At Last, Some Good News on the (Non-)Marriage Front

A British couple has won a course case based on the obvious, which is very difficult in the United States:

A heterosexual couple who were denied the right to enter into a civil partnership have won their claim at the UK’s highest court that they have suffered discrimination.

Justices at the supreme court unanimously found in favour of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan in a decision that will put pressure on the government to change the law.

I have advocated the abolition of civil marriage for a long time.  However, states like to be nosy these days, so if they insist on keeping tabs on relationships, state recognised civil partnerships without civil marriage of any kind are a reasonable alternative.  In some countries (like France) opposite sex civil partnerships are available, but in the Anglophone world civil partnerships have been mostly restricted to same-sex couples.

There are two reasons for this.  The first is that civil partnerships could, in some situations, be issued to people who wouldn’t be married for consanguinity reasons.  The second–and probably the more important one in the current climate–is that widespread civil partnerships would undercut the “value” of civil marriage in general and same-sex civil marriage in particular.  That’s a purely sentimental reason, but it’s a big deal and fuelled much of the war (past and ongoing) over marriage.

The obvious, however, is the obvious; there’s no cogent justification why opposite-sex couples should be denied civil partnerships if same-sex couples can enter into them.  The Brits need to be reminded that, just because La logique, ou l’art de penser (Logic, or the Art of Thinking) was written by the French means that Brexit will let them off the hook.

Book Review: Herbert Mortimer Luckock’s The Divine Liturgy, or Why Reformed Anglicans Go Postal

He was the Dean of the Lichfield Cathedral; his son was a schoolmate of Winston Churchill’s, and he wrote many books from his Anglo-Catholic perspective.  In The Divine Liturgy, Herbert Mortimer Luckock does a complete analysis of the Holy Communion in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, and his journey has been, for me personally, a delight that has both brought back memories and at the same time brought another perspective to issues that have been significant in the Anglican/Episcopal world for many years.  (As an additional history note, the copy I read was owned by the Rev. Frederic S. Fleming, late Rector of Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church.)

The book is divided, as is Luckock’s way of saying, into fifty portions, covering not only the liturgy itself point by point, but some of the background, such as the priesthood, leavened or unleavened bread, and the “Black Rubric.”  His chapters tend to be short, which make them easy to absorb, especially in this age of limited attention span.

In his preface he states the following:

The subject, which is here treated of, is one which, since the Catholic Revival of the last generation, has been attracting an ever-increasing attention, till it has now an absorbing interest in almost every part of the English Church.

The idea of a “Catholic Revival” is almost an oxymoron for Evangelicals, but I’ve come to realise that minimising the impact of what is more conventionally called the “Oxford Movement” is a mistake.  Traditionally, having been in the RCC, I tend to be dismissive of Anglo-Catholicism in any form, but Luckock’s treatment of the subject has made me take another look at the subject, although i recognise that the way many Anglo-Catholics look at their own faith today is at variance with Luckock’s.

Probably the best way to look at this book is to highlight some of its more notable features.

The first is Luckock’s breadth of knowledge of a broad cross-section of liturgies, including Anglican, Roman and Eastern.  In that respect the work is similar to Cipriano Vagaggini’s The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform; a series of the anaphorae from that were run on this blog several years ago, and in fact both draw from many of the same sources.  That background gives Luckock’s analysis of the 1662 BCP Holy Communion, like Vagaggini’s of the Roman Canon, a greater sense of depth that one sometimes encounters.  It was Luckock’s hope that the Church of England would take some of these suggestions, a hope that went down in flames with the rejection by Parliament of the 1928 effort.  (Luckock’s lack of enthusiasm for the established state of the Church of England comes through more than once.)  Vagaggini had a better result: one can see the fruits of his labour in the Novus Ordo Missae, although I’m sure that there are many Vagaggini dartboards in #straightouttairondale bars all around the world.

One liturgy of special interest is what Luckock calls the “Scotch” liturgy, which drifted in a High Church direction from the very start.  That’s important because the Scotch liturgy was the source of the “Whiskeypalian” one, as is illustrated by Luckock’s description of the Scotch inclusion of the invocation of the Holy Ghost during the consecration:

Now there can be no question that our present Office, which successive revisers in the reigns of Elizabeth, James I., and both Charles I. and II., endeavoured, and often successfully, to recover from the baleful influence of Bucer and Calvin, is in the matter of the Invocation distinctly inferior to the first Prayer-book. It has even been objected that the absence of a direct prayer for the operation of the Holy Ghost goes far to invalidate the Consecration. The first American Bishop, Seabury, expressed such a strong disapproval of it that, when asked to celebrate with the English Office, he said : “To confess the truth, I hardly consider the form to be used as strictly amounting to a consecration” ; and it would seem that the objection is still felt in the American Church, for Seabury’s successor, the present Bishop of Connecticut, has declared that in giving the primitive form of Consecration, “Scotland gave us a greater boon than when she gave us the Episcopate.”

It’s also noteworthy that the lack of this invocation was a criticism of the Roman Canon (now RCC Rite I) by both Luckock and Vagaggini.

Another aspect is Luckock’s uneven handing of some of the more controversial aspects of Anglo-Catholic thought.  A good example of this concerns the concept of the “Sacrifice of the Mass,” one that has been dealt with on this blog.  Luckock’s treatment of this in his fifth chapter is one of the best i have seen, especially since the idea of a sacrifice independent of time (which is the state of anything with God) is too abstract for most people.  Unfortunately some of his description of the sacrifice, along with the priesthood, drifts towards Rome too far in the later parts of the book.

Another problematic topic is praying for the dead.  Luckock attempts to find a way to pray for the dead while rejecting the concept of Purgatory, but his attempt is unconvincing.  He is on stronger ground with his smackdown of Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology, but again he doesn’t have a good alternative to transubstantiation.  The same objection to his handing of the sacrifice can be made with the priesthood; he starts out admirably but fades away as the book progresses.

Luckock’s treatment of the altar in Anglican churches is an interesting one.  The first attack on the altar-against-the-wall, ad orientem facing of the priest came not from the Roman Catholics but from the Puritans.  At one point in the process the priest faced the altar from the side.  Luckock’s preference for ad orientem may be muted by the formal status of the practice in his day, which was to prohibit it.

Luckock is given to some interesting turns of phrase, as in this one concerning a proposed revision of the Collects:

No new Collects have been admitted to the Liturgy since 1662, but the Church narrowly escaped most extensive innovations at the hands of the commissioners appointed to revise the Prayer-book in the reign of William iii. Scarcely a Collect was left untouched; all of them were enlarged “by the introduction of phrases from the Epistles and Gospels, such as abound in the devotional writings of the Nonconformists” ; the whole beauty and the nervous simplicity which have called forth the admiration of all who are most capable of appreciating the purity of the English language, were sacrificed to a miserable attempt to make them more Scriptural.

Although Luckock is the first to affirm the primacy of God’s Word, anyone who has listened to an Evangelical pile on Bible verses to make a point when a more direct approach would make his case better can sympathise with Luckock’s discouragement.

So why the mention of Reformed Anglicans going postal?  Luckock’s treatment of the Prayer Book revisions before the 1662 BCP reveals the multidirectional tugging of Puritans, Reformers and traditionalists which resulted in a dizzying variety of liturgies and arrangements.  Reformed types, eschewing such a chequered narrative, prefer to see the whole process as a seamless march to the 1662 BCP and a Reformed church.  To challenge this can bring a frightful response.

But it just isn’t that simple.  Luckock’s approach has its faults, but it is more strongly grounded in the realities of history and of the root nature of the Anglican experiment itself than many of his opponents and some of his fellow Anglo-Catholics.

The Reformed/Anglo-Catholic divide, even with the recent complications of WO and the pansexual agenda, remains one of the enduring hindrances of Anglican unity.  Luckock’s book is a reasoned view of many of the issues surrounding the Holy Communion–the central place of most of these differences–and deserves proper consideration by those of all perspectives.

Some Thoughts on the 2018 Church of God General Council Agenda

Well, it’s that time of the biennium again, when our ministers and their church pack up and spend several million dollars on the gathering called the General Assembly.  I’ve made it my habit to comment on the agenda, which can be found here.  The last time, OurCoG copied my comments in serial format (guys, next time give a link back) so perhaps they made a little more impact than usual.

It’s true that American Christianity in general and the Church of God in particular are having a rough time.  So how does the agenda deal with our current situation?  Let’s take a look…

The “FINISH Commitment” Resolutions

At the very start the agenda makes a bold statement:

The 77th General Assembly agenda is different. It is conceived and contextualized on the declared Mission and Vision of the Church of God. The purpose of the FINISH Commitment Agenda is to articulate the vision predicated upon six primary areas delineated as resolutions. These include the following: Visional Actualization, Doctrinal Affirmation, Structural Acclimation, Ministerial Activation, Generational Assimilation, and Spiritual Acceleration. Every agenda item is categorized under one of these visional resolutions.

It’s tempting to regard these resolutions as “fluff” (like corporate vision statements) but many of the points in these resolutions are carried through in the agenda items that actually alter the Minutes of the church.  So these are worth paying attention to, and some comments are in order.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Task Force specifically focus on the following areas and prepare recommendations for the Executive Council to consider for implementation and, as necessary, inclusion on the International General Council agenda for 2020:

a. Evaluation of the departments and ministries of the International Offices to determine the value added to local churches and to develop an instrument for state/regional offices to evaluate the value their programs and ministries are adding to the local church;
b. Assessment of the budget of the International Offices to determine the funding priorities supporting the core values of the church and finishing the Great Commission;
c. Review of the systems (including elections and appointments) and programs of the church considering multinational and multigenerational culture, including language-specific resources, cultural variants, etc.;
d. Appraisal of the church planting and church revitalization efforts and funding with a goal to enlarge and enhance the effectiveness of these priorities;
e. Analysis of the need for and promotion of ministerial recruitment, development, and placement in the Western USA, and other areas;
f. Refine, expand, and promote the current affiliation and amalgamation opportunities and procedures;
g. Devise policy guidelines for multisite campuses; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that a report of this Task Force’s work be prepared and made available to the 2020 International General Council.

Some of this was done in the wake of the “Missional Revolt” of the last decade, which included the reduction by a third of our local churches’ contribution to the state and international offices (including World Missions.)  Evidently things have not worked out quite as hoped; part of that is due to the fact that the serious changes that needed to be made were not done.  Those include ending the requirement that the central church own the local church property (a sore subject with Anglicans in this country,) the election of state and regional bishops, and other topics that will be discussed.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that our ministers prayerfully reaffirm their commitment to and belief in these doctrinal statements…

With the experience of the Anglican-Episcopal world at my back, I have supported the idea that our ministers affirm their commitment to what the church stands for.  I have gotten pushback on that, which you can see here.  I doubt we’ll get any further with this now than we did then; I hear a ticking time bomb, but I’m not sure how to prevent it from going off…

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that careful consideration be made of our voting and appointment processes to assure that they reflect our multicultural diversity and enhance our missional impact…

Evidently some of the logic of this post is coming to the forefront, but for those of you who might think this is a “leftist” bent, it really isn’t.  That’s because of one simple reality: the ethnic mix of Pentecostal churches is rapidly shifting towards non-white people, and the long-term survival of the church depends upon our ability to attract and keep these people in our churches.  If that means doing like Canada (Ontario) and using a quota system in our leadership irrespective of the offering, so be it.  But getting a church with its current ethnic mix to go along with quotas of any kind (and that includes the “hipsters” who’d like to age the rest of us out) is an uphill battle.

Expanding the Council of 18 to become the Council of 24

Honestly I think the main effect of this will be to enlarge the travel budget of the International offices, and frankly we don’t need that.  Making this body more representative of the international church may involve slaughtering some sacred cows, but they make great hamburger and we could save some money in the bargain.

One thing we need to keep in mind is that, if we internationalise more effectively our executive bodies, and that includes the Executive Committee, Executive Council, General Council and General Assembly, that might be a strong backstop against whatever pansexual agendas ooze out of the “Global North.”  It’s worked for the United Methodists and sort of worked for the Anglicans (who aren’t as tightly bound.)  Just a thought.

Election and Appointment Study Commission

That a Study Commission be appointed to review the election and appointment process, including reflection of multicultural diversity with recommendations to the International Executive Council for implementation of, and as necessary, inclusion on the 2020 International General Council agenda.

I think that we should elect our state and regional administrative bishops.  I know that many think it would make a “popularity contest” but anyone who has worked with our state system knows that, even with centrally appointed bishops, the states still have a great deal of autonomy.  It worked for the Roman Empire church and will work for us too.  Who knows, a layman like Ambrose might get the nod…

Applicants for Ministry

There are  a couple of resolutions on the table on this topic.  Pentecostal churches have been known for relatively easy entry into the ministry, but also have a high attrition rate.  The trend in recent years has been to up the education requirements for our ministers, which is expensive and time-consuming.

Right after we came home from the last General Assembly in Nashville, i received my PhD, so I feel I can say some things about education that I couldn’t before.  They are as follows:

  1. The educational level of the ministers of the church is related to that of the laity; both should be in the same ballpark.  That’s an issue of the minister relating to his or her congregation.
  2. I don’t think that the Church of God, given its current demographic, can financially afford the types of educational programs for ministers that we see in other denominations.  Given the expense of higher education these days, students at both undergraduate and graduate levels receive their degrees with high levels of student debt.  Most of our churches cannot pay the salaries necessary to liquidate that debt; that’s the problem many millennials have with ministerial positions.
  3. I think we’d be better off figuring out a way to produce “90-day wonders” with much continuing education following (and, of course, discernment as to whether a person has any business being in the ministry to start with.)  That would also attract another class of people: those in highly paid (and educated) professions who could support themselves with their jobs and not be so dependent upon the church for income.  The last will become more important as stewardship declines and full time ministry as we know it now becomes the exception rather than the rule.

Use of the Term “Bishop”

That open Ministry Forums be conducted globally to provide opportunity for deliberate and meaningful discussion, dialogue, questions/answers and time for spiritual insight regarding the importance and understanding of ministry ranks, qualifications, and women in ministry with attention upon the meaning and usage of the title “bishop.” Following the forums, appropriate motion(s) be formulated by the International Executive Council specifically addressing the stated issues and brought to the 2020 International General Council.

The title “bishop” should be restricted to state/regional/national/international prelates.  Period.  The expansion was a mistake.  But that, in turn, has complicated another debate: the ordination of women as “ordained bishops” to use the current term.

The history of Pentecostal churches and the way they look at church in general makes the whole topic different from, say, their Anglican counterparts, although Pentecostals could learn a thing or two from that experience.  We actually went through a “listening tour” ten years ago on this topic, and the result was simple: everyone but the Scots-irish were prepared to go along with what the Anglicans call “WO.”  My guess is that these new “Ministry Forums” will generate many travel expenses and come to pretty much the same result, although the generational shift will soften the opposition.  I think this is an issue where real change is going to take more than just a vote of the present ministers and laity.

Pastoral Requirement to Become a State Administrative Bishop

Dan Tomberlin has an excellent piece supporting this concept.  I’m inclined to agree with him; however, the problem in many cases is that, in the past at least, some of our more successful ministers didn’t do well at a local church became they were particularly “pastoral,” but because they were good pulpiteers and fund-raisers.  (in the old days, good building skills didn’t hurt, either.)  Our Administrative Bishops need to be pastors to their pastors; being at a local church is necessary but not sufficient to insure that will take place.

Engaging the “Jeremiah Generation”

That each State/Regional Overseer in cooperation with the State/Regional Youth and Discipleship Director, lead pastors, student pastors, and the perspective state/regional Ministerial Development Board (CAMS and MIP) adopt an annual plan for identifying, mentoring/training, and engaging young men and women designated as the “Jeremiah Generation” in both local and state/regional ministry of the Church of God.

The whole issue of the generation coming up has become a near obsession with our leadership, given the common beliefs that a) the millennials are abandoning Christianity wholesale, b) they cannot be reached by anyone other than their own contemporaries, and c) they cannot be reached by anything other than the methodology those in (b) are putting forward.  I think, however, that this whole topic needs to be tempered by the following:

  1. A discipleship-based approach to church life is an absolute must now.  The biggest difference between what our older ministers are used to and what our younger ones face is that we cannot rely on the culture to pre-disciple our people, quite the opposite.  I can tell you from experience that discipleship-based approaches are a hard sell.  The smaller, more traditional churches don’t see the need and the larger ones don’t want to invest the time because it gets in the way of growing the church financially and numerically.  There are exceptions to that but when a discipleship-based approach becomes the rule and not the exception this divide will fade away.
  2. The economics of full-time ministry are no where near what they used to be.  I’ve discussed this with respect to education, and that’s a big driver.  Pentecostal churches, traditionally, have been better at dealing with economic adversity than their Main Line counterparts.  Unfortunately recent prosperity has blurred our vision of reality; we thought we had seen the light at the end of the poverty tunnel, but it was only a guy with a flashlight.  We need first to be real with the “Jeremiah Generation” leaders about this.
  3. Although Pentecostal churches are not immune to cultural secularisation, most of the exodus from Christianity in this country is among white people.  The changing ethnic mix in our churches will offset this if we have the sense to take full advantage of our situation.

Closing Thoughts

This is a very sweeping agenda; it will be interesting to see whether the General Council actually has the time to get through it.  Most of the issues, however, are ones that have been around for all of this millennium and have been addressed in the upheavals we have had.  Having been a witness/participant in the “Missional Revolt” (and ultimately a casualty in an employment sense,) I see that this didn’t produce the change it advertised it would.  That being the case, if we want to see change in the church, we really need to see some in ourselves, and that’s beyond the scope of any Church of God General Council Agenda.

Yes, Down’s Syndrome Children can Go to College

One, at least:

Confidence is not something the 22-year-old Parker lacks. She’s the only student at UTC with Down syndrome, but its limitations are simply things for her to overcome, not hold her back. Although she usually has someone with her while she’s on campus, she’s unafraid to go it alone. Friends, family and teachers say she loves to learn, studies religiously, turns her assignments in on time and has an active on-campus social life.

I doubt seriously that UTC intended this post to be a pro-life statement, but given that in some places Down’s Syndrome children have been driven to extinction due to abortion, it really is.  Many parents are looking to have brilliant children who will “change the world,” but what we really need is more who will be diligent to the task in front of them while bringing joy, skills which elude many people these days.  Down’s Syndrome people can have productive, happy lives as this one does; we just have to give them a chance and the support.

And speaking of support, I’d like to give a shout-out to something that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga does really well: its support for people with learning and other disabilities.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Disability Resource Center and their work with these people–and the faculty who teach them–is exemplary.

Book Review: Thomas Reeves’ Was Jesus an Evangelical?

One of the things that makes writing this blog tricky is the simple fact that being a product of the Anglican and Catholic world on the one hand and being in the Pentecostal world on the other forces one to live in many “tensions” to borrow a term from the seminary academics.  Some of those (albeit going in the opposite direction) can be seen in Thomas Reeves’ Was Jesus an Evangelical?: Some Thoughts About the American Church and the Kingdom of God.  Reeves is an Anglican rector in Roanoke, VA, who has come from Evangelicalism to write a book that is both challenging and dissatisfying at the same time.

Most of the book is taken up in an examination of the Beatitudes, with an introductory section to start with and some conclusions at the end.  That brings us to the first strong point of the book: his knowledge of the Scriptures and his ability and willingness to apply them in ways that are both informed and challenging.  Any barbecue of Evangelicalism will sooner or later involve looking at the Sermon on the Mount; it is doubtless the most purposely neglected portion of the Scriptures in Evangelicalism.  He starts there, and his critique is effective; one hopes that he pursues the rest of the Sermon in subsequent writings.  His interpretation of the genealogy of Matthew 1 is probably the best I’ve seen.

The second is his realisation that the faults of American Christianity are across the board.  Progressives typically seize things he points out to justify themselves and their idea, as if they have a monopoly on the Sermon’s teachings.  Reeves wisely avoids this; any ACNA man (or woman) of the cloth who has interacted with their Episcopal counterparts should know better, and he does.  In a sense Reeves comes with the assumption that both American progressive and Evangelical Christianity come with many of the same shared assumptions and are in many ways mirror images of each other.

The third is his critique of the “performance-based theology” (to use a phrase from a friend of mine in the Church of God) at both the clerical and lay levels in the church.  The predominance of that has always bothered me about the church I’m in now, although it is an effective counterweight against the inertia I’ve seen elsewhere in the church.

With the strong points are the weak ones.  The first one is his tendency towards sweeping generalisations, usually of those he is criticising but also sometimes of those he supports.  Some of that is due to his reticence in being specific about naming names of those he is either supporting or not.  That’s not bad in itself but in some cases he not only paints with a broad brush but, like a man who used to work for my father, spray paints anything that doesn’t move.

Second, he has a want of a real historical sense, either of the history he’s trying to play down or that which he’s lifting up.  To a large extent where you’re at in Christianity is determined by what history you think is important, but history (especially Anglican history) can be a messy, complicated business.  He should be aware, for example, that the whole Pentecostal movement, with the Wesleyan-Holiness one behind it, in part started as a reaction to the respectable “go down, shake the preacher’s hand and join the church” Christianity that he finds justifiably inadequate.

That brings us to the most significant weakness of the book: the solution he proposes to fix the problem.  Like many Anglicans (and others) he proposes a return to historical Protestantism, with its creeds, liturgies and emphasis on Patristic teaching.  While I think that American Christianity would be better off with all three coming to the surface more often, I don’t think that these alone will get us to the “Sermon on the Mount” Christianity that Reeves so comprehensively describes in his book.

For openers, the “historical Protestantism” he advocates for is not univocal.  There were significant differences between Luther, Calvin and the Anglican reformers, both in doctrine and in practice, and these cannot be ignored.  Reeves also ignores another important reformer–Zwingli–whose influence on Evangelicalism is enormous, including but not limited to Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology.  To present a united front based on the Reformation is easier said than done, and in any case the fact that American Christianity is traditionally Protestant hasn’t stopped the “success gospel” from being front and centre, even before the tasteless prosperity teachers of our day got going.

Beyond that, the restoration of “historical” Christianity would be enriched if it included individual renewal and encouragement of a personal relationship with God.  The alternative is to see what Main Line churches have done from the Reformation onwards: degenerate into box-checking institutions where vague assent to creeds was for most a substitute for real Christianity.  Unfortunately most of these churches–and we might as well throw in the Roman Catholic Church while we’re at it–have shown an unwillingness to put the pastoral effort into making a higher level of commitment among the laity actually work.   It’s easier for someone who was raised in that environment to see than one coming from a “performance-based” environment, but it’s true none the less.

I honestly think that this book would have been better if it had been organised as a “devotional” type of book to challenge Christians to seek change in themselves and their churches rather than an assault on certain types of Christianity.  Certainly Reeves’ treatment of the Beatitudes lend themselves to that kind of application.  And one wonders if his title Was Jesus an Evangelical?: Some Thoughts About the American Church and the Kingdom of God is really the best.   Perhaps it would be better if the title asked the question Was Jesus an American?

The answer: thank God no!

Lessons about Women’s Ordination from Palm Beach’s Social System

Some readers of the blog are doubtless buffaloed at my blasé attitude regarding what Anglicans call WO (women’s ordination.)  I explain some of my rationale here but some of that comes from being a product of the Palm Beach social system.  That system–exclusivistic and highly non-industrial–moulds everyone who lives there in ways that aren’t obvious until they get away from it.  So here are some reflections on the effect of that system and why it’s relevant in the church today.

First, a core feature of the system is the simple fact that women have been powerful and played a central role in the system long before the move to “liberate” them got going.  An easy-to-understand example of this was Marjorie Merriweather Post, who owned Mar-a-Lago for so many years.  Mar-a-Lago was (and is if you ignore the fact that it’s a private club now) the largest private residence on the island, and she was prominent (including the square dances she held.)  But she was only one.  Palm Beach was a place where work was a four-letter word in the past for many people (or in their ancestors’ past.)  With this a person’s position based on the job they did (and for many years it was the men who did most of the paid jobs) didn’t really bear on where you stood in the scheme of things.

This tended to put women in the driver’s seat in many ways–overseeing households (where they routinely told men what to do,) controlling fortunes (based on the terms and conditions of those fortunes) and organising events.  There’s power in all of that.  It’s hard to swallow industrial-era based complementarianism when you’ve been exposed to that.  (A cursory reading of Proverbs 31 should also put paid to such thinking, but I digress…)

The second is that power is not always exercised in the open.  We are routinely regaled with things such as “the first woman to…” and so forth.  And these accomplishments should not be gainsaid.  However, one thing one learns in a place like Palm Beach (and should be learned elsewhere but frequently isn’t) is that real power often resides in the hands of those who aren’t in the limelight, or who don’t have the formal position.  That, just about as much as anything, drives me crazy about American political dialogue.  The whole rise of the Religious Right in politics was based on the idea that, if we could win enough elections, we could take American back for God again.  We now know that this was not true in the 1980’s and certainly isn’t now, although elections are important.

An interesting example of how this played out relevant to the topic of women took place when the Vestry of Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, led by shirt magnate William Cluett, booted the ladies’ rummage sale from the parish hall on “scriptural” grounds.  In those days vestries were an all-male affair, and in a complementarian world the ladies would be compelled to sit down and shut up.  They didn’t; led by prominent socialite Helene Tuchbreiter, they moved their operation elsewhere and started the Church Mouse resale shop, which is today a part of the scene in Palm Beach.

So why is Palm Beach’s social system educational for the rest of us?  Well, “moving up” is a big deal for Americans in church and elsewhere.  You simply cannot promote industrial-era complementarianism one the one hand and the desire of upward social mobility on the other without running in the simple fact that, when you reach the peak of the latter the former isn’t operative.  For all of its unBiblical aspects, Palm Beach’s social system in many ways reflects a time before what job someone had defined their status in life, and that’s something that everyone needs to remember.  If we could get past that, we could liberate ourselves from many things.

P.S. One thing I didn’t touch on was the exclusivist nature of Palm Beach’s social system.  We hear many opponents of Christianity decry churches as “country clubs” but if you’re a product of a system where being in a club was a big deal that isn’t much of an insult.  And if we’re going to implement things such as the “Benedict Option” that aspect will be a key to our survival.  But again that’s another post…

Internet Privacy and the “vulcanhammer” Sites

Just about everyone who is a content generator on the internet has been affected by the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR.)  It didn’t come suddenly, but you’d never know that by the scramble many American organisations have been doing to become compliant (or at least try) with these regulations.  It’s not easy; they’re “prescriptive” in that they give broad (and sometimes vague) guidance rather than telling you in detail what to do.  There’s a good chance that the various EU based agencies enforcing these regulations will do so differently from one to another, and also that many of those charged with the enforcement won’t understand what they mean.  (We’ve experienced that problem with enforcers here, such as with the tax code.)  But this is as good a time as any to outline our basic philosophy regarding information gathered on our websites, past and present.

The vulcanhammer “Family” of Websites

There are currently five of these:

All of these sites, in one way or another, started as “static” sites, with few interactive features.  The first to break the mould was this one, which became a blog in 2005 and a WordPress site the following year.  This was also the first site to sport the “https” secure site feature.

The first three on the list were migrated to starting less than two years ago.  The reasons for this are tied up in two search engine trends that could not be avoided: their preference for “https” sites (that comes with sites) and a need to be able to morph themselves for mobile devices such as phones, tablets, etc.  The sites were also more interactive and a lot less work to design and maintain as well.

At this point all but one of the sites are, in one way or another, WordPress sites.  That’s significant because for the WordPress sites information gathering is done by WordPress, and thus they control the intake at least of any information we gather (or don’t gather) on our sites.  For this site and, we get statistics from 1and1, our web hosting service.

Web Site Statistics

Our sites have never been “about” collecting private information, and certainly not disseminating it, for profit or otherwise.  Our idea has always been to disseminate information with a minimum of encumbrance to the visitor, which means no paywalls or requirements to register before getting the information.  The one thing we do review on an ongoing basis is our website statistics.

WordPress/Automattic’s privacy policy outlines what kind of information is gathered in these statistics.  Some of that only pertains to those of us who upload information to them to be in turn shared with you.  Both WordPress and 1and1 (and the web hosting services that preceded them) gather this type of information.  We do not share that information with anyone.

We use this information to improve our sites.  One of the things we learned is that many of you come from places where your privacy is really “on the line,” and so that’s been motivation to keep access simple and discreet.  At one time, that was just about all the information that anyone gathered.  That’s changed (right, Facebook?) and is the source of many of the problems we have today.  Unfortunately without that “in depth” information websites are, to some extent, “flying blind” but that’s the price we’re willing to pay to keep it easy for you to visit us.

Back in the last decade we used Google Analytics and monetised the sites (especially using Google ads.  We pulled the plug on that because a) the revenue stream was deteriorating and b) we felt Google was too nosy.  We still feel that way.  We do embed YouTube videos on the site, as much out of necessity as anything, and they’re still nosy.

Comment and Contact Forms

There are two places where these sites collect personal information: the comment forms and the contact forms.  Both gather things such as name, email (both of which can be faked,) IP address and URL.  We don’t give these things out either.  Obviously if you want us to respond to either (and you know about it) you have to give a valid email address.

Something fun to do: next time you look at an email, ask your email client to show you the source for the email.  Most of the type of information mentioned earlier is in every email you send or receive.  Just think about that.

Making Money Off of Sites

As mentioned earlier, there was a time when we made money directly off of our sites.  That’s no longer the case; in fact, for the sites on we can’t.  We do make some revenue (enough to pay the fees we have to keep the sites live) from our book sales, which are described here.  Doing it this way also avoids the problem of handling people’s credit card and other confidential information (although you’re subject to their privacy policies.)  At one time I maintained a web store for the church ministry I worked for but the security issues forced us to turn it over to people who did it all the time.  In theory we could make money off of the YouTube channel but, unless something goes viral, we’re not important enough to YouTube for that to happen.

Getting Your Information on Sites, and Site Security

Two requirements of GDPR are that people can either request the information a site has on them, get the site to remove it, or both.  Again we’re dependent upon WordPress to do this and they have been working on this problem.

As far as site security, with the sites this is handled by WordPress.  For this site we have taken additional measures, and given the way this site gets attacked they’re necessary.  (But virtually any site gets attacked; the only sites that don’t are the ones that don’t exist.)  I also should mention that 1and1 is pretty diligent about its site security, frequently at the expense of loading speed.

European vs. American Privacy

With the EU’s enactment of GDPR, the question arises as to why there isn’t something like it in the US.  Some of that, of course, is due to the fact that our large tech companies have become embedded in this country’s power structure.  But another overlooked fact is that the US has traditionally been, and still is to a large extent, a land of poker-playing dogs.  It’s a society with a long continuity of government and constitutionally-mandated rights, which lures its people into a false sense of security.

Europe is another matter altogether.  Totalitarian states are still either a living memory or a present reality for many on the continent; the power of information-gathering states or institutions is better appreciated.  The “right to be forgotten” is a manifestation of this wariness.

If Americans want European-level privacy requirements, the pressure is going to have to come with a change in people’s attitudes.  We have all other manner of privacy requirements; we could add this if we liked.

This is a brief overlook at the present state of our privacy measures; more information is found for this site in its terms and conditions, and the others in theirs.

Paige Patterson’s Baptistic End

The board of Southwestern Baptistic Theological Seminary’s volte face is stunning:

After midnight in Germany, while Patterson was sleeping, the chairman of the board of trustees, Kevin Ueckert, ordered Scott Colter to wake Patterson for a phone call. On the call, Ueckert told Patterson he was fired effective immediately, with no salary, no health insurance and no home. He then relayed that Patterson would receive instructions for vacating Pecan Manor upon returning to Fort Worth.

Before the phone call, both Pattersons’ and Colter’s email accounts, including personal contacts and calendar, were shut down without notice and while the three were traveling in Germany on behalf of Southwestern, leaving them without access to itineraries, train tickets, local contact information, hotel confirmation and flight boarding passes.

Also at some point before the phone call, the locks were changed without notice to the room on Southwestern’s campus housing Patterson’s private and personal archives containing ministry materials and documents from Criswell College and the Conservative Resurgence. No notice was given, and the Pattersons had no knowledge that this was being done and had not given permission for such. Despite accusations that the archives were mishandled, the attached correspondence from 2004 from Patterson to Southeastern’s librarian and president indicate he believes all was handled properly.

The whole article–written by the wife of Patterson’s chief of staff–needs to be read in its entirety.  But the way the Board reversed its previous decision and unceremoniously dumped him is unfortunately typical of the way Southern Baptists handle situations like this.  In their system you’re either highly favoured or cast into outer darkness, there’s no middle ground.

In the early 1980’s a county Baptist association’s director’s son came out of the closet and subsequently died of AIDS.  Their response was to dump the association director.  Needless to say he became an apologist for the LGBT agenda.

I think much of that has to do with their defective combination of Arminian election and Calvinistic perseverance.  Once you’ve made your decision for Christ and then mess up, the only explanation left is that you weren’t saved to start with.  So how can anything subsequent to that be trusted?  Out with you.  It’s a highly binary (dare I say digital) way of looking at Christian life, but it is, as the Russians would say, their idea.

In other places, it’s different.  In my own Pentecostal denomination, a friend A got fired by a prominent denominational leader B from his position.  Another leader C made the shrewd observation that everyone who doesn’t like B is suddenly A’s friend, and sure enough he got hired to another position.  I can’t see that happening very often in the SBC.

It’s this kind of thing that makes me wonder how the Southern Baptist Convention is going to prosper in the coming years.  Today it’s big enough to get away with it, but what about tomorrow?

HT for the article Robert A.J. Gagnon.

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