Why there shouldn’t be clergy at Ground Zero

That Mayor Bloomberg is not inviting clergy to participate in the ten year anniversary events marking the 9/11 anniversary has provoked not a little outrage.  But Lutheran pastor William Cwirla presents a contrary view:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has banned clergy from participating in this year’s 9/11 memorial events at Ground Zero. Good for him! He’ll save us all a bunch of post-9/11ecumenical hangover headaches on Monday. As far as I’m concerned, clergy are best neither seen nor heard in the public square. And I’m one of them.

What makes clergy “clergy” is their appointment to serve their “faith communities” as we like to call them. Pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams and the like represent their various religious bodies and teach their various religions to their respective groups. They are public figures within their congregations and circles of influence, not within society at large. At least in this society.

The events of September 1, 2001 were not inherently religious in nature. I know Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher and their ilk like to say they were, but they’d find any excuse to bash religion. Yes, the perpetrators were radical fundamentalist Muslims. Yes, they did what they did in part believing they were doing the will of Allah and would be rewarded eternally for their actions. But 9/11 was an attack against the United States of America for its policies and presence in the Middle East. It was not an attack on Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism or any other religion. In case we’ve forgotten, the targeted buildings were the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and presumably, the White House. No cathedrals were harmed in the atrocity.

The reason we get all religious about 9/11 is two-fold, I think. First, it was an enormous, sudden and violent loss of life, property and personal security. The enormity of what happened that day is hard to fathom let alone put into words. I remember that Tuesday vividly and still don’t quite believe it. We were supposed to have our monthly pastors’ meeting. Instead, we planned our services for later that evening. I remember the silence of the skies overhead as planes were grounded. Events of such enormous loss seek enormous answers in a God who is bigger than the enormity of what happened. When really bad things happen, most people get religious. I do. I get that.

Second, we believe in our patriotic heart of hearts that our being American somehow transcends our being Catholic, Lutheran, Evangelical, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, etc. That’s not true, though we like to believe it, at least on days other than Sunday. Hence the parade of religions around 9/11. We did it at the first 9/11 event at Yankee Stadium to show the world how we all get along and play nice in this country. It hasn’t always worked out that way since, but we like to pretend, at least when the cameras are rolling.

America’s civil religion has grown increasingly complex and diverse since our formative years when our largely Deist and Christian founding fathers carved out a place for Divine Providence in the public psyche. Ironically, a few of the founding fathers were skeptical atheists too, including notably Thomas Payne and Benjamin Franklin. But they, like the Deist Thomas Jefferson, saw the value of a little religion in public life, so long as it was neutered and kept on a short leash. We like our civic religions tame and domesticated in the public square. But as we who worship the Lion of Judah know, God is never tame or domesticated.

So as a Lutheran clergyman with a firm hold on the proper distinction of the two kingdoms, I say, “Good for you, Mayor Bloomberg.” And thank you for giving all of us clergy a day off from the public square. I’ll be sure to get together with my faith community on Sunday, September 11, as is our custom every Sunday, to hear of Jesus’ victory over Sin and Death and receive the gifts of His Sacrifice for the sin of the world.

And we’ll say a prayer for our country, for the government and those who protect us, including you, Mr. Mayor, as well as for all the nations of the world, for our fellow Christians scattered throughout all the world, for our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and for that peace that the world cannot give.

via Rev. Cwirla’s Blogosphere – No Clergy at Ground Zero.

Christianity & Science

In an article on “Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science,” Hillel Ofek describes and helps account for the great contributions of early Islamic scientists and mathematicians, but he then chronicles how ever-more-absolutist brands of Islam came to shut them down.  Ofek says that civilizations often abandon scientific inquiry–citing China and India–and that the West is the notable exception.  For this he gives Christianity lots of credit:

As a way of articulating questions that lie deeper than the Ash’arism-Mu’tazilism debate, it is helpful to briefly compare Islam with Christianity. Christianity acknowledges a private-public distinction and (theoretically, at least) allows adherents the liberty to decide much about their social and political lives. Islam, on the other hand, denies any private-public distinction and includes laws regulating the most minute details of private life. Put another way, Islam does not acknowledge any difference between religious and political ends: it is a religion that specifies political rules for the community.

Such differences between the two faiths can be traced to the differences between their prophets. While Christ was an outsider of the state who ruled no one, and while Christianity did not become a state religion until centuries after Christ’s birth, Mohammed was not only a prophet but also a chief magistrate, a political leader who conquered and governed a religious community he founded. Because Islam was born outside of the Roman Empire, it was never subordinate to politics. As Bernard Lewis puts it, Mohammed was his own Constantine. This means that, for Islam, religion and politics were interdependent from the beginning; Islam needs a state to enforce its laws, and the state needs a basis in Islam to be legitimate. To what extent, then, do Islam’s political proclivities make free inquiry — which is inherently subversive to established rules and customs — possible at a deep and enduring institutional level?

Some clues can be found by comparing institutions in the medieval period. Far from accepting anything close to the occasionalism and legal positivism of the Sunnis, European scholars argued explicitly that when the Bible contradicts the natural world, the holy book should not be taken literally. Influential philosophers like Augustine held that knowledge and reason precede Christianity; he approached the subject of scientific inquiry with cautious encouragement, exhorting Christians to use the classical sciences as a handmaiden of Christian thought. Galileo’s house arrest notwithstanding, his famous remark that “the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes” underscores the durability of the scientific spirit among pious Western societies. Indeed, as David C. Lindberg argues in an essay collected in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (2009), “No institution or cultural force of the patristic period offered more encouragement for the investigation of nature than did the Christian church.” And, as Baylor University sociologist Rodney Stark notes in his book For the Glory of God (2003), many of the greatest scientists of the scientific revolution were also Christian priests or ministers.

The Church’s acceptance and even encouragement of philosophy and science was evident from the High Middle Ages to modern times. As the late Ernest L. Fortin of Boston College noted in an essay collected in Classical Christianity and the Political Order (1996), unlike al-Farabi and his successors, “Aquinas was rarely forced to contend with an anti-philosophic bias on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities. As a Christian, he could simply assume philosophy without becoming publicly involved in any argument for or against it.” And when someone like Galileo got in trouble, his work moved forward and his inquiry was carried on by others; in other words, institutional dedication to scientific inquiry was too entrenched in Europe for any authority to control. After about the middle of the thirteenth century in the Latin West, we know of no instance of persecution of anyone who advocated philosophy as an aid in interpreting revelation. In this period, “attacks on reason would have been regarded as bizarre and unacceptable,” explains historian Edward Grant in Science and Religion, 400 b.c. to a.d. 1550.

via The New Atlantis » Why the Arabic World Turned Away from Science.

Augustine indeed, on the basis of the classical science of his day, said there was no need to take the creation account in Genesis literally in every detail, while still affirming the truth of what it means.  Arguably, the worldviews of Christianity and those early scientists were in harmony–indeed, the former made possible the latter–whereas  they started to clash after the Enlightenment and 19th century materialism.  Still. . . .

HT:  Joe Carter

“Get behind me, Satan!”

What we heard from Pastor Douthwaite on Sunday, preaching on Matthew 16:21-28:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

Ouch. Poor Peter. He meant well. He really did. He loved his Lord. He had come a long way since that first day by the Sea of Galilee. And yet, with this word of Jesus, he seems back on square one. No, actually, it’s worse than that. For while before he might not have known Jesus from Adam, at least he wasn’t working against the Lord – he was minding his own business. But now, not only does Jesus call him Satan, an enemy of God, he then says you, Peter, are getting in my way! You are a hindrance to me. You’re not thinking right. Your mind is not on the things of God but on the things of man. . . .

Now, what did he say that caused such a violent reaction from Jesus? He said: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” in response to Jesus’ statement that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter was thinking: Jesus, as I just said, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. You are the Son of the God who brought His people out of Egypt, who parted the Red Sea for them, who kept them through the wilderness, fed them with manna, gave them water to drink from a rock, and who is mightier than all the armies of the world. You are the Son of the God who created all things and keeps the sun and moon and stars and earth in their courses. You are the Son of the God who feeds all living things, like you fed the over 5,000 in the wilderness not too long ago. There is no one greater than you and your Father in heaven. He won’t let this happen to you. He will protect you. He will stop those who oppose you and seek your life. . . .

Peter is trying to tell Jesus how to do His job; how to be the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Which is what we do, too. We confess with Peter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And maybe even one better than Peter, we know the story of the cross, of His death and resurrection, and forgiveness and all of that. We got that. . . . Yet when we find out what that means for our life, how often do we think as Peter thought? When pain and suffering come into your life. No, Lord. When faithfulness to God’s Word means giving up what you want and think you need. No, Lord. When we’re told, as we heard from St. Paul today, to bless those who persecute you . . . to be patient in tribulation . . . to feed and give drink to your enemy. No, Lord. When earthquakes and hurricanes threaten. No, Lord. When being a Christian means bearing the cross. No, Lord. I’d really rather not, Lord. Some other time, Lord. Somebody else, Lord. No, Lord, I’m your child. Shouldn’t I get good things, Lord? Long life, Lord? Blessings and not sadness, Lord? No, Lord. No. . . .

The cross is how Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, still today, is for you. For the purpose of His cross, and the crosses that you bear, are not just His death and resurrection, but your death and resurrection with Him. You’re going to one day die because you’re a sinner. You cannot get around that. But to die with Christis quite a different thing. It means to die a death that ends in resurrection and life. And it is a death and resurrection that is already taking place in you, as you die and rise with Christ in baptism, as you die and rise with Christ in repentance. As you die to your old way of life, your old way of thinking, your Old Man’s “No, Lord,” and rise to live a new life, a “yes, Lord” life, a right-side-up-in-an-upside-down-world life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 11 Sermon.

Who the unchurched actually are

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.

Glenn Beck and his allies in Israel

Glenn Beck is in Israel, holding a big rally supporting that country against its Islamic enemies and calling for solidarity with the Jewish people.  What’s interesting, as Sarah Pulliam Bailey shows, is the way certain media outlets are confounding Beck, a Mormon, with “Christian fundamentalists” and “evangelicals” who believe that Israel is playing a role in Christ’s second coming.  See Israel a la Glenn Beck » GetReligion.

On the other hand, some ostensibly conservative Christians are indeed embracing Beck and his cause.   These include David Barton, the revisionist historian who claims that America was founded as  a distinctly Christian nation and who maintains that Beck is a Christian on the basis of his “fruits.”  And also TV Bible-prophecy preacher John Hagee.

I think what we can conclude from this is that certain “fundamentalists” are not necessarily conservative theologically at all, that they can be very ecumenical and tolerant of other religions, to the point of theological relativism.

More important to them than theological conservatism is political conservatism.  But to have politics trump theology is a characteristic of liberal theology.  Theirs is a social gospel of the right, rather than the left, but it’s still a social gospel.

 

I believe in the “holy Catholic church” or “holy Christian church”?

The great Lutheran blogger Anthony Sacramone–remember Luther at the Movies?–goes from posting whole handfuls of entries a day at Strange Herring to going months without posting a thing (and now to keeping the public from reading it, for some reason).  But he sometimes puts something up at the First Things site.   He has a characteristically humorous, provocative, and instructive post there now:  What’s in a Name? Plenty. » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

After riffing on how Campus Crusade has changed its name to “Cru,” he complains about how his fellow Lutherans in the Missouri Synod and other confessional churches translate the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds as “I believe in the Holy Christian Church,” instead of the more direct rendition of the Latin, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church” like everybody else does (only sometimes with an asterix).

He does cite the fact that this comes from the German translation that predates even the Reformation, but he makes the case that today in English we should  show that we are “catholic” in the sense that we claim to be by using “catholic” like the rest of the universal church.   He points out that all kinds of sects and heretics claim to be “Christian.”  We need to affirm that we part of the historical universal Body of Christ, which is what “catholic” does.

In the course of the discussion, he gives some interesting biographical tidbits about his own spiritual pilgrimage  that I have always wondered about. But doesn’t he have a good point?  In the Athanasian Creed, which I’d be glad to confess every week, we do use “catholic.”   It’s a good word, like “evangelical,” and we shouldn’t cede it just to the Church of Rome.  Or are there reasons to change it?


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