Ghost in the ghost story: Gannett has no doubts

priest ghostLongtime readers of GetReligion may remember the defining image used in the very first post on this blog. It has shown up in headlines several times since then.

I am talking about the idea of religion “ghosts” that haunt many reality-based news stories in mainstream media. It is our belief that these moral and religious implications often go unreported, in part because, as Bill Moyers like to say, too many journalists are “tone deaf” to the religious themes that are all around them. In other words, these journalists do not “get” religion.

Today I ran into a ghost while reading a story about, well, ghosts. USA Weekend ran a pop culture feature story by Gwen Moran titled “Real-Life Ghost Busters” that was, on the surface, quite ordinary. Here is a sample, about the work of the husband-wife team of Dave Oester and Sharon Gill:

When you’ve investigated more than 1,000 hauntings in the past 14 years, you’re used to the unexplained. Oester, 56, and Gill, 55, are founders of the International Ghost Hunters Society, a group of nearly 15,000 ghost investigators and enthusiasts. Armed with digital cameras, voice recorders and a fascination with the freaky, the Deming, N.M.-based couple travels the country investigating haunted places. And with more than one-third of Americans sharing a belief in ghosts, according to a 2003 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, there are many places to investigate.

Unexplained noises (such as knocking, footsteps or muffled voices), electrical appliances turning on and off by themselves and other mysterious happenings can be signs of an active ghost. … Some people in haunted settings have a feeling that they’re not alone, or they get inexplicably cold. In the most extreme cases, people feel they’ve been touched by something or have seen objects move, even when there’s no one there.

Pretty straightforward stuff. But as I read it again something hit me, like a cold chill running down my spine, as the mystery began to sink in. There was nothing in this story that offered the slightest hint that the journalism professionals at the mainstream Gannett newspaper empire had any doubts about the reality of the spiritual world implied by this report. Shocking, huh?

Try to imagine a similar hands-off attitude toward a story on other claims of supernatural religious experiences. Try to imagine a pack of charismatic Episcopalians getting to make claims about the power of the Holy Spirit, without scads of doubters getting to share their viewpoints. Ditto for Eastern Orthodox parishioners with myrrh-weeping icons. Ditto for neo-Madonna mystics doing whatever they are doing at the moment. And, you know what? That skepticism is a good thing. It’s good to see reporters pushed to chart the edges of supernatural claims. It’s good to ask tough questions of people who claim to have had mystical experiences. Just do it.

But don’t look for questions of this kind in this fluffy feature. The high point, for me, was the helpful “news you can use” sidebar entitled “How to get along with ghosts.” This is simply too rich to edit.

Calm down. “Sometimes, ghosts aren’t that different from 12-year-old boys,” ghost hunter Dave Oester says. “They’re having fun spooking you.” It’s no longer fun if you aren’t scared.

Talk it out. Give your ghost a name. If the ghost performs dangerous pranks, like turning on a gas stove, explain why it can’t do that. “It may be that your ghost is trying to get your attention,” Sharon Gill says. “Acknowledging it may be enough to get it to stop.”

Get positive. If you have an angry spirit, it’s likely because someone in your home has the same kind of energy, Oester says. He and Gill worked with a family in which a spirit was slamming doors, scaring the family. “We helped them create a rule where all of the problems were to be left on the front porch before anyone came in the house. They had to work on being positive in the house,” says Oester, who notes that the family reported a ghost-free house within months.

Oh, but Moran is sure about one thing: “Blessings, exorcisms and the like are nonsense.”

So you can chat the ghost up and help it wrestle with its self-esteem issues, but do not — repeat, do not — think that calling a priest will help. No sir. No doubts about that, either. Whatever you do, don’t take seriously the claims of traditional religious teachings on the subject of good and evil, heaven and hell, angels and demons.

P.S. Those interested in another mysterious story in a mainstream newspaper can turn to The Dallas Morning News, where friend-of-this-blog Rod Dreher has published a chilling little essay titled “A ghost in the family: Did Grandfather’s spirit stay behind to mend broken bonds?” Honest, Dreher has a great book stashed in his head that could be called Confessions of a Bayou Exorcist and some smart publisher needs to pay him big bucks to get it written.

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Is OBL lying to the American people?

Bunnybinladen_2Back from his near-death experience, Osama bin Laden emerged to make an anti-Bush ad in the form of an address to the American people. The bearded one closed with the warning: “Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Any nation that does not attack us will not be attacked.” Leading up to this statement, however, he took a series of swipes at George H.W. Bush and President Bush:

1) He claimed, “[President] Bush is still exercising confusion and misleading you and not telling you the true reason [for the attacks].” Hint: It wasn’t because al Qaeda envies our freedom.

2) He noted the “similarities of [the first Bush] administration and the regimes in [Muslim] countries, half of which are run by the military and half of which are run by monarchs.” Both of these familiar regime types and, by extension, the White House, “are full of arrogance and taking money illegally.”

3) In a bit of a chronological screw-up, he charged George the First with “suppression of freedom to his own country” by way of the PATRIOT Act.

4) Finally, he picked up on the fact that President Bush continued to read to elementary students on September 11 and said this: “[W]e never knew that the commander-in-chief of the American armed forces would leave 50,000 of his people in the two towers to face those events by themselves when they were in the most urgent need of their leader.”

For the latest partisan back-and-forth over the bin Laden tape, visit the websites of the Weekly Standard (start here and here) and the American Prospect. For what it’s worth, the pre-poll indicators seem to say that this will be bad for Kerry and good for Bush.

Two things surprised me about the video. The first was that Osama bin Laden has clearly been keeping tabs on the lefty criticisms of George W. Bush. The second was that he tailored his remarks to try to persuade a certain segment of voters. He charged that meddling by Americans and Israelis had prompted September 11. He attacked the democracy building and human rights rhetoric of the Bush administration and placed Islamic regimes on the side of freedom, in contrast to the American occupation, which was the closest he came to ever mentioning Iraq.

To certain ears, I’m sure it was it an almost reasonable address, with the reassuring message that no further aggression on the United States’ part would be met with no further violence by al Qaeda. But the speech glossed over the larger vision that led to the attack on the Pentagon and the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Here is a link to the text of bin Laden’s famous 1996 fatwa, and I encourage GetReligion regulars to go there and read it. Notice that the cleric holds the crusades against the U.S. and complains of a “Zionist-Crusader” alliance.

The document is sprawling and the complaints wide-ranging (from the free-spending Saudi royals to American involvement in the Middle East to the rotten nogoodniks in the press), but the overall vision is one of a crusading Islam. Bin Laden would expel westerners and Jews from lands that he considers to be Muslim turf and press for a stricter interpretation and enforcement of Allah’s law within that world. And his conception of what constitutes Muslim lands is quite extensive.

Not to put too fine a point on it, bin Laden now appears schizophrenic. Either he has changed his mind some since he penned the fatwa or else the notorious cleric was not being completely candid in his recent message. One of his deputies should have clued him in to the fact that a good cop/bad cop routine requires more than one person to pull it off.

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Druids and goddesses and Episcopalians, oh my

midsummerdruids.jpgEvery now and then, a religion story breaks out online that truly defies a quick and easy blog report. This is certainly the case with the slap-fest that is taking place between our friends at the Christianity Today blog and the trailblazing liturgists at the Episcopal Church’s Office of Women’s Ministries.

To get up to speed on the amazing story of the little neo-pagan Eucharist that could, start with Ted Olsen’s initial reporting at the CT blog. Read it all. There is no way for me to crunch this story down into a few paragraphs, but I can at least let you see the most explosive summary statement. And note that Ted Olsen absolutely nails the larger global story here, the larger story that we will have to look for in the mainstream media. That is, we can look for it once the mainstream media finishes with John Kerry and George Bush and realizes that the front lines in the bitter Anglican sex war may have moved. Here is how the story begins:

Imagine for one moment that you’re a leader in the Episcopal Church USA. You know that within the next few days, a global commission is going to release a report on how the global Anglican Communion should respond to your church, and is likely to be critical of the ordination of an actively homosexual man as bishop. You know, and have said yourself, that the debate isn’t just about sexuality: It’s about how one views the Bible. And you know that all eyes will be on your denomination over the next few weeks. What do you do?

What the real leaders of the Episcopal Church did was to take an action that makes ordaining a homosexual man as a bishop almost a non-issue. They started promoting the worship of pagan deities. This is not a joke nor an overstatement. In all truth and seriousness, leaders of the Episcopal Church USA are promoting pagan rites to pagan deities.

These sentences were written an eternity ago, in blogosphere terms. So much has happened since then, including the church’s establishment lashing out at Christianity Today, a magazine with a staff that is more than a few people who fluently speak the lingo of Episcopalians and even neo-feminists. It also should be noted that the main links to the controversial liturgy have — surprise — suddenly gone dead. But the printable version is still over here on another page. That’s where you will find all kinds of interesting images, such as:

“Blessed are you, Mother God, for the fertility of this world. We thank you for the sight and scent of flowers, for the way their shape evokes in us the unfolding of our own sexuality, and for their power to remind us of the glory and the impermanence of physical beauty. May our days of blossoming and of fading be days spent in your presence.”

Dipping her fingers into the bowl of salt water, one of the women says, “Sisters, this is the water of life. From the womb of the sea, Mother Earth brought forth life. From the womb waters of our own bodies our children are born. In the womb shaped fonts of our churches, we are baptized into community. This is the water of life.” Touching the water again, she continues. “This, too, is the water of our tears. Our power to weep is an expression of God’s love in and through us. We weep in sorrow for that which we have lost. We weep in anger for the pain of others. We weep in hope of healing and wholeness, and we weep in joy when our hearts are too full to contain our feelings.”

Dipping her fingers in the water, each traces a tear on the cheek of the woman beside her saying, “Remember, sister, tears are the water of life.”

That’s really old by now. Journalists should print out a copy quick for the files before that vanishes as well.

The Anglican blogosphere is all over this, especially the conservative heavy hitters here and here, the digital turf of Dr. Kendall Harmon and the amazing Canadian Anglican Web Elves (don’t ask). And CT continues to fight on, especially with this long and very detailed report.

There is so much to report, from the work of the Episcopal priest named Bill Melnyk, who is the same person as the Druid leader Oakwyse, and his neo-pagan partner Glispa, who is also the Rev. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk — the woman who helped steer the feminist Eucharistic rite onto the Episcopal website in the first place. And the roots of some of these rites run back to their work with the modern druid clan called Tuatha de Brighid and perhaps, via some raisin cakes (it’s a long story) to the ancient goddess Asherah, the female counterpart to Baal.

Rites that connect to Baal worship are generally frowned on in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Like I said, we will have to see how the mainstream press handles this story, if it does. Watch the unusual interfaith evangelism forums, such as Beliefnet.com and the award-winning religion pages of the Dallas Morning News.

This story is moving rapidly, but keep clicking and hang on.

Let me close with two observations.

The first is that this story is old, old, old in several ways. After all, it has been more than a decade since I witnessed an Episcopal diocesan bishop lead a Eucharist that included this chant:

OBA ye Oba yo Yemanja
Oba ye Oba yo O Yemanja
Oby ye Oba yo O O Ausar
Oba ye Oba yo O Ra Ausar

Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens
Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens
Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life
Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life
Praises to Ausar, ruler of Amenta, the realm of the ancestors
Praises to Ra and Ausar, rulers of the light and the resurrected soul.

– From the printed worship booklet for “Liturgy and Sermon, Earth Mass — Missa Gaia,” distributed on Oct. 3, 1993, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

And second, it was just a few days ago that the bookish Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright said that the key to the splintering of the Anglican Communion is that there are issues even more important than the redefinition of the Sacrament of Marriage and the blessing of same-sex unions. What happens if Anglican Christians start worshipping other gods? Will they still be Christians? Remember, Wright said:

The critical thing is there are some differences which would divide the church. For instance, if somebody decided to propose that instead of reading the Bible in church, we should read the Bhagavad-Gita or the Qur’an, most Christians would say this is no longer a church and that’s a difference that we simply cannot live with.

I also believe that the Decalogue in the modernized Book of Common Prayer continues to contain these words:

God spake these words, and said: I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods but me. Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.

You can bet the farm on the fact that the worship of other gods, by name, is frowned upon in the growing Anglican churches of Africa and Asia, tense regions in which doctrinal clashes between Christianity and pagan religions are not taken lightly. It may be trendy for hip American clerics to experiment with the worship of ancient gods and goddesses from Africa. But African Christians will not be amused.

If the Episcopalians have decided to drop, edit or re-refine the Decalogue, those of us who cover the Godbeat/godsbeat will really have a story on our hands.

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Getting out the Amish vote

Elecamish_1Pre-Election Day reports about targeted campaigning are enough to make even a political junkie chant, “Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop!”

Religion News Service’s Article of the Week provides a wry glimpse into just how targeted the presidential campaign has become: Republicans hope to motivate Amish families to vote, based on concerns about abortion and homosexuality.

Sociologist Donald Kraybill, who was a frequent and eloquent critic of UPN’s Amish in the City, is no less concerned about the Republican Party’s Amish in the Swing States reality show: “I think the Republicans have been using the words abortion and gay marriage to frighten the Amish.”

Reporter Rich Preheim provides good background on why campaigning among the Amish may not be the best way to show religious sensitivity:

Amish, Hutterites and Mennonites are members of a Christian movement known as Anabaptism, which emerged out of the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th centuries. Some conservative groups, known as Old Orders, have largely avoided political involvement, while many members of others, such as Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Brethren, have become voters and office holders.

“Who’s going to vote them in if we Christians don’t?” said Joel Decker, a member of Starland Hutterite Colony in Gibbon, Minn., who plans on voting in his second presidential election next month.

“I’m ultraconservative in the political arena,” he said.

But other Old Order groups seem to be adhering closer to traditional beliefs. Amos Hoover, an Old Order Mennonite member and historian in Pennsylvania, said he has not seen increased interest in voting in his church.

“We discourage voting and try to take no part,” he said. “We try to pray every Sunday for the government.”

That was echoed by Steve Hofstetter, principal of an Indiana school affiliated with the Beachy Amish, a more progressive Amish branch. “We would pray for those who are voting,” he said. “We vote on our knees.”

What a startling moment: A man happily accepts the description of ultraconservative rather than having it foisted upon him by a reporter.

Preheim’s best detail comes from history professor John Roth, editor of The Mennonite Quarterly Review and a history professor at Goshen College:

As a teenager, he campaigned for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. But Richard Nixon’s landslide victory left Roth disillusioned and seeking explanation and comfort.

“When I discovered that there were things in my own (religious) tradition that gave language to my disappointment, I employed them,” said Roth, who has never voted. “I need to keep the outcome of any given political process in perspective. The kingdom of God does not hang in the balance of any earthly election.”

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Define evangelical: give three examples before Nov. 2

Pk_dc1That sound you hear right now on the Religious Right is stunned silence about the president’s change of heart on same-sex unions.

The rank and file are trying to figure out why President Bush did one of the only things he could possibly do to drown the enthusiasm of his base a few days before the election. Not only did he go Sister Souljah on them, he didn’t seem aware — surprise — of the reality-based details of the issue at hand. Frankly, I have also been amazed at the low-key media response. Everyone knows that Bush needs a massive pew-gap turn out from religious conservatives to win, or his strategists sure seem to think so.

Thus, we have seen some coverage of the complexity — which is real, by the way — that is found among voters on the evangelical, “born again” and culturally conservative side of the aisle. It’s time to start reminding people that it is immature, or even bad theology, to go into the voting booth and pull that lever based on one or two religious issues, such as abortion. It’s time for religious conservatives to be more mature and nuanced. Here is a sample from a Christianity Today editorial along these lines.

The dark side of single-issue politics is that it has forced evangelicals to become ever more shrill and ever less imaginative. Dominant-issue politics shows greater promise in addressing our society amid all the pressing issues our society faces, including terrorism, economic justice, church-state relations, gay marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, and so on.

Abortion is a monstrous tragedy for the nation, but our Christian commitment to a culture of life does not permit us the luxury of abandoning other important issues. While single-mindedness in following Christ is always wise, single-issue voting may not be.

This is the kind of language that makes Republicans have nightmares and lash out. Take my word for it. I’ve got people writing me angry emails right now saying that I tried to take Bush down a notch or two in my Scripps Howard column this week.

There is no way to know the motives of journalists involved in writing these stories, so don’t even try to go there. But this is a real story. The bottom line is that the world of evangelicalism is more complex than people in some newsrooms (and many pulpits) want to admit. Thus, there is no one “evangelical” view on Bush.

For starters, it is hard to know what any of the old religious labels mean, anymore. It might help some reporters to glance through materials posted at the home page of George Barna, one of America’s most influential pollsters on all things “evangelical.”

It is important to note that Barna separates “evangelicals” from the “born again” and he says that a mere 8 percent of the nation qualifies as “evangelical.” Here is how he defines this flock:

We categorize an evangelical based upon their answers to nine questions about faith matters. Those included in this segment meet the criteria for being born again; say their faith is very important in their life today; believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believe that Satan exists; believe that the eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and describe God as the all-knowing , all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Thus, evangelicals are a subset of the born again population.

In other words, Barna uses doctrinal standards to define this term — a kind of free-church Protestant creed. This is a frightening concept to many low-church Protestants, especially Baptists. Barna’s definition of “born again” is different. It is experiential. “Born again” believers are people who say that they have been “born again” and have some kind of ongoing relationship with the Christian faith, however they choose to define this. According to Barna, 33 percent of the nation is “born again,” but not truly “evangelical.”

Meanwhile, another 44 percent of the population gets any even foggier label — “notional Christians.” Notional Christians are people who say they are Christians — period. And what does the term “Christian” mean in this context? Who knows. For a look at the rest of Barna’s labels and definitions, click here.

Please remember that this is one merely set of definitions. I once asked Billy Graham if he could define “evangelical” and he said he had no idea what the word meant. One person’s evangelical is another’s fundamentalist. Ask the New York Times. Another person’s “moderate” evangelical is another’s heretic. Ask Bill Clinton, or Tony Campolo, or the theology departments at many Baptist schools.

So there are evangelicals who are pro-life, but oppose Bush on all kinds of justice and peace issues. There are evangelicals whose “sola scriptura” approach to the Bible has led them to swing left on issues of sexual morality. There are lots of evangelicals who love “Will & Grace” and “Oprah” and think it’s just time for everybody to get along. Maybe their voices are hard to hear in the barrage of media coverage of the Christian right, but these progressive evangelicals are out there and they plan to vote for Kerry. Take that, Jerry Falwell.

For a glimpse into this world, click here and listen in as Chicago Sun-Times religion writer Cathleen Falsani visits with five of her Wheaton College roommates. Here is her survey of this evangelical landscape:

Moderate evangelicals, who hold more-or-less traditional Christian beliefs but are slightly less active in church than those who better fit the “religious right” stereotype, make up about 10 percent of the electorate, according to John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron.

Then there are the liberal evangelicals, more theologically liberal than their moderate brethren but still firmly encamped inside evangelical denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention. This most curious minority, which makes up about 2.5 percent of voters, could end up swinging the election in Sen. John Kerry’s favor, Green and other pol watchers say.

Reporter Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times recently ventured into the same corner of the electorate in a story entitled: “Conflicted Evangelicals Could Cost Bush Votes.” You can almost hear the copy desk cheering as that headline went to the press.

Once again, the emphasis is on the “freestyle evangelicals” who, more than anything else, abhor the Religious Right. Many are pro-life Democrats who have been locked out of their own party’s halls of power. Some are Catholic Republicans who wish they could get Republicans to read Vatican documents on war and peace, social justice, health care, labor and other non-conservative concerns. Every now and then, these concerns bubble into public view. Wallsten notes one major example:

Within the evangelical community, the complicated fabric of politics was underscored this month when the board of the National Assn. of Evangelicals unanimously approved a document laying out a new “Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.” The document embraces traditional opposition to abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research. But it also mirrors aspects of the Democratic Party platform, quoting scripture to endorse policies that encourage racial and economic equity and promote a cleaner environment.

“You can’t shoehorn the Bible into one political party’s ideology,” said Richard Cizik, a vice president of the association and an author of the report.

This affects ordinary people as well as policy documents.

Here is one sample, from a Wallsten interview with a frustrated evangelical named Wendy Skroch in the battleground state of Wisconsin. She is not alone and, in a race this tight, her voice matters. Is she a Democrat from the age before Roe v. Wade? Is she a Republican who has been mugged by economic realities? Listen.

A speech pathologist who works part time at a senior care center and has three children, Skroch said she sees firsthand the problems of the healthcare system. Her family’s insurance plan doesn’t cover their needs. Bush did nothing to fix the system, she said.

One day Kerry showed up at her office for a campaign visit. A woman asked the Democrat why he voted against the ban on what critics call partial-birth abortion. To Skroch’s dismay, she said, he didn’t have an answer.

“I feel disenfranchised,” she said. “Sometimes I think the best thing for me to do if I can’t make up my mind is to just not vote.”

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Lilies of the field

Polpot In 1998, when former Marxist dictator Pol Pot died before he could be brought to trial for ordering the deaths of millions of fellow Cambodians, there was a small item in the unsigned editorial section of National Review. If memory serves, it read “The war crimes trial of Pol Pot has now been moved to a higher court.”

According to an excellent Guardian story by Jason Burke, massive regret, the possibility of war crimes trials, and deft missionary efforts are working in concert to drive what is left of the Khmer Rouge to embrace evangelical Christianity.

Burke reports, “[h]undreds of former fighters have been baptized in the past year” in the Khmer Rouge’s former mountain stronghold town Pailin, in southwest Cambodia. The city has “four churches, all with pastors and growing congregations. At least 2,000 of those who followed Pol Pot, the guerrillas’ former leader who died six years ago, now worship Jesus.”

One local pastor estimates that seven out of ten converts were part of Pol Pot’s brutal program of purges and forced labor. Now, a lot of those soldiers are looking for absolution and local pastors and missionaries are looking to give it to them. Said Thao Tanh, 52, “When I was a soldier I did bad things. I don’t know how many we killed. We were following orders and thought it was the right thing to do. I read the Bible and I know it will free me from the weight of the sins I have committed.”

Though Christian conversion and a demonstration of remorse may mean lighter sentences for the officers and planners of the former regime, missionaries “have found most of their converts among the middle and lower ranks of the Khmer Rouge.”

These old soldiers don’t have the easiest lives. They “eke out a living as landless laborers on the estates of their former political chiefs,” live in “flimsy shacks,” and work “15-hour days.” Government or foreign aid is nonexistent and medical care is scarce. And here come missionaries and pastors, offering material as well as spiritual support. Some groups have built wells marked “A gift from Jesus.”

From the way he tailors the story, Burke seems taken in by all of this. He quotes the pro and the con but evangelicals get more than a fair shake in this unexpected account of grace displacing barbarity.

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Episcopalians talk about sex (yet again)

LcreportbannerThis is a longer version of a report I’ve written for The Living Church. I post it here because it’s another piece of evidence that the Episcopal Church’s conflicts are growing more intense rather than slackening. — Douglas LeBlanc

Windsor Report Haunts Conference

For a gathering designed to focus on best spiritual practices rather than on sex, the first of two Going Forward Together conferences spent considerable time on sex.

Going Forward Together met on Oct. 24-26 at St. Michael and All Angels, Dallas, and was scheduled again for Nov. 7-9 at the Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta. The Dallas meeting attracted about 200 participants, and Atlanta’s meeting had at least a third more registrants, said the Rev. Mark Anschutz, the rector of St. Michael’s and one of the gathering’s organizers.

Every plenary address at the Dallas meeting touched on the Windsor Report, which the Lambeth Commission on Communion released one week earlier. Several workshops referred more directly to global Anglicanism’s debate about sexuality, in tones ranging from patient to angry.

The Rt. Rev. Mark Dyer, the Episcopal Church’s sole representative on the 17-member Lambeth Commission, provided Going Forward Together’s most direct reflections on the Windsor Report. Dyer covered the highlights of the report’s findings, sometimes adding his own observations and pleas.

While describing the Bishop of Hong Kong’s persistent efforts on behalf of women’s ordination decades earlier, Dyer applied the example to today’s debates on homosexuality. “My sisters and brothers, we can do it right,” he said.

Dyer reiterated the report’s finding that the Episcopal Church did not consult Anglican’s instruments of unity before consecrating Gene Robinson as a bishop or giving greater freedom to dioceses wishing to bless gay couples: “There has been no consultation — none whatsoever, I’m afraid to say.”

He also stressed the Windsor Report’s rebuke of bishops from outside the United States who try to establish parallel jurisdictions in the Episcopal Church. “We clearly say to them they have no place doing what they’re doing if they want to remain in the Anglican Communion,” Dyer said.

Dyer referred to the report’s recommendation for caution on whether Robinson should attend any pan-Anglican gatherings, including the next Lambeth Conference in 2008. “A number of provinces have said — and we’re praying for change so we can go forward together — that they will not attend if he does.”

He said the commission’s goal is that the whole Anglican Communion can walk in greater unity by the next Lambeth Conference.

Dyer said he expects the report will receive a favorable response from the majority of primates when they meet in February. He referred to Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria obliquely, saying that “one primate somewhere is upset with us.” Dyer’s deadpan remark prompted laughter.

“He’s a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary,” said Dyer, who teaches at VTS. “And he lives in Nigeria.”

In the opening plenary address, the Rev. Michael Battle of Duke Divinity School described the conference as “an act of pro-active reconciliation,” but added that “reconciliation is more of an atmosphere in which we live than it is one act.”

Battle rooted his understanding of reconciliation in what he descried as God’s intention to save everyone. “How can you be in heaven, in which you are complete, knowing that someone is in hell, suffering forever? God’s love for us is such that God would leave heaven,” he said.

“Believe it or not, God has already reconciled us,” Battle said, while speculating that some people “need the idea of hell to experience heaven.”

“God’s will is to bring together that which is disparate, that which is irreconcilable,” he said. “If we seek only that which is like ourselves, we create a wasteland, we create an island, we create a museum.”

Plenary speaker Phyllis Tickle, a former religion editor for Publishers Weekly, said the United States and Canada have both been shaped by the Scottish Enlightenment, which marked a clear break from the Reformation.

Tickle said the Windsor Report confirms that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are operating on shared theological assumptions, and that those assumptions rankle Anglicans in the Third World. Tickle discouraged Episcopalians from expecting Third World Anglicans to see Christianity in the same way: “That’s unfair and it’s unreasonable and it ain’t gonna happen.”

Even so, Tickle said, modernity is a treasure that Episcopalians should cherish and preserve for a future expression in global Christianity.

Tickle described how Christians in their teens and 20s and 30s do not share modernism’s concern with historicity. “If you want to stop an Episcopal cookout cold, you need only ask, ‘Do you believe in the Virgin Birth?’” she said to robust laughter.

She illustrated younger generations’ approach to such questions by quoting a 17-year-old from Atlanta: “I absolutely believe in the Virgin Birth. It’s so beautiful that it has to be true whether it happened or not.”

Tickle referred to this approach as orthonomy. “The new authority is the beauty of the thing,” she said. Under orthonomy, people will choose those ideas that contribute to music, poetry, and beauty.

The Rev. John Westerhoff echoed Tickle’s theme in his plenary address. Various Christian churches have emphasized goodness, truth, or beauty, Westerhoff said.

“In our tradition we chose beauty — beauty as the way to find goodness and truth,” he said. “We have avoided being a community founded on doctrine. For us, orthodoxy is right worship and praise rather than right doctrine and behavior.”

While plenaries remained fairly moderate, anger emerged in some workshops. The Rev. Tom Ehrich, a syndicated religion columnist who led a workshop on parish conflicts, described conservatives as bullies.

“We have got to stop letting the bullies win,” Ehrich said. “When people start talking about biblical truth and waving it as a cudgel, stand up to them. There is no single biblical truth. You can read the Bible and prove anything.”

In another workshop, the Rev. William Sachs of the Episcopal Church Foundation’s Global Anglicanism Project said he would “dispel the myth that African Anglicanism is a conservative monolith that has risen in rock-ribbed opposition to the Episcopal Church.”

He cited three examples from Tanzania to dispute this notion: a youth group in which only one person mentioned homosexuality; a children’s choir that welcomes Muslim children but does not pressure them to be baptized; and Bishop Valentine Mokiwa of Dar es Salam, who warmly greeted Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold on the same day that his province denounced the actions of General Convention.

Sachs quoted Mokiwa as telling Griswold, “We have our views and we’re not going to change our views, but we also have our relationship with you. Your grace, we must struggle and pray together.”

On the week of the Windsor Report’s release, the BBC quoted Mokiwa as saying, “We are calling on homosexuals in the church to stop what they are doing. It’s unbecoming and it is sin.”

“They’re not preoccupied with demonizing the Episcopal Church,” Sachs said of the Anglicans he met while helping conduct 200 interviews in Tanzania. “They’re very curious. They tend to think we’re drowning in money and maybe moral confusion.”

Sachs gave several minutes to Sandra Swan of Episcopal Relief and Development, who said that only Uganda has declined funds it previously had accepted from her agency.

Several members of the Diocese of Dallas expressed anger toward their bishop, the Rt. Rev. James Stanton, for saying that African Anglicans do not want money from Episcopalians. One priest recommended that Swan look into a lawsuit for copyright violation because of the similar name chosen by Anglican Relief and Development.

The conference closed with a panel discussion. The Rev. Roger Ferlo, who served as a deputy to General Convention in 2003, described what he experienced as he watched the bishops vote on Gene Robinson’s confirmation as a bishop-elect and then chant “Ubi Caritas.” Most deputies softly chanted along with the bishops, Ferlo said, then left the hall in silence.

“I felt like I had been to a funeral,” Ferlo said. “There will be a resurrection, but the death has to be acknowledged. I think it was the death of an old way of doing church.”

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God, sex, Kristof

Rob Moll at the always wide-ranging blog at ChristianityToday.com has a fine piece online addressing some of Nicholas Kristof’s recent efforts to praise, dissect and criticize evangelical Christians and other believers who he sees as irrationally old fashioned. It seems that Christian tradition is a good thing, when he agrees with it, and a very bad thing, when it crimps his cultural style. Kristof wants readers to think he is seriously investigating Christian history and thought, then he throws in cheap shots such as this: “When a Texas governor, Miriam ‘Ma’ Ferguson, barred the teaching of foreign languages about 80 years ago, saying, ‘If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it’s good enough for us.’”

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