Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why Blessing Same-Sex Relationships Is a Gain—For Gays, Christians and Humanity

On July 29th Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams used his second presidential address at the Lambeth Conference of 670 Anglican bishops “to engage in what might be a rather presumptuous exercise—and certainly feels like a risky one.”

With evident courage and empathy, Williams role-played about the Anglican split on homosexuality, first speaking as a typical Anglican traditionalist and then as a typical Anglican progressive. Each said why they feel hurt and injured by the actions of the other.

In a telling bit of irony, besides the official websites of
the Anglican Communion and the Lambeth Conference, the site that was first to give Williams’ speech full, unedited coverage was that of the Episcopal Church USA—which stands to lose the most at Lambeth.

As the traditionalist, Williams said in part: “We want to welcome everyone. Yet the gospel and the faith you passed on to us tell us that some kinds of behaviour and relationship are not blessed by God… We don't see why welcoming the gay or lesbian person with love must mean blessing what they do in the Church's name or accepting them for ordination whatever their lifestyle… Isn't it like the dilemma of the early Church—welcoming soldiers, yet seeking to get them to lay down their arms?

“In this world of instant communication, our neighbours know what you do, and they see us as sharing the responsibility. Imagine what that means where those neighbours are passionately traditional Christians—and what it means for our own members, who will be drawn to leave us for a 'safer,' more orthodox church. Imagine what it means when those neighbours are non-Christians, delighted to find a stick to beat us with. Imagine what it is to be known as the 'gay church' in a context where that spells real contempt and danger.

“Can you find some way of being generous that helps us believe you care about us and about the common language and belief of the Church? Can you—in plain words—step back and let us think and pray about these things without giving us the impression that the debate is over and we've lost and that doesn't matter to you?”

As the progressive, Williams said in part: “Trying to speak the language of the culture and relate honestly to where people really are doesn't have to be a betrayal of Scripture and tradition. We know we're pushing the boundaries—but don't some Christians always have to do that? Doesn't the Bible itself suggest that?

“We are often hurt, angry and bewildered at the way many others in the Communion see us and treat us these days—as if we were spiritual lepers or traitors to every aspect of Christian belief. We know that no-one is the best judge in their own case, but we see in our church life at least some marks of the Spirit's gifts.

“And part of that is acknowledging the gifts we've seen in gay and lesbian believers. They will certainly be likely to feel that the restraint you ask for is a betrayal. Please try to see why this is such a dilemma for many of us. You may not see it, but they're still at risk in our society, still vulnerable to murderous violence. And we have to say to some of you that we long for you to speak up for your gay and lesbian neighbours in situations where they are subject to appalling discrimination. There have been Lambeth Resolutions about that too, remember.

“A lot of the time, we feel we're being made scapegoats. Other provinces have acute moral and disciplinary problems, or else they more or less successfully refuse to admit the realities in their midst. But those of us who have faced the complex issues around gay relationships in what we feel to be an open and prayerful way are stigmatised and demonised…

“We want to be generous, and we are hurt that some throw back in our faces both the experience and the resources we long to share. Can you try and see us as fellow-believers struggling to proclaim the same Christ, and to be patient with us?”

Williams observed that the animosity between the two positions has now become toxic: “At the moment, we seem often to be threatening death to each other, not offering life.”

Williams is to be commended for listening attentively to each side and pleading for his fellow bishops to do likewise. He did more than anyone has before to articulate how much pain both sides feel, and why. However, what he did not accomplish—and what Anglican progressives have not accomplished either—was a resolution of this decades-long stand-off.

I suggest that the only step that can get Anglicans and other Christian churches beyond the homosexual divide is for all sides to understand and affirm that blessing committed same-sex relationships would be an authentic gain—for gays, for Christians, and for the entire human race.

Traditionalists in several Christian churches are passionately committed to a few scriptural passages that they read as condemning homosexual activity altogether. I address why recent scripture scholarship questions this position in Part II, Chapter 2 of
my doctoral dissertation.

While traditionalists may be unwilling to buy that scripture scholarship, they should at least admit that scripture records no instance in which Jesus himself condemned homosexual behavior and that the biblical writers who do condemn it have some very specific activities in mind. What they could not have in their minds were two experiences that did not emerge until centuries later:

(1) that generation after generation on every continent a significant number of individuals experience in themselves an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction to members of the same gender; and

(2) that in recent centuries especially some of those individuals connect with one another and feel themselves called to live together in committed relationships.

Whatever negative remarks the biblical writers may make about homosexual activity, they do not say that God disowns these experiences.

Given that, it is incumbent upon contemporary human beings and contemporary Christians to ask if these experiences add value to the creative advance of humanity and the universe. An analysis that looks at facts instead of stereotypes and fears must answer with an unequivocal “yes.”

The most obvious fact is the kind of life gay people experience apart from committed relationships. It is very much like the kinds of homosexual activity that scriptural passages condemn.

Despite the growing push for same-sex marriage or civil unions, the predominant gay culture is still a quest for ever more intense sexual experience with the hottest same-sex person one can find. The hunt is always on for a new hook-up to boost the ego by out-doing the hook-ups of the past. The toll this takes on the physical and emotional health of gay people is readily apparent and widely understood.

Against this background, Christians ought to rejoice that at least some gay people feel themselves called to committed, stable relationships. Granted, such relationships are not the sex-free celibacy traditionalists think the Bible prescribes. But they do in fact bring gay people closer to the model that traditionalists claim is most Christian: life-long commitment to a fellow human being.

There are sound reasons to uphold the marriage of one man and one woman with offspring as the theological pinnacle of sexual experience. Without it the human race could not survive or prosper. It makes perfect sense as a Christian ideal, and all who can strive for it should.

But it is also undeniable that heterosexual marriage produces a significant number of children who are gay, perhaps in the range of ten percent of the global population. Unless the gay people produced by every generation of heterosexuals are to be regarded as evolutionary waste or God’s standing joke on straight people, isn’t it important for Christians to listen to what God may be saying in the experience of gay individuals?

What progressives in several Christian churches hear is God calling gay people to committed, stable relationships. The gay experience is that such relationships make them happier, more fully human and, yes, more Christian.

If that is the case, what do the churches gain by placing another obstacle in the path of those relationships? Why do the churches get to denounce gays for being dishonest, manipulative, promiscuous, and unsafe, when the churches actively try to prevent them from behaving otherwise?

Rather than fearing committed, stable gay relationships as threats to sacramental marriage and the nuclear family, shouldn’t Christians bless them for the metanoia they truly are: conversion from the pursuit of ever more intense anonymous physical coupling to sex as an expression of committed love for another human person? Aren’t these gay people following Jesus and embodying Christianity according to the gifts God has given them? Why shouldn’t the churches be encouraging that and recognizing it and celebrating it?

Even with support from the churches, gay couples face major challenges staying together. In his 2008 book
Dynamic Duos: The Alpha/Beta Key to Unlocking Success in Gay Relationships, Denver psychologist Keith Swain argues from survey data that in the gay dating pool assertive, in-charge alpha males are outnumbered by more compliant, cooperative sidekicks about four to one. Swain says the longevity of gay relationships depends on paying attention to these divergent personality traits and teaching gay people that a stable relationship requires both. But that’s less likely to happen the more churches and societies assert that there is nothing positive about committed gay relationships.

One of Jesus’ most memorable sayings was that humans can have no greater love than to lay down their lives for their friends. Gay people who want to commit themselves to one another have clearly taken that message to heart. In the process, they have also turned away from the kinds of homosexual activity that some scriptural passages condemn. Certainly that should be counted as taking the Gospel seriously. Certainly Jesus has blessed them already. Why shouldn’t his churches do the same?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Vatican Declines to Address the Central Theological Issue of Its Birth Control Ban

The Catholic critics who ran the half-page ad in Italy’s largest-circulation newspaper asking the pope to reconsider Humanae Vitae, the Catholic Church’s 40-year old prohibition of birth control, got their answer.

Saying the ad was “not an article that expresses a theological or moral position,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi dismissed the plea as “paid propaganda to promote the use of contraceptives.”

Responding to one issue raised in the ad, Lombardi contended that use of condoms would have no positive impact reducing the spread of AIDS. He cited no evidence for this remarkable assertion.

His main criticism of the ad was that “it does not remotely breach the true issue that is at the heart of Humanae Vitae, i.e., the connection among the human and spiritual relation between husband and wife, the practice of sexuality as its expression, and its fecundity.”

Unfortunately, Lombardi did not address the serious theological issue the ad did reiterate: the rejection of the church’s position on birth control by an overwhelming majority of Catholics around the world.

That has been the theological issue with Humanae Vitae from the start, and in forty years Rome has never addressed it to anyone’s satisfaction. That is why it is basically the jumping off point in the introduction to my doctoral dissertation, which provides a process-theology justification for why church teachings change.

For those like Lombardi who would like to ignore that central issue, Robert McClory highlights it again in a Chicago Tribune op-ed piece July 27th entitled, “Contraception ban remains bitter pill.”

McClory quotes this candid assessment of Humanae Vitae by Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George: "We have the beginning of the dissolution of the teaching authority of the church."

As McClory reminds us, the sad thing about Humanae Vitae is that the pope could have acted differently, but declined to do so. In one ill-considered act, the pope drove generations of Catholics away from the church and removed Catholicism from any credible role in the discussion of birth control. Subsequent popes, blithely reasserting what most of their fellow Catholics deny, have only compounded the damage, year after year.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Catholic Critics' Open Letter Asks Pope to Overturn 40-Year Old Contraception Ban

Reuters reports that 50-some Catholic groups have taken out a half-page ad in Italy's largest-circulation newspaper, asking Pope Benedict XVI to reconsider the ban on all "artificial" means of birth control put in place by Pope Paul VI in 1968. The Reuters article follows.

ROME, July 25 (Reuters) - More than 50 dissident Catholic groups published an unusually frank open letter to Pope Benedict on Friday saying the Church's ban on contraception has been "catastrophic" and urging him to lift it.

The letter was published as a paid half-page advertisement in Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest newspaper, on the 40th anniversary of the late Pope Paul VI's controversial encyclical "Humanae Vitae," which enshrined the ban.

While criticism of the Vatican and its views is fairly common in articles and editorials in Italian newspapers, it is unusual for a group to take out paid advertising against the pope, particularly in a large-circulation mainstream newspaper.

The letter, written in Italian, said the Church's anti-contraception policy "has had a catastrophic impact on the poor and powerless around the world, endangering women's lives and leaving millions at risk of HIV."

It also said that 40 years on, the encyclical continued to be "a source of great conflict and division in the Church" and because most Catholics use contraception and feel they are not sinning, the policy has been "an utter failure."

Pope Paul's encyclical, written in 1968, has been defended by his successors John Paul and Benedict.

The Church teaches that nothing should block the possible transmission of life and approves only natural methods of birth control such as the rhythm method, in which a couple abstain from intercourse during a woman's fertile time.

Paul's encyclical, written at the height of the 1960s sexual revolution, is perhaps the most controversial and divisive in modern Church history.

As recently as last May, Benedict defended the encyclical as far-sighted and said it was "all too often misunderstood and misinterpreted.

At the time, Benedict said love between a married couple could not "remain closed to the gift of life."

The letter was signed by groups such as Catholics for Choice, which is U.S. based, We Are Church, which has branches in numerous countries, and New Ways Ministry, which helps minister to gay Catholics.

"We thought the establishment in Rome and the Vatican pay close attention to the Italian media and the letter would be seen by the people to whom we want to deliver this message," Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, told Reuters by telephone from Washington.

The Vatican said it would likely issue a statement on the letter later on Friday.

"It is clear to us that the Catholic church cannot move forward until it honestly confronts the paradox of Humanae Vitae," the letter said.

"Most Catholics use modern contraceptives, believe it is a moral choice to do so and consider themselves Catholics in good standing, yet the Catholic hierarchy completely denies this reality, forcing the clergy into silence on this and most other issues related to sexuality," it said.

The letter concluded: "Pope Benedict, we call on you to use to use this anniversary as an opportunity to start the process of healing by being true to the positive aspects of Catholic teachings on sexuality and lifting the ban on contraception to allow Catholics to plan their families safely and in good conscience."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

670 Anglican Bishops March Through London: "Halve Poverty By 2015"

In a welcome break from all the tensions stewing at the Anglican Communion's on-going Lambeth Conference, Episcopal Life Online covers an encouraging moment of unity and outreach: Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams--flanked by other faith leaders including Catholic Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Islam representative Sir Iqbal Sacranie, and other ecumenical partners--led most of the 670 bishops attending the conference through the streets of London, followed by 1,500 lay leaders, to protest international paralysis on the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals for global progress. Portions of the report follow.

The BBC also has excellent coverage of the event, including some impressive aerial footage of the march as it paraded through London.

Anglican bishops and their spouses demonstrated on July 24 in support of poverty reduction worldwide, walking in purple cassocks and native dress past symbols of British power such as the Houses of Parliament and the prime minister's residence at Downing Street.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and other Christian and interfaith leaders were at the head of the march, walking behind a banner reading "Keep the Promise/Halve Poverty by 2015," references to one of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals for global progress.

The one-hour march, which created a river of violet down Whitehall Road, ended at Williams' residence, Lambeth Palace, across the River Thames from the seat of Great Britain's government.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, speaking to the bishops at Lambeth, called the march "one of the greatest demonstrations of faith this great city has ever seen."

Brown said wealthier nations are not moving fast enough to meet the development goals. "At our current rates of progress," they will not be met by 2015 deadline set in the MDGs. Some, he said, will not be met for 100 years if the rate of progress is not increased.

"I say to you that the poor of the world have been patient but 100 years is too long for people to wait for justice and that is why we must act now. We know that with the technology we have, the medicine we have, the science we have, it is the will to act that must be found," he said.

Williams noted that "unless we address this great gulf between human beings, we cannot expect a future of stability or welfare. As the world grows smaller, the truth is that the suffering and the needs of anyone in our global community is going to be the suffering and needs of everyone in our global community. This is not and should not be a surprise to those of us who hold the Christian faith and who have believed for 2,000 years that when one part of the body suffers, all suffer."

Flanked by Christian and other faith leaders including Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks and Sir Iqbal Sacranie, representing Islam, Williams said that the goal must be "to give to each person what they deserve in the eyes of God, not what they deserve because of their prosperity but what they deserve because they are made in God's image and demand our respect, our love and our service without qualification -- that is justice."

Referring to an emergency session of the UN General Assembly on the global food and fuel crises, set for Sept. 25 in New York, Brown told the rally "we need a march not just to Lambeth, we need a march also to New York."

"I ask you to go back to your countries and I ask you to ask your governments and I ask you to ask all of civil society to tell people that on September 25 we have got to make good the promises that have been made, redeem the pledges that have been promised, make good the Millennium Development Goals that are not being met," he said.

Brown asked the crowd to join him in asking their governments to commit to three goals. The first is that by 2010, 40 million more children would be in school "on the road to every child being in schooling by 2015."

The second pledge would be to train medical workers and provide them with the equipment "to eradicate polio, tuberculosis, malaria and diphtheria, then go on to eliminate HIV/AIDS in our generation."

The third is to allocate $20 billion in food aid "and not for only food aid but to give people the means -- free of the old agricultural protectionism -- to grow food themselves with help from our countries to develop a green revolution in Africa."

With a slight breeze blowing off the Thames, the demonstrators enjoyed a perfect sunny summer day. Many of the bishops’ wives wore dresses and hats or such native costumes as saris, ready for a garden party scheduled to take place in the afternoon at Buckingham Palace. Occasionally, there was a burst of hymn singing, with "We are marching in the light of God" being one selection.

The one-hour march stopped traffic on one of London's busiest streets, with tourists gazing from the top of double-decker sightseeing buses and passersby snapping photos.

As the 600 bishops and their spouses assembled before the walk on a side street of government offices, workers hung out of the windows, taking pictures.

Bishop John Gladstone, Moderator of the Church of South India in S. Kerala, an ecumenical partner, said that in his area, "there are four million people who are very economically disadvantaged. The local church and diocese generate employment, attempt to attend to health care and to alleviate poverty through different ways."

Kallistos of Diokleia from the Orthodox Church Patriarchate in Constantinople, dressed in black robes and headdress and wearing gold icons around his neck, stressed the universality of poverty. "Anglican problems are our problems," he said. "We are here today to bear witness against worldwide poverty so many people who are pleading for a fair distribution of wealth between the rich and poor can be heard."

The Rev. Dr. Michael Battle from Los Angeles, a chaplain at the Lambeth Conference, referred to Queen Elizabeth’s garden party later in the day and said the march “will show bishops can be relevant for the whole world. This is the first time they (the Lambeth Conference bishops) have done this. Usually it’s [just] high tea with the Queen.”

Bishop George Councell of New Jersey noted the so-called "Walk of Witness" was especially important since "later in the afternoon we have this privileged access to Buckingham Palace. I pray that we'll carry the hunger of the world and our own hunger for justice with us."

Bishop Ezekiel Malaandit of the Diocese of Bor in Sudan, whose primate earlier in the conference criticized the U.S. church's inclusive stance on homosexuality, said that "We are here to help people, to be supportive, to show we are one communion. Changing minds, sharing ideas and experiences, talking and working together like this we benefit from one another."

The sexuality controversy roiling the Anglican world was not absent, with one protestor, the Rev. David Braid, holding a sign "Jesus never ordained sodomites. Neither should the church. Hitler was a sodomite."

Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida had wrapped a rainbow flag around his sign because, he said, "when we talk about justice and mercy, we need to remember that gay and lesbian persons are discriminated against by the church and the government."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Anglican Separatists Appear to Share Deficient Scripture Interpretation Training

In a posting here on September 26, 2007, I noted how the bishops of the U.S. Episcopal Church had responded to demands made by the Anglican Primates about consecrating openly gay priests as bishops and formalizing prayers blessing same-sex unions.

The U.S. bishops said they would "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." They also pledged not to authorize public rites for same-gender blessings "until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action."

It was unknown at the time if the Anglican bishops of the Global South, who fancy themselves the guardians of Anglican orthodoxy, would find the responses sufficient. However, Daniel Deng, the archbishop of Sudan, has made it quite clear that their answer is no.

At Lambeth yesterday in a written statement and press conference, Deng insisted that the only way the Global South bishops will remain in the Anglican Communion is for openly gay U.S. Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to resign. He did not acknowledge that this demand went far beyond the primates' original requirements.

Archbishop Deng seems a nice enough man. At least that's how he comes across in the press conference. He did not attend the rump conference of Global South bishops in Jerusalem, even though he sent two other Sudanese bishops to listen and observe. Nor did he go along with the 300-plus bishops who attended the Jerusalem meeting and are now boycotting the Lambeth Conference. Yet he joins them in perpetuating the lie that scripture forbids ordaining gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions--and the assertion that the U.S. and Canadian Episcopal Churches do not have a right to interpret scripture in a way that allows those practices.

What comes across clearly when Archbishop Deng speaks about the controversies is that he was not well-trained in modern scriptural interpretation. He appears to believe that the Bible--as interpreted by Christian fundamentalists--speaks for itself on all matters, so that to add to it or subtract from it is treasonous to divine revelation. He believes that the Bible has changed African cultures that once might have tolerated homosexuality, and that there is no going back.

He seems not to grasp that scriptural texts must always be read with some interpretation, and that there are very many subject to multiple interpretations, especially as human experience and history move forward. Apparently he has never confronted the observation of several scriptural scholars that those who wrote the texts most cited as forbidding homosexual activity had absolutely no experience of gay people living in committed relationships.

I have noted in earlier posts that other Global South bishops share Archbishop Deng's theological affliction. I'm not sure how the Archbishop of Canterbury or other better-educated Anglican Bishops are supposed to deal with that constructively. Evidently the time for doing that was some decades ago. But it is certainly sad that so many of the Global South bishops have bought into deficient scripture scholarship and an understanding of biblical interpretation that cannot be sustained.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Catholic Bishops Should Stop Blessing Groups That Use the Old Latin Mass Exclusively

In an article in the July 11th National Catholic Reporter, News Director Tom Roberts reports on several controversies Archbishop Raymond Burke bequeathed to St. Louis June 27th as he left the archdiocese and took over a top Vatican court. The article focuses on ways Burke used his own interpretation of canon law to browbeat dissenters into submission, or in several cases to excommunicate them. I posted the following comment with the article on the NCR website, pointing out that Burke failed to follow the explicit directives of Pope Benedict XVI that bishops should not allow use of the Old Latin Mass to the exclusion of the newer rituals:

Until Tom Roberts' article I did not know that the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest existed, or that it uses the traditional Latin Mass exclusively, apparently with the blessing of 50 dioceses worldwide and about 10 in the United States, including St. Louis under Archbishop Burke.

It is quite remarkable that any bishop would allow a group to use the old Latin Mass exclusively, since Pope Benedict XVI explicitly outlawed that in his letter of July 7, 2007, to all Catholic bishops, accompanying the issuance of his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (on the use of the Roman liturgy).

In the sixth paragraph from the end of the letter, the pope insisted that both the post-Vatican II vernacular liturgies and the old Latin rite had to be respected. He wrote: "Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new books. The total exclusion of the new rite would not in fact be consistent with the recognition of its value and holiness."

The English translation is at

Evidently Archbishop Burke is a stickler for canon law only when it suits his purposes. NCR would do the church a service if it would publish a list of all the dioceses that sanction this group that totally excludes the new rite, so that the Vatican could take appropriate corrective action.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cartoonists' President and Analysts Say New Yorker Can't Distinguish Huh? from Duh

As soon as I saw the New Yorker's July 21st cover cartoon yesterday, my first thought was that its creators and publishers have watched too many episodes of Saturday Night Live. In recent years the NBC program, which used to epitomize the best of American satire, has all but lost the ability to distinguish good satire from self-important tripe that few knowledgeable viewers find satirical. I thought sadly: Not the New Yorker too!

So it did my heart good this morning to read that Nick Anderson, the Houston Chronicle's editorial cartoonist and President of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, faults the controversial July 21st cover of the New Yorker magazine as at once too obvious and too unclear. He says the cartoon insulted readers' intelligence "by merely depicting what the whisper campaigns have been suggesting," and failed to clearly reach the level of good satire because "it's not sufficiently over the top."

In the same Houston Chronicle analysis, Larry Sabato and Garth Jowett, experts on mass media and pop culture at the University of Virginia and the University of Houston respectively, also say the satire fell flat. Both felt the cover could be seen as confirming the most negative stereotypes about Barack and Michelle Obama.

Said Jowett: "Ninety percent of the people looking at the magazine cover are not going to see the satire. I think the magazine staff made a mistake. They were too clever by half. They were so smart they out-smarted themselves."

In an ironic twist, the Muslim Public Affairs Council even got it right. In a protest letter to the New Yorker, they characterized the cover as "playing into the worst fear of voters" and said "the image is not thought-provoking, it's just hate-provoking or fear-provoking."

Friday, July 11, 2008

Pickens Plan for Energy Independence Is Short of Hot Air, Houston Analyst Charges

So what’s good for T. Boone Pickens is good for the USA? The veteran Texas oil billionaire certainly thinks so. His just-introduced Pickens Plan for U.S. energy independence would substitute wind power to generate the 22% of electricity now fueled by natural gas—and use the same natural gas to power vehicles instead of gasoline.

But a Houston Chronicle business columnist disagrees.
Loren Steffy says the plan won’t work, because there’s not enough wind in the hottest months: “A recent study by Cambridge Energy Research Associates found that wind power is least available between June and September, the peak months for electricity consumption.”

Steffy also notes that Pickens is already heavily involved in businesses that build wind farms and provide natural gas for vehicles. He says he doesn’t begrudge him his profits and he credits Pickets with at least getting the country talking about energy policy.

Pickens has certainly made a big splash announcing his plan. Pickens is everywhere on the talk-show circuit. His TV advertising blitz has been as relentless as a presidential campaign—and it directly challenges both nominees to take energy policy seriously, as columnists like Thomas Friedman and Charles Krauthammer as been pleading for decades. It’s quite impressive when a businessman who has spent an entire career making money from oil says that the current emergency is not one we can drill ourselves out of.

The Pickens Plan website is spiffy and very user friendly. It includes videos that combine a Pickens lecture at a white board with slick animated graphics, like Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, explaining that if we keep purchasing 70% of our oil from other countries at the current price per barrel it will cost $700 billion a year, making it the largest transfer of wealth in the recorded history of the planet.

Besides other videos, the website includes a video blog of daily pep talks by Pickens, information on promotional events scheduled nationally, ways for the public to join Pickens' "army," and a forum that at this writing has 61 pages listing discussion strings initiated by registered users (nearly 30,000).

I have no way of ascertaining if seasonal variations in wind are the fatal flaw Steffy thinks they are. His column has generated 90 comments on the Chronicle website so far. About five pages into the comments a reader with the screen name
Xebec suggests that any conclusion reached by Cambridge Energy Research Associates should be taken with a grain of salt, because CERA is owned by IHS, whose clients are mainly fossil fuel industries. Few other comments address the wind issue directly, although another reader notes that wind turbines might also be located in the Gulf of Mexico, even in conjunction with oil rigs.

One of the discussion strings on Pickens’ website is entitled “
What happens on a calm hot day?” It has five pages of comments that address that issue, but no one there seems aware of Steffy’s column. The bloggers express general agreement that there’s less wind from June through September, but they have ideas to get around that that might make Pickens’ plan workable.

They note, for instance, that the wind is always blowing somewhere in the United States, and they too suggest that turbines might be located in more places than the Texas to North Dakota swath that Pickens describes.

They also suggest that there are feasible ways to store the energy generated by wind power when the electrical grid is calling for less of it. One innovative plan would use it to pump compressed air into empty underground caverns and release it to power turbines when needed. Obviously the feasibility and cost of such ideas need to be researched.

Hopefully Pickens will find a way to address Steffy’s criticism directly and convincingly. It seems pretty clear that unless Pickens can show where the wind is coming from to generate electricity in the hottest third of the year, the whole basis of his plan is deflated beyond repair.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Catholic Websites Celebrate Templeton's Contributions to Religious Dialogue

Websites of two Catholic news outlets have articles that celebrate Sir John Templeton's contributions to improving dialogue among religions and science.

In a posting on the National Catholic Reporter website, Benedicta Cipolla and Daniel Burke add details to yesterday's annoucement by the John Templeton Foundation, and they note that this year's recipient of the Templeton Prize was Michal Heller, a Polish cosmologist and Roman Catholic priest, whose work connects theology and physics.

The Catholic News Service recalls comments Templeton made to them when he established the annual prize, Templeton's openness to learning from Hindus and Muslims, and his conviction that if humans would spend more on spiritual research, "we might find that God is ready to reveal a little more about himself."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"How little we know, how eager to learn:" Sir John Templeton Dies at Age 95

Queen Elizabeth II greets Sir John Templeton

Sir John Templeton has died at age 95. The prestigious Templeton Prize which he founded is awarded annually to recognize and promote achievement in advancing the mutually necessary relationship between science and religion. Below is most of the announcement posted on the website of the John Templeton Foundation.

John Marks Templeton, the pioneer global investor who founded the Templeton Mutual Funds and for the past three decades devoted his fortune to his Foundation's work on the "Big Questions" of science, religion, and human purpose, passed away on July 8, 2008, at Doctors Hospital in Nassau, Bahamas, of pneumonia.

As a pioneer in both financial investments and philanthropy, John Templeton spent a lifetime encouraging open-mindedness. If he hadn't sought new paths, he once said, "he would have been unable to attain so many goals." The motto that Templeton created for his Foundation, "How little we know, how eager to learn," exemplified his philosophy in the financial markets and his groundbreaking methods of philanthropy.

Templeton started his Wall Street career in 1937 and went on to create some of the world's largest and most successful international investment funds. Called by Money magazine "arguably the greatest global stock picker of the century" (January 1999), he sold the Templeton Funds in 1992 to the Franklin Group for $440 million.

A naturalized British citizen who lived in Nassau, the Bahamas, Templeton was created a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II in 1987 for his many philanthropic accomplishments, including his endowment of the former Oxford Centre for Management Studies as a full college, Templeton College, at the University of Oxford in 1983.

In 1972, he established the world's largest annual award given to an individual, the £1,000,000 Templeton Prize, which is announced in New York and presented in London. The Prize is intended to recognize exemplary achievement in work related to life's spiritual dimension. Its monetary value always exceeds that of the Nobel Prizes—Templeton's way of underscoring his belief that advances in the spiritual domain are no less important than those in other areas of human endeavor.

Templeton contributed a sizable amount of his fortune to the John Templeton Foundation, established in 1987 and based in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania. The Foundation currently has an endowment of approximately $1.5 billion and gives out some $70 million in annual grants. The Foundation's mission is to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for research on what scientists and philosophers call the "Big Questions." This vision is derived from Templeton's belief that rigorous research and cutting-edge science are at the heart of human progress.

Most of the Foundation's grant-making supports scientific research at top universities, in such fields as theoretical physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology, cognitive science, and social science relating to love, forgiveness, creativity, purpose, and the nature and origin of religious belief. The Foundation also encourages and supports informed, open-minded dialogue between scientists and theologians as they work on the "Big Questions" in their distinctive fields of inquiry.

Taking a less-traveled route in investing, Templeton provided advice on how to invest worldwide when Americans rarely considered foreign investment. While standard stock-buying advice is "buy low, sell high," Templeton took the strategy to an extreme, picking nations, industries, and companies hitting rock-bottom, what he called "points of maximum pessimism."

When war began in Europe in 1939, he borrowed money to buy 100 shares each in 104 companies selling at one dollar per share or less, including 34 companies that were in bankruptcy. Only four turned out to be worthless, and he turned large profits on the others after holding each for an average of four years.

After beginning his career on Wall Street in 1937, Templeton bought a small investment advisory concern in 1940 that became Templeton, Dobbrow and Vance, Inc. He entered the mutual fund industry in 1954 when he established the Templeton Growth Fund.

In 1956 Templeton joined with marketing consultant William Damroth to launch the Nucleonics, Chemistry, and Electronics Fund, a specialty fund that reflected Templeton's lifelong interest in science and technology. With investor interest in specialty funds rising in the late 1950s, Templeton Damroth's new fund grew dramatically. Hoping to raise capital to finance more growth, Templeton then made a bold move to accelerate his company's growth.

Templeton sold his stake in Templeton Damroth in 1962, and over the next three decades created some of the world's largest and most successful international investment funds. Each $10,000 invested in the Templeton Growth Fund Class A in 1954, with dividends reinvested, would have grown to $2 million by 1992 when Sir John sold the Templeton Growth Fund. This translates into an annualized return of 14.5% since inception.

During a career that included directorships on banks, businesses, and insurance companies, Templeton maintained a long association with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He was a trustee on the board of Princeton Theological Seminary, the largest Presbyterian seminary, for 42 years and served as its chair for 12 years. He also lent his business acumen to the Presbyterians' ministerial pension fund for more than three decades until 1993.

Although he was a Presbyterian elder active in his denomination and served on the board of the American Bible Society, Templeton espoused what he called a "humble approach" to theology. Declaring that relatively little is known about God through scripture and present-day theology, he once predicted that "scientific revelations may be a gold mine for revitalizing religion in the 21st century."

Templeton took a broad view of spirituality and ethics. He was influenced by the Unity School of Christianity, a movement that espouses a non-literal view of heaven and hell and a shared divinity between God and humanity. As he wrote, "We realize that our own divinity arises from something more than merely being 'God's children' or being 'made in his image.'" Templeton did not claim to be a theologian, but he was determined to support the work of those who might deepen our "knowledge and love of God."

The annual Templeton Prize grew out of the philanthropist's belief that an honor equivalent to a Nobel Prize should be bestowed on living innovators in spiritual action and thought. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was the first Templeton Prize Laureate in 1973, followed later that decade by the evangelist Billy Graham and the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

In recent years, the Prize has been awarded primarily to physicists, cosmologists, and philosophers, including Freeman Dyson, Paul Davies, Ian Barbour, John Polkinghorne, George Ellis, Charles Townes, John Barrow, Charles Taylor, and Michael Heller. Representatives of all of the world's major religions have been on the panel of nine judges throughout the prize's history, and recipients have included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus.

John M. Templeton was born Nov. 29, 1912, in the small town of Winchester, Tennessee. Though forced to support himself while studying at Yale University during the Depression, he graduated in 1934 near the top of his class. He was named a Rhodes Scholar to Balliol College at Oxford, from which he graduated with an M.A. degree in law. He married the former Judith Folk in 1937, and the couple had three children – John, Anne and Christopher. She died in February 1951. He married Irene Reynolds Butler seven years later on New Year's Eve 1958. She passed away in 1993 after 35 years of marriage.

John Templeton is survived by his son John M. Templeton, Jr., known as Jack, who retired as a pediatric surgeon in 1995 to become president of the John Templeton Foundation, his son Christopher, stepdaughter Wendy Brooks, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His daughter, Anne Templeton Zimmerman, died in 2004 and his stepson, Malcolm Butler, died in 1995.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

U.S. Catholic Bishops Reject Liturgical Language Changes Put on Hold in June

This is a follow-up to my post of June 13th (below). The Catholic News Service reports that the U.S. Catholic bishops have rejected a contentious 700-page English re-translation of part of the Roman Missal, even after mail-in votes from bishops who did not attend a June meeting in Florida. Since the rules required at least two-thirds of the bishops to approve the new version before it could be adopted, it is clear that over one-third of the bishops opposed it. As before, it is encouraging that that many of the bishops have taken ownership of the quality and effectiveness of liturgical English and have declined to let the Vatican bureaucracy bully them into slavish translations of mediocre Latin prayers. The CNS report follows:

After mail balloting of bishops who did not vote at the spring meeting in Orlando, Fla., a 700-page translation of one section of the Roman Missal failed to get approval from the required two-thirds of the members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB announced rejection of the translation of the proper prayers for Sundays and feast days during the liturgical year July 7 and said it would come before the full body of bishops again at their November general assembly in Baltimore, along with two other sections totaling about 500 pages. No vote totals were made public, but the translation would have needed 167 "yes" votes to achieve a two-thirds majority of the 250 active Latin-rite U.S. bishops. The rejected translation, in the works for more than two years, was the second of 12 sections of the Roman Missal translation project that will come before the bishops through at least 2010. The translation had come from the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, known as ICEL, but at the Orlando meeting in June many bishops expressed frustration that recommendations they had submitted to ICEL to clarify the sentence structure or revise archaic language had been rejected.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Pontifical Scholar Calls Vatican II Liturgical Reforms "Overwhelming Success"

Jesuit priest Robert A. Taft, internationally recognized as an expert on the liturgies of Eastern Christianity after teaching at a Rome pontifical institute for almost 40 years, writes in the latest issue of America magazine that "the Roman Catholic liturgical renewal in the wake of Vatican II was an overwhelming success, returning the liturgy to the people of God to whom it rightly belongs."

The full article is available at, but only to subscribers. However, Notre Dame theology professor Richard McBrien covers the highlights in a glowing review in the latest National Catholic Reporter.

Taft says the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was right to validate the Catholic liturgical movement that had been in progress for roughly 50 years. Paraphrasing him, McBrien writes: "Liturgical pioneers drew inspiration from Russian Orthodox emigres to France, who had fled from their homeland after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. These contacts proved crucially important because the Orthodox church...had preserved the liturgical spirit of the early church and continued to live by it. Liturgists in the West, however, did not attempt simply to imitate existing Eastern usage, but interpreted and applied it in the light of the needs of Latin Christianity."

Granting that the liturgical reform might have been handled better in some respects, Taft still believes "it was done as well as was humanly possible at the time." Noting that the bishops at the council aspired to restore the Western rituals "to the vigor they had in the tradition of the Fathers," Taft says their Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy had a single, guiding purpose: that the faithful might "be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebration which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy and to which the Christian people...have a right and an obligation by reason of their baptism."

Taft has a list of specifics which he believes the council did not handle well. However, it does not include any of the things Catholic traditionalists prefer, such as the old Latin mass or various paraliturgical eucharistic devotions.

One of the council's larger failings, Taft says, was not doing enough to rein in practices he groups under the heading of "communion from the tabernacle." I have critiqued some of them in previous postings here.

Archbishop of Canterbury: Anglican Communion Will Not Be GAF-Conned

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has told 1,000 Anglican conservatives meeting in Jerusalem and boycotting the upcoming Lambeth Conference that their attempts to undermine the Anglican communion and his leadership of it are "problematic in all sorts of ways."

Some archbishops of the so-called Global South have threatened for several years to create an orthodox Anglicanism with themselves in charge, unless the communion drums out the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada for progressive policies on gay bishops and prayers for gay unions.

After trying to pacify them for about as many years--largely by shying away from upholding the historic theological diversity of the national churches of the Anglican Communion--Williams has finally told the conservatives that it is they who are departing from the fold.
The report from the Religion News Service follows.

The archbishop of Canterbury said conservatives' plans to usurp his leadership in the Anglican Communion are "problematic in all sorts of ways," saying Anglicans must renew -- not dismiss -- their frayed connections.

Archbishop Rowan Williams responded Monday (June 30) to a Jerusalem summit of more than 1,000 conservatives who announced plans on Sunday to create a new council of top archbishops to oversee likeminded Anglicans.

In a direct challenge to both Williams and traditional geographic lines of authority, the conservatives also plan to build a new North American province for Anglicans upset with the liberal sway of their national churches. "It is not enough to dismiss the existing structures of the communion," Williams said. "If they are not working effectively, the challenge is to renew them rather than improvise solutions."

The head of the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, also criticized the conservative declaration on Monday.

"This statement does not represent the end of Anglicanism," she said, "merely another chapter in a centuries-old struggle for dominance by those who consider themselves the only true believers."

The conservatives' challenge comes just weeks before the Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting in England of some 600 Anglican bishops from around the world. Dozens of bishops, however, are boycotting Lambeth to protest Williams' leadership in divisive debates over homosexuality and biblical authority.

Several conservatives said their proposed council is a direct challenge to Williams. As head of the Church of England, the archbishop of Canterbury is traditionally considered "first among equals" by fellow bishops, and membership in the communion is granted by his recognition.

But more than 1,000 conservative Anglicans said Sunday that "we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury."

"Frankly, this is an admission that (Williams') leadership has failed," said Bishop Martyn Minns, a Virginia-based conservative appointed by the Church of Nigeria.

Williams fired back, saying that a self-appointed council of archbishops "will not pass the test of legitimacy in the communion." Moreover, he asked, "by what authority are primates deemed acceptable or unacceptable members of any new primatial council?"

Rather than wait for Lambeth, many conservative Anglicans instead attended the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem, which concluded Sunday. Organizers said GAFCON drew about 1,000 delegates -- including 280 bishops -- claiming to 35 million Anglicans in 29 countries.

As the world's third largest Christian body, the Anglican Communion counts about 77 million members.

The meeting in Jerusalem reflects not only conservatives' decades-long frustration with the liberalism of Western Anglicans, but also their eagerness to assume control of a communion whose center is quickly moving from Europe to Africa.

Conservative Anglicans said Sunday that they are fed up with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada "proclaiming (the) false gospel" of gay rights, and the reluctance of other Anglicans to stop them.

Their "Jerusalem Declaration" issued on Sunday outlines the orthodox tenets around which the new province and council would be built. While holding fast to traditional Anglican theology, GAFCON said the Anglican Communion, a federation of 38 national churches derived from the Church of England and spread by the British Empire, must change.

"Worldwide Anglicanism has now entered a post-colonial phase," GAFCON leaders said in a statement Sunday, adding that it's time to move past "the colonial structures that have served the Anglican Communion so poorly during the present crisis."

"In many ways it's like a traditional family where the children are growing up and taking responsibility," said Minns, who heads the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

Six Anglican primates who participated in GAFCON -- from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda, West Africa and the Southern Cone (South America) -- would initially form the new council. While Anglican churches in the West are losing members, churches in Africa are booming, according to reports.

But Williams said "emerging from the legacy of colonialism must mean a new co-operation of equals, not a simple reversal of power."

It's unclear how many churches would comprise the North American province. Minns put the number at about 600, though liberals and church officials say that's much too high.

Jefferts Schori said that though "much of the Anglican world must be lamenting the latest emission from GAFCON," the church's work will go on.

"Anglicans will continue to worship God in their churches, serve the hungry and needy in their communities, and build missional relationships across the globe," she said, "despite the desire of a few leaders to narrow the influence of the Gospel."