Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Medicare for all

David Brooks in his column, “‘Medicare for All’: The Impossible Dream,” (New York Times, March 4, 2019) argues that regardless of the appeal of adopting Medicare for all, the U.S. transitioning to Medicare for all is impossible.

Brooks is partially correct. Transitioning from the current mélange of health care insurance programs to Medicare for all will be exceedingly difficult. However, the difficulty in transitioning is an insufficient reason for not moving forward.

First, health care is a basic human right, a basic corollary of the right to life. The right to life is corroded by selfishness and greed every time somebody’s life is cut short or somebody’s quality of life is substantially diminished by a preventable or treatable condition for which the person could not obtain the required health care. Studies consistently show that people in the U.S. have shorter life expectancies and live lives impaired by more preventable or treatable conditions than do residents of other developed countries. In other words, Americans enjoy the right to life less than do people in other developed countries in spite of spending more on health care per capita than do people in any other country. Refusing the challenge of transitioning to Medicare for all permanently condemns Americans to enjoying an unnecessarily limited right to life.

Second, a huge number of people associated with health care currently produce little of real value: everyone connected with the health insurance industry (those who work directly for the health insurance company, those involved in billing health insurance, those involved in tracking per patient costs, almost all Medicare employees, all those whose work is tied to administering Medicaid, etc.). Nobody would need to determine an individual’s eligibility for care as everyone would be eligible. Medicare for all is estimated to reduce health care costs by 25% or more simply by cutting administrative costs. In implementing Medicare for all, the government should compassionately assist those harmed economically by the transition: displaced health care administrative personnel, health care workers, not just doctors, saddled with outsized student loans, etc.

Third, health care costs would fall. People would get less care, because preventive care is less costly than treatment and people who have free access tend to seek preventive care. Emergency room usage would sharply decline, as people substituted lower cost options for emergency room care, which is the highest cost source of care. Personal costs, often less tangible but nonetheless real, would diminish because people would not need to track health care costs, make copayments, etc. If Medicare for all paid for outcomes, not procedures, wasteful tests and procedures would go away.

Fourth, federal funding for health care could rely on a simple formula of $xx/person served with a higher rate of reimbursement in rural and other areas in which it is hard to get providers to locate. By pushing the funding down to states, and then allowing states to fund municipalities, the federal government could rely on local expertise and knowledge rather than attempting to decide how to allocate funding among local provider, i.e., rely upon our federal system to allocate health care funding recognizing that allocations may vary substantially from one part of the country to the next. Federal health care administrative costs would be reduced to fifty (or fifty-five, if one includes the District of Columbia and U.S. territories) monthly electronic transfers using the modified per capita formula outlined above. States might choose to utilize current state health department personnel involved in Medicaid funding to allocate the monthly check from the federal government, keeping costs to a minimum and allowing municipalities (city, town, or county) maximum leeway in spending the money or might adopt a more centralized form of control. That would be a state, not a federal decision. Federal enforcement of constitutional guarantees of equal rights would still apply, as it does in other fields, without needing a large, special bureaucracy.

Fifth, as implementation progresses, the federal government could also give the VA medical system to the state in which the VA facility is located, allowing the state the option of operating the facility, giving the facility to a municipality, or closing the facility. Veterans would no longer require special access to care because all Americans would have equal access to care.

The very simplicity of this proposal has two major strikes against it. First, special interests – insurance lobbies, groups focused on a special disease, health care companies – would inevitably strive at every opportunity to establish preferential treatment for themselves (just think of the U.S. tax code!).

Second, the U.S. has sadly become less of a federal system and increasingly centralized. Changing laws or rules at the federal level is easier than making those same changes in each state and territory. This negates one huge benefit of a federal system: the opportunity for states to adopt different approaches, policies, and programs, as a testing mechanism to find what works best. When one approach, policy, or program is widely perceived as the best, other states are generally quick to adopt it. People dissatisfied with the approach to health care delivery in one municipality or state could relocate, just as they currently do with respect to schools, employment opportunities, etc.

Even if you reject this proposal, not moving ahead with health care for all because of the difficulty in transitioning from the current mélange than harms so many and works well for only the privileged few is illogical and immoral. Health care for all is a fundamental corollary of the right to life.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Restoring God’s Earth

The earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it; the world and all who dwell therein. 

(Psalm 24:1)

The people of ZeroWasteChurch.Org write:

When we think about the planet, the solar system, the world as we know it, and as we learn more, and learn how much we don’t know, it is easy to feel incredibly small. When we hear of our world changing, climate changing, biosystems changing, animal species being destroyed, it hard to imagine how one person’s action, one person’s act of faith could possibly make a difference.

Mother Theresa said once, “There are no great things; only small things with great love.” She also said of herself, “I’m but a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

What if there was something individuals could do? What if there were a series of small acts of faith, small practices, new habits persons could start that did make a difference in care and concern for God’s creation? Would you do it? has prepared an e-book of themes that collect small actions and habits that a person can take to incorporate the theme into her/his life. These themes have been shown, and they are optimistic, that these practices will indeed make a change to the ways we treat creation and the effects of human behavior on creation. call this process “Restoring God’s Earth: A Year of Personal Action.” Each month their free e-book of the same title will introduce a new theme, and each week it will offer several practical suggestions for you to try out. The free e-book is also available by clicking the link embedded in the photo of the book’s cover in the column to right.

They and I invite you to be God’s pencil in the world. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; its these little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Some thoughts on Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the Christian season of preparation for the annual celebration of Jesus’ passion and resurrection.

In some Christian traditions (including mine, the Anglican), churches hold special services at which attendees have ashes imposed on the forehead as a mark of sorrow and repentance for their sins and as a visible sign of the start of a Lenten journey. Lenten journeys are frequently characterized by an individual adopting a special spiritual discipline, giving up something (caffeine, TV, etc.) or taking on something (praying one of the daily offices, volunteering more time in helping others, etc.). In either case, the spiritual discipline is generally intended to help the individual focus more attention on God and on walking more closely in Jesus’ footsteps. These Lenten spiritual disciplines, though tailored to and chosen by the individual, function analogously to the practices of observant Jews.

Recently, some congregations and clergy have engaged in what they call “Ashes to Go.” The intent is to take ashes to people, whether on street corners or elsewhere in response to diminished attendance at Ash Wednesday services and a good faith effort to accommodate faithful but over-scheduled people. At least one priest, who is part of the “Ashes to Go” movement, tries to engage a person who wishes to receive ashes in a brief conversation about the person’s spirituality and then offers a brief prayer along with the imposition of the ashes.

Imposition of ashes outside of the Book of Common Prayer’s Ash Wednesday liturgy (or an equivalent service in another tradition) raises questions about the meaningfulness of imposing ashes. Is wearing ashes for the remainder of the day simply a method of drawing attention to the wearer’s piety, real or imagined? If so, a prima facie reading (and probably a careful exegesis as well) of Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, the gospel text widely read on Ash Wednesday, condemns the practice. Is wearing ashes for the wearer’s benefit, rather than trying to send a message to anyone else? If so, ashes may help to remind the wearer, conscious of the mark on his/her forehead, of his/her dependence on God’s grace. Of course, similar questions apply to persons who receive ashes in a traditional Ash Wednesday service.

Awareness of personal sin is less pervasive today than in some previous generations. Furthermore, belief in hell has also decreased as has belief in a wrathful, unforgiving God. Many Christians and Christian clergy today believe in a God whose perfection is neither marred nor diminished by embracing imperfection in anyone or anything. Jesus’ death on the cross is increasingly regarded as a demonstration of God’s unbreakable, infinite love for us. This interpretation rejects expiatory, propitiatory, and substitutionary explanations of the crucifixion. Theses latter theories all have the unintended and often unvoiced consequence of conceptualizing God as either a child-abuser or masochist.

Nevertheless, evil and sin are pervasive. The prayer of confession in Enriching Our Worship elegantly expresses the pervasiveness of evil and sin: “God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, opposing your will in our lives. We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created. We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.” Admitting one’s sin, turning towards God more fully, and seeking to make reparation for one’s sin are steps away from evil and toward more abundant living.

If the imposition of ashes, whether in a traditional Ash Wednesday service or from someone offering Ashes to Go, assists one in that spiritual journey, then receiving ashes is worthwhile and commendable. Otherwise, the imposition of ashes seems to replicate practices Jesus rebuked: "Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Ecclesiastical dieting for better health

Approximately 70% of the U.S. population is overweight or obese. Similarly, The Episcopal Church (TEC) after decades of declining attendance and membership is organizationally overweight or even obese. The sooner TEC diets, the greater the probability of TEC returning to ecclesiastical health and vitality.

TEC can lose weight. A prior Ethical Musings post examined the episcopacy. In that article, I advocated reducing the number of dioceses to better serve TEC’s declining number of congregations. This essay identifies ways TEC’s congregations (a category that includes both parishes and missions) can improve their organizational health by shedding unhealthy burdens of excess programs, staff and facilities.

Corporate worship constitutes the programmatic and spiritual heart of most Episcopal congregations. I have served a congregation that needed to add a third Sunday morning service to accommodate the growing number of worshippers because of limited parking. I have also served congregations with two Sunday morning services held in naves that could accommodate three or four times their combined peak Sunday attendance.

New congregations invariably begin with a single Sunday worship service. A congregation adds a service when seating or parking ceases to accommodate attendees. Unfortunately, one unintended result of adding a service is that attendees at each service quickly evolve distinct identities based upon their preference for a particular time or style (silent or sung, Rite I or II, etc.). Those separate identities then take precedence over identity as members of the larger congregation. Consequently, congregations continue to offer multiple Sunday services even after the disappearance of the original reason for those services.

Fragmentation of congregational unity is perhaps the most visible cost of unnecessary Sunday services. Clergy while conducting a service are unavailable for pastoral conversations, teaching, or other ministries. Volunteer time is wasted on marginally beneficial, duplicative activities such as needing two sets of ushers and lectors. Multiple services may increase the cost of utilities, janitorial services, and bulletin preparation/printing if each service has its own leaflet.

Small savings in small congregations may have an outsize impact on growth and mission as well as aid in balancing budgets. Although consolidating Sunday services is frequently contentious and may result in losing a few regular attendees, potential gains usually exceed costs. Surveys consistently suggest that newcomers tend to seek thriving, larger congregations instead of inwardly focused, small congregations.

Concomitantly, many congregations can realize gains from eliminating some special services and other programming. Neither Scripture nor tradition dictates that every congregation offer a nearly identical schedule of worship and programs. Instead, reasoned cost-benefit analysis can point the way to shedding the excess weight of once important, now superfluous services and programs. Illustratively, in some small congregations, an early Christmas Eve family service and a Christmas Day service designed for the elderly who do not like to drive after dark may better meet needs than the diffusion of effort and attendees entailed in also offering Midnight Mass. Likewise, not all congregations need a Sunday School, a program initiated in the nineteenth century to teach reading and writing to children whose parents could not afford to send a child to school. Additionally, congregations can reap savings at little or no cost by eliminating any service or program that exists primarily to satisfy the clergy’s needs or wants.

Congregations, by prudentially retrenching the number and variety of worship services and other programming, will reduce the amount of staff time required to support the remaining services and programs. This will permit cutting the hours of part-time musicians, sextons, educators, and secretarial help and/or boosting their compensation. Few small congregations need or realistically can afford a secretary, by whatever title the position has, i.e., parish administrator, operations manager, etc. Mobile phones, ubiquitous word processing skills (who can graduate from college, let alone seminary, without word processing skills?), online liturgical resources, and other twenty-first century technology allow priests to perform those duties about as quickly and efficiently as coordinating and supervising another person’s completion of the tasks. Many non-ecclesial organizations have already streamlined their operations by eliminating similar positions. Contracting with human resource and accounting firms may generate significant savings over employing a bookkeeper to perform those functions.

Most importantly, congregations should closely examine their need for clergy. Estimates vary, but congregations with an average Sunday attendance under 150, and probably under 200, do not require a full-time priest. Compensation for a priest is usually a congregation’s largest budget item. Congregations may want to share a priest with another congregation (made more feasible by reducing the number of worship services), call a bi-vocational priest, or call a non-stipendiary priest. An intriguing and innovative possibility is for a diocese to pay all seminary tuition, fees and living expenses for a candidate for holy orders with the mutual agreement that the person will return to the diocese for ten years of ministry in a bi-vocational or non-stipendiary setting. A payback of 200 to 300% over ten years in lower costs for clergy makes the high up-front cost an attractive investment. This scheme may prove especially attractive to individuals pursuing ordination as a second career. This proposal will never be the complete solution to educating mid-career clergy but may be one element of a mosaic of solutions.

Clergy compensation too often saps congregational funds better spent on other ministries and missions. The answer is not to cut clergy compensation for those serving small and mid-size congregations. The answer is to rethink how best to deploy clergy and the hallmark(s) of “successful” congregations. At a minimum, the hallmark of a “successful” congregation is a congregation vitally engaged in loving God, one another, and their neighbors.

The prevalent view that having a full-time priest is a (arguably, the) hallmark of a “successful” congregation is anachronistic. TEC is not an established church that must have a priest in every parish. Furthermore, TEC congregations lack geographic boundaries. People, including clergy, generally commute by vehicle and communicate electronically. Meetings, for example, occur by videoconference with increasing frequency. Religion’s cultural marginalization is diminishing expectations for clergy participation in community and civic events. Distinguishing parishes from missions based upon the former’s ability to pay a full-time priest reinforces the mistaken perception that “successful” congregations must employ a full-time priest.

Finally, TEC can reap great benefits from reducing the property it owns. Too often, most of the resources small congregations have – money and volunteers – are devoted to a losing struggle to support a priest and maintain aging buildings crippled by deferred maintenance. Few small congregations attract the visionary, charismatic leaders who are catalysts for numerical and spiritual growth. Allowing small congregations to fritter away scarce resources on their few remaining souls neither honors God nor best serves God’s people.

The unhealthy congregational mentality that permeates TEC complicates implementing this strategy. Congregations tend to view themselves as largely independent entities. Many congregations ignore TEC’s connectional polity and property rights. The courts have upheld those property rights in a flurry of recent court cases filed by various schismatic groups.

A relative handful of small congregations have a strong missionary justification. For example, some serve isolated constituencies, though the number of such congregations diminishes as TEC establishes full communion the ELCA and other denominations.

More commonly, small congregations result from changing demographics such as changing urban neighborhoods and the depopulation of rural areas and small towns. These demographic shifts have also caused a clergy distribution problem: too many priests hear a call to urban and suburban areas; too few hear a call to rural areas and small towns.

Meanwhile, newer suburbs and revitalized urban areas may lack an Episcopal congregation (or a congregation of a denominations with which TEC is in full communion). Proactive bishops and dioceses will identify dying congregations. Then, instead of futile life support efforts which are extremely unlikely to reverse that prognosis, they may close the congregation, sell its underutilized property, and redeploy the funds to establish new church plants in under-served areas, even if that means transferring assets from one diocese to another. This process, painful as it may be, is arguably more faithful to the intent of the donors whose gifts paid for those properties and will most probably best advance God’s work.

Losing weight is rarely easy. The habits and values that prevent weight loss are deeply ingrained. Yet, by almost any measure, TEC is overweight, burdened with too many small congregations, many of them in the wrong location, and most of them doing little more than struggling to survive. God calls us to be and do better. God calls TEC to renewing its commitment to following the way of love, honest examination of our stewardship, and then to take the painful yet essential steps to better align our resources with the world’s current needs while never forgetting any part of the faithful remnants in small churches. God wants and deserves our best effort. Then and only then can we, with the author of I Timothy, say that we fought the good fight and, with Paul, say that we raced to win.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Our imperiled democracy

Democracy in the United States, already endangered, took a step closer towards extinction when President Trump declared a national emergency to reprogram federal funds in order to build a border wall separating the U.S. from Mexico.

Warning signs that U.S. democracy has been becoming endangered include presidents:

·       Issuing Executive Orders in lieu of obtaining Congressionally passed laws

·       Signing statements that identify portions of new laws that the president believes unconstitutional or which the President states the executive branch will ignore because of policy disagreements, attempting to exercise a line item veto when none exists

·       Refusing to spend authorized funds in another attempt to exercise a non-existent line item veto

·       Waging de facto wars without the Constitutionally required Congressional authorization

Over the second half of the twentieth century and the first two decades of the twenty-first century, Presidents have employed those devices – and others – to move government when Congress was either stalemated or the opposition party blocked Congressional action.

Concurrently, economic inequality has been rising sharply, returning to levels not seen since the Gilded Age.

Together, the political dysfunction and economic inequality eerily parallel conditions in ancient Rome prior to the end of its democracy. The poor were kept pacified through distribution of free food. Rome itself was governed by an elected Senate and two consuls. Senators largely came from a recognized wealthy elite. In the face of Senatorial stalemate, senators sympathetic to a consul would vote or figuratively stand aside to allow the consul to exercise greater authority. This increased the power of consuls. The Roman system also allowed appointment of a dictator in an emergency situation. Declared emergencies became more common; consuls acting as dictators gradually seized more power; democracy became increasingly imperiled.

Julius Caesar, returning from wars in Gaul, formed a triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus. The triumvirate used the combined military power of Pompey and Caesar along with Crassus’ wealth to end Roman democracy.

Although the percent of the population receiving various forms of welfare in the U.S. has remained relatively constant in the last few decades, the percent of people receiving all forms of government assistance (this includes welfare as well as the earned income tax credit, Medicaid, etc.) is rising. Collectively, welfare and other forms of assistance are analogous to first century bread distributions. Both are intended to quiet the poor in the face of staggering economic inequality.

As in Rome, the U.S. Congress is frequently stalemated, regardless of which party controls the House or the Senate.

Meanwhile, authority and power increasingly flow to the executive branch, headed by the President.

Democracy, as the authors of the U.S. Constitution realized, requires a set of checks and balances to prevent any one branch, and any one individual or group of individuals, from acquiring too much power. U.S. democracy is badly bent, heavily tilted in favor of the executive branch.

Democrats and Republicans share responsibility for creating the imbalance, with each successive president since Truman contributing to the imbalance.

Under President Trump, the slide towards tyranny has rapidly gained momentum.

President Trump publicly praises the media and reporters who support him; he castigates media and reporters who oppose him as “fake news,” implicitly redefining truth as what he says rather than as objectively verifiable facts. Indeed, Trump in his public statements and interviews displays little grasp of facts, repeatedly asserting false claims and sometimes contradicting himself. Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a border wall rests on several untruths that Trump repeatedly asserts. Contrary to Trump, (1) the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border is declining, not increasing; (2) illegal drugs primarily enter the U.S. through legal ports of entry, not illegal crossings; (3) few violent criminals and even fewer terrorists enter illegally.

Loyalty now trumps fact, pun intended. This is the behavior of a dictator, or would be dictator, not the behavior of a democratic president. Indeed, during the 2016 election Trump declared that he would not accept defeat at the polls. Will he accept defeat in 2020 or, if re-elected, step aside at the end of his second term?

The U.S. Constitution presumes that government will generally act incrementally rather than through the major changes possible in a parliamentary democracy. Incremental change necessitates compromise, something that legislators from both parties increasingly seem unwilling to do (the most recent appropriations that avoided another government shutdown are a noteworthy exception). In the absence of compromise, Congress usually becomes deadlocked. The executive branch then faces an almost irresistible urge to fill the resulting power vacuum, further contributing toward a slide away from democracy and toward dictatorship.

The Christian tradition has long identified pride as the principle human sin. Checks and balances in the federal system are intended to prevent members of any of the three co-equal branches (executive, legislative, and judicial) from becoming excessively arrogant, gather a disproportionate amount of power and thereby unbalancing equality among the branches.

Justice for all has greatly increased in the last seventy years due in significant measure to Christian efforts. Though justice remains imperfect, Christians now need to shift a major part of their focus to protecting democracy in order to preserve those improvements in justice, gains certain to be lost under a dictatorship. Defending democracy is a core, non-negotiable Christian ethic.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Learning to fish for people

Someone was bemoaning the lack of growth in their congregation. One listener responded sympathetically, remarking that "A lot of congregations struggle with that issue." To which the complainer replied, "Yeah, but how many churches do you know that have an unlisted phone number?"[1]

When I look at this congregation, I mostly see familiar faces. What is it that brings you back here to St. Clement’s, Sunday after Sunday?

While reflecting on today’s gospel reading,[2] I identified four factors that collectively explain why I personally return to St. Clement’s Sunday after Sunday. They fit the mnemonic ABC and F, like the familiar grades, except that the goal is to journey from A, B, and Cs to F.

A stands for acceptance. Here, I feel welcomed as who I am, without a need for pretense. In our liturgy, acceptance connotes God’s affirming love and embrace. Over time, I’m becoming part of the parish community. I hope, and pray, that your experience at St. Clement’s is similar. Incidentally, new attendees participating in today’s newcomer’s brunch offers an opportunity to experience that acceptance, community, and affirmation.

Nobody screened the crowd that gathered on the shore of the Sea of Galilee to hear Jesus. Not only was there no security screening, people were not excluded because of education, wealth, gender, ethnicity or religion. The gospels depict Jesus interacting with illiterate peasants and affluent lawyers, both women and men, Samaritans, Syrians, and others, Gentiles as well as Jews. We are called to follow Jesus’ example in genuinely welcoming all, even if we do it imperfectly.

B connotes beauty, pointing also to the joy, hope and sense of wonder that beauty evokes. The Sea of Galilee and the surrounding countryside, even today with the land browner, more barren and drier than in Jesus’ day, is beautiful. I cherish vivid memories of eating fresh, grilled St. Peter’s fish lakeside, watching boats on the lake and people fishing. At least some in the crowd who gathered to hear Jesus teach would have noticed the setting’s natural beauty.

The Episcopal Church generally values beauty, preferring to have beautiful buildings, liturgy, music, vestments, altar vessels, etc. I’ve conducted worship in unusual settings such as a WW2 Quonset hut, aboard a ship, and out in the field using a Humvee’s hood for an altar. But when I conduct worship in a magnificent Christopher Wren chapel, such as the one at Greenwich Royal Naval College in London – even with its elevated, rickety wooden pulpit, or here at St. Clement’s, the setting helps greatly. Our aesthetic sense is one dimension of the human spirit. Enhancing the beauty of the setting, the liturgy, the music, and so forth, helps to create a “thin place” where discerning God’s presence is easier.

C stands for compassion, broadly defined to include both mercy and justice. Jesus attracted people partially because he healed the sick, embraced the outcast, saw beauty in persons society regarded as ugly, and fed the physically and spiritually hungry. Vibrant, growing congregations consistently seek to respond to the needs of the people in their neighborhoods with the love that gives life, promotes justice, liberates, and heals.

Years ago, the captain of a Greenland whaling vessel had a strange experience. One evening, icebergs trapped his ship near the Arctic Circle, and he decided to cast anchor until morning. As the day dawned, he sighted another ship dimly visible through the morning mist. The captain and some of his men in a small boat rowed around icebergs to the mysterious vessel. Boarding, they discovered every crew member dead and frozen stiff. Some lay in their hammocks, others on the deck where they had fallen. The captain was sitting at a table as if writing in the logbook. The log’s last entry, on which the captain's lifeless finger rested, indicated that the ship had been drifting around the Arctic Ocean for 13 years.[3]

Although there are Episcopal churches frozen in time, with no meaningful effort to love anyone, thankfully this parish has numerous initiatives designed to love our neighbors locally and globally. These include programs to feed our hungry neighbors and actively campaigning for Palestinian rights, prison reform, and ecological justice.

Acceptance, beauty, and compassion can be found in the Lion’s Club, social groups, or even a political party. Those are good organizations, but insufficient. I return to St. Clement’s week after week because here I meet, converse, and journey with people on a faith journey toward that mystery we call God. British theologian and philosopher John Cottingham argues that what brings “people to God is not intellectual debates about the transcendent, but the immanent aspects of religion--the transformative power of religious ideas and practice in our human lives and experience."[4]

In the gospel reading, when Jesus finishes teaching, he directs the boatmen to put own to sea again and cast their nets one last time. In spite of unfavorable circumstances – no catch all night, too late in the morning for good fishing – the crews haul in nets full of fish. Astounded, they recognize God’s presence in that moment and in their morning experiences. Repeatedly experiencing God’s presence and activity in their midst attracted the disciples and the crowd to Jesus. Neither acceptance, beauty, nor compassion keeps me, and maybe you, returning to St. Clement’s Sunday after Sunday. Instead, its discerning, even if only occasionally, the light of God’s loving, transformative activity in our midst.

Jesus instructs his disciples that from now on they are to cast their nets for people, not fish. We are the successors, the spiritual descendants, of those disciples. Yet, according to one study, the average Episcopalian invites somebody to church only once every 27 years.[5] We may as well have an unlisted phone number, given that nationally 75-80% of new church members begin attending because someone invited them.[6]

May whatever brings and keeps you returning here – whether the acceptance, beauty, compassion, and shared faith journey that drew me to St. Clement’s or other reasons – also become a catalyst used by the Holy Spirit to move us to reach out to the spiritually hungry, the broken, and victims of injustice who surround us. Amen.

Sermon preached the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 10, 2019, in the Parish of St. Clement, Honolulu, HI

[1] The Lutheran, Aug. 1993, p. 63.
[2] Luke 5:1-11.
[3] George E Knowles., A World to Love (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1990), p. 265.
[4] John Cottingham, The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 112.
[5] The Rev. Christopher C. Moore, “10 Operating Principles of the Church,” The Living Church.
[6] David Kalvelage, “Pretty Nice Folks,” The Living Church, 12 March 2000, 11.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Some musings on moral responsibility

From the window behind the computer at which I write Ethical Musings, I can see the busy intersection at which a speeding driver last week killed three pedestrians and injured five other people. He was fleeing police who had sought to stop him for a prior traffic violation; police also think that the man was driving while intoxicated. Nine lives were inalterably changed, including that of the perpetrator who was seriously injured and now faces multiple manslaughter and other criminal charges.

From late December to early April, I occasionally see humpback whales apparently cavorting and spouting. When whales are spotted offshore, small boats and the two vessels that thrice daily take people out for an excursion and meal at sea congregate. Federal regulations mandate that boats stay a prescribed distance from whales and not otherwise interfere with the whales. Of course, the whales don’t know the federal rules and may violate those rules by approaching a stopped boat too closely. And, the truth is that nobody knows what a whale thinks. From a whale’s perspective, at what distance will a boat not interfere with a whale? Do whales sometimes enjoy humans?

A common thread – responsibility – links those two diverse views.

Determining the drunken driver’s individual responsibility requires ascertaining whether the driver is an alcoholic, a person addicted to alcohol who cannot control her or his drinking. If an alcoholic, then the driver suffers from a disease. One of the twelve steps toward recovery is to take responsibility for those the alcoholic has harmed, including himself. Yet castigating the driver, if he is an addict, for alleged immoral behavior (driving while drunk) may impede rather than aid the driver’s progress toward sobriety. Multiple convictions for driving under the influence is one indicator that points toward addiction. The addict, in any event, must take responsibility for his or her recovery. Being sick is not an excuse for refusing to get well. Alcoholism is a treatable disease.

If the driver is not an alcoholic, determining responsibility is simpler: the driver acted irresponsibly in drinking excessively and then driving while intoxicated. Clear evidence shows a substantial link between driving under the influence and harming others.

In both sets of circumstances, our criminal justice system appropriately holds the driver accountable for his actions. Too often, people regard accountability as the first step toward punishment. More helpfully, accountability is the first step toward treatment for the addict and prevention of further episodes of drunk driving by the addict and non-addict alike. Learning that actions have consequences is vital in either case.

Incidentally, imprisonment in Hawaii costs between fifty and sixty thousand dollars per year per inmate. The median income in Hawaii is about fifty thousand dollars per year. Imprisonment that serves no preventive or deterrent purpose is a costly error because no punitive sentence – imprisonment, execution, or anything else – can restore those killed to life or those injured to their pre-accident health. Tax dollars spent on punishment may help victims or their families to feel better, but have few if any benefits for the larger community. Tax dollars spent on restorative justice benefit the offender, victims and their families, and the larger community.

Determining human responsibility with respect to whales is much more difficult. Humans cannot speak to whales. Thus, knowing what a whale thinks or feels is impossible. However, scientific research is expanding our knowledge of actions, intentional or unintentional, that may harm whales and how to avoid those actions. Regulations directing vessels to maintain a theoretical safe distance from whales illustrates an effort to be ecologically responsible in spite of incomplete, sometimes inaccurate information.

Limited information and wisdom (knowledge of how to live well) similarly effects good faith efforts to make responsible decisions about many things, e.g., parenting and the potential harms/benefits of new products.

So, what is moral responsibility?

Moral responsibility requires some degree both of awareness that an act is wrong and of ability to avoid that action. In retrospect, I know that painting the exterior of houses with lead paint was environmentally hazardous. At the time, I had no such knowledge nor was that information commonly available. I could have refused to use lead-based paint, but that would have bewildered my customers and cost me at least some of the jobs I had sought. Alternatively, as a Navy chaplain on active duty, I believed at the time, and continue to believe, that some Navy policies were wrong. However, even though I raised my voice in protest, I had no power to change those policies. By staying in the Navy, I may be morally complicit in those policies (e.g., the Navy’s prior policy of discharging gays) but am not morally responsible for those policies.

Abundant living entails pausing to reflect on ordinary and extraordinary occurrences.

·       For what actions am I clearly morally responsible? In those situations, what can I do to act more morally?

·       For what actions am I morally complicit but not personally morally responsible? What, if any, steps can I take to become less complicit or to change the situation such that it results in more moral outcomes?

·       For what actions do I lack moral autonomy? What steps can I take to become more autonomous and then choose a more moral path? (One immense difficulty is that humans generally lack sufficient self-awareness to know when one has autonomy and when one’s choice is determined by genetics, nurture, and other factors entirely beyond one’s control.)

·       For what actions do I have incomplete or perhaps inaccurate information, causing me to make poor or even immoral choices? How can I, if it is possible, obtain better, more complete information? (Humans generally cannot foretell the future to know with certainty the future consequences of an action taken in the present.)

Always, I remember Jesus’ words: Go and sin no more. I wish life were as simple as that exhortation seems to suggest!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

And the walls came tumbling down

The title of this post is adapted from a children’s song about the battle to capture the city of Jericho during the invasion of the promised land by the Israelites under Joshua’s leaderships. According to the story recorded in the sixth chapter of Joshua, priests, at the Lord’s command, blew their trumpets after the people had circumambulated the city and then its wall collapsed.

Whatever else one may garner from that story, the story poignantly reminds us in the twenty-first century that for three thousand plus years, people have known that walls cannot guarantee their security.

Nevertheless, President Trump continues to push aggressively for building a wall on the southern U.S. border, a wall that will, in his words, “stretch from sea to shining sea.” Trump used “Build the wall!” as a highly effective campaign slogan, repeatedly promising to force Mexico to pay for the wall.

Trump, inadvertently, was correct. Mexico is paying for the wall. That is, Mexico is footing the bill for hosting several thousand putative asylum seekers from Latin America who have converged on the border hoping to obtain asylum in the U.S. Contrary to prior practices, these asylum seekers are now refused entry into the U.S.; they register with U.S. border authorities and then await adjudication of their claim to asylum in Mexico. Concurrently, the number of asylum seekers at the border who claim to have fled their country of origin in fearing for their lives grows almost daily.

Trump, however, repeatedly errs in his comments about the need for the wall. The preponderance of illegal drugs passes through secure ports of entry, not through unprotected parts of the border. Very few of the asylum seekers at the border are violent criminals or members of gangs. No crisis exists at the border. Indeed, the numbers of illegal immigrants crossing into the U.S. is dropping.

Facts matter. What might have happened had the priests blown their trumpets before the people circumambulated Jericho the stipulated number of times? Rational people, sharing common values, may differ about proposed policy ukases. Nonetheless, agreement about facts provides the essential foundation for the civil discourse without which democracy becomes impossible. Constructively ending the debate about how to secure the southern border of the U.S. will require Congress ignoring the President’s incendiary bombast and instead focusing on actual facts and widely shared values.

Trump shutting down the government (he has repeatedly accepted ownership of the shutdown) in an attempt to coerce Congress into funding a border wall was not only ineffectual but also immoral.

First, the shutdown de facto punished the government employees who were not paid on time, many of whom had to work in dangerous jobs, and the contractors who lost business. Inflicting harm on a third party to achieve one’s goals is always immoral.

Second, the shutdown punished the people who benefit from the services that the shutdown interrupted. This includes most citizens. Again, inflicting harm on a third party to achieve one’s goals is always immoral.

Third, the shutdown reflected Trump’s anti-government sentiments. He demeans those who pay taxes, what the economist John Kenneth Galbraith famously called “the price of civilization.” Essential government functions include not only national defense and enforcement of the laws, but also ensuring that food is safe to eat, medicines are safe to use, reliable weather forecasts are provided, a safety net to ensure the survival of the most vulnerable, etc.

Probably no one would argue that every dollar the government spends is well spent. Yet examples of government waste are almost always in the six or seven figures, i.e., less than ten million dollars. Even if government waste totals one billion dollars annually, that is less than one tenth of one percent of all federal spending. That’s a pretty good testimony to the fiscal stewardship of government employees, especially when one recognizes that a substantial portion of the waste is attributable to Congressional mandates, i.e., pet projects of individual members of Congress. Additionally, some government “waste” is in the eye of the beholder, i.e., citizens rightly differ on what is or is not worthwhile.

The best hope for positive outcomes from the recent government shutdown are (1) current efforts in Congress to enact legislation designed to avoid future shutdowns and (2) the start of bipartisan conversations about border security policy and funding that is not mired in sloganeering and “alternative facts.”

If those positive outcomes materialize, we can rejoice that some walls have actually come tumbling down!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Daring to walk on

Recently, I attended a concert consisting of only Beatles’ music. What struck me as I listened to two hours of their music was how pervasiveness the theme of loneliness was.

Some subsequent research taught me the evolutionary value of people feeling lonely, that loneliness is a serious health threat, and that, as often heard without documentation, loneliness is on the increase:

Evolutionary psychologists say the lonely feeling developed to alert humans—social animals who rely on each other to survive—that they were too close to the perimeter of the group and at risk of becoming prey. … Researchers at Brigham Young University studying the correlation between social relationships and mortality did a 2010 meta-analysis of 148 studies encompassing more than 300,000 participants. They found loneliness was as strong a predictor of early death as was alcoholism or smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it was a stronger predictor than obesity or a sedentary lifestyle.

The rate of loneliness in the U.S. has doubled in the past 30 years, says John T. Cacioppo, a psychologist and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience at the University of Chicago, who studies loneliness including analysis of several large studies. These days, he estimates, some 40% of Americans report being lonely, up from 20% in the 1980s. Why are we experiencing more loneliness? Many more American adults live alone than ever before, with the percentage of one-person households rising to 27% in 2012 from 17% in 1970, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As baby boomers age, they are dealing with more solitude and seclusion. And, to be frank, many of us spend way too much time behind electronic screens and not nearly enough on our real, in-person connections. (Elizabeth Bernstein, "When Being Alone Turns into Loneliness, There Are Ways to Fight Back," Wall Street Journal, Nov 4, 2013)

Of course, not all Beatles’ songs are about loneliness. But in one of the less upbeat musicals that Oscar Hammerstein wrote, Carousel, there is the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with these lyrics:

When you walk through a storm,

Hold your head up high,

And don't be afraid of the dark.

At the end of the storm is a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain,

Though your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart,

And you'll never walk alone

You'll never walk alone.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus parting words to his disciples are “I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19) This promise is about God, not about Jesus. Humans inevitably die, leaving loved ones behind. Only God is ever present, embracing all creation.

Yet, if we are honest, God’s presence at times will feel distant, perhaps even unreal. In those moments, walk on. Walk on with hope in your heart that you will encounter another person who, although they cannot in any way replace the person who is no longer there, can initiate a new friendship in your life.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart that the God in whom you once trusted is still with you. Though you are blind, deaf, and insensitive to that presence, trust that in the beauty of a new dawn, which inevitably follows night, the sun will shine, the rain will end, and the lark will sing.

Faith is not believing a creed or other set of theological propositions, but the courage to walk on, walking on with hope in your heart that you are loved and that your life has meaning.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart, confident that you are a beloved member of God’s family.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist

One test that biblical scholars use to determine the historicity of gospel passages is whether the passage would have embarrassed early Christians. If so, scholars tend to accept the incident as historical. They presume early Christians, like most people, preferred to remember what flatters rather than embarrasses.

Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist might have embarrassed early Christians for two reasons. First, John’s baptism, in part, symbolized a person being cleansed or forgiven of her/his sins. Yet many early Christians, advocating what would become the orthodox Christian view, believed that Jesus was without sin. This view, contested in some of the gnostic gospels, is explicit in both the epistle to the Hebrews[1] and parts of our liturgy. If without sin, why would Jesus choose to be baptized by John? Second, John was a political rabble rouser subsequently beheaded by Herod. Yet as Christianity progressed toward becoming the Roman Empire’s established religion, Christian leaders increasingly sought to portray Christianity as supporting the political order.

Nevertheless, early Christians regarded John’s baptism Jesus as sufficiently important to include it in the gospels.[2] So, why is Jesus’ Baptism important?

First, Holy Baptism is not only about forgiveness but also, and perhaps more significantly, about initiating or incorporating new members into the Church, the Body of Christ. The 1950s discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and archaeological evidence about the Qumran community that owned those scrolls provide vital but previously missing historical context for understanding Christian baptism and its theology. First century Jews “revered water for its liminal qualities, believing it had the power to transport a person or object from one state to another: from unclean to clean, from profane to holy.”[3] They baptized individuals to symbolize not only forgiveness from sin but also to incorporate the baptized into their community. Contemporary Jews still use ritual baths for those same purposes.

The Book of Common Prayer’s liturgy for Holy Baptism describes baptism as a symbolic cleansing from sin – the water is an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace – and as God adopting the baptized person into God’s household.[4] Adult candidates for baptism may find the symbolism of forgiveness and cleansing most powerful. In the early centuries, individuals occasionally postponed their baptism until death approached, wrongly fearful that God’s forgiveness was most liberal or assured in Holy Baptism. One little known reason that Episcopalians, like most Christian traditions, rarely immerse people in Holy Baptism is that battlefields were often arid places. Dying soldiers sometimes wished to receive the sacrament; Christian theologians responded by deciding that water’s symbolism rather than the quantity of water conveys God’s grace. For other adults and the parents of children, diminishing belief in both hell and original sin condemning the unbaptized to hell mean that the theme of adoption into God’s family is frequently Holy Baptism’s most important aspect.

Multiple centrifugal forces, including the internet and political polarization, today erode community, isolating individuals and increasing loneliness. Christian community is perhaps more important than ever before. One current debate in the Episcopal Church is whether an unbaptized person may receive Holy Communion. On the one hand, we want to be an open and inclusive church. On the other hand, we gather at the altar as the people, the family, of God in Christ's name. Holy Baptism is the source and declaration of our Christian identity, a child of God who intentionally tries to walk the Jesus path. Parenthetically, if you wish to be baptized, your clergy will happily assist you.

Second, we practice baptism in obedience to Jesus’ teachings and example. In this, we emulate his example of obeying John the Baptist’s prophetic call. Be warned: following Jesus is dangerous. John the Baptist was beheaded. Jesus was crucified. Following Jesus challenges us to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, to return good for evil, to prioritize God over worldly idols.

German Lutheran pastor H. P. Ehrenberg was instrumental in establishing the "Confessing Church," the group that refused to capitulate to Hitler’s takeover of Germany’s established Lutheran Church.[5] Every Thursday evening, people from Ehrenberg’s church met to immerse themselves in the tradition and in the classic creeds and Reformation confessions of faith. He called those meetings a "rehearsal" for whatever might be coming: "We came to realize that instruction itself already contains the seeds of fellowship, of true community. In our case it was as important as the final rehearsal of the orchestra: a sort of 'performance before the performance.'"

Ehrenberg in his autobiography describes something that took place at a summer camp for teenage girls. A "united service" for Catholics and Protestants was held in a room dominated by a large picture of Hitler hung on a wall. A young Lutheran girl, recently confirmed, could take it no more. She tore down the picture and smashed it against the wall, shouting, "Thou shalt have no other gods but me."

The remarkable thing was not that she smashed Hitler's picture, nor even that she had the courage to confess the First Commandment, but her preparation beforehand to do both.

Jesus’ baptism reminds us to prepare ourselves – to rehearse our identity as a Christian member of God’s family and to practice walking in Jesus’ footsteps. We prepare, we rehearse, by attending worship, receiving Holy Communion, participating in an education or formation program, actively supporting an outreach ministry, loving an unlovable co-worker or neighbor, or otherwise re-enacting some aspect of the gospel story. Then when the time of testing comes, we like the girl who smashed Hitler’s picture, will discover the love, grace, and strength to say no to temptation, to put the well-being of another ahead of selfish aims, to walk with humility and honesty instead of arrogant dishonesty, and to follow God’s leading.

May we become such a people, a living community of Christ's saints. Amen.

Sermon preached on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Parish of St Clement, Honolulu, HI, January 13, 2019

[1] Hebrews 4:16.
[2] Luke 3:21 and parallels.
[3] Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Random House, 2013), Kindle Loc. 1485-90.
[4] Book of Common Prayer, pp. 299ff.
[5] H. P. Ehrenberg, Autobiography of a German Pastor (London, 1943), pp. 48, 50, 64.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The opportunity of numerical decline

Management guru and bestselling author Jim Collins has spent years studying “How Great Companies Turn Crisis into Opportunity” (Fortune, February 2, 2009, pp. 48-52). In doing so, he unwittingly identified three critically important factors for helping the Episcopal Church to reverse its current decline.

First, Collins notes that great companies remain firmly attached to their moorings. For example, great manufacturers do not pinch pennies by substituting inferior raw materials. The ecclesial version of this comment is that the basics – great worship, powerful music, reliable childcare, inclusive pastoral care, safe and clean facilities – are non-negotiable essentials. Looking to reverse numerical declines with “quick fixes” borrowed from other liturgical traditions will confuse communicants and ultimately fail. Instead, the Episcopal Church should concentrate on being who it is and doing what it does as well as possible. Skeptics should recall Robert Webber’s book, Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail, which recounts the journey of many who want to share our tradition.

Second, Collins emphasizes that in times of crisis great companies focus on their employees. The Episcopal Church must focus equally on its clergy and laity. Concern about a clergy shortage should never prompt the Church to lower its education or ordination standards. Studies repeatedly show that inferior or ill-prepared clergy leadership bodes ill for a parish and that thriving congregations invariably have superb clergy leadership.

The Church, however, should avoid confusing ends and means. The end is superb clergy. The means – how the Church identifies and educates those clergy – can benefit from continual improvements. Debates, for example, about whether seminaries over-emphasize academic preparation to the detriment of spiritual formation or acquiring practical skills are especially necessary with diminished financial resources. New models of ministry to maximize the value of each clergyperson’s service (team ministry, yoked parishes, etc.) similarly need exploration, refinement, and implementation.

The Episcopal Church tends to overemphasize clergy at the expense of its laity. Clergy too often reserve for themselves what they regard as highly rewarding tasks, relegating the rest to the laity. A few tasks (e.g., celebrating Holy Communion) require ordination. However, laity and clergy alike can perform most ministerial tasks: visiting the sick, offering pastoral counsel, teaching the faith, organizing programs, etc. With scarce resources, volunteers are more important than ever. They, like clergy, need effective recruiting and screening as well as excellent training and education. Expanding the ministry of a well-equipped, well-supported laity minimizes costs while maximizing the Church’s impact. Focusing on enlarging and enhancing lay ministry multiplies clergy efforts – and the results of shared ministries – far more than any other alternative.

Third, Collins opines that the way to differentiate great talent from the rest is that great talent does not need managing. Applying this concept to the Church requires two behaviors that most clergy find seriously uncomfortable: delegating and functioning as part of a team. Our ordination pipeline for priests tends to produce “lone rangers,” clergy prepared for and focused on serving organizations with only one clergyperson on staff. Initial experiences as a curate in a multi-staff setting more often than not reinforce the pre-existing bias toward being a “lone ranger.”

Bishops and priests desirous of using the current crisis to move their organization toward greatness must develop the leadership skills to delegate effectively and to build teams of talented players where no teams now function. Building trust among staff and volunteers gives everyone the comfort and security needed for effective delegation. In the process of trust building, people mutually discover skills, competencies, and passions, and naturally form teams. Building trust takes time and effort, but the techniques are readily learned and the investment will repeatedly pay outsize dividends.

Jim Collins has observed, “One of the lessons we’ve learned is that turbulence is your friend” – but only if one is ready to face tough times. The Episcopal Church can no longer afford to cherish the illusion that its life and ministry are still and peaceful turmoil. If so, the Episcopal Church will slowly wither and die on the vine. Alternatively, drawing life from the vine, the Church can take these lessons about how to thrive amidst crises to heart and embrace its present turbulence, confident that its best days lie ahead.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Predictions for 2019

In 2018, I did not make any predictions. I’m resuming making predictions for 2019 for two reasons. First, people who do not learn from the past are widely thought to be condemned to repeating the past, not only those things they got right but also those things they got wrong. Reviewing predictions made a year earlier offers at least a limited opportunity to learn from the past.

Second, making predictions for the upcoming year orients my thinking to the future. The past is fixed. The present is happening. The future, however, is at least partially undetermined allowing individuals to exert some measure of influence over what happens. This possibility of effecting the future probably explains the popularity of New Year’s resolutions.

So, here in no particular order are my predictions for 2019:

·       US stock markets will fall more than 20% from their 2018 highs. The drop will result from a weakening global economy, trade wars caused by the US and other nations raising tariffs, oversupply of oil, geo-political uncertainty, rising interest rates, and other factors. Market returns, as measured by broad indices, will be near zero or negative.

·       President Trump’s enjoyment of chaos, erratic behavior, dishonesty, and narcissism will continue to destabilize US and world politics. He will persevere in regarding previously reliable allies as adversaries and former US adversaries as allies.

·       The loyalty of President Trump’s base will erode and his base diminish in size. Increased economic difficulties for Trump’s base stemming from his chaotic and ill-advised policies will produce this disaffection. Illustratively, contrary to his campaign promises, manufacturing jobs are not increasing, the effects of the tax cut were short-lived and small, healthcare will become less accessible (e.g., for older children and people with pre-existing conditions) and costlier, welfare will be less available for the unemployed and under-employed, etc.

·       President Trump’s legal problems will escalate. The US House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, will initiate more investigations and the Mueller’s investigation may issue its final report. The possibility of impeachment will grow but probably not occur during 2019.

·       Brexit will happen. Predictions of chaos will exceed the confusion that actually occurs. The UK will nevertheless hold general elections following the fall of the current Conservative government.

·       The US will tighten border security, especially with Mexico, but will not build a border wall along the southern border.

·       Trump, a man of few bedrock convictions, will find shifting toward the political center tempting as a means to achieve legislative results. A shift to the center will better align Trump with both houses of Congress.

·       Global warming will increase. Pertinent measures include a higher average temperature for the year, more extreme weather events, and sea level rise.

·       No major war will erupt. Military tensions between China and its Pacific neighbors will increase. Minor wars will continue on all continents except Antarctica and Australia.

·       The US opioid epidemic will continue uninterrupted. Opioid related deaths will increase.

·       US unemployment will gradually begin to increase as the decade long economic expansion slows and then begins to contract.

·       There will not be any major news stories regarding religion. The Roman Catholic Church, however, will continue to deal with its clergy sex abuse scandal. The world of religion tends to change very slowly, so this prediction is unsurprising.

What are your predictions for 2019?