Obama Can’t Get Past “Bonjour”

Barack Obama’s trip to France evidently means full employment for his interpreter, as this earlier CBS piece informs us:

“I don’t speak a foreign language. It’s embarrassing!” Barack Obama exclaimed today at town hall meeting here. Obama, who often touts his time growing up overseas, made the confession while speaking about the importance of teaching foreign languages in schools.

Obama came under fire by conservative groups earlier this week, after he said that more Americans should learn a foreign language.

At town hall meeting in Powder Spring, Georgia on Tuesday, Obama said, “It’s embarrassing when Europeans come over here, they all speak English, they speak French, they speak German. And then we go over to Europe and all we can say is merci beaucoup, right?”

This is one issue that, in some ways, I agree with him about.  However, putting people down on the subject only makes people angry, it won’t solve the problem.

First, I tend to be a fan of French culture and language, especially as it relates to my Christian belief (Arnauld and Nicole, Pascal, Bossuet, etc.)  I had a chance to express this extensively in my novel The Ten Weeks, where the French got plenty of chances to stick their noses up at the Anglophones around them.

Second, the teaching of foreign languages in schools needs upgrading in this country.  If you can learn a foreign language, it will also help you speak your own better as well, and we certainly need that.  I have used both of the living languages I learned (French and Spanish) in both my secular business and in my ministry work, especially the latter.

But that’s my point–if Obama wants to do something constructive about foreign language competency in this country, he needs to start in the public schools.  And that’s where the problem is.  It’s a given that the teachers’ trade union will endorse him.  To upgrade foreign language education will require upgrading those who teach it.  And, if experience with science and math is any indication, the trade union will fight it, which means that most politicians (especially the Democrats) won’t touch the issue.

And, of course, expecting Anglophone Americans to learn a foreign language has a flip side: those who immigrate here need to learn English.  To do that properly would involve slaughtering the sacred cow of bilingual education, which is another political hurdle the Democrats are unwilling to jump.

Constructive solutions are one thing.  Spouting elitist snob platitudes is quite another.  Rest assured that, if Barack Obama shows any credible inclination of taking on the teachers’ trade union, that would be change that everyone could believe in.  (He could start by putting this in his iPod.)  But I’m not holding my breath.

Thoughts on the Upcoming Church of God General Assembly: “I don’t know if my church loves me any more or not”

Around the time of the 2006 Church of God General Assembly in Indianapolis, I began writing my last novel, The Ten Weeks.  At the core of the plot is the story of one French Catholic high school senior, Madeleine des Cieux, who performs a series of miracles.  This generates a number of reactions, but her church, for reasons related to secular politics, conducted a campaign to attempt to force her to recant those miracles.  Her frustration with the Church came to a head when she blurted out the following to a Baptist friend:

As for myself, I don’t know what to do either. I know that Papa loves me, and Maman loves me. . .but I don’t know if my church loves me any more or not…Since the miracles, our bishop has put pressure on everyone he could—including my own father—to have me deny that the miracles took place when it is undeniable that they did…But I cannot understand why they have treated me in this way.

Now that’s a decidedly "girlie" way of putting it, as one would expect.  But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years I’ve been in the Church of God, it’s that for many, under the complaints about money and governance, there runs a deep love in clergy and laity alike for the Church of God.  One pastor (I think it was Travis Johnson) likened it to a father-son relationship.

Christianity is unique in many ways, but one that Protestants in particular overlook is that the whole story of God’s relationship with people is driven by his love for us, which reached its highest expression in the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ.  In turn Jesus Christ calls us to love God first and foremost.  That love-driven aspect is one reason why men hate going to church, because in churches where women hold the majority that relationship is generally posited in a "lover-loved" paradigm, something that men have serious problems with.  But our relationship with God transcends human analogy, which is why the Bible also describes it using parental and fraternal terms, something to keep in mind when connecting with men.

But I digress.  Since our love relationship with God is a two-way street, it makes sense that the same would hold with our church.  We can certainly love our church.  But can an institution love anyone?  The answer is no.  Institutions of any kind are incapable of love.  That’s one reason why I cannot accept the argument of the proponents of same sex civil marriage that it’s necessary for the institution of the state to affirm the love of two people.  Any two or more people whose love for each other needs to be affirmed by the state are in serious trouble, no matter how you look at the issue.

The Church of God, however, has been depicted as an organic reality, not just an institution.  That organic reality consists of two parts: the presence of God in our midst, and the people of the church itself.  Both are eminently lovable.  In return the love that needs to come back is from a leadership that loves the people of the church more than the people love it.  That love by the leadership needs to be manifested at all levels: the local church, our regions and states, our nations and ultimately at the international level.  That love has to transcend the every day problems that arise when you deal with people.  After all, didn’t Christ die for us while we were yet sinners?

My challenge to my colleagues in the leadership of this church (I am on the Board of Church Ministries) is for us to have that love for our church and its people.  I’ve been a part of the International Offices for over a decade and have seen that love in action in the past.  I know it’s important to "get the job done;" our church is good at that.  But our love for each other is an essential part of our mission.  Without it, most of what makes us different from the world goes away, and these days in particular it takes a very compelling reason for people to be a part of a church.

Beyond that, if those in our midst get the idea that their love for this church is a one way street, they’ll get the same "empty pit" feeling that Madeleine showed in the quote above.  They’ll start blurting things like that out to their Baptist friends.  For Pentecostal and Catholic alike, that’s an act of desperation.  On a more serious note, over the long run the life and work of the church will be damaged beyond repair, and we will end up leaving the mission God has for us to others.

May God bless and guide us as we meet in San Antonio!

Note: hopefully Tom Sterbens, who recently met with the Executive Committee, will not have to think too hard about this.

Unlawful Conjugal Relations, and the Double Standard of Money and Islam

The woes of a British publisher who was jailed in Dubai for "unlawful conjugal relations" (i.e., with someone she’s not married to) in public makes me think of the obvious: what if someone was jailed for this in a "Christian" country with a lot less money (and that’s most of them these days, compared to Dubai.)

In my novel The Ten Weeks, just such a situation in a very Christian country is presented to two teenagers.  I’m confident that, given the hard time this woman is facing, she would gladly take what either of the teenagers took in the novel, which (in one case) was brutal enough.

It used to be that conjugal relations outside of marriage were unlawful in our sociey, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time.  So why do our dogmatically tolerant Western societies flinch from the usual assault on Third World things they don’t like, i.e., U.N. sanctions, a diplomatic blitz, media whine, military intervention, etc.?

To start with, the United Arab Emirates (of which Dubai is a part) is a very wealthy country, buying up Western assets, especially dollar denominated ones, with the flood of petrodollars that are coming in with current oil prices.  At that elevated wealth level, money not only talks, it yells.

Beyond that, our elites have a strange blind spot for Muslim moral enforcement, especially in the U.K., as Melanie Phillips reminds us of.

Between the two, this woman will have to do what everyone else does when in trouble abroad: get a good lawyer and hope for the best.

Charles Bennison: the 1970’s Were Different

Episcopal Bishop Charles Bennison, on trial in his own church, comes up with a novel defence of his brother’s affair with a fifteen year old girl:

On the last day of a very unusual trial, Episcopal Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. continued to defend himself against charges that he concealed his brother’s sexual abuse of a minor decades ago, saying yesterday that he acted within the standards of the times.

"As poorly as I handled it," he said, "if I had applied today’s protocols then, things might have turned out worse."

In October, the Episcopal Church USA suspended him as head of the five-county Diocese of Pennsylvania on the ground that he engaged in "conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy" by failing to protect the girl or report his brother’s misbehavior. The church alleges that Bennison did so in order to advance his career.

The trial that resulted was just the third Court for the Trial of a Bishop in the 232-year history of the Episcopal Church USA.

Bennison said he was trying to guard the teenager’s reputation by not alerting her parents when he heard "rumors" of the sexual relationship.

In the 1970s, he said yesterday, most adults, including the girl’s parents, would have viewed her not as an abuse victim but as guilty of immorality. That would have caused her shame, he said.

"I was trying to protect her," Bennison said.

Bennison, now 64, was rector of St. Mark’s Parish in Upland, Calif., when his brother John, a parish youth minister, started a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old member of the parish.

I make the sexual mores of the 1970’s the theme of my novel The Ten Weeks.  However, as is frequently the case with Episcopal revisionists, Bennison is half-right.

To start with, it’s true that things like this weren’t subject to the draconian routine back then we put them through today.  The 1970’s was an era when people more often than not drifted through a moral vacuum.  The collapse of sexual standards in the previous decade lead to a more "wide open" situation.  How much "shame" would have been associated with such a relationship in those days was widely variable.  This went on without effective opposition until the Boomers started having children and self-righteously woke up to the fact that such relationships are exploitative, disgusting and, when a serial predator is involved, dangerous.

That realisation has led to the contradictory situation we have today where people on both sides of the 18 year divide are pushed by the culture to be sexually active only to find that life essentially ends when one hits the byzantine limits prescribed by law.

Bennison’s big mistake, however, is to blithely ignore the fact that his brother, supposedly a man of the cloth, was having conjugal relations out of wedlock, which is a patent violation of the Christian sexual ethic.  Same ethic is far more consistent and simpler to apply and live by than the system we have at law today.  His brother (and Charles Bennison for that matter) has no business professing and calling himself a Christian if he’s not prepared to uphold that, let alone be a minister.  But the Episcopal Church had for all intents and purposes abandoned the fort on that one, as New York Bishop Paul Moore’s daughter Honor’s life is a testament to.

If TEC gives Bennison the boot–and I hope they do–it will not only be a conviction of Bennison, but also of 40 years of open revisionism.  Liberals love to accuse conservatives of scapegoating, but that’s what’s going on here.  Bennison’s conviction should not be the end of house cleaning but only the beginning.

Liberals and Autonomy: The Fornicators’ Dilemma

The Kraalspace has this oft-cited observation about conservatives remaining in the Episcopal Church:

The sterile evil that now controls the Episcopal Church will never willingly allow Christian belief to remain unmolested. Conservatives who think that they can negotiate some sort of truce, or even a ghetto existence within the larger, demon-possessed church, are deluding themselves. As C.S. Lewis wrote, the sort of "agreement" these people come up with consists of saying "Oh, you can believe what you want, as long as you do it alone," and then they mutter under their breath, "and we’ll see to it that you’re NEVER alone." It’s in their nature to try to eradicate every voice that answers their lies with the truth, because they rightly sense that it is the only way that they can survive.

Beyond the clever (if unintended) double-entendre about being "umolested," the sad truth is that this applies on a broader basis as well.  Those that started by promising freedom are too dependent upon state control to relinquish it, even in victory.

But there’s a deeper problem here.  In the field of human sexuality, it’s what I call the "fornicators’ dilemma."  Basically, it runs like this: suppose you have a group of people, all of whom are single and most of whom are sexually active.  But a few aren’t.  Do you think that those who are active will, over time, simply ignore the fact that there are a few abstainers?  Of course not.  They will apply group pressure on the abstainers until the abstainers either cave or drop out of the group.  If the fornicators have access to some kind of external coercive power (an idea I play around with in The Ten Weeks,) there may be no place for the abstainers to hide.

This isn’t unique to sexual activity; it can be found in other realms, such as the drinkers, drug users, etc.  It’s the kind of peer-pressure group dynamic that any teenager (or their parents) can relate to.  Sad to say, we don’t outgrow it, at least not to the extent we think we do.


It’s the “True Love” Thing Again

The trials of Harvard student Janie Fredell’s ongoing–but at least no longer solo–battle to uphold the Christian sexual ethic in her own life are yet another example of something that has been going on for a long time.

I’ve taken some heat on this subject before, but I’ll say it again: this society, and especially the liberals that dominate much of it, takes as given the idea that the only fulfilled life is a sexually active life.  And as far as the intense pressure goes, it looks like what I kind of posited as "hypothetical" in my last post is altogether too real for members of the True Love Revolution:

Other than reminding me of a speech I put in my first novel, what strikes me about this is that it overlooks the opposite possibility: that people would be forced to have sex, "pluriform" sex (to use a good TEC revisionist word) in order to belong.  How this inversion happens is the result of the relationship of morality and community standards, something I discuss in The Trouble With Morality.

I don’t make a very clear distinction between the force of law and the force of peer pressure; in a society where shared values are so important, you can’t.  The situation that has has been around since at least the days of The Ten Weeks continues for those of us who uphold true love.

Frankie Schaeffer: Are We Really That Unpatriotic?

Frankie Schaeffer evidently doesn’t like some of the things some of us have been saying about Obama and patriotism:

Dad and I were amongst the founders of the Religious right. In the 1970s and 1980s, while Dad and I crisscrossed America denouncing our nation’s sins instead of getting in trouble we became darlings of the Republican Party. (This was while I was my father’s sidekick before I dropped out of the evangelical movement altogether.) We were rewarded for our "stand" by people such as Congressman Jack Kemp, the Fords, Reagan and the Bush family. The top Republican leadership depended on preachers and agitators like us to energize their rank and file. No one called us un-American.

Consider a few passages from my father’s immensely influential America-bashing book A Christian Manifesto. It sailed under the radar of the major media who, back when it was published in 1980, were not paying particular attention to best-selling religious books. Nevertheless it sold more than a million copies.

Here’s Dad writing in his chapter on civil disobedience:

If there is a legitimate reason for the use of force [against the US government]… then at a certain point force is justifiable.

My guess is that, if he bothers to poke around this site (and especially this,) he’ll probably come to the same conclusion about me too.  But he needs to consider a few things.

The first is that a Christian’s first allegiance is to God, not his or her country or any other human institution.  Orthodox caesaro-papism (Frankie Shaeffer is now Orthodox) doesn’t change that.  (And that can get ugly, too.)

The second is that the whole "religious right" business, for its abysmal failure in "bringing America back to God," has at least put the stall on many of the uglier forms of statism that we have seen in, say, countries that claim to be based on Marxist-(fill in the blank) principles.

Third, with Mike Huckabee’s failure, Evangelicals don’t have a "dog in the hunt" this year.  So Schaeffer and others of his idea can rest easier.  Evangelicals will have to vote defensively this year, which I can live with, if others can’t.

As far as Francis Schaeffer (Frankie’s dad) is concerned, the only book of his I have read is Escape from Reason.  I don’t like Schaeffer’s Reformed theology, which is why I haven’t gone into his works further.

Honor Moore: My Father, the Bishop, was gay. So what’s the big deal?

Honor Moore’s article in the New Yorker about her father, the Rt. Rev. Paul Moore, Episcopal Bishop of New York, and the discovery that he was homosexual, has generated quite a buzz in Anglican/Episcopal blogs and websites (such as this and this.)  But in reading the piece, it’s hard for me to understand what the big deal is, for everyone else at least.

For many of us, the discovery that one or both of our parents were (or are) homosexual would be a rude awakening.  In Honor Moore’s case, however, it’s harder to see, especially in view of her church’s subsequent voyage, a voyage that her father facilitated by, amongst other things, ordaining the first openly homosexual Episcopal minister.  Beyond that, the story that she tells is in reality the abandonment of two generations of Episcopalians of the Christian sexual ethic, one homosexual and the other heterosexual.  Her own abandonment of that ethic (part and parcel of an era that forms the backdrop for The Ten Weeks) dampens the shock effect one might feel about her father’s posthumous outing.

But there is some agony here, and the agony relates to a defining desire of modernist people, namely authenticity.  This is especially poignant with a parent.  It’s hard to take when the people who brought us into the world turn out to be vastly different than we thought they were.  It’s a betrayal which moral relativism doesn’t quite compensate for.  The effect of all this in Honor Moore’s article is to reveal an outburst of feeling that resembles a vacuum: very intense, but totally devoid of content.

For those in the Anglican/Episcopal world, it’s yet another reminder that the whole conflict that is presently unfolding is a day late and a dollar (in the CoE, pound) short.  The problems posed by liberal prelates such as Paul Moore should have been tackled then and there, both moral and doctrinal.  But they weren’t.  Episcopalians in the 1960’s and 1970’s were too busy with "smells and bells" and social action (and Paul Moore was active in both) to understand that a church was defined by what it believed in, not by what it felt.  Waiting until Vickie Gene Robinson was consecrated allowed too much damage to be done.  The whole breach of the levee of the Christian sexual ethic is not just a "homosexual problem," it’s the problem of all those who equate sexual fulfillment with life fulfilment.  And they are legion in TEC and on the left.

Beyond all that, an overriding lesson is that our parents are human.  Whether they’ve hidden great secrets or not from us, they’re subject to make mistakes and to fail.  Ultimately our focus for authority and ultimate fulfillment must be in God and God alone.  To refer to another work of mine, with Scripture citations–and I hope this is recited at my funeral:

But this life is too painful to love it so much. ‘Jesus, in the days of his earthly life, offered prayers and supplications, with earnest cries and with tears, to him who was able to save him from death; and he was heard because of his devout submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from his sufferings; and, being made perfect, he became to all those who obey him the source of eternal Salvation.’  ‘And so Jesus, also, to purify the People by his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go out to him ‘outside the camp,’ bearing the same reproaches as he; for here we have no permanent city, but are looking for the City that is to come.’”

The Tyranny of “Doing Right”

It took Jack Crooks of Black Swan Trading to point out this quote from C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Or, to put it another way:

There are endless laws. Everybody is guilty of something. And, being Anglo-Saxons, they have the idea that all of these laws should be enforced.  The only reason you are here rather than sitting in jail is because it would call even more attention to this affair. Everybody is a criminal, everybody is a suspect, because it is impossible to live there and not violate the law. It would be great if one person could come along and take the punishment for everybody. That, in a celestial sense, is what Jesus Christ did for us. He came into a world where everyone was guilty and gave them the chance to be innocent. (The left-wingers) came into an innocent world and gave everybody a chance to be guilty.

The Frenchman Pierre des Cieux in the novel Two Paths.

Back to the 2CV

In the novel The Ten Weeks, both the heroine and her father drive variations of the Citroen 2CV, the latter the original and the former the Dyane.  This form of "basic transportation" helped many Europeans to have a car–with ecologically friendly gas mileage–of any kind in the years after the devastation of World War II.

Below: Citroen 2CV.  Planning for this car started before World War II, but it wasn’t until after the war that it was first produced, finally discontinued in 1990.

The memory of the 2CV is the first thing that struck me when I saw Tata’s Nano, a video of which you can see below.

It’s easy for people in the "developed" countries to laugh at this.  But, as I noted earlier, the last laugh will probably be Tata’s.