Two Score of Episcopal Ministry: My Response to a Dean's Reflections

I found retiring Dallas Episcopal Dean Kevin Martin’s reflections on his long life in ministry fascinating, largely because his career span–to say nothing of his span as an Episcopalian–sweeps most of the enormous transformation that has taken place both in TEC (which was PECUSA when he started) and in the country at large.

The question posed to him that prompted the entire blog post was as follows:

You’ve seen many changes in 41 years of ministry – Bishop Hines and the Special Convention Program, a New Prayer Book, Women in leadership including ordination, a change in the church’s teachings on divorce and human sexuality, can you share with us your perspective on all this change?

So let me pick out some of his responses and make some comments.

When I joined the Episcopal Church, I would say that the majority of members were what I would call traditionalists. By this I mean that most Episcopalians were people who valued high English Culture, including and especially, the English language, the arts and music. While the Episcopal Church was never a State Church as in England, still we had an embracing attitude toward education and the arts. I like to say that we were the State Church of the educated including scientists and artists.

The Dean neglected to include either the business people (who financed the church) and the social climbers (who were part and parcel with the business people).  In fact, the growth he alludes to (and I outlined in this post) didn’t come from simply scientists and artists; it came from people who wanted a refined religion that went with their new-found social status in the great upward movement that followed World War II.  That diluted the old-money aristocratic bent the church had before that.  The result was the inclusion of many people whose appreciation of the church’s heritage was not as broad as it was before.

The leaders of the Church in those days were remarkable people who survived the Great Depression and the Second World War, often bringing out of their experience a strong determination to give back to society.

If one were to name the Episcopal Church’s strongest point from a practical standpoint, it was this: the emphasis on the importance of “give back”.  It’s something I miss in a Pentecostal church.  This isn’t to say that Pentecostals are not willing to help others–they certainly are, and are for many reasons better positioned to do so than Episcopalians–but the context is entirely different, and it doesn’t percolate to the upper reaches of the organisation the way one would like it to.  But that’s also generational: baby boomers, for all the talk and their self-righteous insistence of making the next generation volunteer, are mostly too self-centred to know what true give-back is.

Take Bishop Hines who you mentioned for example. While Bishop of Texas, he started several high quality Episcopal Schools, he launched a seminary, he oversaw the planting of over 40 new congregations, and he gave good and progressive leadership to the wider community. Like many of his fellow leaders, he believed in an active Christian engagement with society. As presiding Bishop in 1968 when many of the inner cities of America were literally on fire, he determined that the Church could not sit back in its cultural place of privilege, but rather must engage the issues confronting our society.

I believe his impulse was both necessary and courageous. He was a dynamic preacher and outspoken leader especially regarding racial equality. Unfortunately, he made several mistakes. For example, in dealing with urban issues and civil rights, he largely bypassed the already existing African-American clergy leadership in the Church. He even ended up funding radical groups and organizations in dioceses directly against the wishes of local bishops. When he realized that he had lost the confidence of his fellow Bishops, he resigned.

The business about starting Episcopal high schools struck home: my own just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.  But his response to the upheavals this country was going through isn’t one the rest of the church should have, or can now, wash their hands of.  The Episcopal Church was unprepared to effectively respond to the social problems of the day because it had been busy building itself as a way up from them.  Reversing that kind of precedent wasn’t easy and the church hasn’t come up with a better plan since.  His bypassing African-American clergy was unwise, but that wasn’t strictly a function of race either.  I look at this from a lighter (and personal) perspective here, but basically Episcopalians lived in a different world than not only the poor African-Americans but the poor everyone else.  How could they offer anything other than paternalism?

I said above that Pentecostals are better positioned to address human need, and the reason is simple: they’re closer to it themselves than TEC or any of the other “Main Line” churches. Beating the American custom of class stratification of churches is a tall order for TEC or anyone else, but without it Christianity will never fulfil the New Testament concept of the church.

One thing Dean Martin didn’t bring up was Hines’ lacklustre response to the likes of James Pike and other left-wing schismatics.   But that’s the perfect intro to this:

Things have changed and I think not for the better. For example, as a seminarian I attended the General Convention held in Houston. I remember the hearing held on the proposed new Baptismal Rite. It started with a 20 minute presentation by a leading theologian and seminary professor on the need for changes. This was followed by a 10 minute “response” by another theologian from a different perspective. This theologian began by affirming a number of points made in the initial address, and only then did he respectfully present a differing opinion. This was followed by a panel discussion among a group of outstanding leaders and thinkers. Only then was the discussion open to deputies in the audience who could ask questions.

Compare all this to a discussion at the General Convention in 2000 over the issue of ordination of gay and lesbian persons in same-sex relationships. The initial resolution that would be taken to the floor of convention was read by the Chair of the Committee and then members of the audience were invited to give testimony limited to two minutes. Participants went to a set of microphones labeled either pro or con. I saw a seminary dean given only two minutes to speak to the Church’s theology of marriage. This was followed by a two minute personal sharing by a woman who was married to a transvestite on how accepting their local parish had been. I sat watching as a once thoughtful and intelligent community that valued substantive engagement with issues reduced itself to a community of passionate partisanship who reduced discussion to a superficial series of slogans and clichés.

There’s no doubt that it’s been a downhill run for TEC since those days, but Martin’s idealisation of “the old days” of Episcopal thought is just that.  The issue of the Baptismal rite is a good one: even with the theological worthies expounding at GC, we still ended up with the 1979 BCP’s “contract on the Episcopalians” that has plagued discussions of what it means to be one ever since.  The truth is that Episcopal theology at the time, moulded by a combination of traditional Anglican fudge and 60’s “with it” thinking, was like my grandmother’s description of Lake Ponchartrain–a mile wide and a foot deep.  The tidal surge of post-modernism, much in evidence at GC 2000 and since, has wrecked just about everything along the shore.

In the 1970s, Forward Movement produced a short booklet on the different groups, movements and worldviews that were represented in TEC. I remember that they identified at least seven of these. The main point of the booklet was not the differences, but rather the community that could embrace such a number of differing perspectives. I would say that we were an “Embracing Community” that recognized that Christianity allowed for numerous and different worldviews and all of these contained some truth that needed to be embraced in the fullness of the Church. While I had begun as a part of the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church, been active in the social action wing, and had become an active part of the Charismatic Renewal Movement, I still felt fully included in the Church’s life and listened to with respect.

As the Progressive Wing of the Church began to grow with its concern for the full inclusion of all people including race and gender, things began to change. Those who had other views and concerns began to be discounter. Since then, I have spent many years as an Episcopal clergy person being marginalized by so-called “Inclusive” people. By the mid-1990s, the Church was being divided between conservative/orthodox and progressive/liberal people. This fight was largely won by the progressive/liberal folks when Bishop Gene Robinson received consent as Bishop of New Hampshire while living in a same-sex partnered relationship. By the 2006 General Convention, progressive/liberal clergy and laity made up 70% of the House of Deputies. Since then the losers in this struggle have either left TEC or have been completely marginalized by the denomination.

It has been my contention that the triumph of the “Progressive Wing of the Church” has been inevitable since the 1970’s.  That came as a shock to many who joined after that time when Gene Robinson became bishop, which only formalised the general movement of the church.  That movement was not clear for two reasons.  The first was that the relatively loose diocesan structure of the church (one which is on the way out with KJS) made it possible to insulate parts of the church from the rot in the rest of it.  The second was that it was largely a “top down” affair, having started in the seminaries and moved into the upper reaches of the church (along with receptive dioceses and parishes) before dropping into less receptive ones.  That speaks to StandFirm Sarah Hey’s recent post on liberal victories in health care and TEC.  Conservatives are too wedded to the strength of popular opinion (Evangelicals are the worst about this) and tradition.

Martin rounds out his reflections on an optimistic note.  But the time he has ministered in the Episcopal church doesn’t support that optimism.  He has witnessed not one but two stampedes for the exists, the first during the 1960’s and 1970’s and the second since 2003.  To a large extent TEC today is what its radical left wants it to be: a place for employment for its “advocates” pursuing their political causes, which are their idea of the mission of the church, without interference from those who disagree.

My best wishes are with Dean Kevin Martin; you have to admire his faithfulness to an institution whose own faithfulness has proven wanting.

Note on Lake Ponchartrain: yes, I know that, in reality, the lake is 20 by 40 miles and 27′ deep at most.  But the ratio (and the analogy) is correct.  My grandmother was also the one to bring the Episcopal Church to our family, an event with important long-term consequences.

When It's Fashionable to be Cynical

Like now:

President Obama spoke today at a campaign rally in Durham, New Hampshire.

“You know, it’s fashionable right now for people to be cynical. We go in cycles like this and right now a lot of people are saying “Oh, America is doing terribly” and “What are we going to do?”…

Being cynical, however, is the fashionable thing to do because it’s the urbane thing to do.

Let’s consider those supremely fashionable people, the French.   Quoting a passage from Jules Romains, Jean-Baptiste Duroselle makes this point:

Our people with its propensity for ready criticism, irony, spirit of contradiction, its fear of being duped and lack of innocence as well at the inevitable disenchantments that come with being a mature nation, is perhaps, among the great peoples, the one least likely to overestimate its opportunities…It is less prone to spontaneous optimism than many others.  This is good at preventing mistakes.  It doesn’t work as well when it stifles the gathering and galvanising of its energies.

This style of mind, one the one hand, kept enthusiastic fascism out of France, which is more than can be said for Germany and Italy.  It also prevented a reformer like Léon Blum from making the kind of impact that he could have made in a different place, something that François Hollande may find out the hard way.  And it certainly damped French enthusiasm for rearmament that could have kept the Germans out during World War II (although with friends like the British, enemies were useless).

Turning to our own situation, how many years have we been told that we are a bunch of unsophisticated rubes that need to mature as a nation?  Now that our so-called “sophisticates” are in power, they want us to be enthusiastic about their program.  But why?  Enthusiasm is the mark of the rube!

If our cynicism will hold on long enough to prevent serious damage by people who don’t know what they are doing, it will be worth it.  In the meanwhile…

The EU is Really Good at Undermining Certain Things

The head of the Global Forum on Migration and Development thinks they should be undermining their national identities:

The EU should “do its best to undermine” the “homogeneity” of its member states, the UN’s special representative for migration has said.

Peter Sutherland told peers the future prosperity of many EU states depended on them becoming multicultural.

What they’re really good at, however, is undermining their own financial stability, which is due in part to the cultural disparities among the states in the Euro zone.  Before they adopt a homogenised culture, they need to stop and think: which one?  Or what will our new culture look like?  Will we go broke with our new culture as fast as we are with our current ones?  Or faster?

His hat tip to the Americans, Aussies and Kiwis is interesting:

The UN special representative on migration was also quizzed about what the EU should do about evidence from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that employment rates among migrants were higher in the US and Australia than EU countries.

He told the committee: “The United States, or Australia and New Zealand, are migrant societies and therefore they accommodate more readily those from other backgrounds than we do ourselves, who still nurse a sense of our homogeneity and difference from others.

Our status as a migrant society, however, is being undermined by identity politics, which is turning our country’s “melting pot” into a millet system, worthy of the Ottomans.  A key to our ability to absorb immigration successfully is to inculcate our American culture into the immigrants, a process subverted by the millet multiculturalists.

We Really Don't Need to Make a Religion Out of Science

This from the “godfather of global warming”, among other things:

Lovelock blasted greens for treating global warming like a religion.

“It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion,” Lovelock observed. “I don’t think people have noticed that, but it’s got all the sort of terms that religions use … The greens use guilt. That just shows how religious greens are. You can’t win people round by saying they are guilty for putting (carbon dioxide) in the air.”

I’ve written about this before on evolution, and it applies here too.  The powers that be are going to have to answer a serious question: is this science or a religion you’re setting forth for us to believe?  Lovelock, like me, is seeing more and more of the latter, and this other remark of his bears repeating:

Finally, about claims “the science is settled” on global warming: “One thing that being a scientist has taught me is that you can never be certain about anything. You never know the truth. You can only approach it and hope to get a bit nearer to it each time. You iterate towards the truth. You don’t know it.”

That’s the way it is with science.  As I noted in my master’s thesis, “This work fits the mould as outlined by Pascal above: it takes the work that has been done before, advances it a step while realizing that there are many more steps before “perfection” is achieved.”

There’s one important difference between the Christianity that Lovelock thinks is being displaced (in the West maybe, not overall) and the environmental religion.  Christianity offers a free, unmerited way of relieving guilt by taking away the sin that causes it.  The only quick way out of the guilt of environmentalism is mass suicide, otherwise as long as we live and breathe we’re part of the problem and must be guilty.

There is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in union with Christ Jesus; For through your union with Christ Jesus, the Law of the life- giving Spirit has set you free from the Law of Sin and Death. What Law could not do, in so far as our earthly nature weakened its action, God did, by sending his own Son, with a nature resembling our sinful nature, to atone for sin. He condemned sin in that earthly nature, So that the requirements of the Law might be satisfied in us who live now in obedience, not to our earthly nature, but to the Spirit.  (Romans 8:1-4)

Guess which one I like better?

Maybe the NAE Will Ruin Us After All

Things aren’t going to plan in the vanguard against liberalism:

It gets worse. In 2010, the NAE adopted a resolution seeking “common ground” and “fresh national dialogue” on the subject of reducing the number of abortions in the United States. Cizik’s successor, Galen Carey, said at the time that partnering with notorious pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood was a possibility. It would seem logical to conclude that the alliance between the NAE and the Campaign is an outgrowth of the 2010 resolution.

A few weeks back I posted Did the NAE Really Ruin the Church of God?  In that I discussed the impact (or lack of it) of the Church of God joining the National Association of Evangelicals.  Some people in our denomination contend that joining the NAE turned our pacifist, free-form Pentecostal church into an authoritarian structure, something I don’t think can be justified by a careful examination of history.

What’s going on here, however, is all too familiar to someone who’s spent much of his life in and around the Anglican/Episcopal world.  It’s the same mentality we saw in the Episcopal and other Main Line churches starting in the 1960’s and proceeding to the present: if we do not “engage the culture” by at least meeting it halfway (and that journey usually takes us further than that) we’ll become irrelevant.  Well, if there’s any lesson of the last half century of Episcopal history, it’s that doing this guarantees irrelevancy, because the message you proclaim (such as it is) is no different from the secularists you’re trying to ape.  So why bother with a church under these conditions?

Evangelicals these days are especially vulnerable to this kind of attack because they’re inveterate populists.  Their aim is to get the Word out to as many people as possible, and this requires adaptability and casting a wide net to as large of a group of people as possible. When adaptability becomes accommodation, as we’re seeing with the NAE, that cast net is getting snagged on a bottom littered with the wreckage of others who have tried the same thing.

It seems that it is time for NAE members to seriously reconsider their affiliation to this organisation, which has apparently outlived its usefulness.

P.S. Note to Anglicans: it’s this kind of thing which led me to oppose the Anglican Covenant.  I think that such a centralised structure is too easy of a conduit for rot at the top to spread down.  I’m inclined to believe that’s something that Rowan Williams knew going in; it’s interesting that TEC never caught on to that angle.

The Important Difference Between Inexcusable and Unforgiveable

I recently read a Father’s Day article from a man well-known in men’s ministry circles, who described the importance of forgiving his father for certain things, as his father had to do with his father, and so on.  One of the commenters launched into a bitter diatribe about his nasty Broward County divorce, about how his wife and the court system had treated him shamefully, and how he could not bring himself to forgive either.

As a South Floridian, dragging Broward County into the mix got my attention.  My wife and I have been married for many years; however, I have been involved with several nasty, drawn-out divorces of family members and business associates.  The Bible states that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and after what I’ve experienced I can see why.  To throw a typically South Floridian mix of studied apathy, heartless aggression and huffy moralism into the mix can have an searingly painful result.

But unforgivable?  As a Christian, unforgiveness is not an option, for reasons such as this:

For, if you forgive others their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also; But, if you do not forgive others their offences, not even your Father will forgive your offences. (Matthew 6:14-15)

It amazes me that members of our ostentatiously secular press always ask people who have been wronged whether they have forgiven those who have harmed them or their family.  It’s a form of Christless Christianity, which we see in abundance these days.  We also see feelings like the Broward County man expressed, and given the trend in our society towards secularism we should expect this.  But that doesn’t change what Our Lord expects out of us.

But how do we deal with heinous acts without looking like we’re just blowing them off?  One key is to understand that, although there is nothing that is right to be unforgivable, there are many things which are flatly inexcusable.  Paul certainly understands this concept:

For ever since the creation of the universe God’s invisible attributes-his everlasting power and divinity-are to be seen and studied in his works, so that men have no excuse; Because, although they learned to know God, yet they did not offer him as God either praise or thanksgiving. Their speculations about him proved futile, and their undiscerning minds were darkened. (Romans 1:20-21)

As humans, we are going to make mistakes.  But also as humans we are supposed to learn not to.  When we do things that we should know better about, and get caught, we usually offer one or more excuses to try to justify ourselves.  But in the end ignorance only reaches so far: there comes a point where we pass beyond excuse and into the realm of accountability in this life.

But being without excuse doesn’t men we are without forgiveness.  That’s because forgiveness, unlike excusing, is an act of grace, that unmerited favour that we receive from the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.  He, in turn, expects us to pass that unmerited favour of forgiveness to others, which he why he tied his forgiveness of us to our forgiveness of others.  But that doesn’t mean that we have to either excuse, condone or emulate what is going on around us or to us.

And brings me back to our unforgiving fellow in Broward County.  There are many things in same county–and the neighbours to the north and south–which are inexcusable, which is why it’s the land “where the animals are tame and the people run wild”.  It’s not easy to forgive things and people on the one hand and recognise that they are wrong and without excuse on the other.  But failure to do so not only makes our eternity miserable but ruins the time between now and then.

So the next time you’re ready to blurt out that something or someone is unforgivable, stop and think: do you really want to say or think that?  Or would it be better to say that many today, like in Paul’s day, are simply inexcusable?

The Tithe in Old Palestine

I recently came across a fascinating book entitled The Handbook of Palestine by H.C. Luke and E. Keith-Roach.  Produced in 1922 by the British Mandate government which had just taken control of the country after a long Ottoman Turkish rule, it’s a fascinating snapshot of the Holy Land beginning its transition to the State of Israel and the other claimants of the land.  I plan to reproduce some of the more interesting parts of the book on a sporadic basis.

This post takes a look at the tithe, a subject of long-running interest on this blog.  It’s interesting that the tithe, originally a Hebrew institution, was taken over so readily by the Muslims; such will come as a shock to many Christians, who regard the tithe as a Christian institution.  It’s also interesting how the British administration became involved so quickly in the collection of taxes for Muslim religious endowments.

Moslem religious endowments (waqfs), that is, property appropriated or dedicated (by a document called a waqfiah) to charitable uses and the service of God…

The chief source of revenue of Moslem endowments is the tithe. Tithe was dedicated as waqf by the Sultans or, with their permission, by feudal chiefs, from the earliest times of the Islamic conquests. It forms 55 per cent, of the revenue of the Moslem religious endowments in Palestine, and the waqf tithe is approximately 12.75 per cent.of the total tithe revenue of the country. The revenue department collects the waqf share of the dedicated tithes, handing over the proceeds to the Supreme Moslem Council. For the financial year ended 31st March, 1921, the collections on behalf of Moslem endowments amounted to LE.27,649 ; and for the financial year 1921-22 have considerably exceeded this sum owing to the restitution of the Khasqi Sultan Waqf by the Government to the Waqf authorities. This famous waqf, which was founded by the mother of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent in 1547, was seized by Ibrahim Pasha when he occupied Palestine and Syria in 1831 (see Part I., § 6) and was retained by the Ottoman Government when it resumed control of the country in 1841. The return of its revenue, which amounts to c. LE. 10,400 per annum, to the objects of dedication has demonstrated the impartiality of the present Administration, and has favourably influenced Moslem opinion throughout Palestine.

One of the oldest Mulhaqa waqfs in Palestine is the Tamimi waqf at Hebron. This waqf, it is claimed, was dedicated to the Tamimi family by the Prophet Mohammed himself. Another important (tithe) waqf, also connected with Hebron, is one attached to the Mosque of Abraham mentioned above. Its average annual revenue amounts to LE. 15,000.

A little later the tithe is explained in more detail:

The system of tithe dates from earliest times. Originally one-tenth of the crop was taken in kind. Ottoman legislation, through financial necessity, has increased this rate to one-eighth or 12 1/2%, viz. 1 1/2% by Decree of 1302 (1886) and 1% by Decree of 13 13 (1897). Tithes were farmed out to contractors at the time of the British Occupation, and were often a source of abuse and imposition upon the peasantry.

Since the Occupation the system of tithing has been continued, but the contractor has been eliminated, and direct assessment and collection of tithes inaugurated. The tithe of one-eighth, formerly taken in kind, is now collected in money, and assessed in kilogrammes. The list of prices is fixed and a statement of assessment is posted in each village. Appeals against the redemption price are heard by a special committee, whose decision is final. Such appeals must be lodged within ten days from the publication of the redemption price.

Redemption prices are fixed by the Department of Revenue after consultation with Governors, who, in turn, obtain the opinions of local councils, mukhtars, notables,
big farmers, etc., fixing the redemption price slightly below the local market price.

Comparison of Redemption Prices :

 1919 P.T. 1920 P.T.  1921 P.T.
Wheat per kilo  2.2  2.25  1.4
 Barley  1.2  1.3  0.7
 Durra  1.2  1.2  0.75
 Simsin  4.8  5  3.2
 Oranges per case  12  10  14
 Olive oil per kilo  12  9  7

The collection of the redemption price is not made from each individual cultivator, but from the mukhtar, who undertakes to collect the entire amount due from his village against a rebate of 2% of the amount collected.  The amount may be settled in three monthly and equal instalments.  Arrears due after this period are subject to 9% interest.

Tithe is taken on cereals, fruits and vegetables.  The produce of mulk lands, which are of the freehold category, is exempted when enclosed to the extent of less than one donum.  Other mulk lands in the vicinity of towns also enjoy immunity from tithe, but they are subject to a higher rate for land tax, i.e. 10 per mille, with additions amounting to 56% of the original tax.

Seasonal variations in crops necessitate two separate annual assessments, the first, during the months of April, May and June, known as the ” Winter Tithe,” and the second, during July and August, known as the ” Summer Tithe.” Separate estimations are carried out on fruits and vegetables.

An estimating commission is composed of two Government representatives, a clerk and a village elder, the two former being salaried officials of the Government. Control is exercised by special control commissions, which are again further controlled by officials of the District Administration.

The estimation of crops is carried out in some instances by assessing the standing crops ; in others, crops are assessed on the thrashing floor, the choice of either method being left to the Governors’ discretion. The assessment for tithe amounted in 1919 to £E. 273,000, in 1920 to £E. 488,600, and in 1921 to £E. 292,000.

The above figures include tithes which are assigned to Moslem religious endowments (awqaf).

The Government continues to carry out the provisions of the Ottoman Tithe Laws of 1889 and 1891, which in so far as the theory of tithing is concerned are adequate. Vineyards planted with American stock are exempted from tithes for a period of ten years from the date of planting (Public Notice of the 25th September, 1920).

Cotton is exempted from the payment of tithe for a period of two years (Public Notice of the 15th February, 1921). Lands which are leased by or through the Department of Agriculture for crop experimentation are immune from the payment of tithe.

Same-Sex Civil Marriage: The End of the Marital Estate and Gift Tax Exemption?

Most on the “religious right” aren’t paying attention to rulings like this, but like Charles Rubin they should be:

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has ruled that same-sex couples can take advantage of the estate tax marital deduction provisions of the Internal Revenue Code. This ruling has far-reaching federal tax implications beyond federal estate taxes.

For all the “romantic” and “affirmation” reasons why so much of the LGBT community wants same-sex civil marriage (the latter is ably dealt with by Brendan O’Neill) there lie other more practical reasons.  I’ve mentioned some of them from time to time, but those in the tax code are a lot higher on the list than gay activists are wont to admit, such as the following:

These include (a) the federal gift tax marital deduction, (b) joint tax return filing rates and permissions, (c) favorable “stretch” and rollover provisions for IRA’s and other qualified retirement plan distributions to a surviving spouse, and (d) portability of unified credit amounts between spouses.

Exemption from estate and gift taxes between spouses probably tops the list.  The best known beneficiary of this is John Kerry, who became quite wealthy when he married Teresa Heinz Kerry, who in turn became wealthy tax-free when she became the widow of John Heinz.

Given that the LGBT community is, in general, economically privileged, and thus in a place to take advantage of this benefit, it’s little wonder that same-sex civil marriage has become the battle cry that it has.

With the romantic argument heading to the bottom, we need to look at tax benefits for civilly married people in a more practical light.

To start with, most of the provisions of the tax code which favour married people do so at the upper end of the income spectrum.  That not only explains the attraction to the LGBT community, it also is a partial explanation for why civil marriage has held up better in the upper income portions of our society.  (That trend generally extends to the array of government benefits outside of the Internal Revenue Code).

The problem with tax benefits is they are a far cry from the “rights” that LGBT activists demand as a part of civil marriage.  They are, in reality, privileges that our government extends and is perfectly capable of taking away.  The tax code is especially capricious in this regard, as anyone who has dealt with it in-depth knows.

In the wake of the judicial imposition of same-sex civil marriage in this country, this could go in one of two ways.

The first is that estate and gift taxes could be eliminated from the tax code altogether, which would be another “right” eliminated for civil marriage, and thus another incentive for people to enter into it at all.

The second is that the estate and gift tax exemption could be restricted or eliminated altogether.  Although people today tend to regard this as part of the landscape, it’s only been since early Reagan times when this has been the case.  Before that, for example, gift tax issues complicated divorces.  If the government can do something once, it can do it again…

The impetus to drop the exemption will come from two sources.  The first is our government’s need for revenue to pay its snowballing debt.  The second is “marriages of convenience” between people of the same-sex who do not necessarily have a sexual relationship.  We see this some among heterosexuals, but opening it up to people of the same-sex to avoid estate and gift taxes (and the other “benefits” of civil marriage) will be too good for many to pass up.  This would force the IRS to rig new regulations to decide whether a gay marriage is really gay, which would be a boon for tax lawyers and make good Court TV, but wouldn’t be much of a commendation for civil marriage in general and same-sex civil marriage in particular.

There are those who will tell you that same-sex civil marriage is simply a road to the abolition of civil marriage.  If that’s true, it’s a testament to the basic stupidity of our political process.  In the meanwhile we can sit back and watch as same-sex couples get into the same family law morass that heterosexual couples have experienced in this country for many years.

Generation Y Answers the Question from the Last Presidential Cycle

Pollster John Zogby finds young people disillusioned these days:

Nearly four years after enthusiastic younger voters poured into polling booths to help push Barack Obama over the finish line and into the Oval Office, their hope has turned to fear and pollster John Zogby says that they are ready to give up on politics.

“I truly am worried about today’s twenty-somethings,” he frets. “They are our global generation and I have seen them move from hope and grand expectations for themselves and their world to anxiety and disillusionment. We can’t afford to lose them,” he adds.

Back in 2008 I wrote a piece entitled Is Generation Y That High Maintenance? where I discussed the (then) present enthusiasm of young people for Barack Obama.  But I also added a warning:

The tricky part for a Barack Obama, if he is elected, is fulfilling the unrealistic expectations of the overconfident in the face of the current economic situation.  Will his followers stick with him like dutiful children to a parent?  Will they bolt and go somewhere else, like a different job?  Or will they just go to pieces, like the losers in Beijing?

It seems that we are seeing one or both of the last two.

If there’s one thing that drives me batty about this country, it’s the way we’re constantly pumped with unrealistic expectations.  Generation Y is a product of a lifetime of non-stop pumping.  The last four years have been a tough reality check, but I’m still not convinced that this “teachable moment” will result in a meaningful education.

We–all of us–need to stop looking to the government or to society at large for our salvation.  We need to look somewhere else.

Chicago: The City of Big Shoulders Slumps

Things are not pretty in the Windy City these days:

But despite the chorus of praise, it’s becoming evident that the city took a serious turn for the worse during the first decade of the new century. The gleaming towers, swank restaurants, and smart shops remain, but Chicago is experiencing a steep decline quite different from that of many other large cities. It is a deeply troubled place, one increasingly falling behind its large urban brethren and presenting a host of challenges for new mayor Rahm Emanuel.

As a descendant of people who helped to make Chicago into this country’s “Second City” I find this very sad.  The further I went back into both my family business’ 108 years in Chicago (1852-1960) and our time yachting and shipbuilding on Lake Michigan the more I came to understand how Chicago got where it was and some sense how it declined after that.

It’s easy to forget it now, but Chicago, from its beginnings through the Civil War and the Great Fire until about World War I was this country’s premier boom town.  It grew to become at one point in the 1890’s one of the world’s largest cities; the 1892 Columbian Exposition was one of the nineteenth century’s signature world’s fairs.  Going through the maps and photos, a vibrant city with suburban style recognisable even today emerges.

Right: my great-grandparents’ home in Buena Park, sometime around the turn of the last century.

So how did we get to the morass we have in Illinois in general and Chicago in particular we have today?  It’s hard to verbalise it, but somewhere along the way the entrepreneurs who lead the building of the place engendered a great deal of resentment among the various immigrant groups who came to do the work in Chicago.  The result has been a running class warfare that has poisoned Chicago and Illinois politics from the Haymarket Riots of 1886 through the rise of both Saul Alinsky in the streets and the various and sundry machines in City Hall which have, as power centralising schemes of both fascistic and socialistic kinds do, ended up producing an opposite result from the egalitarian goal.

Below: my family business’ first recorded advertisement, in 1863.  Meeting your customers’ needs is crucial for the success of any business.

The result, of course, is that many businesses, especially small ones which struggle to navigate the Byzantine paths of Illinois law, leave, as we did in 1960.  Now Chicago struggles with keeping up not only with places like Houston and Dallas/Ft. Worth (which have preserved Chicago’s early dynamic better than Chicago did) but more “traditional” cities like New York or even a place like Los Angeles, ensconced in a People’s Republic with its own problems.

And that leads me to the general relevance of this situation: it’s no secret that Barack Obama knows the “Chicago style” and uses it.  It’s true that spreading this around to the entire country would end flights like ours and the many other businesses and people who have left Chicago for better opportunities, save for outright emigration.  But would we have a better country as a result?  Chicago’s experience tells us no.

One thing in the City Journal article amused me:

A prominent civic leader suggests that the city should avoid branding itself as part of the Midwest.

Although the reality is that Chicago is the commercial centre of America’s Heartland, Chicagoans traditionally consider themselves as a world apart from the “cornfield” that surrounds them.  This suggestion has long roots in Chicago snobbery, but it’s probably not very helpful in bringing the city’s greatness back.  Chicago, like any other place on this earth, needs to connect with the world at large in a meaningful way, but it doesn’t need to forget its immediate hinterland either, which still has the potential for greatness, kazoo concerts notwithstanding.

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