Monday, November 26, 2007

Atheist Society Only Possible under State Church?

After having stepped down from office, Tony Blair is reportedly planning to convert to Roman Catholicism. In a recent article, Washington Post commentator Susan Jacoby finds it ironic that the prime minister of a country with a state religion refused to talk about his religious beliefs during his time in office, while in the secular government of America, politicians risk political suicide if they don't articulate their faith. Apparently Blair's press secretary even responded to a question about Blair's faith by stating, "We don't do God."

But Susan Jacoby also notices a deeper irony about the separation of Church and State, apparently, "polls repeatedly have shown that only about 2 percent of the English attend services regularly, compared with about half of Americans. America’s separation of church and state, it seems, has encouraged the flourishing of religion."

To add an anecdotal account to this thought, we have two German students here at PLTS because while in Germany, where Lutheranism is the state church, the only time they felt the Spirit active in a congregation was when they visit the American Church in Berlin.

Susan Jacoby, with an openly secularist agenda, asks "Does the Christian Right, which wants to breach the wall of separation between church and state in the U.S., have any idea that religion itself has benefited from the nation’s secular Constitution?" Alternatively, one could ask if proselytizing atheists are aware that a state religion appears to be a death sentence for faith?

For me, however, the question becomes how does a religion which sees the need for change in society gain the power to change a nation for the better without getting so cozy with government that it loses its vibrancy as a prophetic voice from the edge?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oregon Bishop Writes to PLTS about Homosexuality Resolution

Dear Door Devotees,
Your Blog Master has invited me to write a little something as a bishop of the ELCA relative to the "Landahl Resolution" coming out of the August 2007 Churchwide Assembly. I am glad to do so. My name is Dave Brauer-Rieke and I am bishop of the Oregon Synod.
The so called "Landahl Resolution" "encourages synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining those rostered leaders in a mutual, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship who have been called and rostered in this church." ( The ever present Lutheran question is "What does this mean?"
First it is important to recognize that this resolution was embraced by our Churchwide Assembly in the context of our Church's ongoing conversation over the rostering of Gay or Lesbian pastors in mutual, chaste and faithful committed same-gender relationships. The COB (Conference of Bishops) recognizes that this is a difficult conversation for our Church. We discern together within a triangle of justice concerns, traditional moral perspectives and the fragile gift of Christian unity. (This is my language, not necessarily that of the COB as a whole.) It is understandable that individuals and groups within the Church may advocate primarily from one perspective of another. This is actually helpful in our churchwide conversation. Our charge as bishops, however, is to keep the whole triangle always before us.
The Landahl Resolution is understood as a "sense" motion, not a legislative one. This is to say that nothing in the practice or policies of the Church has been changed here, but rather that what we have is the sentiment of the Assembly that we don't want to fall off the tightrope as our conversation continues. As a bishop I hear in this resolution that our Church doesn't want to solve this issue through formal, disciplinary actions such as those involving Pastor Bradley Schmeling. Rather, we want to continue down our chosen path of mutual conversation and discernment. Furthermore, we as a Church believe we are on a track to find greater clarity on this issue at our 2009 Assembly and so we understand the Landahl Resolution to be a time limited pastoral word. It extends from now until further, more permanent, decisions are made by the 2009 Assembly.
Individual bishops will undoubtedly interpret the nuances of this resolutions differently. This is as it should be. We are all committed to oversight within our diverse synodical contexts. However, our mutual commitment as bishops is to stay within the same ballpark for the sake of good order within the Church as a whole. The Landahl Resolution is not a call to disregard the current position of the ELCA relative to our expectations of rostered leaders. It is, rather, just what it purports to be; a call for prayerful and pastoral decision making while we continue to walk together in our discernment process.
My sense is as a Church we are weary of this discussion. Yet, I am impressed by our ability to walk faithfully and patiently with one another. My hope and expectation is that we will soon reach greater clarity for ourselves in this matter.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Minstrel Police Officers

"Wearing blue camouflage fatigues and crooning about Islamic holy war, the five members of Hamas's Protectors of the Homeland police band are trying to boost morale in Gaza with an arsenal of anti-Israel numbers."
Ok, just to be clear, I in no way support the goals of this band. However, the headline of the Washington Post article, from which this quotation is taken, caught my attention and imagination: Hamas's singing policemen boost morale in Gaza.

I had envisioned jolly looking officers strolling around town with a guitar while singing songs about friendship, kindness, and good citizenship (kind of like this picture of a policeman in India). Instead, it turns out the policemen are more of a USO show designed to boost troops' spirit.

At first I was disappointed, but then I realized, even if the minstrel police officers I had hoped for don't actually exist, there's no reason why they shouldn't.

How nice would it be if, in the cities and towns of America and the world, a component of police work included going around and trying to make a precinct a more cheerful and welcoming place through music. Perhaps instead of feeling nervous in the presence of police officers, honest citizens would feel safe and comfortable. Perhaps communities would stop viewing police as outsiders to be distrusted, but instead as friends and helpers .

I don't know, perhaps this is a bit naive of me. Perhaps I should leave the enforcement of law to state policy makers, and instead encourage churches to do this kind of work...still, I think the world would be a better place if the neighborhood cop carried a guitar instead of a gun.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Evangelical Democrat Running for Govenor in Miss.

“I am a Democrat because I am a Christian.” – John Eaves

But of course, this simply begs the questions, "What does is mean to be a Democrat? What does it mean to be a Christian politician."

John Arthur Eaves Jr. "gave his life to Christ at age 8 and walked where Jesus did at age 9. Thirty-years later, he stood on the banks of the Jordan River as three of his own sons professed faith and were baptized. His wife's name is Angel. He is pro-life, pro-prayer, pro-Bible literacy and pro-guns. He's a Southern Baptist running for office." He also wants "to raise teacher salaries, reduce class sizes, and provide our schools with the resources they need... cut the tax on groceries...make sure every child in the state has healthcare...fight against the moneychangers of big oil."

Regardless of what I think of John Eaves and his platform, I am always pleased when peoples' expectations are shaken. Candidates like this make people re-examine their stereotypes and the labels they use to define themselves and the ideologies they support and oppose.

Quotations are from John Eaves campaign site:

An interesting article about the political fallout of his campaign can be found in the Washington Post