No Stems, No Seeds That You Don't Need: Pat Robertson and Marijuana

The liberals are picking themselves off of the floor at the realisation that Pat Robertson has come out in favour of the legalisation of marijuana.  (He’s been working up to this for some time.NORML, at this writing, hasn’t even gotten around to admitting it.  Many others are in shock also.

His logic on this, however, is hard to fault:

  1. Our incarceration rate is too high.  That includes all types of crime: white collar, blue collar, no collar and no shirt crime.  Drug offences, however, top the list in the number of people actually put behind bars.  This is a point I have made repeatedly over the years.
  2. The approach we have taken hasn’t slowed the use of this or many other controlled substances.   This is the same problem we ran into with Prohibition, which was Protestant Christianity’s last really successful moral crusade in this country (in the sense that what was being crusaded for ended up enshrined in law.)

We as Americans have this insane idea that, if we pass a law against something, it disappears.   It didn’t work with alcohol and it hasn’t worked with marijuana.  We’ve actually had more success with dealing with the after-effects of alcohol than shutting off the supply, i.e. drunk driving laws, taxation, keeping fair trade laws in effect on alcoholic beverages (a lesson the Irish need to take to heart,) intoxication testing and so on.

A lesson more relevant on the power of regulation, taxation and public shaming is with tobacco.  We have managed to run down our tobacco consumption via a half century long campaign against it.  (And speaking of running things down with regulation and taxation, it worked with manufacturing, didn’t it?)

The whole war on drugs also speaks to the shameless Boomer hypocrisy on the whole subject of mind-altering substances.  The Boomers have waged and continue to wage this war while at the same time being the generation defined by the use of these substances, all the while without any hint of a mea culpa about this or any of the other damage our generation has wrought on this country.

This doesn’t mean, however, that our churches need to change their idea on the subject of marijuana any more than they have on the subject of alcohol, and for pretty much the same reason.  The standard of those called by the name of Jesus Christ and everyone else cannot and should not be the same, current theonomy notwithstanding.

And that leads to a warning: if I turn on the 700 Club and see an ad for “No stems, no seeds…” that’s it.  But this is a big step in the right direction.

In a Rich Kid World, Secret Service Agents are the Hired Help

Had former Secret Service agent Dan Emmett been raised in a place like Palm Beach, he would have seen this coming:

In several anecdotes, former agent Dan Emmett revealed that Clinton’s young staff had “fundamental traits of rudeness and arrogance” that teetered on the verge of being dangerous at times. “Most of these youngsters were from wealthy families, and many viewed Secret Services agents as the hired help,” he writes in “Within Arms’s Length,” an autobiography that provides new details of the inner Secret Service.

Technically speaking, the young snobs were right: Secret Service agents are the hired help.  However, wisdom dictates that someone whose job is to protect you and your boss from bodily harm and is well trained to do so should get some respect, but, as Emmett rightly points out, that wisdom is lacking amongst the children of the beautiful.

Building loyalty amongst a staff requires that, while knowing they’re being paid to work for you, you as their boss give them the respect they deserve and, within the economic limitations of the situation, the compensation to go with it.  Failure to do so both ways will result over time in a demoralised staff that leaves, doesn’t perform up to standard or in some cases turns on their superiors.

The immediate result will be the rich kids sighing the old Palm Beach lament: “Good help is so hard to find these days…”

With Secret Service agents and others charged with defence of the government and its officials, the long term result may well be something far more sinister, and the evidence is out there the left has been trying to deal with that.  In the meanwhile, it’s something to think about, snobs, as you deal with those who are serving you.  As I like to say, be good to the people you meet on the way up: you’ll see them again on the way down.

Do We Really Want Rich People to Join Our Churches?

In an unusually barefaced statement of what many Christians actually think, Michael Olgren, Finance Committee Chairman of dying Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, MI, blurted out the following:

At the parish’s annual meeting on January 12, 2012, Dr. Michael Olgren, Chair of the Finance Committee, painted a dire financial picture of the parish stating that the parish would either have to close its doors in September or revert back to mission status without a significant increase in giving.

If this were to happen, the Diocese would gain access to the parish’s $1.9 million endowment fund. A month previous, Dr. Olgren angered many parishioners at the annual meeting for a stewardship drive, when he wrote “I wish the rich people would come back, I get hungry at coffee hour.” The parish’s Rector, the Rev. Stephen Holmgren did not attend the annual meeting, citing concerns about his father’s health.

 Let me make a few “stipulations” (as my attorney friends would say) right off the bat:

  1. Grace Episcopal Church was the home parish for President Gerald Ford, and for that and other reasons is historically significant.  It was the church that held his funeral service in 2006.  Ford was the next to the last Episcopalian to serve as President (the last one was George H.W. Bush.)
  2. Having been the Finance Committee Chairman of a large church, although I think Dr. Olgren’s statement is a bit over the top, I sympathise with being in a position of a church as large as Grace and having outflow consistently greater than income.
  3. Needless to say, the parish’s endowment fund is a major issue vis a vis the diocese, which only recently closed and sold off its cathedral.
  4. Wealth is relative.  I’m not sure what income level Dr. Olgren had in mind when he thought of “rich people”.  It may not be the same as yours.

Having been in churches at both ends of the socio-economic spectrum, I think I am in a unique position to comment on this subject.  The grass always looks greener on the other side; I’ve been on both sides of the fence, and there are brown patches in both.

The socio-economic stratification of Protestant American Christianity–Evangelical and Main Line alike–has always seemed to me to be one of the great blights of the faith in this country.  And yet it’s one that no one seems to be either willing or able to tackle, even though the New Testament is clear on the subject:

My Brothers, are you really trying to combine faith in Jesus Christ, our glorified Lord, with the worship of rank? Suppose a man should enter your Synagogue, with gold rings and in grand clothes, and suppose a poor man should come in also, in shabby clothes, And you are deferential to the man who is wearing grand clothes, and say–“There is a good seat for you here,” but to the poor man–“You must stand; or sit down there by my footstool,” Is not that to make distinctions among yourselves, and show yourselves prejudiced judges? Listen, my dear Brothers. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the things of this world to be rich through their faith, and to possess the Kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you–you insult the poor man! Is not it the rich who oppress you? Is not it they who drag you into law-courts? Is not it they who malign that honourable Name which has been bestowed upon you? Yet, if you keep the royal law which runs–‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thou dost thyself,’ you are doing right; But, if you worship rank, you commit a sin, and stand convicted by that same law of being offenders against it.
(James 2:1-9)

Let me start with the top end, i.e. the Episcopalians.  It’s easy to forget now, but the Episcopal Church experienced tremendous growth from the end of World War II to the explosion of the 1960’s.  That growth was fuelled in no small measure by upwardly mobile people wanting a church which met either their new status or their aspirations, and in those days it was easier for the latter to become the former than it is now.  The Episcopal Church promoted that, either explicitly or implicitly, by being a snob church, i.e., we’re really better than anyone else, and if you join us, you will be too.  Contrary to current church growth models, the strategy worked, only to blow up when the church suddenly discovered “social justice”  (with the liberal theology to go with it) in the 1960’s.

Ever since that time the Episcopal Church has been a duplicitous institution.  On the one hand, its properties and physical heritage have been such that its hierarchy have bankrupted the church trying to hang on to them (although the Biblical way of selling them off and giving to the poor would have been more appropriate to their purported theology).  On the other hand it’s still obsessed with social justice as it sees it, exemplified these days by its fixation on the Millennium Development Goals.

In the middle of all of this the “rich” got the message.  The Episcopal Church is no longer the “Republican Party at prayer” and the upstairs Democrats don’t haunt its narthexes either.  The upper reaches of our society are increasingly secular and don’t perceive a use to get up and go to an Episcopal or any church on a Sunday morning.  Thus Dr. Olgren’s tactless musings are the expression of a desire to return to the demographics of a lost time.  Gentry liberals can’t and won’t support a church, especially one as high maintenance as the Episcopal church.  That’s the present reality they’re facing.

On the other end we see a different situation.  People bemoan the growth of “megachurches” but megachuches, if properly managed financially, enable a large group of modest income people to support a very substantial church and ministry.  (That’s a big “if,” because churches tend to lose sight of the fact that, although you can’t outgive God, you can outspend him).  The trap that churches which cater to less financially substantial people get into is that, especially in times when upward mobility is significant, you end up with a few “rich” people (remember that rich is relative) running the church and the pastor (and sometimes running the former into the ground and the latter off).  That’s the situation that James addresses directly.

This situation puts pastors and church planters in a bind.  On the one hand, if they attract the “rich” they’ll have an income base to work from.  On the other hand, that income base may demand control of the proceedings.  Most wealthy people are better at running their business than the church, so the positive effects of the wealth will over time be negated by the negative effects of their control.  It’s a tricky situation that different pastors handle differently, sometimes with success and sometimes not.

So what is to be done?  How can we implement the commands of Scripture in a practical way with the reality of our society?  My idea is as follows:

  1. Consider “wealthy” people like another people group.  Instead of putting them on a pedestal or trying to milk them for all they’re worth, consider them as a group like you would a different ethnic group.  The way they look at life and respond to life’s challenges is substantially different than people at another economic level.
  2. Minister to the people you are called to minister to.  We routinely accept the idea that different people groups connect with different people sent to them.  Why not the wealthy?  Having said that, although there are people who strike me as called and capable of this kind of ministry (Shaneen Clarke comes to mind) most of the people who claim to be aren’t.  (One hint of trouble: if they need a great deal of money on an ongoing basis, they’re probably not.)
  3. Manage your finances based on what and who you have.  Ministers (and our hapless Episcopal Finance Committee chairman) spend too much time being “aspirational” on who and how much needs to be given.  If we are good stewards of what we have, we can expect to be given more.  If we are not, we cannot expect anything but trouble.

Frankly I grow weary at the inept way our churches and ministers look at this subject.  This is my simplistic start on dealing with a subject that cries for honest solutions.  Do you have any better?

A Salutary Reminder About the Limitations of Data and Statistics

In a culture that imputes statistical studies with authority they don’t deserve, this warning, from Numerical Recipes in FORTRAN 77, is very salutary:

Data consist of numbers, of course. But these numbers are fed into the computer, not produced by it. These are numbers to be treated with considerable respect, neither to be tampered with, nor subjected to a numerical process whose character you do not completely understand. You are well advised to acquire a reverence for data that is rather different from the “sporty” attitude that is sometimes allowable, or even commendable, in other numerical tasks.

The analysis of data inevitably involves some trafficking with the field of statistics, that gray area which is not quite a branch of mathematics —and just as surely not quite a branch of science. In the following sections, you will repeatedly encounter the following paradigm:

  • apply some formula to the data to compute “a statistic”
  • compute where the value of that statistic falls in a probability distribution
    that is computed on the basis of some “null hypothesis”
  • if it falls in a very unlikely spot, way out on a tail of the distribution,
    conclude that the null hypothesis is false for your data set

If a statistic falls in a reasonable part of the distribution, you must not make the mistake of concluding that the null hypothesis is “verified” or “proved.” That is the curse of statistics, that it can never prove things, only disprove them! At best, you can substantiate a hypothesis by ruling out, statistically, a whole long list of competing hypotheses, every one that has ever been proposed. After a while your adversaries and competitors will give up trying to think of alternative hypotheses, or else they will grow old and die, and then your hypothesis will become accepted. Sounds crazy, we know, but that’s how science works!

Have Loose Cannons Hepworth and Moyer Gone Overboard?

This, from David Virtue’s Online Digest, sure makes it look that way:

The saga of TAC Bishop David L. Moyer and his Newman fellowship continues. He announced to his small flock this week that he would not be accepting Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson’s offer of laicization in order to enter the Roman Catholic Church. Instead, he wrote, “I believe that to honor God in His calling, I need to remain in the priestly vocation.”

What a surprise. The resignation of his boss, Archbishop John Hepworth, was accepted by the Traditional Anglican Communion College of Bishops in Johannesburg this week. He, too, has indicated that he will not accept Rome’s offer of laicization. He says he plans to start all over again with whatever rump parishes and dioceses he can salvage from the TAC. Unless Moyer comes under Hepworth in his new makeshift TAC tent, Moyer has no ecclesiastical authority; thus is he part of any apostolic tradition? Based on all the available evidence VOL has received, the chance of Moyer ever getting Ordinariate approval from Steenson is zero to none.

“We continue on in our corporate trajectory of unity with the Catholic Church. Our journey is in God’s hands. In His Providence, you and I are faced with obstacles and concerns, and points that need resolution and clarification,” wrote Moyer.

Steenson has made it clear that Moyer will never be received into Rome as a priest with so much stuff hanging over him. If the congregation, sans Moyer, truly believes in the faith as Rome sees it, they are jeopardizing their souls not to join St. Michael’s under the Rev. Dr. David Ousley who will be given the nod to enter Rome through the Ordinariate some time down the road.

Is Moyer jeopardizing his own soul and those of his followers by not accepting laicization?

Both Hepworth and Moyer have compromised the #1 good reason for their (now aborted) trip to Rome: unity.  When one joins the RCC, one accepts the idea–usually embracing it–that one has joined the one true Catholic (universal) and Apostolic Church.  The fractured institutions of Protestantism and Evangelicalism are left behind, and most Catholic apologists use this as a strong point for Roman Catholicism.

What they have done is put their purely personal interests ahead of their purported convictions, which, as I have commented before, is a large reason why Rome has given them the laity route.

An alternate problem is that there is a significant gap between Roman Catholicism and Anglo-Catholicism, something I learned very quickly when I started my own Romeward journey.  For me, that was a plus.  But for those who fancy themselves as more Catholic than the pope, I guess the differences are a big deal.

I tell people that they should think before they convert.  Someone should have told these two: think before you even start thinking about converting…

The Path to Rome, Forty Years Out

It is fashionable (especially in Anglican/Episcopal circles where it is so common these days) to refer to conversion to Roman Catholicism as “swimming the Tiber.”   Although Hillaire Belloc never actually had to convert (although a recovery was in order,) his The Path to Rome (which he actually walked, via the Alps) is probably a better analogy of how most people who do convert to the RCC actually accomplish it.  For me, about this time forty years ago, I was pouring over Dante’s Divine Comedy and beginning my own path to Rome, an adventure that would span most of the 1970’s and pick up again in the early 1980’s before I departed for good.

It’s conventional wisdom amongst Protestants that the only way to eternal life for anyone connected with the Roman Catholic Church is for same person to leave that church.  In this idea, someone who leaves a “Protestant” church such as the Episcopal Church for Rome is really taking the highway to hell.  But one thing learned in following God’s plan for one’s life is that same plan doesn’t always run in a straight line, and few things in my life have driven that point home for me more than my years as a Roman Catholic.

The Episcopal church of the early 1970’s was a place with antique liturgy and radical theology which appeared to me to be the worst of both worlds.  More precisely the “radical theology” was the “theology with no answers.”  Although liberal theology has bad beliefs, the worst part of it in many ways is that it, by definition, has no real beliefs at all.  And what good is a church which is empty handed in this way?

Roman Catholicism had its own conflicts, being in the wake of Vatican II.  The Novus Ordo Missae had just been instituted, which befuddled many Roman Catholics (as it does now, for a different reason.)  But when I finally got around to going to St. Edward’s in Palm Beach in May (it took two months,) I was struck with a liturgy that was modern and succinct (too much so in some ways.)  I also found a church with answers that wasn’t anti-intellectual.  Finally the church, in its post-Vatican II state, wasn’t emphasising the kinds of “curiously Catholic” things like Marian devotions as they used to, so the transition in that sense was much easier.  Before the year ended I not only became Roman Catholic but a lector at a new parish to boot.

And that was just the beginning of the adventure…

To start with, the road to Rome was the road out of Palm Beach.  As noted elsewhere, being raised in that kind of environment isn’t a good preparation for living “beyond the gates” and Roman Catholicism was a way by which I could get outside the bubble without getting into serious trouble.  (Unfortunately fewer and fewer people in this country ever cross that divide these days, which is a major source of the economic inequity we face.)  I got further down that path when I went to university in Texas, and was there introduced to not only the song and liturgy of the “Jesus-music era” but also the Charismatic Renewal.  The combination of all of that and more was transformative; life in general has never been the same since.

But ultimately that introduction ultimately led me out of Roman Catholicism.  I document the specific problems I ran into with covenant communities elsewhere, but ultimately I realised that Roman Catholicism, for all of its strong points, has some serious weaknesses as well, most of them regarding its fidelity to the idea of the “author and finisher of our faith.”  These problems were underscored by the accession of John Paul II to the Holy See in 1978, which checked some of the same kinds of problems that had plagued (and still bedevil) the Episcopal Church but also forced the church back to a more “traditional” Catholicism than I had experienced earlier.

So were my years in the RCC a mistake?  Certainly not.  The whole objective of life is God himself.  The way to God is through Jesus Christ.  The simplicity of the basics do not always translate into the simplicity of the process, as is conventional wisdom amongst Evangelicals.  It is the attainment of the goal that counts; as Augustine said at the start of the Confessions,  “The thought of you stirs him so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.” I can say that, without my years as a Roman Catholic, the achievement of that goal is very problematic, and that’s something that Evangelical conventional wisdom cannot take way.

The Truth Finally Comes Out About the Obama Administration and High Gas Prices

Finally, someone on the inside states the obvious:

President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu uttered the kind of Washington gaffe that consists of telling the truth when inconvenient. According to Politico, Chu admitted to a House committee that the administration is not interested in lowering gas prices.

Chu, along with the Obama administration, regards the spike in gas prices as a feature rather than a bug. High gas prices provide an incentive for alternate energy technology, a priority for the White House, and a decrease in reliance on oil for energy.

Candor such as  this is so rare in our political system that it should be celebrated when it happens.  To achieve their objectives of environmental purity and economic nirvana, raising energy prices is an absolute necessity.  The problem, of course, is that since the days of Jimmy Carter in a sweater, the left has known that such a course is a political loser, so we end up with the endless sequence of hidden agendas and kabuki theatre that plagues our system.

One of the most frustrating parts of our political system is that no one really wants you to know what their real objectives are, so everyone blows smoke in your face.  This is a switch.  We should celebrate it and then make our voting choices  based on it.  Unfortunately, Americans are notorious for either going postal or becoming befuddled at the statement of the obvious, so it may not have the impact it deserves.