Playbook for concealing truth

I have not succeeded in averting my gaze sufficiently from the Roman Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis.

I think I’d be allowed to do so — I’m not Catholic, nor a prosecutor or a journalist — but I just can’t, not completely. I can only plead in mitigation that others are far more obsessed, for their own reasons.

From the Pennsylvania grand jury report released today, this especially infuriating excerpt (via Rod Dreher, who wrote the first paragraph):

We’ll start with this, from the introduction, in which the grand jury identified the strategy the Catholic Church used to, in the AG’s words “protect their institution at all costs.”

The strategies were so common that they were susceptible to behavioral analysis by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For our benefit, the FBI agreed to assign members of its National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime to review a significant portion of the evidence received by the grand jury. Special agents testified before us that they had identified a series of practices that regularly appeared, in various configurations, in the diocesan files they had analyzed. It’s like a playbook for concealing the truth:

First, make sure to use euphemisms rather than real words to describe the sexual assaults in diocese documents. Never say “rape”; say “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues.”

Second, don’t conduct genuine investigations with properly trained personnel. Instead, assign fellow clergy members to ask inadequate questions and then make credibility
determinations about the colleagues with whom they live and work.

Third, for an appearance of integrity, send priests for “evaluation” at church -run psychiatric treatment centers. Allow these experts to “diagnose” whether the priest was a pedophile, based largely on the priest’s “self -reports,” and regardless of whether the priest had actually engaged in sexual contact with a child.

Fourth, when a priest does have to be removed, don’t say why. Tell his parishioners that he is on “sick leave,” or suffering from “nervous exhaustion.” Or say nothing at all.

Fifth, even if a priest is raping children, keep providing him housing and living expenses, although he may be using these resources to facilitate more sexual assaults.

Sixth, if a predator’s conduct becomes known to the community, don’t remove him from the priesthood to ensure that no more children will be victimized. Instead, transfer him to a new location where no one will know he is a child abuser.

Finally and above all, don’t tell the police. Child sexual abuse, even short of actual penetration, is and has for all relevant times been a crime. But don’t treat it that way; handle it like a personnel matter, “in house.”

That’s all I have to say at the moment.

 

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Senate Race 2018

30 years ago it would have been fair to call me a “single-issue voter,” and that issue was abortion. I was, and remain, strongly opposed to what the press style sheets now have settled on calling “abortion rights.”

For some reason, though, I refused to burn bridges to the party that supported what then was the most liberal abortion regime in the Western world.

Part of my reason was professional — my state Right to Life affiliate was a client of mine for a time, and I wanted to act professionally, not politically, in representing them. Indeed, I got them as a client because my predecessor had been too blatantly Republican for the tastes of the Right to Life group’s new state President. Back then, we had Democrats who were positive champions of the pro-life cause in the Indiana House and Senate, and we praised them publicly.

Another part of my reason was that abortion is an issue where the party platforms seem oddly reversed, with the Democrats abandoning the littlest of little guys and the Republicans stepping away from toxic libertarianism. I kept thinking the Democrats could be brought to their senses, and that opposition to abortion could once more be bipartisan. (In thinking that, I underestimated some of the unarticulated political shifts that were taking place. I think it was the late Joseph Sobran who called the Democrats the party of “Vote your vice,” which had a humorous sting — until one reflected that not all vice is sexual. But that’s a story for another day.)

But over 30 years, the Republicans, who had my vote quite reliably (if not my rhetoric), became more obviously insincere about their abortion opposition, fronting candidates who memorized the words but plainly could not carry the tune. I got furious at a Californian supporter of the Constitution Party who opined contemptuously in 2002 that the Republican were just playing pro-lifers, but I now think he was substantially right.

For that, but mostly for other reasons, I no longer consider myself a Republican, feeling with many others that the party has left conservatism and left me. I could no longer be a single-issue voter, and the reflex to vote Republican is diminishing.

Which brings me to Joe Donnelly, one of my two U.S. Senators, famously up for re-election this year.

The consensus seems to be that Donnelly is at serious risk of getting upset by Republican Mike Braun, who won the “Vichyer-than-thou” competition in May’s 3-way GOP primary, thumping two “names” whose hollowness had become manifest in their years of public self-service.

Maureen Groppe of the USA Today Network casts the risk to Donnelly thus:

“I am, and have been, disappointed in his continued failure to advocate for Hoosier women and families regarding issues of reproductive justice,” said Emily O’Brien, vice president of the Indiana National Organization for Women, which is pressuring Donnelly to reject Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Anti-abortion groups, however, are also critical of Donnelly while praising GOP challenger Mike Braun, who is “100 percent pro-life” – including opposing abortion in the cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the woman. Donnelly makes exceptions in all three cases.

“He waffles,” Sue Swayze Liebel, the Indiana state chair of the Susan B. Anthony List, said of Donnelly. “And babies don’t need wafflers. They need champions.”

So his position is too pro-life for the Democrats, too qualified for the anti-abortion groups that continue buying Republican baloney. Maybe I’ll write some day on the pipe dream of a democratically adopted anti-abortion law with no exceptions for “rape, incest and life of the mother.” For now, opposing those exceptions in law seems more like checking the right boxes than like a serious political position.

Meanwhile, my first campaign mailing from Braun included the anodyne “I am committed to my faith, my family, my business, and my fellow Hoosiers,” with no further mention of what his commitment to faith and family mean. There was no mention of abortion. Not one.

Apparently, his “100 percent pro-life” position is notional, consisting of boldly “hoping” (when pressed) that Roe v. Wade gets overturned (a position he staked out in the Groppe article). Meanwhile, he can claim his hands are tied (as they pretty much are) and let the hardline anti-abortion imagination take over for what a mighty warrior he’ll be when the eschaton arrives.

Mostly, Braun’s mailer trash-talked Donnelly in ways I recognize as implausible and, as are most politics today, dishonorable.

Overall, Braun strikes me as a hollow man, just too unfamiliar to have bred full-blown contempt yet.

And then there is the meta-issue:

The system is being burned down before our eyes by its own chief executive. Given the complete and utter moral collapse of the Vichy Republicans in Washington, the only hope for rescuing it is for the Democrats to gain control of either or both chambers of Congress.

Frank Rich. Rich echoes Michael Gerson, who hopes to save the GOP from Trump by clobbering them up side the head with a big loss in November:

President Trump is a rolling disaster of mendacity, corruption and prejudice. What should they do?

They should vote Democratic in their House race, no matter who the Democrats put forward. And they should vote Republican in Senate races with mainstream candidates ….

I find Rich’s rationale more appealing. I also appreciate — make that “cherish” — the evocative “Vichy Republicans.”

Seth Godin suggests how to proceed with difficult decisions, especially when it feels like you’ve gotten a rotten deal, which is how I was bound to feel this month whether Trump or Clinton won in 2016. I haven’t fully worked through Godin’s protocol yet, and I’m not going to forget Trump’s judicial nominations or his defense of religious freedom (mostly for Christians, alas).

But Mike Braun has no presumption in his favor for this recovering Republican, and my heart, to return to where I started, is to protect the endangered species “Pro-life Democrat.”

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Trick shot

In November, many Republican leaners and independents will face a difficult decision. The national Democratic Party under Nancy Pelosi and Charles E. Schumer doesn’t share their views or values. But President Trump is a rolling disaster of mendacity, corruption and prejudice. What should they do?

Michael Gerson, calling for voters to administer the only medicine that will save the GOP from Trump, a solid, strategic thumping in November:

They should vote Democratic in their House race, no matter who the Democrats put forward. And they should vote Republican in Senate races with mainstream candidates …

If Democrats gain control of the House but not the Senate, they will be a check on the president without becoming a threat to his best policies (from a Republican perspective) or able to enact their worst policies. The tax cut will stand. The Senate will still approve conservative judges. But the House will conduct real oversight hearings ….

I’ve tended to underestimate the value of a healthy two-party system, and I may be underestimating the health of our two major parties now. But I am inclined to let the GOP go to to hell with Trump and see how things sort themselves out, as they are doing before our eyes right now.

If I do vote for an unusual number of Democrats, it will be because desperate times call for desperate measures, but not to save the GOP through some triple bank-shot.

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Sunken into mendacity

“You know I’m from Alabama—the home of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that did important work in the South, vital work at a pivotal time,” the attorney general explained.

He admitted that “there were hate groups in the South I grew up in. They attacked the life, liberty, and the very worth of minority citizens.”

Sessions recalled working with the SPLC to secure the death penalty for a member of the Ku Klux Klan. “You may not know this, but I helped prosecute and secure the death penalty for a klansman who murdered a black teenager in my state. The resulting wrongful death suit led to a $7 million verdict and the bankruptcy of the Klu Klux Klan in the South. That case was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” he said.

“But when I spoke to ADF last year, I learned that the Southern Poverty Law Center had classified ADF as a ‘hate group.’ Many in the media simply parroted it as fact,” the attorney general added. “Amazon relied solely on the SPLC designation and removed ADF from its Smile program, which allows customers to donate to charities.”

Sessions charged that the SPLC has “used this designation as a weapon and they have wielded it against conservative organizations that refuse to accept their orthodoxy and choose instead to speak their conscience.”

He powerfully added, “They use it to bully and intimidate groups like yours which fight for the religious freedom, the civil rights, and the constitutional rights of others.”

Then the attorney general addressed ADF directly. “You and I may not agree on everything—but I wanted to come back here tonight partly because I wanted to say this: you are not a hate group,” Sessions declared.

Then he made the case. “You have a 9-0 record at the Supreme Court over the past seven years—and that includes two of the most important cases of the last term,” the attorney general said. “Two of those nine cases were 7-2, one was per curiam, and one was 9-0. In the lower courts, you’ve won hundreds of free speech cases. That’s an impressive record. These are not fringe beliefs that you’re defending.”

Rather, “You endeavor to affirm the Constitution and American values.”

Tyler O’Neil, quoting Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

You’re right, Mr. Sessions, that I don’t agree with you on everything, but thank you for speaking the truth and sharing the “back-story.”

It irks me that NPR continues credulously to bring on “experts” from SPLC, one of its sponsors.

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Willow Creek Babylon

I attended Willow Creek Church precisely one time, probably Fall of 1992 or 1997 (class reunions at 5-year intervals put me in the neighborhood of South Barrington).

Willow Creek was the model church for Evangelicals — everyone wanted to be like them. If your church was stagnant or shrinking, an fun-filled, expense-paid trip to Willow Creek for the Church Growth Committee was de rigeur.

The show I attended that Sunday morning left me a bit conflicted. Jane Austen explains:

“I should like balls infinitely better,” she replied, “if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”

“Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.”

(Pride and Predudice) My skepticism, I think, was that it was all very catchy and slick (I’d have paid $5 to hear the band in particular — on Saturday night at an auditorium or bar), but not so near much like a church.

Willow Creek’s fall, about which there’s no shortage of news if you hadn’t heard, is calamitous, like that of Babylon the Great in the apocalypse. It deservedly calls the megachurch model into severest doubt. Bill Hybels is the Evangelical Cardinal McCarrick.

At least I assume it is felt that way, for I myself definitively left the world of Willow Creek wannabees in November of 1997.

UPDATE: Triumphalist connotations in my original ending were, it was brought to my attention privately, quite strong. My intent was offer the Orthodox Church for consideration of those burnt out on megachurches for any reason, not because I think it immune to the wiles of the Evil One vis á vis any particular sin.

* * * * *

Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Potpourri

My micro.blog is experiencing technical difficulties, with more than a day’s worth backed up. (I can see them in one manner only, useless to others.) And today, I vowed yet again to forsake Facebook:

Okay, Facebook, what the heck is up?

For a few months, I’ve been puzzled by images that flash on the screen as I scroll down and then disappear. I’ve now concluded that it’s probably some attempt at subliminal advertising. Blechhhhhh!

Now, I get a new suggested friend, an attractive 50-something blond I’ve never heard of, who is NOT suggested because we have mutual friends, and whose profile is virtually blank except for a larger version of the head shot that confirms that, yes, she is indeed an attractive 50-something blond.

This is getting genuinely creepy. I suspect I shall become even scarcer around here. I’ve already posted about where you can find me on the Indie Web.

So I’m going to resort to my old aggregation, except I’ll be aggregating mostly me.

1

Urban Meyer at Ohio State “may have known of domestic-violence allegations against an assistant coach but continued to employ him on the Buckeyes’ staff,” so he’s in deep trouble. What’s this got to do with sports? Why, Title IX, of course. #Over-regulated.

2

Joseph M. Bessette notes that Pope Francis branded the death penalty “inadmissible”: “Unless the death penalty is intrinsically evil—and the pope has made no such claim—then its advisability is a matter for citizens and legitimate public authority.” Argues that it deters, too.

3

I’m not a big John Prine fan, but his “don’t forget to pack this” list is endearing.

4

The Nation Magazine Betrays a Poet — and Itself

I was the magazine’s poetry editor for 35 years. Never once did we apologize for publishing a poem.

By Grace Schulman

NYT

5

 My party assigned at birth is Republican, but I now consider myself party-fluid.

6

A national organization I’ve reflexively supported for years, I notice, has scheduled seven fundraisers. Three keynoters unknown to me, three dubious celebrities, and one Dinesh D’Souza, who has sunk to trolling. Time to reconsider support.

7

One of my friends likes to joke that the only improvement to the 1983 Code of Canon Law is that it is no longer an excommunicable offense for a layman to deck a cleric. Perhaps this improvement was providentially ordained by God as an additional tool in the box for responding to crises such as these.

Michael P. Foley (H/T @ayjay)

[I expanded this one beyond 280 characters — a soft micro.blog limit beyond which things display differently.]

8

Toppling Qaddafi without building a new order may go down as the single dumbest action the NATO alliance ever took.

Thomas Friedman. “Dumb” as in “Hey! Watch this!” suicidal.

[If you haven’t been paying attention to the stresses in Europe — and I confess more than slight sympathy for Hungary and other nations who, in sloppy journalese, are becoming “nationalistic” in response — Friedman’s column is not a bad primer.]

9

We’ve ended up with a large number of “supposed evangelicals” who … think that because they watch Fox News, respect religion, and vote Republican, they must be evangelicals.

Kristin Du Mez, Evangelicalism is an Imagined Religious Community. “Conservatism” is likewise confused.

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Ayjay’s Second Law: The least valuable Christian writers to read are those for whom the log is always in someone else’s eye.

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Q&A

Question

Answer

There are other interesting answers to Geraghty’s question, too.

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

The Hermetic Decalogue

If he would leave the self alone,
Apollo’s welcome to the throne,
Fasces and falcons;
He loves to rule, has always done it;
The earth would soon, did Hermes run it,
Be like the Balkans.

But jealous of our god of dreams,
His common-sense in secret schemes
To rule the heart;
Unable to invent the lyre,
Creates with simulated fire
Official art.

And when he occupies a college,
Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
He pays particular
Attention to Commercial Thought,
Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
In his curricula.

Athletic, extrovert and crude,
For him, to work in solitude
Is the offence,
The goal a populous Nirvana:
His shield bears this device: Mens sana
Qui mal y pense.

In our morale must lie our strength:
So, that we may behold at length
Routed Apollo’s
Battalions melt away like fog,
Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
Which runs as follows:–

Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor’s thesis
On education,
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before
Administration.

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.

W.H. Auden, Under Which Lyre, subtitled A Reactionary Tract for the Times, debuted as a Phi Beta Kappa Poem, Harvard, 1946.

The poem came to my attention (though I own Auden’s collected poems), by Ross Douthat riffing on a new book from Alan Jacobs.

During his visit, Auden met James Conant, then the president of Harvard and a man associated with the Apollonian transformation of the modern university, its remaking as a scientific-technical powerhouse with its old religious and humanistic purposes hollowed out. “‘This is the real enemy,’ I thought to myself,” Auden wrote of the encounter. “And I’m sure he had the same impression about me.”

Ross Douthat.

Lord, count me among the Hermetics when Thou comest into Thy kingdom (if I’m not too far gone already).

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.

Course correction

It was more recent than I recalled that I, inspired by a minor epiphany, felt competent at last to write something about homosexuality beyond that same-sex attraction is a spiritual affliction and that acting on it is sin.

Here’s a link to what I wrote.

I stand by the substance, with a couple of expansions and one update.

First, the locution “same-sex attraction” was probably coming into disfavor when I wrote. Now, it is derided (among those whose testimonies I trust) as “Christianese,” opaque to the world, and to be shunned in favor of “being gay.” I’m still digesting that argument and unready to change just yet, but neither is it a hill I’m willing to die on.

Second, I would double-down on my skepticism about orientation change, if only because I’ve learned that there are a lot of people still selling and buying that snake oil. I wouldn’t bet my life against orientation change, but I’d bet a lot.

I now think that some of the “ex-gay” gurus are conscious frauds — fraudulent in the same way that guys like Benny Hinn are fraudulent. (Others may be letting others’ expectations of holiness determine what they’ll profess to have attained. And there are many other possibilities from this crooked timber of humanity, from which so few straight things are made.)

Third, I feel a need to say that almost everything positive I write about gay Christians is about those committed to celibacy — “Side B” in the argot of these Christians themselves. I have never encountered anything I thought a credible argument for the Christian licitness of gay sex (and if I did, it would have a well-nigh insurmountable hill to climb — 2000 years of Christian teaching — to convince me.

Finally, the update. Back then I wrote:

I’m not sure why they might feel a need to be publicly open and transparent about the sexual particulars of their sickness (versus open with a select few for purposes of support); I feel no need to be publicly open and transparent about the temptations I’m not going to name here.

That was literally true when written: I wasn’t sure. But I actually meant “when they talk about it so much, it starts creeping me out.”

I now have a better idea why they may need to talk about it so much, and why I need to listen (yes, and maybe push back some times) more patiently than I was ready for a few years ago. (I’m not going to try putting the reasons in words because I have something better than that. Stay tuned.)

But I’ve also had some other little epiphanies, converging, whence this current offering.

For one thing, I’ve always sensed the force of this apocryphal Martin Luther quote:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him.

It is clear to me that the world and the devil at this moment (and for the last 50 years or so of accumulated moments) are attacking in the area of sexuality:

Conservative Christians are fond of using this [Luther] quote to insist that we must stand up for the truth of the historic Christian sexual ethic even as it is being attacked in contemporary Western cultures, and that to fail to do so is to fail to be orthodox, faithful, biblical. And, in a mainline Protestant church like the one I belong to, I feel the force of this. These days it can seem easy to preach Christ in every way but the way that He challenges progressive sexual mores.

(Wesley Hill) That is a partial answer to why I have read a lot, thought a lot and written a lot about these issues, and naming that motivation was an epiphany of sorts, though a very minor one. Before that, I had been reflexively “trimming.”

A bigger epiphany is expressed, but not exhausted, by a continuation of Wesley Hill’s comment on the Luther quote:

And yet “the world” that “Luther” mentions in that quote is not always the world of progressive secularism/liberalism. Sometimes “the world” attacks the truth of Christ on the second point that Fr. White mentions — by tempting Christians to demean, disdain, ignore, overburden, or otherwise harm LGBTQ people. “The world” and “the devil” can manifest themselves in so-called “progressivism,” yes—and they can manifest themselves just as easily whenever a Christian heaps shame on LGBTQ people (“There’s something more askew in your life than there is in that of heterosexuals,” is what a pastor once told me), or offers a quick solution to their complex dilemmas (“Just get married!” is literally the advice I saw from a conservative Christian last week, as if I haven’t ever considered that possibility), or caricatures their sex lives (“Gay culture is inherently promiscuous”), or damages their faith (“If you want healing from same-sex attraction, it is available, and you have only to say yes,” I have been promised by Christians numerous times), or in any number of other ways attacks their dignity. If you are in a so-called conservative church and you are loudly proclaiming the truth about homosexuality at every point but at the point where that truth insists on the worth and lovability of LGBTQ people — if you are binding up heavy burdens on them and not lifting a finger to help (cf. Matthew 23:4) — then you are not proclaiming Christian truth, no matter how much you may seize the high ground and claim otherwise.

Several converging articles, podcasts, YouTubes and such drove that home to me as never before, and several of them centered on the recently-completed Revoice18 conference, a gathering of celibate gay Christians under the umbrella of SpiritualFriendship, in a conservative Calvinist (PCA) Church in St. Louis.

Some of what I read, heard or saw critiqued or defended the whole idea of celibate gay Christians, with the criticisms tending to niggle over the adjective “gay.” It came from self-styled Calvinists (“Reformed”) and certifiable Southern Baptists. Their critiques were well familiar to the conferees, to the point of murmurs of approval at refutations. I’ll not try to summarize it because although I was in that critics’ general camp by instinct a few years ago, I’m moving away from it now by conviction.

Another epiphany was confirmation that my intuition, which I had barely dared to utter aloud, was true: a lot of people who think themselves “transgender” are dealing with unresolved conflict over homosexual urges. I no longer need to intuit about that, or worry that I’m naïvely grabbing a third rail that will kill me. Many teenagers who think they’re trangender ultimately desist from that, but they’re generally homosexual at that point. Others who went far into “transitioning” and then de-transitioned report the same drive.

Apparently, life as a homosexual person can be so humiliating and frightening that a non-trivial number of people respond by attempting to become the sex appropriate to their erotic urges. I guess I’ve led too sheltered a life. (I’m resisting a temptation to digress here; let me just summarize that I’m still not sure that public accommodations laws are efficiacious at relieving unaffected humiliation and fright.)

It’s even bad in the Church (bracketing the question of whether it’s even worse):

  • “It was easier for me, as a convert from atheism, to trust that God loved me, than for a gay kid who grew up in the church. Shouldn’t that shock us?” (Eve Tushnet).
  • For many celibate gay Christians, there’s a feeling of being “harassed by our Churches, and seen as utter fools by the world,” to paraphrase Johanna Finegan.
  • Part of that harassment is a pernicious persistence of belief in reparative therapy, converting gay Christians into straight Christians, consonant with the metanarrative that gays are broken heterosexuals.
  • If the Church harasses, beats up, distrusts and otherwise abuses someone, it can break them, and they may not find their way home again.

Don’t we need at least to think harder about what to do to make it less humiliating and frightening in the Church which, after all, is chock full of sundry sinners with manifold temptations?

Yet another epiphany that still boggles my mind (though that epiphany has been around a while; it’s not new) is that these pictures are not “gay.” They depict an easy and un-selfconscious friendship that we’ve lost in the U.S., perhaps throughout the West.

That says more about us than about these guys. There is so much more that could be said, but someone else will need to do it or you’ll have to wait until I’m ready. As they say, “I. Just. Can’t. Even.”

The folks at the Revoice conference are trying to recover something like such friendships, while their critics are echoing Sigmund Freud in sexualizing the very idea. “Flee! Run as far and fast as you can!” is the gist of it, and what comes across is “learn to live life without any emotional intimacy, because the opposite sex doesn’t have time for you and you might get a rise in your Levis if you attempt same-sex friendship.”

Excuse me as I have a little reverie about our Lord’s excoriation those who lay on burdens heavy to bear.

Call all that an epic (or at least self-indulgent) introduction.

I had imagined writing a blog that went into some detail about what I’ve learned. But I don’t think anything I could write would top the 43 minute, 17 second pre-conference Revoice18 talk of Johanna Finegan.

A man at her church, concerned about her upcoming attendance and presentation at Revoice18 said “It sounds like these people think it’s okay to be gay as long as you don’t act on it.” She responded “Well, yes. What’s the alternative? Not getting out of bed in the morning?”

Just so.

There’s some refinement needed about what it means to “not act on it,” but I’ll step aside now:

This in particular (38:15) challenges me:

“Maybe we can see it as a gift to the world — a beautiful, confounding witness … We declare that something is more valuable than the sex and the romantic love we naturally long for. We declare that genuine Christianity changes and shapes your whole life … We declare that Jesus Christ is sublimely and absolutely worthy and worth it. And maybe we can see it as a gift to the Church. Our lives could be illustrations of what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus that can help our straight brothers and sisters. Our lives can depict what it’s like to follow God, we know not where ….

Some of what the Spiritual Friendship/Revoice18 people are saying, and what I’m now inclined to believe, probably has a “sell-by date.” Remember that I’m a “trimmer.” Maybe — heck, almost certainly — we risk overcorrection, but correct we must, in what another blogger calls “the present cultural moment.”

So it seems to me.

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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.

(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)

By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”

Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings

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Creed and deed

Is is possible to separate creedal orthodoxy (whole-hearted assent to the Nicene Creed — or possibly the Apostle’s Creed for those Christian traditions that use it) from particular standards of ethics and morality?

That has been under some discussion among smarter people than me, as I watched and listened. It strikes me as relevant if not crucial to the compass of the umbrella of communion — the question of when it’s necessary to excommunicate someone, for instance, or when one must no longer “agree to disagree” within the same ecclesial body. (Sometimes, it seems to me, it may even require a conscientious believer to leave a body that refuses to draw the proper line, despite the seriousness of schismatic behavior. I’ll leave it at that, because I know good people who remain in denominations that both I and they know have failed in key areas.)

I cannot recall anyone raising the creed/morality relationship earlier than Calvin College philosopher James K.A. Smith, and he’s been on my “I’m not sure I can trust him” list ever since he did; not because the question is illicit, but because the answer he seemed to give struck me as wrong-headed.

Today, I came across an answer which I think much better, that of Alastair Roberts via the Davenant Institute (if that link does not work, retrieve it from this page, where it’s titled “Does Creedal Orthodoxy Require Traditional Sexual Ethics?,” sexual ethics being the major if not exclusive battle ground today).

Roberts points out how “liberals” formerly emphasized good, ethical deeds over creeds, whereas now “conservatives” may use “orthodoxy” in polemics as synonymous with traditional sexual ethics. He then discusses five possible configurations of the relation between creed and deed, with his preference apparently being the fifth.

I can call it “much better” because, as I read it, that fifth alternative rejects the premise that ethics are outside the creed. The creed incorporates ethics when it professes “I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church.” Belief in the church entails belief in the church’s ethical teaching.

I agree with that, but that lands us on the contested turf of ecclesiology (a word of which, tellingly, the WordPress spell-checker knows nothing; it is the doctrine of the Church).

I believe I’ve found the one holy, catholic and apostolic church, but I’m aware that other bodies (including one prominent and very upper-crusty one that can lay plausible claim to apostolicity), permit things I think absolutely illicit. Getting the “church” question right is crucial.

Even then, shepherds may fail the sheep, fearing or otherwise failing to communicate the whole counsel of God on matters ethical or, as is far too timely in August 2018, making mockery of it in their own lives. I’ve heard horror stories about failures of Christian formation so abysmal that Christians have no idea that, for instance, the Church forbids fornication, or even that it forbids the current version of promiscuously “hooking up.”

You can’t “church shop” on the superficial basis of whether the clergy are hammering home your personal pet subjects, but you probably can’t rely on clergy for 100% of your own Christian formation, either.

Finally, Roberts illustrates how the creedal affirmations of the Church ramify ethically by briefly scrutinizing the Apostle Paul’s condemnation of sexual sin in the Church at Corinth.

So if you’ve wondered about the opening question, check out Roberts’ answer.

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

Follow me on Micro.blog Follow me on Micro.blog, too, where I blog tweet-like shorter items and … well, it’s evolving. Or, if you prefer, those micro.blog items also appear now at microblog.intellectualoid.com.