Monthly Archives: November 2012

“I’m not a scientist, man”

Galileo by Giusto SustermansEver since the Roman Inquisition decreed that Galileo was “vehemently suspect of heresy” for suggesting the sun stood still while the earth revolved around it, the interplay of science and religious belief has been problematic for the church.  In the ensuing centuries as the age of reason, of enlightenment, and of rationalism dominated western thought, church folk could either accept or reject scientific data, and Christians inexorably moved into one of two camps.

The nineteenth century witnessed the rise of “liberal Protestantism” which freely embraced science and empiricism … faith seeking understanding.  Scripture was subjected to scientific and historical analysis, the so-called “historical critical method.”  For this camp, it was “both-and.”

For others, the dilemma was easily solved: If science contradicted traditional, Biblical understanding, science must be rejected.  For this camp, it was “either-or.”

The Presbyterians in the 1920s served as proxy for the whole of Christendom in the so-called “Fundamentalist-Modernist” controversy.  Presbyterian scholars chafed under imposed dogmatic “fundamentals.” Emanating from Auburn University, theologians circulated a document proclaiming the freedom of conscience and the right of dissent—the so-called “Auburn Affirmation.”  A commission was formed, and the 1927 Presbyterian General Assembly adopted the commission’s progressive report; the modernists had prevailed and the fundamentalists had lost.

    But the rift in Christianity wasn’t healed, and the two camps grew further apart.  Historian David Hollinger suggests using the terminology “ecumenical” for the progressives and “evangelical” for the conservatives.  The terms imply an outward versus insular attitude.  In the Church of England decision this week to preclude female bishops, the “evangelical” camp prevailed.  In the recent legislative wrangling within the modern-day Presbyterian Church over LGBT ordination, the evangelicals lost; this was also the recent experience of the Episcopal Church, the Lutherans of the ELCA, and the United Church of Christ.  All these “ecumenical” denominations have endorsed gay clergy.  Meanwhile, evangelical Christianity continues to loudly defend its non-scientific worldview.

This is the religious background to the political point of this post.

In the last generation, the United States has witnessed the rise of the religious right.  More than that, evangelical religionists have come to occupy a dominant position within the Republican party.  When presumably intelligent and educated Senator Marco Rubio visited Iowa this week, he professed ignorance when asked a simple scientific question about the age of the earth:

“I’m not a scientist, man … It’s one of the great mysteries …  It is a dispute among theologians.”

Nobel prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman responds,  “What about the geologists?”

Here is the profoundly frightening part.  By wedding itself to the evangelicals, the Republican party has embraced ignorance, and Marco Rubio is constrained to play dumb for fear of alienating the Iowa base.  Krugman puts it this way:

Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party.

Evolution versus creationism and global warming are obvious public policy issues affected by Republican know-nothingism.  Less obvious is economic theory: austerity versus stimulus during a down economy or the lack of evidence to support supply-side, trickle down policies.  As with their evangelical religionist cronies, the Republican preference is for dogma over empiricism.

Lest we dismiss Krugman as just another liberal Democrat, consider the sentiments of Ross Douthat, one of the handful of Republican commentators willing to acknowledge the emperor wears no clothes.

The fact that the “conservatives vs. science” framework is frequently unfair doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist, or that Republican politicians should just get a free pass for tiptoeing around it. No matter how you spin it, Rubio’s bets-hedging non-answer isn’t exactly a great indicator about the state of the party he might aspire to lead … it’s still neither politically helpful nor intellectually healthy for a minority political party to pick pointless fights with the nation’s scientific and technical elite.

So much for the vacuous impact on public policy wrought by the marriage of evangelicals and politicians.  What about the impact on religious institutions?  On religion itself?  Evangelicals love to beat their chest and point to declining membership in the ecumenical denominations in a post-Christian America.  But it is not just the old mainline denominations—it is Christianity and religion in general.  We have previously posted about this issue and quoted a review of the recent book American Grace which:

makes the case that the alliance of religion with conservative politics is driving young adults away from religion …. Among the conclusions [of a major survey] is this one: “The association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”

And Douthat the Republican agrees:

the goal of Christianity is supposed to be the conversion of every human heart — yes, scientists and intellectuals included — and the central claim of Christianity is that the faith offers, not a particular political agenda or an economic program, but the true story of the world entire. The more Christians convince themselves that their faith’s core is identical with the modern innovation of fundamentalism, and in direct conflict with the best available modern biology and geology, the less attainable that goal and the less tenable that central claim.

A family story

Before my wife and I head out to spend Thanksgiving with our three adult children (and son-in-law and granddaughter), I’ll note the passing of a family anniversary.

RMS BalticIn April, 1912, the RMS Titanic of the White Star Line struck an iceberg and sank.  Seven months later, the RMS Baltic, a sister ship in the White Star Line, departed Liverpool bound for New York City.  Like her younger sister, the Baltic had once been the largest ship in the world.  Among many other Scandinavians on board, a pair of Swedish brothers, eighteen-year-old Olaf and his older brother Jens, had worked their way to Liverpool to seek their fortune in the New World.  They left their parents and other siblings behind in southern Sweden.

After passing through Ellis Island on November 12, 1912—a century ago–the brothers sought an uncle in the Hartford, Ct., area who had come to America earlier.  Olaf took the name Lofquist.  Soon, Jens would return to the homeland, but Olaf stubbornly remained.  When WWI intervened, Olaf served in the American army before settling in Minnesota where many Swedish communities thrived.  In 1925, he married Hilma of Upsala, Minnesota, the daughter of Wilhelm and Adelina, Swedish immigrants a generation earlier.

For awhile, Olaf and Hilma lived in Southwestern Minnesota near Redwood Falls, where Olaf and a partner operated a face-brick factory.  In 1929, Marilyn was born, the third daughter of Olaf and Hilma.  Marilyn was my mother.  Around 1930, Olaf received a letter from his sister in Sweden.  Their mother had died.  In response, Olaf wrote a poignant letter that is now a family treasure.

Olaf and Hilma would birth three more daughters before tragedy struck.  With the depression, the brick factory closed, and Olaf became a game warden, and the family moved to the woodlands of northern Minnesota.  In January, 1936, Olaf was a passenger in a car driven by another game warden as they headed to court in Aitkin, Minnesota, to testify in a trial of poachers they had arrested.  The car skidded on ice into the path of a train, and Olaf was killed.

Great-Grandpa Wilhelm with Obie & MikeHilma’s brother picked up Hilma and her daughters, and they returned to the family farm near Upsala, but soon the farm would be lost to depression-era foreclosure.  Using insurance proceeds from Olaf’s death, Hilma bought a house in town, and that was where she raised her daughters, along with her father Wilhelm who had lost the farm and who became a surrogate father for my mother and her sisters.  Years later, I lived in that house for awhile.  This is a picture of great-grandfather Wilhelm with my brother and me standing outside the Upsala café called “Hilma’s Eat Shop.”

In 1976, my mom and my dad spent six weeks in Sweden, visiting Holmen and Lofquist relatives.  Mom discovered Olaf’s living siblings and their children—her aunts and uncles and first cousins.  The circle was closed.  Since then, many of our Swedish kin have visited us in the U.S.–some three or four times.  Our two daughters, Karin and Greta, bear the names of two of mom’s cousins that she met in Sweden.  Our son, Haldan Robert Lofquist Holmen, keeps Olaf’s adopted last name alive.

Last Sunday, my sister Sue arranged for Skype sessions with many of the Swedes to remember the 100th anniversary of Olaf’s journey.  Though he never returned and never again saw his parents and siblings, he would be pleased to know that the circle is unbroken.

Female English Bishops? UPDATE: FAIL

In 1558, Queen Elizabeth I came to power, and one of her first acts was to establish herself as head of the English church, rather than the pope.  Successfully fighting off Catholic claimants, “Good Queen Bess” ruled for more than half a century, and the Church of England was born.

Two centuries later, Samuel Seabury was a priest of the Church of England, born and bred in the English colony of Connecticut.  When the revolutionary war broke out, he remained loyal to the crown and spent some time as a captive of the rebels.  But, when the colonists proved victorious, he saw which way the wind was blowing and switched allegiance to the now independent nation.  When fellow priests elected him to be their bishop, an ecclesiastical problem arose.  There were no other bishops around to consecrate him; thus, he sailed off to England, but the English bishops also refused to consecrate him because Parliament required that all bishops of the Church of England pledge allegiance to the crown.  Scottish Anglicans already chafed under English rule, and they sent word that they would consecrate Seabury, and that was how the first bishop of the Episcopal Church was consecrated in 1789, the same year the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

That was also the start of what came to be known as the Anglican Communion.  The American Church became the first body of Anglicans, with historical ties to the Church of England, that was not subject to her authority and control.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Church of England, was recognized as the titular and ceremonial leader.

Today, the Anglican Communion consists of thirty-eight international “Provinces” with recent growth concentrated in the third world.  Therein lies the problem with international unity.  The third-world Anglicans are decidedly conservative in their views of female ordination and LGBT issues generally, and recent years have seen a conservative splinter of Anglicans internationally and domestically.

The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Province of the United States, is perhaps the most progressive of all thirty-eight provinces along with Canada and Scotland, and the mother church, the Church of England, is a mostly progressive province but with significant conservative dioceses.  In 1988, the Episcopal Church consecrated the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion.  Diminutive Rev. Barbara Harris reportedly was encouraged to wear a bullet-proof vest during the ceremony.  That she was female with liberal views was probably a greater affront to the conservatives than that she was black.

Every ten years, the Archbishop of Canterbury invites approximately 800 Anglican bishops from around the world to a conference named for Lambeth, the district where the Archbishop’s palace is located.  At Lambeth 1998, the Archbishop invited eight female bishops from the U.S. and one from Canada.  Lambeth ‘98 also witnessed a third-world uprising that bashed the United States and adopted a virulently homophobic resolution.

Outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has barely kept the lid on a bubbling cauldron.  Several third world provinces refused to attend Lambeth 2008 and set up their own rival conference.  The dissident conference also established the Anglican Church in North America as a rival to the Episcopal Church.  A few Episcopal Bishops and their dioceses have bolted the Episcopal Church for the conservative alternative, which has not been recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion.

Future Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin WelbyArchbishop Williams suggested that his successor would need the “skin of a rhinoceros.”  Whether the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby has that anatomical necessity remains to be seen, but the next Archbishop of Canterbury has urged his own Church of England to follow other progressive provinces in allowing female bishops.

Speaking during a marathon debate ahead of Tuesday afternoon’s vote at Church House in Westminster, Welby, the bishop of Durham, said the measure on the table was “as good as we are going to get”.

But, drawing on his own experience in the evangelical wing of the church, he said he would do all he could to ensure the minority of traditionalists were provided for. The final approval vote – the most important the church has faced in the 20 years since it decided to ordain women as priests – is on a knife-edge.

“It is time to finish the job and vote for this measure,” he said. “But, also, the Church of England needs to show how to develop the mission of the church in a way that demonstrates we can manage diversity of view without division. Diversity in amity; not diversity in enmity.”

Stay tuned.

UPDATE:  Polity influences policy.  How organizations make policy decisions affects what decisions are made.  This principle was proved again yesterday when the Church of England rejected female bishops.

Within the General Synod of the Church of England, three separate constituencies voted on the question.  The House of Bishops voted overwhelmingly for (44-3), the clergy voted overwhelmingly for (148-45 77%-23%), but the measure also required a concurrence of 2/3 of the laity, and the house of laity vote failed by a mere six votes (132-74 64% –36%).  Church leaders were stunned:

Tony Baldry, the Conservative MP who is responsible for speaking for the synod in parliament, said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for him to explain the church’s current predicament to MPs. He has previously warned it would be difficult for him to defend the guaranteed place for bishops in the Lords.

While some have suggested the move could even call into question its status as the established church, Baldry said he thought the bigger risk was simple “disinterest”. “I think the great danger for the church following this vote is that it will be increasingly seen as just like any other sect,” he said.

A source close to the culture secretary, Maria Miller, who is also minister for women and equalities, said: “While this is a matter for the church, it’s very disappointing. As we seek to help women fulfil their potential throughout society this ruling would suggest the church is at the very least behind the times.” When the measure was put to the church’s 44 dioceses earlier this year, 42 approved.

A ComRes poll in July found that 74% of respondents thought female clerics should be able to attain the highest reaches of the church. The bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, said the failed vote could make the church look even more outdated. “This is a very sad day indeed, not just for those of us who support the ministry of women, but for the future of the church, which might very well be gravely damaged by this,” he said.

Conservative entertainment complex

Were you shocked by the election results?  If so, perhaps you should stop watching Fox News.

David Frumm is a Republican writer for the Daily Beast and Newsweek, and he coined the phrase, “conservative entertainment complex” to describe media personalities and organizations whose financial motivations (i.e., ratings) color their pseudo-political news and commentary.  What is reported and how is dictated by audience share rather than responsible journalism.  Frumm suggests that the Republican cause was ill served by dishonest appraisals of the issues and the electorate.  Actually, Frumm’s language is robust: “Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex.”

Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and Glen Beck are unnamed but obvious candidates for the “conservative entertainment complex” criticized by Frumm.  Their bombast is meant to entertain rather than inform.

What about Fox News, the most-watched cable news network?  Apparently, CNN or other network news programming was streaming in the ballroom where Romney supporters watched election night returns, but as the news soured they demanded a switch to Fox.  What that says about the willingness to be misled is fascinating.  With Pavlovian predictability, the supporters knew where to turn to hear what they wanted to hear.  Unfortunately for those viewers, Fox also called the election for Obama relatively early thus dashing all false hopes in a fascinating scene in which Karl Rove disputed the call.

Rupert MurdochAny analysis of Fox must start with Rupert Murdoch.  Murdoch is the Australian-born media magnate who first penetrated the British tabloid market and then the American, founding the supermarket favorite, Star Magazine, in the seventies.  In 1985, he sacrificed his Australian citizenship in order to gain citizenship on these shores to get around the legal requirement that the owner of U.S. TV stations must be a citizen.  It is Murdoch’s media empire that is now under criminal investigation in Britain for illegal phone tapping, and many of his highest-ranking associates are under indictment.  Murdoch’s conglomerate founded Fox News in 1996, and it remains among Murdoch’s current U.S. holdings.

A recent study found that viewers who didn’t watch any news on TV were able to answer 1.22 standardized test questions correctly.  The most informed were those who listened to NPR or watched the Sunday morning talk shows with average scores of 1.51 correct answers.  Fox News Viewers?  1.04.  Yep, that’s right.  The study demonstrated that Fox viewers were less informed than the folks who didn’t watch any news!

Faux News is more than a pejorative descriptor; it is accurate.

Feeding the beast

This first week following the election has seen endless Republican hand-wringing.  What did the party do wrong and how will it be fixed going forward?  Morning Joe Scarborough and the the crew on MSNBC this morning suggested it was a problem of tone.  Too shrill.  Too demeaning.  Too scapegoating.  “What happened to the compassionate conservatism of President Bush?” Scarborough whined.  Immigrant bashing.  Gay bashing.  Forty-seven per cent bashing.  Louisiana Governor Jindal drew praise from the morning crew for criticizing Romney’s latest attempt to blame his defeat on those who would benefit from benevolent government policies (student loan relief, healthcare, etc.).

Talk nice and the party will be restored.  Really, Joe Scarborough?  That’s all that’s wrong with the once-proud party of Lincoln?

Since the “Southern strategy” of Richard Nixon, this has been a party that has fed the beast plenty of red meat, and now the monster is threatening to devour the party.  Has the beast master lost control?

For those too young to remember, George Wallace was a race-baiting segregationist governor of Georgia in the early sixties who had great success as a third-party presidential candidate by stoking the fears of angry white southerners.  Nixon and his cronies learned from Wallace.  Lee Atwater was Richard Nixon’s Karl Rove, and his 1981 explanation of the southern strategy, long rumored, has now been confirmed on video (dug up by President Jimmy Carter’s grandson, no less).

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

town hallWillie Horton.  Welfare queens.  Food stamp president.  Takers vs. makers.  47%.  Code language that supported the unstated narrative.  Only now, when there aren’t enough angry white men to offset the coalition of the young, the women, the Hispanics, and the blacks that has become the Democratic base of the twenty-first century, are Republicans having second thoughts.

How will they put the beast back in the cage?  Tea party insurgents have defeated moderate Republican Senatorial candidates in the last two elections only to see the red seats turn blue in the general election.  Senate majority leader McConnell will likely face a primary challenge next go-round unless he continues to throw plenty of red meat.  The same is true of House Speaker Boehner and his own caucus that may oust him if he seeks moderation in negotiations with the White House.

Talk nice, if you will, Joe Scarborough.  That may placate the party moderates and some independents, but how will the party tame the beast that has gorged on culture wars, nativist and racist code-words, and the apocalyptic rhetoric of more than a generation?  Pardon me if I don’t feel sorry when the beast you have loosed turns on you.

Before the election, President Obama predicted a Republican civil war.  We can only hope for minimal collateral damage.

Bishop Robinson’s retirement

Integrity USA is the principal gay-advocacy organization in the Episcopal Church.  The organization sprang to life in 1974 following a newsletter postmarked Fort Valley, the county seat of Peach County, Georgia.  Louie Crew, a young professor of English was behind the mailing, and Dr. Crew remained a mainstay of the organization for many years.

The Episcopal General Convention meets every three years, and the Integrity worship service has become a highlight, an institution attended by thousands.  At the General Convention in Indianapolis this past summer, the Integrity worship service was preceded by a cocktail party in honor of Dr. Crew.Louie Crew  Through his prior writings, phone conferences, and email correspondence, Dr. Crew has been an invaluable resource for me, and I was privileged to finally meet him face-to-face before and during the cocktail party.  This is a picture of Dr. Crew being honored during the Integrity worship service.

Dr. Crew had been one of the select few invited to be part of Bishop Robinson’s consecration as Bishop of the New Hampshire Diocese in 2003.  Of course, the ice arena of the University of New Hampshire was full of guests, and the procession included hundreds of priests, bishops, and other dignitaries, and Dr. Crew was part of the contingent of family and friends who processed in with the bishop-elect.

It was also fitting that Bishop Robinson offered the sermon during the Integrity worship service that followed Dr. Crew’s party.  I was also privileged to meet the bishop and his partner, Mark, during the party.  I visited with Bishop Gene, Mark, and former Integrity president Rev. Susan Russell.

All of this is introduction to a blog post penned by Rev. Russell that appeared today on the Huffington Post.  Rev. Russell paraphrased the Simon and Garfunkel song “Mrs. Robinson” as she lauded the tremendous progress made recently in the church and society for LGBT inclusion.  Click below to check it out.

“Here’s to you, Bishop Robinson. Jesus loves you more than you will know. And so do we!”

Manuscript sent to publisher

Printing pressWhew!

There’s a reason I haven’t been blogging. I’ve been busy.  660 double-spaced pages.  173,871 words.  829 endnotes.  But, now the manuscript for Gays in the Pulpit is complete, and I have sent it off to Pilgrim Press, the publisher.  To be sure, there will undoubtedly be further revisions based upon editorial feedback, but I have reached a significant milestone in the process.  I think that the timeline of Pilgrim Press is for a release in the summer/fall of 2013.

In the early-spring of 2011, I thought about using some of the hundreds of Spirit of a Liberal blog posts as the core of a book, but that idea soon morphed into a much broader project.  Rather than just writing about the ELCA decisions of 2009, I would go back to the beginning of LGBT activism within the Lutheran predecessor bodies.  That idea, too, soon mushroomed into a pan-denominational historical retrospective of each of the five principal mainline denominations (United Church of Christ, Episcopal, ELCA, Presbyterian, and Methodist) .  Later, while lunching with early Methodist activist Mark Bowman, he rightly suggested that I was taking on a “huge universe.”

I sent queries to the major denominational publishing houses.  Pilgrim Press of the United Church of Christ expressed interest but said it would be after the first of the year (2012) before they would seriously look at the project.  I started writing anyway, but didn’t get very far before a residential move from Northfield, Minnesota to Arlington Heights, Illinois interrupted the process.  Settled into the Chicago suburbs by October 1, I had forty or fifty pages written by Thanksgiving, and by February Pilgrim Press had accepted the project.

Contacts with leadership of the various gay-advocacy organizations in each denomination resulted in “leads,” and one led to another.  I have benefited from face-to-face interviews with iconic figures in each denomination.  Private collections of early documents have been graciously shared.  Many early pioneers have offered assistance via phone calls and emails.  Still others have fact-checked my writing.

One of my early concerns was that I was an interloper, a straight man writing a gay history, but the support I have received has calmed my apprehensions.  A common refrain has been that these are stories that need to be told.

I have been thinking a lot these days of our lesbian, gay, and bisexual sisters and brothers and supporters who have gone before us to bring us to this time and place. I wish that I knew more of their names. I wish I knew more of their stories.

I have been moved to tears by the poignancy of the stories, and my ongoing worry is that my retelling does them justice.  Conflict and celebration.  Hope in the face of despair.  Struggle for human dignity.  Stay tuned.