Thursday, December 18, 2014

First woman bishop appointed in C of E

The big news is that the Rev. Libby Lane has been appointed as the suffragen bishop of Stockport serving under the Bishop of Chester.
A little-known vicar from a Lancashire village will become the first woman to smash through the stained-glass ceiling when she becomes Bishop of Stockport in January.

The Rev Libby Lane, 48, was announced yesterday as the first woman to become a bishop in the Established church. Her appointment comes just a month after church leaders made a historic vote to allow women into the episcopate. 
Ms Lane, who is currently Vicar of St Peter’s church in Hale, Greater Manchester, and St Elizabeth’s church in Ashley, Cheshire, was an outsider for the landmark Church of England job. She was not among the bookies’ favourites and has been a dedicated local clergywoman rather than a public figure.
An important note made by the Guardian:
As a suffragan bishop, Lane could be appointed without passing through the tangle of committee meetings required to choose a diocesan – one who has their own cathedral and may sit in the House of Lords.
This may explain why the Rev. Libby Lane is unexpected.  I bet some of the heavy favorite names, such as the Very Rev. Vivienne Faull, Dean of York Minster, will be more likely to be considered as Diocesans.  And as Thinking Anglicans tells us, that may come with a seat in the House of Lords, with the introduction of the Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill:
Currently, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of Durham, London and Winchester automatically take seats in the House of Lords. The remaining 21 seats are occupied by Bishops in order of seniority (length of service). Under the current system, it would be many years before women bishops were represented in the Lords. 
The Government’s Bill, which is supported by the Church of England, proposes a modification of this rule for the next ten years, so that if a female bishop is available when a Lords Spiritual seat becomes vacant, they will automatically be appointed to the House of Lords. If no female bishop is available, the vacancy would be filled by the next most senior male bishop, as currently happens…
Not everyone is reacting well. One anti-women group called Reform wrote a very mean comment.  On a public facebook page, the new Bishop's husband the Rev. George Lane commented,
I have read some horrendously unkind comments directed at my wife from complete strangers who know nothing about Libby, her family, her friendships, her ministry or her character. (She's already had homophobic abuse on the grounds that she has short hair and must therefore be a lesbian!)
That's sad, but hardly surprising, given the hang-ups over women .  Indeed, it's no coincidence that the ire against including women is similar to that against including LGBT.   Of course, there are no open LGBT bishops in the C of E, and gay clergy there are forbidden to marry.  Inclusion remains a work in progress. 

Let's hope that most C of E members can agree to disagree civilly, as necessary, and wish the new Bishop much luck.   Congratulations!  And Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Religious freedom update

The "religious freedom" meme is more likely a "religious privilege" demand. Here are some news updates that make that point:

News from Kennesaw, GA
[I]n Kennesaw, Georgia, this week, there was a battle over the real deal - the right of a group to worship. Unfortunately, though not unpredictably, "religious freedom", the genuine First Amendment kind, lost out to Christian privilege.... 
There is a small but devoted Muslim community in the Kennesaw area, but no nearby mosque in which to gather. So the Muslims asked the city council for permission to rent space in a local strip mall where they could hold daily prayers and Friday devotions. The group told the council that they planned to use the store only until they found a permanent location that would accommodate the group.

What they needed from the council was a minor zoning exception, something that had been granted to other religious groups in the past. The Marietta Daily Journal reported that the council voted unanimously just last July to allow the Redeemed Christian Fellowship Church to use a a similar retail space. But the Muslims' request set off an intense public debate in Kennesaw, unmistakably flavored with xenophobic sentiment. ...

For two weeks the debate raged, but in the end, religious freedom lost. As demonstrators protested outside with signs that read “Ban Islam” and “Islam wants no peace!”, the council, without discussion, voted down the measure - but the rejection was not unanimous. One council member stood up for the Constitution, for genuine religious freedom, and for the Muslims in her community.
The Councilwoman who voted for the Muslims has been getting death threats.

This seems so blatantly against the law that I'm sure it won't survive a court challenge.  But I'd be worried some of those Good Christians would bomb the mosque.  

Then there's Michigan which is trying to pass a Religious Freedom act.
Like the federal RFRA, Michigan’s bill protects people from laws that substantially burden their sincerely held religious beliefs, unless the government can prove that the offending law serves a compelling interest and accomplishes that goal using the least restrictive means possible. ....While Bolger insists the bill is meant to protect, say, the Muslim butcher who wants to prepare food in line with halal practices, or the Jewish mother who doesn’t want an autopsy performed on her son, civil liberties advocates warn it could be used as a defense for the landlord who wants to evict a gay tenant, or the pharmacist who doesn’t want to provide birth control, all because of sincerely held religious beliefs. ...In another instance, opponents foresee the bill being cited as a legal defense in domestic violence cases....
“What RFRA will do is give businesses and landlords the opportunity to contest everything in court, and force individuals who are now able to live discrimination-free lives to demonstrate that the government has a compelling interest in making those landlords act in a nondiscriminatory fashion,” said Tucker. “Even if that individual prevails, he will have spent a lot of time and money, and may be out of a job or out of a home while he’s waiting.”
Such bills are a response to LGBT equality:  the conservatives want the right to discriminate.  But what happens when straight white conservative Christians are the ones discriminated against?  For example, a devout Muslim emergency room doctor could refuse to treat a woman. A Christian fundamentalist who believes in male headship could refuse to promote a female employee.  And a white supremacist could argue that his white-identity Christianity allows him to refuse service to blacks.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dehumanizing is not a Christian value

Observing the dehumanizing rhetoric used to describe the poor and people of color,  Ed Kilgore writes,
This virulent classism/racism is in fact a betrayal of “traditional values” in multiple respects. It destroys the solidarity of Americans with each other as heirs of a society where entrenched castes have supposedly been left behind. And it defies all the cherished myths of color-blindness and equal opportunity that are established elements of the civic code.

But the thing that bothers me most about the dehumanizing of the poor and the dispossessed is its violent conflict with the supposed religious ethic of this country, particularly when it is promoted by people who think of themselves as good Christians. For the life of me I cannot understand Christians who do not grasp that an essential tenet of their faith is the radical equality of human beings as subjects of both divine judgment and redemption. Every human being is made in the image of God, and how one treats those Jesus called “the least of these” is the acid test of Christian ethics, certainly as important as obedience to rules of sexual behavior or social order. I think it’s fair to demand—if not, of course, to expect—that the religious leaders of those who look at poor people of color and see subhumans whose lives are punishment for vice preach against nothing else until this grievous collective sin is stigmatized if not exterminated once and for all.
On the same lines, Russell Moore, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, has called out racism in the church.
Moore added that in the wake of Ferguson, he has called for “churches that come together and know one another and are knitted together across these racial lines.” In response, though, he said, “I have gotten responses and seen responses that are right out of the White Citizen’s Council material from 1964. In my home state of Mississippi, seeing people saying there is no gospel issue involved in racial reconciliation.”
And goes on,
We have a group of people—a small group of people, not a lot of people—some unreconstructed racists in American society and we have some who continue to come and to sit in pews of churches and pretend as though they are disciples of Jesus Christ. And we have some other people who are willing to speak to any possible issue, from the framework of Scripture that goes on in the world until it comes to the question of whether or not we maybe do have some legitimate problems being faced by our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, and then at that point they become completely silent and say the gospel doesn’t speak to this. I think that’s wrong.

Some of these issues are going to be complicated, and some of these particular. . . when it comes to Ferguson we’re going to have different understandings of what the grand jury should have done and how they should have handled it. There are going to be some differing interpretations. But folks, when we’ve got police officers killing a man on video with a chokehold, can we not say there are still some problems in American society when it comes to race?

I'm not sure how small the group is, but it's about time churches call out their own on this.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On New Atheists and Anti-theists

I have long argued that there is a difference between atheism and anti-theism,  a movement that is not so much atheist as anti-religion.  You know, Dawkins and his ilk.  I have little time for people who define as atheists just to bash religion.  Fine, faith not your bag.  No problem, but what's it to you if some people spend Sunday in a cloud of incense?

Reza Aslan is on the same page :
What Harris, Dawkins and their ilk are preaching is a polemic that has been around since the 18th century – one properly termed, anti-theism.

The earliest known English record of the term “anti-theist” dates back to 1788, but the first citation of the word can be found in the 1833 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, where it is defined as “one opposed to belief in the existence of a god” (italics mine). In other words, while an atheist believes there is no god and so follows no religion, an anti-theist opposes the very idea of religious belief, often viewing religion as an insidious force that must be rooted from society – forcibly if necessary..... 
Anti-theism is a relatively new phenomenon. But atheism is as old as theism itself. For wherever we find belief in gods we find those who reject such beliefs.....
So where does the anti-theist come from?
[Scholars] trace the emergence of atheism as a distinct worldview to the end of the Enlightenment era, which, not coincidentally, is also the time that anti-theism first arose. The Enlightenment’s emphasis on skepticism, reason and scientific advancement posed a direct challenge to religion in general, and Christianity in particular.
But here's the kicker:
That makes sense when you consider that Christianity was not only the sole religion with which many Enlightenment thinkers had any familiarity. It was an all-encompassing political presence in the lives of most Europeans, which is why the atheism of the Enlightenment was grounded less in denying the existence of God than in trying to liberate humanity from religion’s grip on earthly power.
And that's the crux.  Once  Christianity became entangled in the power of the State, resistance to that power became entangled in the language of belief.
[I]n the century that followed the Enlightenment, a stridently militant form of atheism arose that merged the Enlightenment’s criticism of institutional religion with the strict empiricism of the scientific revolution to not only reject belief in God, but to actively oppose it. By the middle of the 19th century, this movement was given its own name – anti-theism – specifically to differentiate it from atheism.
He points out that Stalin and Mao were not atheists, but anti-theists.  A pushback against the identification of religion with power.  And in our era, I think very much a pushback against fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist CHristianity, with its own form of fundamentalism.
Like religious fundamentalism, New Atheism is primarily a reactionary phenomenon, one that responds to religion with the same venomous ire with which religious fundamentalists respond to atheism. What one finds in the writings of anti-theist ideologues like Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens is the same sense of utter certainty, the same claim to a monopoly on truth, the same close-mindedness that views one’s own position as unequivocally good and one’s opponent’s views as not just wrong but irrational and even stupid, the same intolerance for alternative explanations, the same rabid adherents (as anyone who has dared criticize Dawkins or Harris on social media can attest), and, most shockingly, the same proselytizing fervor that one sees in any fundamentalist community.
Exactly. The anti-theists have a made a religion out of opposing religion.   I know some of these people, and they burn with the fire of a fanatic in their opposition to religion.  But by far the majroity of non-believers simply don't care.
One can certainly be both an atheist and an anti-theist. But the point is that the vast majority of atheists – 85 percent according to one poll – are not anti-theists and should not be lumped into the same category as the anti-theist ideologues that inundate the media landscape. (A diverse community being defined by its loudest voices? Imagine that). In fact, let’s stop calling New Atheism, “atheism,” and start calling it what it is: anti-theism.
Here's the thing, though.  The religious fundamentalists  in the US punch way above their weight, and attempt to push their religious view into the secular polis.  You know, opposing reproductive rights, LGBT rights, and environmental skepticism.  This generates a backlash. We know that the largest increases in religious identity is the Nones, and we also know that the Dones are a looming class, those being the people who have left religion.  Indeed, ex-Roman Catholics would be the 2nd or 3rd largest denomination in the country. 

I'm not a fan of the New a(nti)theists, being a church-going atheist myself, but I certainly understand from whence comes their frustration.

Check this out for the 6 kinds of atheists.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Immigration Debate, the Executive Order, and the Other

Charles Blow in the NY Times:

Don’t let yourself get lost in the weeds. Don’t allow yourself to believe that opposition to President Obama’s executive actions on immigration is only about that issue, the president’s tactics, or his lack of obsequiousness to his detractors. 
This hostility and animosity toward this president is, in fact, larger than this president. This is about systems of power and the power of symbols. Particularly, it is about preserving traditional power and destroying emerging symbols that threaten that power.
This president is simply the embodiment of the threat, as far as his detractors are concerned, whether they are willing or able to articulate it as such. There is no denying the insinuations in such language: a fear of subjugation by people like this president, an “other” person, predisposed to lawlessness. ....
From this worldview, liberalism isn’t simply an alternate political sensibility, but a rot, an irreparable ruination, a violation of the laws of the land as the founding fathers (most of whom owned slaves at some point) envisioned, but also of the laws of nature, which they see as being directed by God. There are so many examples of this: opposition to L.G.B.T. rights, to the science undergirding climate change and efforts to arrest that change, and to allowing women a full range of reproductive options. 
Make no mistake: This debate is not just about this president, this executive order or immigration. This is about the fear that makes the face flush when people stare into a future in which traditional power — their power — is eroded, and about their desperate, by-any-means determination to deny that future.

Friday, November 21, 2014

We need more republicans like this

I have recently started reading a blog called "GOPlifer".  The  writer is a sensible old-style republican, the sort that we used to have back in the day.  While I am more leftist than he is, and not as enamored of markets, I have been enjoying his writing.  A Republican party that came back to its rational roots (or should we say, sensible cloth coats) would be a welcome change and a force for good.  

Indeed, I'm often not comfortable with the extreme left, particularly its political correctness and identity politics, and very much opposed to the current fashion of shutting down unpopular speech or speakers.  There's a real streak of old-style Republican in me, though I still identify as more liberal than GOPlifer.  And I bet a lot of people who are uncomfortable in the middle would vote for some of his policies.Which would not necessarily be bad ones.

On immigration, GOPlifer writes,
We will achieve real border security when we start making intelligent policy choices. Republicans should be well positioned to lead the way on border security since many of the best solutions are based on market mechanisms rather than big government. Unfortunately, the GOP is not only the party of markets and commerce; it has become the central political expression of aging whites terrified of losing their cultural dominance.

That’s where Republican border security rhetoric confronts border security politics. The policies that will make America more powerful, wealthier, and more secure will also make America increasingly more diverse. Too many core Republican voters are willing to live in a weaker, poorer country so long as people who speak English and look like me remain securely dominant. As long as Republicans are more interested in cultural security than border security, Republicans will not regain leadership on immigration reform.
He has an excellent diagnosis of what the GOP is, and what it could be, from the view of a market-oriented capitalist.
Markets do not survive under weak or inept government. The Republican Party was originally organized to thwart powerful interests who, unhindered by a government too weak and ineffectual to provide justice, violently stole the labor and resources of an enslaved people. It took the force of a muscular, determined central government to end slavery. A century later it took a muscular, determined central government to enforce the rights of the formerly enslaved to participate freely in markets.

That battle for justice has not ended and may never end. Republicans will not regain our balance until we recognize one essential reality – government is not our enemy and it not the enemy of markets.
The South?  He recognizes the same neo-Confederate problem that we talked about earlier,  but sees the potential:
Southern men in their fifties launched their lives in an atmosphere of near-total protection from competition. God had made them racially supreme, the benevolent protectors of the weaker sex and even weaker neighboring races. Law and culture made that supremacy feel like a reality until the Federal government and global economic competition began to strip it away.....

For that formerly insulated generation, accelerating technological dynamism has undermined much of their economic value just at the moment when global capitalism has broadened the range of competition. They have lost privileges and protections they barely realized they had and the terror is palpable. Southern Republican politics in this moment is pure, distilled fear; rhetorical moonshine that rushes straight to the heart before dimming the eyes.
But, he sees much promise:
Reconstruction 2.0 is a relentless juggernaut bringing a brighter, freer, more prosperous future to the South. The aging Neo-Confederates that have seized control of the GOP are tilting at windmills. Cooler heads might regain political control before the party goes the way of the Whigs, but the country at large is already moving on. When the dust settles and the dead-enders have given up, the Southern states may be positioned to breathe vibrant new life into the American Dream.
And, today, he diagnoses the Republican party:
The miserable state of the Republican Party can perhaps be understood through its response to four simple truths. Each item on this list is measurable, provable and broadly regarded as obvious. Failure to acknowledge these four truths means being as clearly, empirically wrong as it’s possible to be in the otherwise mushy, gray realm of politics:

1) Climate change is real and it is caused primarily by human activity.

2) Human beings evolved from simpler life forms, and the same evolutionary process shapes all living systems.

3) Abortion is a complex issue because it involves two legitimate liberty interests in conflict with one another.

4) Race still skews economic outcomes in the United States.


Unfortunately, there is almost no corner of America in which a Republican can survive a primary election while openly acknowledging all four of these truths....

Mediation begins by reaching some agreement on a defined, provable set of facts. The truth is slow, but relentless. Over time it becomes irresistible. Anyone who is looking for a first step, a template for building a newly relevant Republican establishment should look first to those four truths. If we can ever generate a core of Republican strategists, activists and officeholders willing to acknowledge these simple, demonstrable truths without evasion or flinching, we’ll be on our way to a far brighter future for the party, the country, and our world.

So, Republicans, how do you take your party back?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Separating marriage rights from marriage rites

It's been a dizzying advance in the marriage equality business over the last 6 weeks.  TOday, the Supremes refused to grant a stay to South Carolina, which is covered by the recent decision in the 4th circuit and is grudgingly now an equality state.  Montana is covered by the 9th.

Kansas continues to throw roadblocks at equality and refuses to recognize what are in all technical respects, legal marriages. Eventually that will work out.  And eventually  SCOTUS will take it up (given the split in the circuits) and sort it out.

Meanwhile, a  group of right-wing Christian pastors has called upon their brethren to refuse to sign legal marriage licenses because they contaminate "real" marriage.  So people who want to be married, get married twice:  once by a judge, and once in church.

You know what?  Fine.  That's the system that works in many countries in the world, in which civil marriage is explicitly separated from religious matrimony.  Many liberal clergy have found it equally uncomfortable to be both an agent of the state, and a person of the cloth. At some level, separation of church and state almost requires it.

And I think it's a good idea. Indeed, we were married civilly, and only later (2.5 years later, actually) had a religious service to bless our marriage. 

Our civil marriage was a free-form set of vows and a wonderful celebration, with the dresses and the food and the party.

Our blessing was small, intimate, with only a small reception afterwards.   Instead of focusing on caterers and wedding planners, the preparation was filled with liturgical discussions and the required "counselling" although for an already-married couple, it was more like a review of the state of the union.  And so our faith community claimed us as their own, quite apart from how we claimed each other.

Separating the two made the religious component very intentional, without distraction.

So, to the separatist ministers, I say, fine.  No one wants you to be forced to do something against your faith. 

I actually think it's better for the couple, too. 

But they might want to be worried.  Once they are legally married , some couples might choose to forgo the church and just have the party.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pope Francis is no friend

I admit to being bemused at the response of LGBT people to Pope Francis.  Yes, he has attempted to reduce the focus on "pelvic issues" in the Roman Catholic church, with a renewed and welcome focus on the poor.  He has challenged the deeply political Vatican culture.  But he has NOT changed, nor is he likely to change, anything about how the Church views women or LGBT people.

There was a brief moment in the recent Synod on the Family where we all thought there might be at least a smidgeon of recognition that LGBT people are not unremittingly evil.  But that was hastily walked back in the final documents, amidst a conservative uproar.

And now, as if to polish his anti-equality bona fides, the Vatican is sponsoring an ecumenical conference on men and women, where the invitation list is straight out of the US culture wars, with a seasoning of African advocates for criminalizing LGBT people.

And rather than being about men and women, it's all about Teh Gayz. Jeremy Hooper (a married gay man) tells us that the Pope's full-throated speech about straight marriage uber alles thrilled the anti-gay activists. They also loved the speech of the Nigerian Archbishop (Anglican) who advocates for criminalization.

He concludes,
All will tell you that the aim is to "strengthen" marriage and families, yet every speaker pushes an ideal, from softer-toned to Archbishop Okoh, that tells the world my marriage and my family are a threat. There is no room for discussion. There is no consideration that perhaps my own monogamous union of twelve-years-going on-life, with one beloved child for whom and I my husband would instinctively lay down our own lives, is actually part of the strength that they seek. The preconceived thesis is that my marriage, no matter how productively and peacefully lived, is at war with what they are trying to do. And by inviting the types of activists that they have invited, it's clear that the Vatican is eager to disseminate this view into the public policy arena
As Fr Geoff Farrow warns, this is well-choreographed theatre.
The long term goal is to reverse gains made by LGBT people and subordinate them once again. It is to reestablish the Catholic Church as the final authority in morality, with power to translate those morals into legislation in civil governments.
And they slowly, inexorably move to that goal.  See, for example, a recent lawsuit with the claim that religious freedom means that Roman Catholics are exempt from even being sued in court. No court has jurisdiction.  Because religious freedom  means they make their own law.

No, the Catholic church has not changed.    Pope Francis is just a kinder, gentler face on the same views and doctrine that consider us "objectively disordered", and oriented toward "intrinsic moral evil".   They are playing a very long game.  And their goal is to disenfranchise, even criminalize LGBT people, eliminate our legal rights, and destroy our relationships.

Fortunately, the institutional Roman Catholic Church does not speak for the Catholic laity, who remain strongly supportive. Maybe because they know and love their gay children, parents, family, and co-workers well enough to ignore the hot air from the culture warriors.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why is the church in decline? Ask the middle class.

Fascinating article:
In America, church has always been a free market commodity primarily oriented toward the middle class. In class conflicts, the church has generally sided with management. Church congregants have not been working poor, but rather business owners and managers. Even the noble response of the initial social justice movement of a century ago was bourgeois. Its purpose was not to find solidarity with the poor, but to lend a hand to the poor to hoist them into the middle class 
....the long decay of the church over the past generation coincides perfectly with the long decay of the middle class. 
Even more haunting is Charles Murray’s Coming Apart. Murray explains that for the past several decades, church participation within the middle class has hardly changed, but it has disappeared almost entirely within the working class. His observation is easily confirmed by attending worship services. The working class is poorly represented in our congregations; people in lower classes have little means to support a congregation with time, talent, or treasure, and they perceive little value in the institution. 
Christians around the country are wondering why churches are in decline. The reason is not Darwin or Marx, science or atheism, culture wars, or competition. It’s economics. As goes the middle class, so goes the church.