The Tax Issue is the Central One for the Health Care Mandate

Our government wants to play both sides of the street in this issue, but is having a hard time doing so:

Throughout the two-year history of the health care litigation, judges have mocked the Obama administration’s have-your-cake approach to the central question debated at the Supreme Court on Monday: whether the constitutional challenge is even ripe for judicial review before the law takes full effect in 2014. During the opening 90 minutes of oral argument, the justices found that they too could not resist…

In defending the law, the Justice Department has taken a legal position — that the health care act constitutes a tax — that contradicts the political stance taken by President Obama. To do that, it has relied on legal semantics to argue that the insurance mandate will be enforced through the tax code even though Congress took pains to label it a penalty and not a tax.

The reality is that the status of the health care mandate as a tax is the central issue all around, as I have noted previously:

It may seem like a semantic difference.  But that semantic difference is what got the health care bill passed.  Had its proponents–Obama and the Democrats in Congress–done the obvious and proposed a tax to pay for those who couldn’t afford health care, not even Nancy Pelosi could have gotten it through.  (We’re already doing that with Medicaid, so that precedent is established).  But instead they went the route of requiring people to purchase a product from a non-governmental source that they may or may not want.  All the while they characterised the requirement as a “non-tax”.  Now they have no right to complain when the courts call their bluff.

I’m not sure that the courts will, in the end, toss this thing out.  Our judiciary has a strange way these days of not discerning where their values end and where the law starts.  For people with substantial incomes, making others pay for anything might not seem much of a requirement.  But how you see that depends upon what end of the economic spectrum you’re at.

Failure Requires More Than Just Being Ineffective

My attention has recently been drawn to an item in Christianity Today on “Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Leaders.”  Having spent proportionately as much time in ministry work as anyone dealing with leadership issues and leadership training, I can say that the whole issue of leadership has become something of an obsession in Christian circles, for reasons that aren’t as apparent as they look.

In any case, I think a more imaginative–and purposeful–approach is needed for someone in a responsible position to fail.  The best plan I’ve seen over the years goes something like this:

  1. Exclude really good, innovative solutions.  Never allow your people to either really think “out of the box” or–heaven forbid–actually act on such thinking.  Best example I can think of these days is same sex civil marriage.  Our leadership exhorts us to fight yet another culture war in the trenches to “preserve marriage” when a more sensible solution–and one which would throw our opponents hopelessly off balance–can be found in getting rid of civil marriage altogether.  (Hint: where was the JP in the Garden of Eden?)
  2. Only allow bad, unwieldy solutions.  Having killed what would really work, force your underlings to slog it out to defeat with methods and/or objectives that really won’t get the job done.
  3. Blame the underlings when things don’t work out.  In the church world, it’s time to “beat the sheep.”   They didn’t pray hard enough.  They didn’t give enough.  They didn’t show up at enough rallies.  Never admit that your plan wouldn’t work, or–in some cases–that your plan wasn’t designed to work, but to make you look good by making your people look bad.

This type of modus operandi certainly isn’t restricted to the church world; in fact, I didn’t first see it there.  We see this in private industry; it’s the classic plan to make yourself, as a superior in an organisation, to look good by making your people look bad.  We also see this in government; it’s the ideal way to regulate an industry out of existence.  It can even be used against other bureaucrats when the situation calls for it.

Failure isn’t something that just happens; to do it right, it needs to be planned.

HT Dan Tomberlin.

When You're Doing All of the Fighting, It Eventually Gets Old

Maureen Dowd expresses shock that there are Southern doves:

“We are spending $10 billion a month that we can’t even pay for,” said Congressman Walter Jones, that rarest of birds, a Southern Republican dove. “The Chinese — Uncle Chang is lending us the money to pay that we are spending in Afghanistan.”

On Tuesday morning, members of the House Armed Services Committee tried to grill Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the commander in Afghanistan who succeeded David Petraeus, about the state of the mission.

The impossible has happened in the past few weeks. A war that long ago reached its breaking point has gone mad, with violent episodes that seemed emblematic of the searing, mind-bending frustration on both sides after 10 years of fighting in a place where battle has been an occupation, and preoccupation, for centuries.

I think there have been more “Southern doves” out there that Dowd–or many others in our “knowledge class”–realise.  It’s been conventional wisdom for years that fanatic fundies have blindly supported our military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that’s really not been the case.  Southern culture is not well understood–if at all–by those who currently pull the levers of power, but there are a few things that need to be sorted out.

The first is that, because of the nature of our military, most of those who are in harm’s way come from “Red States,” and especially the South.  Most of them are also from the less-than-elite socio-economic classes.  Looked at from a class standpoint, they’re fighting someone else’s war.

But people here don’t look at it that way.  This is the United States; we’re supposed to be doing it for the country, or to put it more informally, this is another one for the team.  That deep sense of duty is just that: deep.  The neo-con “swivel-chair, broomstick pilots” (to use my grandfather’s phrase) may have delusions of grandeur, but most of those who actually do the fighting and dying don’t.  (And that phrase can apply to our other elites, too, we are not well served by those who run the show on either side.)  What else is a defence force for if not to protect the country from attack?  Isn’t that what precipitated this whole thing, especially in Afghanistan?  One reason Barack Obama is deeply unpopular here is that many people viscerally believe that he doesn’t care if the people who “cling to their Bibles and guns” are secure or not.  And honestly I have my doubts, and have from the start.

Things haven’t worked out in Afghanistan as advertised.  Nation building in a country where the whole concept of nation really doesn’t exist is futile.  That was George Bush’s downfall, but our elites are on the whole myopic about the exportability of our “experiment”.  Now that the reality of the problem is sinking in, given that we’re taking all of the punishment, why shouldn’t we want to get out?  Why isn’t someone who ran on getting us out actually doing it?   Why is he forcing the military to cover for all of this?  These are questions that are finally being asked, and they need answers.

"Evangelistically Speaking" Comes to Liberal Christianity

We’ve been told that this doesn’t happen, but now we know better…

During a Sunday morning service at Trinity Church last summer, a longtime parishioner looked around during the reading of the Gospel and counted the worshippers. By her tally, there were 49 people in the pews of the historic lower Manhattan church – a meager turnout for the storied, 314-year-old parish.

She was puzzled, then, when the next week’s church bulletin reported attendance at 113. Trinity’s rector, the Rev. James Cooper, had decided that tourists who wander in and out of the chapel should be counted as well, she was told. “That’s just a little snapshot into the way he presents everything,” said the parishioner, who was also a member of the governing board until she resigned in protest.

It’s pretty much standard fare amongst the left that “TV evangelists” and other conservative preachers are nothing but money-grubbing charlatans who will say just about anything for a buck and an audience.  And I’ve always looked at “preacher math” with a jaundiced eye; in the Church of God, we infelicitously refer to such hyperbolic rhetoric, esp. re numbers of people, as “evangelistically speaking.”

The liberals aren’t going be left out of the competition. Although the numbers of people are smaller, the money is a different story.  And Rev. Cooper isn’t shy about taking that in too:

Instead of helping the poor, Cooper’s helped himself – with demands for a $5.5 million SoHo townhouse, an allowance for his Florida condo, trips around the world including an African safari and a fat salary. Rather than building an endowment, he is accused of wasting more than $1 million on development plans for a luxury condo tower that has been likened to a pipe dream and burning another $5 million on a publicity campaign.

Cooper, 67, whose compensation totaled $1.3 million in 2010, even added CEO to his title of rector. He began listing himself first on the annual directory of vestry members. The atmosphere has become so poisonous that nearly half the 22 members of the vestry, or board, have been forced out or quit in recent months.

The only good news in this sad situation is that Cooper is spending God’s money on African safaris rather than undermining the orthodox Anglicans on same continent, which is what his superiors at “815” would like for him to do.  But the TEC left, which has never taken the challenge of sell all or shut up, will, through mismanagement and corruption like this, end up with neither voice nor funding.

The Site That Stands Firm Moves Forward

Visitors to Stand Firm in Faith, had they not heeded the warnings, were probably surprised to see the entirely new format yesterday evening.  And it was a pleasant surprise; the changes take Stand Firm into a new dimension as a blog and in reality as a news source.

As Greg Griffith explained, the changes are more than cosmetic:

I have said for years that the battle being fought in the Episcopal Church mirrors in many ways the battle that’s being fought in America: In the church, the battle is over what it means to be a Christian; in the nation, the battle is over what it means to be an American. The battle lines, the formations, the nature of the skirmishes, the casualties… all are eerily similar.

Add to that the fact that the battle to which we’ve had front-row seats all these years is one that several other denominations – the Methodists and Lutherans, for example – are just beginning to fight, and I believe the future direction of this site becomes inevitable: We must take this show and lift it above Anglicanism, to confront more directly the forces that are trying to do to other religious bodies what they have already done to the Episcopal Church, to offer comfort and camaraderie and counsel to our allies on other fronts.

One reason why I decided to enter the Anglican/Episcopal web world (before 2005) and blogosphere (after that date) is the realisation that the Episcopal Church, where I grew up and had seen these battles fought in Round I, was to both make the connection between what has been going on in and around TEC for years was in advance of what is now happening both in the general culture and in other churches.

I should also add that I believe that, although Greg mentions the Methodists and Lutherans, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches are not as far from facing the same issues–in the West at least–than they think.  I find an irritating unwillingness to discuss these issues amongst my bretheren there, but just because we’re unwilling to discuss things doesn’t mean we won’t have to, if for no other reason than our ever-expanding government will force us to.

Did I say bretheren?  Stand Firm, in its blogroll, lists Positive Infinity as an “Anglican” blog.  I am honoured by the designation.  It’s a sign that this attempt to take the church a step forward in its “John 17” challenge in a meaningful–not the sappy, inchoate ecumenism we see so many other places–way has succeeded.

God bless everyone at Stand Firm as they move forward.

Rowan Williams: Anglican Fudge Doesn't Work Any More

Rowan Williams’ resignation/retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury has generated a great deal of comment within and without the Anglican/Episcopal world.  It’s not been a happy tenure of the seat of Becket and Cranmer (it ended badly for them, too, from a temporal standpoint) and everybody knows it.

But life is too short to make all of the mistakes we need to learn from, so let’s consider the lesson here.  And it’s simple: “Anglican Fudge,” that time honoured skill honed by generations of Anglican/Episcopal ministers and prelates, just doesn’t work any more.  That was obvious to some of us before but Williams’ tenure has only given us an outsized object lesson.

For the uninitiate, “Anglican Fudge” is that quality of thought and discourse whereby ministers and bishops say things in a mellifluous way that have the tone of gravitas and serious thought but which in reality say nothing.  Generations of Anglican/Episcopal people have been nurtured on this kind of “spiritual food” and thought themselves superior to the rest of Christianity–to say nothing of humanity–for ingesting it.  For harder headed people, it came across as vacuous, which is why people like my father seldom found themselves passing through the narthex.  For me, it was a big reason why I went to Rome forty years ago–when you need crisp answers for life, Anglican Fudge is the last thing you eat.

Williams, however, had an Anglican academic’s consummate skill at coming out with Fudge.  He could make statements that had the sound of gravitas and in some ways a sense of verisimilitude, but in the end either said nothing or missed the point completely.  A classic example of this was his recent gaffe over people wearing crosses to work, where his implied comparison of Christian people who lost their jobs to superficial Christians who only wore it as a decoration was otiose at best and offensive at worst.

To be fair, Williams’ situation both in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion wasn’t very happy from the start.  The usual troublemakers, the Episcopalians, along with their Canadian counterparts, had cleverly used the Fudge to obscure the real trajectory of their church, which is why the 2003 ordination of the openly gay V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire came as such a shock–and a wake-up call–to many.  On the other side, the highly un-Anglican confrontations at Lambeth 1998 had stirred the Africans in particular to realise that many of their Anglican counterparts in the West had abandoned the faith behind the cover of Fudge and that something needed to be done.  That “something” was the numerous border crossing efforts, starting with the AMiA and continuing to this day.

It should have been obvious to any long-term observer that what we had here were irreconcilable differences between two world views.  Given his past opinions on the subject, and given the course of his own country, the logical thing to do for Williams was to basically tell the Africans and other conservatives that “good” people were going towards “tolerance” and that they would be left behind if they didn’t.  That wouldn’t have sat well with the intended audience but it would have least brought honestly and clarity to the discussion, saving the Communion a lot of heat without light and overseas travel expenses to boot.

But purveyors of the Fudge don’t always think logically.  Williams’ basic approach was to put the Communion through endless meetings and summits, crowned by the indaba-based Lambeth 2008.  (Personal note: I have worked for Africans for the last three years, and we haven’t had an indaba about anything.)  His idea was that he could gum the Communion to death they would come to some kind of meaningless consensus and everything would be good again.  It didn’t work on either side.  You can eat the Fudge without teeth, but the Africans rightly know that, with Islam and the other challenges of life in reality, you cannot live on Fudge alone.  On the other side, the Episcopalians chose Katharine Jefferts-Schori as Presiding Bishop, who left behind a Fudge-laden approach for a more smashmouth (and expensive) way of ruling her church.

It’s tempting to say that a “real leader” could have done better.  Given the irreconcilable differences we have both in the Communion and in the world at large–and especially those in a Britain overshadowed by militant secularism and Islam–it’s unlikely that a stronger leader could have brought meaningful reconciliation.  What one could have done is to have brought the conflict to a more definite climax and conclusion.  The last thing that Rowan Williams wanted to do, however, was to preside over the dissolution of the Anglican Communion.  On paper he has succeeded, but the present reality will doubtless assert itself in the days ahead as it has in the recent past.

But most of us will go on living after Rowan Williams is burrowed at Oxford.  The lesson that we who profess and call ourselves Christians must take to heart is that, in a world where those who hate us outnumber those who love us–or at least are better positioned in society to shove that hatred down our throats:

But Jesus answered: “Scripture says–‘It is not on bread alone that man is to live, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”  (Matthew 4:4)

And that goes for the Fudge, too.

Glide Memorial's Bobby Kent

Glide Memorial’s Bobby Kent
(Olympia 6052N2) 1976

The San Francisco Bay Area was the scene for much of what made the 1960’s and 1970’s what they were, and this album is right in the groove of that.

Glide Memorial is one of the premier black liberal churches in the U.S. It was in the forefront of many causes in the 1960’s, including homosexual rights.

Like the church, this album is a mould breaker. Black gospel, like the older forms of country and western music, had many specific rules about what was acceptable and what wasn’t. Bobby Kent set out to push the envelope, and the result is a fast moving, delightful combination of what Ken Scott refers to as “Two parts black gospel, one part rock ‘n’ roll and one part blues.”

But there are other unique parts of this album. The first is that, for an album that screams “black music,” Bobby Kent was white, a sort of Jimi Hendrix in reverse. Beyond that, the theology that gets put forth in this music is not only very “unliberal,” (there are some great traditional hymns here) but gets into the realm of prosperity teaching! He called his group the “Cadillac Christians,” and in a ecclesiastical/political environment where good things come from the government, that’s quite a statement.

Bobby Kent is still with us and active; he has two more albums which you can obtain here.

The songs:

  • My Soul Is Satisfied
  • I Can’t Help But Serve The Lord
  • The Lord Is Blessing Me/Jesus Woke Me Up
  • Christian Automobile
  • Dr. Jesus
  • Come To The Fountain
  • Hallelujah, ‘Tis Done
  • Livin’ In The Last Days
  • Power In The Blood

Is Evangelicals' Cultural Influence Collapsing?

David French at NRO thinks so:

During my years in the pews, I’ve witnessed a moral collapse — and a corresponding collapse in positive influence over the real lives not just of our fellow congregants but also of our fellow citizens in need. Of course it’s difficult to present a compelling witness when our own practices and lifestyle are often indistinguishable from the larger culture, but the problems get more specific.

I think the truth is a little more complicated than that.

The biggest source of the retreat in Christianity in the U.S. isn’t due to evangelical decline, but in the collapse of Main Line churches.  Evangelicals like to think that the world revolves around them, but that isn’t the case.  Main Line churches, for all of their shortcomings, have had more social influence on American life than Evangelicals, particularly in the years between World War I and the 1970’s, when Evangelicalism “went into hiding” in the wake of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy.  Ever since those turbulent times Main Line membership–and, to some extent, that of Roman Catholicism–has been siphoned off in two directions: towards Evangelical churches (and that obviously includes Pentecostal and Charismatic ones) on the one side, and into secuarlism on the other.

Main Line churches, by and large (the Methodists being an important exception) are the progeny of state churches in Europe.  Thus they were better equipped to be more of a general social influence.  Evangelicals jeered at “cultural Christianity” and the pedobaptism of Main Line denominations, but to get to a Christian culture you have to have some kind of cultural Christianity.  When Main Line churches blew retreat, Evangelicals were and are unprepared to fill the void, and that shows in the results we have today.  (That’s also why the left’s obsession with an Evangelical takeover is absurd.)

The one place where this pattern had serious modification was the South, where prominent Evangelical denominations–most notably the Southern Baptists–dominate the scene.  But the South always marches to the beat of its own drummer, and in any case many of these churches are products of another collapse, namely the Confederacy.  When the Lost Cause became lost, the best place to retreat was church, and that explains a lot of what many Southern churches were about in the century after Appomattox.  And the Baptists had their own critics, most notably the Pentecostals, who felt (and many still feel) that Baptist churches are no better than any other Main Line church.

Although French’s criticisms of Evangelical churches following culture are valid, the root of the problem we have in receding Christianity is primarily with Main Line Christianity.  But, became of their nature, Evangelical churches are poorly positioned to fill that void.  But we should be thankful for what we have: without a strong Evangelical presence, Christianity would be in no better shape on these shores than it is in Europe.

The Brits Give a New Meaning to "Taking Up Your Cross"

And, true to form, the Archbishop of Canterbury isn’t helping matters:

Today the Archbishop of Canterbury is reported as saying: “The cross has become a religious decoration.” It is something which religious people hang on to as a substitute for faith. He goes on: “I believe that during Lent one of the things we all have to face is to look at ourselves and ask how far we are involved in the religion factory.” He sees the cross as part of that “religion factory”. It is an infelicitous phrase, for a factory is where objects are merely churned out, as from a production line. Is that what the cross, the supreme Christian symbol, has become?

What His Grace hasn’t latched onto just yet is that, if people lose their employment over wearing a cross–even in a place such as the UK with a generous dole–it’s a big deal.  That of course is the central issue:

Dr William’s words are particularly unhelpful just now when our Government has refused to support Nadia Eweida’s submission to the European Court that she be allowed to wear a cross in her workplace. The British Government has said to the EC that Mrs Eweida has no right to wear her cross, but that her employer has the right to ban her from wearing it.

Those now on same dole because they stood for wearing it evidently found it more than just “…a religious decoration…which religious people hang on to as a substitute for faith.”  Had this been so, they would have taken it off in a heartbeat.  Had it been just a decoration, secularists and other anti-Christian types would not have been so offended by it.

I guess that those in the government can take solace that he who holds the primus inter pares position in their state religion doesn’t feel any differently about things than they do.

They may find it comforting.  Many of the rest of us do not.

Every one, therefore, who shall acknowledge me before his fellow men, I, too, will acknowledge before my Father who is in Heaven; But, if any one disowns me before his fellow men, I, too, will disown him before my Father who is in Heaven. Do not imagine that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring, not peace, but the sword. For I have come to set–‘a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’  He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And the man who does not take his cross and follow in my steps is not worthy of me.  He who has found his life will lose it, while he who, for my sake, has lost his life shall find it.  (Matthew 10:32-39)