Sunday, 21 September 2008

God’s Own Country

God’s Own Country
Power and the Religious Right in the USA
by Stephen Bates
Hodder and Stoughton July 2008 £9.99

Since Sarah Palin was nominated as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, newspaper articles about her religious views have poured off the presses. See for example, these from Salon: The pastor who clashed with Palin by David Talbot, or Sarah Palin, anointed by God by Alex Koppelman or Sarah Palin, faith-based mayor by Sarah Posner.

To most Britons, it seems quite extraordinary that a person holding such views could be a serious candidate for national office. But to anyone who had read Stephen Bates’ book God’s Own Country when it first came out in 2007 it would not be a surprise. It had good reviews in the Church Times, the Guardian, and the Independent.

The book was republished in paperback in the UK in July this year, with the subtitle changed to more accurately describe the content, just in time for the American election campaign. Inexplicably, the US edition is not due until February 2009, neatly missing what must surely be a major marketing opportunity. However, it can readily be obtained now from Amazon UK.

Although Sarah Palin does not appear in the book, John McCain is mentioned three times. Jim Wallis of Sojourners is quoted as saying:

“John McCain is taking a risk dealing with these people: he has to get the Republican nomination and unless he gets these people’s endorsement from the Religious Right, he has no chance.”

Well, with Palin on the ticket, that endorsement for McCain, which earlier looked quite remote, now appears likely.

The book is aimed primarily at UK readers, and covers a lot of US historical background which one hopes would not be new material for Americans. The purpose is described by Bates himself like this:

There is a tendency here, in the secular UK, to write off American religiosity as alien and monolithic when, of course, it is far from that; and to see all US religious people as crazed fundamentalists, when they are not that either…. What I am hoping to show in this book is that US religion’s relationship with politics did not start with George W. Bush… These motivations have shaped the USA from the beginning and have very deep roots in the American psyche.

In fifteen chapters and nearly 400 pages, Bates therefore has plenty of ground to cover. He keeps the reader’s interest by writing as a journalist rather than as an academic. As with his earlier A Church at War this makes the book a much more enjoyable read.

The Pilgrim Fathers, The Great Awakening, William Jennings Bryan, Mother Angelica, Father Charles Coughlin, Aimee Semple McPherson, Joel Osteen, Judge Roy Moore, Ken Ham, Tim LaHaye, TD Jakes, and many other religious personalities are all included. The religious aspects of recent presidential campaigns (Clinton, Bush) are also covered.

As background to the current US election campaign, it is the ideal, even an essential, introduction to the religious dimension of American politics. Which as the nomination of Sarah Palin demonstrates, will be a crucial factor in the race for the White House this time round as well.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 21 September 2008 at 9:11pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Book review

The list of names is more interesting by who is left off - and there's a major, major name left off. What's up with that?

So - how long has Bates been living in America? Is he living in Kansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Idaho, Indiana, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Montana, or perhaps even, dare we say it, Alaska? No?

Of course, he may want to be mighty careful if he did come over and actually live here and write from the inside, to know what it feels like when we hear the National Anthem played or what it feels like to sit around the table with friends and family on Thanksgiving - he and the entire country - every year, giving thanks to you know who. He may want to be mighty careful, indeed.

Look what happened to Hitch - and he doesn't even like God.


Posted by: BabyBlue on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 3:49am BST

Clearly BabyBlue has not bothered to read the book. I think sometimes that those from outside can have a perspective which those living there may not aoppreciate. The cancer of American conservative religion and its effects on the country may not be obvious to those in the throes of its delusionary influence, but only too obvious when viewed objectively.

A lot of Americans also dislike that sort of religion and recognise how it has a negative effect on American public life. It is interesting that despite its religiosity, 'no religion' is the fastest growing group in the US.

Posted by: Merseymike on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 10:25am BST

Thank you for this kind review Simon.
Baby Blue, as she is well aware, is posting rhetorical questions, since she knows I do not live in the US. She may be reassured (but then again, I expect not, since nothing would satisfy her) that the very first sentence of the book begins: "It is, of course, presumptuous for any non-American to write a book like this..." But of course, as we know, not having read a book is no barrier for the likes of Baby Blue to comment on it, even from a position of ignorance about its contents.
Simon's review does not mention that the book was the result of several lengthy trips to the US (where many of my wife's relatives have lived for many years: in Houston, San Fransisco, Portland, Oregon and Amherst - some of them have even been American citizens for rather longer than Baby Blue.)
The book contains sizeable interviews with many of those on the Religious Right, including among others: Richard Land, Rich Cizik, Michael Cromartie, Judge Roy Moore, David Parsons, Michael Farris, Ken Ham, Jim Tonkowich, Tim LaHaye, Randy Brinson, Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes and Frank Page (2006 president of the Southern Baptist Convention), not to mention Jim Wallis, Sister Helen Prejean, Frank Griswold and John Chane (these last not on the right, of course).
I also received the help of a number of American religious journalists including Mark Pinsky, Jay Tolson, Dan Gilgoff, George Conger, Raymond Arroyo and Greg Warner. But not Baby Blue herself, alas. I trust that the list above will however convince less partial observers that I at least made an effort to get under the skin of American religiosity, while conscious that I was offering an outsider's view of its historical roots and current reality.

Posted by: stephen bates on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 11:22am BST

A wonderful opportunity was missed.

When Obama betrayed Clinton to bring in an "establisment figure", he simply became part of the "establishment".

That left the flank wide open for the Republicans to bring in a female candidate to mop up that which Obama had betrayed. It no longer matters who is elected.

Obama as President with Clinton as Vice President would have been something worth witnessing. What has transpired is simply more of the same with the names of the characters changing but the plot remaining the same.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 12:00pm BST

Just spent 2 weeks touring the South visiting relatives, friends and staying in a B&B where the host gave a very aggressive Christian blessing to his (paying) guests. We are strongly Christian but I wondered what would happen if a black Jew came as a guest.
Knowing the UK and France a bit I can assure you that a trip such as this would validate the striking religiosity of the US and go a long way to explaining our peculiar structures. Failing that, the above book seems like a useful read.

Posted by: ettu on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 12:17pm BST

I'd take a look at Chris Hedges' American Fascists. Hedges, a former NYT war correspondent, is the son of a Presbyterian minister and a former seminarian at Harvard Divinity School. His title is inspired by a comment from James Luther Adams, who taught at HDS, that America would one day be threatened by Christian Fascists. Some of the theocratic groups he mentions are also connected to Palin's home church. This is terrifying stuff.

Posted by: Bill Carroll on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 12:33pm BST

Sarah Palin contends that pre-birth babies have a right to live. Er...duh...yes. The shame of it is that she is not consistent in her attitude to moose and polar bears, let alone death-causing guns.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 1:25pm BST

bb - maybe you should read his book? Stephen Bates is a very careful and thoughtful writer.
Too bad his book was too early to address the Palin phenomenon directly - it is indeed "quite extraordinary that a person holding [Palin's] views could be a serious candidate for national office."

And are you being cute about a major name left off? I'm guessing you are being cute, and are referring to Jesus - if so, please let me remind you that Lord of the Universe He may be, but He was not an American citizen.

Posted by: Uriel on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 1:40pm BST

"to know what it feels like when we hear the National Anthem played"

Oh, please! I imagine it feels much the same as how I feel when we sing the Ode. And I think the American anthem is a great song to sing, actually. And, it isn't only people in the UK who think someone with Palin's views is an odd choice for second in command of the most powerful nation on Earth. I'm not going to be overly comfortable if McCain/Palin win. I'm just to the Northeast of you, and the idea that your huge military machine might be controlled by someone who has her religious beliefs is more than a little scary. The only thing worse than someone who thinks God is on their side is someone who thinks God is on their side and who has access to nukes! But then it's also scary that millennialist Fundamentalists have a big influence on your country's foreign policy. And, just so you don't get into the "All you evil libruls hate Merka" let me say that in the few times I have been in your country, I have found people friendly and generous to a fault, so much so that I felt more at home in Seattle than I did in Toronto, for instance, the people there were more like the people I come from. And, you might want to consider why it is that:

"Currently, Evangelicals are a minority in the US, where the fastest growing “religious group” is the unchurched."

I'd suggest you talk to a few of those unchurched.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 2:14pm BST

Yes, Baby Blue, we are well acquainted with working more hours for less, watching our downtowns die from big box stores and our future retirement savings disappear in the financial debacle. In our declining educations standards (by design you think?) is it any wonder hand waving simplistic religion is the rage in America?

MARSEC Level 2 on the ship today. Report any supicious activity. And Praise Jesus!

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 3:13pm BST

Thanks, Simon. I'd read reviews of the book when it came out in hardcover. Shame it's not available in the US now. In any case, thanks to Stephen Bates for writing it - your reporting is
thoughtful and usually on target! I'll just have to purchase it from a British bookstore, I guess. - Jay

Posted by: Jay Vos on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 4:31pm BST

Thank you, Ford Elms, for stating the situation so clearly. The possibilities for the future of the USA are indeed scary.

I'm glad that you felt at home in Seattle, which is a city I love. But then, the cities of the Pacific Northwest, like Seattle and Portland, are known for their liberalism!
P. S. I also love Toronto!

Posted by: Old Father William on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 5:02pm BST

A good companion book would be Jon Meacham's "American Gospel" (Random House 2006). In it he provides a more accurate description of the place of Christianity in the founding of the United States, than the usual right-wing claim that the USA is was founded as a "Christian Country."

Jon Meacham is the Managing Editor of Newsweek magazine and a somewhat middle-of-the-road Episcopalian.

Posted by: Deacon Charlie Perrin on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 6:26pm BST

Cheryl Va,

Normally I find your analyses at least interesting.

But your flippant dismissal of Obama/Biden is waaaaay beneath you. [Whereas BB's flippant dismissal of Bates' book is only too typical! :-X]

Thanks also, Simon, for the Salon links: great stuff.

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 7:34pm BST

On the Clinton issue, I am not at all sure that she wanted the VP role in any case. I'd say the evidence suggests that she would rather have some real power as senate majority leader. If the Republicans get back then she will be the next Dem candidate, if Barack wins then he will owe her a debt.

Cheryl - come on, Obama-Biden are politically miles from McCain-Palin. The first black candidate for president is something remarkable. Personally, I would have liked Hillary as VP (and my partner would have supported Hillary if we lived in the US) but just being a woman is no reason to vote for anyone as palin has proved

Posted by: Merseymike on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 8:34pm BST

I agree that Palin is scary, for she is as determined to continue the culture wars inside and outside of church life, as she is clueless about democratic principles which involve balances of governmental or other powers, representation across divisions and differences, and as one article put it, the liberal myth of church and state being separated. I see that she did arise in the wave of rightwing believers running for election on Dominionist or Reconstructionist platforms for typically consevo conformed believer motives. Her style powerfully and immediately suggested as much, but one needed the real history of two decades or so to confirm current impressions.

This is all quite consistent with rightwing Dominionist and/or Reconstructionist believer ideas and pledges to rule over everybody as God has instructed them to do. A movement as determined to collapse big tent USA as it is to collapse and narrow big tent TEC or global Anglicanism in general.

IBLP birthing the Character Cities lobby, as raw-rough creationist literalisms birthed so-called intelligent design postures, offers us one model for how to get around the alleged separation of church and state in USA.

That you can assert all this while saying Jesus is your Lord is perhaps the most frightening and difficult aspect, since it means one must discern, discern, discern, discern in the most prayerful, ethical, and best practices critical manner possible.

McCain is nowhere near as steeped in these notions, committed to these presuppositional believer views as Palin is - but any real occasion of a change in governmental power by which McCain's incapacity or absence moved Palin into the USA Presidency would surely be regarded by the USA right as God in action to police and punish the nation.

What short memories we have, given that it is just these believers who historically were most likely to preach racially-ethnically cued separate but equal citizenship, aimed at people of color, mostly African American citizens. Not all that long ago, in fact. The so-called biblical arguments are pretty much in the same form, with only the targets changed.

Posted by: drdanfee on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 9:35pm BST

"But of course, as we know, not having read a book is no barrier for [some] to comment on it, even from a position of ignorance about its contents."

My first reaction was to think of some of those who make bold pronouncements about what "the Bible" says when they have clearly never taken in its principal points.

Baby Blue, as much as she is a "conservative," does not usually offer up such unadulterated hokum. The suggestion that the view from outside cannot possibly be valid is most . . . er . . . unusual, coming as it does from a nation, a culture, a religious establishment and a political movement which believes that xenophobic Americans who've never been abroad are the world's experts on how to deal with the complexities of Middle Eastern and South Asian politics.

I'm not quite sure what the national anthem of the US has to do with anything here. It is certainly no hymn to God, like the national anthem of the United Kingdom or (arguably) the French version and the revised English version of the Canadian anthem. It is, rather, a staunchly militaristic anthem, glorying in the patriotic resistance to a foreign power. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But it's got bugger all to do with God - who is not referenced in the anthem at all.

Ford, I appreciated your reference to the Ode - and smiled that your immediate parallel to BB's national anthem is that of Newfoundland and Labrador rather than Canada. I have always been struck by the obscure but beautiful construction of the lyrics in the verse which begins: "As loved our fathers, so we loved: where once they stood we stand . . ."

Canada's national anthem, ironically, was originally written to advance Quebecois nationalism, a musical tribute from those who would be the spiritual ancestors of today's souvreignistes. The tune is a dirge if played at the tempo written, and needs to be played at least 50% faster to be even vaguely singable. Personally, I'd be just as happy to replace it with Stan Rogers's Northwest Passage.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 9:44pm BST

Of course, he may want to be mighty careful if he did come over and actually live here and write from the inside, to know what it feels like when we hear the National Anthem played or what it feels like to sit around the table with friends and family on Thanksgiving"...WHICH THANKSGIVING DO YOU CELEBRATE, BABY BLUE? Would that be The Canadian version/date or the U.S. version/date and what National Anthem turns you on most being multi-loyal and all. Lord only knows that The Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church have remained steadfast in their missions of Christianity...or, perhaps you're writing about Nigerias great thanksgiving for getting what you have so freely given to them that belongs to The Diocese of Virginia U.S.A.? Maybe we all ought get in line and take one of the +Gomez Convenant Loyalty Oaths.

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 9:54pm BST

Look, it's not like we came up with this "North America is the Promised Land and we are the Children of Israel" stuff on our own, ya know. It was a bunch of anti-social *Brits* who transplanted it to these shores in the 17th century. If we're a little weird about religion, we owe it all to you. ;-)

Posted by: BillyD on Monday, 22 September 2008 at 11:31pm BST

It would be nice if expression of religious sentiment and beliefs were respected in the UK's political debates too, or at least engaged with respectfully. The hysteria that surrounds anyone who is associated with expressing Christian ideas here is completely phobic !

My guess is that, if Christian religious expression isn't allowed to flourish, political Islam will take over as the main expressor of religious views on political matters sooner than many people imagine. Now that won't be so easy to disrespect...

Posted by: davidwh on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 1:17am BST

At the opening ceremonies a couple of weeks ago of the annual reenactment of the first road race in the U.S. after WWII at Watkins Glen NY (U.S.A.), we sang both the Canadian and the U.S. national anthems. You'd be surprised how many of us sang the Canadian anthem all the way through, including this USer. And, lest y'all forget, I'll repeat, Frank Griswold, father of former P.B. of TEC Frank Griswold, won that first road race on the streets of Watkins Glen. (See, even road racing is germaine to the discussion - politics, religion, yep, got em both.)

Posted by: Lois Keen on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 1:21am BST

Okay I've bought a book off Amazon - or perhaps an earlier version of it? It has the same title, same author. Perhaps it's an earlier version of the book?

I'm actually a fan of Stephen's and I read his book about Gene Robinson as well - I bought it at Union Station in Washington, D.C.. I respect his tenacity and his professionalism and he's an excellent writer. Stephen was missed at Lambeth. His former cohort at the Telegraph, Jonathon showed up for a day with the Daily Mail (which was too funny for words) - but it wasn't the same without Stephen. I still think Stephen and Jonathon should have their own commentary podcast. It could be an alternative to Godpod.

I do wonder though, is Billy Graham in the book? How about John Wimber? Or Dennis Bennett? Or David Wilkerson? Or even Nicky Cruz? How about Jamie Buckingham? Or Richard Foster or even Os Guinness? How about Francis Schaeffer or Festo Kivengere? These were/are rather important evangelical leaders in America for the GenX generation.

Both Palin and Obama are not Baby Boomers. They are the first GenXers to run for the highest offices in the USA. GenXers are a different generation than those names listed in the review - and it matters, at least in America.


Posted by: BabyBlue on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 2:17am BST

"She scares me," said Bess. "She's Jerry Falwell with a pretty face.

"At this point, people in this country don't grasp what this person is all about. The key to understanding Sarah Palin is understanding her radical theology."

The above extract from the New York Daily Times article about Ms Palin is rather worrying - especially to anyone other than a member of one of the many Pentecostal type congregations in the USA (or anywhere else in the world). Religious Fundamentalism of any kind - whether Christian or Islamic - can only serve to divide the citizens of any state one against another, and should be taken very seriously by the electors of the USA in the forthcoming federal contest.

For a putative Vice-President of the United States of America to be likened to the late Mr Falwell, whether pretty or not, ought automatically to put them out of serious contention in the US electionsst. However, with G.W. Bush as the most recent holder of high office in the USA, one wonders whether the American psyche has yet come to terms with the damage than can still be done in the field of national and international relationships - not to mention the USA's credibility as a world power.

This. of course, will not prevent 'Baby Blue' from peddling her noxious gleanings from the Virtue-on-line school of apologetics, which seeks to further the theology of Law versus Grace. May God save us all from the new Scribes & Pharisees Party of the Global South.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 3:35am BST

"To most Britons, it seems quite extraordinary that a person holding such views could be a serious candidate for national office." Believe me, this American is having a hard time with it. It is simply mind-boggling that anyone should seriously consider this woman qualified to be VP, say little of President! She appears to be "right" of the religious right wing. Add ignorant and arrogant and I'm appalled.


Posted by: Elizabeth on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 3:51am BST

daividwh: "It would be nice if expression of religious sentiment and beliefs were respected in the UK's political debates too, or at least engaged with respectfully. The hysteria that surrounds anyone who is associated with expressing Christian ideas here is completely phobic !"

Oh dear, davidwh, you have bought into this whole persecution complex currently being peddled by the illiberals, haven't you?

Religious leaders have repeatedly made very inept irruptions into political and social debate in the UK, which is why they are now rightly being ignored.

Whether it's the Bishop of Carlisle famously announcing that the floods were caused by the government bringing in civil partnerships; George Carey opposing in the Lords every measure designed to bring about legal equality for gay people; the Bishop of Hereford actually going to court and losing a human rights case because he thinks he should discriminate against gay people; or Rowan Williams' naive comments about Sharia law, every time they intervene in public debate, the C of E bishops just seem to make the Church look stupid and irrelevant. Given the very poor level of leadership we seem to be stuck with at the moment - people we haven't chosen, and whom we cannot remove - I think the lower their profile in public life, the better, frankly.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 10:07am BST

"Obama-Biden are politically miles from McCain-Palin"

The problem is that neither are miles apart from the establishment that condones and aids and abets the use of death squads (e.g. to skin Catholic nuns in El Salvador in the 1980s) or torture (to condone waterboarding as a torture technique in the 2000s).

Obama and Clinton would have stood as a new moral high ground which America has not seen since Kennedy was killed.

Now we have two teams with one "establishment" figure and one "innovator" on both sides. They played safe and in the process both sides, America and the world lost out.

The world doesn't need souls who perpetuate and justify violence (or white-wash and pretend they aren't accomplices behind-the-scenes). The world needs leaders who are against repression, desecration, violence, corruption and complacency. Period. Regardless of whether it manifests in black or white, male or female, Jew or Gentile, human or angelic.

Gossiping about the latest political interests will not and does not give the world the leadership it needs.

Nor do Christians who desire a world planetary slayer, in direct refutation of Isaiah 11 and other passages. Shame on them and Jesus for lacking the faith and imagination to find a solution that is not predicated on flattery of their egos.

The difference between them and God is that God loves, even souls who are indifferent or insulting to God. Thus God is both higher than Jesus and his selfish priests. Zion exists for all souls, souls who insist on abuse have to hide behind the shelter of grace of souls like Jesus as they void their rights to abide within Zion.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 10:11am BST

I'm British, but have visited the US on many occasions, and I do think we need to remember that firstly, liberal Americans are every bit as patriotic and committed to the American way - but they stress different aspects of it - as one liberal Cape Cod Christian said to me 'I love my country, just not my Government'
Second, that separation of powers does mean that it is very difficult for any part of the administration to do much that is too stupid before it gets tied up in another opposing part of the system
Third, that America is very divided and becoming more so, in a way which the UK is not, For all the whining of davidwh, the reality is that Britain is overall becoming more secular, and as a result there will be less patience offered to all forms of extreme religious expression, islam included. It is not a choice between christianity and islam, but secularism or religion, and the latter really does need to be reduced, permanently, to the private sphere.

Posted by: Merseymike on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 10:23am BST

"My guess is that, if Christian religious expression isn't allowed to flourish, political Islam will take over as the main expressor of religious views on political matters sooner than many people imagine. Now that won't be so easy to disrespect..."

Don't be disingenuous, david. As long as the UK has an established church, with the sovereign as its head, no other religion has a chance.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 11:22am BST

Baby Blue:
Billy Graham: refs pages: 215, 231-7, 241, 242, 255, 269. 272.
Francis Schaeffer: 249, 269, 295.

You misunderstand the book if you think it is a history or current review specifically of Episcopalian or evangelical Christianity in the US. There are plenty of books about that and, yes, Meacham's book is referenced in mine, though Hedges' was published too late for me to read it.
As you will see, if indeed you do read my book, it is about the roots of American religiosity, its development and its effects on past and current cultural and political debates. And yes, it is mainly directed at a British audience since those are aspects of American life that British folk currently find hardest to understand and appreciate in a culture we otherwise find similar to our own.
And, just because I am not an American, or live in the US, Baby Blue, does not mean I cannot observe, or write about it from outside, or gain a better knowledge by interviewing and meeting its religious protagonists. Much as you presume to write about the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England without living here, or knowing much about its inner dynamics.

Posted by: stephen bates on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 11:32am BST

"The hysteria that surrounds anyone who is associated with expressing Christian ideas"

Would that be the Christian idea that jailing people for five years for being nice to gay people is a "good compromise", or that condemnation, insult and threat are good tools for Evangelism and anyone who challenges them is oppressing God's faithful remnant, or that those whose faith is not narrow and legalistic have no faith at all? I'm pretty certain you aren't making reference to the "hysteria" that arises from conservatives every time someone dares to bring up the idea that love of neighbour is the second most important thing for a Christian, after love of God. Frankly, I haven't seen many conservatives here give much evidence of even knowing what I am referring to.

"if Christian religious expression isn't allowed to flourish, political Islam will take over as the main expressor of religious views on political matters sooner than many people imagine."

And the expression of Christian ideas like economic and social justice, opposition to war, equality for all God's children, you know, the things to which Christians are called to bear witness, and which have been concerns from the beginning (I'm thinking of St. Lawrence here for one example among many. Look him up.) Or are thesse ideas just "the traditions of men" for you?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 11:36am BST

Hi Fr Ron-

'scribes and pharisees' doesn't capture it. In various respects SPalin is absolute poles apart from the scribes:
(1) in terms of general joie de vivre (even to the extent of: if we must cull animals, let's have fun doing it).
(2) in terms of positiveness: life, life, life.
(3) in terms of standing for personal liberties.

This notwithstanding my serious reservations expressed above.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 12:31pm BST

"people we haven't chosen, and whom we cannot remove"

Gotta part ways with you on this. We didn't choose, because we don't choose, ideally. We ought to prayerfully listen for God's choice when we elect a bishop. Might there be one of two things going on here? Either the Almighty gave the CofE poor leadership for a reason known only to Him, or perhaps people have fallen so much for the idea that we elect bishops like we elect politicians, God has decided that if we want to have our own way so bloody bad, He'll let us choose who we want and take the consequences.

Posted by: Ford ELms on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 9:41pm BST

Don't be disingenuous, david. As long as the UK has an established church, with the sovereign as its head, no other religion has a chance.

1. The UK doesn't have an established Church; England does, and Scotland does, and it's not the same Church.

2. What do you mean, "doesn't have a chance"? Both RCs and Muslims seem to be flourishing in the UK from what I can see from this side of the Atlantic.

Posted by: BillyD on Tuesday, 23 September 2008 at 10:41pm BST

I'm now wondering if davidwh is related in any way to the David W that most of us are familiar with on other threads here at T.A.? One could almost guess that they were twins, with one of them being blessed with one more initial than the other. Anyway, neither is obviously from the bilical Davidic strand, which featured the early Patriarch who married the wife of one of his soldiers - after he had cohabited with her and had her husband sent into battle and killed so that he wouldn't have to take the blame.

No, no, of course not. These two Davids would scarcely have been linked with such perfidious ancestry - which, incidentally, gave birth to the lineage of Jesus! Now there's a conundrum worth thinking about. But it does seem that grace was allowed here to triumph over what might have been considered to be due penalty of the Law in those times. If only the 2 Davids could be as gracious in their view of Sinners, like themselves (and that's all of us), who need redemption, the world might better understand the great mystery of God's love in the gospel. God is merciful - much more so than some of God's advocates.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 24 September 2008 at 11:28am BST

Ford elms: "Either the Almighty gave the CofE poor leadership for a reason known only to Him..."

I think you must be right, there.

Perhaps it's not sheer democracy in episcopal appointments that is important: but what is important, I think, is a degree of accountability; a sense that the bishop is there to be the servant of the diocese (rather than its feudal lord); a sense of transparency in the appointments process (the C of E currently operates by means of deals in smoke-filled rooms, rather than smoke-filled sanctuaries, one feels); a sense that the faithful, and indeed the clergy, really assent to the choice of their chief pastor, which must imply the serious option of not granting their assent from time to time.

It must be hard for people in any other province to imagine quite how top-down the Church of England is. It is a fairly baleful legacy of feudalism which I think tends to stifle bottom-up growth. The C of E has very many generals and hardly any foot-soldiers; power descends from on high, apparently effortlessly, and is exercised with little to check it. I just don't think that can be a good model for the Church in the 21st century: it certainly wasn't the model for the Early Church either, was it?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Wednesday, 24 September 2008 at 11:34am BST

Cheryl Va, I continue to be mystified by your judgments of US politics. Can you provide evidence that Joe Biden condones, aids or abets "the use of death squads (e.g. to skin Catholic nuns in El Salvador in the 1980s) or torture (to condone waterboarding as a torture technique in the 2000s)"? Can you show us how, over the course of his career, he has taken a lower road ethically than Hillary Clinton?

For that matter, how much do you know about the actual record of the Kennedy administration, which you hold up as a standard? While many admirable initiatives were taken under JFK, and he articulated a vision that inspired people around the world (as well as at home), that was also the period in which we got truly up to our eyeballs in Vietnam. I think you would find that there were quite a few foreign policy decisions made under Kennedy that would fail your 'moral high ground' test.

It is not accurate or useful to portray Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin as two teams, each of which has one 'establishment' figure and one 'innovator', nor to see Clinton as an 'innovator' rather than part of the 'establishment'. If anything, Clinton is more of an 'establishment' figure than Biden. Biden was picked for VP because of his experience, knowledge and skill, especially in foreign policy. It doesn't hurt that he is regarded as having a good ethical compass.

In a large modern nation, all politicians who manage to get elected and serve more than five minutes in office are part of 'the establishment'. They have joined the system of power and can accomplish goals only by working within its laws and constraints. All American politicians are compromised, for two reasons: one, they have to take contributions from wealthy donors in order to get elected or re-elected; two, they have to make deals with other politicians in order to get legislation passed. They have to accept that change is incremental and that ideals can only be realized partially and imperfectly. If they wish to be 'innovators' they can only do so within the context of established law and procedure and by negotiating with the power blocs in their society. The voters’ task is to assess the candidates’ ability to hold onto their moral principles and political ideals while operating in this imperfect world, and not to fall for the romantic claim of some candidates to be ‘outsiders’ who can operate apart from the system.

Posted by: Mary Clara on Wednesday, 24 September 2008 at 5:37pm BST

"But it does seem that grace was allowed here to triumph over what might have been considered to be due penalty of the Law in those times."

Which shows that God uses whoever He wants to use when He wants to use a human being. I am reminded of the lines from the hymn for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul:

"Thy power by ways mysterious, the wrath of man can bind; and in Thy boldest foeman, Thy chosen saint can find."

Fr. Mark,
"it certainly wasn't the model for the Early Church either, was it?"

No, it wasn't. This is the Imperial Church model, the idea that clergy are some sort of civil servant. It was the Imperial Church that had registers of the ranks of the various clergy, in exact copy of the ranks of the nobility in the Empire. It's high time we changed that, since, if anything could be called "the traditions of men" it is the Imperial attitude and structure we have received from the Constantinian Church.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 24 September 2008 at 6:28pm BST

There is much more the the wide, diverse daily life textures and nuances of real USA religiosities, than even strict, clear doctrines express - including all the consevo weaponized iterations.


This Baylor survey is the tip of the symbolic iceberg in USA religious life.

Posted by: drdanfee on Wednesday, 24 September 2008 at 7:46pm BST

Father Ron, you aren't being very generous to us!! If you think that it is somehow ungracious to insist that some people's sexual desires or behaviours are sinful , I would suggest that you re-read what is written in the New Testament. I think that you are probably confusing being gracious to sinners with discussing what is (or isn't) a sin!

Posted by: davidwh on Thursday, 25 September 2008 at 12:00am BST

"It is not a choice between christianity and islam, but secularism or religion, and the latter really does need to be reduced, permanently, to the private sphere."

Merseymike: Your brand of "secularism" sounds amazingly like Stalin's.. Rub out all religious freedom, while insisting that people are free to be religious, but only in private!

The honest name for that is Practical Atheism, not secularism.

Posted by: davidwh on Thursday, 25 September 2008 at 12:07am BST

Davidwh: "If you think that it is somehow ungracious to insist that some people's sexual desires or behaviours are sinful , I would suggest that you re-read what is written in the New Testament."

I think it would be more apposite to enquire into why some men so obviously enjoy pointing at other people and naming them sinners; and why they seem to do this so selectively.

You don't think that self-righteousness could be a worse sin for the individual than being in a committed loving relationship with another person; or that being judgemental, or perpetuating unjust discrimination and stigmatising a long-persecuted minority could far more imperil one's immortal soul than kissing another man? Seriously?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Thursday, 25 September 2008 at 10:56am BST

"If you think that it is somehow ungracious to insist that some people's sexual desires or behaviours are sinful , I would suggest that you re-read what is written in the New Testament."

I'm sorry if this sounds like name calling, but I'd like once again to point out that you (plural, as in "you conservatives") are NOT merely insisting that some people's sexual desires are sinful. You go on to add that people should have the right to refuse to do business with them or provide them services, indeed, that it is oppressive to be denied that right since to do business with such people "goes against your conscience". You support, or at least see no reason to oppose someone who says that they and those who are supportive of them should go to jail for five years. You falsely claim that they choose to be the way they are, that they could change if they wanted to, though you DO acknowledge that it might be difficult. You insinuate and sometimes out and out claim that they are trying to destroy the Church. You trot out "data" that are nothing more than propaganda to support your claims. You deny the real threat of violence in their lives, violence made more likely by the rhetoric you continually spout against them. Do you honestly not understand how the things I mentioned, and that's only some of them, are NOT acts of love? This applies to conservatives in general, though you haven't shown much evidence of being different. This is the point. This is why I say that "hate the sin, love the sinner" is utter selfdelusory garbage.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 25 September 2008 at 1:12pm BST

Sorry you've not been getting enough attention lately DavidWh, but I just don't see how loving another man is outrightly sinful. If that includes sex it fails the test. If it doesn't include sex it's not sinful.

Looks like somebody's preoccupied with sex.

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Thursday, 25 September 2008 at 2:13pm BST

Cheryl VA: Kennedy? Moral high ground?

Bay of Pigs, mob mistresses, buying elections in Chicago?

Some myths refuse to die.

Posted by: Austin Scott on Thursday, 25 September 2008 at 3:26pm BST


"Rub out all religious freedom, while insisting that people are free to be religious, but only in private!"

What would you do?
Which religion is to get special protection? Would you willingly comply with Sharia law because Muslim's should be given the right to express their religion in all aspects of public life?
Or should Jews be given the right to push through legislation that has the whole country eating kosher?

Or is it only your brand of Christianity that is to have special powers?

I personally would much rather not be ruled by consevo ideology and I'm grateful that this country protects my personal rights.

You have the right to malign me in private and on the blogs - that's as it should be, but it also is enough.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 25 September 2008 at 4:02pm BST

You can be as religious as you want Davidwh, but you cannot and will not impose the mistaken and harmful teachings of your religion upon me.
I do not believe that contested matters should be governed by what any one religion says - that is why the appropriate place for religion is in the private sphere.

Posted by: Merseymike on Thursday, 25 September 2008 at 5:57pm BST

"Rub out all religious freedom"

I don't understand how you would think that allowing individuals freedom to practice or not practice religion as their consciences dictate is "rubbing out religious freedom". Can you elaborate how allowing everyone the right to pray or not to pray is somehow an infringement of religious freedom?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 25 September 2008 at 7:57pm BST


Just to further confuse you - on the issue of what is, and what is not, a sin; consider the text of the Exultet sung at the Blessing of the Pachal Candle at the Easter Vigil:

"Oh happy sin of Adam,... that gained us so great a Redeemer!" I guess if non-one was a sinner, then God would not have had to redeem us. Hence, Jesus may not have made an appearance on earth.

Another thing about the business of what is, and what is not, a sin; is the fact that the Church Universal has discovered that certain 'sins' quoted in the Scriptures have been found to be merely cultural transgressions - i.e., not universally applicable. I happen to believe that being a woman or gay is no barrier to being an heir to the promises of Christ in the gospel.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Friday, 26 September 2008 at 12:25am BST


Blushing here. Legitimate points.

The problem is the Bay of Pigs did not end there - e.g. training death squads that skin Catholic nuns alive.

Michael Moore reminds us that rigged elections have not ended.

The financial melt-down in the US is tragic.

What is more tragic is that the US does not have an answer for its own meltdowns, nor the violence against other countries.

The war in Iraq has hurt incredible numbers of people, the sanctions against Iran have not "repented" the regime but merely made it harder for the citizens, Afghanistan is not resolved in part because there is not godly alternative.

In many ways what we are dealing with is drug/war lords and their whores saying this is the ony way the world can be.

Satan might support such theology, but the Daughter of Zion does not. Jesus can choose whether he is for life on this planet, or some "better" heaven and earth. Gaia and Zion watch on with interest to see if God's Creation is "good enough" for Jesus or whether he thinks he is worthy of more.

The male for this planet does not forsake his wife, abuse his children, nor abdicate his responsibilities. Other males might posture for the position, but unless they are able to take "for better or for worse" and the ugly along with the blessed, then they are not this planet's guardians. Nor is opportunistic pretending to love sufficient. It has to be real and genuine.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. on Friday, 26 September 2008 at 1:26am BST

Fr Mark-

The issue of whether sin A is worse than sin B is irrelevant. If they are both bad we should do neither. Relative harm is irrelevant; only absolute harm is relevant. It is a bit like saying that it is fine to fly in an aeroplane that is 30% likely to crash because it is not the one that is 60% likely to crash.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Friday, 26 September 2008 at 12:18pm BST

"Relative harm is irrelevant; only absolute harm is relevant."

This is applicable to the "ex-gay" movement. There is absolute harm in a "therapy" that is known to have any effect at all far less than 50% of the time and that causes such despair as to drive people to suicide. It is not, however, applicable to gay people. What is the "harm" to be found in supporting two people who love each other in the maintenance of a lifelong, monogamous relationship? You can't just assume that because you find homosexuality "horrible" (I believe that's a word you used recently, or was it "disgusting"?) homosexuality is thus harmful in and of itself. Promiscuity and drug abuse are a different matter, but they aren't a necessary part of being gay any more than they are a part of being straight.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 26 September 2008 at 2:56pm BST

Cheryl writes:
"When Obama betrayed Clinton to bring in an "establisment figure", he simply became part of the "establishment"."

Sorry, Cheryl, but I really don't understand this. It would seem to me, looking across the pond, that the wife of a former president, now a senator, is very much a part of the "establishment" as is Senator Obama himself.

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Friday, 26 September 2008 at 7:20pm BST

Christopher Shell: I don't think that two people of the sex same loving each other is de facto at all sinful, as you are well aware. What I was trying to do was to imagin why anyone in DavidWh (or your) position, who thinks that it is sinful, would nonetheless persist in making such a big song and dance about the issue. I mean, couldn't you settle for thinking it's sinful but not trying to push the rest of us out of the Church, as with divorced people (there are plenty of divorced and remarried clergy), for example.

Posted by: Fr Mark on Friday, 26 September 2008 at 8:41pm BST

The facts are fairly clear, although all of the hypothesis tested empirical reasons or factors are not yet clear nor complete: Queer folks harm nobody, unless one mixes in myriad other factors which get mentioned as proofs of innate gay harmfulness - these typically have included child molesting, substance use disorders, psychiatric disorders, and youth suicide rates. We used to claim other innate defects, involving work or profession, but consevo believers have muted those claims most recently, faced with way too many queer citizens with excellence in work or profession.

Yet we are far from guessing when it comes to ex-gay therapies and questions of harm. Careful research reveals to us that none of the alleged innate harms is actually innate to being a queer citizen, any more than any of them is innate to being straight, in instances where some particular straight citizen happens to suffer any life problem.

A categorical thinking error is involved, just as if we claimed that straight alcoholism was caused by being straight. Not much more, not much less.

So far as ex-gay therapies go, two problem themes greatly concern many of us. One is the whole climate of coercion and conformity - ranging from the pressures of internalized cultural prejudices against queer folks, to the realms of family, church or community prejudice, preference, and above all, high and damaging pressure. Related to coercion and conformity is this odd, odd marker in which all of the loudest ex-gays are also among the most rabid consevo believers who just also happen to be rabidly antigay, so the lack of abilities to agree to disagree is good conscience while living to let live is too striking to ignore. At its worst, this pattern almost rises to the level of a Stockholm Syndrome feature, wherein the only way to live with having been so coerced is to rabidly pass it along, targeting others forcefully in just the way you were targeted. Alas.

Another great concern is the mild to moderate to profound harm that ex-gay therapies can and do do, in particular instances. At the very least, any intervention or procedure which regularly occasions probabilities of great suffering, and damage that rises up to lethalities on ocassion - would surely be a treatment of later rather quicker resort, and a whole documented trail of carefully informed stepwise consumer consent would be vividly obtained.

Posted by: drdanfee on Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 1:32am BST

Hi Fr Mark
You make the incorrect logical step from 'there are lots of divorced/remarried people' to 'therefore it's ok'. This obviously does not follow & I for one think it something more harmful than homosexual practice, since it implies (even more than the latter) the firm commitment to an unreconciled/sinful state.

Parties will leave one another alone if they classify the issues in question as secondary rather than primary, and therefore less worth pursuing. To force people to classify them as secondary - when in integrity they might classify them either way - would be your second logical mistake. Unless I misunderstand you.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 12:54pm BST

"more harmful than homosexual practice"

I understand what you are saying about adherence to a sinful state, and that you consider homosexuality as sinful state, but what is the harm in homosexuality per se? Not promiscuity, drug abuse, or unsafe sexual behaviour, none of which are intrinsic to homosexualty, so cannot be said to be a specific harm of homosexuality.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Saturday, 27 September 2008 at 9:15pm BST

No Christopher, I just want the conservatives to stop being so judgemental.

There have always been some Christians who made everyone else's lives miserable by being hard and full of self-righteousness; and there have always been others who look for the good in every situation. Personally, I find the former group always make me want to give up on the whole idea of religion; whereas the latter remind me that maybe there's something great about it after all. Do you think the conservatives are currently coming across as the former or the latter?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Sunday, 28 September 2008 at 8:54am BST

Hi Fr Mark-

(1) No-one not even the most illiberal or intolerant would seek to censor the statement of fact or of opinion.

(2) Facts and opinions are not always going to be as we would wish them to be.

(3) All things being equal, facts and opinions are (by the law of averages) going to be unwelcome to us just as often as they are welcome to us.

(4) This means that you and I will hear plenty of unwelcome things merely in the course of speaking/reading facts and opinions - without the slightest judgmentalism needing to be involved.

Posted by: Christopher Shell on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 at 1:14pm BST

Comments here have gone way off track from the original topic. Thread now closed.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 1 October 2008 at 3:19pm BST