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Topics - James_Gale

#1
I came across an article by British writer named Tomiwa Owolade. You all may find it interesting. Is (or will) something similar happen in the US?


Here's a link to the article:  Link


Here's the conclusion:


"In general, black British people are more than twice as likely to say religion is [color=rgb(27, 27, 27) !important]very important[/color] to them. Most black British believers are Christian. Yet the centrality of Christianity to black British identity is hardly spoken about. Saka treasures his music record and his football. But on Instagram, his name is not Bukayo Saka but "God's Child".
Christianity can accommodate tension. It is both radical and conservative: it proclaims the downtrodden will inherit the earth and it praises life-long monogamy. It incorporates the puritanical fervour of Leviticus and the ravishing sensuality of the Song of Solomon. Its central figure is both a man who was abused and spat on and crucified, like a slave, but also a figure of transcendent divinity. What can be more beautifully Christian than the fact its future in the bosom of what was once the largest empire in the world is now being sustained by communities it once colonised?"
#2
I have been listening to a Bible in a Year podcast produced by Ascension Press (a Catholic publisher).  The podcast host is Fr. Michael Schmitz from the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.  The podcast episodes comprise Scripture reading followed by some very general commentary. 


The commentary is not sophisticated or deep; there isn't really time for that.  In general, I have found the podcast to be a blessing.


However, when we got to Tobit, Fr. Schmitz offered an explanation as to why it and the other deuterocanonical books are missing from what he called "protestant" Bibles.  I found his explanation jarring.


Fr. Schmitz said that from 350 (Council of Rome) for 1200 years, "every Christian" accepted the deuterocanonical books as Scripture, inspired by God and on equal footing with the rest of the Bible.  (I guess that he didn't study St. Jerome.)  He said that then a "gentleman named Martin Luther came along."  According to Fr. Schmitz, during a debate, Cardinal Cajetan deployed 2 Maccabees to challenge Luther's views on purgatory and his supposed opposition to offering prayer for the dead.  (I believe that Luther's debating partner was Johann Eck, not Cardinal Cajetan.)  According to Fr. Schmitz, Luther responded by "ordering removal of [] seven books from Christian Bible."  In later episodes, Fr. Schmitz has repeated his claim that Luther "removed" or "ordered" the removal the deuterocanonical books.


Fr. Schmitz for some reason failed to mention that Catholics including St. Jerome and Luther's Catholic teachers in Erfurt had raised precisely the questions about the Deuterocanonical books as Luther raised.  Second, most remarkably, Fr. Schmitz is simply wrong about what Luther did and did not do.  He DID include the deuterocanonical books in his translation of the Bible.  They were included in nearly all so-called protestant Bibles (including the KJV) until well more than a century after Luther died.


Luther of course did question whether these books be treated like the rest of the OT books.  He did have low regard for 2 Maccabees.  It would be fair to make these points.  But Fr. Schmitz went much further.


I am writing for two reasons.  First, I am curious (perhaps our Fr. Michael can help me out) whether Fr. Schmitz's account is taught in Catholic seminaries and churches.  (I hope not.  It strikes me as the kind of argument that we second graders hurled at each other on playgrounds in the 1960s to prove that one church or other was better.  This kind of banter was decidedly ineffective at building bridges to closer communion.)  And second, I wonder whether anyone here has any wisdom regarding the proper role today of the deuterocanonical books in Lutheran practice.
#3
Your Turn / A Bit of Hope in the Middle East
August 13, 2020, 01:08:59 PM
Particularly in this year, any good news is worthy of note and at least cautious celebration.  As I'm sure you've all read, Israel and the UAE have agreed to the full normalization of relations.  Israel has agreed to suspend annexations in the disputed territories.  The UAE will help Israel reach normalization agreements with other Arab states.  President Trump and the US government played a role in negotiations. 


The agreement among Israel, the UAE, and the US is being called the Abraham Accord.


We all know that the landscape is littered with failed efforts toward peace in the Middle East.  Let's pray that the Abraham Accord proves to be a durable step in the right direction.
#4
Your Turn / Beirut—Mass Interrupted
August 04, 2020, 09:59:59 PM
I'm sure that the people of Beirut are in our prayers. For those who haven't seen it, here is a video of mass being said when the explosion came. The priest carries on through the first rumblings. But then bits of the ceiling start to fall:  link.


The priest reportedly is safe.
#5
Your Turn / Hagia Sophia--A Mosque Once More
July 11, 2020, 11:00:52 PM
I'm sure that you all have read that Turkey has declared that Hagia Sophia is a mosque once again, after having served as a museum since Attaturk's time.


According to press accounts, the Turkish government considers this is "a milestone in Turkey's rebirth as a powerful, Muslim nation after a century of misguided efforts to imitate the Christian West."  President Erdogan said that "the revival of Hagia Sophia is the harbinger of freedom of Al-Aqsa and the footsteps of Muslims emerging from the era of interregnum." 


Many have expressed dismay, starting with the Greek government.  The WCC and EU also have condemned the move.  I doubt that any of that will matter.


This will obviously not engender an era of good feeling in a region that for two-thousand years has been at the crossroad of cultures and religious practice.
#6
I haven't had time to digest the two opinions yet.  But the Supreme Court handed down two decisions today bolstering religious freedom.  One involved an exemption to an ACA-related mandate that employers include contraception coverage in their health insurance plans.  Little Sisters of the Poor v. PennsylvaniaThe other clarifies the scope of the ministerial exception to employment discrimination laws.  Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru


The first of these appears to be subject to further litigation over whether the federal government followed the Administrative Procedures Act when creating the exemption claimed by the Little Sisters of the Poor.  The second seems to be a pretty clear win for religious freedom, solidifying (and extending?) the holding in Hosanna-Tabor.
#7

Bishop Selbo today sent a letter to all NALC pastors regarding virtual communion.  You can read it here.


Here is the crux of Bishop Selbo's letter:

For the sake of the unity of the North American Lutheran Church and the greater Church catholic, for the purpose of allowing our own NALC Ministerium the time to think and pray through the implications, pro and con, of this significant change in practice, and for the greater purpose of ensuring that our witness to the world of the saving power of Jesus Christ, offered to us through His cross and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, is not divided, I request that we place a moratorium on the virtual sharing of the Lord's Supper, until we have allowed ourselves sufficient time to come to a thoughtful and prayerful and collective understanding around such an important and significant question.
#8
Your Turn / Advent/Christmas Services
December 03, 2018, 02:49:38 PM
In the upper midwest, the ELCA colleges (and some others) held their annual Christmas services this past weekend.  I am an alumnus of Gustavus Adolphus College and attended Christmas in Christ Chapel there (as about seven inches of snow fell outside).  A heavily edited version will be shown on public television as part of the Christmas rotation.  It will be nice, but the thematic elements likely will be lost or blurred.  C in CC almost always starts with a bit of the brokenness into which Christ came and comes. 


In any event, here's the whole thing.  I'm biased, but I think that it was beautiful, aesthetically and theologically.  Nothing should offend the theological sensibilities (at least much) of anyone here.   Enjoy if you'd like.  Here's a link to the program, if you'd like to follow along.


A couple of comments.  Christmas in Christ Chapel always ends with the congregation singling the same arrangement of O Come All Ye Faithful.  It's a rousing end, which elicits strong emotions from choir members and congregants in part because it links us across time.  Also, the director of the top choir (in the top left on the risers), Greg Aune, is retiring after this academic year.  Brandon Dean, who now directs the large Chapel Choir, will take over.  He sang at Luther College under the legendary Weston Noble. 
#9
According to the Metro New York Synod web site, Bishop McCoid will lead the synod on an interim basis. This strikes me as a very good choice, all things considered.
#10
The Supreme Court today granted certiorari in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case involving a baker who objected on religious and free-speech grounds to preparing a cake for a same-sex wedding.

The issue:

"Whether applying Colorado's public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment."
The Court will hear the case in the term starting in October.  Here's a link to the current docket sheet, which includes links to the briefs filed in conjunction with the petitioner's request for certiorari.

This will be fun.  My very early guess is that the bakers will win this case.  We'll know by this time next year!
#11
Your Turn / Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer
June 26, 2017, 10:22:30 AM
Here's the Supreme Court's opinion.  I haven't read it yet.  But by a 6-3/7-2 vote, Trinity Lutheran won.  Bottom line:  "The Department's policy violated the rights of Trinity Lutheran under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment by denying the Church an otherwise available public benefit on account of its religious status."
#12
I enjoyed Pr. Johnson's reflections on his Holy Land trip.  It all rings true and familiar to me.


I figured I'd toss in a few of my own random reflections, which may be of interest.  Or not.


First, I have driven all over Israel, the West Back, the Golan Heights, and Jordan.  I've walked the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, and Amman at all hours.  I have never felt unsafe.  On the contrary, I generally felt much more safe than I would in some areas of Washington (where I live).


Second, outside the chapel on the Mount of the Beatitudes stands a fountain with a plaque quoting from John, "Let anyone who thirst [sic] come to me and drink . . . ."  Next to the plaque was a handwritten sign warning, "Attention Water Not Potable."  I had to laugh.


Third, after visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, I attached myself to a couple of graduate students who were on break.  One was an American woman of east-Asian descent.  The other was an English man from Manchester, England.  They were planning to walk to the refugee area on the edge of Bethlehem.  The wall runs right along the area.  The painting on the wall was interesting and moving.  As the three of us walked back toward the center of town to catch the bus back to Jerusalem, we were stopped by a couple of Palestinian soldiers/officers.  They were probably not yet 20.  They asked us for our names and where we were from.  The young English man said that his name was Bilal, which also was one of the officer's names.  That officer's name also was Bilal.  He said to the Englishman, "You and I are both the same.  Both Palestinian."  The Englishman insisted that while his parents had been from Palestine, he himself was English, not Palestinian.  He was remarkably insistent.  I still don't know quite what to make of that.  But I found it interesting.


Fourth, Pr. Johnson mentioned a spot on the Golan Heights where you see silhouettes of military men.  I suspect that he was writing of Mt. Bental, which was an important site in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.  Just 60 km from Damascus, the view from the top is beautiful.  But gazing across the border into Syria, you can't help but think about what's going on there.  When I visiting in 2013, a group of Palestinian school girls were there.  As I sat looking over the landscape, these girls approached and offered me some of the snacks that they had brought along (mostly cheese wrapped in grape leaves and topped with olive oil).  I said "thank you" in Arabic.  They giggled and asked me questions in English.   


Fifth, in Nazareth, a couple old Palestinian Christians told me that they had long resented the Jews and the Israeli government.  But their perspective has changed as they feel squeezed out by their Muslim neighbors.  We all bring our own preconceptions to these conversations.  But as when traveling through the Balkans or Northern Ireland, I always try to keep my mouth shut and to listen.  Opinions such as this might sound harsh or bigoted.  But they don't arise in isolation.  We humans are tribal to a fault and are always able to find reasons to dislike the people who belong to a different tribe.
#13
Your Turn / FL Article -- "He was a sinner"
May 10, 2016, 03:07:58 PM
The May 2016 Forum Letter arrived in my mailbox today.  As I read Pr. Johnson's lead article, I thought about this part of the ritual used to mark the death of Habsburg emperors and high-ranking princes.  This ritual played out (for the last time?) in 2011 upon the death at 98 of Otto von Habsburg, the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary.  Much of the ritual surrounding the funeral very much focuses on the life and achievement of the deceased.  However, this ritual at a Capuchin Church in Vienna, has a different emphasis.


The person at the head of the procession knocks on the door three times.  Each time, the senior Capuchin asks, "who seeks entry"?  The person at the head of the procession first lists Prince Otto's many royal and aristocratic titles.  The old Capuchin responds, "We do not know him."  He does not open the church door.  The second time, the person at the head of the procession lists Citizen Otto's many impressive achievements and offices.  (He very much supported democracy and Austria's lead role in what is now the European Union.)  Again, the old Capuchin says, "We do not know him."  The church door remains closed.  The third time, the person leading the procession answers the question -- "Who seeks entry?" -- by saying "Otto, a mortal, sinful man."  With that, the Capuchin leader bids the party to enter into the church.

#14
Your Turn / Surviving Abortion
April 23, 2016, 07:19:33 PM
People who favor legal abortion seem to either (i) regard an unborn child as irrelevant to an absolute "right" of a woman to control her own body or (ii) delude themselves into thinking that the child is little more than a sub-human blob.  The few people who survive abortions provide a powerful witness that makes the "pro-choice" presumptions hard to maintain.  I find this young man's witness very hard to ignore.  If more targets of abortion were able to speak for themselves, it's hard to see how abortion "rights" could endure.  The linked video is well worth your time.
#15
Your Turn / Funeral Planning -- Sympathy For Pastors
April 20, 2016, 12:07:04 PM
I'm sure that you all get unbelievably odd requests relating to funerals (or weddings, etc.).  But this seems wrong on so many levels.
#16
Your Turn / Pope Emeritus On Justification And Faith
March 18, 2016, 11:03:53 AM
I ran across this article, which includes the transcript of an interview from last October with Pope Emeritus Benedict "on issues of justification and faith."  I thought that some of you might be interested.
#18
Your Turn / FL Blurb On Lutheranism In The Baltics
March 19, 2015, 09:28:45 AM
In the "Omnium gatherum" section of the March "Forum Letter," Pr. Johnson includes a blurb summarizing conclusions from a "Religion Watch" article on Lutheranism in the Baltic states.  As best I can tell, everything in the blurb is correct, or at least close to correct.  However, because of what is missing, the blurb may be misleading.


As a preliminary matter, painting even two of the Baltic states with one brush is risky, let alone all three.  Although the countries are small geographically and in population, these elbow-to-elbow neighbors are in important ways very different one from another in language and in culture. 


For example, Lutheranism has never had a strong presence in Lithuania, where Catholicism is dominant.  (According to census data, over 75% of Lithuanians self-identify as Catholic.  Fewer than one percent self-identify as Lutheran.)  The blurb (and presumably the article described by it)  therefore rightly emphasizes the other two countries.


The discussion of Estonia and Latvia is, I think, misleading in an important sense.  The blurb notes rightly that Lutheranism once "was the majority faith in Estonia and Latvia."  The blurb also notes rightly that "Lutheranism declined in numbers during the years of Communist rule."  However, the blurb gets things a bit wrong when it attributes this to the "immigration of Russians."  As the blurb notes, "there are now more Orthodox Christians in these nations than Lutherans."  (I've read some studies that conclude otherwise about Latvia, but the Orthodox certainly outnumber Lutherans in Estonia.)


If you dig a bit deeper, however, you'll see that much (almost certainly most) of the decline in Lutheranism is attributable to factors other than the presence of ethnic Russians and the Russian Orthodox Church.  According to a Eurobarometer study undertaken by the EU (linked here), as of 2005, only 16% of Estonians said that they "believe there is a god."  This is the lowest among all European nations.  By contrast, 54% of Estonians said that they believe in "some sort of spirit or life force" and 26% said that they believe in neither.  In Latvia, the numbers aren't quite as bad -- 37% believe in God, 49% in some sort of spirit or life force, and 10% in neither. 


In Catholic Lithuania, 49% believe in God,  36% believe is some sort of spirit or life force, and 12% believe in neither.  This is just below the overall EU average of 52% who believe in God.  (Latvia's numbers probably are better than Estonia's because Latvia has a Catholic presence that does not exist in Estonia.)


What European countries does Estonia look most like?  The Czech Republic and Sweden (where only 23% admit to believing that there is a god).


The report (at p. 11, if you're interested) summarizes the state of religious belief in Europe as follows:


"The results reveal some principal tendencies. The first being that there is seemingly a move away from religion in its traditional form - "I believe there is a God" - which seems to affect the Protestant countries, such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, as well as countries with a strong secular tradition such as France and Belgium. At the same time there is an affirmation of traditional religious beliefs in countries where the Church or Religious Institutions have been historically strong, notably, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and Ireland. In certain Eastern European countries, in spite of 40 or 50 years of communism, a strong attachment to religion emerges in Catholic countries such as Poland, Croatia and Slovakia. The third tendency is the development of a new kind of religion characterised by the belief that "there is some sort of spirit or life force". This new religion or spirituality is more marked in certain Protestant countries, such as Sweden or Denmark as well as in the Czech Republic and Estonia." 

#19
I came across this article, according to which the Vatican has given Eastern-Rite bishops in the US and elsewhere the authority to ordain married men to the priesthood.  As I understand it, the Eastern-Rite churches, like Orthodox churches everywhere, have always followed this practice in their native areas.  However, the Vatican has prohibited the practice by Eastern-Rite churches in areas within which the Latin Rite is dominant.  The concern, I gather, has been that the disparate practices could cause confusion among the Latin-Rite faithful and perhaps could cause resentment among Latin-Rite seminarians, who (with very rare exception) cannot be ordained to the priesthood if they are married.


I don't have any idea whether this change has significance outside the small confines of the Eastern churches. 
#20
As some of you may have seen, the US District Court in Utah ruled today that part of Utah's anti-polygamy law is unconstitutional.  The judge's opinion today is linked here.  An earlier, much more detailed ruling in the case is here.


The Court's ruling here is unquestionably just one, fairly small step.  As written, the statute provides that a "person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person."   (Notice the use of "he" to mean either "he or she."  For those wondering, this old statute is not implying that same-sex couples can marry.)  The court struck the words "or cohabits with another person" from the statute, leaving the rest of it in effect.  Bigamy, by the way, is a felony. 


The decision involved a challenge to the statue by a polygamous family that is on some reality show that I've never seen.  They say that they brought the case so that they could move to Utah freed from fear of criminal prosecution.  The Court based its ruling on its conclusion that the statute violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.  In other words, those whose religious beliefs involve polygamy have a Constitutional Right to practice it.


The State of Utah says that it will appeal.


For what it's worth, about 20 years ago, the judge who decided this case was part of the legal team on the other side of an antitrust case I worked on.  His name is Clark Waddoups.  He comes from an old-line Mormon family and is very connected to the main LDS church.  He is, or at least was, a conservative Republican, however than might apply here.


I am posting this today in part because I thought that some here might find the matter interesting.  But in addition, it's important for all of us to remember that the church will continue to face issues regarding family life and sexuality.  And the issues will not get easier. 


I have the sense that some in the ELCA supported the 2009 CWA actions in part because they were worn out and wanted to put sexuality discussions behind them.  At the time, many of us warned that the sexuality discussions were not about to end, irrespective of the outcome of the 2009 votes.  Secular culture would continue to push and the church would have no choice but to respond is some way.  In addition, some of us argued that the rationale underlying the 2009 action (to the extent that one exists) left no principled basis for opposing polygamy or other possible sexual partnerships.  I stand by that view.
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