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12 February 2006

A revival in Boston?

Got this article just recently about the growth of Protestant evangelicalism in Boston.

Park Street defies the myth that Boston and the rest of New England have shed their religious heritage for a secular society. It also defies the institutional hold that the Catholic church has on America’s most Catholic city. In fact, evangelical Christianity is thriving in Boston. During the past 30 years, church growth, fueled by evangelical university groups and immigrant communities, has dramatically outpaced population growth. At the same time, mainline denominations have dwindled and the abuse scandal in the Catholic church has forced the closing of dozens of parishes. Evangelical leaders expect this “quiet revival” not only to continue, but to blossom into another Great Awakening….

Catholic collapse

The Catholic church is to Boston what evangelicals are to Wheaton or Colorado Springs, says Harrell. The influence of the Catholic church is everywhere from parishes to politics. Harrell says Catholics often did not leave the church because of the abuse scandal, but they were shocked at how the church handled it. “That’s what sent people through the roof,” he says.

A recent survey found that only one-third of Catholics attend mass weekly. Despite the low attendance, Catholics tend to stick it out with the church they grew up in, Harrell says. At least, they are reluctant to attend church elsewhere.

But many do find themselves at evangelical churches like Park Street. “We get a lot of recovering Catholics,” Harrell says.

There is rarely a direct move from the Catholic Church to Park Street, Harrell says. Rather people spend years disenchanted with church before trying out a new one. They are also looking for something more demanding than the church they grew up in.

I replied with the following to the correspondent who sent it to me:

The CT article is largely good, and I think it’s accurate. One exception I take is in what seems a somewhat slight bias against Roman Catholic Christianity. For example, the measures of faithfulness that it uses (weekly church attendance) isn’t really appropriate to Roman Catholics, both for cultural and semi-theological reasons. If they measured how long individual people stayed faithful and committed to one church community as the measure here, the RCs would win, as they don’t change churches as often. It’s subtle, but I think there’s an argument that some bias is there. Not that this should entirely surprise: both evangelicals and mainline Protestants have historically considered Catholics as somehow distinct from “Christians.” I even remember hearing stuff like this in church and school as I grew up. Probably this has as much to do with lingering ethnic reasons as theological ones. It’s ironic, considering that we as Protestants came from the Roman church, and that the Roman church, for example, has reformed the problems that gave rise to the Reformation (the Roman Catholic church and the Lutheran World Congress have even signed a joint statement emphasizing that they have the same understanding of the role of grace in salvation, which ends up being essentially Luther’s position).

One of the great things about the Roman church is that it holds the Great Tradition of the Church and that it has the historical memory that we Protestants often lack. The result seems to be that we sometimes teach things that contradict that faith: for example, I can think of some things I learned in church and school that, if not heretical, skirted the edge of heresy. (Like a Donatist understanding of the effects of the purity of ministers and clergy on the effectiveness of the sacraments, for example.) Having a theologian as a partner has made me realize that my own theological beliefs are not too far afield from the large tradition of the Western Church, and it has made me much more comfortable in the Roman church. It’s probably why I stay on the Anglican via media, halfway between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

Posted in Rayleejun on 12 February 2006 at 4:29 pm by Nate
9 February 2006

Seriously now…

I’m glad to see someone moving to confront the RC Church’s hangup over sex and sexuality. And the content of the lawsuit is potentially explosive:

…Halfway through the 44-page complaint, the priest-turned-advocate drops a bomb on the cardinal: He alleges that [New York archbishop Edward Cardinal] Egan is “actively homosexual,” and that he has “personal knowledge of this.” His suit names two other top Catholic clerics in the region as actively gay—Albany bishop Howard Hubbard and Newark archbishop John Myers.

It’s not that Hoatson has a problem with, as the suit puts it, “consensual, adult private sexual behavior by these defendants.”

No, what Hoatson claims is that, as leaders of a church requiring celibacy and condemning homosexuality, actively gay bishops are too afraid of being exposed themselves to turn in pedophile priests. The bishops’ closeted homosexuality, as the lawsuit states, “has compromised defendants’ ability to supervise and control predators, and has served as a reason for the retaliation.”

Does any serious person believe that Catholic priests are straight? Cardinals and bishops seem even more likely. Do straight men say, “I fell in love with the liturgy at a young age” (as Benedict XVI has said)?

None that I can think of.

Posted in Rayleejun on 9 February 2006 at 5:24 pm by Nate
5 February 2006

Christianist Donatism, of a sort

The Christianists are at it again.  And they’re behaving somewhat heretically, again.

If you didn’t read the Times the other day, there was an article about the new film “The End of the Spear.”  Here’s what’s going down:

Christian ministers were enthusiastic at the early private screenings
of “End of the Spear,” made by Every Tribe Entertainment, an
evangelical film company. But days before the film’s premiere, a
controversy erupted over the casting of a gay actor that has all but
eclipsed the movie and revealed fault lines among evangelicals.

The film relates the true story of five American missionaries who
were killed in 1956 by an indigenous tribe in Ecuador. The
missionaries’ families ultimately converted the tribe to Christianity,
and forgave and befriended the killers. The tale inspired evangelicals
40 years ago with its message of redemption and grace, and the film
company expected a similar reception.

On Jan. 12, though, the
Rev. Jason Janz took the filmmakers to task for casting Chad Allen, an
openly gay man and an activist, in the movie’s lead role as one of the
slain missionaries, and later, his grown son.

(Growing up in Sunday School, we heard this story of these missionaries numerous times, and their martyrdom was held up as an example to us.) (I might also note that I might not have seen the film, because I’m getting a bit concerned about Hollywood’s pursuit of the “Christian” audience, but Chad Allen is just yummy….)

That which seems to be the problem here is that some people deem the deliverer of the Gospel message to be unworthy to present it, and his unworthiness somehow invalidates the enterprise.

Let’s go back to the fourth century, to discuss a conflict between the Donatists and non-Donatists.  Wikipedia tells the story as well as anyone:

Their primary disagreement with the rest of the Church was over the
treatment of those who forsook their faith during the Persecution (303–305 AD) of Diocletian.
The rest of the Church was far more forgiving of these people than the
Donatists were. They refused to accept the sacraments and spiritual
authority of the priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith
during the persecution. Many church leaders had gone as far as turning
in Christians to the Roman authorities and had handed over sacred
religious texts to authorities to be publicly burned. These people were
called traditors (“people who had handed over”). These traditors had returned to positions of authority under Constantine, and the
Donatists proclaimed that any sacraments celebrated by these priests
and bishops were invalid. As a result, many towns were divided between
Donatist and non-Donatist congregations. The sect had particularly
developed and grown in North Africa. Constantine, as emperor, began to
get involved in the dispute, and in 314 he called a council atArles
in France; the issue was debated and the decision went against the
Donatists. The Donatists refused to accept the decision of the council,
their distaste for bishops who had collaborated with Rome came out of
their broader view of the Roman empire….

Augustine campaigned against this heterodox belief throughout his tenure as
bishop of Hippo, and through his efforts the Church gained the upper
hand. His view, which was also the majority view within the Church, was
that it was the office of priest, not the personal character of the
incumbent, that gave validity to the celebration of the sacraments.
This is the view that prevailed and has persisted to the present day….

The basic idea here is that the personal worthiness of the minister has no bearing on the worthiness or importance of the Christian message.  Sure, we should aim toward people who are virtuous, but their failure to live up to a code of virtue — especially one on which not all agree — does not affect the message, because the message is independent of the human messenger.  If it is a transcendant message, as Christians claim, then it must transcend the limitations of the messenger.

The Rev. Jason Janz seems to be skirting close to heresy, at least in some sense.  Perhaps he should go back to seminary for a bit more time.

Posted in Rayleejun on 5 February 2006 at 10:54 am by Nate
21 January 2006

Are you a heretic?

Find out if you are a heretic.

As for me,

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you’re not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant




























Posted in Rayleejun on 21 January 2006 at 2:04 pm by Nate
21 November 2005

Maybe we should all believe this

Would that we all believed that there is no God.

Believing there’s no God means I can’t really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories. That’s good; it makes me want to be more thoughtful. I have to try to treat people right the first time around….

Believing there is no God means the suffering I’ve seen in my family, and indeed all the suffering in the world, isn’t caused by an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent force that isn’t bothered to help or is just testing us, but rather something we all may be able to help others with in the future. No God means the possibility of less suffering in the future.

Believing there is no God gives me more room for belief in family, people, love, truth, beauty, sex, Jell-o and all the other things I can prove and that make this life the best life I will ever have.

I love the paradoxes of life, where the best of belief and unbelief look remarkably the same.

Posted in Rayleejun on 21 November 2005 at 11:03 pm by Nate
19 November 2005

DeLong does Jesus, sort of

Brad DeLong, Berkeley economics professor blogs about the new Narnia film. The film has raised lots of controversy among a certain brand of conservative Christian (the ones who, even at this apex of their power, complain of the anti-Christianness of American life and politics and culture).

(If you want to see an example of this carping, see an extended conversation at GetReligion, a blog I find pedantic and deceptive about its own objectivity, but which I read to get an idea of what those who disagree with me think.)

I just haven’t seen DeLong talk so directly (and Knowledgeably, on some level)about religion before. Or even to imply that there is a Christianity that has a sort of claim on him: “…but that Narnia is a kind of Christian that he (and I) do not like very much.”

Posted in Rayleejun on 19 November 2005 at 10:56 am by Nate
18 November 2005

Some, some, some

The Revealer posted this the other day:

All, All, All
14 November 2005
‘Jesus did not say, ‘If I be lifted up I will draw some.’ Jesus said, ‘If I be lifted up I will draw all, all, all, all, all.” Desmond Tutu, speaking in California, called upon the Anglican Church to embrace its gay bishop, Gene Robinson, and lamented the state of the Communion which instead seemed ‘hell-bent on excommunicating one another.’

However, we Christians have been altogether too good with “some, some, some.” Take a look at Diarmid MacCulloch’s well-reviewed and regarded history of the Reformation.Or read any history of the earlier Church, in its conciliar phase.

After the above development, matters progressed. First, we see the Global South primates attacking their first among equals.

The Times newspaper reported that the opposition came from 14 “Global South” primates headed by the ultra-conservative Nigerian archbishop, Dr Peter Akinola.

There are 38 primates in the Anglican Communion.

The letter, published on the Global South Anglican website on Wednesday night, urged Dr Williams to rethink his personal liberal views on homosexuality.

The letter said his “personal dissent” from the consensus of the wider Church that “same-sex sex is unacceptable” had stopped him from taking necessary steps to confront the US and Canadian churches.

And now, we see them not attacking the ABC.

But yesterday a number of those whose names appeared as signatories of the letter when it was published on the conservative Global South website reacted angrily to its appearance.

A number said that they had seen a draft of the letter when they met earlier this month at a Global South conference in Egypt, but had expressed unease with its threatening tone.

…other conservative primates are understood to be furious that the letter was released without their knowledge.

One questions, then: If we can’t agree on whether we agreed to agree to a letter, then why is it so unfathomable that we might disagree on matters of greater weight?

Posted in Rayleejun on 18 November 2005 at 12:48 am by Nate
1 July 2005

Unexpected agreeement

I don’t often agree with Christianity Today.  The crux of the
disagreement revolves around the place of GLBT… people in the life of
society and the church.  I find them far too close to the “please
stuff yourselves back in the closet” camp.  And actually, I
discussed this here with one of their editors a couple of years ago

But this last week, they took many of the “leaders” of the conservative evangelical camp to tack in one of their editorials:

George W. Bush is not Lord. The Declaration
of Independence is not an infallible guide to Christian faith and
practice. Nor is the U.S. Constitution, nor the U.N. Universal
Declaration on Human Rights. “Original intent” of America’s founders is
not the hermeneutical key that will guarantee national righteousness.
The American flag is not the Cross. The Pledge of Allegiance is not the
Creed. “God Bless America” is not the Doxology.

Sometimes one needs to state the obvious—especially at times when it’s less and less obvious.

…Let us be clear: The Christian citizen of every
nation has a moral obligation to engage at some level in that nation’s
political life. We do not recommend withdrawal from the political
arena. We admire especially those whose calling falls in this
area—mayors, councilmen, senators, representatives, presidents. Theirs
is as noble a calling as that of a plumber or pastor.

But Christians who enter that calling, and those who
pray for and work with them, must not forget one thing: where hope for
this nation, and the world, really lies, and where that hope is most
manifest Sunday by Sunday.

Yes.  Now I think they could have been more strenuous
about calling their fellow conservatives to task.  Who better that
CT to identify the idolatry of worldview that, although prevalent on
all points on the continuum, they are most familiar and engaged
with?  Who better than CT to use the word “idolatry”?Who better than CT to make a real difference here?

Posted in Rayleejun on 1 July 2005 at 2:03 pm by Nate
30 June 2005

This is why

I don’t have wonderfully fashioned arguments of logic and rhetoric to explain why I believe in the Resurrection.  But this demonstrates one of the reasons I believe.

James Tramel, an inmate at the California
State Prison-Solano, was ordained as a priest of the Episcopal Church
on June 18th. The service, the first of its kind in a California
prison, took place in a small courtyard off the prison’s visiting room
and was presided over by the Right Rev. William E. Swing, Bishop of the
Episcopal Diocese of California….

Tramel, 37, was convicted of second-degree
murder in 1986, after co-defendant David Kurtzman stabbed a man to
death in a Santa Barbara park. Tramel has served 19 years of a
15-to-life sentence, and was granted a March 2005 parole date by the
California Board of Prison Terms that was later reversed by California
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger….

Tramel’s ordination meant, Swing said, that
“a dark cloud floated away from the parents.  It meant the historic
connection between faith and prison is alive.  It meant a stole goes to
a new generation of priests.  It meant a witness of staggering hope to
prisoners who were onlookers.  It meant that Resurrection is not just
for the afterlife but here and now.”

Richard Dahl, an inmate and member of the Episcopal congregation in
the prison, said that Tramel’s ordination showed him “that even though
I’m down in this place, that there is hope. I’ve known James for three
years, and have watched him grow, and James has helped me know that
there is hope for me.”

After Tramel’s ordination, Swing relinquished his role as presider
and Tramel celebrated the Eucharist. Inmates from the prison
congregation presented grape juice and a croissant from the visiting
room’s vending machines to be used for communion. Referring to his role
as celebrant, Tramel said, “In that moment it felt like my whole life
was coming into focus. It felt like I was right where I was supposed to

…In the past when there was no priest available
to conduct services, the congregation would have Communion (also called
Eucharist) with bread that had been consecrated at a church outside the
prison. Now that Tramel is a priest, he will be consecrating the
Eucharist for the Episcopal worshipping community in Solano Prison.

I don’t think this necessarily happens often, but this sort of transformation defies expectation.

Posted in Rayleejun on 30 June 2005 at 12:09 pm by Nate
29 June 2005

A bit of the Gospel according to Messrs. Hewson, Evans, Clayton, and Mullen

For some reason, of late, I’ve been struck by a number of situations in
my life and in those of some of the people I know where they’ve had to
keep learning the message of surrendering in the face of Love. 
There’s a U2 lyric that has run through my head often as this has been
happening: “Love is not the easy thing/ The only baggage you can bring/
Is all that you can’t leave behind.”

Which of course resonates quite heavily in statements from the gospel
like “Those who wish to save their life will lose it, but those who
lose their life for my sake will find it.”  It’s profound and yet
obvious that real love — of family, friends, partner, God — can’t
happen until we drop all that we can of what we’re carrying.  And
we’ll find a way in that love to drop that which we think we
can’t.  One must stop holding tightly to things and people if one
wants to give and receive, because we only do those with open hands.

So it rang a little bell for me to find out that this continues to play out (glad for the pun) on the European leg of the Vertigo tour
While playing songs from Achtung Baby, the part of the show where
slogans have traditionally filled the huge video screens and flashed
through at high speed (“beLIEve” “Everything you know is wrong” “Watch
more TV”), that trend continues, but the message is vastly different.

There are dialogues in different colors:


As we learn how to fight “Them,” “They” go on telling lies, often
in red and black, and near the end the truth comes out, superimposed
over big white words like HOPE:
[and here I was expecting at last to get the ironic turn, the way “it’s
your world you can change it” used to shift to “charge it,” but, no,
the 90s are well and truly gone:]
gold and white. And then the thing reverses itself, and plays the
beginning backwards until “their” lies and “our” apathy/powerlessness
disappear into nothingness before your eyes.

That is how we overcome the power of the world we live
in–we live into love.  I was speaking with a friend a few days
ago, and he was talking about how the ultimate power is information,
how knowledge can defeat what one’s enemies throw at you, how
information is the ultimate tactical weapon, whether one is a state, a
person, an organization.  I remembered that love is stronger than
all that, because it removes us from needing or caring about the
tactics of advantage and dominion.  When we live into love, like
Oscar Romero or Aun San Suu Kyi, power and advantage and death cease to
have real meaning.

And you can learn this at a rock concert.

Posted in Rayleejun on 29 June 2005 at 1:38 pm by Nate