Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dishonesty on Bayly blog

In the following thread a user by the name of Kamila made provably false claims about planned parenthood. Those were pointed out to be false. Tim Bayly then wrote an off topic post supporting the claims. When asked why I was defending Margaret Sanger and planned parenthood from obviously false statements; I pointed out that lying about ones political opponents was a sin and that taking pride in it was damnable. God is truth. The responses were deleted.

At this point Tim Bayly has knowingly, intentionally with full volition and forethought disseminated false information about a person for the purpose of defaming them. He has supported others in doing so. Moreover when confronted with honest refutations of his position he has suppressed them so as to continue the defemation. I think it is time to consider him a false preacher and move on.

He and his clique had proven themselves totally unconcerned with either the bible or with moral conduct.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Ed Johnson, can ministers deny membership

Ed Johnson's case was case as a gay rights case inside the United Methodist Church but it really isn't. Rather because the the nature of the ruling, it touches on a more core issue which is the relationship of the minister within the United Methodists to the church and whether statements of principle have any effect on the efficiency pastoral action.
Edward Johnson was the reverend for United Methodist Church in South Hill Virginia. He had an application for membership from a man who was an active homosexual. The man had been active in the church and sung in the choir. Ed Johnson refused him membership due to homosexual practice. His district superintendent Rev. W. Anthony Layman, argued that the church had a specific doctrine that allowed homosexuals to be members (even practicing homosexuals) and thus that Johnson's refusal was illicit. After an extended back and forth she suspend him, this suspension was upheld by the Virginia conference with a 581 to 20 vote and Johnson appealed to the national organization's judicial board.

The judicial board decided that ministers have the unlimited right to determine qualification for membership. That is that a minister may determine that a person who claims he wishes to be a member does not intend to fulfill their membership vows. Further the interpretation of those vows is up to the minister.

Since the pastor is not required by the Discipline to admit into membership all persons regardless of their willingness to affirm the vows of membership, and since the Discipline designates the pastor "to be the administrative officer of the local church" (¶ 340.3a) and to "administer the provisions of the Discipline” (¶ 340.3b(1)), a pastor-in-charge cannot be ordered by the district superintendent or bishop to admit into membership a person deemed not ready or able to meet the requirements of the vows of church membership of The United Methodist Church. The appointed pastor in charge has the duty and responsibility to exercise responsible pastoral judgment in determining who may be received into the membership of a local church.
This was immediately seen as judicial activism by its opponents. There are no guidelines at all for what constitutes "responsible pastoral judgment" and there was concern that given that homosexuality was not a basis for a ban for membership the council greatly increased the power of local ministers and moreover had allowed someone to be denied membership for any reason what so ever. That is they had converted local methodist churches into "clubs" whose club president (the pastor) had unlimited rights to determine membership policy without oversight:
According to Judical Board's thinking, if we ask somebody to make a commitment, then someone needs to judge whether that person's commitment is sincere and serious before we accept him or her into membership or partnership or whatever we want to call it. This is where I disagree. I am not sure any of us are qualified to make this kind of judgment about someone else.
Moreover as status grounds were included then on the pastor's description it would equally well allow exclusion based on race or handicap or any other area which is not scripturally supported. The Baltimore Washington Conference for example explicitly declared that in light of 1032 they continue to admit people without regard to race, sex, economic status and do not believe in discrimination on any basis. To quote the dissent
My greater concern is that its pronouncement may be a harbinger of things to come. Will we begin to see cases where membership has been denied based on economic status? Or educational status? Will pastors deny membership to those who do not support all of our Social Principles? Or those who fully support our Social Principles? We all aspire to break the bonds and reject the forces of sin. Nevertheless, we choose a perilous course when even “responsible pastoral judgment” is granted to allow pastors the “discretion” to select among a multitude of sins for which some persons will be refused membership. Jon R. Gray and Susan T. Henry-Crowe
The letter or reconsideration went even further. The Bishops of the UMC argued that it is Christ's invitation to the table and not the churches and the church has authority to administer the sacraments to those persons who affirm a desire for Christ's mercy but does not have the authority to deny them.

The Judicial board on the other hand has more "ground level support" than the bishops do. On the other hand its the Bishops that have the power of enforcement and they despised this ruling. Moreover many conservatives argued that the theoretical objections were nonsense. UMC pastors aren't casually excluding people from membership anywhere, that is there are no "abuses" and there are unlikely to be any abuses. Keith Boyette's writing for the majority and Edward Johnson himself did assert that homosexual practice as opposed to orientation was the issue and that specific guidelines of what constitutes failure to be taking the vo

In Febuary of 2007 the man who originally had requested membership was granted membership by Johnson's successor (site)
As for my opinion on the case, I think it really comes down to the attitude towards homosexuality. Consider these two pastors:

A -- Is a UMC pastor who believes that being Hispanic is an intrinsically sinful state. While we are all sinners persons who persistent eat of burritos and tacos unrepentantly are unsuited for church membership.

B -- Is a UMC pastor who believes that being a thief is an intrinsically sinful state. While we are all sinners persons who persistent steal unrepentantly are unsuited for church membership.

I agree with the people affirming this choice that the debate is really about whether Johnson is more like pastor A or pastor B. They are correct that there is simply no evidence that the broad powers granted to pastors under 1032 are going to be abused in the near future. On the other hand I agree with the dissenting opinion that 1032 was a grant of tremendous authority to pastors. In trying to uphold the right for pastor B it legitimized pastor A. This was a very poorly reasoned choice which undermines the whole rule of law inside the UMC.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Heartstrong, for GLBT students

HeartStrong is a non sectarian organization established to provide outreach to gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and other persons adversely affected by the influence of all denominations of religious educational institutions.

HeartStrong is also committed to educating the public about the persecution of GLBT’s and others at religious educational institutions.

Bravo! Anyway there are about 7.5m students in religious schools in the United States and in most of them suspicion of homosexuality is sufficient to get you expelled. Homosexual students are harassed, persecuted, bullied, often sent off mental institutions, etc... If you are a GLBT student in a religious institution they have an ambassador program to get someone local to help in any sort of crisis. I'd recommend going to their site and contacting them.

Friday, July 27, 2007

So what do you want to see?

I'm looking for some feedback here on what sorts of articles we need more of:

  1. More shorts on real cases
  2. Continue on the defense against patriarchy (I'm getting the impression people are bored and those ones are a lot of work)
  3. A discussion of the emerging church. In other words a defense for postmodernism against traditional evangelicals
  4. More on the homosexual issues
  5. Book reviews
  6. More really famous cases that changed the church through time
  7. Other
So let me know. I'm thinking about all of the above. But I'd like some feedback.

Andrew Yoder, shunning overturned by court

In 1947 an interesting case came to trial regarding an Andrew Yoder sued the Bishop and 3 other church leaders of Helmuth District Old Order Amish congregation. Most of the facts of this case are undisputed and a complete story has emerged.

Andrew Yoder's daughter is born very ill and needs regular medical attention. Andrew Yoder is a farmer and lives 15 miles from the clinic. Being Amish Yoder is entitled to rent a car or take a taxi but not to own one. However he decides to put his daughter above his church quits the church and joins a more liberal Mennonite church. He did not however complete a valid transfer.

Church elders confront Yoder and he refuses to provide a full explanation. He is excommunicated and subjected to shunning. As a result of the shunning Yoder suffers severe financial and emotional distress. He goes to court and sues the church to have the ban lifted. The argument is that since he had quit the church he could not be subject to church discipline.

The court has serious questions about its jurisdiction to take the case. However since Yoder lives in an Amish community the ban organized by the church leadership, in the court's opinion, constitutes a conspiracy to defame. That is they found that the shunning was illegal because a conspiracy to boycott the plaintiff actually amounted to a violation of the plaintiff's civil rights of liberty to switch churches at will and without intimidation and coercion. That is while the court can't order any of Yoder's neighbors to talk to him they do believe they can hold the leadership responsible for what amount to attempt to coerce Yoder to remain with a particular church.

The church is found guilty and the leadership is ordered to pay $5000. The bishop refuses to pay his share and his farming equipment is sold at auction by the sheriff, an elder then steps in and pays the balance of the judgment to say his own farm. Yoder's daughter dies, one of the elders dies from the stress and Yoder commits suicide.

Now that the facts are out of the way lets move on to some analysis. In general most people who have studied the Yoder case agree it is highly atypical. You do have a judge essentially arguing that a religious punishment is incorrect. Guinn vs. Church of Christ of Collinsville (where the Judge found that shunning constitutes a religious act) would likely have been the outcome had the defendants defended themselves properly.
However, what is generally agreed drove this case was community disgust at the effects of shunning. That is shunning was for these farmers seen as too effectual. Given the level of effect the community felt that their notions of justice (that is justice as seen by the broader society) were being violated. Interestingly enough they also objected to the sale of the farm equipment for the same reason. What this points to is an issue with that church discipline is likely to face if it capable of having "real bite". It needs broad community support to function or the church not the individual is the one who gets publicly shamed.

Some additional documents

Sunday, July 22, 2007

A defense against Patriarchy (part 3)

We move on to our third part in the series. We assume the reader is already familiar with part1 and part2. We ended part2 with a discussion of the Thecla and its anti-family pro virginity themes of that work. We pointed out that a key component of the Patriarchy case is to argue that their teachings are the clear teachings of scripture and consistent with orthodoxy through the centuries. In the 2nd part we proved that the churches founded by the apostles held beliefs and practices inconsistent with patriarchy. In this section we address orthodoxy head on. What we show is that for the next 3 centuries after Thecla, the "orthodoxy" continued to move in "her direction". That is the theology of sex, motherhood, and gender of the late 4th and early 5th century is what one sees today among the catholic rights not the one one sees among the protestant right. We will use conservative protestant for the modern fundamentalist/evangelical position since in part3 we have almost no need to differentiate between the mainstream conservative protestant position and the Phillips, Wilson... position.

To unquestionably establish the orthodoxy of the time we need to find the most authoritative texts, written by the most authoritative authors upheld with the full authority of the catholic church, and especially those that continue to be referred to over the centuries by later writers. The assertion is that the events and teachings leading up to trial of Jovinian and the events that followed meet this very high burden. That is we will focus our attention on the period between 380 and 410, ending with Saint Augustine's "On the good of marriage", and prove that by the time Christianity did develop an orthodox view of marriage and family it was the not the view that Phillips, Wilson and Bayly claim.

In the year 383, Saint Jerome penned the The Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary. The quote below is his comparison between virginity and marriage:
And now that I am about to institute a comparison between virginity and marriage, I beseech my readers not to suppose that in praising virginity I have in the least disparaged marriage, and separated the saints of the Old Testament from those of the New, that is to say, those who had wives and those who altogether refrained from the embraces of women: I rather think that in accordance with the difference in time and circumstance one rule applied to the former, another to us upon whom the ends of the world have come. So long as that law remained, Genesis 1:28 "Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth"; and "Cursed is the barren woman that bears not seed in Israel," they all married and were given in marriage, left father and mother, and became one flesh. But once in tones of thunder the words were heard, 1 Corinthians 7:29 "The time is shortened, that henceforth those that have wives may be as though they had none": cleaving to the Lord, we are made one spirit with Him. And why? Because "He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife. And there is a difference also between the wife and the virgin. She that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband." Why do you cavil? Why do you resist? The vessel of election says this; he tells us that there is a difference between the wife and the virgin. Observe what the happiness of that state must be in which even the distinction of sex is lost. The virgin is no longer called a woman. 1 Corinthians 7:34 "She that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit." A virgin is defined as she that is holy in body and in spirit, for it is no good to have virgin flesh if a woman be married in mind.
The work contains dozens of quotes like the above but for now lets examine the underlying theology.

For one thing the entire thrust of the book contradicts the modern protestant. Modern protestants are strongly opposed to fornication. They have no opposition to marital sex and generally believe that marital sex is an important and valuable activity. That is, they range from being mildly positive to moderately positive towards marital sex. Moreover they believe people should marry and so no particular value (and many would argue they see harm) in a life of virginity. Sex builds intimacy in a marriage. The married couple should try and please each other sexually. Some limitiations may apply: fantasy, use of pornography, etc but the overall thrust is clearly pro marriage, pro marital sex and pro procreation.

Augustine has already preached that: Any sex act not specifically procreative is additionally sinful. Any pleasure that occurs as a result of sex must be accidental, "It is, however, one thing for married persons to have intercourse only for the wish to beget children, which is not sinful: it is another thing for them to desire carnal pleasure in cohabitation, but with the spouse only, which involves venial sin." (Book 1 Chapter 16 On Marriage and Concupiscence) . Conversely the whole thrust of the Perpetual Virginity is that Mary was far too holy ever to have consummated her marriage. For the modern protestant the command to be fruitful and multiply still applies. Having children is a good thing for a marriage and children are a blessing. In the above quote Jerome specifically argues that the NT teaches that the command is no longer in effect.

As David Hunter puts it, Augustine illustrated the importance of the good of fidelity with the example of two thieves. If one thief should enlist the help of another to commit a crime and should agree to give his partner a share of the loot, they have entered into an agreement characterized by fidelity. Even though they are partners in crime, their fidelity is still something good, even though it is being manifested in bad behavior. The goodness of their fidelity, Augustine observed, is evident from the fact that if one thief should violate their agreement, the other thief would have every right to complain. The only grounds for breaking their agreement would be if one thief decided to return to the "true and legitimate fidelity" which both of the thieves owe to society and which they violated by turning to crime in the first place.

As another example Saint Ambrose (Concerning Virginity Book I 62-66) had urged parents not to provide daughters with a dowry and thus avoid help their daughters avoid marriage.

Jerome also saw this elevated view of virginity as applying to men, and provides a "proof text" that Jesus loves virgins more:
And yet John, one of the disciples, who is related to have been the youngest of the Apostles, and who was a virgin when he embraced Christianity, remained a virgin, and on that account was more beloved by our Lord, and lay upon the breast of Jesus. And what Peter, who had had a wife, did not dare ask, he requested John to ask. And after the resurrection, when Mary Magdalene told them that the Lord had risen, they both ran to the sepulcher, but John outran Peter. And when they were fishing in the ship on the lake of Gennesaret, Jesus stood upon the shore, and the Apostles knew not who it was they saw; the virgin alone recognized a virgin, and said to Peter, "It is the Lord." … whereas we have maintained that his virginity was the cause of the special love our Lord bore to him), let him explain, if he was not a virgin, why it was that he was loved more than the other Apostles. (Against Jovinianus ch 26)
A second important difference is the clear separation between virgins and non virgins. In the above, "a virgin is no longer called a woman". In modern terms, this is the theory of gender which argues that virgins and non virgins are separate genders. For Jerome, Virgins can teach including teaching men. We've already discussed this in the previous article regarding Thecla but it comes up again. Moreover Jerome was a strong proponent of virgins studying the bible and led several virgin's bible studies. The original motivation behind the Vulgate was that woman did not get the language training men and thus virgins needed assistance studying the scriptures. Woman as opposed to virgins didn't have need for the bible directly and should learn it from persons who are chaste. Prohibitions against woman teaching don't apply to virgins. That is in today's terms Jerome was preparing virgins for the ministry.

Prohibitions against monks being alone with woman don't apply to virgins. "Knowing his own weakness and the frailty of the vessel which he carries, he is afraid of stumbling, lest he strike against something, and it fall and be broken. Hence he shuns the sight of women, and particularly of young women, and so far chastens himself as to dread even what is safe" (Against Vigilantius). But this doesn't apply to virgins. In short:
  • woman -- engage in animalistic behaviors like breeding and raising young
  • virgins -- engage in Christian behaviors like study and prayer
Marriage involves a woman into a web of deceit, "But she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband." Do you think there is no difference between one who spends her time in prayer and fasting, and one who must, at her husband's approach, make up her countenance, walk with mincing gait, and feign a show of endearment?"

Modern conservative protestants totally reject the theory of gender and argue for a theory of sex. In fact the whole core of the patriarchy movement is that being a wife and mother is a woman's highest calling.

Jerome believed throughout his life that, the purpose of marriage was to create children who might be virgins and thus redeem the sexual act, "Nor do we say this to condemn marriage, for virginity itself is the fruit of marriage"(perpetual virginity) or in against Jovinian "Marriage replenishes the earth, virginity fills Paradise. This too we must observe, at least if we would faithfully follow the Hebrew, that while Scripture on the first, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days relates that, having finished the works of each, "God saw that it was good," on the second day it omitted this altogether, leaving us to understand that two is not a good number because it destroys unity, and prefigures the marriage compact."

In particular towards woman:
Marriage is the work by which it is possible for a female having lost God's grace through fornication to regain it, "If you are a true virgin, why do you fear her careful guardianship; and, if you have fallen, why do you not openly marry? Wedlock is like a plank offered to a shipwrecked man and by its means you may remedy what previously you have done amiss." (Jerome Letter 117: To a Mother and Daughter Living in Gaul)
or to pick a quote directed regarding men and sex, where Jerome quite explicitly indicates that regular sexual activity reduces a man to the level of an animal:
and by his encouragement doubles the natural heat of the flesh, which in youth is mostly at boiling point, or rather slakes it by intercourse with women; so that there is nothing to separate us from swine, nothing wherein we differ from the brute creation, or from horses, respecting which it is written: "They were toward women like raging horses; everyone neighed after his neighbour's wife." This is that which the Holy Spirit says by the mouth of David: "Be not like horse and mule which have no understanding." And again respecting Dormitantius and his friends:"Bind the jaws of them who draw not near unto you with bit and bridle. (Against Vigilantius ch 15)

Augustine in The Good of Marriage has a similar notion where he joins fidelity to God and asceticism, though he doesn't quite go as far as the above.

The third point of departure is that sexuality itself is sinful. The Confessions of Saint Augustine is considered by many to be the greatest Christian work ever. It is considered by literary historians to be the invention of the autobiography. Bayly specifically references Augustine's analysis of Genesis in his defense of patriarchy. However in chapter 8 of the confessions Augustine discusses how his point of resistance to God was his inability to give up his sexual desire (not an act here, Augustine believes the desire in and of itself is sinful and contrary to God's will). Jerome even went further. Virginity is the very core of godliness and one who was sinful even if sexually chaste was no longer a virgin (that is in an elevated state with respect to God) (Against Vigilantius ch 23)

Saint Ambrose in Book III of Concerning Virginity addresses the issue of whether suicide is an appropriate remedy to sexual desire (Ambrose has to convince his readership that marriage is the better choice). The book main theme itself is interesting. Ambrose argues that Saint Agnes is almost a female equivalent to Christ in her sacrifice, that is how "virgin martyrs" are able to die bravely "ready to stretch forth her hands to Christ at the sacrificial fires, and at the sacrilegious altars themselves, to make the sign of the Lord the Conqueror, or again to place her neck and both her hands in the iron bands" while if she had been a woman and not a virgin she would have "taken to the couch" (i.e offered to trade sex for her freedom). In particular Agnes has bravery greater than a [married] man's due to her virgin state, with the clear implication that had Christ not been a virgin he would not have had enough bravery for the crucifixion. (Book 1 ch7-9)

Again, the modern conservative protestant believes that sexuality was ordained by God and is in accord with God's will. Virginity is not elevated state at all.

The 4 doctors of the Western church are: Jerome, Augustine, Ambrose and Gregory I. We've shown now how 3 of the 4 held to an orthodoxy completely contrary to the modern protestant one. We haven't discussed Pope Gregory I (see also Catholic Encyclopedia entry) because he lived over a century after the period we are discussing. As an aside, he himself was a monk and a virgin throughout is life as well as a follower of Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome. That is he also would agree with the theology present here. In particular he helped to normalize and stabilized the rules governing monasteries and convents, that is he continued the trend already established.

So at this point we have established that an alternate view was the most authoritative one. But we can go further, a view similar to the modern protestant one was discussed in the 4th and 5th century and declared a heresy. There was a monk by the name of Jovinian who argued:
  1. A wife is as honorable as a virgin
  2. All who are good will receive the same heavenly reward, in particular the married the chaste. This contrasted with Augustine had taught clearly that paradise needed to be free of all sexual pollution, i.e. the forbidden knowledge of eden was carnal knowledge and thus the married received a lesser reward.
  3. He also opposed asceticisms in other respects, fasting and eating with thanksgiving are equally pleasing to God.
There were 2 additional charges that are irrelevant for our theme (spirit and water baptism, and no differentiation between mortal and venial sins). This gives us a spread

  • Jerome -> Hard right position, marriage is a vastly inferior state and sex acts permanently damage one's relationship with God.
  • Augustine -> Moderate position, marriage is an inferior state
  • Jovinian -> Liberal position (a kind of I'm personally opposed to marriage and procreation but I think if done properly its harmless to one's eternal welfare).
Now of course our modern patriarchs are well to the left of Jovinian and so Doug Phillips et al get the rare experience of being the pinko liberals in a debate. Jovinian's position was considered at length by an full synod in Milan and declared a heresy. The ruling was then appealed to Rome where another full Synod was conducted involved people from throughout the empire. Again the declaration was that Jovinian's position was a heresy. Finally, Jovinian appealed directly to the emperor who not only upheld the ruling of the Roman synod but also sentenced Jovinian to exile for unrepentant heresy. Years after the ruling, Jerome delights in Against Vigiliantius that Jovinian died "amidst pheasants and swine's flesh".

That is the official organs of the church on multiple occasions on a case there were taking very seriously considered crucial elements of the "patriarchal position" and utterly rejected them. It simply cannot be maintained that the orthodox position was
  1. That a woman's highest calling is wife and mother, rather the orthodox position was that motherhood and marriage carry a female away from God. Though some sort of limited holiness is still possible inside of a sexual relationship abstinence is still the preferred option and lifelong abstinence carries with it a fundamental change in nature in one's relationship with God.
  2. That females cannot preach and cannot teach men, these prohibitions do not apply to virgins. Woman inside a sexual relationship need to be submissive since the primary good they are still capable of achieving is though creating the sort of discipline needed to create Christian virgins in the next (or later) generations.
  3. That God's intention is to work through families, rather the orthodox position is that God would like to work through sex segregated collections of men and woman unified in their desire for absolute purity knowledge and holyness -- the monastic and convent movement)
Quite simply the idea that marriage was coequal, much less superior to virginity, was considered silly enough to be mocked:

I now direct the attack against the passage in which, wishing to show your cleverness, you institute a comparison between virginity and marriage. I could not forbear smiling, and I thought of the proverb, did you ever see a camel dance? (Perpetual Virginity of Mary, Jerome ch20)
Now this rejection is very key. Most of the patriarchs come from the reformed tradition and Augustine was quoted extensively in the Synod of Dordt where reformed and Arminian (Baptist) separated (Augustine had written the brief against Pelagius). That is to say Augustine's theories are specifically upheld by the reformed tradition. Even more specifically, Augustine's interpretation of Genesis is frequently cited as justification for the patriarchal position. So the fact that Augustine considered and rejected key components of the patriarchal position is damning. In a more subtle way however Jerome is also problematic. Jerome is last major biblical scholar who read in the original languages free of translation. After Jerome every reader of the bible is influenced by a culture of translation of the bible. That is, indirectly, after Jerome no one can read the bible entirely free of Jerome's reading of the bible.

In the 2nd section we showed how those who knew the apostles did not understand scripture to teach what the patriarchs said it taught. In this section we have shown that orthodoxy of the church on the interpretation of scripture developed a doctrine which is completely in discord with the patriarchal view. Further that key elements of the patriarchal view were considered and branded a heresy. And thus the appeal to the original apostles and the appeal of orthodoxy have been undermined. At this point we could declare debate over.

Still I suspect our patriarchal opponents are not completely satisfied. Perhaps they might be so bold as to argue something like, "You have considered no one but intellectuals. Valentinus, Thecla, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine". They had a 'femininized', Platinized Christianity. We need to look at the Christianity of 'real men' who were uninterested in Greek philosophy, men who live on the earth not in the clouds". One could jokingly add Jesus, Paul and John to the list and again try and end the argument here. However, there is a better argument since history has a delightful sense of irony.

In 406 Saint Jerome finished his translation of the Vulgate, the magnum opus of an attempt to create a new Philosophical Christianity without mothers for a new Christian Roman Empire. At almost the same moment the Vulgate is born, a young Christian mother, the sister of the warlord Rugila, was giving birth to the Scourge of God. Through this act of motherhood she creates a vision of a new European Christianity. Absolam, Augustine and Jerome will all die in peace never knowing that it her child not theirs that will come to define Jesus's message. Their ideas mature into the monastic and convent movement that exist to our days. But for the next 500 years Christianity as practiced by the vast majority of Christians will no longer come from ascetics leaders who read a half dozen languages and intermix Greek philosophy with their Christianity. Rather we will see a new Christianity created by men by and woman many of whom have never seen a book. They will delight in the joys of sex and thank God for the birth of children. The men will have wives, mistresses and concubines in the name of Christian Chastity and when they war they will depopulate whole cities in the name of the Prince of Peace. This European Christianity and its "Orthodoxy" will be the topic of the next part.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A defense against Patriarchy (part 2)

This is the 2nd part of our series. As mentioned in the introduction if patriarchy has been normative throughout the history of Christianity until recently we would expect the written record to reflect that, our first stop off looking at the early to mid 2nd century. This is an interesting period of time since it reflects "the biblical church" that is the church prior to the emergence of a strong unified Catholic church. The churches are those churches founded by Paul and the apostles. Doctrines are still unsettled, the boundaries between Catholic and non Catholic Christianity, Christianity, Gnosticism, Logos worship, quasi-Jewish "god fearers" and mystery cults are vague and fluid. Quite simply it is this period where we see how the biblical writings and apostolic teachings were understood before the days of authoritative interpretation.

The first place we would expect to see evidence for a patriarchal structure in the church would be in the manual for administering the church used in the 2nd century, The Didache. This book written about 100 CE was early enough and authoritative enough that it almost made it into the bible, and in fact the Ethiopian Orthodox Church even accepts it as canonical (EOC canon).

We find that female submission is mentioned 0 times. On sections dealing with commanding other Christians what we find is that wives aren't even mentioned, "You shall not command your bondservant or your handmaid who trust in the same God as yourself when you are in a bitter mood, for fear that by chance they might cease to fear the God who is over both of you" Every time children are mentioned it is "children" or "sons and daughters". All commands are directed at both husbands and wives.

As a side note the book is also not oriented towards authority but rather values discussion and consensus building, "You shall not make a schism, but you shall pacify them that contend". Authority comes from the congregation, "Appoint for yourselves therefore bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are meek and do not love of money, and who are true and approved".

It could be argued that male dominance was so clear accepted into the society that there was no need to mention it nor any need to explain to recent converts specific Christian rules governing it. That is, the typical counter argument to an argument from silence. We counter this with our next selection.

Moving forward a generation our pickings become much richer. At this point we could choose any number of Christian authors however we pick an extreme to prove our point and go with Valentinus (See also Wikipedia). Valentinus (100-160) was during his life viewed as an important Christian leader and major Christian philosopher (only Justin Martyr had similar influence). He was almost made pope and came in second to Pope Pius I. His claim to be a student of Theudas (who himself was a student of Paul) in uncontested by early authors. Even his theological enemies Irenaeus and later Tertullian never questioned his genius, his eloquence, his importance or the extent of his following (he had a huge following which grew for over a century after his death and which splintered off into a variety of non catholic Christian and quasi-Christian religions). A direct book of his (The Gospel of Truth) survives and the Pistis Sophia is a classic of the school he founded.

He is interesting for out study because Valentinus is even by modern definitions an egalitarian:

1) He utterly rejected the notion that God was a "father" in the sense of maleness (see Against the Valentinians, Tertullian ) and he even went so far as to popularize a female counterpart of Jesus.

2) He enforced equality within the church between men and woman, Among the Valentinians, women were considered to be equal, or at least nearly equal to men. There were female prophets, teachers, healers, evangelists and even priests. (Pagels The Gnostic Gospels, p 60) (see also Relationship with the Church).

3) He (and his followers) specifically addressed the patriarchal proof texts (for example 1Cor 11) and rules and taught that Paul's use of gender here was purely symbolic. In Valentinus' view the references to female and male were being used as analogies for Pneumatic (higher spiritual) vs. Psychic (lower spiritual) Christianity (i.e. esoteric vs. exoteric). The idea that Paul actually meant that wearing a hat would effect redemption or salvation was rejected out of hand. (Pagels's, Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters is the classic on this topic)

4) He rejects the notion of male headship entirely. The existence of two sexes is a degeneration of the splitting to syzygy into "male" and "female" parts (they will cleave together and become one flesh). Valentinus would (to use modern language for purposes of exposition) argue that gender is a construct, and would go so far as argue that biological maleness and femaleness are constructs which we will throw off through salvation.

5) He considers Mary Magdalene the greatest of the apostles and and creates a dichotomy between Peter (exoteric Christianity) and Mary (esoteric Christianity).

6) His writing are strongly anti authoritarian: suspicion of tradition, distrust of authority, dislike for dogma and objective statements of faith, and the pitting of the individual against the institution characterize this thinking.

etc... Now, there is no question that within 2 generations the "one God, one Bishop" school of Irenaeus is successful in driving the Valentinians out of the church by the mid 3rd century these ideas are completely rejected by Christianity. However by Irenaeus' own admission the majority of Christians were unable to discern the distinction between the Valentinians and the Orthodox Christians. There is no debate that Valentinians and Orthodox Christians worshipped right beside one another during Irenaeus's day. It is simply impossible that the Orthodox could have been authoritarian, male dominated, family church of the Doug Phillips variety and at the same time the Christians of the day were unable to distinguish them from Valentinian churches. Either Irenaeus is wrong about the types of churches he is attending or Phillips, et al. are wrong about the types of churches that existed.

We now move forward one more generation to 160, and choose a theme which will develop into the core of part 3. A very popular story among Christian woman of the time is the Acts of Paul and Thecla which tells the story of Saint Thecla of Iconium. With a century of her death she spawns the cult of St. Thecla, which spread over East and West, and made her the most famous of virgin martyrs. This book was originally part of the larger Acts of Paul, but this section was much more widely distributed and influential than the original larger work. Acts of Paul and Thecla have been known throughout all of Christian history, while the Acts of Paul were lost till approximately 1901.

The book is so important since it again presents a theology entirely inconsistent with the patriarchal theology. And this book unlike Valentinus above is "mainstream" Christian literature for centuries.
  1. The story sees marriage as taking one away from salvation. In fact the book essentially asserts salvation through virginity (and thus contains strongly anti family views)
  2. Specifically praises Thecla for disobeying her family and abandoning her Betrothed to follow Paul (again strongly anti family themes)
  3. Specifically presents Thecla as an independent Christian teacher / preacher sent out on her mission by Paul (pro woman teaching)
For example here are a selection of the blessings the book presents Paul as speaking (note the anti-family theme):
  • Blessed are they who keep their flesh undefiled, for they shall be
    the temple of God.
  • Blessed are they that abandon their secular enjoyments, for they
    shall be accepted of God.
  • Blessed are they who have wives, as though they had them not, for
    they shall be made angels of God.
  • Blessed are they, who for the love of Christ abandon the glories of
    the world, for they shall judge angels, and be placed at the right
    hand of Christ, and shall not suffer the bitterness of the last
  • Blessed are the bodies and souls of virgins, for they are acceptable
    to God and shall not lose the reward of their virginity, for the
    word of their Father shall prove effectual to their salvation in the
    day of his Son, and they shall enjoy rest forevermore.
Tertullian (3rd century) agrees with our contention, and writes in
But the woman of pertness, who has usurped the power to teach, will of course not give birth for herself likewise to a right of baptizing, unless some new beast shall arise like the former; so that, just as the one abolished baptism, so some other should in her own right confer it! But if the writings which wrongly go under Paul's name, claim Thecla's example as a licence for women's teaching and baptizing, (Tertullian, On Baptism)
This is key because it establishes important aspects of our case (for more detail):
  1. There were catholic churches where woman were both teaching and baptizing
  2. The legend of Saint Thecla was understood specifically as authorizing these
Now since the cult of Thecla was very widespread and the book was unquestionably widely distributed this makes a very strong case that patriarchal views were not normative but rather controversial 150-200.

Woman's Christian asceticism continued to develop and spread. John of Ephesus was the 6th centuryleader of the Monophysite Syriac-speaking Church, and author of Lives of the Eastern Saints. He traces the Thecla cult directly to the woman's ascetic movement of his day, which is the predecessor of the convent system of the middle ages. This convent system has survived relatively intact even in the modern world. Far from the cult of female virginity being non normative one can make a far better case that Protestantism's abandonment of chastity and virginity being held as an ideal is what is historically non normative for Christianity. 1Cor 7:1-9 hints that it is also non biblical.

And that is the theme we will explore in our next section. A supporter of patriarchy could examine this evidence and argue we looked too early. The world we were examining is before there was a single unified catholic church, before there was a single unified canon of scripture, before there were clear boundaries of ideology and heresy. They might argue the church and Christianity we are speaking about isn't really Christian but more like a proto-Christian church. When they speak of "normative" they meant the Catholic and later Protestant churches. So in the next section we fast forward almost 300 years to end of the Roman Empire when Christianity is a religion with a single hierarchy, a single canon, and a single unified faith and see if we discover Phillips's model of rule by fathers there.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Bethlehem Baptist and divorce

In 1989, Bethleham baptist church was divided regarding the proper policy for divorce and remarriage. The outlined a policy A Statement on Divorce and Remarriage in the Life of Bethlehem Baptist Church. What is terrific about this policy is their handling of

f we are to be a Biblical church—a church with mutual accountability and proper discipline—the question that must be faced is, what convictions concerning divorce and remarriage can we agree as a church to make the foundation of our accountability and discipline?

When the Church Covenant binds every member to be "faithful in our engagements" and to "sustain (the church's) worship, ordinances and discipline," what will we understand as faithfulness in the engagement of marriage vows?

Church discipline cannot be based on the convictions of a pastor or of a small group of leaders. The Bible says that a matter of discipline is to be taken "to the church" (Matthew 18:17). This means that under the Lord the church is the final court of appeal in all church discipline. This is only possible if the leadership and the church are largely in agreement on the matter at hand.

No one in leadership can be asked to act against his conscience (Romans 14). Therefore each pastor will teach and counsel and perform marriages according to his personal conviction within the parameters of this statement. But when it comes to church membership and church discipline we must find a level of expectation for marital relations that we can agree no member of Bethlehem may violate while remaining a member in good standing.

In other words what we need is a statement of the kind of divorce and remarriage which the church, as a concerned and responsible body, will regard as clearly outside the Biblical limits of what is acceptable.

What you see here is a clear statement. For an act to carry a penalty a vast majority of the church must agree it is sinful. The church itself (the session, the membership) need to enforce discipline so they must agree with the status. The pastors of Bethlehem Baptist deserve credit for having handled this the right way.

A defense against Patriarchy (part 1)

This is an answer to my first request for a specific topic to cover. I'm grateful to finally have a group of steady readers and I hope this proves useful and helpful.

First off, people aren't actually being excommunicated for violating patriarchy. Rather what is happening is that people in very conservative churches and woman that are part of the home-schooling movement are being made to feel unwelcome if they don't support patriarchy. Woman who don't have the same submissive inclinations are having their self esteem undermined as they are being told that the biblically correct way for them to live is in a state which is unnatural for them.

A good introduction to the doctrine, is posted on vision forum ministries:Biblical Patriarchy and the Doctrine of Federal Representation by Brian M. Abshire, and a more "catechism" oriented version Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy. If you are unfamiliar with the topic start by reading those two articles.

Abshire says things like,
"In effect, Western civilization was a ‘patriarchy’ up until recent times and assumed as the normal means of governing not only households, but also entire nations.”

Central to the crisis of this era is the systematic attack on the timeless truths of biblical patriarchy. This attack includes the movement to subvert the biblical model of the family, and redefine the very meaning of fatherhood and motherhood, masculinity, femininity, and the parent and child relationship. ... the church should proclaim the Gospel centered doctrine of biblical patriarchy as an essential element of God’s ordained pattern for human relationships and institutions.

Or David Gray, "Well in this instance drawing the line so that it embraces egalitarian rebellion shrinks the church as it excludes 2000 years of Christians who didn't dream of such folly."[cite].

That is the simplified argument for patriarchy comes down to the following (3) points:

1) That God has command patriarchy
2) That this belief is clear in scripture and there is no room for debate on scripture's meaning
3) That this belief was upheld by the church and understood by all until the 20th century

Again, this blog has a strict no theology policy, so we will not analyze the theology of patriarchy. We will take no position as to whether it is or is not God's position that woman should be silent in church, submissive in the home and unemployed for life. The web is full of this debate and it will not be repeated here. Point (1) will not be addressed.

Points (2) and (3) however are simple questions of fact and history. We don't have to speculate on what the Church believed regarding sex roles and gender they have left us a long written record. Not only are the views of the patriarchy movement not universal, as far as I can tell, there is no point in history until recently where Christians held the views that are being claimed. Which in my opinion is quite logical. Despite themselves, the patriarchy supporter's views are very 20th century, a reaction against 20th century feminism and not ancient at all.

That is we will argue:
People from hundreds (or thousands) of years ago are do not have a position in a modern debate since they don't share our assumptions, nor are they confronted with our issues. We argue that scripture as read through history is highly ambiguous on the nature of gender and sex roles. We will prove that the Christian community has had an evolving understanding of sex and feminism over its 2000 year history, and moreover the commonalities that do exist by and large do not agree with the patriarchal view. Arguments as to what scripture command are made by these early authors and they come to entirely different conclusions about what God desires for the family and from woman.

To actually understand what Christians thought through time would be a book and not just a few web articles. However we will look at a few selections:

We will show that:

1) In part 2 we will look at the In the first 2 centuries (prior to the emergence of authoritative scripture normative throughout the Christian community) Christian views of gender and sex were mixed. These were active areas of disagreement. None of them held views remotely similar to either side of the current debate. We examine works like the Didache, Acts of Paul and Thecla, and the teachings of Valentinus to understand the breadth of the pre 180 CE church's views on gender and sex. By in large the Christian view is very hostile to family, marriage leads to sex and childbirth and lead one away from God. However, fornication is far worse than married sex. Christians are mixed whether procreative or non procreative acts are more damaging to one's relationship with God.

2) By the time there is normative scripture in the early 5th century, the classical view (the supremacy of virginity and chastity) has become the undisputed norm. Part 3 looks at this 5th century Christianity which is mildly hostile towards the family, and mildly hostile towards procreative acts within the family. Augustine and Jerome will be typical sources, though other church fathers will be considered.

3) In part 4 we example the dark ages. In the dark ages the concept of family undergoes a metamorphosis. A family no longer consists of a breeding pair of adults and their children but rather people arranged in bonds of property and status. The issue of legitimacy for children becomes paramount for reasons of inheritance. This configuration where property not descent defines the family last for centuries. The Christian focus shifts as well and this can be seen easily in both normative church law and papel rulings. At this stage we do see patriarchal marriage as a societal norm and the Christian reaction is a rejection of it.

4) Part 5 examples the high middle ages. In middle ages the church begins attempts a synthesis of the two previous views. (Aquinas). As an aside its in this section where the most damning piece of evidence is presented. Aquinas does a survey of previous writers and shows no evidence of ever having heard of anything resembling the current patriarchal view. I can think of no stronger disproof of the belief that the modern patriarchal view is the clear view of scripture and the normative behavior of Christians than the fact that Aquinas is utterly ignorant of this position. We will also examine Dante to see a less academic view on family relations.

5) Within a few centuries of Aquinas, Europe experiences a population boom. As the economic value of chidren decreases while the costs of raising them increase, horrific poverty makes family planning normative. Literature of this time starts to view children as a burden rather than a blessing and the notions of illegitimacy as a source of poverty becomes the majority view. Marriage is seen as destructive for woman leading to poverty and death in childbirth. Reason, industry and chastity are strongly supported by Christianity over family.

After this period we have the romantics. The notion of romantic love rather than property or sexuality being the core of healthy marriage begins to emerge. This romantic view of marriage and its effects is the topic of part 6. Children are associated with purity, innocence and love. Wealth increases and children no longer induce starvation. Fathers begin working outside the home to increase income, and sometimes mothers as well. We quickly arrive at essentially the modern debate. Its at this point we can can potentially argue that the "traditional view" is something even remotely like what the patriarchists are supporting.

Obviously all the above needs to be proven. However it is my hope that understanding that patriarchy is a reaction against capitalism and 2nd and 3rd wave feminism and not a traditional viewpoint at all allows those woman who wish to reject it the support they will need. For those woman who do want to play dress up in 19th century clothes, be silent and submissive; congratulations on finding your own version of Roissy that works for you. Please, however, don't lost yourself completely in the fantasy and fail to educate your daughters.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Does excommunication prevent me from going to heaven?

The short answer is no. The church has differentiated between anathema which is exclusion from heaven and excommunication which is exclusion from the society of the church. They are not the same. For example Calvin in Institutes (4.12.10)
For when our Saviour promises that what his servants bound on earth should be bound in heaven, (Matth. 18: 18,) he confines the power of binding to the censure of the Church, which does not consign those who are excommunicated to perpetual ruin and damnation, but assures them, when they hear their life and manners condemned, that perpetual damnation will follow if they do not repent. Excommunication differs from anathema in this that the latter completely excluding pardon, dooms and devotes the individual to eternal destruction, whereas the former rather rebukes and animadverts upon his manners; and although it also punishes, it is to bring him to salvation, by forewarning him of his future doom. If it succeeds, reconciliation and restoration to communion are ready to be given. Moreover, anathema is rarely if ever to be used.
Other reformers took the same position. Samuel Rutherford makes the same distinction in his Survey of the Survey of that Summe of Church Discipline (1658) commenting on 1 Cor. 16:22 and 1 Cor. 5, as does James Fraser of Brae, on page 210, in The Lawfulness and Duty or Separation from Corrupt Ministers and Churches (1744). In doing so there were upholding hundreds of years of tradition.

For example, Saint Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologica addresses the issue of an unjust excommunication in 4.21.4
I answer that, An excommunication may be unjust for two reasons.... Secondly, on the part of the excommunication, through there being no proper cause, or through the sentence being passed without the forms of law being observed. In this case, if the error, on the part of the sentence, be such as to render the sentence void, this has no effect, for there is no excommunication; but if the error does not annul the sentence, this takes effect, and the person excommunicated should humbly submit (which will be credited to him as a merit), and either seek absolution from the person who has excommunicated him, or appeal to a higher judge. If, however, he were to contemn the sentence, he would "ipso facto" sin mortally.

But sometimes it happens that there is sufficient cause on the part of the excommunicator, but not on the part of the excommunicated, as when a man is excommunicated for a crime which he has not committed, but which has been proved against him: in this case, if he submit humbly, the merit of his humility will compensate him for the harm of excommunication.
This separation between anathema and excommunication can be dated back to the Council of Tours (5th century) where it was declared that a usurper of the goods of the Church, desires that after three warnings there be recited in chorus Psalm cviii against him he may fall into the curse of Judas, and "that he may be not only excommunicated, but anathematized, and that he may be stricken by the sword of Heaven." . This distinction was introduced into the canons of the Church soon thereafter.

A formula for this ceremony was drawn up by Pope Zachary (741-52) in the chapter Debent duodecim sacerdotes, Cause xi, quest. iii (which was distinct from excommunication). The notion of separation is further reinforced by John VIII (pope 872-882) who wrote in the decree of Gratian (c. III, q. V, c. XII): "Know that Engeltrude is not only under the ban of excommunication, which separates her from the society of the brethren, but under the anathema, which separates from the body of Christ, which is the Church." (See Catholic Encyclopedia -- anathema)

In 1917 the Code of Canon law dropped the distinction and the term "anathema" was no longer used. In the current day the church defines 3 types of excommunication:

  • a jure Ferendæ Sententiæ -- excommunication by law with a finding of guilt by an ecclesiastical court (i.e. a mandatory punishment of excommunication)
  • a jure Latæ Sententiæ -- excommunication by law without intervention (the act itself excommunicates one). A declaritory sentence may be given which simply confirms to others that the person is already excommunicated.
  • ab homine -- excommunication by act of man, that is excommunication by trial as punishment
Finally, the strongest opinion on excommunication was Luther who rejected the effect of earthly excommunication at all:
Let us now consider the matters which should be treated in the councils, and with which popes, cardinals, bishops, and all learned men should occupy themselves day and night, if they love Christ and His Church. But if they do not do so, the people at large and the temporal powers must do so, without considering the thunders of their excommunications. For an unjust excommunication is better than ten just absolutions, and an unjust absolution is worse than ten just excommunications. Therefore let us rouse ourselves, fellow-Germans, and fear God more than man (Luther's Address To The Nobility of the German Nation, 1520)
Or from his Letter to Pope Leo X, "Excommunications are only external penalties and they do not deprive man of the common spiritual prayers of the Church." Of course it should be understood the Luther was excommunicated at the time and died under excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Irene Elizabeth Stroud

Elizabeth Stroud was the assistant pastor for First United Methodist Church of Germantown. Germantown is a neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On April 23rd, 2003 she gave a coming out sermon. This sermon is truly touching, and I'm hard pressed to see how anyone reading this sermon can believe that homosexuals are incapable of loving and serving God. She uses this sermon to explain how anti-homosexual beliefs drive people out of the church, and how she was called to the church despite her lesbianism. There are places the sentiments go a bit over the top like when she mentions now defunct The Other Side magazine whose slogan was: "Where justice and peace embrace, where faith and love join hands". A delightful woman if a bit sappy.

Her timing may not have been accidental. At the time she came out PBS was filing a documentary about the changes going on at First United Methodist. More interesting she gives an impassioned defense of not leaving, that is non schismatic views (which in today's protestantism are sorely needed):
When I came out to my parents in 1990, I did not expect them to understand right away. There were tears. There was pain. It was hard. We needed therapy. But I never considered applying for a transfer to another family.
The Stroud trial was a much more clear cut case than the Dammann trial for the United Methodists. Dammann had attempted (and was successful) by winning on technicalities. Dammann combined two of the defenses mentioned earlier:
  • Dammann attacked certain aspects of the polity that was charging her, essentially a contest jurisdiction defense
  • Dammann refused to self incriminate on the issue of genital sexual content with her partner and the prosecution had no evidence that Dammann was actually having lesbian sex. This is a picture perfect example of the force a more specific charge defense
Stroud's was much more of a classic minister trial. Stroud was not just a minister who happened to be a lesbian but rather a very intelligent writer on homosexuality within religious organizations. She freely admitted to engaging in genital sexual acts with her partner and refused to contest the jurisdiction of the prosecuting bishop. She wanted to force a straight up or down trial on homosexual rights. As usually happens with minister trials: Beth Stroud was convicted of violating church law by a 12-1 margin, the church voted 7-6 to terminate her ministerial credentials.

Another thing I have found unique about her is that she (though I imagine she's reject this term) an active apologist (in the sense of apologetics) for the Methodist denomination and Wesleyan thinking in particular. If you read Irene's personal information page what you find is classic defense that Prima scriptura rather than Sola Scriptura is what creates the particular appeal to United Methods for Homosexuals. That is because of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral Methodists are able to have a more nuanced view.

As background Sola Scriptura was Luther's view. It is the assertion that the Bible as God's written word is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter ("Scripture interprets Scripture"), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian doctrine.

Conversely Prima scriptura is a doctrine that says canonized scripture is "first" or "above all" sources of divine revelation. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral asserts that a believer should be guided by 4 factors
  1. Scripture - the Holy Bible (Old and New Testaments)
  2. Tradition - the two millennia history of the Christian Church
  3. Reason - rational thinking and sensible interpretation
  4. Experience - a Christian's personal and communal journey in Christ
The United Methodist Church, asserts that “Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason. Scripture [however] is primary, revealing the Word of God ‘so far as it is necessary for our salvation.’”

Stroud continues to speak and her: Loving a broken church addresses the issue of membership for those people hurt by her conviction. (United Methods are willing to support homosexuals as members).

Stroud says on her website, I wish the General Conference would realize that Christ came for all people.

Additional links

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

United Church of Christ

For people reading this blog who have been excommunicated you may want to consider Barak Obama's denomination. They focus very heavily on being inclusive. They have commercials like the 4 below, and slogans like
  • We don't sing "come some ye faithful"
  • "If Jesus embraced Lepers, Prostitutes, & Convicts, shouldn't we?"
  • "Our faith is over 2000 years old. Our thinking is not."

Follow up on Jen's Gems, FPC position and illegality

This article is a follow up to Original article on Jen Epstein. I thought it would be a good choice for independence day since today we celebrate breaking away from invalid kangaroo courts.

While following up on Jen's Gems I ran into a very interesting post regarding her excommunication Church Elders Criticize Epsteins But Offer No Viable Solutions. What's interesting about this case is an abuse of the notion of fraternal relations. As far as I understand it among American Presbyterian churches there can be 3 types of relationships:

1) They are in the same hierarchy. That is if you go far enough "up" you'll find a body which has actual authority over both of them.

2) They have fraternal relations. That means they agree that each other's discipline processes are valid. In the particular case of PCA churches (including FPC) the NAPARC agreement governs this structure

3) They have no formal relationship and there is no obligation to recognize one another's disciplinary processes.

For examples of case 3, a PCA church is not required to have a Mormon who attends their church attempt reconciliation with an LDS excommunication. Technically FPC (the church that is discussed in the above post) and BCA (the excommunicating church) have a relationship of type 3. BCA is not a party to the NAPARC agreement. It does not have an appeals structure and the leadership of the PCA has correctly and wisely ruled that organizations without an appeals structure should not have their excommunications treated with anywhere near the level of deference appropriate for a Presbyterian church. Quite simply, FPC most certainly is empowered to simply ignore what Doug Phillips did. They have the right to overturn it. They have the right to assert jurisdiction. The post above is simply incorrect in its assertion of the seriousness of BCA's actions.

However if FPC wished to recognize the excommunication as valid then the logically the NAPARC agreement would be the governing structure. The NAPARC agreement defines a "Transfer with Irregularities"

a. That upon request for transfer of membership by a person under discipline, the sending session/consistory or presbytery/classis inform the receiving body of the nature an extent of the disciplinary procedure before implementing the requested transfer, thus enabling informal consultation between the pastors and elders of both churches.

b. That such a person not be received officially until the judicatory/assembly of the receiving church has taken into serious account the discipline of and the information supplied by the sending church.

c. That such a person not be received officially until the judicatory/assembly of the receiving church is satisfied that proper restitution has been made and/or reconciliation has been seriously attempted.

d. That a "fugitive from discipline" who no longer is a member of a church or who is no longer on the roll of a presbytery shall not be received until the former judicatory/assembly has been contacted to determine if proper restitution has been made and/or reconciliation has been attempted.

Note the key point. FPC is required to
1) Receive a specific report
2) Take into consideration the contents of that report
3) Verify that restitution has been made and/or reconciliation has been seriously attempted

However FPC did not choose to do that. What they did do was:
1) Faith PCA verbally and in writing affirmed the legitimacy of the excommunication process of BCA
2) Faith PCA affirmed the exclusive jurisdiction of BCA, both to give and to remove the censure of excommunication from the Epsteins, "Knowing that Boerne Christian Assembly is an orthodox evangelical Christian church, we recognize your excommunication of Mark and Jennifer as a valid ecclesiastical act with continuing effect.”

The PCA does not recognize any notion of exclusive jurisdiction. FPC's act here was a blatant violation of presbyterian legal structures.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Breaking away, case study from Xenos

Xenos Christian Fellowship is a mega-church in Columbus Ohio which makes heavy use of strong "home churches" to create a large group / small group feel. The church is very well known and influential. Strange Things at Xenos gives one a feel for their outlook and their distinctives. It also, publishes on its website heavily on the issue of church discipline.

There was an extended discussion of Xenos on Byron Harvey's website and the following is
post 14

I was in the college Ministry.

Now, I would not classify Xenos as a cult per se, but in the college group at least, I saw quite a few cultlike elements in the social structure that the church structure fed. Let me take you on a journey. I will probably tip my identity in sharing this, but I am not too concerned with that.

I moved to Columbus Ohio in the fall of 1996. I was lonely, immature, and depressed, although at the time I would not have said it as such. It was not long till an acquaintance of mine told me about this meeting in one of the dorm study rooms where a bunch of Christians were having a discussion group. At first, I was against it, but he enticed me with the prospect of attractive young females. Being a young man of 18, I went of course.

Over the next few weeks, I became a regular attendee, debating points of the Christian faith, and giving the arguments that were presented to me more creedance than they were worth, for at the time I was not trained to spot logical fallacies. To an impressionable mind, they made extraordinary claims, claims of God’s perfect love, perfect justice and whatnot. Growing up in a blue collar catholic family, I ate this stuff up.

Meanwhile, my class attendance started slipping. I had a lot of evening classes, but was encouraged to attend first CT, and then a homechurch, both while skipping out on classes. My grades plummeted.

Now I do realize I had a choice here, I could have stuck to my studies, and surely my life would have been easier for it, but I was confused, empty, a lost soul, and one of the promises Xenos made to me about God is that with the spirit, you are no longer empty.

I accepted Christ on easter of 1997. A week later I was kicked out of school for failing to meet the conditions of my academic probation.

Now, I am grateful for what came next. Xenos took me in, provided a couch to sleep on till I got a job and an apartment, and when my sublet was up, moved me into a ministry house. By this time, I was attending a homechurch, CT, a cell group, along with myriad prayer meetings.

I was on a spiritual high at the time. I was learning all I could about God, about Christianity, and looking back was starting to be groomed for leadership. My house and homechurch leaders started referring to “when I would be a leader”.

Meanwhile, I was still as depressed and as empty as ever. When I talked about this with other xenoids, I was told to keep to the path, God would sort it out.

I also started seeing things that sat very uneasily with me. All other Christian sects were bashed to one form or another, but particularly Catholics, Jehova Witnesses, and to a lesser extant, Mormons. I won’t even go into the venom reserved for non-Christian religions.

I started missing meetings due to work, or just being too depressed to leave the house. One hear or there did not merit comment, but if you missed more than three in a month, leaders started coming to you to voice thier concerns for your spiritual walk.

Finally, a few weeks before Christmas of 1998, things came to a head. I had been neglecting some of my house chores for a few weeks (as had other members of the house, but I was singled out it seems) and was put on probabtion. No missed chores for a month or I was outs. Three days before the month was up, I had been out late with friends seeing a movie, and forgot to do some cleaning. I did it first thing in the morning, but the house leaders decided to make me leave. At first, they wanted me out immediately. I managed to get a whole week out of them.

Needless to say, a week later I was homeless. I was crushed. Everything I had built my adult life around was suddenly gone. I had no friends outside of the church, as outside friends were not forbidden, but they were not encouraged unless they were outreach. My only support network was two hours away, so I went home to my parents.

The next year and a half were hard. I was removed from any support network, and was slowly slipping into darkness. Only a handful of people kept up with me, I would thank them, but all but one have left that group.

I moved back to Columbus in mid 2000, a mental wreck. Like an abused spouse, I went back to the only thing I knew, Xenos. I puttered on for about 7 or 8 months, never regaining the acceptance I had enjoyed previously. I was a fringe member, and outsider. Being on the edge I saw the truly bad aspects of that group. The cliquishness, the social control wielded over members, the selective enforcement of morality and the unhealthy focus on “Sexual Sin”.

My end with the group came with a woman. We started dating, and she was not Christian. I tried to bring her around at first, but she was offended at the groups attitudes towards other religions. We ended up having sex. Knowing I was violating Xonos’ rules, I removed myself from the group. However, that was not enough. Even though I had left of my own accord, they still instituted their church discipline against me, and the few friends I still had in the group were forbidden from speaking to me “For my own good”.

It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Since then, I broke away from the false promises of my faith, and found my own way. I conquered my depression, have built true, lasting friendships, and have finally gotten my life back on track, all the things Xenos tells you are not possible without God, with the undertone that to be right with God you must be right with Xenos. Looking back, I see the broken people they pulled into their group, and some have gon on to lead rich, fulfilling lives, I can honestly say as of my last check, there were not that many in the college group that were.

I have overcome any resentment I had towards that group, a process that took many years. Through it I have become a better person, and in a way, am glad they treated me the way they did. I would not be the person I am today without Xenos.

I just hope for all those that go to them listening to false promises of fulfillment and meaning in their life, that they find what they are looking for.

I invite any and all comments to this on my own blog at gothic_oreo.livejournal.com. I will make a public post with anonymous comments aloud specifically for that purpous.

What's interesting about the story is that the person has clearly seperated from evangelical Christianity and is quite happy about the effects of the shunning.

If there are any Xenos people out there:

  1. Why discipline on a non member?
  2. Why shunning?

Addendum: There is an interview with the lead pastor for Xenos on discipline at a later post Interview with Xenos on membership and discipline policies

Monday, July 2, 2007

Tim Bayly on homosexuality vs. feminism

A little background. The PCUSA is a liberal presbyterian church. The PCA is a conservative church that broke off in the 1970s (actually its a merger of others, but close enough for our purposes). Tim Bayly makes a call for church discipline to be applied to feminists within the PCA and explicitly makes the analogy with the debate on homosexuality within the PCUSA. What's unusual is that he aggressively makes the argument against friendly debate. Pastors who disagree with his view of god/scripture are simply criminals and should be excommunicated not people of different opinions.

I'm curious as to whether this attitude applies to membership and I intend to ask.

7/3/07 As a follow up I did ask. Bayly indicated (see bottom of the comments on link post) that yes the membership can be disciplined for holding this opinion. This is actually one of the most aggressive doctrines of heresy I've encountered. In general if something is disputed you would generally need a church council to rule against it before it became a heresy. Otherwise you would have people excommunicating one another during disputes about things being actively disputed. A process that would throw church discipline into disrepute.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Peggy Penley and Buddy Westbrook

Buddy Westbrook is pastor for Crossland Community Bible Church. He had a member Peggy Penley who decided to start an adulterous relationship and then divorce her husband. Westbrook provided marital counseling and then used this information as part of a discipline case.

What's interesting on this case is the issue of standards. In the secular world people are very careful about confidentiality issues and conflicts of interest. It would be obvious to any counselor thinking secularly that Westbrook would need to get either a general waiver or specific permission to act in a pastoral manner based on information provided in counseling. In fact the commentary on CBNNews.com was that this was a good example of why pastors should not get secular counseling licenses. Liberty Legal which is council for Westbrook sees this as a simple first amendment issue.

What's not mentioned in the story though is that the suit is for violation of the Texas Licensed Professional Counselor Act. She dropped the church and its elders as defendants. Source: Texas Council on Family Violence .

What could make for interesting discussion is the obligations regarding Christians who come into possession or understanding of knowledge through other roles. What should be the process for incorporating that knowledge into discipline related issues?

There is an updated version of this article with the court's ruling