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June 2012 Archives

June 1, 2012

What was wrong with Matt Jenson's chapel sermon

On April 6, 2011, Professor Matt Jenson gave a sermon on singleness and homosexuality in chapel at Biola University.

Since that sermon was given, a group calling itself the Biola Queer Underground has given interviews to the media and stated its intentions to pressure Biola to have a "dialogue" about revising its views on homosexuality. The group explicitly denies the traditional and biblical position that all homosexual acts are immoral. It openly advocates homosexual "marriage," and it is trying to gain acceptance for radical reinterpretations of Scripture that would normalize homosexual relationships. I gave a number of money quotes in comments here and here. The group's home page and frequently asked questions page could not be clearer.

(Digression: In passing I cannot help noting the dark and illogical humor in the fact that a group that expressly includes bisexuals and that views an entire alphabet soup list of sexual "orientations" as essential and positive identities wants us to believe that it is deeply committed to marriage, or "marriage," now redefined to include allegedly monogamous male-male and female-female pairings. Whom is an essentially bisexual person supposed to "marry"? How can he express his deep personal identity qua bisexual person if he's only allowed to marry one other person for life? But having noted that particular bit of dark silliness, I will set it aside.)

The statements of the Biola Queer Underground were published approximately a year after Jenson's sermon. It is therefore barely possible that Prof. Jenson has revised his views of the harmlessness of "gay Christians" (which I discuss below). If readers know of any place in which Jenson has stated that he has changed his recommendations or his views in light of the clear goals and statements of this group, or in light of anything else (e.g., further reflection), please let me know. Otherwise, I will assume that my criticisms of his sermon are still timely. I will also point out the irony of such a sermon, presenting such a view of "gay Christians," coming out not all that long before the "gay Christians" in the school in question made their agenda quite clear.

I have now listened to the entire sermon, though the section on singleness was for the most part not directly relevant to this post. (In some places it was obviously setting up what he was going to say later about homosexuality, but I have so much to say about the latter section that I am not going to take time to discuss those points.)

There were things about Jenson's discussion of homosexuality (which begins around minute 17) with which I agreed and which are importantly true. Precisely because they are importantly true, they will be rejected by the homosexual activists in his audience--indeed, rejected emphatically as continued manifestations of "homophobia." Jenson repeatedly categorizes homosexual desires with "unholy desires." He implies quite clearly that homosexual desires are "against the grain" of God's plan for your life. Jenson insists that your desires don't make you and that you shouldn't identify yourself with your sexual desires. He says that you can even be "more yourself" if you resist wrong desires, clearly applying this truth to homosexual desires. All of this will be a bitter pill for the homosexual activists to swallow, and so they will reject it. And I suppose, in our age of niceness, when there are people who will characterize even these statements as "hateful," one can say that it took some modicum of courage for Jenson so clearly to reject the normalization of homosexuality.

However, the sermon is very seriously flawed. Here are just some of the problems with what Jenson said:

Continue reading "What was wrong with Matt Jenson's chapel sermon" »

June 3, 2012

Dry humor on traditional gender roles

For a bit of humor value cum good points, here is a fun piece by Douglas Wilson on gender roles. He is replying to this piece by Michael Horton. As Wilson points out, the target(s) of Horton's piece is/are a bit obscure, but I surmise that Horton is using an exaggerated "niche marketing" portrait of those who advocate traditional gender roles in the church (the position sometimes called complementarianism) in order not-so-subtly to advocate the alternative position, known to the trade as egalitarianism.

Here are a few enjoyable quotes from Wilson:

(This first one's a real zinger.)

Some of the things said in the citations were pretty bad, but why were there perfectly reasonable points lumped in with them? Maybe the bad quotes are only bad taken out of context, and we are not given a context to look up. Looking things up might ruin the party. Maybe citing your opponents would look too masculine, and Horton didn't want to undercut his central point.
My second problem is that the whole critique appears to rest on a confusion about the role of "gender stereotypes from our culture." He tells us that "a lot of gender differences are cultural." Okay. Of course they are. This particular zombie appears in every last one of our discussions of this topic, and it always wants to eat our brains. Let us arise therefore, with the machete of truth, and decapitate this one for good and all.
There are certain creational differences between the sexes, which God intended to be operative from the begining of the world to the end of it. Women bearing and nurturing children would be something in that category. Men protecting and providing for their families would be another one. But these creational differences have a deep need to find, discover, and apply a wider vocabulary. They want to express themselves further. That is why there are other differences that do not fall into this category of creational difference, but which are roles assigned to the two sexes by societal expectation. And (cue the zombie) it is facilely assumed in discussions like this one that if it is not a creational given, scripturally assigned, with black ink on white paper, we need not pay any attention to it. It is only "a gender stereotype," and what a relief to us all!

Here Wilson attacks the kind of hyper-nominalism to which, many and many-a year ago, I used to be tempted myself--the idea that we can just pretend that meanings of words, customs, and the like are instantaneously malleable and have no claim on us if they are a result of human decision:

Suppose you overheard one of the kids from your church telling one of the sweet little church ladies to "eff off." Suppose you confronted him about it, and he defended himself by saying that the meaning assigned to those particular sounds were assigned by our culture, and not by the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture. Suppose further that he scoffs and says that the whole thing is "linguistically arbitrary." And, you know, he's right, and I suppose you also know that he is entirely and completely in the wrong. It is linguistically arbitrary, and he still doesn't get to speak that way.

The Bible never tells us that men should take out the garbage, or that a gentleman holds a seat for the lady, or that opening a car door for your wife is a class act, and so on. Never. But that is irrelevant. Our culture gives us the vocabulary of honor, but the Bible tells us how we must do something with that vocabulary.

When I am told in the Scriptures to love my wife, I am told nothing about what I must do on our anniversary. But the anniversary gives me an opportunity to do what the Holy Spirit commanded me to do. And recovering male sinners should never waste such opportunities. I am told that I must do something, and a great deal of the raw material for obeying Scripture is given to me by my culture. That's the way it is supposed to work.

And last, Horton makes the standard mistake of confusing an attack on effeminacy (inappropriate softness) with an attack on femininity (glorified responsiveness). When a man acts girly, to object to this is not to attack the girls. "But you used the word 'girly' in that previous sentence, did you not? Why would you use the word girly in a pejorative way if you didn't have a deep misogynistic streak, a thing about girls, hmmm?" The answer is that words derive their meaning and intent from an old-fashioned thing that our ancestors used to call "context." If you tell your teen-aged son, who is driving you all to church, that you "need a little less Dale Earnhardt Jr., son," this is not a slam on NASCAR. Dale Jr. is just fine in his place, in context. Just not turning down Maple Ave. Sunday morning on two wheels.

I have only one hesitation about Wilson's column. What he says here could be taken to mean that I shouldn't be blogging, or perhaps only blogging for women, or at least not criticizing theologically confused men:

[The women] don't do these dissections [of theological bloviators] in public because they don't think it would be fitting, and prefer that the menfolk do that stuff.

As a matter of fact, I think it's perfectly fitting for me to dissect theological bloviators in public. But I'll try not to worry too much about the fact that Doug Wilson might not approve. He's written a column that is both right and enjoyable.

June 4, 2012

Long skirts back in style?


My supremely talented wife and daughters make a fair amount of their own clothing. They do this partly for the fun of it, and partly because clothing that is both modest and feminine is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to find on the racks in clothing stores.

I am pleased to offer anecdotal evidence that this dire situation may be changing for the better. In the past several years here locally, there has been an unmistakable increase in young women wearing long skirts and dresses. It's still not even close to a majority, to be sure, but it's worth noting that something which never used to be seen is now fairly commonplace.

And last week, upon returning from a shopping expedition, my daughters informed me that they discovered for the first time, in the women's clothing department, an entire rack full of long, modest, stylish-looking skirts.

This is California, folks. Is it not reasonable to conclude that long skirts are back in style, and soon to become a national trend?

June 5, 2012

New Mexico cracks down on Christian business owners

Here's a story that shouldn't surprise any of our readers: a court in New Mexico has ruled that wedding photographers cannot decline to photograph same-sex "commitment ceremonies".

(On a related note: A New Dark Age)

I keep wondering when the American people will say "enough is enough", but then I remember that the American people really don't care much. Most can barely manage a shrug. Like all the outrages that have come before it, this too will be forgotten - just another nail in the coffin of a great nation that was once the world's most vigorous defender of Christian freedom.

June 8, 2012

The Latest issue of The Christendom Review

The latest issue of The Christendom Review is now available on-line. It is a memorial issue for Marion Montgomery, of whom editor Rick Barnett writes movingly, in his introductory letter to the issue:

This issue of The Christendom Review is in fond memory of Marion Montgomery, who passed away last November. Marion was a friend and Contributing Editor of this journal; he was also one of the finest theological and philosophical writers after the Second World War. He was writing up to the very end of his long and prolific life, and there are many volumes of his work yet to be published, enough material to keep doctoral students of literature, theology, and philosophy busy writing dissertations for a very long time to come. Most of all, Marion was a great personal friend and advisor. I miss him already a great deal.

Marion was quiet, fiercely soft-spoken, witty, and learned in a humble, easy-going way. He often seemed to be on the verge of smiling, as though at himself for having anything to say. There was the shadow of a kind of subdued sorrow about him (folded with his “ever-cheerful” view of this life) of which he never spoke, and whatever personal sadness may have made its acquaintance with him, he never allowed it to breach the citadel of a generous and kindly heart. As one of his familiars observed, Marion “had the gift of a deep, instinctive understanding, informed by his intellect, that whenever Joy is present, it has within its heart a drop of Sorrow.”

Our own editor Paul Cella has a fascinating essay on Tim Tebow, patriotism, and partisanship which you will definitely want to read.

And W4 frequent commentator Beth Impson has a great piece on the purposes of literature, which reminds me somewhat of this book of essays by the reformed man of letters Henry Zylstra.

I haven't had a chance to read the whole issue but plan on reading more!

June 11, 2012

Disenfranchising the Dead

Postmodernists hate the democracy of the dead. They hate the reality. They presumably also hate the phrase, coined famously by G.K. Chesterton. All those dead white males, pshaw!

Writing as I do here for a web site that bears the name of one of Chesterton's books, it would not behoove me to overlook a particular academic phenomenon that has recently come to my attention. Not that I would otherwise have overlooked it. Indeed, twenty years ago, when I was fighting the wars of the liberal arts with a (metaphorical) claidheamh mor in the English and Philosophy lounges of Vanderbilt University, the only thing that would have stopped me from blogging about it in a white heat was the minor historical fact that blogs did not yet exist. Still, a number of professors and fellow students would have gotten an earful--either as patient, sympathetic listeners or as perpetrators. That despite the fact that I had no strong contacts with the History department.

I have recently learned from sources that professors in the History department of Western Michigan University proscribe the use of the expository present tense in writing about historical personages, authors, or ideas. In other words: According to these professors, students are not supposed to write something like, "Aquinas famously tells us in his Summa Theologiae that 'the existence of God can be proved in five ways[.]'" Or "Moreover, though Aquinas regards the human soul as subsistent, he does not think of it as a substance in an unqualified way, but rather as a kind of incomplete substance[.]" These are two sentences taken at random from the pages of Ed Feser's Aquinas. The philosophers among my readers could of course cite hundreds, nay, thousands, of sentences like them from works in philosophy, where the expository present is (last I checked) still ubiquitous. Even, perhaps especially, when referring to people who are dead.

But in the new historical mode, all of that is o-u-t. Aquinas, rest his soul, is dead. Let the dead bury their dead. Those who wish to talk about him, if we must talk about him, should keep the coffin lid firmly nailed down and the Angelic Doctor firmly boxed into his own period. The very notion of the Great Conversation, where "he being dead, yet speaketh," where mind meets mind maugre the little barriers of time and space, is anathema.

It's not that I didn't understand in the abstract the way that the postmodern and historicist mind works. I just hadn't previously heard of the diabolically clever method of trying to insure that the concept of the Great Conversation never occurs to students: Make sure that they never write, "Aquinas argues..." or "Aristotle claims..." or "Berkeley holds..." Chronological snobbery is now made visible in language. Lex orandi, lex credendi. If Aquinas, Aristotle, and Berkeley are allowed to speak to us now, we might have to take them seriously. If we write only, "Aquinas argued," "Aristotle claimed" or "Berkeley held," we can keep Aquinas, Aristotle, and Berkeley safely at arms' length. They were, after all, merely men of their times.

Since I prefer to end a post like this with concrete suggestions, here are a few, of different types:

--We should find out how widespread this pernicious nonsense is. If you think your Christian alma mater is the greatest thing since sliced bread and you contribute, find out if their humanities departments are destroying the concept of the Great Conversation and take that into account in your alumni giving decisions. "Commandment IX" on this page contains a bit of weird historicist pedantry that comes all too close to the proscription just described, though it does have one small loophole.

--Teach your children about the democracy of the dead and the conversation across time. Teach them how exciting it is. Arm them against people who would try to force them to write without using the expository present. Tell them you'll be proud of them if they resist. Tell them why this is important.

--Ditto for your students if you are a teacher at any level of education.

--If you know that some other department in your institution has professors who push this, tell students that you will back them up if they resist. You can be especially effective doing this if, e.g., the student is a major in your department and professors in your department encourage the expository present, or you are an outside member on the student's thesis or dissertation committee.

--Never, never think that things like this are trivial.

June 14, 2012

Corrupting the Boy Scouts

Bad news for the Boy Scouts of America:

A high-profile member of the Boy Scouts of America's governing board says he doesn't support the Scouts' policy of excluding gays and will work from within to seek a change. Ernst & Young CEO James Turley, whose accounting firm has welcomed gays and lesbians in its own work force, becomes the first member of the Scouts' Executive Board known to publicly disapprove of the policy. "I support the meaningful work of the Boy Scouts in preparing young people for adventure, leadership, learning and service, however the membership policy is not one I would personally endorse," Turley said in a statement released by his company. "As I have done in leading Ernst & Young to being a most inclusive organization, I intend to continue to work from within the BSA Board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress," Turley said.

I'm quite sure that most of you are as sick and tired of this subject as I am. I don't even want to type the loathesome words anymore. We didn't choose this fight, but we have to fight it anyway. Better to be conquered by a foreign army than to perish this way.

June 18, 2012

Anti-sharia: It has a point

Matthew Schmitz's recent piece on anti-sharia laws betrays so many misconceptions that we might charitably have passed it over in silence. But it provides an opportunity to revisit some Muslim issues that we haven't talked about in a while and also to give, perhaps, a slightly unusual take (you'll have to wait until nearly the end to come to that) on anti-sharia bills like the one passed in Kansas.

The biggest problem with Schmitz's piece is that Schmitz obviously doesn't understand Muslims in America. At all. His entire shtick is that Muslims are our fellow religious believers with whom we must hang together if we are not to hang separately, that conservatives' whole thrust should be to "protect" Muslims and make common cause with them, and that, apparently, all that the Muslims in our midst want is religious freedom. Just like the rest of us.

Which is baloney, as has been demonstrated times without number. Muslims in Western society tend to be extremely demanding, extremely pushy, constantly insisting on extreme accommodations and attempting overtly to change their host society fairly radically. I discussed this at length in this post, though even there I couldn't fit everything in, and some instances have come up since then.

It is on the basis of his misconception of Islam in the West that Schmitz declares airily that anti-sharia laws are completely pointless. He even goes so far as to say that they stem from bigotry. In fact, he throws around the term "bigot" and its cognates fairly freely for someone who is allegedly conservative. Apparently on Schmitz's view the problem isn't just, specifically, anti-sharia laws. Anybody who thinks Islam and Muslims in large numbers in our midst present a special problem for Western societies is a bigot. Which about tells you how deep and well-informed his entire approach to the issue is.

I wanted to note, in particular, Schmitz's shallow approach to the New Jersey case in which a husband repeatedly committed spousal rape, which he justified on the grounds that "this is according to our religion." Initially a judge (whose name I haven't been able to find easily) refused the wife's request for a restraining order, arguing that the husband was not guilty of criminal intent since he believed he was permitted to rape his wife.

The court believes that he was operating under his belief that ..., as the husband, his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to, was something that was consistent with his practices and it was something that was not prohibited.

The decision was overturned on appeal. My discussion of the case is here. (Search "sharia" on the page. Due to a hopefully temporary software glitch, the post is available only on this archives page, and comments are not available.)

Now here is how Schmitz dismisses the relevance of this case to anti-sharia laws:

In 2009, a New Jersey judge, in deference to his own reading of sharia, refused to grant a restraining order for a woman seeking protection from an abusive husband. The decision was overturned on appeal, not because the judge had misread sharia, but because he had misread American law, which trumps the terms of any private contract — whether it is made according to sharia, canon law, Halakhic law, or the whims of the two parties. The New Jersey Star-Ledger summed up how the New Jersey case showed the needlessness of anti-sharia measures: “In 2009, a Hudson County judge gave too much weight to the religious beliefs of a Moroccan man accused of sexually assaulting his wife. The decision was overturned on appeal, and now the convicted defendant, who lives in Bayonne, faces up to 20 years in state prison.” What we see here is a judicial error, not the vulnerability of American law to “creeping sharia.”

Ah, yes, a judicial error. How nice. A judicial error that just happened to be based on Islamic law regarding the requirement that wives be constantly sexually available to their husband. According to Schmitz, it simply doesn't matter that this "judicial error" was a result of a judge's attempt to be so culturally sensitive that he permitted spousal rape in deference to the husband's Islamic legal beliefs. Move along, folks. No sharia to see here.

Perhaps it is also relevant to point out that Italian judges committed a similar "judicial error" when they overturned the conviction of parents and a brother who severely beat the daughter of the family. They did it "for her own good," you see, not out of anger. And all that about tying her to a chair? See, she was threatening to commit suicide (because she was so miserable and afraid of her family), and that was why they tied her to a chair; a suicide prevention measure. Only thing is, that particular "judicial error" was committed at the level of the highest Italian court. So it wasn't overturned on appeal. Oops. I guess we'll just hope that type of "judicial error" that doesn't get overturned doesn't ever happen here in the U.S.

Among all the other things that Schmitz is unaware of, he seems unaware of the relevance of foreign cases to where this is all going--unaware of the Italian case, unaware of a very similar German case, unaware of the attempt to use "provocation" as a defense of honor killings in Canada, unaware of the fact that sharia councils in the UK clearly envisage the "marriage" of prepubescent girls. Schmitz doesn't even recognize that his entire view of Muslim presence in America should be changed by the very attempt to use such defenses, even if usually unsuccessful. Move along folks. That's there, this is here; only bigots think sharia could be a problem here.

But there's more even in America that Schmitz is unaware of. For example, he says nothing whatsoever about the repeated attempts by the City of Dearborn to stifle ordinary, peaceful, missionary conversations during the Arab Festival. If you just read all my posts on Dearborn you will find much about this. These egregious violations of the constitutional rights of Christians wishing to share their faith in Dearborn are obviously being done in deference to the Muslim idea (read, sharia) that proselytizing Muslims ought to be forbidden. This year, after a number of lawsuits (some still in process), the police at Dearborn are apparently behaving somewhat more reasonably. But watch this hot-off-the-press video in which a Muslim man makes it quite clear that he's just waiting for the day when sharia comes back to shut up those pesky Christians, who should go home and be Christians in private and not come and have peaceable conversations with Muslims. Y'know, that doesn't look like the kind of person with whom I want to make common cause for the sake of religious liberty. Not at all. Perhaps Schmitz should educate himself about such people and their influence in cities like Dearborn.

Nor does Schmitz seem to have heard about the American judge who thinks marching in a parade in a costume that insults Islam removes you from protections that would otherwise apply against (in this case, fairly minor) assault.

Continue reading "Anti-sharia: It has a point" »

June 20, 2012

The Failure of Procedural Conservatism

Since at least the 1960s, conservatism in America has come to be dominated by something we might call "procedural conservatism" - a conservatism of process rather than content, of means rather than ends.

Small/limited government.
Low taxes.
Local control.
States' rights.
Free enterprise.
Equality of opportunity.
Equality before the law.

Today's conservatives even fancy themselves champions of "free speech", "religious liberty", and so forth.

Not that there's anything wrong with the above formulations, if understood in a non-ideological way that doesn't interfere with common sense. But American conservatism has degenerated to the point where these are taken to be ends in themselves. Lacking a concrete vision of what a good society is supposed to look like - and having a visceral fear of being perceived as "imposing" their vision on anyone - conservatives have retreated to an amoral philosophy of process and procedure.

Therefore, let us remind ourselves: a society may scrupulously observe all the procedures outlined above and still be fundamentally liberal and on the fast track to perdition.

The substitution of amoral political means for moral political ends has a twofold effect: 1) it fosters an attitude of indifference with respect to the moral character of our people and institutions; 2) it creates a dogmatic inflexibility when it comes to process, which is meant to be servant rather than lord. The combined effect is the death of conservatism as a meaningful force for good.

June 22, 2012

WFU alumnus wins the US Open

I’ve been remiss in failing to congratulate my fellow Demon Deacon, Webb Simpson, on his win last week at the US Open. Sports Illustrated has a good write-up. Even the ladies will like it: it’s full of gooey romantic stuff.

This “Southern gentleman” who “flashed his college sweetheart a jaunty smile” and whose “entire stay in San Francisco had been leisurely, what Webb called a ‘babymoon’ — a last chance to chill before another little one arrives” — why, he went and shot 68-68 on the weekend on near-perfect US Open course, which is to say a course so difficult it makes the best golfers in the world look like hackers. For all the talk of meltdowns by Woods and Furyk, Simpson still had to shoot 4-under on the weekend — which is really gettin’ it done.

Great win for a fine Wake Forest man.

June 23, 2012

A strange variety of "apolitical evangelicalism"

This great post by David French tells you a lot of what you need to know about so-called "apolitical evangelicalism." Namely, that it's just support for left-approved causes and wobbliness (at best) on left-disapproved causes dressed up in the transparent garb of "being apolitical."

I've known that for a long time. In fact, we discussed it away back in what almost seems like a different world when Barack Obama was merely a possible candidate for the presidency.

But a new variety has appeared on the scene. John Piper is a much-revered reformed evangelical leader and preacher who has always been extremely clear on the moral issue of marriage. His preaching is unequivocal on this moral and (one might think) cultural/political subject.

It has therefore come as an unpleasant surprise that Piper has explicitly refused to join other Christian (evangelical and Catholic) leaders in Minnesota in taking a definite stand supporting a proposed state amendment which defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.

No matter what, Piper's absence from the list of supporters would have been a disappointment to conservatives hoping for the unequivocal support of such an influential Christian leader--a support which is not illegal to give (not yet in our country) and which other Christian leaders are giving without hesitation.

But matters are made more disturbing by the fact that this is no mere omission or oversight. Nor is it a matter of Piper's sticking to a narrowly kerygmatic niche. Piper's refusal to support the amendment openly and clearly first came to light in this sermon. For the first 7/8 the sermon reads like clear support for the amendment, walking just to one side of a legal bright line of "express advocacy." It includes statements like this:

The point here is not only that so-called same-sex marriage shouldn’t exist, but that it doesn’t and it can’t. Those who believe that God has spoken to us truthfully in the Bible should not concede that the committed, life-long partnership and sexual relations of two men or two women is marriage. It isn’t. God has created and defined marriage. And what he has joined together in that creation and that definition, cannot be separated, and still called marriage in God’s eyes.
We must not be intimidated here. The world is going to say the opposite of what is true here.
Which means that all legislation is the legislation of morality. Someone’s view of what is good — what is moral — wins the minds of the majority and carries the day. The question is: Which actions hurt the common good or enhance the common good so much that the one should be prohibited by law and the other should be required by law?

Here are a few thoughts to help you with that question.

A constitutional amendment should address a matter of very significant consequence. To give you an idea of what has been regarded as worthy inclusion in the state constitution, Section 12 of Article xiii was passed by voters in 1998. It reads as follows: “Hunting and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage that shall be forever preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good.” In deciding whether the meaning of marriage is significant enough to put in the constitution one measure would be to weigh it against hunting and fishing.

1. The recognition of so-called same-sex marriage would be a clear social statement that motherhood or fatherhood or both are negligible in the public good of raising children. Two men adopting children cannot provide motherhood. And two women adopting children cannot provide fatherhood. But God ordained from the beginning that children grow up with a mother and a father, and said, “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). Tragedies in life often make that impossible. But taking actions to make that tragedy normal may be worth prohibiting by law. That's a factor to consider.

2. Marriage is the most fundamental institution among humans.

And so forth. Note even the dry joke about the importance of marriage protection in comparison to the importance of promoting hunting and fishing.

Then comes point 8:

Don’t press the organization of the church or her pastors into political activism. Pray that the church and her ministers would feed the flock of God with the word of God centered on the gospel of Christ crucified and risen. Expect from your shepherds not that they would rally you behind political candidates or legislative initiatives, but they would point you over and over again to God and to his word, and to the cross.

He goes on to explain what he means (emphasis in original):

Please try to understand this: When I warn against the politicizing of the church, I do so not to diminish her power but to increase it. The impact of the church for the glory of Christ and the good of the world does not increase when she shifts her priorities from the worship of God and the winning of souls and the nurturing of faith and raising up of new generations of disciples.

Huh? Well, one might think in some puzzlement, I suppose some legal eagle told him he had to put something like point 8 in there. Seems a shame for him to sound like he's making some kind of high-falutin' principle out of it, but the rest of the sermon makes it clear enough what he's urging his people to do. A wink is as good as a nod.

But point 8 won't be ignored. The Minneapolis Star Tribune published this piece noting that Piper and Leith Anderson, another evangelical leader, were conspicuous by their absence from the ranks in support of the marriage amendment. And here is what Piper's representative, David Mathis, said:

Piper had been under pressure from conservative groups to weigh in on the amendment, according to his spokesman David Mathis, adding that Piper did not hold back over concerns the church could lose its tax-exempt status.

"Basically our position is, we're not taking one as a church," Mathis said. "And by addressing this in June rather than October or early November, there's no effort here for political expediency, trying to get certain votes out of people."

"He [Piper] wants to avoid the political realm as much as possible. The Christian Gospel is not left, it's not right. It is what it is."

Let's parse what Mathis is saying. He's emphasizing that Piper wants to avoid the political realm as much as possible. He's implying quite clearly that Piper knows that it would have been quite legal for him to take a definite stand from the pulpit in support of the marriage amendment and that that was not Piper's worry. He's saying that Piper's preaching on this issue at all was deliberately timed for June rather than in the fall precisely so that people would not be able to say that Piper was attempting to get people to vote a certain way on the amendment. Presumably this means that we can expect Piper not even to give a sermon as clear as points 1-7 in October or early November! How interesting. Mathis is saying that the church does not have a position on the amendment. And he's saying that for Piper to take such a position from the pulpit would be to distract attention from the true mission of the church which is to preach a gospel that is neither "left nor right."

If that doesn't counteract the impression one might otherwise have gotten from the first seven points of Piper's sermon, I don't know what would.

Piper, as if to be sure his supporters are thoroughly confused, then published this response to the Star Tribune's piece. Piper implies that he has been misrepresented. (Maybe he should talk to his own official representative, David Mathis, about that.) According to Piper's response to the article, he did not opt out of the marriage fight but spoke quite clearly to the issue. However, Piper then continues his exceedingly strange practice of treating express advocacy, which was never more than a legally convenient bright line, as some sort of previously undiscovered theological and pastoral principle. Piper also continues to apply this principle equally to endorsing candidates and to taking a position on a narrowly focused constitutional referendum: (Emphasis added)

The aim of point 8 was that over the long haul Christians will take clearer, stronger, more effective stands for justice and righteousness and the common good if pastors and preachers speak powerfully and faithfully and biblically to the moral and spiritual and ethical and theological issues surrounding political issues, rather than advocating particular candidates and laws.

So in other words Christian leaders should not do what other Christian leaders in Minnesota have done by unequivocally supporting the amendment. After all, what's not to love about strengthening the church (see the explication of point 8, above)? Piper is being pretty emphatic about the warnings he has given against "politicizing" the church, and he quite evidently thinks that for him to have unequivocally supported the marriage protection amendment as he was urged to do would have been a paradigm case of this "politicization" which he has warned about. Nor does he in any way contradict what his official spokesman said about his motivations and positions, including his reason for preaching on the subject now rather than in the fall.

Continue reading "A strange variety of "apolitical evangelicalism"" »

July 4th: Reading the Declaration

It's simple, really. On the 4th we celebrate our independence, and the birthday of our polity, the United States of America. We recognize that this all got rolling with the men who wrote, debated, and signed the Declaration of Independence.

But when is the last time you actually read the document? It's been a while since I went through the whole thing, top to bottom. So, maybe we can pull it out, dust it off, and go through it once again (even if that means for the first time, yes?). Not just alone, though - this is a document meant to be read with others, delved into, discussed, debated, and appreciated doubly with the participation of others.

Not my idea. I'm just passing on Hillsdale College's invitation. Seems like a good idea to me. Maybe we should all refresh ourselves on just why independence was important enough to go to war for it. And why men who otherwise were relatively well off were in the forefront of the effort.

Anyway, it's not a conservative thing any more than it is a liberal thing, is it? This is just who we are, and how we got here. My church will be holding a picnic that day, and I think we can convince them that joining in this reading of the Declaration fits perfectly with that venue. What about you?

June 24, 2012

An unacknowledged dilemma

In a review of Robert Nisbet's "The Quest for Community", Ross Douthat identifies the dilemma conservatives need to face when addressing the welfare state:

Once the bonds of community have frayed, is it enough to merely withdraw the power of the state, and watch communities reknit themselves? Will the two-parent family revive, for instance, if antipoverty programs are pared away? Are there countless versions of, say, the Mormon Church’s welfare network waiting to spring up, if only the heavy hand of the state relaxes itself? Or is it possible that once community has frayed sufficiently, the state cannot simply withdraw itself without risking disintegration—but must, perforce, play an active role in the revival of civil society, by seeking to reduce the demand for government before it reduces the supply?

I tend to think that the state must indeed play an active role in "reducing the demand for government before it reduces the supply". Much can be done, for instance, to incentivize marriage and family - and to reduce destructive and pathological behaviors - before removing public assistance from dependent children and their non-working parent(s).

June 27, 2012

A word against the culture of death

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent,
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
the Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

The canton of Vaud in Switzerland has decided to invite the Grim Reaper into nursing homes.

The plan was put forward by the cantonal parliament and when the new law comes into force, doctors in nursing homes and hospitals must respect the wishes of a person requesting assistance to die. However, certain conditions must be met before the wish is granted: the person in question is suffering from an incurable illness or injury and is of sound mind.

Oh, well, that's a relief. Certain conditions apply. Hey, at least it's not unconditional death-on-demand.

Vaud is retaining the fig leaf of consent. England, which supposedly isn't supplying suicide but only an "end-of-life protocol," doesn't bother with that consent stuff. A recent story, highlighted briefly on Drudge (which will hopefully get it some much-needed attention) shows us yet again Professor Patrick Pullicino as a voice crying in the wilderness against the infamous Liverpool Care Pathway, in which patients are drugged out of their wits and then (of course they can't eat on their own now, can they?) denied tube feeding and hydration until they die. Prof. Pullicino has raised the alarm about the LCP before. Wesley J. Smith has also brought to light the fact that patients who were supposedly "imminently dying" were so only because of the protocol, not naturally. While Smith (being a lawyer) would not like the word, I do not hesitate to say that patients are being murdered in cold blood by the LCP.

There was some talk of reform which was evidently just talk. Pullicino is not impressed and tells the following story:

Professor Pullicino revealed he had personally intervened to take a patient off the LCP who went on to be successfully treated. He said this showed that claims they had hours or days left are ‘palpably false’.

In the example he revealed a 71-year-old who was admitted to hospital suffering from pneumonia and epilepsy was put on the LCP by a covering doctor on a weekend shift.

Professor Pullicino said he had returned to work after a weekend to find the patient unresponsive and his family upset because they had not agreed to place him on the LCP. ‘I removed the patient from the LCP despite significant resistance,’ he said. ‘His seizures came under control and four weeks later he was discharged home to his family,’ he said.
Professor Pullicino revealed he had given the patient another 14 months of life by demanding the man be removed from the LCP.

If evidence is needed beyond the evident nature of the dark Pathway itself, there are more anecdotes. In addition to Hazel Fenton, saved from death by an energetic daughter who managed not to be stonewalled, here are a couple of additional anecdotes from WJS's combox. (I have not corrected spelling and capitalization.)

Dad’s been in Bedford hospital for 3 weeks with a foot ulcer. We were expecting him home last Monday because they said that the infection had now reached the bone and the main artery – although he looked perfectly well, there was nothing more they could do for him. I got a call Monday afternoon saying he had taken a turn for the worse and that he was dying. It transpired that they had neglected to hydrate him so he was already quite dozy and unresponsive. Whilst he was sleeping he was making a gurgling sound which the physiotherapist later said was just a bit of porridge left over and with a guided cough managed to dislodge it. However it was enough to get the “death rattle” box ticked which started him on the Liverpool pathway! He was entering into a diabetic coma when we found him.

Because of his unresponsive state we took the registrar’s word and assumed that he was dying of blood poisoning from the foot ulcer. However when the penny dropped we managed to get all fluids and medication reinstated including a broad spectrum of antibiotics for a chest infection he’d picked up at the hospital. He soon came back to life and I left him yesterday playing with the grandchildren and feeding himself a banana.

It’s touch and go with the chest infection – he’s very weak and if the antibiotics don’t kick in he’ll probably be back on the slippery path to Liverpool.

my husband died last year. The doctors seem terrified that someone will have a bad death.His liver was not working well and he had been given medisolam one of the normal drugs for the lcp, when he was unconscious, they wanted to give him diamorphine to slow down his breathing. Little did I know that medisolam actually causes fasted breathing. They also insist on giving drugs to stop the death rattle which is a natural and painless condition occuring around the time of death. My husband is a born again believer and would have had a good death, however, they would not let him go naturally.

Continue reading "A word against the culture of death" »


Two quick items:

Please welcome our new author/contributor Jeff S. His bio will read:

Jeffrey S. is a married father of two girls who is a lifelong resident of the Chicagoland area. He got his B.A. degree in Economics at the University of Michigan (and studied abroad for a year at the London School of Economics, where he lived in a row house in the East End and still misses fish and chips!) and his Masters degree in Public Policy from the University of Chicago. He currently lives in Chicago where his girls attend public school and he attends one of the most beautiful Catholic churches in the country. Jeff is a revert to the Catholic faith but says a prayer of thanks whenever he remembers his Protestant brothers and sisters who helped lead him back to Christ. As a result he has a strong interest in Christian apologetics, as well as Christian art, literature and music. He also loves the classics of Western civilization as well as more modern political and policy writing and does a lot of reading in his free time. He recently read a blogger who described himself as an "urban progressive" — Jeff considers himself the exact opposite — a reactionary lover of cities who hopes to someday be considered the Christian Theodore Dalrymple of the blogosphere.

Item two is to urge prayer for our countrymen in Colorado afflicted by terrible fires. I heard from a friend that in the beautiful city of Colorado Springs, damn near everyone west of I-25 is on evacuation notice. That’s staggering. And this is on the heels of a horrific blaze near Ft. Collins, another glorious town on the Front Range. May the God of all peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, equip Colorado with everything good, and bless, keep and uphold the folks there.

June 28, 2012

Procedure matters

To quote a commentator who so often has sage things to say,

So by my reading of the situation, Chief Justice Roberts has decided that the Congress can in fact pass a law requiring Americans to eat broccoli, just so long as the law includes a heavy punitive financial penalty for failure to comply. Because then it would just be a tax. Or something.

Our history as a republic under a government of limited, enumerated powers is officially at an end, thanks to yet another Supreme Court justice nominated by a President named Bush.

The doctrine of enumerated powers matters. A government of limited federal powers matters. Our American republic matters. The colonies would never, never have joined to form this great country in the first place more than two hundred years ago had they not been assured, repeatedly, that the federal government's powers would be limited. Now that is over, yet the form of the country remains. This is an historic day, and a tragic one.

Do not tell me that procedure is not important. At this very moment the leftist architects of Obamacare are gloating over the massive power that has been left in their hands--power to regulate the minute details of the doctor-patient relationship, power to trample religious liberty, power to do more or less anything they please.

Would it have been worth it had a similar republic-ending power grab been made by people with ideals and goals more in sympathy with my own, who swore to use their dictatorial powers only "for the good"? Would that make it okay?

No, it wouldn't.

Procedure matters.

June 29, 2012

A Little Break from the Depressing News with a Classic Catholic Meme


I thought it appropriate to have my first post echo Chesterton’s famous answer to the question from which this blog gets its name. It is important to remember that while I have plenty of strong opinions about how our culture and government need to change, when it comes to “what’s wrong with the world”, like Gilbert Keith, I think it is important to start by looking in the mirror. I also think that this Catholic sense of original sin is also an important political attitude – it helps keep conservatives grounded in what can ultimately be accomplished by government or through laws and public policy – there are limits to what we can achieve because we are all sinners. Whittaker Chambers, in his classic book, Witness, speaks eloquently about the choices we all face to do evil. The foreword to the book is a letter to his children which concludes with Chambers asking his children to picture Jesus being crucified at Golgotha:

“When you understand what you see, you will no longer be children. You will know life is pain, that each of us hangs always on the cross of himself. And when you know that this is true of every man, woman, and child on earth, you will be wise.”