Monthly Archives: April 2012

UMC General Conference 2012 (GC2012): A family reunion

Savannah ApartmentA few years ago, our middle daughter spent a year at SCAD—the Savannah School of Art and Design—and we became acquainted with this stately city of the south that had escaped the destruction of the civil war.  We spent a frantic first weekend trying to find a suitable apartment to rent.  Sitting at a Waffle House near the airport on the morning of our scheduled departure, we remained frustrated and dissatisfied with everything we had seen to that point.  We decided to reschedule our flights and spend one more day looking.  It was worth the wait.  We found a huge third floor apartment in an antebellum mansion overlooking Forsyth Park with beautiful woodwork and two fireplaces, and the rent was surprisingly reasonable.

It was Savannah where John Wesley arrived in 1736 to begin his missionary work, and a uniquely American church was born with deep southern roots.  Today, twelve million United Methodists are the primary spiritual heirs of Wesley’s missionary efforts.

But, there are others who were torn away by the harsh realities of slavery and a church willing to abide by the racial mores of a different time.  At General Conference 2012 (GC2012), there will be a family reunion, of sorts, and old wounds will be redressed.  A full communion agreement is expected to pass with overwhelming support that would establish a formal bond with several African-American denominations that also are progeny of Wesley’s early church.

An affirmative vote would establish a new relationship among the African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, African Union Methodist Protestant, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Union American Methodist Episcopal and United Methodist denominations.

“I think it’s important and significant because our family in the United States is not united, and there are reasons why this is so,” said retired United Methodist Bishop Alfred L. Norris Sr., who leads the Pan-Methodist Commission.

Most of those reasons center around racism, he noted, with the other denominations “started as a response, reaction, revolt against inhumane treatment in the Methodist family.”

Bishop George WalkerA year ago, I was a voting member at my own denominational national convention, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Orlando.  One of the highlights was the address by Bishop George Walker of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.  He received a long and warm standing ovation.

Bishop Walker’s presence was both the culmination of five years of dialogue with the AME Zion Church, and also the prelude to scheduled meetings in Salisbury, North Carolina between leaders of the two denominations.  On the 16th of September, 2011, the leaders celebrated what promises to be an “unprecedented agreement between historically white and black churches” in a communion service at St. John’s Lutheran Church of Salisbury.

The mutuality expressed at the religious service and also at the discussions the following day are the result of a fortuitous geographical commonality. Salisbury is home to AME Zion’s Hood Seminary, Livingstone College, and the ELCA’s North Carolina Synod Headquarters. Rubbing elbows together in the same small city led to friendships which in turn led to the current discussions.Bishops Hanson and Walker depart the Covenant Service

Georene Jones, a St. John’s member and student in the theological studies program at Hood Theological Seminary, called Friday’s service an “absolute affirmation of what I believe.”

“It gives me great hope for the future of the church,” she said. “This is a culmination of my hopes and dreams.”

The ELCA and the UMC have been full communion partners since 2009.

UMC General Conference (GC2012): Daily Report April 27

Before we get to the day’s news, we begin with a bit of history.

In 1975, The first Methodist gay caucus meeting took place at Wheadon UMC Church of Evanston, Illinois near the Northwestern University campus.  Steve Webster*, a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, was the principal organizer.  Steve had been featured in a New York Times article earlier when his attempt to enroll in seminary was rejected because he was an out gay.

“This is not the end of my ministry, but more of a beginning,” he said to the New York Times.

Webster would fulfill his promise and pursue a life of ministry, but not in the manner he expected. Ordination in the UMC would remain beyond his grasp, and Webster’s ministry would be as a lifelong advocate for gays within the Methodist Church. It started when Webster and Richard Cash organized the first national gathering of gay Methodists. For a mailing list, Webster used the return addresses from the numerous letters of support he had received in response to the New York Times article.

“I got ahold of one of those old mimeograph stencils and rolled it into my Smith-Corona typewriter and carefully typed up a flyer about the meeting,” Webster would later reminisce.

Their efforts bore fruit in the summer of 1975 when nearly twenty gay Methodists gathered at Wheadon Church. That meeting was the birth of The United Methodist Gay Caucus, soon to be renamed Affirmation, and The Reconciling Congregation Project (RCP) would be a later outgrowth in the 1980’s. At a second meeting that year in Kansas City, others joined the group. Their primary activities in 1975 were to prepare for a ministry of presence at the 1976 UMC General Conference in Portland.

Love Your Neighbor LogoOne positive development at GC 1976 would be networking with like-minded groups. Common worship services were conducted with the Women’s Caucus, the Young Adult Caucus, and the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA).  That tradition of cooperative, collective action by progressives continues.  At GC2012, the “Common Witness Coalition” includes Affirmation and Reconciling Ministries Network—the spiritual heirs of that first meeting in 1975—and the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, the National Federation of Asian-American United Methodists, and the Native American International Caucus.

They jointly publish a paper newsletter—Neighbor News– distributed at GC2012 and also online—click here.

Yesterday, the Coalition sprang to action in an impromptu demonstration.  Three hundred demonstrators lined the hallways as the plenary hall emptied.  The day before, the schedule included time for “Holy Conversations” regarding human sexuality, spread over a number of meeting rooms.  In some of the rooms, holy conversation did, indeed, take place.  In others, however, gays were bullied and derided.

“After the holy conversations yesterday, there were a number of people who felt abused in what we believed was intended to be a truly holy conversation space,” said Marla Marcum of Lexington, Mass., a volunteer coordinator for the Love Your Neighbor–Common Witness Coalition that organized the demonstration. “But for whatever reason, in many, many of the rooms, that was not borne out, and delegates and observers were bullied and … (some were) met with derision and scorn.”

For full treatment of the failed conversations and the ensuing demonstration, check out the blog post by Tim Tanton on the UMC News Service website.

As a positive note, there were two “firsts” in the honored laity speakers on Tuesday.  Betty Spiwe Katiyo was the first African laity address presenter and Amory Peck, the lay leader of the Pacific Northwest Conference, was the first lesbian—though she doubts everyone knew that–and she regrets that she wasn’t able to use her speech to note that fact.

I was sad that I could not say that openly. But the Laity Address is about bringing people together. Of course gays and lesbians are active in the church, but there is fearfulness in being open about it. I wish we could lift the silence because the silence is crushing.

 

*Steve Webster is present at GC2012.  For Conference attendees, stop by the Coalition tabernacle and look him up and ask about the early history.

A Jew and a Methodist …

I’m borrowing this line from Ariel Vegosen, a Jewish woman attending the UMC Conference in Tampa (GC2012).  She states, “I am here as a Jewish ally to support divestment and to support my Methodist brothers and sisters as they make this important and historic decision.”

With American support for Israel an unquestioned historical and political reality, one must be brave or foolish to raise concern for Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.  Yet, that is what Vegosen is doing, and she is at the Conference to encourage those who promote divestment from US companies perceived to sustain the illegal and immoral occupation of Palestinian lands.

Of course, divestment was a means of financial protest that contributed to the fall of South African apartheid a generation ago.

Two years ago at the Presbyterian General Assembly, I spent a couple of hours at the Cokesbury bookstore signing copies of my novel, A Wretched Man.  Two other authors were present at the same time, Gustav Niebuhr from the famous Niebuhr family, and Mark Braverman.  Like Vegosen, Braverman is a Jew who attended a Christian convention to advocate for Christians to denounce Israeli policies detrimental to the Palestinians.  Braverman’s book is entitled, Fatal Embrace, Christians, Jews and the search for peace in the Holy Land.

A couple of voices crying in the wilderness worth listening to.  Click on their names above to hear their voices.

UMC General Conference (GC2012): Daily Report April 26

Speeches and setting procedural rules dominated Wednesday.  One potential rule was curious, and I’ll discuss in a moment with historical perspective.  First, a couple of items borrowed from others.

Chained ChurchPastor Amy DeLong of Wisconsin was tried last year and received very light penalties for officiating at a “holy union” of two lesbians.  In the late nineties, Methodist pastor Jimmy Creech was “defrocked” for precisely the same thing, so there is progress even if the underlying rules haven’t changed.  Amy has posted this photo of a “chained church” on her Love on Trial website.  Apparently, many attendees of the Conference snapped photos.

Second, the largest LGBT Methodist advocacy group is the Reconciling Ministries Network.  Their blog contains an “Open Letter from an Open Lesbian”, and Amory Peck writes,

“I’d like you to know a bit about how I’m feeling as I approach Holy Conferencing on human sexuality at the General Conference. The main feeling is dread. As one of the LGBT persons who will be attending, it’s hard to head into a conversation where I’m seen as “the problem.” Where I, and the others, will be identified as the troublesome “they.”

Now to the curious procedural rule proposal.  Tampa will also be the scene of the Republican national convention later this summer, and the City of Tampa announced the designation of a demonstration free zone.  Some delegates unsuccessfully proposed a similar rule that would prohibit floor demonstrations.  LGBT advocates and allies have a long tradition of such demonstrations.  In fact, the details are usually negotiated ahead of time with the church hierarchy.

The first floor demonstration was at the General Conference in Louisville in 1992.  Holding aloft a thirty foot banner that read, “The Stones Will Cry Out”[1], thirty or more gay supporters proceeded to the dais, singing and encouraging others to stand. At that time, the visitors in the plenary hall probably outnumbered the delegates, and they nearly all rose to their feet in support.

There is a conservative “gatekeeper” organization that should be mentioned.  It is not specifically Methodist and also lobbies within the Presbyterian Church, Episcopal Church, and the UCC.  It is called the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) and has been around since the nineties.  There are some who suggest this organization is primarily political but uses religious “wedge” issues to drive an essentially economic agenda.  By frightening folks in the pews over gay issues, their underlying goal is to mute the otherwise progressive impulses of the church regarding economic justice issues.

the work of the IRD is to intensify suspicion of the Christian integrity of denominational leadership.  The goal of its donors is not the strengthening of united witness but the weakening of any resistance to the rightward swing of American politics, especially on matters of economics.

For them, changing the leadership and public voice of the mainline denominations is part of a broader undertaking to silence all effective forms of progressive opposition to the right-ward turn in national policy.[2]

In any case, IRD is there to offer counterpoint to the “universalism”, “pansexual agenda”, and  “the hotspot of revisionist activity” that it perceives in the gay advocates (from the IRD blog).


[1] You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. The very stones will cry out from the wall, and the plaster will respond from the woodwork. Habakkuk 2:10-11 (NRSV).

[2] John B. Cobb, Jr., professor of theology emeritus, Claremont School of Theology, quoted in Hard Ball on Holy Ground, a collection of essays exposing this suspicious organization. One of the hallowed founders of IRD was the exceedingly rich, exceedingly right-wing, deceased political columnist Robert Novak, an ardent Roman Catholic.

(GC2012) UMC Episcopal Address–a look back to 1980

After the opening of the UMC General Conference (GC2012) yesterday, the plenary today begins with the traditional “episcopal” address.  This is a collective message from the bishops to the church, with a designee to deliver the address.  Seldom is the process controversial, but it was back at the General Conference in 1980.  At that time, the episcopal address included affirmation of the “incompatibility” clause from General Conference 1972—which has undergirded Methodist policy toward gays ever since.

We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice to be incompatible with Christian teaching.

The episcopal address of 1980 became controversial when Bishop Melvin Wheatley of Denver objected, vigorously and vociferously, to the affirmation of the policy and the language.

I will not accept [this statement]. It states as an absolute fact what is an insufficiently documented opinion: that gay persons can’t be Christians … I personally know not one, but at least 50 gay men and lesbians who are Christians…I take Jesus Christ very seriously in making judgments, and the more seriously I take him the stronger is my feeling that this statement is an inadequate representation of Christianity.

In the next several years, Bishop Wheatley came under fire from conservatives.  Charges were filed against him, but they were dismissed.  His actions included ordination of an open lesbian in 1982.  So far as I can tell, this remains the only ordination of an out gay person in the UMC.  He also assisted an ordained pastor who had been outed and fired by his congregation (see below).

At the next General Conference in 1984, the UMC enacted a resolution that stated unequivocally that gays could not be ordained.  Many left the ministry at that time and other candidates were dissuaded.  An anonymous Methodist seminarian spoke to the chilling effect of GC 1984’s overt rejection of gay clergy on his own career plan as well as others.

There were all kinds of possibilities until 1984 when the church said, “We don’t want you.” It was then when I began to reconsider whether I would seek appointment to a local church … It also affected other people who had to decide to keep in the fight or to look in other directions; and it affected, I think, whether a lot of gay/lesbian folks considered going into ordained ministry or not and said, “It’s just not worth the fight. (quoted by Gary David Comstock, Unrepentant, Self-Affirming, Practicing: Lesbian/Bisexual/Gay People within Organized Religion)

The gay pastor befriended and assisted by Bishop Wheatley in the early eighties was Julian Rush.  His story has been told in Julian Rush–Facing the Music a Gay Methodist Minister’s Story by Lee Hart Merrick.  Before his ouster, Pastor Rush had great success as a youth leader.  His youth groups often performed religious musicals written and directed by Rush.  Often, they took their show on the road with great success.  The following are lyrics from one of Pastor Rush’s musicals.

Being down is like down on the ground

With nobody, no place to go;

When the big creatures push you around,

And they make you feel … Oh, I don’t know,

It’s a feeling that’s more like a pain in your heart,

And you feel like … you feel like … a worm.

Now an ant is an ant

And a worm is a worm

But an ant has to crawl

And a worm has to squirm,

So an ant shouldn’t bother

Befriending a worm

Since a worm cannot crawl

And an ant cannot squirm

We’re different and different we’ll stay,

It’s just God’s will.

It’s just God’s way.

From The Resurrection Thing by Julian Rush

UMC Conference (GC2012) and gays: three views

UMC logoWill this be the year?  Of the five principal mainline denominations, the Methodists are the last to allow gay clergy.  Next week, the General Conference begins in Tampa, and I present three views from around the blogosphere.

First, my own slice of history.

In 1972, a gay Methodist pastor, defrocked by his own conference in Texas, took his case to the General Conference.  He was rejected there also, and the tired delegates late in the session enacted a resolution that has haunted Methodist policy ever since.

We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice to be incompatible with Christian teaching.

Subsequent Conference actions over the years “piled on”.  In 1976, a “no-funding” resolution was passed that prohibited use of national church funds for …

any ‘gay’ caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.

In 1984, after a Denver bishop had ordained a lesbian, a General Conference resolution responded,

Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.

In 1996, clergy were prohibited from performing covenant ceremonies, and in the late nineties, Pastor Jimmy Creech of Nebraska was defrocked for doing so and Pastor Greg Dell of Chicago was suspended.  I will be having lunch with pastor Dell next week.  In 2011, Wisconsin Pastor Amy DeLong was also convicted of performing a covenant ceremony, but her punishment was a mere slap on the wrist compared to the Creech and Dell cases.

Here’s a link to the first blog post, which is actually on the UMC official website.  It doesn’t take a position but goes into greater detail about the past history.

Traditionalist Tim Tennant, President of Asbury Seminary (an independent, evangelical seminary that trains many Methodists), suggests the Methodists need some “old time religion”.  His post offers three suggestions that may be summarized as imposing a conservative litmus test for seminarians: a) the UMC “must insist that all United Methodist Seminaries (official and approved) embody a truly Wesleyan ethos and theology which is faithful to our history,” b)  “the bishops must certify that all pastors are historically orthodox,” and c) “the Seminaries who train United Methodist clergy must reclaim biblical preaching.”  There’s more, but you get the drift.

KatalystFinally, here’s a link to back issues of Katalyst, the quarterly newsletter of the Reconciling Ministries Network.  Here’s a sampler from the last newsletter from an article written by Bishop Melvin Talbert:

For forty years, ten quadrennia, our church has continued its discriminating and hurtful language in our Book of Discipline. How long will it be for our church to become the shining light of justice for GLBTQ people in our midst? Our church will not glorify God by its witness as long as we deny the full inclusion of all persons, specifically GLBTQs, in all aspects of our life together. The world is watching, and so are our daughters, sons, granddaughters, and grandsons. We are called to love our neighbors. Is that too much to ask?

ELCA increases budget

Budgets are set by the biennial churchwide assembly.  During the two year biennium between assemblies, the church council may act to make revisions as necessary or appropriate.  News out of the recent council meeting is that a mid-year adjustment upwards is in the works.

The church council chair said, “This is very good news. We are in a position to grow our ministries.” He added that the increases are a result of good stewardship and faithful giving.

The annual budget has two main components: general fund and world hunger.  The general fund budget will be increased $1.3 million and the world hunger budget increased by $1.4 million.  Overall, this represents about a 4% increase.  The increases follow a fiscal year-end report (January 31) that showed a $4 million surplus in operating funds.

These increases follow several years of austerity measures due to the recession economy and the reaction of certain congregations to withhold funds or withdraw from the ELCA after the denomination adopted gay-friendly policies in 2009.  The current report indicates that these negative factors may have bottomed out, and the church finances are again growing.

Catholic hierarchy out of touch

While watching the Republican primary season play out, one exit poll item caught my eye.  Rick Santorum, the self-avowed Roman Catholic traditionalist, repeatedly lost the Catholic vote … to a Mormon!  Similarly, during the flap over contraception coverage in the Affordable Health Care Act that riled up the Catholic Bishops, public polls showed 60% of Roman Catholics supported the provision.  Clearly, there appears to be a disconnect between the hard-line conservatism of the bishops/hierarchy and the folks in the pews.

Recently a gay man who served on the board of Catholic Charities quit in a highly-public rebuke of Cardinal Dolan of the archdiocese of New York.

A day before Easter, the head of New York’s Roman Catholic archdiocese faced a challenge to his stance on gay rights: the resignation of a church charity board member who says he’s “had enough” of the cardinal’s attitude.

Joseph Amodeo told The Associated Press on Saturday that he quit the junior board of the city’s Catholic Charities after Cardinal Timothy Dolan failed to respond to a “call for help” for homeless youths who are not heterosexual.

Today, Amodeo, the gay man, speaks out in a Huff Post blog entitled “The Pulpit vs. the Pews”.  He basically makes the case that there is strong and widespread support for gays within the Catholic laity and the hierarchy is simply out of touch.  His post begins with a personal story from a few years ago; his role as a Christian educator was questioned and resulted in a public hearing in the church.

The priest called a meeting of the parish on a weeknight and asked that anyone who had concerns related to my teaching should speak up publicly. The night of the meeting, I entered a packed Church and slowly made my way to a pew where I sat next to my father. As the meeting began, one-by-one congregants rose and expressed their real concern: why this was even an issue. The reality is that my experience from nearly a decade ago is representative of the vast majority of Roman Catholics. We live in a Church that is called to welcome and affirm people’s humanity and identity without exception.

Amodeo also blames the press for assuming that bishops speak for the people.

It further saddens me to think that the voices of some bishops are seen as representative of all Catholic people when in reality the vast majority of Catholics support their LGBT brothers and sisters, as evidenced by a growing number of studies. A recent study released by GLAAD showed more than 50 percent of Catholic voices presented in the media offer a negative view on LGBT issues when in reality a majority of American Catholics support LGBT equality.

How is it that the Catholic hierarchy has lost touch?  Twenty years ago, I was in the midst of graduate studies with the Benedictines of St. John’s Abbey and University School of Theology.  Over lunch or coffee, I heard a recurring lament from the Catholic grad students … that the current pope was appointing reactionary bishops and the progressive spirit of Vatican II was being reversed.  That process has continued under the current pope.  Thus, since 1978, there has been a remaking of the entire episcopate under two conservative popes.

Conservative Lutheran denominations such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Synod (WELS) have stridently anti-Catholic histories.  During her failed campaign, Republican Michelle Bachman resigned from her Wisconsin Synod congregation over the embarrassment that it remained WELS official policy that the papacy was the anti-Christ.  Thus, it is a fascinating sign of the times that a group of Missouri Synod pastors, congregations, the LCMS district superintendent, and a seminary professor will march to the steps of the Fort Wayne Cathedral to show support for the local Catholic bishop and diocese in their opposition to the contraceptive portions of Obamacare.

Right wing politics makes strange bedfellows.

One week ‘til UMC General Conference

Since the UMC meets as a national body only once every four years, their quadrennial conferences stretch over two weeks.  The first week centers around committee meetings and hearings, and the actual plenary sessions take place the second week.

I will be there for the second week and plan to post frequently.

Last week, I posted about a Reconciling Congregation (Foundry) in D.C. that has prepared a series of personal stories captured on video.

Since I will have no official status (press?), I will move around a lot at the Conference, but I plan to hang out at the Common Witness Coalition Tent.  “Common Witness” is a coalition of progressive organizations that pool resources at the convention.  I look forward to seeing some old friends and meeting many new ones.  Here’s a link to their website, and the video embedded below is their production.

Why did Paul persecute the early church?

When I wrote my historical novel about Paul the apostle (A Wretched Man),  I wrestled with some thorny historical questions, including this one.  Last month, I was asked to read and review Bart Ehrman’s Did Jesus Exist I once again encountered the question, and I found Ehrman’s answer to be less than convincing.

First, some background.  Paul twice mentioned his role as persecutor but without any details.  As with much of his writing, Paul assumed his listeners already knew the story so he didn’t elaborate.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians,

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1 Cor 15:9 (NRSV)

In the most autobiographical of his writings, Paul speaks to the Galatians,

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. Gal 1:13 (NRSV)

In neither instance, does Paul offer a clue as to what he did, exactly, or why he did it.

the-stoning-of-stephen-by-rembrandt-1625Of course, the Acts of the Apostles goes into much greater detail: Jerusalem persecution, stoning of Stephen, sent to Damascus by the High Priest to arrest the followers of Jesus, etc.

The common assumption is that Paul persecuted the early followers of Jesus because they claimed he was the long-expected messiah.  Does that really make sense? Why would such a claim have been offensive to Paul or the Hebrew populace? While that may have been the reason why the Romans and their puppets, the High Priest and his crowd, feared Jesus and caused his execution, that hardly explains why Paul and the populace would have persecuted his followers after his death.

Ehrman initially agrees,

There was nothing blasphemous about calling a Jewish teacher the messiah. That happened on and off throughout the history of Judaism, and it still happens in our day. In itself, the claim that someone is the messiah is not blasphemous or, necessarily, problematic (though it may strike outsiders—and usually does—as a bit crazed).

This statement strikes me as eminently reasonable and debunks the traditional assumption that the early church was persecuted because they claimed Jesus had been the messiah. There has to be more to it.

Ehrman’s response is that the claim that Jesus was the crucified messiah is what greatly offended Paul and the others, because no strain of traditional Jewish messianic expectations suggested a crucified messiah.  While that may well be true, I fail to see the offense.  Here is where I part with Ehrman.  If anything, such a claim would only make its proponents sound even crazier but hardly blasphemous to the point of widespread persecution and arrest.

Back to Stephen.

What did Stephen do or say that caused his arrest and execution?  Why did they “stir up the people against him”?  Because he spoke “blasphemous words against God and Moses,” “against this holy place and the law,” and because he said that Jesus would “destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed down.”

No where was there any complaint that he claimed Jesus was the messiah, crucified or not.  The charges against him were that he denied the basic tenets of Hebrew religion … adherence to the law of Moses and temple sacrifice.  In Stephen’s long speech to the Sanhedrin, he concluded,

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears … You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

There could be no greater offense than to question circumcision and failure to keep the law.  Stephen challenged the basic Hebrew self-understanding and thus their standing before God.  To a devout Pharisee, zealous for the law, as Paul claimed to be, this was the crux of the matter.  This would also tie in closely with Paul’s Damascus road experience, in which his life took a 180 degree turn away from zealotry for the law to his law-free gospel message.  Furthermore, it also ties in with the ongoing conflict between Paul and the “mother church” back in Jerusalem over the requirements of circumcision and dietary niceties.

That’s my answer, Professor Ehrman’s opinion notwithstanding, and that was also the answer I proposed in the Wretched Man novel.