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 wordpress.com 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 wordpress.com 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 paludavia.com, 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 vulcanhammer.net) 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 wordpress.com 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 wordpress.com 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.