Canterbury flip-flop?

Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, though theologically orthodox was expected to be a more socially liberal successor to Archbishop George Carey, an evangelical. Williams famously wrote a paper years ago in support of non-celibate homosexual clergy, much to the chagrin of moderates and conservatives. However, honored Archbishop seems to have changed his tune, recently saying that homosexuals must "change their behaviour" to fully participate in the church's life, much to the chagrin of liberals and "revisionists."

Now, I've always had a sort of admiration for Rowan Williams (even when I thought he was a liberal) not least because I know him to be vastly more intelligent than I and also he looks like a wizard. Naturally, I am glad to see that his theological position turns out to be even closer to my own than I suspected. Even so, one has to wonder if political realities resulting from the current crisis within the Anglican communion have influenced him to make this sort of pronouncement or if he would have come to this position on his own suggesting that the current crisis may simply have hastened the change by focusing his attention on these issues.

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Political Rhetoric and the language of "evil"

At St. Alban's Chapel at LSU there is on Wednesdays an event called “Lunch with C.S. Lewis” that I try to attend when able. Recently there was a conversation that got me to thinking some more about the use of theological concepts in political discourse, particularly the rhetoric being used to rally support for “the war on terror” which we Americans are now fighting.

I began thinking that there may be a sort of dualism in the language that is used by the President and others painting the “terrorists” as pure evil, as haters of freedom and democracy. Our Freedom and Democracy, as we were all taught in school (and probably church) are intrinsically good (you should detect sarcasm here, because I certainly do not think this is the case), and of course those who hate absolutely that which is intrinsically good must therefore be intrinsically bad. So memorable phrases like “the axis of evil” come to mind used to paint those who have attacked us as essentially “the devil” and, if they are, we therefore leave ourselves no choice (if we are good) but to exterminate them utterly. Note that in America we haven't made the jump (as Tony Blair has rightly done) from talking about "fighting Terrorists" to "fighting the ideology that breeds terrorists" (which is essentially a religion, I should point out).

I wonder if anyone has stopped to ask (and I do not believe the President has done so) “What have freedom and democracy ever done to them?” Because the answer might actually be “something very bad.” I think those who are being labeled “Islamo-fascists” may have some very legitimate concerns that we in the West are not even aware of. If we were, we might be able to diffuse terrorism. We simply do not understand that our democracy and our freedom (our free-market economy) is intruding upon and destroying their culture, and they don’t like it. Their children are watching “Desperate Housewives” and learning American made ideas and so those “Islamo-fascists” are watching their own culture and their own family values be consumed by the aggressive marketing strategies of the world’s biggest and most powerful (read “Western”) corporations who are trying to enlarge their markets into the newly discovered "global economy." In other words, as has been pointed out by a number of scholars, a free market economy like ours when it is combined with the globalization of economics creates a sort of cultural and economic imperialism. Unlike the imperialism of the European powers from the 18th to early 20th centuries, this imperialism is not spread by the military (usually), but by the engines of mass communication (internet, cable/satellite TV) and economic expansion. And this new imperialism is killing traditional Muslim culture (we may debate whether or not that is actually a bad thing, but I think we can all understand how traditional Muslims must see it).

The use of the sort of language that says “these people are the devil and must be destroyed” ends up sweeping reality under the rug. Reality is more complicated than that. Unfortunately, we Americans (and everyone else I think) like to keep things simple. Those who want to take and keep political power in our system are those who can capture our imaginations with a sound-bite or a bumper sticker slogan. Reality gets lost in the shuffle for (duly-elected) power.

The truth is (this is the important part) that the use of this absolutist, over-simplified language by both sides (language such as “America is the great Satan”) can only bring us to one possible place if we follow it out logically. We think they are the devil; they think we are the devil. The world is a better place if the devil is dead. Therefore both sides continue to fight until either 1) one side kills the devil (which considering the numbers of people involved and the resilience of ideology in general is highly unlikely as long as there are any people left on the planet) or 2) both sides recognize that reality is more complicated and grow up enough to address the real issues in responsible and rational ways. Sadly, based on the irrational and immature world-wide response to the pope’s comments that no one seems even to have read (I hope to comment on this in the near future), this doesn’t look too likely to happen in the near future either.

Maybe if we take a step back, stop "winning the war on terror" with military force and look at the whole situation as it has developed over the last 3 centuries or so, we might see where the real Devil has been at work and how to address it with Christian charity. But, then, it is an election year...

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Prices fall, president's approval rating rebounds

Gas prices are falling as you may have noticed and, just as President Bush's approval ratings fell with the rising prices, they are now rising as gas prices fall. So, it appears that American's assess the president's job performance soley based on the price we pay for gas (which I thought had more to do with gas production verses gas demand/usage). If I were an extremist anti-American Mid-Eastern oil baron, that would be something I would be interested in knowing.
But in fact I am an American citizen and as such I must say that the sort of short-sighted, instant gratification, money centered, and shallow political culture that this trend suggests for the majority of Americans is neither surprising nor encouraging. I am sure the attitudes that are hinted at by this trend are also connected with our shallow, "sound-bite" political discourse.
Now I certainly don't want to sound like one of those conservative talk-radio types who does naught but gripe and finger-point all day. But really, how can we expect to have a meaningful, useful, and responsible political life (in the world's richest nation and only remaining superpower) if we are that superficial?

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State of the Church Survey

The "Connectional Table" (which is supposed to be the means of coordination of the various General Boards and Agencies of The United Methodist Church) has put up this survey for a few days asking all comers about the "state of the church." I suppose they will at least discover the popular opinions of internet users who are also disposed to taking surveys, for whatever that is worth to the church big-whigs. I noticed that a number of questions dealt with the church's official position on homosexual practice, which I thought was at least curious ("why are they asking about this and not something else...") since I thought the Connectional Table was primarily a means of coordination of resources/efforts. There were also some questions about bureaucracy, "power cliques," apportionments, and allocation of funding along with questions of "clergy excellence."



And I'm still laughing about this

I have a friend at a Baptist seminary taking a "Church planting and re-vitalization class." In that class they watched and discussed a video clip (which she then shared with me) from "King of the Hill" about churches. I think this is HILARIOUS. The writers definitely know what sort of stereotypes/charicatures Christians have about one another (and maybe they are the same ones that non-believers have about different sorts of churches). I have visited churches that bear a resemblance to pretty much all of the churches the Hill family visits and can see the truth behind the joke.

The video also raises some interesting questions that might be worthy of thought or discussion:

-Why do people in America (this story is set in Texas) go to church, and why do church goers "switch" churches? Are these noble reasons?
-What do you think about the way Hank asked his co-workers if they knew a good church and the way they reacted; what might that tell us?
-What are the "pros and cons" of the boyfriend's philosophy of not needing a church but worshiping God everywhere?
-What does this video clip suggest/comment on about the relationship between "church growth strategies" and culture (i.e. Megachurch vs. the Mall, or "TV the way TV was meant to be")? What do you think of this relationship?
-Which of the churches the Hills visited is most like your own?
-Why is this video funny? What does that mean?

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