Daily Archives: August 22, 2007

British Civics Class Asks, What Would Muhammad Do?

At the Jamia Mosque on Victor Street in this racially and religiously tense town, Idris Watts, a teacher and convert to Islam, tackled a seemingly mundane subject with a dozen teenage boys: why it is better to have a job than to be unemployed.

“The prophet said you should learn a trade,” Mr. Watts told the students arrayed in a semicircle before him. “What do you think he means by that?”

“If you get a trade it’s good because then you can pass it on,” said Safraan Mahmood, 15.

“You feel better when you’re standing on your own feet,” offered Ossama Hussain, 14.

The back and forth represented something new in Britain’s mosques: a government-financed effort to teach basic citizenship issues in a special curriculum intended to reach students who might be vulnerable to Islamic extremism.

In the long haul, the British government hopes that such civics classes, which use the Koran to answer questions about daily life, will replace the often tedious and sometimes hard-core religious lessons taught in many mosques across the land. Often, these lessons emphasize rote learning of the Koran and are taught by imams who were born in Pakistan and speak little English and have little contact with British society.

Read it all.

Posted in * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, England / UK, Islam, Other Faiths

Vatican Starts Low-Cost Flight Service for Pilgrims

The Vatican has its own bank, its own postal system, its own pharmacy and its own soccer tournament–but until now, no official state-sponsored airline.

That will change when the Holy See teams up with a small Italian charter company, Mistral Air, to launch a low-cost charter service to ferry pilgrims to many of the most important Catholic shrines, including Lourdes in France, Fatima in Portugal, Czestochowa in Poland and Santiago di Compostela in Spain.

“The spirit of this new initiative is to meet the growing demand by pilgrims to visit the most important sites for the faith,” Father Cesare Atuire of the Vatican pilgrimage office, Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi, told the Rome newspaper La Repubblica.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

USA Today: The face of Islam in America

Ingrid Mattson knows the media drill well.

She has done the “We condemn ”¦ (fill in the terrorism incident)” speeches ”” as if, she says, that’s all anyone needs to hear from the president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).

She has done the profiles of her as first woman/first convert/first North American-born head of the continent’s largest Muslim group.

She has done the talk shows retelling how 20 years ago, she left the Catholicism of her Canadian childhood and her college focus on philosophy and fine arts to find her spiritual home in Islam.

“It’s time now to move the focus back off me and back on the issues,” says Mattson, a professor at Hartford Seminary, where she directs the first U.S.-accredited Muslim chaplaincy program at the Macdonald Center.

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Islam, Other Faiths

For Mormons, a trying mission in Philadelphia

The ruddy-cheeked extrovert is Elder Mills, age 20. He raps on doors – hundreds every day – with an eager knock, na-knock, na-knock-knock-knock.

The tall, quiet one is Elder Keach, also 20. He goes for a more restrained knock na-knock-knock-knock, but moves just as swiftly as his partner.

They are young men on a mission in Philadelphia….

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Other Faiths

Planned Parenthood asks judge to block new Missouri abortion regulations

One week before a new law imposes stricter regulations on Missouri abortion providers, Planned Parenthood wants a federal judge to keep it from being enforced.

Planned Parenthood on Monday asked for an injunction to stall enforcement until the court decides whether the new law is constitutional. Without the injunction, the law will take effect a week from today.

The requirements for a clinic to be licensed under the new law are so costly that the group may be forced to shut down abortion centers in Kansas City and Columbia, said Peter Brownlie, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.

Women in central Missouri would be forced to travel to St. Louis for abortions, Brownlie said. Services would also continue to be provided in Overland Park, he said.

“This is a blatant attempt to close down clinics and deny women their right to health care,” Brownlie said at a news conference Monday. “”¦ The regulations would have no impact on family planning services or the quality of care that patients receive.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Life Ethics

The Bishop of New York: "The Presenting Question"

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Identity, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts

Church of England Newspaper: Civil partnership for Gene Robinson

by Ed Beaven

The Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Rev V Gene Robinson, is to enter into a Civil Partnership with his long-term partner just weeks before next year’s Lambeth Conference. The openly gay cleric, whose consecration as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 caused outrage among traditionalist wings of the Anglican Communion and has placed the Church on the brink of schism, unveiled his intention during an interview to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 next week, in a programme entitled the Choice. Interviewed by Michael Buerk, Bishop Robinson denied the plan to hold the ceremony next June had been chosen to be deliberately provocative.

He said: “The decision to take advantage of the new law that will come into effect in New Hampshire on January 1 is simply our taking advantage of the kinds of rights which are now being made open to gay and lesbian people in New Hampshire. “I am certainly not doing that to rub salt into anyone’s wounds, but no one should expect me to penalise me and my partner when these rights are being offered. “We were looking for a three-day weekend which would allow people to travel more easily, and that happened to be the fifth anniversary of my election as the Bishop of New Hampshire and thought that would be an appropriate date. “I think the fact is my critics would find any date impermissible.”

He also tells about his love for the Anglican Communion, but said he would never stand down from his role as it would be going against God’s call on his life. He said: “I love the Anglican Church and I value the Communion and I will do everything short of standing down to benefit the Communion.

“But I will not reject God’s call to me. If I were to disappear tomorrow does anyone think these questions are to go away either for the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion? I don’t think so.”

When asked about his thoughts on how his consecration as Bishop had placed the Church on the road to schism, Bishop Robinson admitted that the Episcopal Church may have got it wrong. He said: “This was not just my doing this was an entire community’s doing, and that community tried its very best to discern the will of God, and we may be wrong, I am ready to admit to you that I cannot be sure that this is the right thing or the right time or the right way.

“I believe that Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, one of the primary spokespeople against my election, I believe he is following his call from God as best as he can, I just wish he could believe I am following my call from God as best I can.”

The interview is on Radio 4 on Tuesday August 28 at 9am U.K. time

–This article appears on page 1 of the August 24th, 2007, edition of the Church of England Newspaper

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), TEC Conflicts

President Bush draws parallels with Vietnam in case for patience on Iraq

President Bush has raised the hackles of the American Left with a major foreign policy speech that is to draw comparisons between a premature pull-out from Iraq and the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975.

The speech, to an audience of military veterans, has not actually been delivered but the White House has released extracts in advance ”“ and its arguments have not gone down well with Mr Bush’s political opponents.

“Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left,” Mr Bush will tell the national convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, many of whom fought in Indo-China, later today.

“Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America’s withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.'”

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Iraq War

Russia steps up military expansion

Vladimir Putin announced ambitious plans to revive Russia’s military power and restore its role as the world’s leading producer of military aircraft yesterday.

Speaking at the opening of the largest airshow in Russia’s post-Soviet history, the president said he was determined to make aircraft manufacture a national priority after decades of lagging behind the west.

The remarks follow his decision last week to resume long-range missions by strategic bomber aircraft capable of hitting the US with nuclear weapons. Patrols over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic began last week for the first time since 1992.

Read it all.

Posted in Russia

New rector in Idaho balances congregation with charm

The Rev. Kenneth Brannon wandered onto the national Episcopalian Web site last year and found something he didn’t know he was looking for.

At the time Brannon, 39 tomorrow, was an associate rector at St. Barnabas in Sleepy Hollow, Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y. With two children (Lucy, 10 and Isaac, 6) in school and his wife, Rachel, a psychotherapist studying to be a Jungian analyst, the idea of moving out West wasn’t on his radar. But Brannon saw the Web site for St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Ketchum, which was in the process of a new minister search.

Brannon was immediately intrigued, and continues feeling that way a month after moving to the valley to fill the large shoes left at St. Thomas by the departures of Rev. Brian Baker and more recently Bishop Craig Anderson.

“We weren’t looking to move to Idaho. But the program and the St. Thomas Playhouse were compelling,” he said. Brannon’s second degree (out of three) is from New York University in drama therapy.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Parish Ministry, TEC Parishes

Stephen Noll: Post-Conservatives and Post-Liberals

Reflections on Kevin Vanhoozer’s The Drama of Doctrine

Stephen Noll

Note: I have rushed this essay into print because of the relevance of the discussion between those orthodox “conservatives” who see long-continuing (invincible) heresy on central matters of doctrine as a church-dividing necessity and those who argue that the maintenance of the form of church unity takes precedence over agreement on doctrine. Within the current Anglican context, members of the former group have sometimes been labeled “Federal Conservatives” or “Confessionalists,” while members of the latter have been called “Communion Conservatives.” To some extent, this fault-line mirrors the historic divide in Anglican theology between Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics. Now I am proposing, following Kevin Vanhoozer, a new binary classification: post-conservatives and post-liberals.

Labels can always distort one’s position, but they are also necessary markers of genuine difference of opinion. I am particularly interested in seeking a response from the Communion Conservatives, many of whom have spent time at Yale with George Lindbeck, to see whether they agree with the typology proposed by Vanhoozer in his recent works. In a recent essay, Craig Uffman contends that Federal Conservatives are unconsciously reflecting the rationalistic “either/or” epistemology of the Enlightenment. I suggest, in response to Uffman, that his view of ultimate, may I say mystical, reconciliation of opposites owes much to Enlightenment Romanticism (a position shared, I think, by Rowan Williams). If Vanhoozer’s typology is correct, then we should begin by admitting that we are all heirs of the Enlightenment (and the postmodernism deriving from Nietzsche) in one sense, but that we are seeking to transcend its rationalistic and romantic distortions of Christianity in order to be true to the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.”


When I took sabbatical leave in Cambridge in 1994, I found myself sharing a cubicle with a young academic named Kevin Vanhoozer. Kevin’s piles of xeroxed articles covered most of the working space, and I soon recognized that I was cohabiting with a very bright and competent scholar. I was also gratified to find that he and I shared a common interest in and commitment to the “literal sense” of Scripture, properly defined. As I got to know him, I discovered another side: an accomplished pianist, who had conducted evangelistic missions in France, where he met and married his wife. And a genuinely thoughtful and compassionate Christian individual.

So I have not been surprised to find that this “young scholar” (I’m not sure now long he gets to wear this label, but far be it from me to set an expiration date) has burst upon the academic scene with two major books on hermeneutics – Is There Meaning in This Text? (1997), and First Theology (2002) ”“ which lay the groundwork for his dogmatic work, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005). Vanhoozer has been a leader in an academic movement to recover the “theological interpretation of the Bible,” editing a dictionary of that name (2005). Although his work has garnered respect and praise across the theological spectrum, he has written this as an Evangelical, who moved from University of Edinburgh to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

One mark of his stance is his unashamed defence of sola scriptura ”“ the sufficiency of Scripture alone for salvation and life. Hence he writes in The Drama of Doctrine:

One goal of the present work is to model a post-critical approach to biblical interpretation that respects both the principle ”“ or rather the practice ”“ of sola scriptura and the location of the interpretative community that nevertheless results in performance knowledge and doctrinal truth.

While not disowning his Evangelical pedigree, Vanhoozer claims that his hermeneutical approach to doctrine is catholic and evangelical, and he adopts his central concept of the Gospel as “Theo-Drama” from the Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Vanhoozer’s hermeneutics is “post-critical,” that is, accepting the postmodern rejection of Enlightenment rationalism and embracing the “linguistic turn” to subjectivity in interpretation. In particular, he adopts as a dialogue partner George Lindbeck of Yale University, whose book The Nature of Doctrine (1984) has set the “post-liberal” agenda of parsing Scripture using the grammar of the church. Vanhoozer takes for himself the mirror label “post-conservative” and carries on a friendly dialogue with Lindbeck throughout the book. He refers to Lindbeck’s “cultural linguistic” and his own “canonical linguistic” approaches as “cousins” (page 16). Yet while he is carefully appreciative of Lindbeck’s views, by the end of The Drama of Doctrine, it is clear that he considers Lindbeck’s position defective in crucial respects.

In terms of doctrine, Vanhoozer claims to be “postfoundational,” i.e., finding inadequate a certain kind of Evangelical “foundationalist” reading of Scripture as a dogmatic textbook. At the same time, he speaks of “two types of postfoundationalism”:

The first type of postfoundationalism, then, substitutes the life of the church for the set of indubitable beliefs. Though Lindbeck clearly moves beyond the modern emphasis on individual autonomy, one wonders whether his position could not be classified as ecclesial expressivism, and hence of the experiential-expressivist position he associates with modern liberals. (p. 294, emphasis original)

By contrast, Vanhoozer sees his own “canonical-linguistic” type of postfoundationalism as differing from Lindbeck in its insistence on accepting the autonomous truth claims of Scripture and of the Rule of Faith and other summaries of doctrine (a.k.a. confessions). Cultural linguistic and canonical linguistic views share an appreciation of the “illocutionary” character of speech (“illocutionary” referring to the directive use of speech, e.g., persuasive, narrative, celebratory) and the “intertextuality” (“this text interprets that”) in the biblical record. Whereas both views accept the biblical canon as the horizon within which doctrine must operate, Lindbeck tends to see the canon as text-centered (“just this set of writings”) whereas Vanhoozer sees a necessary connection between an authoritative script and an authored script, one where the divine and human author’s meaning is final. For all his appreciation of the grammar and intratextual meanings of Scripture, Lindbeck finds the locus of biblical meaning in the performance by the church rather than the author of the text.

Vanhoozer argues that Lindbeck’s approach leads to three mistaken tendencies: “With regard to theology, it tends toward fideism,” because it accepts an internal world of the text, which must either be accepted or rejected without any further criterion”¦.” “With regard to the church, it tends toward idealism,” because the church and only the church can establish the truth of Scripture. “With regard to God, it tends toward nonrealism,” because it has no way of handling the truth claims of what God has done in Jesus Christ.” (p. 174, emphasis original)

Vanhoozer notes on several occasions that Lindbeck’s theology slips into a kind of cultural anthropology or ethnography, that is, it is descriptive but not prescriptive. One of the symptoms of this deficiency is the inability to identify false ecclesial interpretations of Scripture. Vanhoozer asks: “If church practices serve as both source and norm for theology, how can we ever distinguish well-formed practices from those that are deformed?” (page 7). In a telling footnote, he comments:

“I do not want to minimize the difficulty in discerning “correct” from “incorrect” [readings from Scripture]. At the same time, I believe the ability to reform the church depends on just such discerning judgments that arise not from humanly devised exegetical method, but from a prayerful combination of attention to the Word and attention to the Spirit. (p. 12 n. 38)

In a comment reminiscent of the Anglican Article XXI, he states: “Neither tradition nor practice can be the supreme norm for Christian theology because each is susceptible to error. Practices become deformed; traditions become corrupt” (page 22, emphasis original).

This important distinction between Lindbeck and Vanhoozer allows the latter to speak unqualifiedly of confession and its converse heresy. He deals with heresy ecclesiologically in his final section on “Doctrine and the Church.” He begins by stating that true doctrine necessarily identifies false teaching in order to heal the wounds of the Church. So heresy-hunting is not a matter of ecclesiastical power-plays, but of discerning the truth of the Gospel. This task is not to be taken on lightly but must be done to preserve the integrity of the church’s witness to Christ. Vanhoozer points out that the canonical texts themselves contain warnings against false teaching. Not every occasional theological error constitutes heresy, but true heresy threatens the corporate threat because it attacks like a disease the very lifeblood of the Gospel:

Heresy is dangerous because it proposes an alternative economy of salvation, not that there is one. A heresy is thus a fateful error that compromises the integrity of the theo-drama, either by misidentifying the divine dramatis personae, misunderstanding the action, or giving directions that lead away from one’s fitting participation in the continuing dramatic action. (p. 424, emphasis original)

Careful and prayerful discernment of heresy leads necessarily to excommunication:

To repeat: those who perform some other drama take themselves out of the redemptive action. Excommunication is thus an outward and formal recognition of an inward reality, namely, the fact that the heretic is no longer oriented to the way, the truth, and the life. (p. 426)

The basis for distinguishing heresy, Vanhoozer argues, is nothing less than the conviction that the false teaching contradicts the biblical testimony. This judgement involves a statement of truth, called a creed or confession. Vanhoozer contends that the patristic councils like Nicaea claimed not to be judging heresy according to their own interpretative script but on the clear sense of the biblical script. Hence a true evaluation of Nicaea must be a matter of determining whether the Council correctly read the theo-dramatic witness to the Person of Christ, or whether it was merely following its own philosophical language du jour.

Among the variety of ecclesiastical truth statements, Vanhoozer (pp. 449-457) distinguishes between Creeds (“Masterpiece Theater”), Confessions (“Regional Theater”) and Congregational Theology (“Local Theater”), and the role of the pastor is to harmonize all these performances. But at the heart of them all is the conviction that the biblical story, as recorded in Scripture, provides a single text from which all précis and stage-directions proceed.

Kevin Vanhoozer’s most recent book on doctrine models a respectful yet critical dialogue between two interpretative schools – call them “post-liberals” and “post-conservatives” (dare I compare them with the Alexandrians and Antiochenes) ”“ who share a common commitment to the biblical canon and the Church’s Rule of Faith but who diverge on the locus of divine authority. I have suggested that the issue of acceptance of church confessions as grounds for identifying heresy and enacting discipline through excommunication or separation may distinguish the two schools.

The current crisis of discipline within the Anglican Communion has drawn these schools into the forum of dispute. Sometimes they resort to rhetorical barbs (“appeasers” and “angry militants”), and at the end of the day they may find themselves on different sides of an ecclesial divide. But at least we should know where we are coming from and hope and pray that in the end by “turning, turning” in this debate, we may come round right and together.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Identity, Ecclesiology, Theology

Off to Ohio

I am flying up to Ohio to meet Elizabeth and Abigail for the final drop off at College tomorrow.

Posted in * By Kendall

A New Generation Reinvents Philanthropy

Joe Alamo didn’t set out to become a do-gooder. But late last year, when the Geneva, N.Y., Web designer was surfing on MySpace, he chanced onto the profile of Kiva.org, a nonprofit that allows people to make zero-interest “microfinance” loans over the Internet to needy entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Soon after, Mr. Alamo not only became a lender through Kiva, but he also started a new Web site, Kivafriends.org, devoted to Kiva enthusiasts. He also now volunteers to run Kiva’s MySpace page. “This is the first time I’ve ever gotten so involved with a charity,” says Mr. Alamo, now 30 years old.

Young donors and volunteers, snubbing traditional appeals such as direct mail and phone calls, are satisfying their philanthropic urges on the Internet. They’re increasingly turning to blogs and social-networking Web sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, to spread the word about — and raise funds for — their favorite nonprofits and causes. They’re sending Web-based fund-raising pitches to their friends and families, encouraging them, in turn, to forward the appeals to their own contacts.

At the same time, a growing number of charities — ranging from start-ups to established names such as the Salvation Army — are launching profiles on popular social-networking sites, hoping that young people will link up to the pages. Some are also encouraging bloggers to mention the causes on their sites, raising thousands of dollars in small donations from readers.

Many of the nonprofits that have embraced social networking are themselves run by people in their 20s and 30s, who already spend a good portion of their lives online. Some of them also appeal to donors by offering them tangible results of their gifts by directly linking contributors with recipients.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch

Jason Byassee in Christian Century: A crusade against consumer debt

Heather from Oregon sounds like a born-again woman, financially speaking. “I finally got everything paid off this spring. . . . No more credit cards, no more student loan! I feel so good, so adult, and so proud of myself.” She thanks her deliverer, radio personality and anticredit crusader Dave Ramsey, for freeing her from bondage to consumer debt, and he published her note at daveramsey.com as the testimony of another satisfied customer.

Ramsey is a tough-talking, quick-witted evangelical radio personality out of Nashville whose ability to offer paternalistic financial advice and to turn a phrase has earned him millions of listeners, both religious and secular. The Financial Peace University, a spinoff of his radio program, offers curricula for church groups. His 13-week seminar promises to help the average family reduce debt by $5,300 and save $2,700, according to the marketing materials on his Web site.

Those savings presumably make for more money in the church’s offering plate. A spokesperson for Crown Financial Ministries, headquartered in Gainesville, Georgia, told the Dallas Morning News that graduates of Crown’s small-group study increase their giving to the church by more than 60 percent. What church wouldn’t pay the $289 study fee and ask for $89 from each participant in return for the sort of joy that gushes from Heather from Oregon, or from her pastor?

Ramsey’s financial advice is tied to an evangelical Christian message….

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

Letters to the Editor of the New York Times: Risky Loans and a Jittery Economy

Here is one:

Re “Credit Time Bomb Ticked, but Few Heard” (front page, Aug. 19):

We in the United States, at the middle-class level, are conditioned to live beyond our means.

“We have a great economy” ”” the slogan of any administration of any stripe ”” is based on our entrenched credit living.

Just wait a few years, and we’ll see how the debt we’ve incurred for the war in Iraq ”” which has filled the pockets of the few ”” will blow up in the face of our self-proclaimed prosperous economy and devastate the backbone of this nation.

Brahama D. Sharma
Pismo Beach, Calif., Aug. 19, 2007

Read them all.

Update:: More from the London Times here, including:

Yes, the bank that for years let me pay even less than the minimum amount of interest due on my mortgage (a phenomenon known darkly as “negative amortisation”) had reached what even amateur economists might have considered the bloody inevitable: it had ran out of money. Or, to use the correct euphemism, it had been forced to “supplement its funding liquidity position” with a $11.5 billion (£5.75 billion) mortgage of its very own.

I mention all this not only because it’s incredible for how long this Ponzi scheme was allowed to continue, but also because it advances the theory that the LA housing boom of the past five years has been primarily responsible for the global financial apocalypse.

Take Countrywide. There is really only one thing anyone has ever needed to know about Countrywide: that it is based in LA suburb of Calabasas, a mountain paradise so absurdly rich, so helplessly adrift in an ocean of other people’s cash, that its population of 23,000 is able to sustain its very own Ferrari dealership.

And we’re not talking about any old Ferrari dealership. We’re talking a massive glass-walled emporium, visible from the freeway, visible probably from near-Earth orbit, stacked wall to wall with the $1,000,000 playthings of Countrywide mortgage salesmen. It was once said that if you went into Calabasas at night, and sat very still for a while, you could actually hear the laughter of the negative-amortisation specialists bouncing off the gated marble driveways.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy