Clippings 12/20/18.

1

I don’t share the anxiety many conservatives have about Islam in America (Islam in Europe is a different matter, for particularly European reasons). For better or for worse, post-Christian America is going to turn Islam into Moralistic Therapeutic Deism too.

Rod Dreher, stating as expectation what I somewhat suspected. Read the linked blog and you’ll see why.

2

Viktor Orban is not making it easy to believe that a civilized but illiberal democracy is coming to Hungary:

More than 400 private news outlets have been brought under the control of a holding company run by close allies of Mr. Orbán, including his personal lawyer and a lawmaker from his party, Fidesz. While proponents defend the move as promoting “balance” in Hungarian media, critics say it amounts to a thinly veiled return to a communist-style centralized state-media system. Adding credibility to the objections, Mr. Orbán issued a decree exempting the holding company from scrutiny by the agency charged with protecting competition against excessive concentration. Meanwhile, one of the two remaining major opposition newspapers shut down after the government ceased advertising in it.

Mr. Orbán has also appointed Maria Schmidt … as head of a new Holocaust museum designed to depict Hungary’s role in a more favorable light than does the existing museum, which acknowledges the Hungarian state’s collaboration in deporting more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz.

Ms. Schmidt has … said the extermination of the Jews represented a marginal point of view not among the Nazis’ principal war aims. When the Hungarian Jewish community criticized her, she responded that “some groups would like to consider their ancestors’ tragic fate an inheritable and advantageous privilege.” In so doing, she declared menacingly, “they exclude themselves from our national community.”

William A. Galston.

3

It was an enormous heroic undertaking that if I told you the whole story, you’d be breathless with admiration, so I will just say this: my wife and I — mostly my wife but I was there, too — have moved from a three-story house in St. Paul to a two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis. We did it, shed ourselves of truckloads of material goods, and now enjoy the gift to be simple and the gift to be free. Period. End of story.

We did it because it dawned on us that we were two people living in a few corners of a house for ten and that if we didn’t move, the county would send social workers who specialize in dementia issues.

But the beauty of the move is psychological, how it puts dead history behind you and opens up vistas shining and new. This is the American solution to just about any problem: get out of town. I worked in St. Paul for forty years and got sandbagged a year ago and felt bad about it and now I’m in Minneapolis and am over it. So there.

Glad to hear that Gary. Of all the #MeToo tales, yours seemed the most improbable.

Cos? His was bitterly disappointing, but somehow not improbable.

4

There is almost nothing that our mainstream media will not celebrate if it is labeled pro-LGBT.

This and its followup story are very disturbing: An eleven-year-old transvestite boy dancing provocatively in gay bars for bills handed up from the audience, enabled by his parents (bad) and valorized by ABC’s Good Morning America (horrifying).

As one comment to the source blog said, “Where’s Fred Phelps when you need him?”

5

The precedent of Clinton’s acquittal is Trump’s greatest shield. The hard political lessons Republicans learned along the way — especially during the 1998 midterm elections, which saw the Democrats pick up five House seats after a year of GOP attacks on Clinton (no change occurred in the Senate) — should also caution the Democrats.

But it won’t. The difference now is the militarized industrial news complex that simply must be fed. It will gorge itself on impeachment. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee, will be the new Peter Rodino for those old enough to recall the Nixon impeachment drama. Rudolph W. Giuliani will be reprising the role played by James Carville in the Clinton impeachment drama, going after critics and prosecutors of Trump the way the Ragin’ Cajun went after independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and team.

It will be a ratings bonanza. Who likes ratings bonanzas? Who can command the media — or any particular outlet — and appear on 10 minutes notice? Who, in short, might learn to love “the process”? Trump, of course. It isn’t a normal presidency seeking normal historical achievements. He already has some of those in his massive tax cut, his two justices on the Supreme Court, a much-needed military rebuild and a new realism regarding China. This president can look at his markers already down on the table and actually come to relish the battle.

Don’t be surprised. Be prepared.

Hugh Hewitt, who may be, like Brer’ Rabbit in the Joel Chandler Harris stories, using some reverse psychology.

I’m nevertheless inclined to think that impeachment might backfire on the Democrats and that removal by the Senate would be very bad for the country, one-third or more of which would say “See: If you try to drain the swamp, they’ll crucify you.”

Heck, we might even see a new religion, with Trump as its deity. Would even that break the (somewhat oversold) Evangelical thralldom?

6

“I’m not saying it should be a hotel or a party,” former inmate Cecil Fluker told the county council, “but damn, can we come out alive?”

Michael Gerson on the Cleveland penal system, a mere microcosm of our problems.

7

Walk over to your bookshelf and pull off books by three of your favorite Christian writers—old or young. If the person is a pastor, the author’s biography will mention his church’s name. Of course. But if he or she isn’t, there is a 99 percent chance it won’t. It’s just him. Or her. They are a free-floating, self-defining Christian.

Have you ever thought about where James Dobson goes to church? Or J. I. Packer?

It’s the same thing with your favorite Christian artists. Did you ever wonder where Amy Grant attends? Or Lecrae?

I’m not blaming these individuals. I’m just saying that evangelicalism teaches us to think of them as…I don’t know…voices. Celebrities. Hovering-in-the-air personalities. Something. But as local church members? It’s an institutionally clunky and strange thought.

So it is with us non-celebrities. We identify ourselves as “evangelical” before we do “member of Cheverly Baptist Church” or “Covenant Presbyterian.” That church may have shared the gospel with us, nurtured us into the faith, publicly affirmed our profession of faith, fed and strengthened us into maturity, and corrected us when we veered off course, but we still view ourselves independently from it, like the child who goes to college and forgets all about his or her family.

My friend Sam Emadi has noticed that Christians book stores typically separate the “Christian life” section from the “church” section. “Why aren’t those one section?” he asks. Good question.

Jonathan Leeman. I had kind of thought that this sort of “free-floating, self-defining Christian” celebrity was a distinctive of “women’s ministries,” but maybe not.

8

Alan Dershowitz Is Lying To You, says Popehat.

* * * * *

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.

Venerating God, Worshiping Nothing

I’ve been an Orthodox Christian now for a bit more than 21 years. During that time, I’ve heard (and enjoyed hearing) some things that struck me as cute quips or snappy evangelistic comebacks.

One, which I thought of as just a snappy comeback to the charge that we Orthodox “worship icons,” went like this:

You just don’t know what worship is. We’re merely venerating the saints or the events depicted in those icons. We worship only God.

Maybe you merely venerate God and worship nothing.

“Venerate God and worship nothing” struck me as true of my former tradition after my experience of Orthodoxy.

The experience of real worship had been a strong draw to Orthodoxy, a fulfillment of a long longing, and the answer to my trouble-making in “Worship Committees” and such, about un-worshipful gospel songs — songs directed to one another rather than to God.

Let’s take just one example, far from the worst:

I serve a risen savior, He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
In all the world around me, I see His loving care,
and every time I need Him, He’s always there.
He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s weary way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!

God is third person singular, a topic of discussion, not a second person singular Thee/Thou or You/Your, an object of worship. And there’s way too much “I.”

Hand me a contemporary Christian “hymnbook,” or whatever they call them these days, and I could go on all day and all night.

But my objections to that sort of thing fell on deaf ears because some people liked those songs.

If there is any of that—singing about God to each other rather than singing to God—in Orthodox services, it has escaped my notice for 21 years. And I love that absence.

But given the insensate response to my concerns within my Protestant context, all I felt comfortable saying about Orthodox worship to non-Orthodox was “come and see,” hoping that my invitee would experience the fulfillment I experienced. “Venerate God and worship nothing” was insider talk, not really useful.

Or so I thought. My reticence ended Thursday, December 13, around 5:30 PM.

After running an errand and catching the evening news, I listened to podcasts as I drove to a meeting an hour away. A particular podcast brought home to me that the quip about veneration and worship is literally true in an objective sense, not just as an allegation about subjective intentions.

That was a revelation, though probably not a life-altering epiphany for me as I’m already Orthodox. But it may be a life-altering epiphany for you.

I’ve transcribed much of that podcast for you, though I’d encourage you to pour a coffee (or whatever) and savor the less than 14 minutes it takes to hear all of The Sacrifice of Worship, spoken in Father Stephen Freeman’s deeply reflective, gentle southern drawl.

My convention in transcribing the podcast is that italics represent emphasis in Father Stephen’s delivery, whereas boldface represents my added emphasis:

… Sacrifice itself was part of the universal language of of ancient religion … This was worship.

Today, “sacrifice” has passed into more generalized cultural metaphors that have nothing to do with worship, and “worship,” the word itself, has become a vague concept, generally associated with prayer and praise and hymn-singing. And as such, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish what many contemporary Christians describe as worship from the treatment of various rock, sport and entertainment stars, or patriotism and ideological fetishism.

At a large gathering of some tens of thousands, hands are lifted in the air, people are singing, the music swells — and if I stop the description at that point, it is possible that this is a moment of praise and worship. But if, however, I note that the venue was a concert, then it’s mere adulation of a celebrity. But … the bare bones, what I call the “grammar” of the action — is utterly the same …◊

So fast-forward now to the setting of an Orthodox Church. Here, there are numerous icons of holy men and women, saints, adorning the Church. Candles and lamps burn before them. A non-Orthodox contemporary Christian, visiting for the first time, becomes distinctly uncomfortable and thinks to himself “they are worshiping saints!

Somehow, the psychological confusion that is contemporary culture can distinguish between the worship of God and the adulation of celebrities, but accuses traditional Christianity — that is, Orthodox Christianity — of violating the second and third commandments.

What we have is a clash of grammars.

So I suggest a working definition for contemporary worship. It would be this. It would mean “any number of activities, including singing, dancing, waving hands, shouting, weeping, when in a religious setting. The same actions in a non-religious setting are not worship.

But in the grammar of Orthodoxy — and, may I say, in the grammar of scripture — worship has a different definition. Worship may be defined, just as it was in Abraham’s day [when Abraham progressed toward sacrifice of Isaac], … as the offering of a sacrifice to a deity.

The trouble comes when one grammar seeks to understand the other. That which the Orthodox render to saints and holy objects, such as relics, the cross, icons and such, is understood to be honor or veneration, for no sacrifices are ever offered to saints as though they were gods. Note this carefully

This distinction is difficult for contemporary Christians because the notion of sacrifice in its original meaning has been lost. It is certainly the case than honor and veneration are given to God, but they do not of themselves constitute worship.

The contemporary road map of religion consists almost exclusively of various psychological states. The honor given a rock star is understood to differ from that given to God based on the intention within the person who is giving the honor. To the outside observer, the actions might appear indistinguishable. But, we’re told, God knows the heart and so God can tell the difference between the two.

Sacrifice has largely disappeared from the experience of contemporary Christianity. The Protestant Reformation mounted something of a frontal assault on medieval Catholicism’s treatment of the Eucharist as a sacrificial offering … [Catholic counter-arguments] fell on deaf ears — at least for the reason that the ears wanted to be deaf …

I jump in here to note that the Orthodox view of the Eucharist is essentially identical with that of Roman Catholicism, which the Reformers and their spiritual progeny rejected. Father Stephen makes that point himself, but in a way that seemed a digression from my point in this blog.

… [In contemporary Christianity] “Do this in remembrance of me” becomes a mere memorial and then simply becomes a means of forgetting …

The Mystery of our salvation as well as they Mystery that we described as “worship” is found within the sacrifice of Christ. Abraham and all of ancient Israel would have understood worship to largely be identical with sacrifice … Christians of the first millennium-and-a-half understood that the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharistic offering was the central act of worship. Their hymns and psalms happened as part of that context …

We continue to offer the bloodless sacrifice‡ of Christ’s death. It is the single perfect offering of all of humanity, made through the person of God’s Son ….

By a strange twist of history, the praise that took its meaning from the sacrifice itself by analogy came to displace the sacrifice and made praise itself the essential element of worship.

As hungry as my Protestant self was for real worship, my understanding of it did indeed stop at, essentially, “praise of God and to God, with no calculated sentimentality and no focus on one another in our songs and hymns.” Praise to God was my “essential element of worship.” Worship wasn’t “about me.”

I wasn’t wrong, but far short. So are you if praise (or a sermon) is your essential element of worship.

An implication of this is that if your church “serves communion” only rarely, then at best you worship only rarely. If your church treats the communion elements only as a remembering-with-props, then you worship never.†

And sacrifice properly speaking is a ritual or rite. As Father Stephen said in his opening (part of the initial ellipsis in the transcription above):

When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22, there was no questioning on Abraham’s part about what was intended. He understood precisely what was involved in such a thing.

There was wood to be gathered, an altar of stones to be constructed, the victim was to be bound, and then the slitting of its throat, the gushing forth of blood, all consummated in the burning fires of the now-completed offering.‡

You cannot turn your contemporary Christian church’s wafers and grape juice, prepared in the church kitchen by who-knows-who the night before and dumped down the disposal after the service, into the Christian Eucharistic sacrifice, the true body and blood of Christ, just by fervently thinking of it that way.µ

You need, at a minimum, to be in a Church with an epiklesis, and that’s part of a whole package.

If you are as I was, then right about now you’re saying “Father Stephen called this the grammar of scripture. Now put up or shut up. Show it to me in The Book.”

Okay:

16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

I Corinthians 10.

Satisfied? Now what are you going to do about it? Do you care enough to forsake your praise services and find a Church that worships?

* * *

Notes:

◊ Thus it is especially ironic that they accuse us, the Orthodox, of worshiping things that aren’t God because they don’t notice the difference—a difference that I didn’t notice, either, in a way that I could articulate before now. Mea culpa! We do bring baggage into the Church with us!

† Another implication is that Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and the handful of Reformed congregations that have adopted weekly communion are not my focus here. I’m not indifferent to the differences among us, but sussing those out is not my task for today, if ever.

‡ As I labored over this blog, some more personal implications of my “revelation” emerged, such as freshened appreciation for the shed blood of Christ once-for-all, the predicate of our now-bloodless Eucharistic sacrifice. The desire to preach to others is rarely what I get out of Fr. Stephen.

µ Maybe it’s even prepared in a commissary: I and thousands of others engaged in that sort of “communion” on New Year’s Eve 1970-71 in at Assembly Hall in Champaign-Urbana, under Intervarsity Christian Fellowship auspices, so shallow was our parachurch understanding, so feckless those few present who knew better.

* * * * *

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.

On the other hand …

Two critiques of the newly-reposed Billy Graham, which I note not just for the record, but because I cannot help but agree.

First, a George Will column I passed over, then returned to because, well, it was by George Will: Billy Graham was no prophet.

Because Will is a veteran writer, he tells us right away what he’s going to tell us:

Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some, and there are many “miracles around us today, including television and airplanes.” Graham was no theologian.

Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said “a prophet hath no honor in his own country.” Prophets take adversarial stances toward their times, as did the 20th century’s two greatest religious leaders, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II. Graham did not. Partly for that reason, his country showered him with honors.

I made the same points — neither theologian nor prophet — yesterday, but not as an indictment, which Will pretty clearly implies.

The problem, to reframe some of the same points Will makes, is that Evangelist Graham often positioned himself in a fundamentally prophetic role by becoming the intimate of powerful men:

Graham’s dealings with presidents mixed vanity and naivete. In 1952, he said he wanted to meet with all the candidates “to give them the moral side of the thing.” He was 33. He applied flattery with a trowel, comparing Dwight Eisenhower’s first foreign policy speech to the Sermon on the Mount and calling Richard Nixon “the most able and the best trained man for the job probably in American history.” He told Nixon that God had given him, Nixon, “supernatural wisdom.” Graham should have heeded the psalmist’s warning about putting one’s faith in princes.

On Feb. 1, 1972, unaware of Nixon’s Oval Office taping system, when Nixon ranted about how Jews “totally dominated” the media, Graham said, “This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country is going down the drain.” He also told Nixon that Jews are the ones “putting out the pornographic stuff.” One can reasonably acquit Graham of anti-Semitism only by convicting him of toadying ….

Yes, if you’re going to get that close to power, you’re surely obliged to don the prophet’s mantle, especially if you’re purporting to “give them the moral side of the thing.” To paraphrase Will, we can acquit Graham of dereliction only by convicting him of toadying — or by assuming that quietly, and in private, he did truly “give them the moral side of the thing” in a way that was at least minimally prophetic.

Is there another alternative?

Second, Darryl Hart (who I likewise passed over at first) makes a subtler point, and one that I probably cannot make strongly enough to heal scotomata: Graham’s itinerant evangelism inherently undermined Churches.

Graham’s work, which was completely independent of a church or a communion, undermined implicitly the work of local pastors who were trying to the best of their abilities to evangelize the locals. Along would come Graham and all of a local pastor or priest’s endeavors seemed paltry by comparison. Here I’m reminded of what H. L. Mencken wrote about Billy Sunday and the kind of appeal a popular (and traveling) preacher had compared to the residential and denominational variety:

Even setting aside [Sunday’s] painstaking avoidance of anything suggesting clerical garb …, he comes down so palpably to the level of his audience, both in the matter and the manner of his discourse, that he quickly disarms the old suspicion of the holy clerk and gets the discussion going on the familiar and easy terms of a debate in a barroom. The raciness of his slang is not the whole story by any means; his attitude of mind lies behind it, and is more important … It is marked, above all, by a contemptuous disregard of the theoretical and mystifying; an angry casting aside of what may be called the ecclesiastical mask, an eagerness to reduce all the abstrusities of Christian theology to a few and simple and … self-evident propositions, a violent determination to make of religion a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern.

… Mencken’s point about evangelicalism and the evangelists who benefited from it stands. Your average pastor cannot compete with the bells and whistles of a mass meeting and the publicity that surrounds it. Nor can your average minister disregard preaching through a book of the Bible or fashioning a homily based on the lectionary and situating that relatively learned speech into the fabric of a liturgy or order of service (for the Puritans out there). In other words, theology, church government, and convictions about worship constrain a pastor, not to mention the responsibilities of ministering over time to a variety of congregation or parish members in all manner of walks of life. Graham could simply give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row, with a different musical performance or celebrity interview, and then leave town. Your average pastor doesn’t have that pay grade. And if he is actually preparing his flock for the world to come (read death), then a religion that is “a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern” is not necessarily going to cut the Gordian Knot of how sinners become right with the sovereign Lord of the universe.

In other words, not all Protestants were thrilled by Graham’s ministry. In fact, going back to the revivals of the First and Second Great Pretty Good Awakenings, denominationally and theologically self-conscious Protestants (Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed), have opposed mass revivalism because it undermines the work of the ordained ministry and the local church.

Hart says “undermined implicitly.” I say “inherently undermined.” The two are not the same and I stand by my version, precisely because of two things Hart doesn’t mention:

  1. Graham did not merely “give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row … and then leave town.” He or his aides routinely — in my understanding, invariably — told those who responded to his invitation to go back to their churches, provided only that those churches had Jesus and Bible. That was why he caught flak from Bob Jones and a significant number of others: Catholics were sent back into the maw of the whore of Babylon, as the critics saw it.
  2. But despite #1, Graham’s crusades were ineluctibly parachurch, his Gospel transactional, his salvation forensic. Having lived in his world, I can say from personal observation that a whole lotta folks took their “eternal security” to the golf course or beach on Sunday mornings. That kind of tacit falling away was well known to Evangelists, who lamented it but didn’t know how to deal with it. (Campus Crusade for Christ, n/k/a Cru, came up with a “Spirit-filled life” tract to complement “Four Spiritual Laws,” but even then were frustrated by the crypto-lapsi.)

When I referred to “scotomata,” I was referring to such widespread disregard or disrespect of the “institutional” Church as opposed to parachurch ministries. Of this, too, I have personal experience, even though habitually, and all my life long, I’ve attended church — even when I considered church merely a good idea and in no way salvific.

Those who just bristled at the idea of church being salvific are those with the scotomata. Jesus Christ did not “build [His] Church” just to be the sort of thing you might go for if you go for that sort of thing.

You can look that up.

Hart doesn’t put it that bluntly, but a Calvinistic version of that (i.e., a sensibility that probably doesn’t unequivocally see the Church as salvific) is his sensibility, and I agree that undermining local churches was a weakness Billy Graham’s methods could not avoid.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Would Billy Graham be disgusted by evangelicals today?

The Washington Post, which features religion coverage well above average, asks as some length “Would Billy Graham be disgusted by evangelicals today?

My short and immediate answer was “If he was, we’d never know it.” I stand by that after reading the article. A Rice University professor gets it right:

Bill Martin, a professor emeritus at Rice University who wrote a biography of Graham, saw a sharp divergence [by Franklin Graham] from the elder Graham. “It was always hard for Billy not to like people. Franklin was always willing to draw lines,” Martin said. “His father was willing to erase or blur lines and widen the scope of people he was willing to associate with. I doubt he would’ve expressed plainly that he disliked Trump. He was polarizing for liking Nixon; Nixon was one of his closest associates. Billy always thought the best of people.”

He repented (I use that word deliberately) of his own at-times excessive political involvements, specifically after Nixon, and he was very much an evangelist — a preacher of the Gospel (as he saw it), and neither a theologian nor (most relevant for purposes of the WaPo question) a prophet.

He didn’t aspire to be a political “player,” and the press that doesn’t get that just doesn’t get him at all. That so many Evangelicals today do so shamelessly forsake a higher calling for that servile one is a damned (I use that word deliberately, too) shame.

[UPDATE: “He saw his calling as above public affairs. Urged in 1958 to run for the Senate, he realized, ‘Why should I demote myself to be a senator?’’’ Mark Feeney, Boston Globe.]

Michael Gerson recalls a wonderful example, from fairly early in his career, of how irenic Billy was becoming as well:

There was initial resistance to Graham’s work among mainline Protestants. As Graham announced more and more crusades, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr was not amused. Graham, Niebuhr warned, would “accentuate every prejudice which the modern, ‘enlightened’ but morally sensitive man may have against religion.” Graham responded: “I have read nearly everything Mr. Niebuhr has written and I feel inadequate before his brilliant mind and learning. Occasionally I get a glimmer of what he is talking about . . . [but] if I tried to preach as he writes, people would be so bewildered they would walk out.”

Maybe “subtle” would be a better term than irenic, but I really think not. Again: Graham was not a theologian whereas Niebuhr was that (and more), but not an evangelist. Billy knew his role, and knew that Niebuhr’s brilliance would be worse than useless if he aped it.

Once Billy stopped speaking for himself, I lost interest, and so overlooked how Franklin may have stage-managed his father to make him appear a Trump partisan. The WaPo article sheds some light on that. It’s probably somewhere in Shakespeare, too.

Memory Eternal to one of The Greats.

* * * * *

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.2017 Town Cen

Quislings gotta quisle (and a more charitable explanation)

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an Evangelical organization that played important roles in the college and young adult lives of both me and Mrs. Tipsy (this book, for one major instance, packed one of the pivotal epiphanies of my life as a Christian), has taken a stand against the sexual zeitgeist and in favor of an essentially orthodox Christian view of human sexuality.

It predictably is being vilified for it.

What I find depressing in the vilification is the predominant theme, by professing Christians, that a Christian organization must not declare Christian teaching if enough members of a sexual minority aver that they are hurt or made to feel unsafe by it. Since the tone is not heckling, I’ll call this a Sniveler’s Veto.

Of course, there always is a fall-back position, which is implicit in the notion that we mustn’t declare Christian teaching if it’s hurtful or makes someone feel unsafe. The opening gambit of the Father of Lies has ever been “hath God truly said?” Friends and Snivelers United assure us that they’ve been listening to their holy spirit and what God hath truly said really isn’t all that clear.

In other words, we mustn’t declare Christian teaching  because it’s false. This is more heckle-like.

IVCF apparently anticipated the vilification but thinks it’s possible to tell the truth without attacking anyone’s dignity:

We do continue to hold to an orthodox view of human sexuality and Christian marriage, as you can read in our Theology of Human Sexuality Document at the bottom of the article.

That said, we believe Christlikeness, for our part, includes both embracing Scripture’s teachings on human sexuality—uncomfortable and difficult as they may be—as well as upholding the dignity of all people, because we are all made in God’s image.

Some will argue this cannot be done. We believe that we must if we want to be faithful followers of Jesus.

I regret that Protestants are compelled to revisit, revisit and revisit aspects of Christian tradition that are out of favor currently. They do so because, in Protestant theory, tradition is virtually weightless. Spiritual ancestors don’t get a vote — not even 3/5.

When I was an Elder in a Calvinistic Church, we were revisiting what church offices women may hold. I ended up on the “liberal” side, frustrated that the “conservative” side seemingly argued thus:

  1. Our doctrine affirms, and our entire Protestant tradition depends upon, the perspicacity of Scripture.
  2. Our tradition is that only men may be Deacons, Elders and Pastors.
  3. Therefore, Scripture clearly teaches that only men may be Deacons, Elders and Pastors.

I had not yet experienced my last major epiphany — the one about the incoherence of Christianity without frank reckoning with tradition.

If you asked me today whether Calvinist Churches should have women pastors, my answers would be “How should I know whether you should; your conception of pastors is not the historic conception of Priests” and “Right or wrong, you will have them because Protestants can’t say ‘no’ to the spirit of the age indefinitely.” (That Church now has Husband-Wife Co-Pastors — nice kids, by the way — so it’s hardly adventurous of me to predict it.)

And, be it noted, she that weds the spirit of the age is soon made a widow:

[W]hoever advocates the conciliatory strategy today fails or refuses to see the conditions in which Christians have been living. It is utterly mistaken to take the position that many do: namely that the Church should take over some liberal-democratic ingredients, open up to modern ideas and preferences, and then, after having modernized herself, manage to overcome hostility and reach people with Christian teachings …

An aversion to Christianity runs so deep in the culture of modernity that no blandishment or fawning on the part of the Church can change it. Going too far along this road actually threatens the very essence of Christianity.

(Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies)

Legutko’s book sheds some more sympathetic light on the IVCF progressives: giving them every benefit of every doubt, they’re just ahead of the curve on ingratiating themselves to the emergent Liberal-Democratic Totalitarianism, much as clergy in communist lands tried to do what must be done to preserve a remnant for a more propitious day.

Quislings gotta quisle, yeah, but conscientious leaders in bad times sometimes make choice that in hindsight are bad or at least embarrassing.

The more I think about it, the more consternation I feel at the state of Evangelicalism and the happier I am that I got out of this debating society and into the Church, which admits that Scripture and Tradition belong together.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

The World Vision kerfuffle

World Vision’s same-sex marriage flip-flop this week would have been unthinkable twenty years ago.

My impression is that it’s been under-covered journalistically, but Terry Mattingly says that at least Christianity Today (which is no longer on my regular reading list) covered it. Also:

Note the reference to the “international operating budget of nearly $1 billion.” Question: Where does most of that money come from? How much of it is from religious groups, how much is from donors and, crucial point, how many of those dollars now come from private foundations and government sources that may be lobbying for the modernization of any nasty old doctrines that define World Vision’s mission? Trust me, there is a story there. The World Vision showdown is not about secularists opposing religious people. It’s a story — from the viewpoint of many government leaders and journalists — about good Christians with modernized doctrines striving to cause reform among the bad Christians who are in part (repeat, “in part”) defined by, well, 2,000 years of Christian doctrine on sexuality, family and marriage.

(Terry Mattingly) Still, how can this happen:

The agency had announced Monday that its board had prayed for years about whether to hire Christians in same-sex marriages as churches took different stands on recognizing gay relationships. World Vision says its staff members come from dozens of denominations with varied views on the issue.

followed just 24 hours later by this?:

The aid group told supporters in a letter that the board had made a mistake and was returning to its policy requiring celibacy outside of marriage “and faithfulness within the Bible covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.” “We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness,” the agency said in the letter, signed by World Vision president Richard Stearns and board chairman Jim Bere.

This story ought to be driving serious Evangelicals to serious thinking about their roots, the firmness of their real foundation. Instead, we get Andrew Walker at First Things exulting that

Evangelicalism did triage this week, and did it well. We saw through the malaise (sic) of theological indifferentism and insisted that while evangelicalism remains a big tent, at some point, the canopy ends.

The exulting seems facile to me, though I confess that trying to read Evangelicals arguing with one another over this makes me realize that I’ve become almost incapable of understanding their manner of speech. Not that I disagree necessarily, but that I see English words stream  by my eyes on the page but cannot apprehend, or can barely apprehend, a coherent thought behind it. (If you can translate Walker for me, I’d appreciate it. Really.) So I am genuinely uncertain what Walker means except “horray for our team!,” or as they say at Yale

Boola, Boola; Boola, Boola; Boola, Boola; …

Then Walker adds this:

In each age, intellectual surrender and compromise has stood before the church, yet she keeps on going. The faith persists. As G. K. Chesterton said that bears repeating: “Time and again, the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs. But each time, it was the dog that died.”

Got that?

  1. “The Church.” You’d almost think Evangelicalism actually has an ecclesiology, even though clearly World Vision was not a Church, but one of those parachurch thingies, unanswerable to any putative Church.
  2. You’d almost think that “intellectual surrender and compromise st[anding] before the church” was a formidable foe instead of a second weird metaphor.
  3. You’d almost think that what Evangelicals mean by “the Church” is what Chesterton meant – that Evangelicalism actually has a deep “time and time again” to look back at with admiration – but you’d be quite mistaken if you did. Chesterton was writing of Roman Catholicism, against which Evangelical tends to define itself (when it’s not cannibalizing Catholic thinkers).

In the hour of real trial, will Evangelicalism field 7,000 unbent knees, a squadron of Polycarps who won’t offer even a pinch of incense? Is it God’s Ark?

* * * * *

Tony Woodlief’s Sand In The Gears blog, which appears infrequently but is almost always good, has a confessedly angry response to “worldly vision” that barely overlaps with my thoughts, including this (emphasis added):

Those of you who were outraged by World Vision’s state-pressured recognition of same-sex marriages, would you turn your backs on the little girl in danger of being sold into sex slavery in Thailand, the little boy in Haiti whose mother cannot feed him, for a point of dogmatic purity in an organization which is not the Church?

Leah Libresco at American Conservative identifies some of those who called for a World Vision boycott (Billy’s son Franklin for one) and explores, with a little help from her friends, what it would be like if the boycott mindset were universalized.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.