Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Religion and politics - part 5


This post continues my series on Religion and Politics, exploring the relationship between Christianity and a nation state.

There are at least four different models for church-state relationships (more broadly and accurately described as religion-state relationships):

1.    Theocracy – the Church dominates the state. The Vatican State is a Christian theocracy; Iran is an Islamic theocracy.

2.    Erastianism (named for the 16th century Swiss-German physician, Thomas Erastus) – the state dominates the Church. Nazi Germany exemplified this, as the government subverted the established Lutheran Church for fascist purposes; communist nations, like the People’s Republic of China, are other examples in which the government controls the legal church.

3.    Unfriendly church-state separation – France, with its strict secularism, is an example of this pattern.

4.    Friendly church-state separation – the United Kingdom, with three officially established Christian churches (the Church of England, the Church of Wales, and the Church of Scotland) in what is a de facto secular state, illustrates this model. (Turkey is increasingly a Muslim example of this pattern).

Theologically, the Roman Catholic Church traditionally emphasized the unity of church and state, as did the Anglicans in the United Kingdom and the Lutherans in much of northern Europe.

Out of Martin Luther’s thought emerged an emphasis on the existence of two kingdoms: an earthly kingdom and a heavenly (or spiritual) kingdom. The roots of these ideas go back to St. Augustine who wrote about the City of God and City of Man. The concept of two kingdoms, situated in a context that found the Church once again (as had been the early Church) in opposition to the power of the state, generated the impetus for separating the two. The Church received spiritual power and authority (i.e., the keys of the kingdom given to Peter) and the state received spiritual power (i.e., render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s).

In time, with the Enlightenment as an additional catalyst, the conceptual gulf between church (or, more generally, religion) and state widened. Dissenters, Christians not affiliated with the established church, sought to separate the power of the state from the church in order to worship according to the dictates of their consciences.

The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution formalized the breach between church and state. Contrary to much popular opinion, most of the founders were not evangelical Christians but deists, believers in God but not necessarily a God who remained active in the world. The founders believed that a nation did not need the moral legitimacy and force that having an established religion might provide. They also believed that human worth and dignity demanded religious liberty. Alternatively, some religious people in the colonists feared that disestablishing religion might lead to religious, if not moral, chaos and disaster. A greater number of religiously active colonials feared losing their religious freedom if the nation established a particular form of Christianity.

The actual pattern of church-state relations also varied among the colonies. For example, Rhode Island allowed religious freedom while the Church of England was established in Virginia. This variety persisted for the first couple of decades after American independence as the nation experimented with the revolutionary idea of religious freedom.

The First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom has two clauses. The nation will not establish a religion or set of religious practices and individuals shall have the freedom to practice their choice of religion. In practice, neither guarantee is absolute. For example, the biblical roots of English common law and the continuing prevalence of Christianity as the nominal religion of a majority of Americans resulted in the adoption of a religious motto (In God We Trust) and inclusion of the Ten Commandments (or at least symbolic tablets of the law) in the art adorning many judicial buildings. Similarly, laws restrict some religious practices (e.g., human sacrifice and hallucinogenic drug use).

Erecting a wall – friendly or unfriendly – to separate religion from state is impossible. The church and state are intertwined, unavoidably and inextricably. The Lord's Prayer reminds us of this difficulty each time we pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10).

The culture wars of the late twentieth century that some evangelicals believe continue today reflect this tension between church and state. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey has proffered four guidelines for shaping a Christian’s participation in politics:

1.    Prioritize the gospel – but for the whole person!

2.    The Church will inevitably make judgments about what is right and wrong – after all, the Church has inherited the prophetic tradition of the Jews and part of its mission is to declare the meaning of the gospel for the present.

3.    The Church will bear a manifold, plural witness (i.e., the Church will witness, or declare, in a variety of ways and in a variety of voices, some of which may be contradictory).

4.    An overarching penumbra of reconciliation between God and creation should anchor that manifold, plural witness in the Christian religion. (Michael Ramsey, The Christian Priest for Today, 34-40).

Theologian and ethicist Phil Wogaman has delineated ascending levels of religious involvement in the state (Christian Perspectives on Politics, 200-207):

·         Influencing society’s ethos – this is impossible to avoid. Archbishop Ramsey was correct when he noted the unavoidable and inextricable intertwining of church and state. Because politics involves the exercise of power, the church, to the extent that it engages with people, exercises power in their lives. Even silence implies affirmation.

·         Educating the Church’s own members about particular issues – this also is impossible to avoid. The Church, out of its bedrock values, teaches respect for life, the worth and dignity of all humans, truth telling, promise keeping, care for creation, and honoring God above state. All of these values have significant implications for major political controversies. Ordinary religious education, even omitting any explicit mention of those controversies, will still shape some church members political participation.

·         Church lobbying – not everybody agrees the Church should engage in lobbying. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) imposes limits on lobbying by tax-exempt religious organizations. Lobbying may not represent a substantial part of the organization’s efforts and must not cost more than a small percent of the organization’s total budget, and in any case, less than one million dollars. Of course, a religious organization may choose not to register as a tax-exempt organization. That frees the group from IRS restrictions but also means that individuals who contribute to the organization and who itemize deductions when filing their income taxes may not deduct contributions to the organization. Most large religious groups in the United States engage in limited lobbying on issues important to them and their members.

·         Supporting a particular candidate for office – this practice is hotly debated. The IRS prohibits tax-exempt religious organizations from supporting particular candidates for office. From one perspective, objecting to religious organizations supporting particular candidates is hard to justify. Other organizations can enter the political fray, why not religious ones? Accepting tax-exempt donations clearly carries a cost. Conversely, I’ve yet to find a candidate with whom I completely agreed or whom I believed completely expressed Christian views. More often, I see elements of Christian perspectives in both major party candidates. A religious organization choosing not to support particular candidates for office explicitly recognizes the manifold, plural nature of the Christian witness.

·         Becoming a political party – this has occurred more frequently in Europe than in the U.S. (the Christian Democratic Party, e.g.). Given the current dependence of the American political process on fundraising, the increasingly pluralistic nature of American society, and the consistent failure of third parties, organizing a religiously based political party does not seem a path to probable influence or electoral success. The Church, by focusing on issues, seems most likely to maximize its political influence.

·         Civil disobedience – when the state will not listen to the cries of the oppressed and in the face of egregious injustice, the Church cannot be complicit but must refuse co-option. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, led by God inspired clergy such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., typifies when and how civil disobedience becomes a Christian necessity. No more than the first Christians could worship Caesar can contemporary Christians tolerate horrendous evil.

·         Participating in revolution – when civil disobedience fails to stop evil, then some Christians believe that they have no alternative other than armed revolution. The Nazi holocaust transformed a pacifist Lutheran resister and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, into a revolutionary whom the Nazis executed for a failed attempt on Hitler’s life. South American liberation theologians follow in this tradition. Christian citizens of democratic states have a moral obligation to be politically active in order to prevent their state from drifting (or otherwise morphing) into a totalitarian state that abrogates human freedoms and rights and mocks justice.

German theologian Karl Barth wrote, “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” The goal of Christian political engagement is the building of God's kingdom, not in coercing acceptance of theological propositions but in incarnating the bedrock values of Christianity shared by the world’s great religions and philosophical traditions.

Christian political engagement is more important than ever before. In 1971, only 145 businesses had lobbyists representing the business in Washington, DC. In just ten years, that grew to 2,245 businesses. In 1974, the 600 registered political action committees (PACs) raised $12.5 million; in 1982, the 3,371 PACs raised $83 million. These growth trends have continued since 1982. (George Packer, “The Broken Contract,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 2011, 26)

The next post in this series on Religion and Politics will examine the divide between liberals and conservatives and the importance of an individual candidate’s personal beliefs.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Religion and politics - part 4


Clergy need to speak warily about politics. Reinhold Niebuhr had a humorous reminder of this early in his ministry:

I remember when I was a young parson; two Sunday school girls were playing under the window of my study. One said, "Let's not make too much noise; we will disturb Mr. Niebuhr." And the other little girl said, "Who is Mr. Niebuhr?" The first child answered, "Don't you know? He is the pastor to this church. He knows all about God.” (John Patrick Diggins, Why Niebuhr Now? Kindle Loc. 396-98)

We are rightly suspect of anyone who claims to speak authoritatively for or about God (remember the doctrine of sin, considered in the second post in this series on Religion and Politics).

In the 2012 Republican presidential race, Herbert Cain, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, and Tim Pawlenty have all said that God told them to enter the race. Perhaps God enjoys encouraging people to enter the fray of politics and to suffer the agony of defeat. More realistically, I suspect that the voice each of these politicians heard encouraging them to run for president was the voice of their ambitions and well-intentioned commitments masquerading as the voice of God.

Discerning God's will is notoriously difficult and problematic. Most Protestant Christians claim that a Christian can discern God's will by reading the Bible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If only it were that simple! If scripture alone were sufficient for knowing God's will, then I think that we would observe more unity thinking and commonality of action among the various Protestant churches.

Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches rely upon the Church for assistance in determining God's will. In the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, believed to be Christ's vicar on earth, can speak authoritatively about God's will. This advantageously results in a unified official teaching but unfortunately wallpapers over the real and widespread disagreements that lay and clergy continue to hold in spite of purported acceptance of the official teaching. The Orthodox Churches authoritatively discern God's will through Church councils and are less sanguine than is the Roman Catholic Church about actual acceptance of the official teaching. In many times and places the Orthodox have also spoken less frequently and in less detail about God's will than has the Roman Catholic Church.

Anglicans attempt to straddle all three of those approaches, insisting that by keeping Scripture, reason, and tradition in dialogue and tension with one another humans are most likely to discern God's will. Wesleyans, who follow in the footsteps of Anglican John Wesley, provide a helpful corrective to the historic Anglican position by adding experience to Scripture, reason, and tradition. Pure reason does not exist; experience, including emotion, always colors reason.

Therefore, Christian political thought and participation will:

1.    Adopts global rather than narrow national or parochial views;

2.    Advocates equal liberty and rights for all humans in the context of concern for all creation;

3.    Affirms the importance of pluralism, recognizing that human sin and finitude make any discernment of God's will necessarily tentative and subject to revision;

4.    Recognizes that Christians will reasonably reach diverse conclusions about most issues;

5.    Supports a secular state in which Christians freely participate in politics informed by their religion and other citizens freely participate while informed by their religion or no religion.

My next post in this series develops that fifth point further, exploring what constitutes the proper relationship between Christianity and a nation state.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Religion and politics - part 3


This third post in my series on Religion and Politics discusses ethical commitments important for politics. These include:

·         Truth telling: Without honesty, human community is impossible. Lying denotes intentional deception. Politicians who change their opinions may do so for the laudatory reason that they have obtained new information that caused them to rethink their views. Thankfully, President Kennedy did this following the failed Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion. When the CIA and U.S. military leaders proposed subsequently invasion attempts, Kennedy refuse to approve them. However, when politicians become like weather vanes changed course and position in response to their perception of prevailing public opinion, these politicians generally lack the integrity required of any leader.

·         Promise keeping: Promise keeping, a subset of truth telling, offers an assurance of future behavior predicated upon the ability and intent to do what one has promised in the absence of receiving new information that causes keeping the promise to seem unadvisable. Much campaign rhetoric is full of promises that a politician, if elected, neither can nor intends to keep.

·         Beneficence: Political actions (speech, votes, contributions, etc.) should aim to improve or benefit the welfare of others and society.

·         Nonmaleficence: At a minimum, any potential political action is wrong if it will likely result in harm to self, others, or society. The principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence are both broadly applicable and require analysis of potential short- and long-term consequences as well as effects on the earth and other life forms.

·         Peacemaking: In both the Old and New Testaments, peace connotes the fullness of human flourishing. Hence, peacemaking entails more than the absence of armed conflict. Peacemaking involves working to establish a just, loving society in which all life flourishes.

Those ethical commitments are character traits rather than as rules to obey. Character traits describe habits or the predisposition to act in a certain way. Nobody perfectly obeys the rules – this is the basic premise of the traditional understanding of Pauline theology. However, most people generally have consistent behavior patterns, at least in the short-run. Unable to predict the future, the best gauge of a candidate’s fitness for office is his/her character as evidenced in past behaviors.

However, justice is the most basic Christian ethical concept for participation in secular politics is a value fundamental to any political system congruent with Christian theological and moral principles. The Hebrew words for charity and justice have the same etymological root. The Bible mentions the word justice more than 175 times. Exactly what is justice?

The twentieth century philosopher John Rawls, in a definition widely adopted by Christians, defined justice as fairness. In particular, Rawls emphasized that justice as fairness requires granting equal rights and liberties to all, arranging inequalities to benefit the least advantaged, and making those choices by assuming the original position. The original position demands that a person set aside her/his own identity, assess alternatives as if she/he did not know that identity, and select the alternative that, no matter what her/his identity, offered the most acceptable outcomes. In other words, an alternative is fairest if any of the possible outcomes equally satisfies an individual. For example, a tax policy is fair if – no matter one’s income, wealth, social standing, or any other relevant factor – one finds the policy equally satisfactory regardless of any possible permutation of those relevant factors.

Justice has at least three dimensions. Commutative justice describes justice between people (i.e., treating all people with equal dignity, giving them equal rights and freedoms). Distributive justice connotes the fair distribution of wealth, power, and other resources and assets among the members of a society. Legal or criminal justice means granting all due process and fair treatment in the courts and at law.

One additional theological/ethical concept important for politics is that from a Christian perspective, nation states are not part of God's ultimate plan for the earth. Metaphors and images for God's ultimate intent vary widely. All, however, embrace a unified human community in which race, ethnicity, nationality, or other human distinctions do not limit God's love.

The penultimate nature of nation states means that Christians will adopt a global rather than national view in evaluating political choices. Valuing all people equally and supporting equal rights and freedoms for all people is an inclusive endeavor encompassing all people everywhere. Parochial patriotism is inimical to gospel imperatives.

My next post, the fourth in the series on Religion and Politics, addresses the question of how Christians can discern God's will with respect to political choices.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Religion and politics - part 2


This post, the second in my series on Religion and Politics, explores theological principles important for Christian participation in politics. Jürgen Moltmann reminds us, “… there is no apolitical theology; neither in earth nor heaven” (On Human Dignity, 99). In their monumental sociological analysis of religion in America, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell illustrate that observation:

Beyond race, throughout America’s history other issues have had an explicitly religious impulse, whether it was the drive in the early 1800s to stop the delivery of mail on Sunday, or the campaign for Prohibition, or the broader Progressive movement. Given the close association of religion and American patriotism, opinions motivated by nationalism are often given a religious inflection. The American Revolution had religious impulses. So did anticommunism in the Cold War era, and so does support for the Iraq and Afghan wars today. Religion, however, has also inspired the political left—from pacifists to antiapartheid advocates to the movement to provide sanctuary for undocumented workers. (American Grace, Kindle loc. 5820-25)

Three theological constructs are particularly relevant to thinking about politics: the doctrines of God, creation, and human sin/finitude.

The United States Congress recently devoted legislative time to reaffirming that the nation’s motto is In God We Trust. What does that motto mean?

Is God sovereign, i.e., omnipotent? Christian answers cover the gamut of options. Calvinists, like Muslims, answer Yes, God is omnipotent, inshallah (as God wills). That is, nothing happens that God does not will. The orthodox Christian response has been yes and no, i.e., God is sovereign but permits humans at least some measure of limited autonomy. Some modern theologians, especially process theologians, have rejected the idea of God's omnipotence as inconsistent with both the reality of evil and limited human autonomy.

If God is in total control (Calvinism), then human participation in politics seems of minimal value. If the Roman Catholics and others who follow orthodox Christian thinking are correct, then human participation in politics is important. If progressive theologians are correct, then human participation in politics is vital because the future depends on both God and humans.

The issue of God's sovereignty has a second dimension. To whom (or what) do we give our ultimate loyalty? Totalitarian states strive to enshrine the state as the object of our ultimate loyalty. Pledging allegiance to God as the object of ultimate loyalty imposes an important constraint on patriotism. Christians in the first few centuries who refused to worship the Roman emperor understood that more than idolatry emperor worship sought to elevate the state above the living God.

Today, the issue of loyalty to God for Americans often appears in the context of choosing between symbols, flag or cross, or mixing the two. Displaying a nation’s flag in a religious space is generally wrong. People do not gather there as citizens of a particular nation but as children of the living God who is no respecter of nationality. The one powerful exception to that generalization in my experience was at the United States Naval Academy. There, midshipmen processed the U.S. flag, along with the Navy and Marine Corps flags, in and out of many of the services. However, in a symbolic gesture that emphasized the correct ordering of priorities, and in contravention of flag etiquette, they dipped the flags before the cross on the altar at the end of the service.

Finally, God's trinitarian nature in the Christian tradition models equality of persons, emphasizes the importance of community, and invites humanity to become co-creators with God.

The doctrine of creation paints the context for a Christian’s participation in politics. God created the cosmos and all living things. Life is interdependent. God therefore calls humans to exercise ecological stewardship, respecting the value of all life. God created humans in God's image, an act that bestowed dignity and worth upon humans. Human dignity is impossible without freedom; human worth is impossible without rights. Since God created all humans, all are of equal value and worth and should enjoy equal liberty and rights.

Negative human rights (this is not a pejorative term but indicative of the lack of obligation that these rights impose on others) include the rights enumerated in the U.S. Bill of Rights: freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, a right to privacy, etc.

Positive human rights (these rights, unless negative human rights, may impose an obligation on other people) include rights that historically have received far less attention in the United States: a right to the basic necessities of life (i.e., food, water, shelter, and healthcare). Although the Constitution presumes the right to life, the Constitution never explicitly articulates this right. Christians argue about when a human life begins (cf. Ethical Musings: Abortion). But Christians universally support respect for life as a basic theological and ethical tenet of their religion.

All rights and freedoms, whether negative or positive, have limits. In broad terms, the limits demarcate the balance between one person’s rights and freedoms and the rights and freedoms of others. Thus, a person may not falsely cry Fire! in a crowded building nor offer human sacrifice. One important function of law is to define those limits as fairly as possible.

The third important theological doctrine for shaping Christian participation in politics is the doctrine of sin and human finitude. The various Biblical words for sin utilize three different metaphors for sin: missing the mark, falling short, and boundary transgressions. All three metaphors express a turning away from God toward self. From an anthropological perspective, sin represents the wrong use of human freedom or rejection of reciprocal altruism in favor of more self-centered behavior.

Sin inescapably taints all humans. Consequently, humans should not trust self or others with unlimited powers. Separating the branches of government into the executive, legislative, and judicial creates a system of checks and balances to reduce the likelihood of the abuse or monopolization of power.

Similarly, pervasive human sin requires accountability in politics. Among the important means of establishing accountability are elections and referenda, campaign finance laws, and having a transparent political process (good journalism is essential for this).

The three theological doctrines of God, creation, and sin are essential for shaping political philosophy and systems. My next post highlights important ethical constructs important for Christian political participation.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Religion and politics - part 1


English has some evocative, anthropomorphic collective nouns for groups of animals. For example, a group of lions is a pride, of whales is a pod, of crows is a murder, and of geese is a flock. One the loudest, most obnoxious, aggressive, and least intelligent primates is the baboon. A group of baboons is, perhaps appropriately, a congress.

Many people regard politics as a dirty business in crisis. Is that widely held perception accurate? What, if anything, is the proper relationship between religion – especially Christianity – politics?

This post is the first in an occasionally interrupted series on Religion and Politics that explores those and other questions. In particular, this post offers a definition for two key terms (politics and state) and highlights some of the interesting parallels between the Occupy and Tea Party movements.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines politics as a plural noun, usually treated as singular, denoting “(1) the activities associated with the governance of a country or area OR a particular set of political beliefs or principles; (2) activities aimed at improving someone’s status within an organization… (3) the principles relating to or inherent in a sphere or activity, especially when concerned with power and status…”

J. Philip Wogaman, a Christian theologian and ethicist with whom I studied, in Christian Perspectives on Politics, observes that politics originally denoted the interaction of citizens in the polis (Greek for city or state). A state consists of “society acting as a whole, with the ultimate power to compel compliance within its own jurisdiction.” States claim a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Politics thus connotes the ideas, forces, and relationships that generate political power.

In other words, politics are our social reality. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that a self-centered, fearful people need a Leviathan (i.e., monarch) to impose restraint and order on them that they may live in safety. John Locke defended a more positive version of Hobbes’ theory, contending that people enter into social contracts to form civil, democratic societies for their mutual benefit. Rousseau’s position was yet more positive. People form communities to enlarge their individual existence and identity.

Theologically, each of those views expresses a different understanding of human nature, ranging from the total depravity implicit in Hobbes’ view to the perhaps tarnished but not destroyed imago dei consonant with Rousseau’s view. Regardless of the position that resonates most closely with one’s own theology, all three positions capture the reality that no person exists independent of others. The early Christian hermits, precursors to the monastic movement, who sought to live in isolation from other humans and the temptations of society remained dependent upon the larger community (e.g., for food or clothing). Biblically, God’s people live covenant with one another and with God. Contemporary Christian ethicist Stanley Hauerwas helpfully insists that Christian ethics are inherently political, defined by the narrative of Jesus.

The Rev. Canon Giles Fraser, formerly the Canon Chancellor of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, has written:

For too long the Church has been obsessed with its own internal work­ings and with silly arguments about sex. Now is the time for a new debate and a new emphasis. For if we are not fully involved with complex dis­cussions about the relationship be­tween financial justice and the way our financial institutions work, then we might as well give up on being a proper Church and admit that we are the spiritual arm of the heritage industry. (“Sitting on a fault-line at St Paul’s,” The Church Times, Issue 7755, 4 November 2011, accessed at http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/content.asp?id=120132.)

Both the Occupy and Tea Party movements claim to represent the 99% of the population in the United States and the United Kingdom who feel disempowered and disenfranchised because of the current economic recession and the barely discernible, limp recovery. For details on wealth, income, tax burden, and housing disparities as well as on the federal government’s fiscal problems, see slides 8 to 15 of my Religion and Politics – part 1 PowerPoint presentation. For more on the Occupy movement, see Ethical Musings: Musings about Occupy Wall Street – parts 1, 2, and 3 and Ethical Musings: Why Occupy Wall Street Resonates with People.

The prophet Ezekiel declared, “As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.” (Ezekiel 16:48-50)

Amos, another prophet, reiterated those sentiments: “Therefore because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate.” (Amos 5:11-12)

And Jim Wallis, founder of the Sojourner’s Community in Washington, DC, and a contemporary prophet, echoes his predecessors:

      When they stand with the poor, they stand with Jesus.

      When they stand with the hungry, they stand with Jesus.

      When they stand for those without a job or a home, they stand with Jesus.

      When they are peaceful, non-violent, and love their neighbors (even the ones they don't agree with and who don't agree with them), they are walking as Jesus walked.

      When they talk about holding banks and corporations accountable, they sound like Jesus and the biblical prophets before him who all spoke about holding the wealthy and powerful accountable. (“Praying for Peace and Looking for Jesus at Occupy Wall Street,” Huffington Post, October 6, 2011)

The next post in this series on Religion and Politics will explore theological and ethical principles important for Christian participation in politics.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Sin: Is it still relevant?


Sometimes, sin to be an anachronistic concept lacking meaning and relevance in the twenty-first century. However, in thinking about human existence, I find the concept of sin meaningful in two different ways.

First, if ethics are at least partially rooted in reciprocal altruism, as I believe they are (cf. Ethical Musings Naturalistic ethics and Discerning a basis for human rights and dignity), then sin may usefully connote some or all behavior rooted in self-centeredness. In this sense, the reality of sin emphasizes that not all behaviors contribute to human flourishing.

Reciprocal altruism denotes behaviors in which a person acts to benefit her/his self by aiding others, expecting that the payback may come directly from those aided but is more likely to come from others. Reciprocal altruism probably began among the primates, who first banded together 52 million years ago, discovering about 16 million years ago that aiding one’s extended family improved one’s quality of life. (Nick Bascom, “Two Steps To Primate Social Living,” Science News, November 9, 2011) In time, this recognition expanded to include the clan, tribe, and, in most parts of the world, the nation. A gradually increasing number of people recognize that their quality of life depends upon not only the national community but also the global community.

At least some self-centered behavior intended to benefit the individual at the expense of others is thus an unfortunate evolutionary legacy, a function of the incomplete development of reciprocal altruism. To the extent that self-centered behaviors are not autonomous, sin is partially a function of inheritance rather than choice. This coheres well with the traditional theological understanding of original sin, sin passed from one generation to the next through no fault of the present generation.

Second, sin is an unfortunate but inescapable consequence of human finitude.

The person who thinks he can move beyond his self only lives in a dream world. Wherever he might move, he brings his self with him. A person does not escape his self either through diversion or through asceticism. To be sure, that is not even worth striving for. l the wish to escape one’s self is only a short circuit in the whole enterprise. Aversion to one’s self is ingratitude. A person can overcome his self-centeredness not by throwing away his ego, but by incorporating it into a larger totality of life.

Nietzsche contended that culture always shaped an individual’s conscience in definitive ways. C.S. Lewis dissented, contending that the conscience informs humans of their sin. Both were right, but only in part. Humans are creatures of their environment, i.e., culture. Thus, culture shapes conscience and is one expression of human finitude. However, conscience, an awareness of right and wrong, also presumes self-awareness. On occasion, humans exercise their limited autonomy to function in a self-centered manner instead of engaging in reciprocal altruism. John Patrick Diggins in Why Niebuhr Now quoting Reinhold Niebuhr writes that a human is always “tempted to deny the limited character of his [sic] knowledge and the finiteness of his [sic] existence.”

Biblically, the dominant metaphors for sin depict sin as missing the mark, falling short, or doing the wrong thing. Theologically, sin designates a turning away from God. Set against the backdrop of this naturalistic understanding of sin, the biblical and theological concepts of sin are still relevant in the twenty-first century.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Who can best spend my money?


Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform (an anti-tax lobby), asked a millionaire visiting the U.S. Capitol, “Who can best spend your money, the government or you?” The millionaire was part of a group of high-earners visiting members of Congress to lobby for higher taxes on high earners.

The quick thinking millionaire remarked that if Norquist wanted to avoid paying taxes, he should exchange his citizenship for Somalia citizenship and move there since Somalia has no income tax.

Where do you want to live, Somalia or the United States?

For me, the choice is easy. I want to live in the United States. I enjoy the multiple benefits of living in a society in which the rule of law prevails, rights and freedoms are respected, most basic social services are provided (e.g., transportation, good governance, and public education – healthcare being the exception) and at least the rudiments of a social welfare safety net exist.

Consequently, I am happy and grateful to pay my taxes. Most of what government provides I could not purchase on my own. Furthermore, outsourcing of government functions has generally proven, over time, to be more expensive than the government continuing to directly provide the service.

Does the United States need to take better control of federal finances? Absolutely. I’ve written previously about the need to fix Social Security and a relatively simple, painless way to do so (Ethical Musings: Expand Social Security? ).

Fixing healthcare is more difficult, but still feasible, especially if approached systematically. Without basic healthcare, rhetoric about the right to life is meaningless gibberish. Ensuring access to adequate healthcare is basic. Current estimates of the administrative overhead caused by multiple billing systems range from 20% to 50% of all healthcare spending. Implementing a single payer system to healthcare immediate reaps 75% or more of that overhead as a cost savings without any reduction in the level or type of care available. Implementing outcomes based healthcare system to prevent useless treatments and tests will probably save similar amounts. For other ideas on healthcare cost control, read Ethical Musings: Supporting healthcare reform and Ethical Musings: Half-truths about healthcare and U.S. founders.

U.S. defense spending is out of control. The escalating emotional language in which proponents of maintaining or even increasing the defense budget frame their arguments is reminiscent of what happened in the 1960 U.S. presidential campaign. Both Nixon and Kennedy emphasized the “missile gap” alleged to exist between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. when no such gap existed. The U.S. never lost its superiority over the U.S.S.R. in ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads. Eisenhower knew this, but failed to speak out.

Today, much defense spending is either wasteful or unnecessary. For example, Mitt Romney (not known for being advocating deep cuts to defense spending) has identified some of the waste in his speeches. For example, at the height of WWII, the U.S. procured 1000 ships per year with a staff of 800. In 2011, 24,000 Department of Defense (DOD) employees oversee procurement of just 9 ships per year. Similar over-management plagues all aspects of DOD procurement. In an upcoming post, I argue that sin remains endemic to the human condition. No number of regulations and oversight employees – no matter how excessive – can completely eradicate waste, fraud, and abuse in government procurement. Redundant, vain efforts to achieve that impossible goal result in much wasteful spending, indicated by the number of personnel who oversee ship procurement.

Furthermore, the political-military-industrial complex (first identified by Eisenhower in the waning months of his presidency as the military-industrial complex) has become an almost unstoppable juggernaut that relentlessly pushes procurement of new and extremely expensive weapons systems. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is the latest of these efforts. No other nation has warplanes that match the capability of current U.S. warplanes. In other words, the F-35 simply improves the U.S. lead in warplane superiority. Scheduled procurement of 2400 planes over the next decade will cost a projected $400 billion. The U.S. could better spend these monies on healthcare, transportation infrastructure, debt reduction or leave them in taxpayers’ pockets.

In sum, the nation could probably halve the DOD budget without harming national defense.

Fixing Social Security, healthcare, and defense largely fixes the nation’s fiscal problems. Keeping the current tax rates while eliminating most (all?) deductions and other loopholes would put the nation on a secure and stable fiscal footing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street resonates with people


FAIR TAXES: Some of the largest corporations in the United States paid no taxes over the last three years – some of them even made money through tax credits and refunds. The federal tax code imposes a 35% tax on corporate profits. But 30 of the 280 firms examined in a recent study, in spite of being profitable, either paid no taxes or earned additional profits through legal loopholes.




Tax loopholes distort the economy, biasing playing field in favor of enterprises that have succeeded in influencing Congress and the regulatory process to advantage their business. This bias unfairly disadvantages other industries, skews the markets ability to allocate resources efficiently, and increases the tax burden on taxpayers who have the least direct access and clout in Washington, i.e., individuals. The distortion reflected in the above graphic demonstrates that free market capitalism is not alive and well in the United States.

Bill Moyers has recently made similar points in an essay that is well worth reading at the Huffington Post, “People ‘Are Occupying Wall Street Because Wall Street Has Occupied the Country'” (November 2, 2011). Two excerpts are especially memorable:

·         “It is the editors of The Economist who are warning us that ‘The United States is on its way to becoming a European-style class-based society.’”

·         “From the bosom of the mainstream media [Time Magazine] comes the bald, spare, and damning conclusion: We now have ‘government for the few at the expense of the many.’”

No wonder the Occupy movement’s protest against the 1% resonates with so many!

POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS: In 2008, Procter & Gamble spent $8.7 billion on marketing and advertising their razors, detergents, and other products. U.S. presidential candidates in 2008 spent $4.3 billion on their campaigns. Comparing the two numbers and weighing the relative importance of consumer products and the U.S. presidency, the $4.3 billion does not seem especially excessive. However, the emphasis on fundraising and the access to politicians that money buys results in a tax code biased against ordinary individual taxpayers and a host of other problems. The net effect is to move the U.S. toward the type of society Bill Moyers described so poignantly in his Huffington Post essay, “People ‘Are Occupying Wall Street Because Wall Street Has Occupied the Country'” (November 2, 2011).

MONEY SPEAKS: Readers who doubt that money buys access and influence would do well to read “A Financial Incentive for Better Bedside Manner” in the Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2011). Beginning in the autumn of 2012, Medicare will begin to factor patient evaluations of healthcare providers into payments to those provides. Consequently, providers have already begun taking steps to improve the quality of providers’ “bedside manner” and to emphasize the relational dimension of healthcare. Financial incentives alter behavior – the Wall Street Journal article is just one more example of that proven principle. Although the powerful and wealthy persist in promulgating uncompromising denials, the same principle applies to politics. Financial incentives, in the form of campaign contributions, alters political behavior and warps both national political and economic structures to the advantage of the wealthy and disadvantage of the 99%.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Making a difference


ANGELS: Youth from a small church named Psalm 100 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, have begun dressing up like angels and standing on folding metal chairs at busy intersections in an attempt to end the violence that has gripped their city. A year of this effort seems to be producing results, with none of the youth injured and violence perhaps waning slightly. Biblically, angels are God's messengers. Although the wings, halos, and flowing robes have more to do with creative interpretation than rigorous exegesis, the congregation offers an excellent spiritual example for other congregations to follow: incarnating the gospel to speak to the real needs of people in spite of the inherent risk in doing so. (For more information, cf. Damien Cave, “Angels Rushing In Where Others Fear to Tread,” New York Times, November 9, 2011)

ONE PERSON MAKING A DIFFERENCE: John Wood has established more libraries (12,000 of them) than Andrew Carnegie and his foundation have (2500 plus). Admittedly, Wood’s libraries lack the architectural splendor of a Carnegie library and some of Wood’s libraries have only a few hundred books. Incredibly, Woods also opens libraries more frequently than McDonald’s open new outlets (six per day vs. one per day). In 1998, John Woods visited a remote Nepalese school serving 450 children that had no books. Moved, he offered to help. The delivery of a donkey caravan of books so exhilarated Woods that he resigned from his job as Microsoft’s marketing director and established the Room to Read foundation. His goal? In twenty years, to have 100,000 libraries reaching 50,000,000 children. One person can make a difference.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thinking about success


Today’s gospel reading about the wealthy person entrusting his property to his employees in his absence, giving to each according to ability (Matthew 25:14-30), often figures prominently in discussions about Christian stewardship. God has entrusted us with various resources – treasure, talents, and time – that we, God's ministers, are to use for God's purposes. I hope you understand and live that message.

The gospel reading’s final verses – those who have will receive in abundance and those who lack will lose what little they have – generally receive little attention. Consequently, journalist Malcolm Gladwell titling chapter one of his book, Outliers, “The Matthew Effect,” surprised me. Gladwell begins by analyzing Canadian junior hockey teams, whose players are 16 to 20 years old. The team that has won most consistently has had the highest percentage of players born in January, February, and March. Canadians born in those months are not inherently superior hockey players. Instead, since the cutoff date for satisfying the age requirement is January 1, they’re just a few months older when they begin playing and therefore more physically developed. Once identified as winners, they reap additional benefits – more playing time, more coaching, and so forth – causing further improvement.

Gladwell’s thesis in Outliers is that success produces success for reasons largely unrelated to individual ability, effort, or initiative. He acknowledges that initiative, effort, and ability are essential, but argues that those qualities are generally insufficient by themselves to explain exceptional success, an ethical insight especially relevant for much current political discourse in this country.

Moreover, the same dynamic holds spiritually. In Holy Baptism, God gives each person gifts for ministry – hence the parable of the talents. Taking the initiative to exercise our gifts develops those gifts, large or small. But the real key to spiritual growth comes through participation in the church, which helps us to identify and to nurture those gifts. Most importantly, using our gifts opens a window through which God enhances and expands them, thereby ministering to others and us. Conversely, ignoring our gifts causes them to atrophy and eventually to die.

In 1960, Sam Monk was rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Kilgore, TX, when, during a Sunday service, the police arrested many of his most prominent parishioners for directional oil drilling, slanted wells that begin on one piece of property and end underneath another, pumping someone else’s oil. A once growing and rewarding ministry collapsed in the course of a two-year scandal.

Exhausted and needing a change, in 1964 Sam began serving as priest-in-charge of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, MS. He hoped that this quiet, small congregation would afford him an opportunity for renewal.

Late one evening, shortly after his arrival, community leaders invited him to a meeting to decide what to do about the influx of reporters and civil rights workers who had descended upon Philadelphia following the burning of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church a couple of months previously. Only Sam’s clerical collar set him apart from the others in the room.

As a newcomer, Sam had not intended to speak. When the conversation increasingly focused on getting rid of the troublemakers, raiding their shantytown, and torching its buildings, he could not remain silent. He picked up a King James Version of the Bible and began to read from Acts 5.34-39:

Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, held in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space, and said to them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men…. Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to naught: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

Sam then sat and kept his eyes glued to the page from which he had read. Silence followed. One or two began to speak but could not find the right words. Finally, one civic leader consulted his gold pocket watch, cleared his throat, and announced he had to be going. Slowly, the others departed.

This ended the violence in Philadelphia. Subsequently, the FBI discovered the corpses of three civil rights workers and charged the sheriff and others with various crimes. Change happened because one person, Sam Monk, prepared in the crucible of St Paul’s Kilgore, refused to hide his talent as a servant of God.[1]

May we, like Sam Monk, be part of a community that identifies, nurtures, and uses our talents in ministry that we may, like Sam Monk, one day hear Jesus say, Well done, good and faithful servant.[2] Amen.



[1] Bob Libby, Grace Happens (Cambridge: Cowley, 1992), pp. 62-66.
[2] Matthew 25:21, 23.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Honoring veterans


A growing number of businesses offer good deals to veterans on Veterans Day. Offers I’ve seen include many free meals (as if most veterans were underweight!), free car washes, and discounts at some grocery stores. Lowe’s and Home Depot publicize the 10% discount that they give military personnel and their families all year, which is much better than a one-day deal.

However, freebies and discounts, though appreciated, are not how the nation collectively should honor its veterans. If the nation chooses to have a military (and I, for one, believe that defense is an unfortunate necessity – dissenters should remember Hitler, Stalin, and others who sought to impose their particular brand of evil on the world), then the nation should care for those injured in its service. That moral obligation to honor veterans includes veterans who fought in wars to which I have moral objections. The military does not determine national policy but is an instrument of national policy. For better or worse, citizenship in a nation entails communal responsibilities, one of which is active engagement to shape national policy and another of which is honoring the veterans whose duty caused them to implement policies with which they may or may not have agreed.

Disproportionate numbers of the physically maimed, the unemployed, the homeless, and alcoholics are veterans. Many of these veterans suffer invisible wounds, i.e., psychic or spiritual injuries that interfere with the veteran living a normal, healthy life. As a retired chaplain and priest, veterans sometimes honor me by telling me their stories. The injuries are real, the horrors of war brought home from the battlefield. Sometimes the vet knows when and how the injury occurred; sometimes the injury manifests itself in unexpected ways years after the person has returned home. Timothy Kudo, in “On War and Redemption” (New York Times, November 8, 2011), described his experience as an injured vet, having ordered his Marines to kill persons that both he and his Marines thought were armed aggressors only to discover that the individuals were unarmed and killed needlessly.

My previous post, What the Church, and our nation, owe veterans, outlined how I think the nation should honor its veterans. On this Veterans Day, in a time of economic distress and social unrest, our obligations to veterans feel especially poignant. If nothing else, perhaps Veterans Day can underscore that one day of special treatment per year, no matter how much appreciated, cannot satisfy our obligations to veterans. Although many of our wars have been wars of choice, fought for reasons of commercial gain rather than moral necessity, this nation would not exist and we would not enjoy the freedoms and rights that we do, no matter how imperfect they may be, without the sacrifices of veterans.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mississippi's personhood amendment


Thank God, voters in Mississippi rejected the proposed personhood amendment to their state constitution. The amendment would have made a fertilized embryo a legal person.

Even for opponents of abortion, this step would have had potentially major and presumably unintended consequences. For example, a woman who did not know she was pregnant smoked or got drunk, perhaps unknowingly injuring the fetus in her womb. Would she be guilty of assault? If a pregnant woman had an accident that caused a miscarriage, would the woman be criminally guilty of manslaughter for causing the accidental death of a legal person?

Legislative attempts to impose morality in the absence of a broad consensus in support of the standard (e.g., that murder and child abuse are wrong) have consistently created more problems than solutions. Imposing moral standards in the absence of consensus and relying on unproven presumptions (i.e., personhood begins at fertilization) seems a certain recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Protecting the vulnerable


Football coach Joe Paterno tonight faces pressure to resign because he failed to respond adequately when a graduate assistant reported witnessing one of the assistant coaches molesting a young boy in a university facility. Paterno did report the incident to the school’s athletic director, but, apparently, nobody took decisive action. Both the athletic director and a university vice president face state criminal charges over the incident.

As a Navy chaplain, people would sometimes tell me, in what the person considered to be an act of religious confession, that they had abused another person (child or adult) or that they were contemplating hurting another or even themselves. Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and often the polity of the Episcopal Church, I had three options. The first, do nothing, was unacceptable to me. Hurting other people is wrong; allowing others to harm the vulnerable is also wrong. Furthermore, in the latter years of my ministry, state law often made it a crime for clergy to fail to report ongoing abuse.

The second option, violate the person’s confidentiality, was also unacceptable. The person had come to me in trust. Breaking that trust would violate my moral obligations, breaking that trust would violate the person who had come to me for help, and breaking that trust would, as word spread to others, limit my ability to help other people.

The third option, stay with the person until I could persuade her/him to get the appropriate assistance, was the only good option I had. I consistently chose this option. I found that what mentors had told me was correct: the person who came to confess an ongoing problem was really seeking help in dealing with the problem. Persuading the person to take the next step might require several hours, much patience, and even more caring, but I, like my mentors, found that I was always successful. In later years, I counseled chaplains who turned to me for guidance to adopt the same approach.

Football coaches have neither the same requirements nor expectations regarding confidentiality. Failing to protect the well-being of children with decisive action is inexcusable. Assuring the safety of the vulnerable is more important than winning sporting events, than career success, and even friendship.

Similarly, I have no patience for religious leaders who attempt to protect clergy accused of wrongdoing. Organizations that put their image ahead of the safety and well-being of other people have their priorities confused.

One of the battles that I consistently waged (and lost) in the Navy was for the Chaplain Corps to hold its chaplains fully accountable when accused of misdoings. Sadly, the Navy Chaplain Corps had had a long history of allowing chaplains accused of wrongdoing to resign in lieu of prosecution. That might have protected the reputation of the Chaplain Corps but did nothing to protect the people of the religious organization to which the accused chaplain returned as a priest, minister, or rabbi. Thankfully, the Navy’s policy changed some years before I retired; perhaps my voice in some small way contributed to that change.

As I have previously argued in this blog, the purpose of accountability is not revenge but to protect others from being harmed, to change the behaviors of the guilty, and to deter any tempted by similar behaviors. Organizations that practice healthy accountability build a more positive reputation than do organizations that live in denial, attempting to preserve a façade of human perfection in spite of the pervasiveness of human shortcomings (aka sin).

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rethinking the Episcopal Church - Part 2


Clarity about the purpose and value of our connectedness (see Part 1) suggests that The Episcopal Church (TEC) move into two directions. I write this with some trepidation about getting too much into the weeds, but TEC, if it is not merely to survive but to regain the vibrancy that once made it a powerful and forceful witness for the gospel must reinvent itself before it becomes entirely irrelevant.



First, TEC should eliminate its triennial General Convention. Instead, TEC should adopt a virtual legislative and electoral process. A virtual process, unimaginable to eighteenth century Episcopalians, might advantageously:

·         Preserve our national bicameral structure and the option to vote by orders (i.e., the basic principles of representation and democracy inherent in our approach to governance) ;

·         Expand the number of deputies (lay and clergy) per diocese, broadening representation;

·         Recognize that the large number of lay and clergy deputies already precludes meaningful floor debate, i.e., the real action happens either in smaller bodies (the House of Bishops, for example, or, more often, in a committee or commission);

·         Substitute virtual interaction for physical interaction, a change some national committees and commissions have already made;

·         Permit more timely decisions, with the virtual successor to General Convention convening annually or perhaps even quarterly;

·         Enable delegates to have more time per issue by focusing on fewer issues at a time;

·         Require minimal national staff support to track actions, disseminate documents digitally, train new diocesan IT staff (dioceses train and otherwise support their deputies), etc.;

·         Save the substantial sums now spent on deputy travel, per diem, etc. (approximately $35,000 per diocese).



Here’s how this process might work at the national level for two important issues, the election of a Presiding Bishop and approving a rite of blessing for same sex marriages. The House of Bishops at one of their regular meetings would, using the current process, choose a candidate to become the next Presiding Bishop. The House of Deputies would meet to discuss and vote whether to confirm that person electronically while the House of Bishops remained in session. The possibility and problems stemming from the House of Deputies rejecting the House of Bishops’ choice are less costly but otherwise the same as if the House of Deputies were meeting in person rather than virtually. Deputies vote by diocesan delegation, minimizing any problems caused by people being in various time zones. Diocesan delegations could easily have more members and include persons now excluded by practical considerations from serving. In other words, a virtual process would be more representative, more inclusive, and far less costly than the current process.



Approving a liturgy for blessing same sex marriages might begin, as does the current legislative process, with a resolution that originated in either the House of Bishops or Deputies to form a national consultation tasked with drafting a proposed rite. The national consultation could function through a combination of physical and virtual meetings. Once drafted, each diocese might then choose its own process to study the proposed rite and any supplemental materials the consultation furnishes. Dioceses, within a stipulated timeframe, could then vote, again using their own process, to commend the text in whole or part, propose revisions, or recommend against approval in whole or part. If a majority (or a super majority, depending upon the issue and canons) approves, the text stands adopted. If a majority recommend against acceptance, the issue dies.



If, as is most likely, a majority of dioceses proposes revisions, the national consultation reconvenes, revises its original draft, and then submits the revision to the dioceses. This process is admittedly unlikely to produce quick results. However, a process that takes longer and involves more people will quite likely achieve greater acceptance for the final text upon adoption, important in a denomination riven by recent controversies that led to schism. Since group processes often produce inelegantly worded documents (i.e., bad liturgy), successive iterations of the process (i.e., each time the national consultation sends the text to the dioceses) might progressively narrow dioceses’ latitude in proposing additional revisions to parts of the text not yet agreed.



Each General Convention faces hundreds of resolutions including proposed revisions to the Church calendar, possible changes to the liturgy, nominations to various boards and groups, proposed positions on international and national social justice issues, resolutions recognizing or commending individuals or groups, etc. To the maximum extent feasible, groups or structures other than General Convention will most appropriately deal with these matters. For the remainder of the agenda, virtual processes similar to those sketched in the two examples above will work.



Second, TEC should devolve ministry and mission, to the maximum extent practical, with the national church not performing any ministry or mission that provinces, dioceses, or congregations can reasonably provide. Examples of efforts more effectively performed elsewhere within Christ's body include not only starting new congregations but also most programming (youth work, curriculum development and writing, funding national and international missionaries, etc.). Devolving these endeavors to provinces and dioceses (and wealthy parishes) would creatively build on local strengths, help to ensure that local experience informs global practice, and reduce administrative overhead. Communication and rapid transportation increasingly make central staff expensive and unnecessary.



For example, the superb Diocese of North Carolina youth missioner could devote half her time to training and resourcing youth ministry in other dioceses in the province. Under such an arrangement, everybody wins. The diocese expands its youth ministry, hiring a second youth missioner paid with funds previously forwarded to the national church; a gifted person meets provincial needs; the new youth missioner learns from a great role model; and NC youth benefit by interacting with two adults. With nine provinces, TEC would have the equivalent of four and a half full-time staff supporting youth ministry; if some larger or wealthier parishes discerned a similar call to serve youth ministers, the potential benefit to TEC is still greater.



By expecting provinces, dioceses and larger/wealthy parishes to expand their local ministries and missions to include a gift of intentional ministry to the broader Episcopal Church, we would create a broader, more inclusive community that better utilized the diverse gifts of more of God's people. Collegial conversations between parishes, dioceses, and provinces could coordinate this effort to ensure comprehensive programs (e.g., some diocese or parish undertakes to write religious formation materials for every age group).



Third, and finally, TEC could host a regular (once every 1-4 years) gathering of 50,000 plus Episcopalians in a large sports arena. This event would: (1) visibly demonstrate The Episcopal Church’s health and vitality in a newsworthy event; (2) energize attendees for ministry and mission; and (3) inspire attendees with a vision of who God calls us to be and what God asks us to do in response. In other words, TEC would intentionally adopt a mission strategy that complements the many strengths inherent in being a denomination in which 97% of its congregations have an average Sunday attendance of less than 351 people. Megachurches and political rallies, rock concerts, and professional sporting events achieve similar results, creating community, engendering commitment, and motivating people by hosting large gatherings. TEC has the advantage of having an existing small group structure (5000 plus congregations, 110 dioceses, 9 provinces, and untold other groups, committees, choirs, schools, and so forth) through which freshly inspired and motivated thousands can engage in ministry and mission. The importance of the once a decade gathering of Anglican bishops at Lambeth only hints at the magnitude of the potential effect that these regular mega-gatherings of Episcopalians could have on the denomination, the larger Church, and the world.



In many respects, this third proposition is the most critical. The first proposal, reinventing General Convention as a virtual process, provides the organizational resources of time and money required to fund a mega-event. General Convention now costs approximately $12.2 million every three years. With a virtual process, $10-11 million should be available to fund mega-events.



The second proposal, devolving as much ministry and mission from the national church to provinces, dioceses, and congregations disperses and multiplies the opportunities for people to become meaningfully involved in the Church. With creative and thorough implementation, the second proposal conceivably allows the national church to fund its revised operation through reliance on endowment and rental income and 1% or perhaps even ½ of 1% of congregational giving.



Currently, TEC, according to its Chief Operating Officer, spends 47% of its revenues on overhead. That is scandalous in comparison to the standards by which donors and rating agencies judge other non-profits. I’m confident that our disproportionately large overhead does not make God happy. We can do better. And if we truly believe that we have the bread and water of life in a world that is dying for lack of them, we must do better. Bishop Sauls’ plan takes steps in the right direction. But we need to go further, to remember who we are and what God has called us to do in the twenty-first century. Then we need to move forward boldly and quickly, seizing the moment, exchanging the tired structures and patterns that have brought us this far for ones better suited for the present.