked above) and continue for about 30 seconds. You will hear clearly the following:
" erstaunlich schroffer, uns überraschend schroffer Form ganz einfach..."
and Hodges translated it as
"...with an astonishing brusqueness, for us an astounding brusqueness, bluntly..."
With my non-idiomatic understanding of the German language, even I noticed that something was missing from the original Vatican English translation. And something else is missing from the revised Vatican translation -- the last two words of the Pope's actual phrase, "ganz einfach", which I would translate as "completely simple". Hodges -- whose knowledge of German was honed by several years at the Eberhard Karls Universität in Tübingen, Germany -- translates this idiomatically as "bluntly".

So where does this leave the Slate Magazine article? To Timothy Noah's credit, a correction was made after three people fluent in German listened to the words in question. Unfortunately, this is another in a string of misleading accounts of what the Pope said and why he said it. Reading his entire presentation gives a far different view than the "Pope attacks Islam" view that we were presented with by journalists who should know better.

And where does it leave us? It seems to me that a lot of unecessary anger and hatred has been unleashed due to misunderstandings, mistranslations, and careless reporting. It has also become obvious that there are certain areas of inquiry and discussion that are effectively closed, when they should be openly discussed, not with rancor or ridicule, but with true concern for how we can understand other religions and cultures.

A final note -- in navigating around the Gypsy Scholar, I found a blog that is truly a pleasure to read. Jeffery Hodges is an interesting man who has a wide variety of interests. It's worth some time looking around.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - PC(USA) part of meeting with Iranian president

PC(USA) - News Service - PC(USA) part of meeting with Iranian president:
"LOUISVILLE – Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) officials, including the denomination’s United Nations representative, were part of a delegation of Christian and Muslim leaders who met Sept. 20 with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“We did not want to miss this opportunity to give witness to the Presbyterian Church’s support of Israel and to reject the false and disturbing rhetoric of Holocaust denial used in the past by President Ahmadinejad,” Hanisek said. “A meeting of this nature is challenging, but is a necessary step towards being the reconciling community that Christ calls us to be.”

It seems the Presbyterian Church learned an important lesson from the embarrassment a couple years ago, when a delegation representing our denomination was hosted by Hezbollah. A leader of that delegation was quoted in the press as praising Hezbollah:
"We treasure the precious words of Hezbollah and your expression of goodwill toward the American people. Also we praise your initiative for dialogue and mutual understanding. We cherish these statements that bring us closer to you. As an elder of our church, I'd like to say that according to my recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders."
This prompted the General Assembly Stated Clerk, the Executive Director of General Assembly Council, and the Moderator of the General Assembly to issue a statement repudiating the actions of the delegation.

In this visit with the Iranian president, our representatives on the delegation seem to have found the moral courage to make it clear to Ahmadinejad that the PC(USA) not only supports Israel, but further, that holocaust denial and expressing a desire to see Israel "wiped off the map" is unacceptible to the world and religious communities.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kruse Kronicle: Christian Faith and the Truth Behind Britney Spears

Kruse Kronicle: Christian Faith and the Truth Behind Britney Spears:
"You will notice that some of my recent posts have focused on the David Ray Griffin's Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11, published by Westminster John Knox Press, an imprint of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. The book exposes how the events of 9/11 were actually an elaborate conspiracy by the Bush Administration, a "false-flag" operation, to give diabolical Neoconservatives an excuse for taking over the world.

So wildly successful has this publication been that the PPC is inaugurating a new imprint: Roswell. Their first book is to be released this fall. ..."

Read Mike's full posting for the rest of the story.

WARNING: Don't have a mouthful of coffee when you read this.

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Cognitive Dissonance in the PC(USA)

When Donald Griffin's book Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action was published this last summer I shook my head, rolled my eyes and wondered just what the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation was thinking.

The PC(USA) seems to be a mass of cognitive dissonances ranging from the very clear statement on Christology, Hope in the Lord Jesus Christ standing in opposition to W. Eugene March's The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case For Religious Diversity; and our historical respect for education and inquiry standing against the publication of a book that makes claims that fly in the face of intellect and reason. Both books are published by Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Add to this mix our public stance that Mission is a key part of who we are as Presbyterians against the recent cuts in the number of mission personnel worldwide. It's almost as if the right hand is clueless as to what the left hand is doing.

Or perhaps one hand knows what the other is doing, and is powerless to do anything about it...

Mike Kruse has this to say regarding the relation of the PPC to the PC(USA):
"After two years on the General Assembly Council, I have come to a conclusion. It is time for the Presbyterian Church (USA) to sever its relationship with the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation (PPC) and take back the Presbyterian name. The PPC has effectively demonstrated that they are not capable of make sound decisions that honor the denomination. I will present two episodes to illustrate why I believe this to be the case. (Note: The Presbyterian Publishing Corporation is an entity of the General Assembly. No funds are provided to the PPC by the denomination and the denomination has no editorial authority over their publishing decisions. The institutional linkage is through the nomination and election of board members by the General Assembly.) ..."

-- Time to Drop "Presbyterian" from the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation

Previously I had assumed that the PPC was the publishing arm of the PC(USA), but it seems that they are an independent organization that neither is funded by the PC(USA), nor accepts any editorial control from the PC(USA).

To be perfectly honest, I have many books in my library bearing the "Geneva Press" or "Westminster John Knox" imprint, and I find them useful, edifying, and reasonably in line with what we Presbyterians say we believe. But I have the right to expect that -- especially from an organization that has Presbyterian in its name and uses the Presbyterian logo in its advertising and on its web site.

Quotidian Grace had a blog entry today that adds some more insight to Mike's analysis, and has an observation that hits close to her home regarding the aftermath of the Griffin book:
"...Publishing this book has real consequences for the life of the local church. This week we learned that one of our members is transferring to a near-by PCA church because the publication of this book by the denomination's publishing house was the "last straw". Since the PPC shows no regard for the destructive effects of its choice of publications on the denomination, then it should become in fact what it is in practice: an independent publishing company which does not represent the PCUSA. ..."

March's book probably never registered on very many radar screens outside the Presbyterian Church (Amazon sales rank today 323,933), but Griffin's book has had far wider exposure (Amazon sales rank today 2,228) and has been a topic of discussion in the mainstream news media.

Does the use of our name and logo in this regard redound to our credit? I think not.

Thanks to both Mike Kruse and Quotidian Grace for providing some good discussion points.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Slate: Deformer Babies

Following is the first paragraph of William Saletan's article in the Septermber 21, 2006 edition of Slate:
"Several U.S. fertility clinics admit they've helped couples deliberately select defective embryos. According to a new survey report, "Some prospective parents have sought [preimplantation genetic diagnosis] to select an embryo for the presence of a particular disease or disability, such as deafness, in order that the child would share that characteristic with the parents. Three percent of IVF-PGD clinics report having provided PGD to couples who seek to use PGD in this manner." Since 1) the United States has more than 400 fertility clinics, 2) more than two-thirds that answered the survey offer PGD, and 3) some clinics that have done it may not have admitted it, the best guess is that at least eight U.S. clinics have done it. Old fear: designer babies. New fear: deformer babies. ..."

(The bold-face and links are from the original article)

I really don't know what to say... Except that I am disturbed.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Christianity Today: The Call of Samuel

The Call of Samuel
by Tim Stafford, Christianity Today

"That was Harry Reid," says Samuel Rodriguez, folding his flip phone as he leaves a strip-mall chain restaurant. ...

Rodriguez is a young 36 with longish hair and a neat black goatee. Fast-talking, articulate, utterly bilingual, he exudes confidence. Rodriguez is a "brilliant thinker and an authentic man of God," according to National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) president Ted Haggard. "He is the Karl Rove of Hispanic-Anglo evangelical strategy." ...

Rodriguez should be happy with his new prominence, but he doesn't look entirely happy. "Immigration puts us at odds with our white evangelical brothers," he says. He has spent years building alliances, and now he is unsure whether they will last. Rodriguez knows what happened with civil rights. To this day, many African American Christians distrust white evangelicals even though they share views on school prayer, abortion, and gay marriage. Hispanic evangelicals might similarly resist alliances with those they perceive as blind to their core concerns. That is the last thing Samuel Rodriguez wants. ...

"We need to know from white evangelical leaders," Rodriguez was quoted saying in The Washington Post, "why did they not support comprehensive immigration reform, why they came down in favor exclusively of enforcement without any mention of the compassionate side, without any mention of the Christian moral imperatives?

"So down the road, when the white evangelical community calls us and says, 'We want to partner with you on marriage, we want to partner on family issues,' my first question will be: 'Where were you when 12 million of our brothers and sisters were about to be deported and 12 million families disenfranchised?'"

Samuel Rodriguez favors border control and immigration enforcement. What he sees missing from the debate is the compassion that must accompany our desire to have secure borders. And what hurts him the most is that this lack of compassion comes not from politicians, but from his fellow evangelical Christians. He perceives the debate as becoming anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic. Having read a fair amount in this debate, I feel Rodriguez is quite justified in feeling this way.

These are tough words, but ones that need to be heard. Rodriguez will, no doubt, get heat from some over these words, but he is accustomed to that -- he has received considerable heat from more radical Hispanics who see his reaching out to white evangelical groups as being counterproductive.

A telling comment he made with regard to the new attention from political leaders is that he would really rather line up with evangelical politicians (who share many beliefs with him) for photo ops, than with politicians who don't have much in common with him except their stance on immigration.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Science And Salvation -

Science And Salvation -
"CAMBRIDGE, Mass. It's hard to picture, if you know him only by his scientific reputation, but E.O. Wilson confesses it freely: He loves watching preachers on television.

Wilson is an internationally renowned biologist who has based his extraordinarily productive five-decade career at that great bastion of secular humanism, Harvard University. At 77, his work and his worldview are so thoroughly entwined with Darwinian theory that they're impossible to imagine without it. His reverence is for the wondrous creatures and intricate interconnections of the natural world, not for any supreme being.

So what's he doing tuning in those evangelical sermons from the megachurches? ..."

In the atheist --> agnostic continuum, Edward O. Wilson, whom I first encountered through his seminal book Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975), is about in the middle of a spectrum defined on the hard-core atheistic side by Richard Dawkins and on the softer agnostic end by the late Stephen J. Gould. Gould was willing to accept the religious dimension; just not in his own life. These three great scientists are well-respected and have contributed much to our understanding of the world around us, yet were often in conflict professionally.

It seems too much to ask that E.O. Wilson adopt Gould's understanding that Science and Religion have different sources of authority, and that there should be no conflict between the two, but it is encouraging to see Wilson reaching out to people of faith, whom he feels need to be key players in the environmental movement.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Columbia Missourian - Columbia MO Presbyterians in Louisiana

Columbia Missourian - Missourian News Blog:
"Warrington drive is the first street east of the London Avenue canal. The I-panels lining the canal breached just a few houses down from Birdsall’s, and water was soon up to the ceiling of the one-story houses lining the street. When the water receded, it left everything covered in mud. One year later, the mud is still there, only dried and cracked. ..."
This week the Columbia Missourian News Blog will be featuring daily stories about the work trip that members of First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Missouri are on in New Orleans. This is the second trip that some of these people have been on and they should have good stories when they return.

In the meantime, we can follow their progress on a daily basis.

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Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Vatican: Provisional Text Lecture at the Meeting with Representatives of the Sciences 12 September, 2006

In the recent controversy regarging Pope Benedict XVI's remarks at a meeting September 12, 2006 in Regensburg, Germany, we have been forced to rely on headlines (some inflammatory) and short excerpts that seem to indicate that Benedict was attacking Islam.

Before people buy into yet another manfactured issue, it would be good to read the full remarks made by Pope Benedict.

Following is an excerpt from Benedict's speech with enough wider context that two things became evident to me:
  • The statements in question were NOT Benedict's words, but rather those of a 14th Century Byzantine Emperor
  • The example quoted serves only to buttress Benedict's main point that the emperor and Persian scholar were "talking past" each other, proceeding from radically different viewpoints.
"...I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the three Laws: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself - which, in the context of the issue of faith and reason, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threaten. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without decending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death....

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry. ..."
To a Christian, God acts reasonably. Logos (λόγoς) is both word and reason (see my earlier blog entry on Martin Albi's points on faith and reason). Benedict makes similar points here:
I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: In the beginning was the λόγoς. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word - a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason.
The links above to the Pope's remarks are a provisional translation, and the Vatican says that Benedict will provide a footnoted version in the near future. Hopefully the translation will be cleaned up a little. The last quote seems just a little strange...

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The Curse Is Lifted!

I went to Royals games many times in Kansas city the 1980's, but I never saw the Royals win in person. It was almost as if I was the kiss of death for the team. Last night, for the first time in over 20 years, I had the pleasure of seeing the Kansas City Royals play at home with a 7-4 win over the Seattle Mariners.

The second half of a double play

Redman, the Royals pitcher pitched nearly the entire game, and left to a standing ovation. Nelson, the closer, threw three fastballs to the last batter and sealed the victory.
  • Tickets -- $45
  • Hat, jersey, peanuts, cotton candy, hotdogs, drinks -- $100
  • My son, and his friend seeing their first Major League ball game in person, and better yet, the Royals winning -- Priceless

Redman throwing one of his many pitches

Redman leaving the game to a standing ovation

As I mentioned yesterday, Mike and I talked of baseball, the Royals, and by the time the 7th inning rolled around, the PC(USA). After the game, we headed down the road and met at Barnes & Noble in Independence MO for quieter conversation and warm drinks.

Melissa and Mike and Susan (Mrs. Reformed Angler)

A day at the stadium, good friends, good conversation -- All in all a great day. Did I mention the Royals won with me in the stadium? ...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Royals on a Saturday Evening

It's a beautiful Saturday, and my wife, son, and my son's friend will drive to Kansas City and watch the Kansas City Royals host the Seatle Mariners. The Royals are nearling the end of another disappointing year, but they have been playing reasonably well lately. Mike Kruse of the Kruse Kronicle and his wife will join us and we'll get a chance to meet up and discuss baseball, the Royals, the PC(USA) -- not necessarily in that order, but hopefully.

Whether the Royals win or lose, we'll have fun.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Postcard from Africa - Christianity Today Magazine

Postcard from Africa - Christianity Today Magazine
Where hope and despair live side by side.
by Philip Yancey

As I read this short article, it defied my attempts to select an excerpt to give the flavor of the piece. So I will list his four bullet points and refer you to the whole article:
  • "AIDS. Bono and the big charities keep talking about it, but Africans live with it—and die from it—daily. Africa accounts for 70 percent of the total number of people infected with HIV/AIDS...

  • Poverty. How do you plan an economy when a third of the work force may die in the next ten years? More, how do you conduct an economy when a government is riddled with corruption and seems destined to self-destruct? ...

  • Faith. In sub-Saharan Africa, Christianity asserts itself boldly. ...

  • Resiliency. The West tends to view Africa as the news portrays it: a relentless succession of disasters. Africans themselves, however, go about their lives with survival skills honed over time. ..."
Yancy's point is that the sound bites and easy characterizations of the media do little to portray accurately the reality of Africa. I found it particularly interesting that Christianity, in which name much oppression has taken place, is so significant a part of many African's lives. God certainly has been at work.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Faith, reason not opposites; complements

Faith, reason not opposites; complements:
"A common assumption today is that religious faith and critical reason are opposites. In 10 years of teaching religious studies at the college level, I've heard many variations of this assumption. Some students hesitate to ask critical questions, since they fear questioning might result in losing their faith. Others assume that a person must either accept either a scientific or a religious view of the world, since science and religion contradict one another.

Since I teach at a Catholic college in a largely Christian society, the discussion usually focuses on the relationship between Christian faith and reason. But the same types of questions arise in other religious traditions.

In Christianity, though, this perceived dichotomy between faith and reason is actually a rather recent development. I try to show students that the mainstream Christian teaching has always been that faith and reason are not opposites, but rather complement one another. The God who gives the gift of faith is the same God who gives us the gift of reason. There is only one truth; religion and science simply reveal different aspects of that truth. ..."

Martin Albi teaches religious studies at Presentation College in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and provides an interesting perspective on the issues of science and faith.

He notes that logos was the word that the ancient Greeks used to describe the "rational power that holds the universe together" -- somewhat analogous to what we might call the laws of nature. He raises the interesting question as to whether John, in writing his gospel, used logos deliberately to underscore the point that God, through His Son, used rational power to bring the universe into being.

He points to Thomas Aquinas, who was not afraid to use secular philosophers to support his writing. The "conflict" between science and faith was not an issue for Aquinas, although a few centuries later it became an issue for Galileo and the Church of that time. In the 1990's Pope John-Paul II formed a commission to discuss the tensions between science and faith, the results of which included an acknowledgement that the Church erred in assuming that the Bible was a literal scientific document and forcing Galileo to recant views that were at odds with such literal interpretations.

Albi closes with this:
"...So why not follow the example of some of the great Christian thinkers, and allow your religious, spiritual feelings to have a conversation with your rational, critical mind? You may just find that they have a lot in common."
This seems quite reasonable...

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Americans May Be More Religious Than They Realize -

Americans May Be More Religious Than They Realize -
(Free registration required)
"A survey released yesterday posits the idea that the United States -- already one of the most religious nations in the developed world -- may be even less secular than previously suspected.

The Baylor University survey looked carefully at people who checked "none" when asked their religion in polls. Sociologists have watched this group closely since 1990, when their numbers doubled, from 7 percent of the population to 14 percent. Some sociologists said the jump reflects increasing secularization at the same time that American society is becoming more religious.

But the Baylor survey, considered one of the most detailed ever conducted about religion in the United States, found that one in 10 people who picked "no religion" out of 40 choices did something interesting when asked later where they worship: They named a place. ..."

The trick here is to get people to agree to a longer, more detailed survey rather than the short yes/no kinds of questions. Such polls as the CNN "instant polls", besides relying on a self selected pool of respondents, also force people into binary choices on complex issues. More detailed polls risk having people decline to respond.

It sounds like the Baylor poll was able to ask questions in a way that other polls have not been able to.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Kruse Kronicle; Remembering the Final Words

Michael Kruse, at the Kruse Kronicle has a moving remembrance of the shocking and tragic events that occurred on this day 5 years ago. The photograph, which is reproduced in a smaller size here says a great deal.

Go on over to the Kruse Kronicle and read his article. It will certainly provide much fodder for reflection.

“Something happened here”: PGF challenged to move into mission future

“Something happened here”: PGF challenged to move into mission future:
(Presbyterian Outlook, free registration required)
"ATLANTA – Think of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a lemon-colored rotary phone in a cell-phone world.

Useful in its time. Not working too well now.

That was the image that Vic Pentz, senior pastor of Peachtree Presbyterian church in Atlanta, used to kick off the first-ever gathering of the Presbyterian Global Fellowship ( – an entity that he acknowledged is brand-new, is still taking shape, that no one is exactly sure how to describe.

But more than 800 people from 42 states came to this meeting at Peachtree August 17-19 – ready for something different, wanting to “move beyond the old model of mission, which is simply sending great gobs of money from the West to the rest,” Pentz told the opening night gathering.

So he thunked down the yellow rotary phone on the pulpit – and there it stayed, a visual clue as to what’s not working with the PC(USA). ..."

Leslie Scanlan writes in this week's Presbyterian Outlook of what may prove to be a tectonic shift in how the Presbyterian Church engages the world. It may also prove to be a significant change in how evangelicals within the PC(USA) see themselves. The Presbyterial Global Fellowship, rather than focussing on whether disaffected Presbyterians should stay or leave, is focussing doing what Christ has commanded -- going out into the world, but not in the same way as we have been doing. Scanlon's article highlights four areas in which we need to reflect and consider how we need to change:

  • The PC(USA) is too white – it doesn’t reflect the world’s racial and ethnic diversity.
  • Western Christians – coming generally from affluence – do not truly understand or share in the suffering of people from Latin America, Asia and Africa.
  • Congregations are gung-ho for short-term mission trips, but don’t always consider if there’s enough bang for the buck, or whether those trips steal resources away from supporting long-term missionaries.
  • Connecting with the “global church” isn’t just “Presbyterian-to-Presbyterian.” Christianity around the planet is more complicated than that.
In the same issue, Jack Haberer wrote in his editorial, Working the Details, that this meeting of conservative evangelicals appeared to be shifiting the emphasis from conservative to evangelical, and further that the General Assembly Council is working with PGF and similar groups in finding ways to meet the needs of worldwide mission. The reality of mission giving is that it has been on the rise for many years, yet the funds are not being funnelled through Louisville. Rather the local congregations are determining how these funds are expended. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing, but it may not be the most efficient stewardship of our financial resources.

Scanlon's article closes with a quote from our new moderator, Joan Gray:
“I charge you to lead from your knees, I charge you not to be satisfied with what you can do from your human strength. … Remember Jesus’ word: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me and you will bear much fruit. Without me, you can do nothing.’ Lead from your knees, and then dream big.”

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Friday, September 08, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - Church-backed border workers cleared of immigrant-smuggling charges

PC(USA) - News Service - Church-backed border workers cleared of immigrant-smuggling charges:
"LOUISVILLE — A federal judge in Tucson, AZ, has dismissed immigrant-smuggling charges against two volunteers from a faith-based humanitarian aid group that receives support from Presbyterians.

Shanti A. Sellz and Daniel M. Strauss, both 24 years old, were facing possible prison time in their high-profile felony case that was scheduled to go to trial early next month.

However, U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins tossed out the case Sept. 1, ruling that the government for years has led volunteers to believe they could legally provide care to ailing illegal immigrants, according to media reports.

The two desert-aid workers, who are not Presbyterians, were volunteering with the Tucson-based No More Deaths movement. The faith-based group provides food, water and basic medical care to illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico into the United States through Arizona’s treacherous desert borderlands. ..."

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of border control (and I feel we need to control our borders for reasons that should be obvious to anyone), the need for compassion is there, and these folks and the organization to which they belong are meeting that need. The fact the people they are helping are attempting to enter the US illegally is irrelevant to the issue of whether they deserve compassion. Even though the Border Patrol also provides assistance to those who are in need of water or medical care, the number of deaths, which has exceeded 2000 since 1998, suggests that there is an acute need for more people who can provide such care.

The facts in this particular case are that the two volunteers were in an area where illegal migrant workers were known to cross, and came upon three men suffering from dehydration. After calling a doctor and a lawyer (but neither 911 nor the Border Patrol), they took the three men to a medical clinic in Tucson for treatment. The two volunteers were subsequently indicted for conspiracy to transport and transporting illegal aliens.

The judge in the case dismissed the charges, noting that the protocol the volunteers followed was tolerated for many years with no sanctions against those who took such actions. I think the judge made a wise decision. Criminalizing acts of compassion is not the way to go.

The article notes that the 215th General Assembly approved an overture that called for measures to prevent deaths among illegal border crossers, and agencies of the PC(USA) have provided financial support to groups that are ministering to people in the desert.

I should also note, when I went onto the No More Deaths web site to check some facts, I saw that they are now working more closely with the Border Patrol, and their protocol now calls for notifying 911 and the Border Patrol when volunteers come upon border crossers in the desert who need medical assistance. This is a good move, and one that should strengthen this ministry of compassion.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Problem with Prophets - Christianity Today Magazine

The Problem with Prophets - Christianity Today Magazine:
(free registration required to read the full article)
by Paul Marshall

"Evangelicals apparently have so much political clout that they are poised to install a theocracy, according to some commentators. Such critics don't notice there is little distinctively evangelical about the evangelical approach to politics. The evangelical emphases—on conversion, the Cross, the Bible, and activism—do not themselves amount to a full, independent theological system. Nor do they take us far in understanding politics, which requires at least some grasp of history, government, law, justice, freedom, rights, mercy, violence, and war. Thoughtful evangelicals trying to understand politics often draw on the wider resources of Calvinist, Anabaptist, Anglican, Lutheran, or Catholic teaching. ..."
With both major parties trying to project themselves as the party of faith, this article comes at a good time.

Beau Weston, who wrote a blog entry back in late April on how the Presbyterian budget might be balanced, noted that "The church needs prophets, as does society as a whole. That is why God keeps sending them. The place of prophets is outside the house of power, speaking truth."

Those on either end of the political spectrum who style themselves as prophets need to remember that it is a rare instance where the Bible speaks approvingly of "official" prophets. If you are part of the power structure, then your ability to speak the word of the Lord is compromised by your own self interest.

Marshall elaborates on this by drawing on an example from the "evangelical left" (my characterization):
"...A more pervasive—and perhaps pernicious—pattern makes a prophet the key political actor. This view's advocates implicitly claim the prophet's mantle for themselves. In his widely noted God's Politics, Jim Wallis writes, "The place to begin to understand the politics of God is with the Prophets." Wallis does not bother to justify this unusual contention. The Bible itself does not begin with the Prophets, but with Genesis, as does most Christian reflection on politics throughout history. Nor does Wallis relate the Prophets to the Torah. They challenged rulers on the basis of God's law, not on their own feelings of injustice. ..."

The anabaptist tradition is one in which the metaphorical realms of Caesar and Christ are held to be separate, and further, that the realm of Caesar implicitly relies on coercion to maintain itself. He notes the irony that many who are outspoken against the military and police are more than willing to see the govenment (with its coercive power) establish and enforce such things as redistribution of wealth, welfare reform, and other social programs. The Anabaptists, on the other hand, have been more than willing to not only speak to powerful people as outsiders, but to roll up their sleeves and do the work themselves that other Christians are more than willing to outsource to the government.

I recommend this article for reading and reflection.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Many Americans Uneasy with Mix of Religion and Politics

Many Americans Uneasy with Mix of Religion and Politics:
"The relationship between religion and politics is a controversial one. While the public remains more supportive of religion's role in public life than in the 1960s, Americans are uneasy with the approaches offered by both liberals and conservatives. Fully 69% of Americans say that liberals have gone too far in keeping religion out of schools and government. But the proportion who express reservations about attempts by Christian conservatives to impose their religious values has edged up in the past year, with about half the public (49%) now expressing wariness about this. ..."
The Pew Forum released a poll a week or so ago showing some movement in recent years in people's atttudes about how religion and politics should mix. The link to the quote above lists the entire report, rather than the excerpts that have made it into various news reports. It makes for interesting reading.

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Monday, September 04, 2006 - Irwin died 'doing what he loved' - Sep 4, 2006 - Irwin died 'doing what he loved' - Sep 4, 2006:
"SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Tributes from around the world are flowing in for Steve Irwin, the enthusiastic Australian "Crocodile Hunter" who enthralled audiences around the world with his wildlife adventures.

Irwin died Monday morning after being attacked by a stingray while shooting a TV program off Australia's north coast. ..."
I saw this linked on The Western Geologist this afternoon, and when I checked I noticed that there were over 1600 articles worldwide telling the story of this remarkable man.

Another good account of Steve Irwin's life and work is found in Death of a Crocodile Hunter, published online by Time Magazine.

My family became acquainted with the Crocodile Hunter and his wife Terry when our son watched the show incessantly. Steve Irwin did as much as we nature-loving parents to help instill a love for the outdoors in our son.

Steve Irwin will be missed by a generation of children born in the last decade of the 20th century, not to mention their parents, who learned to appreciate Irwin's methods in reaching people.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

An Old Battle's Fresh Wounds

An Old Battle's Fresh Wounds:

Alan Cooperman, Washington Post (free registration required)
"Holocaust history is not a field for academic sissies. It takes a certain sang-froid even to approach the topic. And never mind the crackpots and deniers; even among serious scholars there are epic clashes over who really could have derailed Hitler's Final Solution but did not: Pope Pius XII or Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Ordinary Germans or American Jews?

Now, a book defending FDR and a television documentary about Hitler's brand of Darwinism have thrown patriotism and evolution into the mix, and the debate is turning vicious. ..."

I admit it. I'm a sissy. Read the entire article. Another quote from the article gives some perspective when trying to deal with the intersection of facts and ideology:
'...The whole episode, he [Rabbi Irving Greenberg] added, is a reminder of the "twin dangers" of Holocaust research. "There's the danger you become so objective that you grow cold, and there's the danger you become so full of emotion that you can't tolerate anybody disagreeing," he said. "It really shows the wound is still raw. It hasn't turned to ancient history." '

Skipping over this controversial issue, the second part of this article relates some questionable use of sources by Coral Ridge Ministries, a Florida organization founded by evangelist D. James Kennedy. They have produced a TV documentary, "Darwin's Deadly Legacy", that attempts to establish a causal relationship between Darwin's theories and Hitler's attempt to exterminate the Jews.

The point of view put forth by this documentary appears to be strict creationist, and in their initial release quoted Francis Collins, the author of The Language of God, which I reviewed in the three previous posts on this blog. Collins, a committed Christian, is by no means a creationist, and took quick and public exception to his words being used in such a way:
"I would not have agreed to participate if I had understood that the program would promote the concept of a direct connection between Darwin's theory of evolution and the evils of the Holocaust and the massacre at Columbine High School," Collins said in a written answer to questions from The Post. "My own views on evolution and faith are . . . strongly discordant with the perspective put forward by the producers of this documentary."

Coral Ridge Ministries has agreed to remove the segment involving Collins from any future broadcast of the documentary, and will cease using Collins' name to promote it and the views contained therein.

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