Friday, June 26, 2015

Unprecedented Four SCOTUS Dissents Promise to Keep Marriage Debate Open

Today, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court of the United States announced a new constitutional right that requires all 50 states to license and recognize same-sex marriage.  In a rare show of disapproval, all four dissenting U.S. Supreme Court justices have issued independent dissenting opinions for today’s landmark case of Obergefell v. Hodges.

Today's SCOTUS decision does grave injury to the basic concept that the people—not the courts—make the law.  The Court has abruptly cut off the ongoing debate over the definition of marriage, unilaterally imposing its view of what’s good for society by suddenly discovering a new constitutional right that almost no one would have imagined just a few years ago.  The "separation of powers" most of us learned about in grade school is daily being undermined by executive fiat and judicial overreach.  It is time for all of us to remind our elected leaders that all governmental power ultimately resides in the consent of the governed—not in kings, dictators, or judges.

You can read the majority decision, and the four separate dissenting opinions, here.

Here are some excerpts from the dissenting justices, which show the level of alarm raised by this astonishing judicial act:

Chief Justice John Roberts:
"But for those who believe in a government of laws, not of men, the majority’s approach is deeply disheartening....  The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment.  The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.  The majority expressly disclaims judicial 'caution' and omits even a pretense of humility, openly relying on its desire to remake society according to its own 'new insight' into the 'nature of injustice.'"
In doing so, Roberts contends, the majority justices have usurped the role of legislators and ultimately of the people themselves:
"The majority today neglects that restrained conception of the judicial role.  It seizes for itself a question the Constitution leaves to the people, at a time when the people are engaged in a vibrant debate on that question.  And it answers that question based not on neutral principles of constitutional law, but on its own 'understanding of what freedom is and must become'"
Similarly, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito all object to what they consider a horrifically wrong-headed decision not because they personally disagree with same-sex marriage, but because they care deeply about the role that the U.S. Supreme Court is commissioned to play in our American republic. 

Justice Antonin Scalia:  
"The [majority's] opinion is couched in a style that is as pretentious as its content is egotistic.  It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of the Court to do so...  The stuff contained in today’s opinion has to diminish this Court’s reputation for clear thinking and sober analysis."
Justice Scalia also notes that at the time the Constitution’s 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868, “every State limited marriage to one man and one woman, and no one doubted the constitutionality of doing so.” 

Justice Clarence Thomas:  
"Our Constitution—like the Declaration of Independence before it—was predicated on a simple truth: One’s liberty, not to mention one’s dignity, was something to be shielded from—not provided by—the State.  Today’s decision casts that truth aside.  In its haste to reach a desired result, the majority misapplies a clause focused on 'due process' to afford substantive rights, disregards the most plausible understanding of the 'liberty' protected by that clause, and distorts the principles on which this Nation was founded.  Its decision will have inestimable consequences for our Constitution and our society."
Justice Samuel Alito:  
"Today’s decision usurps the constitutional right of the people to decide whether to keep or alter the traditional understanding of marriage.  The decision will also have other important consequences.  It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy.  In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women.  The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent."
From the standpoint of those who support the traditional definition of marriage, there is no way to put a positive spin on today's ruling.  It is just about as bad as it can get.  The Court has plunged our nation into a world where, as Justice Scalia put it, "the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court."

We should take no solace in any assurances that our religious liberties will remain safe.  They will not.  Justice Alito is prescient in his estimation of the effect of today's decision: "It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy."  We fool ourselves if we rest in the belief that we are safe from those who wish to outlaw the sincerely-held views of millions of Americans who know the truth about marriage.

As we see most clearly on days like today, it really DOES matter who we elect to office, especially those who appoint judges!

May God have mercy on the United States of America!
  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Report: ISIS Jihadist Converts to Christianity After Seeing Jesus in His Dreams

From here:
ISIS slaughters Christians and destroys churches while they establish their caliphate in Syria and Iraq. But one militant reportedly converted to Christianity after “a man in white” appeared in his dreams.

Gina Fadely, the director of Youth With A Mission Frontier Missions (YWAM), told The Voice of the Martyrs Radio Network one of their workers met a former ISIS fighter who murdered Christians, but converted after a dream:

“He told this YWAM leader that he had begun having dreams of this man in white who came to him and said, ‘You are killing my people.’ And he started to feel really sick and uneasy about what he was doing,” Fadely continued. “The fighter said just before he killed one Christian, the man said, ‘I know you will kill me, but I give to you my Bible.’ The Christian was killed and this ISIS fighter actually took the Bible and began to read it. In another dream, Jesus asked him to follow him and he was now asking to become a follower of Christ and to be discipled.”
Read the rest.
  

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pope Francis Encyclical Calls for Climate ‘Justice,’ Formation of Global Political Body

From The Guardian:
Pope Francis will this week call for changes in lifestyles and energy consumption to avert the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem” before the end of this century, according to a leaked draft of a papal encyclical. In a document released by an Italian magazine on Monday, the pontiff will warn that failure to act would have “grave consequences for all of us”.

Francis also called for a new global political authority tasked with “tackling … the reduction of pollution and the development of poor countries and regions”. His appeal echoed that of his predecessor, pope Benedict XVI, who in a 2009 encyclical proposed a kind of super-UN to deal with the world’s economic problems and injustices.

According to the lengthy draft, which was obtained and published by L’Espresso magazine, the Argentinean pope will align himself with the environmental movement and its objectives. While accepting that there may be some natural causes of global warming, the pope will also state that climate change is mostly a man-made problem.
Read the rest of the story here.
  

Saturday, June 06, 2015

NOAA Fiddles With Climate Data To Erase The 15-Year Global Warming ‘Hiatus’

From here:
 
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists have found a solution to the 15-year “pause” in global warming: They “adjusted” the hiatus in warming out of the temperature record.

New climate data by NOAA scientists doubles the warming trend since the late 1990s by adjusting pre-hiatus temperatures downward and inflating temperatures in more recent years.

“Newly corrected and updated global surface temperature data from NOAA’s [National Centers for Environmental Information] do not support the notion of a global warming ‘hiatus,'” wrote NOAA scientists in their study presenting newly adjusted climate data.

To increase the rate in warming, NOAA scientists put more weight on certain ocean buoy arrays, adjusted ship-based temperature readings upward, and slightly raised land-based temperatures as well. Scientists said adjusted ship-based temperature data “had the largest impact on trends for the 2000-2014 time period, accounting for 0.030°C of the 0.064°C trend difference.” They added that the “buoy offset correction contributed 0.014°C… to the difference, and the additional weight given to the buoys because of their greater accuracy contributed 0.012°C.”

NOAA says for the years 1998 to 2012, the “new analysis exhibits more than twice as much warming as the old analysis at the global scale,” at 0.086 degrees Celsius per decade compared to 0.039 degrees per decade.

“This is clearly attributable to the new [Sea Surface Temperature] analysis, which itself has much higher trends,” scientists noted in their study. “In contrast, trends in the new [land surface temperature] analysis are only slightly higher.”

Global surface temperature data shows a lack of statistically significant warming over the last 15 years — a development that has baffled climate scientists. Dozens of explanations have been offered to explain the hiatus in warming, but those theories may be rendered moot by NOOA’s new study.

NOAA’s study, however, notes the overall warming trend since 1880 has not been significantly changed. What’s increased is the warming trend in recent decades.

“Our new analysis now shows the trend over the period 1950-1999, a time widely agreed as having significant anthropogenic global warming, is 0.113 [degrees Celsius per decade], which is virtually indistinguishable with the trend over the period 2000-2014″ of 0.116 degrees per decade, according to the study.

The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “statement of two years ago — that the global surface temperature has shown a much smaller increasing linear trend over the past 15 years than over the past 30 to 60 years’ — is no longer valid,” the study claims.

But that’s not all NOAA did to increase the warming trend in recent decades. Climate expert Bob Tisdale and meteorologist Anthony Watts noted that to “manufacture warming during the hiatus, NOAA adjusted the pre-hiatus data downward.”

“If we subtract the [old] data from the [new] data… we can see that that is exactly what NOAA did,” Tisdale and Watts wrote on the science blog Watts Up With That.

“It’s the same story all over again; the adjustments go towards cooling the past and thus increasing the slope of temperature rise,” Tisdale and Watts added. “Their intent and methods are so obvious they’re laughable.”

Adjusting Good Data Upwards To Match Bad Data Seems Questionable’
NOAA’s updated data was also criticized by climate scientists with the libertarian Cato Institute. Scientists Richard Lindzen, Patrick Michaels and Chip Knappenberger argue the adjustments made by NOAA were “guaranteed to put a warming trend in recent data.”

Cato scientists also argued that NOAA’s new data is an outlier compared to other global temperature records, which overwhelmingly show a hiatus in warming.

It “would seem more logical to seriously question the [NOAA] result in light of the fact that, compared to those bulk temperatures, it is an outlier, showing a recent warming trend that is not in these other global records,” the three scientists wrote.

“Adjusting good data upwards to match bad data seems questionable, and the fact that the buoy network becomes increasingly dense in the last two decades means that this adjustment must put a warming trend in the data,” wrote Michaels, Knappenberger and Lindzen, who is a top climatologist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Scientists and climate experts skeptical of man-made global warming have become increasingly critical of temperature adjustments made by government climate agencies like NASA and NOAA. Skeptics charge that agencies like NOAA have been tampering with past temperatures to make the warming trend look much more severe than is shown in the raw data.

“It is important to recognize that the central issue of human-caused climate change is not a question of whether it is warming or not, but rather a question of how much,” they wrote. “And to this relevant question, the answer has been, and remains, that the warming is taking place at a much slower rate than is being projected.”

Georgia Tech climate scientist Judith Curry also chimed in, arguing that NOAA excluded extremely accurate sea buoy data in order to erase the hiatus in warming. Curry wrote that it “seems rather ironic, since this is the period where there is the greatest coverage of data with the highest quality of measurements — ARGO buoys and satellites don’t show a warming trend.”

“Nevertheless, the NOAA team finds a substantial increase in the ocean surface temperature anomaly trend since 1998,” she wrote. “This short paper in Science is not adequate to explain and explore the very large changes that have been made to the NOAA data set. The global surface temperature datasets are clearly a moving target. So while I’m sure this latest analysis from NOAA will be regarded as politically useful for the Obama administration, I don’t regard it as a particularly useful contribution to our scientific understanding of what is going on.”
  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Words and Phrases Remind Us of the Way We Word

Sent to me by e-mail:  Some of these expressions predate me by quite a few years, even decades.  But I love the classics:
Words and Phrases Remind Us of the Way We Word

by Richard Lederer

About a month ago, I illuminated some old expressions that have become obsolete because of the inexorable march of technology. These phrases included "Don’t touch that dial," "Carbon copy," "You sound like a broken record" and "Hung out to dry."  A bevy of readers have asked me to shine light on more faded words and expressions, and I am happy to oblige:

Back in the olden days we had a lot of moxie.  We’d put on our best bib and tucker and straighten up and fly right.  Hubba-hubba!  We’d cut a rug in some juke joint and then go necking and petting and smooching and spooning and billing and cooing and pitching woo in hot rods and jalopies in some passion pit or lovers’ lane.  Heavens to Betsy!  Gee whillikers!  Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat!  Holy moley!  We were in like Flynn and living the life of Riley, and even a regular guy couldn’t accuse us of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop or a pill.  Not for all the tea in China!

Back in the olden days, life used to be swell, but when’s the last time anything was swell?  Swell has gone the way of beehives, pageboys and the D.A.; of spats, knickers, fedoras, poodle skirts, saddle shoes and pedal pushers.  Oh, my aching back.  Kilroy was here, but he isn’t anymore.

Like Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle and Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, we have become unstuck in time.  We wake up from what surely has been just a short nap, and before we can say, “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle!” or “This is a fine kettle of fish!” we discover that the words we grew up with, the words that seemed omnipresent as oxygen, have vanished with scarcely a notice from our tongues and our pens and our keyboards.

Poof, poof, poof go the words of our youth, the words we’ve left behind.  We blink, and they’re gone, evanesced from the landscape and wordscape of our perception, like Mickey Mouse wristwatches, hula hoops, skate keys, candy cigarettes, little wax bottles of colored sugar water and an organ grinder’s monkey.

Where have all those phrases gone?  Long time passing.  Where have all those phrases gone?  Long time ago: Pshaw.  The milkman did it.  Think about the starving Armenians.  Bigger than a bread box.  Banned in Boston.  The very idea!  It’s your nickel.  Don’t forget to pull the chain.  Knee high to a grasshopper.  Turn-of-the-century.  Iron curtain.  Domino theory.  Fail safe.  Civil defense.  Fiddlesticks!  You look like the wreck of the Hesperus.  Cooties.  Going like sixty.  I’ll see you in the funny papers.  Don’t take any wooden nickels.  Heavens to Murgatroyd!  And awa-a-ay we go!

Oh, my stars and garters!  It turns out there are more of these lost words and expressions than Carter had liver pills.  This can be disturbing stuff, this winking out of the words of our youth, these words that lodge in our heart’s deep core.  But just as one never steps into the same river twice, one cannot step into the same language twice.  Even as one enters, words are swept downstream into the past, forever making a different river.

We of a certain age have been blessed to live in changeful times.  For a child each new word is like a shiny toy, a toy that has no age.  We at the other end of the chronological arc have the advantage of remembering there are words that once did not exist and there were words that once strutted their hour upon the earthly stage and now are heard no more, except in our collective memory.  It’s one of the greatest advantages of aging.  We can have archaic and eat it, too.

See ‘ya later, alligator!

After while, crocodile!
 

Monday, May 25, 2015

IRANIAN SPECIAL FORCES COMMANDER: ‘OBAMA HAS NOT DONE A DAMN THING’ TO FIGHT ISIS

The title pretty much says it all.  But there is more.
Iranian elite paramilitary force leader Major General Qassem Soleimani accused the United States of having “no will” to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and blasted President Barack Obama as not having “done a damn thing” to quell the terrorist insurgency. The remarks follow news that Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah is planning to increase its presence in Iraq to combat ISIS.
  
Oh, just peachy--Hezbollah increasing its presence in Iraq to fight ISIS!  That should make the region and the world a safer place (not!).   On this Memorial Day, we need to remember that the United States has been a powerful force for good in the world for more than 200 years; and where the US is absent, evil flourishes.  
  

Saturday, May 02, 2015

How to preach sermons that don’t suck

From the Covenant blog, where there is more.  (Be sure and read it all.)
Let’s be honest, most sermons today are terrible.  They are boring.  They ramble.  They sound like bad imitations of high school book reports.  Listening to a sermon today is often like listening to the teacher from the old Charlie Brown cartoons.  And I believe the reason why preaching has gotten so bad, particularly in liturgical churches, is rather obvious.  We do not have good preachers because we do not understand what preaching is for.

Like being a great cello player or a great center fielder, a great preacher is born with a certain degree of raw talent that then must be honed and trained in order for the preacher to reach his or her full potential.  But in liturgical churches in the contemporary West, we see preaching as less important than other aspects of ministry.  We assume that anyone can be a great preacher and that the honing of preaching skills ought to be relatively low on the clergy’s priority list, something to tend to once all the other fires are put out.  We reap what we sow.  We treat preaching like it is nothing, and thus it becomes nothing.

What I offer here are a few maxims on what makes great preaching.  They are culled from my own experience both as a preacher and as someone who listens to sermons.  I am no expert, and this list is nowhere near exhaustive, but it is a start. I hope that others will build on this.  “Faith comes through hearing,” Paul says (Romans 10:17).  It is no secret that the Church in the West is in decline, and I see no scenario for its revival that does not include a renewal of great preaching.
Read it all.
  

Friday, April 24, 2015

And it is good...

Someone asked a retiring seminary president what he was going to do with his time once he retired.  "Well, for one thing," replied the president, "I am looking forward to getting back to my book."  His friend looked surprised and said, "I didn't know you were writing a book."  "No," said the president, "I mean the one I was reading."

I have told that story a number of times because it fits my life to a tee.  I have spent 31 one years in graduate theological education, ten of those as a seminary dean/president.  For much of that time, I was involved in administration.  My PhD program required two minors (in my case, New Testament and Missiology) and even my major was a double major: Historical and Systematic Theology.  I have taught in all these areas, as well as Church History, Christian Spirituality, Liturgics, and Christian Education.  But it was never enough to concentrate on my subject area; I always had a concern for creating a learning environment, recruiting good faculty, providing the infrastructure to make learning possible.  So it was almost inevitable that, at some point, I would become a seminary president.  At the same time, being involved in administration has meant that I have missed being able to immerse myself in research and writing to the degree I would have liked.

Even though the last three houses where we have lived have had a study where I could work, it didn't prevent books, computers, and a work area from overflowing into the master bedroom.  In our current house, we devoted the room that could have been a study to other things, so our master bedroom now has two desks, three computers (1 PC, 1 Mac, and 1 Linux) and enough floor to ceiling bookcases to hold roughly 2,000 books.  It looks more like a large study with a bed in it than a master bedroom.  (I have a very understanding wife.)   The remainder of our books (more than half ) are on shelves elsewhere in the house or still stored in boxes because there isn't enough room to unpack them.  Of the books in the master bedroom, I have read slightly over half of them.  So I lie in bed sometimes and look at all the books and think to myself, "If I knew everything that was in all these books...  Wow!"

I didn't retire as a seminary president; I left and became rector of a very wonderful congregation.  I am blessed to have in this congregation three other Anglican priests (in addition to myself), a Foursquare Gospel minister, and a Lutheran pastor who is also a psychologist.  Then there are three professors (Fuller Seminary, Biola University, Trinity School for Ministry) who are members, and a fourth (from Westminster Seminary) who owns a condo in the area and worships with us when he is in town.  Then there are few more MDs and PhDs--in total I would guess that more than a quarter of the congregation has one or more advanced degrees.  If you were to think that makes us a stuffy or pretentious bunch, you'd be wrong.  The congregation (aptly named "All Saints") embraces everyone from the wealthy to the homeless, from high IQ individuals to the developmentally challenged, and is the warmest, friendliest, most welcoming congregation I know.

The transition from seminary president to pastor has been a very natural one in some ways and monumental in others.  I have been here 18 months, and it has taken me almost that long to learn to read again.  I mean really read--seriously, deeply, enjoyably.  Maybe I'll get to read the rest of the books I own after all.

My life today is far from devoid of academic pursuits:  I helped found the St. Benedict School for Ministry in the Diocese of Quincy, to make quality theological education accessible online.  In addition to teaching Church History and Theology, I am the Dean and President of the School.  I continue to serve on the boards of Anglicans for Life, the Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders (SAMS), and Anglican Frontier Missions, in addition to serving on the Commission on Ministry, the Diocesan Council, and the Committee on Constitutions and Canons in the Diocese of Quincy.  I served as one of the writers of the new Catechism for the Anglican Church in North America, and I currently serve on the ACNA's Ecumenical Relations Task Force and the Theology Working Group of the newly-appointed Task Force on Marriage, Family, and the Single Life.

(I didn't realize how busy I was until I typed that last paragraph.  No wonder I am tired sometimes.)

As a member of the ACNA's Ecumenical Relations Task Force, I wrote the paper on the Filioque (the phrase in the Nicene Creed translated as "and the Son") that was received by the College of Bishops and has influenced how the Filioque is treated in the Nicene Creed in the ACNA's Texts for Common Prayer.  For Forward in Faith North America, I wrote a paper entitled "An Anglican View of the Seven Ecumenical Councils that has been reprinted as one of their position papers.  Both of these papers are available at academia.edu.

At All Saints, our mission statement is: "Reaching Out With the Transforming Love of Jesus Christ."  We are exploring what it means to be a "place of healing" to all who come to All Saints and a "place of blessing" to those in the community around us.  By the grace of God, we are growing at a time when many congregations are finding that to be a challenge.

I am growing too--not always in the ways I would have chosen if it had been solely up to me.  But one of the challenges we all face in life is learning to "bloom where you are planted."  And again, by the grace of God, it is happening slowly but surely.  And it is good.
 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Islamic State uproots Christians who use the language of Jesus

From here:
BEIRUT — Suhail Gabriel was in bed when Islamic State militants stormed his village in eastern Syria, firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.  Gabriel rushed his wife and daughter onto his motorcycle and sped through the early-morning darkness, he later recalled.

“We left in our pajamas,” Gabriel said. “We didn’t even have time to put on clothes.”

He was among the thousands of people from an ancient community of Christians, known as Assyrians, who fled 35 farming villages in Syria’s Khabur River area in February because of attacks by the extremist Sunni Muslim group.  The militants desecrated churches and religious symbols during the offensive and kidnapped about 250 of the Assyrians, including women and children.

Over the past decade, Assyrians have joined waves of Christians who have fled Syria and Iraq because of war and persecution by extremist Muslims.  But the latest attacks have added to concerns that this unique Mesopotamian people are in danger of disappearing from the region.

Assyrians in Iraq and Syria belong to the last communities of significant size to speak the language of Jesus: Aramaic. Many of Assyrians are being forced to move outside the Middle East, where it becomes less likely that the tongue will be maintained, said Eden Naby, a Middle East historian and expert on Assyrian culture.

Aramaic is the oldest continuously written and spoken language in the Middle East, she said. It was once also used by other religious communities, including Jews. “Assyrians remain the last Aramaic-speaking of people of the world. So the disappearance and displacement of these people pretty much spells the closing chapter of Aramaic use in the world,” Naby said.
Read the rest.
 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Archbishop: Anglican Conflicts Coming to a Denomination Near You

As I have been saying for a very long time...

From here:
An orthodox renewal leader in the Anglican Communion has warned that the pressures which divided his family of churches are on the doorstep of every other Christian Church.

“What the Anglicans are suffering is already, or will be, the fate of us all,” warned Archbishop Peter Jensen.  “Even evangelical and catholic denominations and movements will not be exempt in years to come.  Do not think that you are living in a safe haven.  You are not.”

The emeritus Archbishop of Sydney, Australia spoke March 18 at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania for the school’s eighth annual Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Lecture on Theology, Culture, and Mission. Jensen’s lecture was entitled “Beginning in Jerusalem: The Theological Significance of the 2008 Global Anglican Future Conference.” (GAFCON)

Speaking to an audience of mostly non-Anglicans, Jensen outlined the crisis within the third largest family of Christian churches, explaining why other Christians should take note, and what lessons they could bring back to their own Christian communities.

“This may all seem very remote to you,” Jensen noted.  “Your church home may be comfortably orthodox – but so fast is change coming and so massive are the forces at play that no one is safe.  You need perhaps to enter into our experience so that you can prepare yourself for what may come.  You too may need to form a new confessional fellowship.”
Read the rest.