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Topics - D. Engebretson

Although I have some minor connection with the TEC because of my graduate studies, I am largely an outsider to what goes on within this denomination.  They are currently holding their General Convention in  Louisville, Kentucky.  The new presiding bishop is the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe, who, as far as I see, is the youngest ever elected to that position. There were some issues surrounding other candidates and disciplinary action taken against them by the outgoing presiding bishop.   

For those more in the know, what are the major issues facing this convention and how might it impact the larger community of Lutherans?
Your Turn / Abortions Since the End of Roe v. Wade
September 07, 2023, 09:15:35 AM
As reported in the NYT - The Morning (Sept. 7, 2023):

After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, it looked like the number of abortions would soon plummet across the country. But new estimates suggest that has not happened. The number of legal abortions has held steady, if not increased, nationwide since 2020, our colleagues Amy Schoenfeld Walker and Allison McCann reported today.

How is that possible? New data from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit specializing in reproductive health, implies that more people are traveling across state lines or using telemedicine to get abortions, including through the use of abortion pills. The increase in use of those options has offset the decrease in abortions resulting from new state bans, Amy and Allison found...

Altogether, the data suggests that there are the same number of abortions, or more, occurring in the U.S. now than there were before the Supreme Court's ruling last year in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

For abortion rights advocates, this is a mixed outcome. Not everyone can afford to travel across state lines or access telemedicine, so it's likely that some people who want to get an abortion still cannot do so. And while the overall count is up, abortions were rising before the Supreme Court's decision. "They may have continued to rise even more steeply than observed if it weren't for the bans," Caitlin Myers, an economist at Middlebury College, told Amy and Allison.

What do the data say about the impact of the Dobbs decision? Guttmacher and Myers caution that it is too soon to draw definitive conclusions, noting the possibility of future restrictions. But the immediate impact on the overall number of abortions has been smaller than many abortion rights advocates feared. And for anti-abortion groups, the data could be an argument for further limits to access, including a nationwide ban.
Your Turn / The "Sparkle Creed"
June 27, 2023, 10:12:12 PM
A Lutheran church in Minnesota recited a "sparkle creed" about the "nonbinary God" and Jesus' "two dads" during its Sunday service, according to a live stream recording on YouTube.

Edina Community Lutheran Church Pastor Anna Helgen asked the congregation to stand in "body or spirit" to "confess our faith" in the "sparkle creed," according to the recording. The church went on to chant a statement of faith in the "nonbinary God" and in Jesus Christ, "who had two dads."

"I believe in the nonbinary God, whose pronouns are plural. I believe in Jesus Christ, their child, who wore a fabulous tunic, and had two dads and saw everyone as a sibling child of God," the church recited. "I believe in the rainbow spirit who shatters our image of one white light and refracts it into a rainbow of gorgeous diversity. I believe in the church of everyday saints, as numerous, creative and resilient as patches on the ... quilt. Whose feet are grounded in mud and whose eyes gaze at the stars in wonder. I believe in the calling to each of us that love is love is love, so beloved let us love. I believe, glorious God, help my unbelief, Amen."

I thought that creeds expressed the fundamental beliefs of the historic Christian Church.  Is this the new direction for mainline churches?  How can such things be 'confessed' and there be any sense of common faith called "Christian"?

The "Sparkle Creed" was written by UCC pastor Rachel Small-Stokes.
I know we have had a number of discussions and debates regarding public education and religion.  Here is something just reported by The New York Times.  I'm sure this will send a few sparks flying....

State officials in Oklahoma approved the local Roman Catholic archdiocese's request to operate a public charter school. It will be the first explicitly religious public school in the U.S. in modern times, experts say. Supporters of the school hope to use it as a test case to take to the Supreme Court and win a clear right for charter schools to offer religious instruction.

Charter schools are public schools, financed by taxpayer dollars, but given the freedom to operate more flexibly than traditional schools. Nationwide, 8 percent of public schools are charter schools. Advocates of religious charter schools argue that church groups should have the same right to manage schools as other organizations.

Opponents argue that religious charter schools erase the separation between church and state by using government funds to support religious instruction. Over time, opponents say, the growth of church-affiliated charter schools could starve traditional schools of funding and lead to increased segregation of children along religious lines. Rachel Laser, the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, criticized the Oklahoma decision as "a sea change for American democracy" and promised to file legal action against it.

The Oklahoma board that oversees charter schools voted 3-2 to approve the new school, which will be called St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School. It will focus on students in rural areas. You can read more about the decision in this story by my colleague Sarah Mervosh.
And at the court

Whatever happens with the Oklahoma case, the Supreme Court's Republican-appointed majority has already expanded the reach and influence of religious groups. "The Supreme Court has over the last few years issued an extraordinary series of decisions expanding the role of religion in public life, sometimes at the expense of other values, like gay rights and access to contraception," Adam Liptak, who covers the court for The Times, told me.

Between the 1950s and mid-1980s, the court sided with religious interests roughly half the time, an academic study found. Since John Roberts became chief justice in 2005, the share has jumped to more than 80 percent. By some measures, Roberts and the five other current conservative justices appear to be the six most pro-religion justices in the court's history.

The kinds of cases the court is hearing have changed, too, Adam notes. When Earl Warren was chief justice in the 1950s and 1960s, all of the rulings in favor of religion benefited minority groups or dissenting practitioners. In the Roberts court, the winners tend to be mainstream Christians.

In cases over the past several years, the court has ruled that:

    A high school football coach has a constitutional right to pray at the 50-yard line after his team's games.
    Employment discrimination laws do not apply to teachers at church-run schools whose duties include religious instruction.

    A Catholic social services agency in Philadelphia can defy city rules and refuse to work with same-sex couples who apply to care for foster children.

    Employers can deny contraception coverage to female workers on religious grounds.

    Financial-aid programs and other government benefits for private schools cannot exclude religious schools.
Any pastor who has been around any length of time knows the reality of his members "living together" either before marriage, or in place of marriage.  Clearly the practice has become more popular over the years to the point that it seems quite 'normal' even to regular church-going people.  The reasons vary from the idea of convenience and supposed cost-savings of shared expenses, to the temporary arrangement in order to save up for the reception or destination wedding.  But the bottom line is the question of how does this arrangement best serve me first. 

Whether couples today would argue that their cohabitation choices are better than marriage is mixed. I'm sure we have all heard some defend it by saying that they didn't want to endure divorce as they witnessed it in their parents, friends and families.  A more recent study does bear out, however, that cohabitation does not increase the odds of a couple avoiding divorce, even if they think that this practice of 'trial running' the relationship improves their chances because they now know each other better.  Instead, divorce rates rise for those who choose this path. See the article "Mounting evidence shows living together before marriage increases likelihood of divorce" in the Washington Examiner from May 1: 

At the basis of the crisis, though, is the idea of commitment

"Having a low-commitment option available means that many couples move in too quickly, without establishing the kind of jointly committed love that is the foundation of a good marriage," University of Virginia's National Marriage Project director, W. Bradford Wilcox, and IFS editor Alysse ElHage wrote for Deseret.

I don't think the idea of commitment impacts only this relationship arrangement.  I think it impacts scores of relationships and arrangements from the work place to volunteer organizations to the church.  More and more we see people wanting the convenience of open-ended arrangements in their lives where they can exit quickly and easily. Unfortunately, this selfishly motivated decision has a negative impact on many around them.  In the case of couples who decide to have children while cohabitating, it puts them into a situation not unlike divorce where the children live a divided life between two parents who no longer want to be together, and the eventual confusion of multiple 'parents'.  In the case of other relationships and organizations, it means less and less people willing to give of their time and efforts, preferring instead to guard their time only for themselves.

In the end, it is hardly the Christian thing to do, however you wish to defend it.  Faith in Christ is built on the idea of sacrificial giving and love to the neighbor.  A sinful and unbelieving person, on the other hand, will live to serve only themselves.   
Your Turn / Homeschooling
April 30, 2023, 07:49:58 PM
Today, April 30, has been designated as "Day of the Homeschooled Child".  It sounds supportive of homeschooling, but apparently there are many who see homeschooling as dangerous and arenas for abuse.  There is "A Bill of Rights for Homeschooled Children" that is growing in signatories.  See: Many are claiming that homeschooling, as practiced by some (especially the religiously conservative) as abusive and harmful to children. 

As a matter of disclosure, my wife and I homeschooled two of our three children, the third having attended a local Lutheran day school in town. I did not realize, as fully as I do today, that there is such a movement against what we did. 

From what I am reading, it appears that those opposed to homeschooling, or see in it a place that is inherently unhealthy for children (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually), are also pushing hard against the recent calls for greater parental rights.  They believe that children should be autonomous with regard to their choices in all areas; guided, as necessary, by those seen as appropriate authorities outside the home. 

When Hillary Clinton said that "it takes a village to raise a child" I didn't realize that would come to be understood that the child should be raised not by the parents, as such, but by the 'village', especially those in the educational and mental health fields who are viewed by some as the proper experts to equip children to be whole and healthy.   

I'm not sure from the "Bill of Rights", linked above, if it even supports the right of parents to homeschool, as that has been traditionally understood in the past, especially if that schooling supports and advocates for specific religious beliefs and morals. I suspect not. As I am reading it, it seems that parents should not have the right to teach a particular faith or religion as true, but should be all-embracing of all faiths as theologically equal.  This also goes for other areas such as those extensively debated today in the realms of sexuality and gender identity. 

I see the lines that have been drawn, marking those supportive of the rights of parents pitted against the so-called rights of children, a further division of our society and culture.  The gulf is widening. 

Conservative Anglicans Reject Church of England and Archbishop of Canterbury
(UPDATED) Gafcon gathering in Rwanda pledges to create alternative authority structures, while Global South fellowship stays separate.
John Sandeman in Kigali, Rwanda|April 21, 2023 10:30 AM

UPdate (April 21): Conservative primates gathered in Kigali today withdrew their recognition of Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, as the "first among equals." The chair of St Augustine is now empty, as far as leaders representing an estimated 85 percent of the Anglican Communion are concerned.

The primates gathered at the fourth Gafcon conference stated:

We have no confidence that the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the other Instruments of Communion led by him (the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Primates' Meetings) are able to provide a godly way forward that will be acceptable to those who are committed to the truthfulness, clarity, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture...
Your Turn / The Age Factor
April 20, 2023, 10:33:06 AM
Recently the news has featured a story about Sen. Dianne Feinstein's protracted absence in the Senate due to health issues.  She is also 89 years of age. The New York Times, which reported on her continued absence on the judiciary committee, also noted that "she has also been suffering from a deterioration in her short-term memory and her ability to hold conversations for more than a year."  Our current president is 80 years of age, and definitely shows signs of age.  Rep. Nanci Peolsi is 83.  I could add more.

However, this thread it not intended to examine the 'age factor' for politicians. This is a discussion board primarily for religious issues, and I don't want to distract into that realm again.  It is merely a segue to a discussion about how age should be factored in for church leaders, both local and national.  I passed 62 in December and have begun to entertain the 'retirement question' as I look to the next few years.  I have been in my current parish now for over 22 years.  It seems that a transition after over two decades might be helpful, especially as I approach the quarter century mark.   

But I am not opposed to seeing church workers continue into their late 60s, 70s or beyond, as health allows. I certainly intend to do so. For one thing, the church needs it. My predecessor at my parish is now in his late 80s, and while he attends and participates in the life of the church on a regular basis, his ability to do his former work as preacher/liturgist is diminished due to health concerns.

Back in early March the LCMS reported on the death of former District President Barrie E. Henke.  He was 78 at the time of his death and had retired from is position only the year prior.  I have no idea of the ages of the current DPs, but suspect that there are a few who are, as they say, 'up there' in age. 

To what degree should age be a factor in the continued active service of a church leader?  This is certainly a sensitive topic and as I am qualifying for 'senior citizen discounts' I am not wanting to imply that age should necessarily be weighted too much.  But it's been in the news for other areas, so I thought it might be relevant here as well.

Your Turn / Cardinal Stritch University Closing
April 12, 2023, 09:11:12 AM
Cardinal Stritch University, a school founded in 1937 as St. Clare College by the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi on Milwaukee's south side, will close for good after the spring semester.  It is yet another private, religious-based institution of higher learning that is experiencing the current pressures on higher education from declining enrollments, fallout from the pandemic, and insurmountable financial woes. 

We have talked here much of schools within the Lutheran tradition facing similar fates, especially in the LCMS. We talked a lot in another thread about issues at Valpo.  I suspect that more changes are to come. 

Recently I just saw an article on the decline in community colleges.  The world of higher education is in the midst of a massive shift.  What many of us experienced in our youth may not be recognizable in the next decade.  Education will always be available, but not always in the way we remember it.  The problem is clearly not a problem for one denomination.  It's happening across the board. 

CUW had a social media statement indicating they are praying for the school and reaching out to those who will need to find alternative venues to continue their degrees.
Your Turn / Holy Wednesday (Spy Wednesday)
April 05, 2023, 10:26:05 AM
Today is sometimes known either as Holy Wednesday or "Spy Wednesday", in reference to the actions of Judas to find a way to betray Jesus to the authorities.  It is the day when the religious leaders finalize their plans to kill the Lord.  In Matthew's gospel between this plot and Judas's betrayal is inserted the account of Jesus at the house of Simon the leper in Bethany where a woman anoints Jesus.  It appears from this account that after being in Jerusalem on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, Jesus retired to Bethany on Wednesday before the Passover to reside at Simon's house.  (See Matthew 26:6-13 and parallel in Mark 14:3-9 and John 12:2-11.)

In one of the harmonies of the gospel that I have the event of the anointing at Simon's house is put earlier on Sunday prior to the Triumphal Entry.  It makes some sense, since Jesus was in Bethany and went from there to Jerusalem for the entry.  The reasoning is that John's account places the same event after the plot to kill Jesus and just before the Triumphal Entry, and that the synoptic accounts are more of a 'flashback' to an event days earlier.

Observances of Holy Wednesday focus on Judas's betrayal and do not seem to make note of the anointing.  Instead it is considered more of a 'silent Wednesday' in terms of what our Lord was doing, having actively taught the last few days in the Holy City, and now resting prior to the Passover seder and events to follow.

Your thoughts on this Holy Wednesday?
Your Turn / The Status of Free Speech
March 24, 2023, 09:33:44 AM
I get short articles from The New York Times via email.  Some I read, some I just delete.  But this one caught my attention and seemed quite relevant to this forum where daily we engage in discourse which is often from opposite perspectives.  As we continue to devolve into an increasingly polarized society, our ability to carry on civil discourse is one of the first fatalities. It seems like too much so-called communication is reduced to two groups shouting from opposite sides of a road, with the loudest group winning simply by drowning out the other side. Today's secular universities seem rife with this. And this is not the only occurrence.  More than once a speaker has been banished from a campus simply because what they represent does not align with prevailing feelings and passions from one political perspective.  Apparently even a progressive university like Standford realized that rudeness and heckling crosses a line that is not acceptable. But in a cancel culture freedom of speech is quickly disappearing, and it's not always the government at fault.  We are doing it to ourselves. And not just in secular society, but in discourses on faith. Pretty soon all that will be left in most public squares will be large echo chambers, appropriately separated from each other with sound barriers so that people can find safe spaces to talk where they will not be in danger of being offended or have their views challenged.  I hope that this incident at Standford sends at least a small wake-up call.  Will our cherished freedom of speech simply disappear because we heckled our opponents out of the room?

A heckler's veto

Stuart Kyle Duncan — a federal appeals court judge appointed by Donald Trump — visited Stanford Law School this month to give a talk. It didn't go well.

Students frequently interrupted him with heckling. One protester called for his daughters to be raped, Duncan said. When he asked Stanford administrators to calm the crowd, the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion walked to the lectern and instead began her remarks by criticizing him. "For many people here, your work has caused harm," she told him.

After Duncan described his experience in a Wall Street Journal essay last week, the episode has received national attention and caused continuing turmoil at Stanford. The associate dean has been placed on leave. Stanford's president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, and its law school dean, Jenny Martinez, have apologized to Duncan. Students responded to the apology with a protest during Martinez's class on constitutional law. On Wednesday, Martinez wrote a 10-page public memo criticizing students' behavior at the judge's talk and announcing a mandatory half-day session on freedom of speech for all law students.

The conflict is a microcosm of today's political polarization. Duncan is a pugnacious conservative who opposed the right to same-sex marriage before becoming a judge. During his five years on the bench he has issued rulings restricting abortion, blocking Covid vaccine mandates and refusing to refer to a prisoner by her preferred pronoun. His critics see him as a bully who denies basic rights to vulnerable people. His defenders call him a good conservative judge (and emphasize that the prisoner in the pronoun dispute was convicted of child pornography).

But even many people who disagree with Duncan's views have been bothered by the Stanford students' behavior. And it seems possible that the episode may affect the larger debate over free speech on campuses.
Dignity and curiosity

Over the past few years, some American universities have seemed to back away from their historical support for free speech. Hamline University in Minnesota effectively fired a teacher who showed a 14th-century painting of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class. A Princeton student lost her leadership position on a sports team after privately expressing an opinion about policing. Stanford itself allows students to file anonymous complaints against other students, including for speech.

Now, though, Stanford seems to be drawing a line in defense of free speech. "The First Amendment does not give protesters a 'heckler's veto,'" Martinez, the law dean, wrote in her memo. Stanford, she vowed, will not become "an echo chamber that ill prepares students to go out into and act as effective advocates in a society that disagrees about many important issues."

Martinez also wrote: "The cycle of degenerating discourse won't stop if we insist that people we disagree with must first behave the way we want them to ... The cycle stops when we recognize our responsibility to treat each other with the dignity with which we expect to be met. It stops when we choose to replace condemnation with curiosity, invective with inquiry."

The latest: Tirien Steinbach — the associate dean who rose to speak during the event and is now on leave — published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal yesterday explaining her position. She said that she was trying to de-escalate the situation and noted that she defended Duncan's right to speak during her remarks. "While free speech isn't easy or comfortable, it's necessary for democracy," Steinbach wrote.

Below, my colleague Ian Prasad Philbrick has compiled a selection of commentary on the episode.

David French, in Times Opinion: "It is entirely appropriate to ask any judge difficult questions during the question and answer session after a speech. But protests that go so far as to shout down or disrupt speeches or events aren't free speech but rather mob censorship."

Elie Mystal of The Nation defended the students: "Everybody has the right to speak; nobody has the right to be heard over the din of the crowd." Mystal also criticized Duncan for insulting the students during the event. (Duncan said to one, "You are an appalling idiot.")

Steven Lubet of Northwestern University's law school, in The Hill: "The judge, the student protesters and an on-scene administrator all played to type, exhibiting arrogance, intolerance and irresponsibility, respectively, that combined to make the afternoon a fiasco for all concerned."

David Lat, Substack: "In hindsight, would it have been better if Judge Duncan had not lashed out at the protesters? Yes ... [But] I'm not going to sit here and judge the judge for not acting more judicially in response to verbal abuse."

Ed Whelan, a conservative legal activist, has criticized Martinez for not punishing any of the students. (In her memo, she explained that it would be difficult to determine who deserved punishment and suggested that the associate dean's implicit support for the heckling made it difficult for the school to sanction students afterward.)

David Bernstein of George Mason University called Martinez's memo passionate and excellent but criticized Stanford for having only one known conservative among its law professors: "Intentionally or not, the Stanford faculty is sending its students the message that right-of-center views are not respectable, and not worth listening to."

Rick Warren is a name well known inside and outside of Evangelical circles.  Like many 'successful' mega-church leaders he is also an author with numerous titles to his credit.  He has been popular with many church leaders, including those within the LCMS.

It is interesting, however, to see how they deal with the position of a pastor, and the implications for what we are doing even in our own places, large or small.  First, they don't see the placement of a new pastor as driven by a call.  It is succession.  Rick Warren, like an English monarch, is able to largely determine who follows him and takes over the family business.  Secondly, the scrutiny of would-be successors is greatly heightened in our era of scandalous revelations of past religious leaders (e.g. Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll), something that could be kept largely 'in house' in past times.  I found it interesting that the church employed a professional outside search group to do a background check and then a follow-up review after allegations surfaced from a former staff member.  "The search company was provided video footage, emails, text records and interviews that Echo gathered in its own review of Wood's actions. Echo had conducted its own interviews, as well..."

I wonder if this will be a sign of the future even for those of us in much different ecclesial backgrounds.  When I applied for a position as a law enforcement chaplain I was told that they would do a 'deep dive' into my social media.  Right now I'm not aware that our districts provide this extensive of a background search, although in some states/districts such as in Minnesota, I believe you do have to pass a sexual abuse background check with the government.   

Regarding succession vs. call: I don't think it is healthy to see a church as an organization branded by one man, which then has to make sure the one following is vetted as to qualifications to maintain the organization's unique identity.  I think it is helpful to know if a would-be senior pastor, for example, has had prior experience with larger churches.  But a congregation should be driven by scriptural guidelines and the mission given it by Christ, and understand its mission apart from the personality of the pastor.  We do not establish little kingdoms in our own honor, but we plant churches to baptize and catechize.  I hope that the Rick Warren 'method' is not widely prevalent in Lutheran circles, but would not be surprised if it is, given his popularity among some Lutheran clergy.

It is clear that we are all under a much more powerful microscope of inspection.  We live much more 'public' lives because of the internet and social media.  One good thing is that it is getting harder for those with dark pasts of abuse to effectively hide and keep operating under the radar as they might have in the past. 

Saddleback Church backs Rick Warren successor despite allegations
Questions have been raised about the leadership style of Andy Wood, pastor of Echo Church in San Francisco, days after he was announced as Warren's successor.
A friend on FB recently made the observation about how we in America are often fascinated by the traditions and formality of the British royals, especially on display with the Queen's Platinum Jubilee.  He said he believes there is a yearning for tradition and formality here that we have deconstructed here in America. 

By extension, I wonder if that pendulum has swung or will swing as well within the world of the church.  Some like casual. They resist anything formal. But there is something in us, I believe, that wants to believe we are celebrating something important, something bigger than ourselves. We see remnants of it at weddings where brides and grooms still dress up formally for their big day. Funerals also tend to lean in the direction of formality, as well. Events that involve the military, law enforcement, and fire personnel also betray remnants of formality and tradition. Yet much of pervasive casualness of our own culture degrades that which is important.  And when we get to the church, too often God becomes not the 'holy other' but rather a buddy figure. Sanctuaries strive for the intimate feeling; one I was in even had a coffee bar and couches in the area where the people worshiped.

I am a confessed formalist who treasures tradition. I am also a self-avowed anglophile, so I don't need conversion.  :)

What do you think?  Do you think people by and large find comfort, order, and structure in traditions and formality?  Is there a beauty in this they miss?  What does the fascination with British royalty and ceremony say about some of us?
This was published in the RNS (Religious News Service)

"I do not believe that the circumstances of these unfortunate events and Bishop Rohrer's involvement in them rise to the level of formal discipline against Bishop Rohrer," Eaton said.

"However, I believe that Bishop Rohrer has lost the trust and confidence of many constituents, both within and without the Sierra Pacific Synod."

"Unwise decisions" are not automatic grounds for discipline in the denomination, according to the presiding bishop's statement. But, she said, she has asked Rohrer to respond to her request to resign after attending the Sierra Pacific's synod assembly next week, listening to their constituents and prayerfully considering it.
Recently a new agency was created within the DHS: The Disinformation Governance Board. The internet has been abuzz over it with raised concerns about its purpose and scope.  It is even more heightened with the recent purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk, where some are deeply concerned with a loss of control over what is posted on this popular social media site. Previously 'banned' posters, unpopular with progressives, might again appear. 

Having recently lived through the trial in Finland of Bishop Juhana Pohjola and politician Päivi Räsänen, who faced criminal charges of violating the equality and dignity of LGBT people because of what they wrote, I am concerned.  Some are comparing this new board to the dystopian Ministry of Truth from Orwell's novel 1984, where one of the slogans of Oceania is "Big Brother is watching you."

Some might say my concern is over-hyped paranoia, but given events in recent history I think I have a valid concern, as do others.  The focus at present is on Russia, the southern boarder crisis, and other political hot topics, but knowing the ability of government regulatory agencies to spread and grow in scope, I wonder just how far its power will eventually extend. Psaki said "it sounds like the objective of the board is to prevent disinformation and misinformation from traveling around the country in a range of communities," adding, "I'm not sure who opposes that effort." Well, I, for one, would like to know what the scope of "a range of communities" includes. That's pretty broad and deep. And yes, I'm suspicious. I'm all for truth.  But I'm also a big supporter of free speech and I'm very concerned about its future at the present.
Your Turn / Concordia University Chicago
April 13, 2022, 08:01:17 AM
It was suggested that recent events at CUC probably should warrant a separate thread.  I'm picking up my daughter today from CUC for the holiday break, and I'm sure I will receive another view of things from one who is actually a student on campus.  For the record they protested in chapel.  I think that was unwarranted and inexcusable.  Some places must remain sacred and politically neutral.

I have not watched the town hall, but appreciate the summary provided.  While I understand the premise of diversity, I also appreciate the need for qualified professors regardless of race.  This is a relatively small Christian university that is committed to the specific confession of a larger church body.  I understand that the university would want instructors who support the denominational confession.  This is not a secular university, or one that accepts all confessions uncritically.  And as noted, the pool of qualified instructors that support the university's confession is limited, especially with those from minority groups.

It is possible for a school to be supportive of diversity in race even if their professors can't reflect that.  As to diversity in others areas, such as the loaded sexuality issues, I think we know that Concordia can't go there. 
A 300-year-old church hopes to connect with spiritual but not religious neighbors
Facing a future where organized religion is on the decline, Trinity Episcopal Church hopes to offer spiritual community for the nones.

(RNS) — For three centuries, Trinity Episcopal Church has tried to meet the spiritual needs of the small community of Southport, Connecticut, about an hour and a half outside of New York.

As more and more of the church's neighbors ditch organized religion but not faith, leaders at Trinity hope a new initiative will help them find meaning and purpose in life even if they never attend a Sunday service.

The church recently launched the Trinity Spiritual Center, which offers lectures, classes on meditation and contemplation, and a sense of community during a trying time, said the Rev. Margaret Hodgkins, the rector of Trinity Church...

About 3 in 10 Americans claim no religious affiliation, according to data from the Pew Research Center, and a similar number say religion has little influence in their life. Only a third of Americans attend church regularly, according to Pew. But only 4% identify as atheists. And many unaffiliated Americans have spiritual beliefs, according to Pew, even if they eschew organized religion.

Grayson, who has long practiced meditation, wondered if there was a way for the church to create a space where people could gather, connect and share their spiritual journeys, no matter what they believed...

The center draws on contemplative practices from the Christian faith and from other traditions, he said, and has hosted programs on spirituality as well as social issues such as racism and gender.

It's also hosted speakers, including Kimberly Wilson, who performed "A Journey," her one-woman show about Black women who shaped American history; writer Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, author of "Hollywood to the Himalayas," which details her life as a Hindu convert; and the Rev. Matthew Wright, an Episcopal priest and Sufi practitioner who teaches about contemplation. A current series features author Mark Greene, host of the "Remaking Manhood" podcast.

While the center's ties to the church are clear and its events are held in the Trinity parish hall, there's no proselytizing or promotion of exclusively Christian beliefs. During its startup phase the center will remain under the umbrella of the church but it is treated like a community service, more akin to the preschool that operates at Trinity than a church program...

Linda Mercadante, a former college professor and author of "Belief Without Borders," a study of Americans who are spiritual but not religious, said that more progressive Christian churches are often more open to adding programs about diverse forms of spirituality. That won't reverse the decline of organized religion, she said. And she wonders what the Trinity center or similar programs can offer that isn't already being offered somewhere else.

"I don't know what they are going to achieve," she said.

I assume from their website that they will remain an Episcopal Church.
Your Turn / Funerals and the Way We Deal with Death
February 06, 2022, 02:48:20 PM
Currently I am working my way through a little volume put out by Lexham Press entitled Funerals for the Care of Souls by Fr. Tim Perry (2021), a Canadian Anglican clergyman/theologian. He addresses the contrast of our culture's view and behavior toward death with the witness of scripture.  At one point he deals with how many approach death through denial:
Perhaps the most obvious way we express our denial is the collapse of the word "funeral."  We no longer mark death by ritually moving the dead from the community of the living to the broader community of the deceased.  Instead, we hold a celebration of life that looks a great deal like a retirement party where the guest of honor is conspicuously absent. Lately, Christian "celebrations" - again speaking only from my own experience - seem to lack christological focus. Heaven is described as a reunion with a spouse, parents, extended family, and friends. There may well be good reasons for conceiving heaven as involving a reunion of sorts; this idea can be found in many ancient and modern Christian prayers.  However, problems arise when such talk displaces far more important themes of union with Christ even in death and the hope fo sharing in the Lord's resurrection through death into Life in his fullest.

Recently I watched a bit of a livestreamed funeral for a young man who had committed suicide.  Now the manner of his death was not so much the issue here, but the way the clergyperson approached the life of the deceased and the presumption of where he now was.  Having talked with two family members of the deceased it was clear that the young man was not churched; in fact, had little to no use for church, faith, or God for that matter.  I found myself wondering if the clergyperson really knew much about this young man at all.  She placed him squarely in heaven without qualification and talked as if the family all shared the common convictions of what this life in eternity meant.  I don't think she understood, at all, the audience she addressed that day. 

I devote an entire week for funeral sermons in my online course in preaching each summer.  It's a challenging area of homiletics even for seasoned preachers.  Finding a balance between addressing the life of the deceased with the greater need to proclaim Christ and the life we have in Him seems to be something we don't always achieve.  And as Fr. Perry wrestles with in his book is the cultural baggage with which we are saddled as we approach the issue of grief.  Many who attend our funerals today have, at best, a passing understanding of what death means in a Christian or scriptural context. Too often I encounter funeral sermons that are little more than extended eulogies where Christ is incidental to the occasion. Some of it even becomes comical at times when solemnity should be the tone for such a serious occasion.  My wife played for a Catholic funeral once where the pastor placed a kolache right on the casket and proceeded to carry on about how this defined the life of the deceased.  I attended another funeral where the priest (sorry, I'm not deliberately focusing on Catholic funerals!), who did not know the deceased, had those in attendance fill in stories of the deceased during his homily, which resulted, at one point, where the grandmother described the deceased drunk on the floor of the bathroom.

Have we largely lost something in many of the funerals today, regardless of communion or confession? Has the culture hijacked a proper view of death for many Christians?  It seems that for a lot of people the thought is twofold: 1.) The deceased, regardless of faith or lack thereof, is always in a "better place," and is virtually a saint upon death.  2.) Heaven is conceived as a simple continuation of life here, complete with card games and other trivial behavior (some of it even less sanctified than we might desire!), devoid of being in the 'nearer presence of Christ,' and the holiness that this represents. 

Your thoughts?
Your Turn / Christians and Law Enforcement
January 29, 2022, 09:46:26 AM
Most, if not all of us, saw at least clips of the Jason Rivera funeral on TV.  Rivera was a young officer on the New York Police Department that was gunned down while responding to a domestic abuse call in Harlem.  You could not but be moved seeing the sea of law enforcement that came out the day of his funeral to pay their respects and show their support.  The widow's eulogy was moving and also biting.  "This system continues to fail us. We are not safe anymore, not even the members of the service."  I wonder what the reaction will be to this among law makers and other leaders in a position to do more. 

There is no doubt that law enforcement has been at the center of more than a little debate and discussion in the last few years.  The movement to defund the police, or at least greatly reduce the budgets of their departments, has been one reaction of those who feel that too much of law enforcement is systemically racist.  Some DAs are taking a much lighter approach to incarceration and punishment, allowing more criminals loose on the streets.  Violence is up in our major cities.  And deaths of law enforcement officers has also increased dramatically. 

I will admit that I am more than a little biased toward these men in blue.  This week I again worked with local officers after a death at a city fire.  After most had left the scene they were the ones that were there as the body was removed, prayed over and loaded for transport.  They deal with too much of the filth and violence and tragedy and death of our cities, much of it out of public view.  Yet, I feel they have been unfairly vilified in past years because of the behavior of a minority.  Morale is not good, as we might expect.

As Christians we have traditionally supported the "kingdom of the left" as God uses these men and women in First Article fashion to serve and protect our communities.  But I feel that even within the greater church there is a division of opinion, and perhaps a division on support.  I am not arguing that criminal acts, even on the part of law enforcement, should not be prosecuted.  That's not the issue here.  The issue is the seemingly lowered support law enforcement is receiving in the population-at-large, and the laws and movements that appear to be weakening their effectiveness and placing them at increased risk. 

These men and women place their lives on the line for us every day.  As a church, do we have an obligation to show them our support, both in prayer and in deed?
Your Turn / The Era of Division and Realignment
January 26, 2022, 10:10:04 AM
Shortly after I entered the ministry in 1987 it seemed as if the future would be one of more and greater mergers within American Christianity.  The ELCA was born the year after and became, by and far, the largest Lutheran denomination in the US.

Now, well into a new century, we continue not into a new era of mergers and unions, but of realignment and division.  The latest is the Reformed Church of America:

The launch of ARC is part of a larger realignment within North American Protestantism. The last two decades have seen conservative Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans form their own denominations over LGBTQ inclusion and sexuality, and the United Methodists are scheduled to consider a denominational split in the fall.

Like abortion, which we have again been discussing on another thread, issues related to LGBTQ and other areas of sexuality and gender are not proving to be places where one finds much compromise.  It is not a place of simple compromise, but a matter of confession.  This all reflects what is playing out in the society-at-large as well.  As a related matter the trial in Finland for the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen began on Monday, January 24, and "has been widely criticized as an infringement on religious freedom. Dr. Pohjola is Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and Dr. Räsänen is a Finnish Member of Parliament." I think that this trial will be a bell weather of the moral and religious battlefield conditions that will increase as this topic continues to find legal force of compliance on those who are not in agreement with current sexual and gender trends.

This is a new time and will prove, for some Christians, to be a difficult and trying one. 
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