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“Episcopals Now Second Class Christians”: Anglicans Demote Episcopalians As Global Christianity Gets More Polarized

The Anglican Communion effectively banished its American branch, the Episcopal Church, for three years last week because of disputes about same-sex marriage. That rift is just the surface of a much deeper division, reflecting the polarization of Christian life in the 21st century.

The Anglican Communion, which began as the Church of England under Henry VIII, is now a global network spanning 165 countries. There are about 85 million Anglicans in the world, including about 2 million Episcopalians mostly in the U.S. As of this week, however, those Episcopalians are second-class Anglicans: Members cannot vote in any Anglican Communion decisions on church doctrine and cannot represent the communion in any interfaith bodies. Essentially, for three years, Episcopalians are Anglicans without any standing in their own church.

The suspension took place at a meeting of “Primates,” the archbishops and other leaders representing the 44 constituent Churches of the Anglican Communion. The reason for suspension came last June when the Episcopal Church removed doctrinal language defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and authorized marriage rites for same-sex couples. While it’s still up to individual churches whether to solemnize same-sex unions, but the vote formally allowed them to do so.

According to the Primates, these actions were improper because the Episcopal Church acted on its own. “Such unilateral actions,” the Primates said in their official statement, are “a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.”

According to some Episcopal leaders, that is bunk. National church bodies routinely make doctrinal decisions on their own. (Some Anglican Churches still do not ordain women, for example.) What this is really about is homosexuality—and what that is really about is what kind of church the Anglican Communion is today.

The answer, for decades now, is a divided one.

Until the 19th century, the Anglican Church was—as the name implies—basically British, and headed officially by the British monarch. With the spread of the British Empire, however, came the spread of Anglicanism to all corners of the world. By the end of the century, the contemporary Anglican Communion came into being, including not only the Churches of England, Scotland, and Ireland, but also the Episcopal Church and churches in “provinces” across the world.

Two major developments created the schism facing the church today: the liberalization of the Episcopal Church, and the growth in power and numbers of African, Asian, and South American ones.

George Washington was an Episcopalian. So were Madison, Monroe, FDR, and seven other presidents—11 in total. And in the 19th and 20th centuries, the Episcopal Church was perhaps the leading Christian denomination in America.

During this time, Episcopalianism embodied American propriety and upper-class values—conservative but reasonable. J.P. Morgan, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush. Prim church services, without the Catholic “smells and bells” but with the decorum and hierarchy. V-neck sweaters, pearls, and country clubs.

That began to change in the civil rights era. African American parishes had been around since the 1850s, but often separate but (un-)equal. In 1958, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention passed a resolution affirming “the natural dignity and value of every man, of whatever color or race, as created in the image of God.” Over the objections of Southern leaders, the church began to take sides in the civil rights struggles of the time.

The change was gradual and uneven, but by the end of 1970s, liberals had the upper hand, and conservatives had mostly left, often to join the newly minted Christian Right, made up largely of evangelicals, Baptists and Catholics. Women were ordained as priests in 1976, and as bishops in 1989. Prim church services started to loosen up. By the 1990s, the Episcopal Church had changed from the starchy denomination of Rockefeller Republicans to a smaller denomination of (mostly) liberals.

At the same time, the rest of the Anglican Communion was changing radically, with adherents in the Global South coming to outnumber those in Europe and North America. The churches in British Commonwealth countries emerged in different social contexts, with different values, and different (often hostile) relationships to liberalism. Moreover, they found themselves competing with evangelical inroads, conservative (until two years ago) Catholicism, and Islam, with the most pious-seeming religious tradition often “winning.” For all these reasons and more, the emergent Anglicanism of the Global South was a far more conservative Anglicanism even than the old Episcopalianism, let alone the new one.

The watershed moment came at an important Anglican conference in 1998, when theological conservatives from Africa, Asia, and Latin America defeated the liberals on a key vote: homosexuality.

Arguably, the split we saw last week is just a later stage of the process begun 18 years ago. Homosexuality is the catalyst but not the only contentious issue. To liberals, the Episcopal Church is moving into the 21st century, setting aside Biblical fundamentalism and responding to how people actually live their lives. But to Anglican conservatives, the Episcopal Church has lost its way, moving toward a mushy universalism that downplays Christian exclusivity in favor of pluralism, and takes liberal positions on abortion, LGBT equality, and other hot-button issues.

Perhaps the great open question in American religion is whether liberal denominations like Episcopalianism have a future or not. (As Jack Jenkins at ThinkProgress noted, Presbyterianism—Donald Trump’s denomination—is even more liberal than the Episcopal Church, and Presbyterian leaders have frequently criticized Trump’s positions on immigration and Islam.) American Christianity in general is in a period of steep decline, and mainline Protestant denominations—plus white, non-Hispanic Catholics—are declining the most.

We are moving toward a religiously polarized America. Thirty percent of Americans between the ages of 18-29 profess “none” as their religious affiliation, while at the other extreme, around 35 percent of Americans subscribe to a resurgent ultra-fundamentalist evangelicalism. (77 percent of those evangelicals believe we’re living in the End Times.) Mainline Protestants, once the dominant religious group in America, are now just 18 percent of the population. Episcopalians are less than 1 percent.

To the extent religion continues to provide a source of inspiration, community, purpose, and ethical motivation in people’s lives, liberal Christianity should have a lot to offer, seeing as it provides those things without preposterous beliefs, divisive social mores, or fire-breathing sermons. And it does, to many. But even though 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God, they seem uninterested in expressing that belief in moderate, reasonable churches.

The American religious landscape, then, resembles the Anglican Communion as a whole. On one end, a shrinking number of religious liberals, and at the other, a fierce religious conservatism. In coming apart at the seams, the Anglican Church looks a lot like us.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, January 17, 2016

January 19, 2016 Posted by | American Communion, Marriage Equality, The Episcopal Church | , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Wild And Wacky Stuff”: The Conspiracy Theories Of Ben Carson: A Brief Introduction

The world is now a-BuzzFeed with the discovery of a video from 1998, in which Dr. Ben Carson opined that the pyramids of Egypt were really built as grain houses — not as majestic tombs for the kings. Carson made his case by citing the Bible — specifically the story from Genesis of Joseph advising the Pharaoh of his day to store up grain in order to prepare for seven years of famine.

The alternative, Carson said, was to listen to all those scientists who say the pyramids were built by aliens. As if there were no middle ground there.

In recent days, Carson has reaffirmed these beliefs to a CBS reporter. (Is it possible that Carson was wary of discussing “pyramids” on the record, lest he give a subtle tipoff about his campaign’s very suspicious fundraising and spending operation?)

But this got us wondering: What other wild and wacky stuff does Ben Carson believe, which the wider electorate just hasn’t become totally aware yet? Here’s just a short introduction.

  1. Barack Obama Is Part Of The Communist Conspiracy To Bring Down America

In 2014, Carson declared that President Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder were acting out roles in a decades-long communist conspiracy to subvert America.

In doing so, he cited a book from the 1950s by fringe right-wing conspiracy theorist Cleon Skousen, The Naked Communist. (Skousen was also a major racist, even defending the honor of antebellum Southern slavery and the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred Scott decision.)

  1. The Theory Of Evolution Came From The Devil

In a 2011 speech to a church group, Carson declared: “I personally believe that this theory, that Darwin came up with, was something that was encouraged by the Adversary.”

Carson elaborated on this point: “Now this whole creation vs. evolution controversy has been raging on, really since the beginning. Because what is Satan’s plan? To get rid of God — to disparage God, to mischaracterize God.”

About a month ago, Carson appeared with Bill O’Reilly and dismissed attacks on his beliefs regarding evolution as part of a pattern of liberals attacking African-American conservatives. As for the substance of things, well, he hedged — and asked what those scientists even know, anyway.

“People don’t realize, he’s God — if he wanted to create an Earth that was billions of years old, he could do it. They can’t do it — how come they’re always trying to put themselves in the same category as God?”

  1. Gay Rights Is A Communist Plot — And Men In Prison Prove That Homosexuality Is A Choice

In a 2014 speech to the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, Carson again referenced the aforementioned Cleon Skousen — and said that “neo-Marxists” had “systematically attacked” the family in order to bring down the United States.

In an appearance on CNN earlier this year, Carson argued that homosexuality is a choice — an argument, he said, was lent credence by the experience of some prisoners.

“Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight, and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask yourself that question,” Carson said.

Yes — “something” did happen to them in there. In addition to sexual assault, which is rampant in prisons, there is also what is referred to as “situational homosexuality,” which occurs to men in prisons.

Anyway, clearly the good doctor does not favor a fact-based approach to answering life’s lingering questions. But he loves a good story.

 

By: By Eric Kleefeld, Featured Post, The National Memo, November 5, 2015

November 7, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Conspiracy Theories, Evolution | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“How Dr. Ben Carson Ruined His Legacy”: Taking A Blowtorch To His Own Credibility

As a doctor, it’s hard to imagine a career more accomplished and admirable than that of Dr. Ben Carson. His achievements as a physician so vastly exceed my own as to render any comparison laughable, a fact that I will happily concede.

In fact, so great are his successes as a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins that they comprise the sole basis for his run for president of the United States. Which is why it is astonishing to me as a fellow medical professional to watch as he takes a blowtorch to his own credibility in service to his political ambitions.

The most recent example of Dr. Carson the candidate saying something Dr. Carson the medical scientist knows to be incorrect was his response to the ongoing controversy about Planned Parenthood and the use of fetal tissue obtained from abortions performed there. According to Dr. Carson, “there’s nothing that can’t be done without fetal tissue” when it comes to medical research.

As it turns out, Dr. Carson has himself participated in research on fetal tissue obtained through abortion. First reported by obstetrician (and The Daily Beast contributor) Dr. Jennifer Gunter, Dr. Carson was an author on a 1992 paper that studied tissue from two different fetuses, one aborted at 17 weeks.

In response to Dr. Gunter’s blog post, Dr. Carson has said, “My primary responsibility in that research was when I operated on people and obtained the tissue. This has everything to do with how it’s acquired. If you’re killing babies and taking the tissue, that’s a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it.”

This equivocating non-answer adds to the pernicious narrative surrounding abortions and Planned Parenthood that suggests some kind of ghoulishly nefarious end to use of fetal tissue following abortions, or that babies are being aborted specifically for the purposes of harvesting that tissue. Of course this is not the case, and the decisions women make when they seek abortions are not informed by the research that may be done afterward. Those conducting that research are no more implicated in the process by which the samples were obtained than Dr. Carson was.

Furthermore, as Dr. Gunter’s post goes on to discuss, there is a great deal of very meaningful research that does rely on fetal tissue. Which leads to the problem inherent in Dr. Carson’s initial response to the controversy, even if it turned out he’d never worked with such tissue himself—no matter how accomplished a researcher and surgeon he may be, it doesn’t mean he has plenary knowledge about all medical research everywhere. Any appropriately humble scientist will concede the limits of his or her expertise when it comes to fields that do not overlap their own.

Simply put, there’s really no way Dr. Carson can speak with authority when it comes to the use of fetal tissue in research for immunology, hematology, or any of a host of other areas that do not intersect with neurosurgery or neurology.

This leads to the salient question of whether being a neurosurgeon is in any way a relevant qualification to seek the highest elected office in the nation. As a pediatrician, I will gladly talk to you with confidence about the safety, mechanism of action, and efficacy of vaccines, but would rather flee the room than pretend to understand the nuances of monetary policy. Is there a plausible basis to expect that the skills that make one a master in the operating room will transfer in any way to working with a recalcitrant Congress or shepherding multilateral arms negotiations? After all, in the OR everyone is bent toward the single purpose of the patient’s well-being under the guidance of a sole authority, which can’t be said when you’re dealing with China or the Senate majority leader of the opposing political party.

Unfortunately, Dr. Carson’s latest comments are not the first time he’s spoken in a manner out of keeping with a scientific mind. On the topic of homosexuality, earlier this year he stated “[A] lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight—and when they come out, they’re gay.”

He later walked that statement back, while gesturing toward his own credentials: “I’m a doctor trained in multiple fields of medicine, who was blessed to work at perhaps the finest institution of medical knowledge in the world. Some of our brightest minds have looked at this debate, and up until this point there have been no definitive studies that people are born into a specific sexuality.”

A doctor trained in multiple fields of medicine who chooses to pontificate on the lack of “definitive studies” should know full well that vague anecdotes about gay ex-felons are the weakest kind of evidence. Even if one accepts that a significant number of formerly heterosexual men emerge from prison embracing a new gay identity (which I do not), observational data like that are among the worst, least reliable kind for drawing broad conclusions. Dr. Carson the scientist would laugh someone off the stage at a conference if they presented such sloppy thinking for review.

However, most egregious to me were his comments during the first GOP debate about the use of torture on terrorism suspects. When asked about whether as president he would allow waterboarding, he refused to condemn it and blithely dismissed fighting “politically correct wars.” Coming from a man who has presumably taken the Hippocratic oath, I found this jaw dropping. It made me wonder what other parts of that oath he’d be willing to elide in service to political expediency.

Dr. Carson is hardly the first accomplished physician to leverage his prestige for fame and fortune, and I’m sure he won’t be the last. But if he has no record to justify his claim to the Oval Office beyond his career as a neurosurgeon, shooting his scientific credibility to hell undermines any reason to consider voting for him. He’s all but swift boating himself when he flagrantly jettisons the sound judgment he’s touting as a reason to pick him instead of the other candidates.

The sad reality is that the party that gave America Todd Akin and has a bloviating vaccine truther as its front-runner sorely needs the voice Dr. Carson could be lending to its dialogue. A willingness to speak in an honest and informed manner about health-care issues, including but not limited to women’s reproductive health, would be a welcome addition to the conversation up on the GOP debate stage. But it seems like Dr. Carson lacks that willingness, and prefers to peddle the same claptrap as his far less educated and expert rivals. It’s a woeful diminution for a man who clearly has so much more he could be offering.

 

By: Russell Saunders, The Daily Beast, August 14, 2015

August 15, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primary Debates, Science | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Only Heterosexuals Served Here”: Seriously, What Is Wrong With Kansas?

Kansas might as well start producing “Only Heterosexuals Served Here” signs for businesses and government offices.

A bill that sailed through the state’s House of Representatives tells Kansans: You can be as discriminatory as you like against homosexuals and the state will have your back. Just be sure and do it in God’s name!

The bill is meeting pushback in the Kansas Senate, but don’t be fooled. This is denial and fear on steroids. It’s happening across the country. And it won’t be the last we’ll hear of such legislative efforts.

The legislation is aimed at civil unions. It’s a pre-emptive strike to ensure that people “with sincerely held religious beliefs” against homosexuality will be able to turn gay couples away if they request flowers for a wedding, a banquet hall for a reception or wish to hire a photographer for their civil ceremony. Also covered are those involved with adoption, foster care, counseling or social services, including government employees. Like a city clerk who might want to cite his Bible to avoid legally recognizing a gay marriage declared valid elsewhere.

The politicians who support this nonsense have no clue what discrimination looks like, feels like or how it has historically has functioned in society. The constant cry rationalizing this bill and similar measures elsewhere is that it is religious conservatives — not homosexuals — who are apt to suffer from discrimination.

Really? I’m doubtful that any has entered a public business to be told that their money is no good there — because they’re a Christian. Nor have they suffered the added humiliation of being slurred as they are shown the door. So the idea of ensuring such denial of public accommodation as a legally protected “right,” something no aggrieved person could ever sue for, feels just dandy to them. Justified, even.

What’s really happening — what’s threatening the religious conservatives of Kansas — is that the general public’s views on homosexuality are shifting. Rapidly.

People under the age of 25 shrugged at the hoopla surrounding All-American lineman Michael Sam’s public announcement that he is gay before the NFL draft. Seventeen states have legalized same-sex marriage so couples can gain the tax benefits, insurance, medical protections and legal responsibilities that straight people have long held. And federal courts have overturned bans against same-sex marriages in Utah and Oklahoma.

So religious conservatives now take up the mantle of a minority. That’s one of the few honest things about this conversation. Their view of homosexuality will soon be (if it is not already) a minority opinion.

Yet they miss crucial points. No government authority — neither the courts nor the executive branch — is telling people that they can’t continue to decry homosexuality. They can quote the Bible to condemn it all they want. Preachers can preach that God has naught but fiery damnation in store for LGBT people. Churches can continue to bar gay couples from marriage and any other sacrament.

But that long-enshrined First Amendment protection of speech and religious freedom isn’t good enough for these folks. No. They want the assurance that they can also run a public business, advertise their services to one and all, and still maintain the right to tell gay people they aren’t welcome. And never face the legal ramifications of a lawsuit, if such a thing could ever transpire in Kansas.

Here’s another overlooked fact. It is legal in much of America to discriminate against gays and lesbians. In many states and cities, a gay person can be fired if a boss takes a disliking to his or her “lifestyle,” and the fired employee has no legal recourse to fight back. Sexual orientation does not enjoy the federal protections of other attributes, such as race, sex, color, religion or national origin.

This backlash is not unlike the many hateful exertions to protect the “Southern way of life” from the threat of civil rights legislation. Certainly, there were, and likely still are, people who opposed the “mixing of the races” on religious grounds.

The Kansas bill’s sponsor points to one clause as a measure of fairness to gays. When an employee of a business or a government office doesn’t want to deal with a gay person, another employee should. Tap the non-homophobe to do the job!

This only underscores the bill’s absurdity, especially from a Christian perspective. Jesus of Nazareth was infamous in his time for supping with prostitutes and tax collectors, and yet these supposedly upright followers of his cannot bear to act with charity and decency in public and commercial life?

To defeat this bill and others like it around the country, a spotlight must be focused on the legislators who back them. Efforts to that effect have already begun in Kansas. But this sort of political hustle won’t die easily. It’s all about ginning up feelings of persecution among so-called “values voters” … over having to surrender the long-held prerogative to persecute. Lacking any grace or humility, these demagogues won’t leave the scene until they’ve discharged all their poison into our politics.

But they will never prevail.

 

By: Mary Sanchez, The National Memo, February 18, 2014

February 19, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Antonin Scalia Is Angry, Again”: The Only Principle That Guides Him Is What He Can Get Away With

Ten years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled that laws outlawing sodomy between consenting adults were unconstitutional in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a blistering dissent. “What a massive disruption of the current social order,” he practically wailed from the page. He said that the Court had “largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda,” and contrasted the Court with the good people of America, who “do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive.” And perhaps most notably, Scalia lamented that under the rationale the Court’s majority was using, the government wouldn’t be able to prohibit gay people from getting married. To each other!

He was right about that, anyway. But his dissent in today’s case invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act is a somewhat different beast. Scalia spends the first 18 pages of his 26-page dissent far from the moral questions that had so animated him before; instead, he confines himself to arguing that the Court shouldn’t have decided the case at all. Scalia is apparently deeply concerned that the Court is butting its nose in where the legislature should have the final say (more on that in a moment).

But when he finally gets to discussing the merits of the case, Scalia does not disappoint. While the rousing moral condemnations of homosexuality may be absent, Scalia deploys the cries of victimhood now so popular on the right with gusto. By forbidding us from discriminating against gays, you’re discriminating against us. By calling our prejudice against gays what it is, you’re injuring us.

Scalia is outraged at the majority’s contention that the core purpose of DOMA was to discriminate against gay people, and this, he asserts, means that they’re calling everyone who supports it a monster. “To defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution,” he writes.

And more: “It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.” Woah, there, buddy! Did anyone actually call you an enemy of the human race? Touchy, touchy.

But then Scalia updates his prediction from ten years ago, and he probably has a point: “It takes real cheek for today’s majority to assure us, as it is going out the door, that a constitutional requirement to give formal recognition to same-sex marriage is not at issue here—when what has preceded that assurance is a lecture on how superior the majority’s moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress’s hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will ‘confine’ the Court’s holding is its sense of what it can get away with.”

On this point, Scalia probably knows what he’s talking about. After all, this is a guy who, in a decision delivered just yesterday, helped gut the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed by Congress and one that was reauthorized in 2006 by votes of 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate, yet spends two-thirds of this very dissent arguing that the Supreme Court is a bunch of black-robed tyrants when they invalidate a law passed by Congress. In other words, despite his carefully cultivated reputation as a principled “originalist,” the only principle that guides Antonin Scalia is “what he can get away with.” For him, it’s the outcome that matters. The justification comes after. Is that true of the Court’s liberals as well? Maybe. But it’s a little rich to make that charge when your own hypocrisy is on such obvious display.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 26, 2013

June 27, 2013 Posted by | SCOTUS | , , , , , | Leave a comment

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