Month of Sundays: Compassion

And Jesus went forth and saw much people, and his heart did melt upon them and he healed of them those that were sick. (Matthew 14:14, Tyndale)

Published in 1526, William Tyndale’s New Testament was the first New Testament to be translated directly into English from the original Greek. Originally from England, he was forced to flee to the Continent because his translation, not authorized by the new Church of England, was illegal. Ultimately he gave his life for his activity.

But his work was not in vain. His translation became the basis for every English translation for the next century, including the Church of England’s “Authorized” Version (better known as the “King James Version.”)

In many ways Tyndale’s translation, although eighty-five years older than the KJV, is more readable. The passage above is a good example of that: when Jesus saw the people and their difficult condition, his heart melted, and he healed their diseases.

That should give us an idea of how God feels about our condition: his heart still melts for the miserable state we are in. But we’re told that we’re now God’s servants. Does our heart melt when we lift our eyes and look around at the condition of those around us? Are we moved to act on God’s behalf to meet their need? Or do we, like those who passed by the man the Samaritan picked up, look the other way?

It’s true that every day we’re put on many “guilt trips” about doing good things for others. And it’s true that our desire to help others can be manipulated to a wrong purpose. But the fact remains that Jesus’ heart melted at the condition of those around him. If we claim to be his followers, ours should too.

When he was executed in 1536, Tyndale’s last words were, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.” That opening took place, for his translation at least. May God open our eyes too to the needs—spiritual and physical—of those around us, and make us swift to act!

Public Schools and Trade Unions: A Blast From the Past

In view of the massive demonstrations in America’s Heartland, and especially Michelle Rhee’s CNN article about breaking the iron grip of seniority on teacher hiring and retention, I’d like to repost this 2006 piece (which I wrote while on a superintendent search committee) on the role of the trade union in public education.

No discussion of American state education would be complete without placing the role of the National Education Association (NEA) and its affiliates at the centre of the conversation, even though most discussions don’t. The organisation’s political activities are well known and documented, but our main purpose is to focus on the NEA as a trade union, because our own labour relations experience suggests that one will learn a good deal more about them in this way.

Trade unions and the labour movement in general have always loomed large for me. Our family business was unionised for most of its incorporated existence, both in Chicago and in Chattanooga. I have sat across the table from both shop stewards and representatives from the local (and a federal mediator at one point) through three contract cycles and a good number of grievances as well, some of which went to arbitration.

But growing up in a world where the “dictatorship of the proletariat” seemed headed for triumph put special focus on the activities of organised working people. Reading works such as Émile Zola’s Germinal (and later Mao Dun’s Midnight) gave the impression of a militant labour force, prepared to use violence to get their way. Such presentations both inspired fear and to some extent romanticised trade unions.

The one and only strike against our family business took place before I came back full time, but I was in town to witness it. To see it was a shocking experience; instead of full picket lines and vandalised cars and property, what I saw was lawn chairs, makeshift awnings and barbecue pits, a pattern pretty typical with strikes in our area, at least. They didn’t even stand up with their signs! Such a sight was deceiving to some degree, because inducing the workforce to decertify the union was beyond our grasp, as is the case in many other companies.

The ostensible purpose of a trade union is to secure higher wages/benefits and better working conditions for their members. To a large extent unions have thrown away the latter through their political activities, something that has cost unions in the long run. But anyone who has dealt with a trade union will tell you that it is very difficult to “buy” one out through higher wages. The reason for this goes to the heart of the “non-economic” rationale of American trade unions. Beyond more money, there are two related reasons why organised American workers stick with trade unions.

The first is to eliminate “employment at will” from the workplace. In an “employment at will” situation, an employer can terminate an employee without cause. Getting rid of this is an obvious protection for the employees, and the trade union enforces this through the grievance process.

An important corollary to this is that no “self-respecting” (to use a favourite expression) union will voluntarily concede any form of merit in promotion and compensation in the workplace. This is shocking on its face, but the union’s logic behind this is simple: any form of merit contains subjective judgement of employee performance, and this leads in turn to favouritism. In addition to producing an unhappy workforce (and one vulnerable to being organised,) consistent favouritism and “politics” in promotion and compensation will kill a private company through degraded performance. In government situations, however, favouritism and politics are very much evident in the process, and the government is insulated from the effects of this by its coercive powers of taxation. This is the central reason why public sector unions are the largest constituent of trade unions in the US today: public employees are (or at least feel) more vulnerable to favouritism, and this in turn is a stronger motivation to organisation.

Unions, left to themselves, will always favour seniority and classification/job description as the method of choice in promotion and compensation. Over time, this turns the union into an advocate for its members with the higher seniority at the expense of those with less. This trend tends to run unions down as it becomes difficult to attract younger workers into the union.

We would be remiss if we did not mention some of the mitigating factors to this picture. Police and fire fighters, for example, will think long and hard if going strictly on seniority leads to having a partner who will let you down when life and death are on the table. Construction trade unions mitigate this through their worker training programs which seek to add the value of their members to their employers. (Their employment situation tends to be more unstable than other industries due to the cyclic nature of construction.) We simply want to identify the ideal goal of the unions and its rationale, all other things being equal.

The second goal is related to the first: the union wants to control the workplace, or the “shop floor” as we say in manufacturing. Doing so makes enforcement of the first goal considerably simpler. This is also designed to insulate the workforce from changes induced by the employer, which unions generally assume to the inimical to the interest of the membership. It is generally done through classification/job description and workplace rules.

With this goal the NEA has succeeded more than any other trade union in American history. To begin with they have not only organised the workers (teachers) but the “management” (principals and superintendents) as well. This is why, for example, the Tennessee Education Association lists on their website the salaries of not only the teachers but the principals and superintendents as well; they want to show how far these people have come with the union and to inspire them to go further. Experience teaches that union sympathies in supervision will always weaken management’s position vis a vis the union; having the membership this far up the hierarchy only accentuates this.

The NEA has been working on this a long time:

quote:


In his Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Richard Hofstadter shows that the abandonment of this philosophy (that education was to train the mind) and the substitution of a very different set of guiding principles (early in the nineteen-hundreds) coincided with a change in the leadership of the N.E.A. In the eighteen-nineties, college presidents and professors and headmasters of the élite private academies had more or less dominated the N.E.A. committees. But by the end of the eighteen-nineties the accelerating growth of the high-school population had brought the number of high-school teachers and administrators to a critical mass. Following the example of the university professors, the teachers organised their own, subject-related associations; they formed their own teacher-training colleges outside the regular university systems; and they took control of the secondary-school associations that existed. By 1910, the teachers and administrators had taken over the N.E.A. from the professors. The chairman of the 1893 Committee of Ten was, for example, Charles William Eliot, the President of Harvard; the chairmen of the later committees were, typically, teachers at manual training high schools. (Frances FitzGerald, America Revised New York: Vintage Books, 1980, pp. 170-171)


This quote—hardly from a right-wing partisan—shows that the NEA has not only managed to implant its membership from classroom to central office, but also has been able to establish its primacy in the educational (and ultimately the certification) process of state school teachers. This is why we consistently refer to the whole system of state school educators as a “closed circle,” one that not even university academics who are not “in the loop” themselves can penetrate.

All of this leads us to the obvious conclusion that no solution to the weaknesses of American state schools can take place without the involvement and cooperation of the trade union. The NEA is simply too well positioned in the system to be ignored or marginalised. This leads us to two important observations which will serve as our conclusions.

The first is that “workarounds” are only palliative in nature. This is based on experience as much as anything, but should be evident from the basic “union principles” outlined above. Magnet and charter schools (especially the latter) are not just for students with special interests and talents; they serve to upgrade merit in the teacher system. This is why the NEA and its affiliates oppose charter schools. Unfortunately workarounds like these will eventually be absorbed into the general system, and we will be “back to square one” in a few years.

The second is that the NEA needs to come to grips with the fact that it is facing a challenge as significant as their manufacturing counterparts faced with foreign competition. Although there is little danger that Americans will turn to foreign schools to educate their children, the long-term effects of inadequately prepared students will lead to the progress of other countries at the expense of the US. This will in turn lead to a lowering of our standard of living, which will reduce the effects of the hard-won gains of the trade union at the bargaining table.

The challenge is on the table. Will the NEA and other educational trade unions rise to the challenge? Their answer affects all of us. But the most important move is ultimately theirs.

Non-Compete Clauses for Churches

Just when you think you’ve seen everything in the Anglican Revolt, we have this:

There is a new twist in property settlements that forces fleeing orthodox parishes that wish to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church over faith and morals. They can keep their properties in a lease back arrangement, but the church cannot affiliate with an orthodox diocese or Anglican jurisdiction like the ACNA, AMIA or CANA.

The Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church announced the legal settlement with Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands (six miles south of Leesburg), following a congregational vote this past weekend. Our Saviour is one of nine congregations that sought to keep its church property after leaving the Episcopal Church in 2006.

Under the deal Our Saviour will lease the Oatlands church from the Diocese for up to five years and retain the parish funds it has on hand. Our Saviour will use a significant portion of those funds for maintenance and much-needed repairs of the Oatlands church. At Our Saviour’s request, the congregation will also retain several memorial items.

The real kicker, however, is that Our Saviour will also voluntarily disaffiliate from any connection to the Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America (CANA), the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). The parish also agreed that no bishop will visit the congregation without the permission of the Bishop of Virginia. (This means he will never approve of CANA Bishop Martyn Minns)

This tells me two things.

First, it’s a tacit admission that TEC is running out of money to sue seceding congregations to get their property back, and that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori knows it.  In that respect it’s a step forward from the “kill-kill-kill” mentality we’ve seen in the recent past.

Second, it’s a sign that a corporate mentality has taken over “815” (TEC’s headquarters).  Non-competes are common with departing employees, why not churches, you ask?

I suppose it is, in one sense, appropriate for a church with TEC’s traditional socio-economic make-up to adopt such a strategy.  But one would think that the whole concept of a left-wing, socially conscious church is to get away from corporate types and corporate tactics, to say nothing of the whole concept of church property as a centrepiece of one’s religion.  But there are many things that disappoint in TEC’s post-1960’s history, and this is just one more.

Month of Sundays: Asking

“Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done–on earth, as in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:10.)

My mother wasn’t in the best of moods that evening. As I prepared to leave her and my wife in the car and run in the grocery store, she gave me her orders:

“I want the greenest bananas in the place!”

That was easy: there were plenty of green bananas to choose from. The tricky part came after they got home. She wanted them to last on the counter for a while and they did…they never ripened! She eventually threw them out.

We come to God with a list. We’ve been told that, if we ask, we’ll receive. But we never ask the first question: “I wonder what God thinks of this…” We just make our demands and expect results.

But God is sovereign. He can say yes. He can say wait. He can say no. However, to really teach us a lesson, he can allow what we want to come to pass, and then we can suffer the consequences.

Our first task is to discover what God wants for us to do and be. That was Solomon’s secret: he first sought wisdom, and God rewarded him with great wealth and fame. Had Solomon reversed the order, he might have gotten…the green bananas. But he asked for God’s best first and was rewarded accordingly.

May we always first ask God for his best for our life, and then really listen for the response! He already knows what that is.

When praying, do not repeat the same words over and over again, as is done by the Gentiles, who think that by using many words they will obtain a hearing. Do not imitate them; for God, your Father, knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6: 7, 8 )

Civil Marriage: When the State Becomes God

Last week I posted a piece on why it’s important not to get too trimphalistic on the French rejection of same sex civil marriage.  That brought a long series of comments from “MichaelPS” who is obviously very familiar with French jurisprudence on this subject.  One of his observations was as follows:

It is significant that, in a country so committed to the principle of laïcité as France, no one has suggested that Carbonnier’s views, or those of the Court of Appeal, are either the result of religious convictions or an attempt to import them into his interpretation of the Code.

I think there is a reasonable explanation of this. It goes along with my contention that “…their (the French’s) “Cartesian” logic isn’t quite as Cartesian as they think!”

For much of its post-Roman Empire history, Europe did without civil marriage.  The church married people.  God married Adam and Eve without the assistance of the state, so why shouldn’t God’s church have the same prerogative?  In France, this overwhelmingly meant the Roman Catholic Church, a bête noire of all “enlightened” people.

When same illuminated got the upper hand in the French Revolution, they basically nationalised marriage.   Now people could not be or consider themselves married without the approbation of the state; clerics could not even act as agents of the state in the process, nor get ahead of it.  Le maire stepped into God’s place before the couple.  The state became God, in this way at least (and in many others as well, more so now than in the wake of the storming of the Bastille).

In doing this the progressively secular French state took a religious institution unto itself.  It should be no surprise that “religious convictions” infiltrate its defence of same institution.  Their use of paternity to defend the opposite sex nature of marriage, although based on Roman law, is congenial to defenders of “traditional” marriage on this side of the Atlantic as well.

This assumption of deity by the state is one of my main objections as a Christian to civil marriage.  With this understanding, I find it difficult to understand why Christians and others of faith are so intent on keeping the state’s hand on marrige.  Beyond becoming God, the state which can insitute marriage can redefine it to suit its own purpose.  It takes someone who is awfully triumphalistic to think that our secular governments can be expected to maintain a Christian definition of marriage.  After all, they certainly have bailed on a Christian view of divorce!

Some of you will say that this is all about the French.  And I must confess that I view many issues in life through a Gallic lens.  But the assumption of deity by the state isn’t restricted to the hexagon, it’s just easier to see there.

In the Anglophone world the drift towards civil marriage=marriage has been driven by a number of factors, not the least of which is the accomodation of religious dissenters, who recoil in horror at the thought of becoming man and wife (or doing much of anything else) in the confines of the state church.  The Americans really took things to a new level by totally unifying the act of civil marriage and Holy Matrimony, a practice they picked up from Calvin’s theocratic Geneva.  As befits the English speaking peoples, it’s a more desultory process and the appearances conceal the reality, but the result is the same.

But that’s the way the frog is boiled in old Albion and its progeny: put the frog in the pot and bring the temperature up slowly so that the frog doesn’t know what’s going on until it’s too late.  The French, on the other hand, bring the water to a boil, then throw the frog in and slam the lid on real fast.  The frog is just as dead one way or another, and that’s becoming the case with Holy Matrimony.

Month of Sundays: Introduction and Dedication

This coming Sunday I will begin featuring my devotional book, Month of Sundays.  I’ve already posted the first devotional on happiness; the rest will follow in sequence.  This post is a dedication and the introduction to the book.

Dedication

This work is associated with several “lasts” and yet another one is the object of this dedication.

Month of Sundays was my last book to be published by the Department of Laity Ministries of the Church of God, where I worked for 13 1/2 years.  The department was abolished with the 2010 General Assembly.  One of my colleagues there was Philip E. Day, who managed our bookstore and did many things to help get this book out.  Phil was a dedicated Christian who put shoe leather to his walk with Christ in a number of ways, as a faithful husband and father, working while living in Italy and later in Cleveland, TN, with the Church of God Ministry to the Military, and finally in his years at Laity Ministries.  Phil was a hard working, diligent person who was reliable in the extreme.

Phil passed away today from complications following surgery.  Although I’ve been planning serialising Month of Sundays for some time, I am dedicating this to his memory, not only as someone who helped get this into circulation, but also for exemplifying the virtues I feature in the work.

Introduction

If there’s one thing missing in the lives of Christian men these days, it’s a challenge. They’re expected to go to work, make a living, be a suitable husband to their wife and a father to their children, and on top of that support the church generously with their finances.

While such a life agenda is challenging enough, over time it becomes a routine. And any routine has two dangers. The first is that the routine becomes a formality and, inside, a man yearns for other things. The second is that a man allows that yearning to turn into a family-destroying quest from which there is no return.

A devotional book may seem like an unlikely vehicle for breaking this routine. But ultimately the spark for renewal must come from a man seeking deeper things. Where do I come from? Why am I here? How do I enter into a deeper relationship with God? All men, sooner or later, will take a journey, a voyage. But the voyage will only have a happy ending—for the man and those around him—if God is his helmsman.

These devotionals are designed to start the escape from the routine and set our course with God. Some are life lessons. Others are taken from the Bible and the world around it. Many first saw the light of day on my blog, Positive Infinity. But they are all designed to provoke thought, to provoke prayer, and ultimately to provoke action to further God’s kingdom on this earth.

There are thirty-one of these. My mother used to describe something that took a long time as taking a “month of Sundays.” Hopefully each of these will make reading them a little of the “Lord’s day” each day, preparing you for the long journey to eternal life.

May God richly bless you!

Don C. Warrington

School Sisters of Notre Dame: Choose Life

School Sisters of Notre Dame
Choose Life (Mark MC 4 329) 1976?

If you’re looking for an album that epitomises the guitar strumming, non-percussional style of music that dominated Catholic Masses during the 1970’s, it’s hard to beat this album. On top of that, the School Sisters (from Mankato, MN) perform in the cavernous, reverberant acoustics of so many older Catholic churches.

However uninspiring the description of the style and venue may be, this album comes off better than one might expect. It’s reminiscent of some of the albums the Word of God in Ann Arbor put out, but the multi-part harmony of the vocals is definitely a step above most of their counterparts elsewhere. In fact, those vocals do more to carry the album than just about anything else; they add “ear candy” and lift this album up very nicely.  Since I first posted this it has become one of my favourites.

SSND-CL-BackThe songs (for individual download):

  1. Alleluia! This Is The Day
  2. All You Who Thirst, Come!
  3. Choose Life
  4. Come Draw Water Joyfully
  5. Hymn From Colossians
  6. Hymn of Our Lady
  7. The Lord Has Come
  8. Prayer of Generosity
  9. Prayer of Tobit
  10. Psalm 131
  11. Psalm 139
  12. Sing Praise
  13. Song of A Servant
  14. We’ve Seen The Lord
  15. You Are Chosen

Or you can download the entire album.

The School Sisters have achieved more recent fame as the subjects of an extended study on Alzheimer’s Disease. The research found that the sisters were mentally acute and active into their nineties, even though a post-mortem revealed physical signs of the disease. Their life of prayer and activity–a life evidenced by this album–contributed to their long-term mental health.

The Ten Weeks: Week Ten (14-20 February): When God Touches Your Life, You Are Never the Same

The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is the last of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).

Click here for more information on the book, including the new e-book version.

“There are many unpleasant thoughts here,” James replied. “So let’s talk about the miracles.”

“You don’t believe in them,” Madeleine replied, defensively. “Carla’s church has already told her that they don’t. Is yours the same?”

“Absolutely not. We believe in miracles. I have seen them myself, prayed for them as well. We believe that you have done these things. What we don’t understand is how you did them.”

“You have not heard. . .I invoke the Trinity, pray in the name of Jesus Christ, usually put my aloe vera on them to anoint them when I can touch them. Don’t you?”

“Yes, but beyond that it is entirely different. Listen, we believe that the Holy Ghost is working the same way he did in the Book of Acts. It includes healings, casting out demons, all kinds of miracles. But we pray, we fast, we have altar services. Then we have many rules for our people for holiness: we do not drink, smoke, our women don’t wear jewellery or make-up of any kind, and we generally don’t go to the beach. You, you drink your wine, you go to Mass, your father smokes his pipe, you wear rings for your ears and fingers plus the bracelets, and you come to the beach in your shorts, like you did the day you came to Beran to watch tennis.”

“This was obviously important to you.”

“Important? It was the talk of my church and the Beran church for weeks. But that’s the problem: why is it that you, living as you do, can do the things that many of our saints do not?”

“Perhaps the problem is that your God and the God of your ‘saints’ is too small,” Madeleine came back, desperate enough to quote an Anglican.

“Perhaps the real problem here is that your idea of what God can do in your life is what is far too small here,” James replied deliberately and slowly.

Madeleine stared into James’ black eyes in shock. She and Carla had been in a state of retreat since this whole adventure began, and even before that. Now she was staring in the face of someone who was putting in front of her the proposition that forward movement was possible, and that robbed her of a comeback, something she was almost never without.

“God has picked you out for something special,” James resumed, realising he had the floor to himself. “It is obvious. And there is no limit to what he can do in your life. You could become a great healing evangelist, travelling to all parts of the world seeing more blind eyes opened and more people rise from their sick bed than you can imagine. God has given you an anointing that many people in my church only dream of. Or, you could pass on this great heritage to your children.” He stopped and saw that she winced at the thought. “Children. Of course! Nobody around here talks about them. They smoke their pot, they shoot their drugs, they make love, they take love, they talk about the university they will attend, but no one talks about the children they could have. No one! Perhaps it is better, as mean as they are. But what Pentecostal kid wouldn’t give their eye teeth to say, ‘My mother healed the blind when she was in secondary school and stood up to the government in the process.’ Or you could do both of these things, or more. And of course there is no telling who you might marry. He might be black like me, in which case those beautiful children would be the colour of your coffee.” She looked down at her cup to catch the meaning of his illustration.

“Do you have a special someone in your life, James?” she asked, breathless from the discourse.

“I am happy you asked,” he said, grinning. With that he took out his wallet and handed her the picture of someone she recognised immediately. She gasped.

“It’s Elisabeth Cassidy!” she said. She looked at James wide-eyed, unable to say anything.

“We know what you did that day,” James replied. “We know you prayed for Terry Marlowe to win and Elisabeth to lose. It was very hard on us. Elisabeth was the first person in our church to be so prominent in girls’ sports in Aloxa. She was the national champion last year and will probably do it again this year. If Denise keeps getting herself in trouble, she just might win the Collina Invitational. All of our church—all Aloxan Pentecostals, really—are very proud of her, although some in our church don’t like the clothes she has to wear to play. Before the match, some of us actually went on a fast so she could win. So we were shocked when she lost to Terry. We thought God had abandoned us. We had seen you and Terry’s grandmother praying for her. But she was the first to understand that it was God’s plan to undermine Denise. Then we knew what it meant. Besides, it wasn’t so bad because she was beaten by someone who is, I hate to say this, who is not. . .”

“Really white,” Madeleine said.

“Exactly. Her father is well liked in Aloxa. I think that it is terrible the way people here treat her about her race. Do you realise that you are the first girl from PC I have sat down with for dinner? I always get some kind of lame brain excuse every time I ask one. If I had known, I would have asked earlier! But it was God’s will that I court Elisabeth, we have a lot in common and she is very sweet.”

“How long have you been seeing each other?”

“We have grown up together. But it has been difficult since Leslie became King. He is not a Christian, and his wife Arlene—Elisabeth’s sister—is, shall we say, on the fence. Many people in her family are Christians, but we must be careful because of Arlene. We would have been engaged by now but we have decided to wait until we get to the U.S., where we can marry away from everyone. We are going to college together—at a Pentecostal school, on Royal scholarships.

“Look, I know you are going to Europe to university. I don’t know what kind of church you need to be in to fulfil God’s plan for your life. But he has a great one for you. And, as far as this place is concerned, someday God will punish this place. When he does, you and Carla and everyone else who has been persecuted for Jesus’ sake will rise up and speak judgement against this country. When you do, I want to be there to cheer you on.”

“So what happens if I become a specialist in education?” Madeleine asked him.

“Then you can come back and be our Minister of Education, and I will bow to you and refer to you as ‘Your Excellency.’ We have never had a Christian Minister of Education.”

Madeleine giggled at the idea. “You are simply too charming. What will happen when Elisabeth finds out you saw me like this?”

“She already knows,” James replied, “and she wants me to be an encouragement to you. Besides, she wants to issue a challenge to you: she wants you and Carla to come to Beran again and play doubles with Elisabeth and Alice Fitzwilliam. Since you have been ejected from the teams, you two can only represent God. We will have a large crowd there. And, we will all pray before the match starts, not like here.”

Madeleine thought for a minute. “She is very brave, playing people who only represent God.”

“Like Jacob,” James replied. “But, you know, like Jacob, when God touches your life, you are never the same.”

The CIA Has Been Clueless for a Long Time, or “Is this stupidity, or is this treason?” Part II

After yesterday’s boffo performance by James Clapper and Leon Panetta, conservatives are justifiably upset at our intelligence community.

But there’s nothing new about this, as this wrap on the CIA’s (in particular) uninspiring performance in the Cold War, from Derek Leebaert’s The Fifty Year Wound: The True Price of America’s Cold War Victory should remind us:

In a complex world, we will always be taken by surprise. What occurred during the Cold War, however, and what carries on today, is the absence of an institutional cushion – such as a top intelligence capability – to prevent the country from often stumbling badly. And from laying itself open to assault.

In adding up the price of Cold War victory, the cost of the Central Intelligence Agency is unique. No other single government body has blundered so often in so many ways integral to its designated purpose. Yet another comprehensive review of U.S. intelligence capabilities, ordered by President Bush early in 2001, was already under way when America was attacked. Led by the director of Central Intelligence, and calling upon other establishment experts, it was focusing on ways to end bureaucratic rivalries, to cut waste, and to improve the clandestine service. Even at that time, no attention was paid to prospects for radical change – let alone going as far as Patrick Moynihan, long a member of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, had urged: disband the Agency and give its vital analytical and intelligence gathering functions to the Pentagon (which already handles 85 percent of the intelligence community budget) and the State Department, which could then finally fund a larger, even more accomplished corps of Foreign Service Officers. Since the Agency needs to continue in some form, given that its key function is to steal secrets, it has to be smarter, which does not at all mean bigger.

Ever since the 1970’s, conservatives have felt duty-bound to defend the CIA.  But it’s time to face reality.  Although Moynihan’s proposal isn’t the cure-all, it’s a start, and our new Congress could do worse than make major changes in the way we gather intelligence.

And the performance of the Obama Administration in its handling of the Egyptian crisis brings this (from a 2007 post) back to memory:

This kind of scenario invites conspiracy theorists.  And I’m sure there are people out there (such as George Soros) who are pleased with this weakening.  It’s the same question that Pavel Miliukov asked the Russian Duma in 1916 over a litany of Tsar Nicholas II’s mistakes (one of which actually buoyed the stock market:) “Is this stupidity, or is this treason?”  In the case of Imperial Russia, it was mostly the former, and I suspect that it is also the case here.  But, as Miliukov went on to say, “Choose either one, the consequences are the same.”

And those consequences aren’t pleasant to contemplate.

Clarifying the French Rejection of Same Sex Civil Marriage

Bill Muehlenberg is absolutely beside himself at the French Court of Cassation’s (their plus ou moins equivalent of our SCOTUS) rejection of same sex civil marriage:

But the real story here is about all those places which have not legalised it, and/or have fought against it. The media tends not to play up these stories. But there have been a number of defeats for the homosexual lobby on this issue. For example just recently in France the Constitutional Council has ruled that there is no conflict between the current law banning homosexual marriage and the rights enshrined in the nation’s constitution.

Here is how the story has been reported: “France’s Constitutional Council, its highest court for constitution issues, ruled on Friday that the country’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman is valid under French constitution.

“The definition was challenged by two lesbians who conceived children by artificial insemination and wanted to legally call their relationship a ‘marriage.’ They battled for rights reserved for married couples, including inheritance rights and joint custody. The case was passed to the Council by the French Court of Cassation in November and the court decision was issued on Friday.

“The Council ruled that the ‘difference in situations of same-sex couples and couples made up of a man and a woman … can justify a difference in treatment concerning family rights.’ The panel’s decision was supported by two articles in France’s civil code ‘in conformity with the constitution’ that define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, reported the Globe and Mail.”

The trout in the milk here is the existence of civil unions in France.

France has had civil unions since 1999.  What’s different from what we have here, however, is that they are available to both same sex and opposite sex couples.   Since their institution civil unions have become de rigeur amongst opposite sex couples who wish legal recognition of their relationship.  This is because a) entry and exit is much simpler and b) the secular French consider marriage a religious institution, which drives them away from marriage and towards civil unions.  (Re the latter, they’re right, it is a religious institution.)

Today 95% of civil unions are between opposite sex couples and, if present trends continue, it won’t be long before civil unions outnumber marriages.  There may be a few maudlin sentimentalists in the French LGBT community about marriage, but they’re trampled in the rush by the rest of society which is moving towards civil unions.  This may be one explanation of the French Court’s blasé attitude towards same sex civil marriage.

It’s also worth noting that, in France, ministers of the Gospel are not allowed to be agents of the state in civil marriage.  This is why people of faith there “get married twice,” once by the state and again by the church (unless you’re King Leopold III of Belgium, in which case you reverse the order.)   Although there may well be a French law or regulation prohibiting the ecclesiastical solemnisation of a civil union, I don’t see a Biblical reason why a Christian couple can’t be united under a civil union before the state and in marriage before God.

Personally I would prefer the state to stay out of the relationship recognition business altogether, but the French idea of civil unions for everyone is the best “Plan B” I’ve seen.   It sure beats the idiotic situation we have here in the US.

Mr. Muehlenberg, like many advocates of “traditional marriage,” needs to do a little deeper digging before he blows the trumpet of victory.